Madrid launches Spanish league defense in bid to win title

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By JOSEPH WILSON
Associated press

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Real Madrid are starting the Spanish league season brimming with confidence that they can retain the domestic title despite Barcelona spending heavily to add top talent to their squad.

Barcelona host Rayo Vallecano on Saturday, a day before Madrid visit newly promoted Almería in the league’s first round.

Led by Ballon d’Or favorite Karim Benzema, Madrid delivered a stellar campaign last season winning the Champions League for a record 14th time and trailing Barcelona and Atlético Madrid in the league.

Having retained all of their important starters and reserves, as well as selected additions to their midfield and defence, Carlo Ancelotti’s side are open about their aspirations to sweep all the titles at stake.

Madrid were in league form on Wednesday when they lifted the UEFA Super Cup after passes Eintracht Frankfurt 2-0 thanks to goals from Benzema and David Alaba. Now he not only wants to defend his European and Spanish titles, but also win the Copa del Rey and the Spanish Super Cup.

“When you succeed it’s hard to start again,” Madrid defender Dani Carvajal said after the win over Frankfurt. “We will fight for everything. Barcelona, ​​Atlético and Sevilla will complicate life in La Liga. We have to approach the Champions League game by game. We have won a title and we are aiming for the next five.

Madrid begin their league title defense on Sunday in southern Spain in Almería, which won the second division last season. Modest Almeria’s biggest threat is Nigerian striker Umar Sadiq.

Ancelotti, who exceeded expectations last season after returning for a second stint in charge, should have more to work with on the bench this season. Little-used veterans Gareth Bale, Isco Alarcón and Marcelo are all gone. Madrid added defender Antonio Rüdiger and reigning midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni.

Madrid will always boast of their mix of proven winners in Benzema, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Thibaut Courtois, as well as young players Vinícius Júnior, Federico Valverde, Éder Militão and Rodrygo.

Ancelotti hailed the team spirit his players have forged, saying ‘it’s the healthiest (locker room) I’ve coached’ during his long career which has included success at AC Milan , Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain.

Madrid, however, are set to face a tougher challenge from Barcelona, ​​who finished 13 points in second place after a tumultuous season following the exit of Lionel Messi.

Unable to look forward to another year without a title, the heavily indebted Barcelona has sold 25% of his Spanish league television rights for the next 25 years and part of his own production company. get the money needed to strengthen your team.

So, instead of fielding an attack led by Memphis Depay and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, former Bayern star Robert Lewandowski will be his best striker. Winger Raphinha arrived from Leeds to compete with Ousmane Dembélé, Ferran Torres and Ansu Fati for playing time either side of Lewandowski, while Jules Koundé left Sevilla to significantly strengthen his defence. These three signings cost the club 160 million euros ($165 million). Barcelona have also strengthened in defense with Andreas Christensen and in midfield with Franck Kessie, who arrived as free agents.

“We have to admit that (Barcelona) have added quality players, with Raphinha, who I know well, with Lewandowski, who is another world-class player,” said Madrid midfielder Casemiro. “They will try to play their best. We will also want to play better, so let the better team finish first.

It remains unclear whether Barcelona’s new signings will be able to make their competitive debut against Rayo due to the league’s salary cap rules which limit the amount clubs can spend on players relative to their financial breakeven. With Barcelona still holding 1 billion euros ($1 billion) in debt, they have seen their salary cap reduced significantly.

Club president Joan Laporta has said his club will be able to register their new signings, but two days before the home opener at Camp Nou, Barcelona have yet to officially register Lewandowski and his others. new players in the league. Madrid, Atlético and Sevilla, as well as most other clubs, have registered their new players. The deadline is the end of August to play in the 2022-23 league season.

Barcelona’s busy off-season is therefore probably not over. The club may have to sell players or more club assets to secure their new league transfers as they try to give Madrid a real challenge.

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