€860 million spent; one La Liga title to show; seven years gone by. Real Madrid's failure to secure consistent silverware means expectancy levels at the Bernabeu have reached an all time high, leaving new manager Rafael Benitez with what would seem the most untenable of positions.
Not for the first time, Los Blancos were outshone last season by a rampant Barcelona, who currently boast the title as the undisputed kings of La Liga, reigning supreme in five of the last seven campaigns.
Madrid, on the other hand, continue to slide further adrift of their bitter rivals. Benitez is the fifth manager to take over since their back-to-back title winning campaigns of 2006-07 and 2007-08; the fifth manager charged with rediscovering the invincibility once intertwined with the Madrid outfit.
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Teams are now arriving at the Bernabeu with raised expectations of walking away with a positive result. The fear factor has diminished – Real Madrid are the fallen galacticos. Benitez needs to install a new formula to reinstate fear into the heart of their La Liga opponents, reducing the predictability of seasons gone by.
Sergio Ramos, a stalwart of the Madrid back-line, will begin a tenth season at the Bernabeu despite wavering interest from Manchester United among others. Keeping hold of the club captain and tying him to a new five-year deal could prove to be as significant as a new signing for Benitez.
One predicament that Benitez does face, however, is getting the best out of world-record signing Gareth Bale who, to an extent, is still yet to find his feet in Madrid.
The Welshman's self-belief would have taken a hit from the circling critics of late, but as we’ve seen so often seen with Wales and Tottenham, the thought of being the main man brings the best out of the 26-year-old - a role he wasn't granted under Carlo Ancelotti - and it would appear that Benitez is willing to give him that opportunity.
If Madrid are to prevail from the clutches of Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, in what is now a three-horse title race for the La Liga title, there is no question that Cristiano Ronaldo will be instrumental.
Seemingly undeterred by his club’s lack of success, Ronaldo’s individual statistics amaze year-on-year. It is a measure of the standards that he has set that if he does not achieve 50 or more goals it would be deemed as a poor campaign.
Madrid have laid the foundations to rival any team in the world but to match Barcelona, Benitez must galvanise a squad that has succumbed to the unwanted tag of second-best. If he can sure things up defensively Real won’t be far away from ending an unwanted sequence of five second placed finishes in the last seven seasons.
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