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Real's confidence contrasts with Barca concern as season begins

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Real's confidence contrasts with Barca concern as season begins

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By Richard Martin (Reuters) – Real Madrid have outclassed Manchester United and Barcelona to collect two trophies before the season has begun, and Zinedine Zidane’s side show little sign of relenting as they begin their title defence at Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday. Meanwhile, last year’s runners up Barca have been further shaken ahead of their opening game against Real Betis on Sunday by a knee injury to Luis Suarez that has ruled the Uruguayan striker out for four weeks. This piles more misery on the Catalans, who are still reeling from the departure of Neymar. The two biggest sides in Spain are in contrasting frames of mind heading into the opening weekend, and not even Cristiano Ronaldo’s suspension from the first four Liga games for pushing a referee has dampened Real’s supreme confidence. Instead, the Spanish and European champions appear less reliant on their Portuguese talisman heading into this season. Ronaldo played only 24 of 180 minutes of Real’s resounding 5-1 aggregate win over Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup. He was a late substitute in the European Super Cup triumph over United, yet Real produced a complete display characterised by their sturdy control in midfield and dominance of possession. Their squad depth was underlined by the fact coach Zinedine Zidane was able to also leave out Gareth Bale and Isco in the second leg. Meanwhile, he watched Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez lead a three-pronged attack with Karim Benzema, with Toni Kroos and Croatian duo Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic giving their shaken Barca counterparts a lesson in passing. The team’s versatility means Madrid are as comfortable in a 4-3-3 shape as they are a 4-4-2, and in the charismatic Zidane they have a coach the entire squad looks up to for his achievements with Real as a player. The Frenchman has won seven trophies in little more than 18 months in charge of Real. Few in the team could be accused of lacking ambition ahead of the new campaign, in which they are hoping to become the first Spanish team to complete a sextuplet of gongs in a single campaign. “Winning these two trophies against two great teams is not easy at all but behind these wins there is a hunger to keep winning,” Zidane said. “It’s great to start like this but now a very long season is about to start. It won’t be easy, but we’re prepared for the challenge.” Barcelona finished three points behind Real last season but there is concern the gap between Spain’s biggest two sides could be far larger this season as the Catalans look shaken to the bone by the departure of Neymar to Paris St Germain. Defender Gerard Pique is also a doubt for the game against Betis due to a thigh strain. Coach Ernesto Valverde said he is looking to lift the team’s mood as the league campaign starts. “We need to recover our morale but we are still a good side. But we need to adapt because things have changed.”

(Reporting by Richard Martin; editing by Mark Heinrich)
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