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 By Rob Train

Real Madrid get gentle Champions League group to aid Rafa Benitez

ESPN FC's Alejandro Moreno and Alexis Nunes look ahead to the Champions League campaigns for Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus and Bayern Munich.

Rafa Benitez's task in the Champions League this season is fairly straightforward: win it. Carlo Ancelotti did but reaching the semifinals the following season wasn't enough to save his job. Jose Mourinho guided Real to the semis in three consecutive seasons after arriving at the Bernabeu in 2010, following a barren period for the club of six consecutive defeats in the round of 16.

Benitez's margin for error in his first season really doesn't fall anywhere in between. The semifinals may buy him...

Real Madrid's new transfer strategy makes for a quiet summer

ESPN FC's Shaka Hislop and Alexis Nunes discuss Manchester United's reported plans to make one last attempt to sign Gareth Bale from Real Madrid in the final week of the transfer window.

Florentino Perez (July 7, 2001): "We will take this club to the place where it belongs based on Zidanes and Pavones."

Florentino Perez (June 6, 2009): "I've only followed the path set by Santiago Bernabeu: some of the best players in the world (Alfredo Di Stefano), the best of [other teams in] Spain (Amancio Amaro) and, with them, the best from our own cantera (Raul).

For almost a decade, Real Madrid's signing strategy looked so simple that president Florentino Perez was able to summarise...

ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

John Stones hands in transfer request as Chelsea ready £40m bid

ESPN FC's Brian McBride thinks a move to Chelsea might be a little premature for young defender John Stones, saying Everton is the perfect environment to learn.
Sky Sports claim John Stones has handed in a transfer request.

As always, Transfer Talk has its finger on the pulse when it comes to the latest rumours and gossip. See all the latest deals here.

TOP STORY: Stones hands in transfer request as Chelsea ready £40m bid

After having bids of £20 million, £26m and £30m knocked back from Everton, The Guardian reports that Chelsea are readying a new £40m bid for young defender John Stones.

The Times early on Tuesday reported that Stones was set to submit a formal transfer request in an attempt...

 By Rob Train

Benzema's return will bring cohesion back to Real Madrid attack

ESPN FC's Alejandro Moreno gives his take on the slow starts for both Barcelona and Real Madrid and believes there should be more concern at the Bernabeu than at Camp Nou.

Ahead of his first competitive match in charge of Real Madrid, Rafa Benitez spoke about the liberty he plans to allow his forwards this season. It was a line he had also used before the friendly match against Valerenga in Oslo earlier this month: "If we analyse Bale's movements, in the first half he was more on the left with James Rodriguez, and the second he was more through the middle. It's important that players have mobility, that freedom of movement."

Both matches ended goalless. In Gijon,...

Real Madrid need to improve or Rafa Benitez's honeymoon will soon be over

ESPN FC analyst Craig Burley sounds off on the "crisis" at Real Madrid after drawing their La Liga opener against Sporting Gijon and the questionable tactics that Rafa Benitez has put into place.
ESPN FC's Alejandro Moreno gives his take on the slow starts for both Barcelona and Real Madrid and believes there should be more concern at the Bernabeu than at Camp Nou.

For those who dare to dream, for those who hate hegemony, for the directors of football who must rely on brains ahead of budgets and for the fans of regional "David" clubs who hate the fact that the news is dominated by Goliath versus Goliath, these have been a good couple of weeks in Spanish football.

Barcelona were humbled by Athletic Club in the Super Cup, as were Madrid -- or at least frustrated -- by Sporting Gijon on the opening weekend of the Liga season.

We all know it's early and that to...

 By Ed Alvarez

Real Madrid suffering due to Rafa Benitez's overcomplicated approach

The ESPN FC crew weigh in on Rafa Benitez playing Gareth Bale in the hole rather than James Rodriguez.
Here are five things you didn't know about the weekend's La Liga action.

On Sunday evening, Real Madrid opened their La Liga season with a disappointing 0-0 draw in Gijon at the hands of the youngest and least expensive squad of the tournament, Sporting. Some Madridistas could find solace in the fact that their team took 25 shots and dominated the match, especially in the second half. It's also fair to think that they probably deserved a victory at the end of regulation.

However, the visitors' performance made it obvious that their hectic preseason has not been enough...