Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti has insisted the Spanish giants are better this season than the last one – despite the departure of Angel Di Maria to Manchester United.
After winning both the Champions League and the Copa del Rey, Los Blancos bolstered the squad with Keylor Navas, Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez – while letting Di Maria leave the team alongside Xabi Alonso, Alvaro Morata and Diego Lopez.
After a difficult start to the new campaign – losing the Spanish Super Cup to Atletico Madrid – some pundits in Spain questioned the summer overhaul and especially whether Rodriguez could fill the gap by Di Maria in the midfield.
However Ancelotti has hailed the arrivals and believes they are even better now without Di Maria.
"This year we are clear on the key aspects of our play, though we can't always play at our peak level. The only problem is that we have conceded more goals than normal, but in terms of our play we're better than last year," he told Real Madrid's official website.
"We had some difficulties at the beginning because August was difficult, as there were players coming back from the World Cup and they did not have time to prepare. Now we've had time to prepare and the team is in good shape, motivated and up for it."
Ancelotti believes that James is already proving he can replicate Di Maria's hard work in the midfield to maintain the balance of the team.
"When we signed James, we did the physical tests and they showed that he is a player with a lot of stamina.
"He has the physical characteristics of a midfielder. He can play in the middle without problems, but that doesn't mean taking away the quality he has. We need his final pass and his quality of play in attack."
At the same time, Ancelotti has praised Gareth Bale, hoping the former Tottenham star will reach his best form this season after adapting seamlessly to the Real culture in his first campaign.
"I hope that this year he does what he did at the end of last season. He was decisive in a number of games and his work was very important for the team. Now he is more used to the squad, to these players and he has adapted very well to Madrid.
"We're going to be looking for him to improve, although it isn't easy to improve on what he did last year."