New signing Mariano Diaz unveiled at Real Madrid

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Back at home: Mariano Diaz.

Real Madrid unveiled new signing Mariano Diaz at the Bernabeu on Friday.

The 25-year-old, who left the Whites a year ago and joined Lyon in an €8 million deal, returned to Los Blancos on Thursday for a fee which almost trebled that.

The Spanish giants exercised a buy-back clause in their original agreement with the Ligue 1 side and club president Florentino Perez handed the Dominican Republic star the vacant No7 jersey.

It’s been a busy day for Mariano, who trained with his new and old team-mates for the first time on Friday morning at Valdebebas.

His arrival brings healthy competition to the forward line of Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio and Karim Benzema.

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Lopetegui refuses to talk about Ronaldo's absence from UEFA Champions League awards

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Real have made a bright start in La Liga under Lopetegui.

Real Madrid boss Julen Lopetegui refused to speak about Cristiano Ronaldo‘s absence from the UEFA Champions League gala awards in Monaco on Thursday night.

Addressing the media ahead of his side’s La Liga clash with Leganes at the Bernabeu this weekend, Lopetegui was in no mood to discuss why former Whites hero Ronaldo wasn’t in attendance at the Grimaldi Forum.

Following his exploits in helping Los Blancos win a third consecutive Champions League title last season, Ronaldo was named as the UEFA best forward although he lost out to former team-mate Luka Modric, who was crowned the 2017-18 UEFA Player of the Year.

Ronaldo was expected to be present at the awards bash on the French Riviera and reunite with Florentino Perez, as well as a host of other current and erstwhile Madrid stars. But, he didn’t turn up.

“I’m too lazy to talk about the gala, we’re worried about Saturday’s game, our focus is on Leganes,” Lopetegui told media in Madrid on Friday.

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Mariano Diaz a curious fit behind Karim Benzema as Real Madrid take on Leganes

Chris Bailey 31/08/2018
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Mariano Diaz was unveiled at the Bernabeu on Friday.

The early signs indicate that Julen Lopetegui’s Real Madrid will offer a far greater challenge in La Liga than last season as they bid to make it three wins from three by beating Leganes (10.45pm kick-off on Saturday) before the international break.

Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema are both picking up the goalscoring slack left by Cristiano Ronaldo, with a freshened-up Los Blancos looking the part domestically this season.

However, Leganes – who dumped Real out of the Copa del Rey last season – are no slouches.

IS MARIANO THE RIGHT MATCH?

Signing a second striker is a conundrum for many top teams – he needs to be happy enough to play a rotational role but good enough to keep standards high.

That’s the type of player Real hope they have acquired in Mariano Diaz, who returns to the Bernabeu after just one – but very fruitful season – with Lyon.

In France he flourished playing alongside Nabil Fekir and Memphis Depay in a deadly triumvirate, often driving from deep with his pace and peppering the goal with long-range strikes.

The year he spent away brought him 18 goals and undoubtedly the polish that should see him contribute straight away. Indeed, having committed up to 30 million to bring him back, as well as handing him the No7 shirt vacated by Ronaldo, he’ll have to.

In many ways he is a curious fit as back-ups for Benzema go. Mariano does not take as much joy in the link-up game as his French team-mate does and is far more of a maverick on the ball. His speed and skill will be a huge asset off the bench but he can be careless in possession and that is seemingly anathema to Lopetegui’s new pass-first philosophy.

As a striker at the tip of the spear, that should matter less. Perhaps though there is something in Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas’ admission that he was taken aback when an offer came in from Real, after Florentino Perez had confided in him that the 25-year-old didn’t match Madrid’s ‘desired profile’.

We’ll soon find out if the Dominican is truly made of the right stuff with a congested fixture list looming.

ISCO NEEDS TO JOIN THE DISCO

Key playmaker: Isco.

Lopetegui is likely to wait until after the international break to restore Luka Modric to the starting XI after his mammoth, Golden Ball-winning World Cup campaign.

If so then the game against Leganes, hardly a heavyweight tie on paper, could see two Spanish maestros slug it out for supremacy.

Marco Asensio has capitalised on Ronaldo’s departure in an attacking trident alongside Benzema and Bale, providing thrust from the left and completing a staggering 94 per cent of his passes in La Liga so far.

Isco, who many believed would be at the epicentre of Lopetegui’s revolution, has not stood out so far and been guilty of overplaying at times in the midfield three. On form alone it makes little sense for Isco to squeeze Asensio out when Modric returns to the middle of the park.

There is of course no chances that Isco will become a bit-part player, but as Lopetegui searches for his ideal line-up with bigger challenges ahead, the 26-year-old could do with putting down a marker on Saturday ahead of the international break.

THEY’VE GOT THE LEGS FOR IT

Former Southampton boss Mauricio Pellegrino is in charge of Leganes.

Little old Leganes at the Bernabeu. No chance? Think again.

Los Pepineros beat Real in front of their own fans to dump them out of the Copa del Rey last season – just when Zinedine Zidane’s side were desperate for some good news – and it was no fluke too.

Leganes did not allow them a shot on target in the first-half as they emerged with a 2-1 victory. Real won the La Liga fixture by that scoreline but had fewer shots on target than their far less illustrious neighbours.

To an extent both clubs have wiped the slate clean over the summer, with former Southampton boss Mauricio Pellegrino busy implementing a well-drilled, tactically astute set-up that will serve Leganes well in the mid-table battle.

They were incredibly unfortunate not to come away with a point at Athletic Bilbao after Iker Muniain struck in injury-time and they asserted dominance over Real Sociedad at home but could only draw 2-2 after two early sucker-punches.

Left-back Diego Rico and midfielder Gabriel departed for Bournemouth and Benfica respectively over the summer but Pellegrino has had backing in the market.

Jose Arnaiz, bought by Barcelona but never utilised last season, is an intriguing prospect on the wing, as is Youssef En-Nesyri from Malaga – who scored against Spain at the World Cup.

And then there’s Southampton loanee Guido Carrillo, who Pellegrino worked with in England, as well as Diego Rolan from Deportivo.

Real’s teenage keeper Andriy Lunin will also start his La Liga journey with Leganes after the two clubs meet on Saturday.

Pellegrino then has a strong foundation to work with and the new arrivals should help a side that was moribund in attack last season. Don’t expect a rollover at the Bernabeu.

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