Five things: Roma 1-0 Real Madrid
Five thoughts from Real Madrid's 1-0 preseason defeat to Roma in Dallas on Tuesday night:
Pepe will be Pepe
Madrid are just two matches into their preseason friendly matches, yet Pepe has already been involved in some controversy. Roma midfielder Seydou Keita refused to shake hands with the defender before kickoff after alleging racial abuse by the Portuguese international during a Barcelona-Real Madrid Supercopa clash in 2011. It didn't end there. Keita, and the watching fourth official, alleged that Pepe spat at the Roma player soon after, before Keita reacted by throwing a water bottle Pepe's way.
Although the allegations are still fresh, Pepe's involvement in more controversial scenes will be a worry for manager Carlo Ancelotti. The former Porto man is no stranger to controversy, and his manager will be wary that a leopard can't change its spots.
Ancelotti was ready to drop Sergio Ramos in favour of playing Raphael Varane alongside Pepe in the heart of his defence last season, but a year later, it could be Pepe who misses out. On top of a dismal World Cup where he received a red card in Portugal's opener against Germany, Pepe could see Varane taking his place, especially after the Frenchman enjoyed a good World Cup and is injury-free heading into this campaign.
Varane and Ramos could be Ancelotti's weapon of choice in the centre-back spots this season, and Pepe may have to settle for a place on the bench or look for more first-team opportunities elsewhere.
James Rodriguez is a more crucial addition than first thought
Madrid have now played two friendly matches and have only one Gareth Bale wonder goal to show for their efforts thus far. That's not the kind of statistic you expect from a squad as blessed with quality as the one Ancelotti has at his disposal.
True, Los Merengues are still waiting for talisman Cristiano Ronaldo to be ready for action, while Karim Benzema is also supposed to return after his campaign with France in Brazil. Even so, they have struggled in front of goal in the United States.
Isco was tried again in the false nine role and looked like a tricky customer for the Roma defence. Indeed, Madrid created plenty of chances in front of the goal but could not find a way through. There was no clinical finishing when it mattered.
While last season Madrid could only turn to Isco, Alvaro Morata (now with Juventus) or Jese in the absence of Benzema up top, now they can at least look to James Rodriguez, who is yet to join up with his new teammates after his World Cup exploits. A more natural No. 10, the Colombian is also expected to be tried in the false-nine role on his arrival, and his addition could be key.
If there was any doubt that Dani Carvajal was Madrid's first-choice right-back, there shouldn't be now. The Madrid youth product, who spent a year away from the club in the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen, has started both of Los Blancos' friendly matches so far while Alvaro Arbeloa has sat out.
It may have seemed obvious with Carvajal starting the Champions League final and both semifinal matches, but Arbeloa still made 18 starts for last season, although Carvajal made 33. Those starts for the former Liverpool man probably came at a time when Carvajal needed rest. Not just a fullback, the 22-year-old uses his pace to pile forward and is a good on offense and defense.
Although the youngster will undoubtedly need some rest given that Madrid are battling on six fronts for trophies this season, he will be Ancelotti's first choice, and Arbeloa will be set for even more time on the Bernabeu bench as Carvajal looks to get better after his first full season back in the Spanish capital.
No. 1 jersey still up for grabs
Ancelotti said after the match that he has yet to decide who will be his No. 1 for next season. Iker Casillas started in Dallas before Diego Lopez Rodriguez replaced the club captain for the second half, in which the Italians got their goal through Francesco Totti.
Although he will keep a close eye on the performances of both goalkeepers, there is still the likelihood that the pair will be joined in the coming days by Levante shot-stopper Keylor Navas, who performed superbly for Costa Rica in Brazil.
Three in to one won't go, and either Casillas or Lopez is expected to leave the Bernabeu before the start of the new season. While the trip to the U.S. may be to get match fitness levels up to scratch and perfect formations, Ancelotti may also be using it as a faceoff to decide which of his current goalkeepers he wants to keep to offer competition to Navas.
Modric magic continues in light of new arrivals
Toni Kroos and Rodriguez might have bolstered Madrid's attack for next season, but Luka Modric has hit the ground running in being a man who makes Los Blancos tick.
The Croatian playmaker enjoyed a superb last season at the Bernabeu and was one of the club's players of the campaign after a somewhat indifferent debut season in the Spanish capital. He was the orchestrator in the middle of the park and the man who added much-needed drive to the team when they needed it most.
Kroos and Rodriguez will add plenty of stern competition, but Modric proved against Inter, albeit in a preseason friendly, that he's still a crucial cog in Ancelotti's plans. He worked hard in defence and pushed Madrid forward, playing a number of impressive balls through to Bale and Isco throughout the match.
There will be disappointment among Madrid's midfielders next season given the riches they have at their disposal, but Modric should be one of the first names on Ancelotti's team sheet next season.