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After a 2014/15 season in which they won the European Super Cup and the Club World Cup but watched their rivals FC Barcelona sweep both major domestic honours and the Champions League as well, Real Madrid sacked manager Carlo Ancelotti and replaced him with Rafael Benitez for the 2015/16 campaign.
Not everything has gone to plan for the much-travelled Benítez in his latest job, but three points on Saturday would put his side back level on points with Liga leaders FC Barcelona, and the bid to repeat his Champions League success with Liverpool in 2005 has got off to a solid enough start.
Ins and outs
As regards playing resources, Sami Khedira was not offered a new contract and signed for Juventus, while on-loan Javier Hernández is now at Bayer Leverkusen and Asier Illarramendi was sold to Real Sociedad. Meanwhile, both Fábio Coentrão and Lucas Silva have both been loaned to French clubs, the former to Monaco and the latter to Marseille.
These players have been replaced by Lucas Vázquez, who returned to his boyhood club from Espanyol, Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovačić, who has arrived from Inter, and Casemiro, who was bought back from Porto along with fellow Brazilian Danilo.
But the story grabbing all the headlines this summer surrounded the goalkeeping position at Real Madrid. Following the departure of Iker Casillas to Porto after 25 years, his near namesake Kiko Casilla arrived from Espanyol. But the will-he-won’t-he saga surrounding David De Gea ended with the Spanish stopper staying at Manchester United – and after winning the coach’s confidence with some fine performances early in the season, it is Costa Rican Keylor Navas who has been defending the Madrid net in most games this season.
Battling with Barça
The league campaign didn’t get off to the best of starts with a dour 0-0 draw at newly promoted Sporting Gijón, but Madrid followed that with a series of four wins, scoring 13 goals and conceding just one in the process. Following Barça’s defeat at Celta, that was enough to put them top of the table for the first time this season.
They only stayed there for a week. Back to back draws at home to Málaga and then at the Vicente Calderón in the Madrid derby allowed Villarreal to rise above them, but they still had the edge on Barça, albeit only on goal difference, after the Catalans lost 2-1 at Sevilla.
Weeks eight to ten saw both Real Madrid and Barcelona pick up three straight wins, enough to knock Villarreal off top spot and leave the two rivals matched on points at the top of the table. But in the last game before the international break, Madrid, like Barça a few weeks earlier, lost at the Sánchez Pizjuán. And that is why Luis Enrique’s side is going into Saturday’s Clásico with a three-point lead on their hosts.
Rafa Benitez has used a massive 29 different players in just eleven Liga games to date, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Isco and Raphaël Varane being the only ones to have featured in all of them. As usual, it’s Ronaldo who leads the way in the goalscoring stakes with eight Liga goals. Five of those came in the 6-0 drubbing of Espanyol, and he’s only found the net in three of Madrid’s other ten league outings.
Solid in Europe
But in the Champion’s League, the Portuguese international has scored five of his side’s seven goals, while the all-whites have yet to concede any. They did drop points in the 0-0 draw at PSG in a group that also includes Shakhtar Donetsk and Malmö, but with two games yet to play, they have already done enough to be guaranteed a place in the last sixteen.
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