Real ready for tough challenge

Real ended Barcelona’s recent dominance last term by winning the Primera Liga title but the challenge now is to defend their crown.

The UEFA Champions League also promises to be keenly contested as coach Jose Mourinho seeks to win the competition with a third different club, following his successes with Inter Milan in 2010 and Porto in 2004.

His second-in-command Karanka told reporters in Spain: “We have to find our best form because we face a big challenge and it’s going to be really tough from day one.

“We’re going to need all the players’ talent and commitment if we are to succeed.”

Limit

Real could not have asked for a better build-up to the current campaign, scoring 14 goals and conceding just once in their four-match tour of America.

“The players have finished the pre-season well and have all shown signs of being able to push themselves to the limit. The team has also performed well as a group, even in attack,” Karanka added.

“Each game has been fiercely competitive and with the quality of the players in the team things are turning out really well.

“We have to keep up the high work ethic and maintain a positive attitude towards earning a place in the line-up.”

Hulk prefers England or Spain

Chelsea, Real Madrid, Paris Saint Germain and most recently Zenit St Petersburg have all been linked with the forward, who has a €100million (£78m) contract release clause at Porto.

But despite Hulk and his various representatives regularly discussing his career in the media, there has been no transfer.

It remains to be seen if any club is prepared to pay the money required for the 2012 Olympic silver medalist but he has indicated Chelsea or Real could be the ideal destinations.

“I have left a door open for being transferred to another league,” said Hulk.

“I have preference for playing in the Premier League or the Spanish Liga, because they are the two leagues that are the most seen all over the world.

“I didn’t talk too much with my agent about the chance of being transferred, because I have been on duty with the Brazilian national team at the Olympics.

“But I am going to talk about my future from Monday. My future is in the hands of God.”

McGeouch hospitalised in loss

The 19-year-old was knocked out cold after being caught late by a powerful aerial challenge by Nuri Sahin and falling to the ground heavily at the Lincoln Financial Field.

Medical staff rushed on amid some urgent signals from players of both sides and McGeouch was carried off wearing a neck brace after more than five minutes of treatment.

And Celtic later announced on Twitter: “Dylan McGeouch has been taken to hospital with suspected jaw fracture.”

A useful workout for an under-strength Celtic was overshadowed by the second-half injury to McGeouch, who had impressed with some composed possession play in right midfield, and other fitness problems for manager Neil Lennon.

Lennon lost striker Anthony Stokes, who has been suffering with an ankle problem, in the warm-up, and fellow striker Daryl Murphy limped off during the first half.

There was a minor scare late in the game too when defender Thomas Rogne needed treatment for what looked like a thigh problem.

Real won comfortably with goals in each half from Jose Callejon and Karim Benzema but Celtic were up against a strong Real squad who had put five goals past both Los Angeles Galaxy and AC Milan on their US tour and were able to bring on top internationals during the second half.

Lennon was without the likes of Fraser Forster, James Forrest, Scott Brown, Georgios Samaras and Victor Wanyama while Gary Hooper remained on the bench. Youngsters Callum McGregor and Marcus Fraser both came on.

Deadlock broken

Celtic started brightly and Beram Kayal made a strong burst forward but shot against a defender when he should have played in Kris Commons.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka threatened before Callejon opened the scoring midway through the half.

Charlie Mulgrew, playing in left midfield, lost the ball and, with Kelvin Wilson dragged out of position, Xabi Alonso found Gonzalo Higuain in space on the edge of the box.

Rogne got a tackle in but the ball fell kindly for Callejon, who steered the ball out of the reach of Lukasz Zaluska and knocked it over the line.

Zaluska saved well from Ronaldo before Celtic had their best chance just before the break.

Joe Ledley made a brilliant run from inside own half, rode two challenges and turned inside a defender but fired over the bar from 20 yards.

Wilson’s sliding challenge prevented Benzema converting after Ronaldo’s driven cross but the Frenchman doubled the lead in the 67th minute.

Mesut Ozil won the ball just inside his own half and played a brilliant crossfield pass to Benzema, who ran into the box and shot through the legs of Adam Matthews and in off far post.

McGeouch’s injury then put a dampener on the occasion and Celtic kept out Real in the latter stages.

Porto remain firm over Hulk

A host of clubs have been linked with the Porto captain, with Chelsea, Real Madrid, Paris St Germain and most recently Zenit St Petersburg all said to be interested.

But da Costa remains defiant and is calm about Hulk’s future at the club, insisting he will only sanction his exit if a club is willing to pay his release clause, which stands at a massive €100million.

“I didn’t meet Hulk’s agent. Hulk is a player with a buyout fee and if any club want him, they just need to pay that, they don’t need to come here,” said da Costa.

“Hulk will only leave if it interests both Porto and the player. But so far nothing happened to make me think we’ll reach that point.

“Therefore, I expect that for this season Hulk will remain a Porto player.”

Question mark

Hulk’s agent Teodoro Fonseca told Radio Renascenca that you can never rule out a move.

“Hulk has a contract, he likes FC Porto, but at the moment everything has a question mark,” he said.

“We sometimes want a player to stay, but the conditions aren’t the best. Sometimes clubs have to give up a right, a player, or a person to keep their structure. People come and go, but the clubs stay.

“Everything is possible in the world of football.”

AVB maintains Modric stance

Modric has been linked with a move out of White Hart Lane all summer, with Real Madrid keen on the Croatia international.

However, nothing concrete has emerged yet, with Spurs demanding £40million for the 26-year-old.

And Villas-Boas has continued to maintain the club’s stance over the transfer fee.

“He (Modric) is training alone because we decided to do that until his mental state is ready to return to the team,” explained the Portuguese.

Respect

“It is important that, in the coming days, he understands he must return to the first team.

“We respect the player’s ambition, but he must also respect the club.

“Until we receive a suitable offer for the player, he will not go.

“The contacts we have had with other clubs have not met with what Tottenham wants for the player.

“We respect the size of Madrid and the other interested clubs, but they must respect what we are doing too.”

Tottenham will begin their 2012/13 Premier League campaign with an away game against Newcastle United on Saturday, 18th August.

Di Maria signs bumper Real deal

Di Maria joined Real from Benfica two years ago and he was already under contract at the Santiago Bernabeu until 2016.

However, after scoring seven goals and providing 16 assists last season, the Argentina international revealed he is delighted to have earned an extension.

The 24-year-old told the club’s official website: “I am completing a dream I had as a child.

Very happy

“I am very happy here and the extension of the contract gives me the chance to continue at Real Madrid for many years and to keep improving.

“When I arrived they said it wouldn’t be easy to win over the Bernabeu, but thanks to God and with the work and sacrifice I have put in every day and in every match I have won this affection. I feel very supported and loved by the club and the fans.”

Di Maria believes his progression as a player also has a lot to do with the influence of Jose Mourinho and is hoping the Portuguese coach’s impact will continue to make him stronger.

“I have changed a lot in all ways since I arrived here,” he added. “From a football perspective I have improved a lot thanks to Mourinho.

“He asked the club to bring me here when I was at the World Cup and things weren’t going well so a huge part of what I am doing in this moment is thanks to him.

“Hopefully I can continue learning every day. I am still young and I think I can learn a lot here and gain experience.”

Milan doubt Kaka deal

Real Madrid have hinted that they would be prepared to part with the Brazil international this summer.

The Primera Liga giants spent big on the former World Player of the Year back in 2009, with a £55million fee reported to have changed hands.

Kaka has, however, struggled to produce the kind of form in Spain which made him a global superstar during his time in Italy.

Real boss Jose Mourinho has opened the door to a summer transfer, as he continues to track Luka Modric, and a return to Milan has been mooted.

Difficult

The Rossoneri would welcome Kaka’s return, as they look to snatch the Serie A title back from Juventus, but concede that they are likely to miss out on any deal.

The transfer fee involved and the salary required to land the Samba star puts Kaka out of their price bracket.

Galliani told Gazzetta dello Sport: “The Kaka operation is objectively very, very difficult. It is almost impossible.

“Costs are high, and he has a very high salary.”

Mourinho – Kaka can leave

The Brazil playmaker has been strongly linked with a move back to his old club AC Milan after falling down the pecking order under Mourinho.

Madrid are seemingly keen to sign Croatia international Luka Modric from Tottenham before the close of the summer transfer window, and Kaka is deemed surplus to requirements.

And now Mourinho has disclosed that he is open to the idea of selling the 30-year-old is a suitable offer arrives.

“If Kaka stays I would be happy and I am happy if he wants to go. In football it is normal that the players play where they want,” the Portuguese told AS.

“He is a very good footballer and prepared to be at his maximum level. If he decides to stay, then perfect.

“If he goes, that’s perfect too but we are not going to give him away for free. Those that want him have to pay for him.”

Joselu joins Hoffenheim

The 22-year-old – full name Jose Luis Mato Sanmartin – signed a four-year-deal on Wednesday after lengthy discussions between Real and Hoffenheim.

Last season Joselu scored 26 goals in 36 games for Real’s reserve side, and also scored on his first-team debut in the Primera Liga and Copa del Rey.

The striker’s good form had attracted interest from a number of Premier League clubs, but Hoffenheim have announced that the Spaniard will be turning out for them in 2012/13.

Hoffenheim coach, Markus Babbel told the club’s official website: “Joselu has already demonstrated his class at Real Madrid.

“But he’s still young as well and has a lot of potential; he fits in perfectly in this team and at Hoffenheim.”

Albiol lands new Real deal

Albiol agreed a new deal on Monday that will keep him at the Bernabeu until 2017 following an impressive three years after moving from La Liga rivals Valencia for a fee believed to be in the region of 15million euros.

He has won the Copa del Rey and La Liga during his time with the club although he made just 10 league appearances last season.

With Pepe, Sergio Ramos and Ricardo Carvalho all vying for a position at the heart of defence, Albiol clearly has his work cut out to claim a starting berth, but offering him a long-term deal would indicate manager Jose Mourinho has faith in the 26-year-old.

“I am very happy because this means that the club and its coaching staff trust in me being here,” Albiol told the club’s official website.

“I really feel at home at Real Madrid and I’m very happy. Now I have to show that they are not wrong and that I can be a good player for the team.

“In the world of football you never know because anything can happen during each season. I’m really excited and want to stay on at the club. I’m very happy here and hope to be here until I retire.”

Winner

Albiol has won 36 caps for Spain and although he was selected for their European Championship campaign, he was unused throughout the tournament in Poland and Ukraine.

He was quick to pay tribute to Mourinho after penning a new contract, saying: “The coach is very demanding and gets the best performance out of each player.

“He makes you concentrate and be involved. He’s a winner. You have to be there and really make an effort.

“He’s been successful for many years now, winning lots of trophies and training the best teams in the world. He understands a lot about football, devotes a lot of time to it, and is on top of everything. He knows how to get the best from the players. That’s his skill.”

Albiol is not content with winning just one Primera Division, saying the team are focused on success on every front this year.

“Together we’ll try to fight for all the trophies. We particularly want to win the European Cup,” he added.

“On a personal level I’ll try to improve, shine when I have the opportunity to do so and help the team as much as I can. We must come together because that’s the most important thing.”