Gareth Bale lights up Real friendly
Despite an excellent Gareth Bale goal, Real Madrid lost 3-2 on penalties after finishing level 1-1 with Internazionale on Saturday in San Francisco in their first game of the International Champions Cup. Here are five thoughts from Real's match:
Bale me in
When a foreign player in La Liga goes shopping for an Alice band, they mean business.
David Beckham cornered the market during his time in Madrid and Gareth Bale has followed suit -- even if he has yet to master the language as the former England captain did (at least when harangued by a Spanish journalist on the way to the kids' school, whereupon Beckham unleashed a pitch-perfect stream of Spanish vitriol).
Bale has so far refused to be drawn into the local tongue, but a full preseason looks set to propel the Welshman to even greater heights this season. A Copa del Rey winner, and a Champions League decider, were joined in California by a swerving thunderbolt that few keepers could have hoped to stop. Bale had a remarkable first season at Real considering his lack of prep. This year, he will be challenging the usual suspects for the Ballon d'Or.
The kids are all right?
Real Madrid's canteranos may be standing outside the first-team door, but they're hardly rapping on it with any conviction: Raul de Tomas and Diego Llorente are the bright sparks among the current cantera crop, but Castilla were relegated last season to Segunda B purgatory and the road back from there is far from easy, whatever your shirt colour.
Zinedine Zidane has all the attributes to become a fine coach, but the World Cup-winning midfield genius has his work cut out to provide anything the first team can use for now. A raft of loan deals for the up-and-comers is the best Real can do for the moment.
Castilla is a sinking ship and the likelihood of another breakthrough season for a graduate such as Jese or Alvaro Morata is extremely remote.
The Spanish connection
There was little at stake on Saturday for Real on what is essentially a shirt-selling exercise, but last summer's signings had the chance to prove themselves worthy of a more regular place in Carlo Ancelotti's mind. Handed a starting berth as senior players on the night, Isco and Asier Illarramendi did little to dispel growing concerns that their purchases were knee-jerk reactions to a lack of Spanish talent in Real's squad.
It seems as though Florentino Perez is abandoning his previous stated goal to inject a bit of home-grown talent into the squad, but the players Real have at their disposal are doing little to help themselves.
Isco's promising start to his Blancos career has evaporated and Illarramendi is doing little to trouble Xabi Alonso for his starting spot. In the absence of most of the first team against Inter, neither of last summer's big-money signings took the chance to excite Ancelotti's eyebrow.
Playing for keeps
If Real have a problem position, it is that of goalkeeper. Iker Casillas, among many first-teamers, was not on hand for the Inter match but his long-term future is a matter of much hand-wringing for worshippers at the altar of "The Saint."
Diego Lopez started against Inter and did little wrong, but then he had little to do. Reals' third-choice stopper Jesus Fernandez was given a few minutes and would have raised eyebrows on the Real bench with a fine double-save 10 minutes from time, and another during the penalty shootout.
Unfortunately, this being Real, Jesus is likely to remain third fiddle next season, behind a duo of two of Lopez, Casillas, and Levante's Keylor Navas, who apparently had to have an exceptional World Cup to alight on Real's radar, despite being the difference between Levante finishing mid-table and being relegated for several seasons now.
Any old iron
The incorporation of Fernando Hierro onto the coaching staff was a fine piece of recruiting and in the absence of both Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane -- Real's best central defensive pairing for the season ahead -- Ancelotti's side looked comfortable at the back and only conceded once.
Many of Real's defensive wrinkles were ironed out last season; with Hierro on the staff, the side will be far stronger at the back this campaign.