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Carlo Ancelotti’s side will want to show they mean business this season, and we can expect them to make a strong start against promoted opposition.
Pick made on 08/08/2022 at 08:47 PM EST
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Last season was close to perfect for Real Madrid. A surprise quarter-final defeat by Athletic Bilbao meant los Blancos did not win the Copa del Rey, but they did get their hands on the two most important trophies: the La Liga title and the Champions League. Carlo Ancelotti’s side took top spot in Spain after a 4-1 thrashing of Granada on November 21 and did not relinquish it until the end of the campaign.
Even more impressive was their triumph in Europe. Madrid had one of the toughest paths to the final in recent memory, facing the French champions-elect in Paris Saint-Germain, the holders Chelsea, and the English champions-elect in Manchester City. Despite being on the verge of elimination in each of those ties, Madrid dug deep to knock out all three teams. Underdogs in the final against Liverpool, los Blancos once again found a way to get the job done.
It has been a relatively quiet summer since then, at least in comparison to the extraordinary events over at Barcelona. Madrid expected to welcome Kylian Mbappe to the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, only for the France international to perform a U-turn and commit his future to PSG instead. No matter. Madrid won the Champions League a few days later, then wrapped up deals for Antonio Rudiger and Aurelien Tchouameni in a quick and efficient manner.
Whereas Barcelona have embarked on a squad revamp – and used dubious methods to fund it – Madrid will hope that continuity and stability proves to be the winning ticket this term. Rudiger will be the only regular starter who was not at the club last season. At some point Madrid will need to begin to phase out the likes of Karim Benzema, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, but that time has not come yet.
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Almeria have altogether more modest ambitions this season. After seven years in the Segunda Division, the Andalusian outfit are back in the big time and hoping to stick around for longer than their previous stay, which lasted for just two campaigns. This will only be their seventh ever season at the top table of Spanish soccer, so it is no surprise that Almeria are among the favorites to suffer relegation from La Liga in 2022/23.
Promotion was a close-run thing last time out. Almeria led the way in the second tier from mid-October to mid-January, but a five-game winless streak threatened to ruin their season.
Almeria wobbled again in March and dropped out of the automatic promotion places after a 1-1 draw with Huesca at the beginning of April, but they eventually got over the line and secured top spot despite failing to win either of their last two matches.
Almeria’s push for survival will be led by former Espanyol and Real Betis head coach Rubi. The club is owned by the Saudi Arabian sheik Turki bin Abdul Mohsen bin Abdul Latif Al Al-Sheikh, whose recruitment strategy so far this summer has focused on acquiring younger players such as the 18-year-old duo Kaiky and Marko Milovanovic. The money behind them should help Almeria to finish 17th or higher.
Having said that, it could take Almeria a while to find their feet back at this level – and a meeting with Real Madrid on the opening weekend is a baptism of fire like no other. Home advantage makes their task slightly less daunting than a trip to the Bernabeu would be, and the Estadio de los Juegos Mediterraneos is guaranteed to be rocking even before Sunday’s encounter gets under way, but Almeria will be up against it on matchday one.
Indeed, it is hard to look past a comfortable Madrid victory in this one. The Blancos do not have many new signings to bed in, and Rudiger and Tchouameni have had plenty of time to learn Ancelotti’s methods and gel with their new team-mates. Madrid should therefore be able to largely pick up from where they left off in 2021/22.
That is bad news for Almeria. Matches like this will not determine their fate, though, and Rubi will not be too down on his players if they do come unstuck as expected. Back Ancelotti’s side to win both halves on Sunday as they look to get their title defense off to a strong start.
La Liga: Barcelona vs Rayo Vallecano
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Bundesliga: Freiburg vs Borussia Dortmund
Liga MX: Leon vs Mazatlan
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|Teams||Almeria vs Real Madrid|
|Location||Estadio de los Juegos Mediterraneos, Almeria, Spain|
|Time||Sunday, 14 August 2022, 16.00 PM EST|
|How to watch||ESPN+|
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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