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Aug 2, 2014

Casillas struggles as U.S. tour ends

At 'The Big House' in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Madrid lost their second straight preseason game.

For Europe's biggest clubs, the summer months are now almost as much about commercial gain as they are for on-the-pitch preparation ahead of the new season.

In that respect, Real Madrid have enjoyed another good trip to the United States, which culminated in a record-breaking 109,318 fans watching their final match of the International Champions Cup against Manchester United. That it was their final match is because, on the pitch, Carlo Ancelotti's men have been far from good, as the holders let their trophy slip in tame fashion, albeit without some of their biggest stars.

Los Blancos had already been eliminated from the preseason tournament before Saturday's 3-1 defeat against the Premier League side at Michigan Stadium. Defeat on penalties to Inter Milan in their opener was followed by a 1-0 loss against Roma. Gaining match fitness and getting through the preseason without suffering any injuries may be key through the summer months, but Madrid haven't looked sharp, they haven't looked interested and they haven't looked anything like European champions.

First things first: The concerns won't be piled up just yet. Results in friendly matches can be taken with a pinch of salt, and Madrid have been without some of their key players throughout the tournament. In the first match, against Inter, Ancelotti's side more resembled Castilla, the club's second string, than it did the side that lifted La Decima just two months ago.

More first-team regulars returned against Roma and United, but they were coming off the back of the World Cup in Brazil, while others, such as James Rodriguez, Karim Benzema, Marcelo and Raphael Varane, have not been across the pond with the rest of their teammates at all.

That said, there are still plenty of areas of concern for Ancelotti to address. President Florentino Perez wants his club fighting for every trophy possible this season, and that starts with the UEFA Super Cup on Aug. 12. There are areas of concern that need to be addressed quickly.

First up is the goalkeeping situation. Before the Michigan match, Ancelotti announced that Iker Casillas would start against United because he would also be starting in Cardiff against Sevilla. The decision was not too surprising, given the Italian picked the Spanish international as his cup goalkeeper last season, but Ancelotti has also said this summer that he does not want to rotate the goalkeepers as he did last term, hinting that Casillas would be his regular No.1 for this campaign.

That part is surprising, however, especially given Casillas' performances for Spain during the World Cup -- poor displays that came on the back of his error in the Champions League final in Lisbon, Portugal, that almost cost his club the title.

Casillas' performance on Saturday will come under scrutiny.

To give both he and Diego Lopez time on the pitch is understandable, but Casillas had another poor game in between the sticks. The first United goal, a fine, flowing move that resulted in Ashley Young finishing for the first of his two, went in at the goalkeeper's near post.

The second was also questionable on Casillas' part. Although the presence of Wayne Rooney undoubtedly troubled the shot-stopper, his reaction to Young's inswinging cross was agonisingly slow. For the third, the communication between goalkeeper and Pepe left plenty to be desired.

While the blame will not be fully on Casillas, his performance was not that of a man who should be Madrid's regular No. 1.

Maybe it's down to a lack of confidence and a need for regular match action and lots of it. Regular football has been extremely hard to come by for Casillas, and that must be hard to take for a man who was previously undroppable for a decade. Or maybe it's down to a player who is over the hill and past his best. Either way, Madrid's goalkeeping situation is currently far from ideal with a new campaign just around the corner.

Keylor Navas looks set to arrive at the Bernabeu, with Lopez a possible departure. On current form, the Costa Rican should be Los Blancos' starter next term. With a great World Cup behind him and the experience of being a regular for Levante in La Liga, Navas will be ready to jump straight in and should not be a benchwarmer just because the politics, and the pressure, calls for Casillas to start.

Ancelotti might also be worried about the lack of punch in his side's play, especially in attack, although that concern will be levelled by the fact that plenty of talent is ready to come in, with the likes of Benzema and Rodriguez set to join up with their teammates back in the Spanish capital next week.

Los Merengues scored just two goals in their three matches in the U.S., with both coming from the boot of Gareth Bale and only one -- a wonder strike from long distance -- from open play. The Welshman has looked sharp and dangerous, and Madrid fans can expect even bigger things from him with a full preseason under his belt

Isco has been tried in the "false nine" role but has struggled. The former Malaga man has looked impressive when dropping further back, but his lack of goals is proof enough that Ancelotti needs something else in attack, and that something else could be the Colombian new boy, Rodriguez.

Madridistas will also have been pleased to see Cristiano Ronaldo step out on to the pitch for the first time during the tour. Ancelotti said in his prematch news conference that the Portuguese star would not be risked against his former club, as he focused on getting him ready for the Super Cup. Politics, perhaps, dictated that he played the final 17 minutes, and, a Darren Fletcher tackle aside, he got through unscathed.

Finally, Dani Carvajal playing on the right wing? That probably says as much as you need to know about Madrid's final match in America. They have been poor in the States, and some concerns still need to be addressed, but there should not be too many worries with results relatively meaningless and big names still to return.

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