After a tough season in 2020-21, Real Madrid would start fresh today against Deportivo Alaves and kick off the new La Liga season with the intent to win the title and dream big. Under the new manager, Carlo Ancelotti, the Los Blancos would start without their leader Sergio Ramos and start a new era. Ancelotti had been a revolution back in the 2013-14 season and then left the following season where Barcelona triumphed. His return after six years holds a lot of expectations and Ancelotti knows, the going would not be easier.
Before the start, he has a team selection issue.
Marcelo, who was expected to don the captaincy armband in the absence of Ramos, is injured and thus, Miguel Guiterrez would take his place while already Jesus Valejo and Martin Odegaard are absent from the list.
Ancelotti insists that Martin Odegaard could still have a future at the club amid reported renewed interest from Arsenal.
After the news emerged in Spain about his absence, reports surfaced in England that Arsenal had opened talks with Los Blancos over the prospect of signing Odegaard before the transfer window closes.
The 22-year-old said to be valued in the region of €40million, made 14 Premier League appearances during a loan spell with the Gunners last season.
However, Ancelotti does not appear to have made a decision on Odegaard’s future, or that of fellow fringe players Jesus Vallejo and Dani Ceballos with Toni Kroos ruled out for several weeks.
“The fact they’ve not been named in the squad is down just to technical issues,” he said on the press conference.
“The final list [for the 2021-22 season] doesn’t have to be confirmed until September 2.”
“Odegaard has done well. We had a chat and of course, there is a lot of competition in midfield. We have eight very good midfielders.”
Gareth Bale is expected to be involved, having also gone back to the Santiago Bernabeu after spending last season on loan with Tottenham, with previous Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane deeming him surplus to requirements.
Ancelotti now wants to see Bale prove his worth to the club on the pitch.
“He’s a great player, perhaps he quite hasn’t lived up to expectations in recent times but I’ve seen him train every day with great enthusiasm and we have to see how he plays. The talking has to be done on the pitch,” Ancelotti added.
“There’s competition for places – if players don’t play well, there are other players. This is good, it’s extra motivation. But he’s been very good during this first month back, but we’ll see how he performs out on the pitch.”
Ancelotti is also hoping for a strong start to the season from Eden Hazard, whose career in La Liga has been blighted by injuries.
“He’s been training with the team for about 10 days; he’s fit and ready to play. He’s a key player in this team and I’m confident we’ll see the best Eden Hazard this season.”
Refusing to be drawn on whether the club might yet lure Kylian Mbappe from Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) Ancelotti insisted, Real Madrid have plenty of young talent coming through.
With French World Cup winner Mbappe out of contract next year, Real Madrid are widely believed to be ready to pounce should the striker decide partnering both Lionel Messi and Neymar in attack is not a sufficient to challenge.
But Ancelotti preferred to bask in what he says is a hugely exciting crop of up-and-coming players as he embarks on his second spell in charge at the Bernabeu after leaving Everton.
“I’m sorry, I can’t speak about this,” said Ancelotti, when asked the inevitable questions about the possibility of landing Mbappe.
“I don’t like talking about players who aren’t here”
Even though, he observed the transfer window, in any case, does not shut until month’s end.
“But I like this squad very much and there’s a good mix of veterans and youngsters who are really up for it, very enthusiastic and very interesting. (There’s) Miguel Gutierrez, Sergio Arribas, Victor Chust, Marvin.”
“They can all be very important in the future but in the present too!”
Ancelotti said he was in regular touch with former striker Raul, now coach of Real’s reserve team La Castilla.
“Youngsters are ready!”
“The youngsters will be ready – they are ready. We shall need them.”
But he said he was also pleased to see experienced faces raring to go, singling out Croatia veteran playmaker Luka Modric, as well as French striker Karim Benzema.
Coming in after Zinedine Zidane — his former assistant in his first spell — stepped down Ancelotti dwelt briefly on the transfer from Barcelona of Lionel Messi to Paris Saint Germain, where the Italian also spent two years in charge but failed to land the European glory that is now PSG’s clearly stated target.
“That surprised me, of course. Messi had played for Barcelona since he was a child. But I have spent 42 years in the world of football,” Ancelotti explained, insisting he “respects” the decision.
“Barca are still Barca, one of the best teams in the world, with or without Messi. For us it changes nothing and what we have to do is win.”
Asked if Real can beat the likes of PSG to European glory he would say only, “It’s not impossible! Real have a very good squad; they can go toe to toe with any club in the world.”
“I believe if we give it 100 percent then we can compete against any other team, no doubt about it.”