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No Ronaldo but Real ready for treble tilt

SoccerNews in La Liga 29 Aug 2008

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Cristiano Ronaldo was supposed to be Real Madrid's secret weapon this season but the reigning Spanish champions must shrug off the disappointment of failing to capture the Portuguese sensation.

And now Real will be focusing on securing a third straight league title for the first time in 21 years.

Ronaldo openly admitted his desire to join Real but Manchester United coach Sir Alex Ferguson had other ideas blocking the transfer to leave Real counterpart Bernd Schuster frustrated.

“We have to respect his decision. He was free to do what he wanted and it is a shame that he will not be joining us because he is a player that would have improved what is already a great team,” said Schuster.

“But we have a superb side to start the league with and to play for all the aims that we have.”

The primary aim is to retain the Spanish title and notch a third consecutive league crown for the first time since 1988, when they won five straight titles from 1986-1990.

German manager Schuster won the league in his debut season and becomes the first coach to earn a second campaign in the Real hot-seat since Vicente Del Bosque in 2003.

Schuster has been backed by the Madrid hierarchy but the feeling is that he must make an impact on this season's Champions League after Real limped out to AS Roma at the last 16 of last season's competition.

Record nine-time European champions Real have failed to get past the last 16 stage since 2004 and Schuster is under pressure to revive their glory days.

However, the Madrid chequebook has largely remained closed this summer with Dutch playmaker Rafael van der Vaart the only big-name capture with SV Hamburg relinquishing his services for 13 million euros.

“Madrid's style of play is very much like the Dutch national team where we like to attack and score goals,” said van der Vaart.

Captain Raul scored 18 league goals in 37 appearances last season and will no doubt be fired up again after watching his Spanish team-mates win Euro 2008 while he watched from the armchair.

Goalkeeper Iker Casillas and full back Sergio Ramos, two of Spain's Euro 2008 stars, provide a solid backbone to the team but many question why Real have not bought a striker – Valencia forward David Villa was mentioned along with Ajax's Klass-Jan Huntelaar – as Ruud van Nistelrooy and Raul are both approaching the end of their brilliant careers.

Another problem for Schuster could be getting the best out of Brazilian winger Robinho, who was furious that Real were apparently willing to sell him to raise funds to finance a Ronaldo bid.

Robinho had his best season to date in the last campaign and said he wanted to join Chelsea after the Premiership side made an official bid but Real turned it down and Schuster must somehow convince the Samba star that he is still part of his plans.

Real have an awkward opening fixture on Sunday at bogey ground Deportivo La Coruna, where they have not won since the 1991/92 season.

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