Real big problems in Madrid

Real Madrid forward Eden Hazard, who was reportedly 7kg overweight at the start of pre-season, being chased down by Tottenham's Juan Foyth (far left) and Harry Winks during a friendly on Tuesday. Real lost 1-0 in Munich for their third defeat in four
Real Madrid forward Eden Hazard, who was reportedly 7kg overweight at the start of pre-season, being chased down by Tottenham's Juan Foyth (far left) and Harry Winks during a friendly on Tuesday. Real lost 1-0 in Munich for their third defeat in four pre-season games, despite having signed five new players this summer. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Disunited team, winless pre-season, injuries, unfit Hazard are issues ahead of new season

MADRID • Real Madrid fans had declared they were "winning the summer" over eternal rivals Barcelona when Ferland Mendy became their fifth signing in June before the Spanish transfer window had officially opened.

But the Santiago Bernabeu crowd are well known to be among football's most fickle and, with the team's flaws being mercilessly exposed in pre-season, that optimism has all but dissipated.

Last season's annus horribilis, which saw the club end up trophy-less and finishing third, 19 points adrift of champions Barcelona in LaLiga, prompted president Florentino Perez to approve their biggest close-season splurge to the tune of €315 million (S$482.1 million).

The June signings of Mendy, Eden Hazard, Luka Jovic, Eder Militao and Rodrygo was a statement of intent, snapping their previous transfer window record of €254 million in 2009.

However, the Real dressing room appears to be fractured, and not united by the big-money buys.

Catalan-based newspaper Sport claimed that Hazard showed up for pre-season training 7kg overweight.

It led Perez to quiz coach Zinedine Zidane on whether the £88 million (S$146.6 million) fee - a joint-club record alongside Gareth Bale - for a player with a year left on his Chelsea contract, represented good value for money.

A source even said Perez had "no confidence" in the Belgium forward, who has looked unfit so far and was reportedly signed only at Zidane's behest.

Barcelona-based magazine Don Balon also reported that captain Sergio Ramos was "angry" that Jovic was bought as a cheaper alternative to Benfica forward Joao Felix, who signed for Atletico Madrid.

IT'S NOT OVER YET

I'm confident in my players. It's true the matches have started badly. But we're not going to lose confidence as it's a long season.

ZINEDINE ZIDANE, Real Madrid coach, on how his team can overturn their fortunes when the season starts.

Last month's pre-season tour in the United States was also an unmitigated disaster, with Real losing 3-1 to Bayern Munich and drawing 2-2 against Arsenal, before being thrashed 7-3 by cross-town rivals Atletico, which led to the immediate trending of hashtag #ZidaneOut on Twitter.

The multitude of injuries have not helped too.

Marco Asensio's ruptured anterior cruciate ligament will likely mean his season will be over before it has even begun, dealing Zidane a massive blow as he had earmarked the Spain forward for a starting role on the right.

Mendy will miss the start of the term with a thigh problem and so will goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois (ankle), while Brahim Diaz (hamstring) and Jovic (ankle) are also on the treatment table.

Further transfer deals have also stalled - it seemed not too long ago that the club were poised to add another big name in Manchester United's Paul Pogba, but there has been no concrete follow-up since.

And then there is the conundrum that is Bale - a player who is clearly unwanted by Zidane, but is still in Madrid following the collapse of his move to China last weekend.

The Wales forward missed Real's 1-0 friendly defeat by Spurs on Tuesday in Munich and British media have said the Real board refused to sanction his exit on a free transfer.

However, Zidane has refuted the suggestions that Bale was not in the right frame to play, insisting "he didn't travel because he wasn't fit".

The Frenchman also told Spanish sports daily Marca: "Things can change up until Aug 31 (the end of the Spanish transfer window).

"I'm confident in my players. It's true the matches have started badly. But we're not going to lose confidence as it's a long season."

Zidane's protestations, however, have not quelled speculation that his job is in danger should Real's pre-season form carry over into LaLiga, which starts with a tricky fixture at Celta Vigo on Aug 17.

Pundit Stewart Robson also feels that the coach "won't last longer than a couple of months", with the former Arsenal midfielder telling ESPN that "Real have got serious problems".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2019, with the headline 'Real big problems in Madrid'. Print Edition | Subscribe