LONDON // Their quest to sign Cristiano Ronaldo has dominated the news this summer, but it will not disguise the fact Real Madrid are hurting as they head into the new season. Despite their successful history, the Spanish champions have fallen behind their rivals in the battle to be Europe's best club side.
It has been five years since Real got past the quarter finals of the Champions League, six since they won it - a massive disappointment for a side of their stature. So this weekend's Emirates Cup tournament - backed by the Dubai-based airline - will have an added edge with pride at stake as Arsenal, Juventus and Hamburg look to claim the bragging rights. Bernd Schuster's side will use the event at Emirates Stadium to prepare for the new campaign, which sees the Champions League top of their priorities.
The keeper Iker Casillas, fresh from Spain's Euro 2008 triumph, said: "We had a good season last year and won the league, but we didn't get Real Madrid as far as they deserve in Europe, so we know we have to take it a step further this year. We've been losing before the quarter finals for a long time now and we all think we should reach further. His teammate Guti added: "We expect to improve. We want to have a good start to the season in order to have a comfortable lead that allows us to use all our weaponry in Europe. We want to be one of the best four teams in the continent."
Schuster has been frustrated by the lack of news regarding transfers, particularly Ronaldo's move as Manchester United vow to keep him while Robinho is still being pursued by Chelsea. But he will get a close look at a potential arrival in Rafael van der Vaart, who will be lining up for Hamburg. The Dutchman could sign after the tournament if a deal can be agreed. Arsene Wenger will showcase his new-look side, which has been shorn of Jens Lehmann, Gilberto, Mathieu Flamini and Alexander Hleb, but has the talented young pairing of Samir Nasri and Aaron Ramsey.
He admits it will be a tough test for the Gunners as they warm up for the Premier League campaign, which starts in two weeks. "It's a great opportunity to play competitive football in front of a full stadium," he said. "We play Juventus and Real Madrid, who will definitely present us with a tough challenge on both days of the competition." The Juventus coach Claudio Ranieri is not concerned too much with winning the cup, but getting his players ready for their domestic and European test, which includes the Champions League this time.