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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Spanish Primera Liga preview: Real Madrid runaway favourites to defend league title

Zinedine Zidane’s winning machine has brought clear identity back to the club, but it is how they react to setbacks that will set them even further apart from rivals.

Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos celebrates with yet another trophy - this time the Spanish Super Cup. Juan Medina / Reuters
Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos celebrates with yet another trophy - this time the Spanish Super Cup. Juan Medina / Reuters

The reigning Spanish, European and World Champions have started this season as they finished last.

Zinedine Zidane’s side outclassed Manchester United in the European Super Cup last week in Skopje, with their midfield so dominant in the period before half time that United struggled to get the ball.

Madrid followed that up with an impressive 3-1 win at Camp Nou in the Spanish Super Cup, with goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcos Asensio helping them to victory.

Ronaldo’s sending off and five-game ban, four of them for pushing referee Ricardo de Burgos Bengoetxea, means the Portuguese forward missed the 2-0 second-leg victory over Barcelona on Wednesday and will also be sidelined for the first four games of the new Primera Liga season, which starts this weekend.

Another trophy for Real Madrid

A post shared by Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadrid) on

It is a setback for Madrid in that Ronaldo has been superb in 2017. But, they have shown they can do fine without him in that he is yet to start a game this season after he was given extra time off after the Confederations Cup.

Asensio should be the main beneficiary of his absence for the first month.

Zidane, who has won a trophy for every 97 days he has been in charge, cuts an impressive, assured figure when talking. He speaks of the difficulties ahead and hoping to maintain and improve standards.

He is short of two attackers in James Rodriguez, sent on loan for a fee to Bayern Munich and Alvaro Morata, the latest peripheral Madrid star sold for big money to an English suitor, in this case Chelsea.

Richard Jolly writes:

Morata v Hernandez: Second fiddles at Madrid but main men at Chelsea and West Ham

The balletic Isco, easily man of the match in Skopje, has become more integral. He makes Madrid less predictable.

President Florentino Perez, his power cemented and confidence restored in his presidency under Zidane after three Uefa Champions League titles in four years, is inclined to bring another player in with Monaco’s Kylian Mbappe.

Madrid, who boast the highest turnover of any club in world football, feared competition from the television monies that have enriched Premier League clubs, they did not expect it from Paris Saint-Germain.

If Mbappe arrives – combined with Neymar leaving – then Madrid’s status as title favourites will be enhanced, yet even if he does not there is a feeling of invincibility around the Bernabeu.

Andy Mitten's Spanish Primera Liga preview:

Mallorcan attacker Asensio, 21, is a revelation and had the confidence to come on with 15 minutes of a clasico, control then strike a swerving the ball into the net on Sunday for Madrid's third goal.

He cost just €3.7 million (Dh16m) in 2014, another example of how Madrid scout well in the footballer factory that is Spain.

Asensio impresses in Super Cup tie

A post shared by Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadrid) on

Further back the players and fans are so comfortable with goalkeeper Keylor Navas that Madrid did not push for David de Gea as Manchester United expected in April.

Casemiro, who has risen to prominence under Zidane, brings calm, balance and even a goal threat, then there is the effective old guard of Sergio Ramos and Marcelo at the back.

Mostly free of the injuries which hampered the tenure of Zidane’s predecessor Rafa Benitez, Madrid are peerless throughout, yet their greatest threat remain their attack where the BBC of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Ronaldo remain.

The biggest worry of the three concerns Bale’s injuries, but Zidane wants him to stay and the Welshman is happy playing for the best team on the planet at present. And why would he not be?

Madrid’s greatest enemy is themselves. Zidane’s winning machine has brought a clear identity back to the club but it is how they, and the hysterical media which surrounds the club, react to any setbacks which will set them even further apart from their rivals.

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