Sunday 18:00 - Sky sports
The game of the day offers fans of Spanish football their first opportunity to see a ‘new look’ Real Madrid in action. It’s not just the faces that have changed at the Bernabeu; under Fabio Capello the cavalier football of the Galacticos is set to be replaced by a far more pragmatic brand of football.
Critics of Capello’s style of football in the Spanish media and a disappointing pre-season have failed to dampen the level of expectancy in what looks set to be a full-house in Madrid this afternoon. Real Madrid left the field to a chorus of whistles in their last pre-season friendly at the Bernabeu .All will be quickly forgotten by a Madrid faithful who carry a sense of optimism into their first game of the new season that heralds the dawn of a new era for the ‘Merengues’.
Real Madrid should line up with only five survivors from the team that faced Villarreal in the penultimate game of last season (Casillas, Salgado, Roberto Carlos, Beckham and Raúl). They will be joined by four players making their competitive debuts for Madrid (Cannavaro, Emerson, Diarra & Van Nistelrooy) as well as by a reinvigorated Cassano and, possibly, Raul Bravo.
Capello’s concerns will be focused on his defence, in the absence of Sergio Ramos through suspension; Raul Bravo is likely to start alongside Cannavaro in the centre of defence. Woodgate could be an option for Capello but it is thought unlikely given the player's lack of pre-season games and his imminent departure on loan.
Capello now has his CAGE and much of the focus tonight will be on the central midfield pairing of Emerson and Diarra who should offer the kind of solidity in midfield not seen since the departure of Makelele. What it lacks in flair, the new line up should make up for in resilience, a word long since associated with Real Madrid.
Ruud van Nistelrooy has already won over the fans with his goals in pre-season and is certain to start whilst Capello awaits the return of Ronaldo; Capello says of the Brazilian “He’s lost a lot of weight, is working hard every day and looks like the player I used to know. He should be back in about a month”
Villarreal will provide a good examination of Real Madrid’s progress under Capello. They are an excellent side, semi-finalists in the Champions league last season, and have already beaten Real Madrid during pre season with a 1-0 victory in the Carranza trophy.
Apart from the victory over Madrid their preseason has been less than ideal, however, having been knocked out of the Intertoto cup and losing both Robert Pires and the influential Gonzalo to long term injuries. Josico and Tacchinardi will also be missing against Real Madrid.
A lot will depend upon Riquelme and it will be fascinating to see how effective Capello’s ‘cage’ is in shackling the Argentine’s creativity.
Villarreal will be hugely relieved that they can continue to count on Diego Forlan up front after it appeared certain that the Uruguayan would join Barcelona in the summer. He will play alongside one of the club’s new signings, Nihat, in attack and if 25 year old Turkish international can recover some of his dazzling form, the pair should prove a handful for most of La Liga’s defences this season. Two other new signings should also start this afternoon for Villarreal; Somoza will partner Senna in midfield whilst Cani, Real Madrid’s nemesis last season also makes his competitive debut.
Although they achieved a respectable draw at the Bernabeu last May, history does not favour the visitors in this encounter. Villarreal have never beaten Real Madrid in the league (five draws and nine defeats). Gonzalo’s absence is sure to be felt and with Sorin dropped by Pellegrini, Villarreal face a stern test of their resources.
Real Madrid: Casillas; Míchel Salgado, Cannavaro, Bravo, Roberto Carlos; Emerson, Diarra; Beckham, Raúl, Cassano y Van Nistelrooy.
Villarreal: Viera, Venta, Alvarez, Peña, Arruabarrena, Riquelme, Somoza, Senna, Cani, Nihat y Forlán.