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Real relieved to see back of another barren season

Written by: Staff

MADRID, May 17 (Reuters) Finishing second in the league to earn a spot in the Champions League group stage would be cause for celebration at most clubs, and the muted response to Real Madrid's end to the season therefore speaks volumes.

Real, nine-times European Cup winners, lost 4-3 at Sevilla yesterday to finish runners-up to champions Barcelona. The season was Real's third in succession without a major trophy, their worst run in more than 50 years.

Defender Sergio Ramos summed up the view of the dressing room when he told reporters: ''I am pleased we achieved our objective of finishing second, and that the season is now over.'' An overhaul of the club now gets underway, starting at the top with a presidential election campaign that ends on July 2.

This process will hinder the club's wheeling and dealing in players and the search for a new coach.

Juan Ramon Lopez Caro, who stepped up to replace the sacked Vanderlei Luxemburgo in December, is almost certain to be replaced.

AC Milan's Carlo Ancelotti was the Spanish media's favourite to take over a month back but he, along with five of the other club targets, have ruled themselves out.

Only outgoing England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson remains in the frame from that list although Getafe's Bernd Schuster has been touted as an alternative.

PROBLEM AREAS On the playing field Real have not performed to the standards expected by the fans and the Sevilla game highlighted the side's key problem areas.

Up front Ronaldo and Antonio Cassano were out injured. The Brazil striker has suffered a string of minor complaints this season while the Italian has been a flop since his .54 million move from AS Roma in January.

Both could be on their way in the summer.

That left Raul to lead the line, a player who missed three months with a knee injury and who has not scored since last October. Even Raul has been linked with a move to England.

The departing Zinedine Zidane played behind Raul and showed flashes of his former glory and scoring Real's third goal.

Zidane will retire after the World Cup, leaving a large creative gap in midfield, and replacement names such as Liverpool's Steven Gerrard and Bayern Munich's Chelsea-bound Michael Ballack have long since disappeared off the radar.

In defence left back Roberto Carlos is being linked with a move away, perhaps to Chelsea, while the youth of central defenders Sergio Ramos, Alvaro Mejia and Raul Bravo are in desperate need of some experience.

Forgotten man Jonathan Woodgate's future remains uncertain.

Reuters PDS RN2022

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