Rafael Benitez makes his competitive debut as Real Madrid head coach on Sunday night when his side kicks off the new La Liga season away to Sporting Gijon.
Although Gijon are one of Spain’s most traditional football clubs, this is their first game in the La Liga following several seasons in the second division and financial issues mean they have very few changes to the team that won promotion last season, reports foreign media.
Gijon kick off the new season with the youngest squad in competition, the average age of coach Abelardo Fernandez’s squad is just 23.5 years and they could pay for that inexperience against a Real side that should be little changed from last season.
There are a couple of doubts over the side Benitez will field in Gijon, with question marks over whether Dani Carvajal or Danilio will start at right back and whether Pepe, who extended his contract on Friday, will get the nod ahead of Rafael Varane in the middle of the back four.
Winger Gareth Bale, who needs a goal to take some pressure off, will continue in the free role he has had over pre-season, while Cristiano will once again be the one fans look to for goals.
Benitez has installed more defensive discipline in a side which conceded too many soft goals last season. But he still has a very creative midfield with Tony Kroos, Luka Modric and either James Rodriguez and Isco. It will be also interesting to see if Benitez opts to field all four and leave Karim Benzema on the bench — something that would only increase rumours of a possible move to England.
Meanwhile new arrival Matteo Kovacic should also be on the bench as he waits to make his debut for the club.