Real fans wait for stars to take Spanish League stage
29 August 2009 01:50
MADRID (AFP) - Real Madrid fans are tingling with excitement at the prospect of seeing Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and company strut their stuff as their new-look 'Galactico' team host Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday in the curtain-raiser to the 2009/10 Spanish league season.
It has been an unforgettable summer with Real splashing around 250 million euros to build a star-studded team and there are likely to be a number of debutants against Depor with Ronaldo, Kaka, Xabi Alonso, Karim Benzema, Raul Albiol all expected to start.
French striker Benzema has been firing in the goals in pre-season while Ronaldo has been installed as chief free-kick taker as he was at Manchester United.
It will also be Manuel Pellegrini's first competitive game in charge of Real and everyone will expect the former Villarreal coach to have Real playing attractive winning football.
"We have to play a game of two or three touches to play attractive football," explained Pellegrini. "We have to take it a game at a time but a club of Madrid's stature has to aspire to win all the competitions."
Pellegrini will be without centre-back Pepe who is suspended for the first four matches as his ten-match ban for stamping is carried over into the new season.
Depor will hope to gatecrash the first outing of the Galacticos and Real should be wary as they lost the opening fixture of last season 2-1 against Depor at their Riazor Stadium.
Due to European Super Cup commitments treble winners Barcelona begin their title defence on Monday at home to Sporting Gijon.
Sporting were beaten 6-1 and 3-1 last season so it looks a good game for Barcelona's 69 million euro club record signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic to make an impact.
Striker Ibrahimovic has to convince Barca fans that he is a worthy replacement for the departed Samuel Eto'o and shrug off his reputation as someone who often flatters to deceive.
"Ibrahimovic has been adapting to our style of play and I am happy with him," said Barca coach Pep Guardiola. "He is so tall that sometimes he doesn't seem so dynamic but he has proven it in the past and will do in the future."
Last season Barca lost their opening game 1-0 to promoted Numancia before clicking into gear as they won a league, Kings Cup and Champions League treble.
The big game of the opening weekend is on Sunday when Valencia host Sevilla in a duel between two teams aiming for a top four finish.
Valencia had a disastrous finish to last season missing out on the Champions League but managed to hang onto Spanish internationals David Villa and David Silva amid strong interest from Europe's top clubs.
"We are one of the best teams in the league going forward but conceded too many goals last season," said Villa.
Sevilla, third last season, should test Valencia's suspect backline with striker Alvaro Negredo giving them more firepower following a 15 million euro move from Real Madrid.
Atletico Madrid go into the new season with wind in their sails after defeating Panathinaikos 5-2 on aggregate in their Champions League qualifier.
Atletico travel to Malaga on Sunday as they start their bid for a first piece of silverware since 1996.
Atletico have been quiet in the transfer market with promising Spanish goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo, 20, the only big name arrival from Valladolid.
Villarreal begin a new era after losing coach Pellegrini to Real and his replacement Ernesto Valverde makes his bow on Sunday at Osasuna.
Pellegrini achieved a lot in his five seasons at Villarreal so Valverde has big shoes to fill and he will hope record 12 million euro Brazilian signing Nilmar delivers the goods.
Elsewhere Japan midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura is poised to make his debut for Espanyol in Sunday's match at Athletic Bilbao.
Nakamura, 31, has arrived on a free transfer from Celtic and Espanyol fans can look forward to some spectacular free-kicks from the dead-ball specialist.
Real Madrid v Deportivo La Coruna 20:00 (1800 GMT), Real Zaragoza v Tenerife 22:00 (2000 GMT)
Sunday - all 15:00 GMT unless stated
Malaga v Atletico Madrid, Real Mallorca v Xerez, Racing Santander v Getafe, Osasuna v Villarreal, Athletic Bilbao v Espanyol, Valencia v Sevilla (17:00 GMT), Almer?v Valladolid (1900 GMT)
Barcelona v Sporting Gijon (2000 GMT)