La Liga Preview: Real Madrid v Real Betis
Carlo Ancelotti’s mission to bring the Liga title back to the Santiago Bernabeu begins with the visit of Real Betis on Sunday.
Last season, under the stewardship of Jose Mourinho, Real saw the league crown stolen from their grasp by Barcelona.
Having finished the campaign without a major trophy and 15 points behind their fierce rivals, they will need to demonstrate significant improvement under their new Italian boss if they are to claim their 33rd top-flight title.
Ancelotti, who led Paris Saint-Germain to their first Ligue 1 title in 19 years last term, has already made his mark on the squad with a host of new signings.
The former Chelsea manager acted quickly to bring in Isco from Malaga, while fellow midfielder Asier Illarramendi - who is a doubt for the Betis game through injury - has also been drafted in from Real Sociedad, both for sizeable fees.
One transfer target who Ancelotti has not yet been able to land, however, is Welsh winger Gareth Bale, who remains with Premier League club Tottenham.
Madrid already boast a wealth of attacking options, though, as evidenced by the 103 league goals they scored in the 2012-13 campaign, bettered only by Barcelona’s 115.
Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo was their most prolific goalscorer, notching 34 in as many La Liga outings.
He has been the subject of transfer speculation in the close-season, with former employers Manchester United reportedly interested in bringing him back to Old Trafford.
But the 28-year-old still has two years to run on his deal and has recently stated that he is happy in the Spanish capital, despite reports to the contrary.
Ronaldo is certain to be part of Ancelotti’s starting line-up on Sunday, but a number of first-team regulars are doubtful, including Xabi Alonso, Raphael Varane, Fabio Coentrao and Pepe.
Real Betis enjoyed their best league finish in six years when they placed seventh last term, earning a spot in the UEFA Europa League play-off round.
Pepe Mel does not have the same resources at his disposal to strengthen in the same way as his Madrid counterpart, but the Betis boss has still brought in 13 new recruits.
Most have arrived on free transfers, but Mel did dip into the club’s coffers to lure Getafe midfielder Xavi Torres.
However, the departure of Benat Etxebarria for Athletic Bilbao will have come as a significant blow to their hopes of building on last season’s achievements.
And Betis’ chances of getting a positive result at the Santiago Bernabeu have been lessened by the absence of Ruben Castro, who scored 18 goals in La Liga last season. The striker has been ruled out with a hamstring injury.
In the corresponding fixture last season, the home side ran out 3-1 winners.