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Thursday, 13 December, 2018

Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema must step up for Real Madrid

High turnover of players could cost Roma

Gareth Bale starred in Real Madrid's Champions League success
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Real Madrid Julen Lopetegui
No team had ever successfully defended the European Cup in the Champions League era until this Real Madrid side won three in a row and the competition had become so easy they decided things needed to be evened up.

Zinedine Zidane, in charge for all three of those triumphs, quit before a much more surprising move saw Real cash in on Cristiano Ronaldo, the scorer of 120 Champions League goals with 43 of them coming during their European threepeat.

Freeing up 33-year-old Ronaldo's colossal contract and landing the tasty transfer fee from Juventus made financial sense for Real but the pressure will increase on Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema to replace his enormous tally of goals.

Zidane's replacement Julen Lopetegui has no great club pedigree and his name is mud in parts of Spain after agreeing to the Bernabeu switch on the eve of the World Cup, which led to him being sacked by La Roja.

Real's record means they must be respected, but it's time for a changing of the guard.

Roma Eusebio Di Francesco
Roma fans are unhappy and they let the club know with a banner in front of the training ground which read: What Scudetto, what Champions League? Your trophies: profits and sales!

Roma have entrusted their faith in renowned sporting director Monchi, the ultimate wheeler dealer in the transfer market, and having done so they were always heading for a Sevilla-like model where the philosophy is to buy players and sell them for a profit.

So instead of building on last season's Champions League semi-final appearance they have sold Alisson to Liverpool (who beat them in the last four) in a then-record deal for a goalkeeper, as well as taking hefty fees for ageing midfielders Kevin Strootman and Radja Nainggolan.

Steven N'Zonzi, Robin Olsen and Javier Pastore have replaced them, joining a younger generation in Justin Kluivert, Ante Coric and Bryan Cristante, but the high turnover of players is unlikely to bring about an instant improvement.

CSKA Moscow Viktor Goncharenko
CSKA Moscow have not reached the Champions League knockout stages since 2012 and last season's Europa League quarter-finalists look ill-equipped to tackle Europe's elite competition.

They always knew the time would come to replace a veteran defence but it was perhaps not so wise for all three of their centre-backs - Sergei Ignashevich and the Berezutski twins with a combined age of 110 - to retire in the same summer.

CSKA, second in Russia last term, also saw their best player, midfielder Aleksandr Golovin, enhance his reputation at the World Cup and leave for Monaco.

Top goalscorer Vitinho went back to Brazil, experienced pair Pontus Wernbloom and Bibras Natcho departed on free transfers to Greek clubs and speedy striker Ahmed Musa, a revelation on his return to the club with six goals in ten league games, failed to make a loan move permanent.

Seven of the nine arrivals are 22 or under and the other two - Hordur Magnusson and Abel Hernandez - signed from Sky Bet Championship teams Bristol City and Hull respectively.

Viktoria Plzen Pavel Vrba
For nearly 100 years Viktoria Plzen bounced around the top two Czech leagues without winning a major trophy but all that changed with the appointment of Pavel Vrba in 2008.

Vrba, who had carved out a reputation for himself as a coach of a vibrant Zilina side who won the Slovak league, transformed Viktoria by winning the Czech Cup in 2010 and their first championship crown arrived the following year.

Now the Plzen side cannot stop winning. They celebrated a fifth title last season under the returning Vrba, who departed in 2014 for the Czech Republic national team before boosting his bank balance with a trip to Russian outfit Anzhi.

Vrba is back in his comfort zone, at the club where he broke the Czech record for consecutive matches in charge, and will be as influential as ever with Viktoria virtually unchanged from last season's title success.

Robust striker Michael Krmencik's lack of grace may have put off potential suitors which is further good news.


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Real's record means they must be respected, but it's time for a changing of the guard
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