Preview: Real Madrid v AS Roma

How do you please Real Madrid? From Vicente del Bosque to Carlo Ancelotti, there never seems to be a happy ending for the boss of Los Blancos.

Pre-season friendlies are supposed to be the matches when no-one cares if you win or lose.

The early weeks of the new campaign should be all about conditioning and building familiarity, particularly under a new coach.

It doesn't work that way at Real Madrid.

When Los Blancos, with only one La Liga triumph in the last seven seasons, take on Roma at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Saturday, there will be millions of fans around the world, not to mention Spain's obsessive football media, ready to pounce on any indication the team have not made progress following Carlo Ancelotti's departure at the end of last season.

His successor, former Valencia, Liverpool, Internazionale and Napoli coach Rafael Benitez, has discovered more than a few booby traps lying around in his first weeks at Valdebebas.

Club stalwart and fan favourite Iker Casillas has left for Porto. A new goalkeeper is yet to replace him, despite Manchester United's David de Gea being heavily pursued.

Key defender Sergio Ramos is with the squad in Melbourne but has been actively seeking a move in the opposite direction to De Gea, flirting with Louis van Gaal's Red Devils after falling out with the Madrid hierarchy.

These issues are largely beyond the control of Benitez who, unlike Jose Mourinho, has been recruited only to train and instruct the players he is provided with by president Florentino Perez. 

The first key test for the new coach then is how to approach Cristiano Ronaldo, Madrid's undisputed king of the dressing room.

A case could be made by some brave, foolhardy soul to begin building the next team around 25-year-old Gareth Bale, rather 30-year-old Ronaldo.

Real Madrid superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.

Benitez though, while strong-willed and unsentimental, is also a shrewd politician and knows picking a fight with CR7 (and, by extension, his legions of supporters worldwide) would constitute career suicide. 

Given the Portugal captain's supreme athleticism, there's a good chance he will sustain his recent extraordinary contribution in terms of goals, despite having reached his physical prime.

Regardless of the merits of retaining Ronaldo as the focal point of Madrid's attack, Benitez knows how things are done at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.

Be it Alfredo Di Stefano, Raul or CR7, the king remains the king and, as long as he retains the support of the fans and president, remains untouchable, even if his footballing output ceases to justify his popularity and standing. 

Asked by his own club's official website about the star striker, Benitez kowtowed shamelessly to a player who arrived in Australia before the rest of the team and has been making a stir in Melbourne by shopping for snapbacks, getting a haircut and hitting the casino tables.

"He's a fundamental player for us," the coach said.

"It's great that he's here with all the group. By meeting him and starting to exchange our thoughts with each other, we will be able to progress in terms of the dynamic of the group and get to know him better, so as to get the best out of him and so that the team can make the most of everything he has to offer."

Full marks, Rafa.

Rafael Benitez

As well as telling the fan favourite what he wants to hear, there are two other conditions every coach must meet in order to succeed at Madrid.

One is to fulfil the club's self-proclaimed values of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct. Although he won La Liga and the Copa del Rey, Jose Mourinho singularly failed to uphold or enforce those standards of individual and collective behaviour and, by the end, was proving an embarrassment to Perez and the other powerbrokers in the directors' box.

The other condition is more simple and yet more difficult. A Madrid coach must produce a team that wins and wins with style.

That may yet prove to be beyond a former defender who never progressed from the Castilla to the first team.

Benitez won the league title and UEFA Cup at Valencia and the Champions League with Liverpool but rarely did the football his teams played thrill or astound supporters and neutrals.

The man in the hot seat knows what is expected and required of him. Whether or not he can achieve it remains to be seen. 

"I want Real Madrid to be Real Madrid," he said.

"I want us to be a team that goes out to win every game, that takes the initiative, are assertive, that attack as well as in recent years and that defend a little bit better, to achieve that balance that will enable us to win more games and have a greater chance of winning trophies."

Be it a long tenure or a brief stay there will, inevitably, be a case for the prosecution and a case for the defence at the end of Rafael Benitez's Real Madrid coaching career. The first pieces of evidence will be collected at the MCG on Saturday.

Match Details

Real Madrid v AS Roma

7pm (AEST), Saturday 18 July

Melbourne Cricket Ground

Broadcast live on GEM