Real Madrid will take to the field for the first time since Cristiano Ronaldo’s penalty secured an 11th European Cup when going up against fellow continental giants Paris Saint-Germain in Ohio on Wednesday. Victory over Atletico Madrid provided a dream climax to the season for Zinedine Zidane less than six months after the former Los Blancos midfield great took charge.
He will need no reminding, though, that the joyous night in Milan will be quickly forgotten is similar success does not continue. Zidane, after all, was assistant to Carlo Ancelotti, who was axed in 2015, just a year after winning the Champions League.
And the players appear to get the message that everything now starts afresh as preparations for the new season get underway.
“We won the last European Cup, but we have to forget that,” left-back Marcelo said while in Montreal for a week of training before heading to Ohio. “We're making our preparations in Canada with our minds focused on working hard. It's no good to keep thinking about the fact we're champions. The only thing in our minds is working to win more titles.”
So far, however, little has changed in terms of the makeup of Zidane’s squad. In contrast to how Real Madrid usually goes about its business in the transfer market, the club has been quiet thus far. Only Alvaro Morata has arrived after the club activated its clause to re-sign him from Juventus.
And the Spain international is one of the players with most to prove on a three-game tour of the United States, which also sees Real Madrid take on Chelsea and Bayern Munich. It was initially widely believed that Morata was only being signed so that he could be then sold on at a profit. But Zidane appears keen to keep him around, although with the famed forward trio of Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema well established, Morata will know that he is up against it to earn a starting role.
He is set to be given an early chance to impress on Wednesday. Both Bale and Ronaldo have yet to rejoin the squad after their exploits at Euro 2016, meaning Zidane could start with Benzema and Morata up front against PSG.
Another player with plenty of reason to want to put in strong showings in the U.S. is James Rodriguez. It appeared likely that the Colombian playmaker would already have been moved on after a season in which he found himself out of favor, first with Rafael Benitez and then with Zidane. But after showing flashes at this summer’s Copa America Centenario of the quality that persuaded Real Madrid to spend big on him two years ago, he may have earned a second chance.
“I want to convince Zidane," James told Spanish daily Marca. “This season I hope to have more minutes."
James even revealed last week that a bid had come in for his services. And, while he didn’t name the club in question, it may well have been from Real Madrid’s first opponents of preseason, with PSG known to be admirers of the 25-year-old.
Even without James’ arrival, there has been significant change at PSG this summer. Both the club’s talisman and coach departed, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic leaving at the end of his contract to join Manchester United and Laurent Blanc being replaced by Unai Emery.
While Blanc dominated domestically, he failed to give the club’s owners the success they craved in Europe, losing in the Champions League quarterfinals for three successive seasons. And it will be in the Champions League where his successor is judged. Having won the Europa League an unprecedented three seasons in a row, it is not hard to see why Emery was chosen.
The Spaniard has already made his mark, bringing with him from Sevilla defensive midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak. The Poland international didn’t feature as PSG beat Inter Milan 3-1 in its opening game in the U.S. on Sunday. But along with, Thiago Motta, David Luiz and Marco Verratti, who also didn’t travel to Oregon to take on Inter, could feature on Wednesday at the 105,000 capacity Ohio Stadium.
Real Madrid Squad For PSG Match
Goalkeepers: Keylor Navas, Kike Casilla, Ruben Yanex, Alex Craninx, Luca Zidane
Defenders: Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Danilo, Dabi Carvajal, Marcelo, Nacho, Philipp Lienhart, Alvaro Tejero, Achraf Hakimi
Midfielders: Casemiro, Luka Modric, Isco, Mateo Kovacic, Marco Asensio, Martin Odegaard, Enzo Zidane, Diego Llorente, Aleix Febas
Forwards: Karim Benzema, Alvaro Morata, Jese Rodriguez, Lucas Vazquez, Mariano, Sergio Diaz
Goalkeepers: Kevin Trapp, Alphonse Areola, Remy Deschamps
Defenders: Serge Aurier, Alec Georgen David Luiz, Presnel Kimpembe, Layvin Kurzawa, Maxwell, Thomas Meunier, Thiago Silva
Midfielders: Lorenzo Callegari, Angel di Maria, Grzrgorz Krychowiak, Jonathan Ikone, Christopher Nkunku, Javer Pastore, Adrien Rabiot, Benjamin Stambouli, Thiago Motta, Marco Verratti
Forwards: Hatem Ben Arfa, Edinson Cavani, Odsonne Edouard, Lucas Moura
Venue: Ohio Stadium, Columbus
Time: Wednesday, 7.30 p.m. EDT