BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Real Madrid is set to place an even greater emphasis on winning the Spanish league title after ending its quest for an elusive 10th European Cup last season.
For 12 straight years, Madrid’s coaches and players had been tasked with winning another Champions League title, a mission that had grown into an obsession that overshadowed winning the domestic crown.
Now Madrid can turn its full attention to winning the title, which it has raised just once in the last six season.
“Above all it takes away the pressure,” said Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas on having won the European title. “I hope that having won it we have opened an escape valve to reduce some of the anxiety and anguish.”
Here are five things you should know about Real Madrid before beginning its Spanish league campaign at home against Cordoba on Monday:
Seemingly insatiable when it comes to basking in the spotlight, Cristiano Ronaldo should be eager to rebound from a disappointing World Cup with Portugal as he tries to repeat being voted the FIFA world player of the year.
Hampered by nagging injuries, Ronaldo couldn’t help Portugal make it out of the group stage at this summer’s World Cup. Instead, he had to watch as Barcelona rival Lionel Messi guided Argentina to the final before succumbing to Germany.
Last year the 29-year-old Ronaldo ended Messi’s four-year run as the world best player en route to scoring a record-setting 17 goals to help Madrid to the Champions League title as well as leading the Spanish league with 31 goals.
Ronaldo has started the season in fine form by scoring twice to give Madrid the European Super Cup title over Sevilla.
“I had problems at the end of last season and at the World Cup, but that is over,” Ronaldo said. “I am back.”
WHO’S IN GOAL?
The main drama in Madrid will be between the goal posts as Iker Casillas competes with new signing Keylor Navas for the starting job.
Casillas is beloved by a large segment of Madrid fans, but the team captain hasn’t been Madrid’s starter in league play since former coach Jose Mourinho demoted him two seasons ago.
Casillas’ disastrous showing for Spain in the World Cup was followed by Madrid acquiring Navas after his outstanding play with Costa Rica.
So despite Diego Lopez’s exit for AC Milan the debate will rage on over who should be Madrid’s No. 1 ‘keeper.
“What happened in the World Cup has been forgotten,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “This is a new season for (Casillas) and for us. We all believe in him.”
Gareth Bale scored two of Real Madrid’s most important goals in his first season after a world record EUR100-million ($132-million) transfer from Tottenham.
First came his electrifying sprint to net the winner in the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona in April. A month later his header proved to be the decisive goal in the Champions League final and 4-1 victory over Atletico Madrid.
Bale scored 22 goals in all competitions for Madrid last season, but with a year in Spain under his belt an even bigger season could be in store for the speedy Welshman.
“Everyone comes to Real Madrid to win trophies,” Bale said. “So we will be looking to win everything that is up for grabs this season.”
TOO MUCH TALENT?
Teams dream of having the problem facing Real Madrid this season: a glut of many talented players.
Club president Florentino Perez rarely lets a summer go by without making a splash in the transfer market, and this year was no exception.
Madrid spent around EUR115 million ($154 million) to add the World Cup’s leading scorer, Colombia’s James Rodriguez, new world champion Toni Kroos of Germany, and Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas to its team.
With Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema fixtures in attack, that leaves a surplus of midfielders to vie for playing time.
Besides Rodriguez and Kroos, coach Carlo Ancelotti will have to divvy up minutes among Angel Di Maria, Luka Modric, Isco, Sami Khedira, Xabi Alonso and Asier Illarramendi.
“To be competitive we will need to rotate our starting lineup,” Ancelotti said.
Carlo Ancelotti enters his second season at Real Madrid with the complete backing of the club, its fans and the Madrid sports press after conquering the Champions League last spring.
Ancelotti’s relaxed, hands-off approach– the exact opposite of Jose Mourinho’s us-against-the-world mentality– has proven to be just what Madrid’s star-studded squad needed to finally fulfill its promise in Europe.
The Italian manager now has a different goal: restore Madrid’s rule of the Spanish league that it has failed to consolidate in a decade dominated by Barcelona.
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