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Real Madrid's tough start to life after Cristiano Ronaldo under Julen Lopetegui

ESPN FC's La Liga correspondent Sid Lowe explains what it will take for Gareth Bale to seize the opportunity left by Cristiano Ronaldo's departure.

New Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui will have been happy enough to have neighbours Getafe at the Bernabeu as his first La Liga game in charge. But the 2018-19 fixture list announced this week provides tough challenges for a manager heading into his first season at the club.

The immediate reaction when the fixtures were released was to find the dates for the Clasicos against Barcelona. And Madrid's first meeting with the La Liga champions comes early this year, as the Camp Nou "welcomes" former Blaugrana back-up goalkeeper Lopetegui for the first time in his new job on Oct. 28.

Even before that comes the derby against neighbours Atletico Madrid at the Bernabeu as early as Sep. 30. That will be a big test for the new Madrid boss, whose side have taken just two points from their last five La Liga games at home to Diego Simeone's side.

The opening day fixture should not prove too difficult. Madrid have won 16 of their last 17 matches in all competitions against suburban neighbours Getafe, scoring at least three times in the last seven meetings at the Bernabeu.

Also at the home during the first few weeks are Leganes, Espanyol and Levante. These are all teams who would not usually be expected to get anything from their visits -- although Levante drew there early last season.

Fans scanning the fixture list will surely have noticed the first six of Madrid's away games are potentially tricky for a manager whose only previous top flight club coaching experience was 18 up and down months at Porto.

Under Zinedine Zidane last season, Madrid picked up just six points across their visits to Girona, Athletic Bilbao, Sevilla, Alaves, Barcelona and Celta Vigo -- with the only win a narrow 2-1 victory at Alaves in which the Basque side hit the post twice late on.

Madrid's only previous experience at Girona's Montilivi stadium is a 2-1 defeat there last September. They have not won at Sevilla's Sanchez Pizjuan since 2015, and have been beaten there in each of the last two seasons. Zidane's side drew 2-2 in a roller-coaster game at Celta last January, having been eliminated from the Copa del Rey at Balaidos the previous campaign.

The away Clasico actually looks welcoming among this run, with Madrid having won two and drawn two of their last four visits in all competitions. But then Cristiano Ronaldo was often key to those successes -- he scored on five of his last seven appearances at the Camp Nou. Ronaldo's exit is just one of the factors which Lopetegui will be dealing with as the new season begins.

The UEFA Super Cup against Atletico a few days before La Liga begins will also surely have a big effect on morale among the Bernabeu fans and pundits during the opening weeks. World Cup finalists Luka Modric and Raphael Varane are among the key Madrid players unlikely to be up to 100 percent fitness for that game in Tallinn.

A third successive Champions League success under Zidane last May also provides an extra midseason hurdle for Lopetegui. Participation in the Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates in December means the trip to Villarreal scheduled for directly before the winter break now will be played later in the season, whenever a free midweek can be found among Copa del Rey and Champions League commitments.

Madrid have only won two of their last six trips to the Estadio de la Ceramica. So another of La Liga's more difficult away games will have to be negotiated at what might not be an ideal moment in the season.

The flip side of such a challenging schedule is that should Lopetegui come through the difficult opening weeks with his team flying and top of the table, they could already be well on their way to what would be just a third domestic title in eleven years.

The final game of the 2018-19 campaign brings Real Betis at home -- an easier game on paper, but then Quique Setien's clever side did win 1-0 at the Bernabeu last season.

Whatever way you look at it, this week's La Liga fixture draw has not been particularly kind to Lopetegui, who faces a tough task in getting his new Madrid side up and running.

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