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FA Cup quarterfinal draw

FA Cup
By ESPN Staff

Real Madrid ready to defend crown against Barca

MADRID, Aug 15 (Reuters) - Real Madrid ended their four-year trophy drought in dramatic fashion when they wrested the league title from Barcelona in June, but they will be pushed to repeat the feat against their reinforced rivals this season.

Real responded to their triumph by jettisoning title-winning coach Fabio Capello and bringing in Bernd Schuster from Getafe, claiming that the team had not played sufficiently attractive, attack-minded football under the Italian./news/story?id=453270&cc=

It was ironic then that Real's first three signings under the new regime were defensive players.

German international Christoph Metzelder arrived on a free transfer from Borussia Dortmund, Brazilian-born centre-back Pepe moved Porto for a hefty 30 million euros ($40.75 million) and Polish keeper Jerzy Dudek joined after ending his contract with Liverpool.

Real then signed striker Javier Saviola after the Argentine was discarded by Barcelona and recruited Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder and his versatile compatriot Royston Drenthe.

But bids to sign Brazil playmaker Kaka and Chelsea's Michael Ballack foundered and the gaps left by the departure of David Beckham and Roberto Carlos will be hard to fill.

Arch-rivals Barcelona successfully diverted attention from a deeply disappointing campaign by splashing out over 65 million euros on adding some steel to a side that looked to be resting on its laurels for much of last season.

The arrival of Thierry Henry generated huge excitement at the Nou Camp and with Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi already in their ranks, the Catalans possess what is undoubtedly the most explosive strike force in European football.

Quite how coach Frank Rijkaard plans to use the "fantastic four" remains to be seen, but if he can manage their egos successfully it promises to be a grand spectacle.

Given the team's defensive frailties, however, it is the signing of France left back Eric Abidal, Argentine central defender Gabriel Milito and midfielder Yaya Toure that could prove more significant to the team's title chances.

UEFA Cup and King's Cup winners Sevilla have kept faith with their policy of coupling astute low-profile signings with the introduction of talented players from the team's much-vaunted youth team set-up.

The addition of Belgian youngster Tom de Mul and Mali international Seydou Keita in midfield will further strengthen the most well-balanced squad in the league, but the likely departure of the dynamic Daniel Alves will be a big blow.

Valencia also look to have done some shrewd recruitment in bringing in centre backs Alexis and Ivan Helguera from Getafe and Real Madrid, while the towering Serbian striker Nikola Zigic will cause plenty of problems for opposition defences.

Of the rest big-spending Atletico Madrid are out to prove that there is life after Fernando Torres.

On paper at least, Atletico have made some appetising additions to their squad in the shape of Uruguay striker Diego Forlan, Luis Garcia, Portuguese player of the year Simao Sabrosa and Brazilian midfielder Cleber Santana.

The three promoted sides Valladolid, Almeria and Real Murcia face an uphill battle if they are to retain their top-flight status, while Athletic Bilbao and Real Betis are hoping that the appointment of new coaches Joaquin Caparros and Hector Cuper will prevent a repetition of last season's relegation scares.