Eurozone: Diarra the Real star in shaky Madrid opener

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The Independent Online

Cometh the hour, cometh the man least likely to steal the show at Real Madrid this season. Lassana Diarra scored on 60 minutes to give Real Madrid a first win, 3-2, against Deportivo La Coruña in a rusty opening to their self-titled "super-production" campaign.

The club invited the fastest man on the planet Usain Bolt to take a ceremonial kick-off before their opening fixture. On the evidence of this display the team might take a bit longer than the double world record holder to get into their stride, having needed a former Portsmouth player to ensure a winning start.

Diarra is meant to be carrying the piano not playing it, but his goal was the most inspired moment of the night. He also played the pass for Raul's opener and ran the midfield alongside Xabi Alonso. Not bad for a player rejected in his time by both Arsène Wenger and Jose Mourinho.

"I don't want to get too used to it," he said afterwards, "because I know I'm in the team to defend. I already have a very good understanding with Xabi Alonso we both know when to go forward and when to sit. He allows me to be a little bit more attacking."

Deportivo spent just €100,000 (£88,000) this summer on reinforcements: Madrid's €258m (£227m) project started with Cristiano Ronaldo on the left-hand side. During one 10-minute spell in the second half they had eight new signings on the pitch at once and it showed.

"We have to take things slowly," said Ronaldo afterwards. "People have to get up to speed. We are not worried. We were were very quick up front and there was a lot of movement with players changing positions. The heat played a part in the performance but we are just pleased to have won and I am delighted to have got off the mark."

His goal came from a penalty on 34 minutes, hit hard and low to Aranzubia's right after Raul had been brought down. But the penalty apart, the former Manchester United winger looked slightly shackled out on the left cutting inside and looking to play in Raul or Karim Benzema every time he received the ball.

There was enough to suggest however that in unison with Kaka Ronaldo and Madrid will be in the goals this season. And they may have to score plenty to cancel out opposition strikes.

A defence that is missing the injured Sergio Ramos and the suspended Pepe rocked back on its heels every time Deportivo came forward and first Riki then Juan Valeron cancelled leads established by Ronaldo's penalty and Raul's tap-in opener on 25 minutes.

"We scored three and made countless chances. I don't know how many goals we have to score for everyone to be satisfied," said coach Manuel Pellegrini afterwards. "We created fear every time we went forward."

Both coaches agreed it was Diarra and Alonso that had made the difference between the two sides. "They balanced each other nicely," said Pellegrini. Deportivo's Miguel Lotina added: "They were superb. They are both powerful players and they held things together for them in midfield."

Gaining only a point from the game would have been even harder to take in view of news from the Bundesliga that the one that seems to have got away (at least for this season), Franck Ribéry, and the one they had to sell, Arjen Robben, were combining brilliantly to set up a 3-0 win for Bayern Munich over Wolfsburg. Ribéry looks closer to staying at Bayern than joining Madrid this season but the Spanish side are still hoping to sell Netherlands captain Rafael van der Vaart before the transfer window shuts tomorrow.

Everyone's talking about

*The former Barcelona team-mates embraced, but that was the closest Ronaldinho got to Samuel Eto'o as the Cameroon forward took the spoils in his first Milan derby. Jose Mourinho's Internazionale romped to a 4-0 win and it was Eto'o, after being involved in Thiago Motta's opener, who won the penalty Diego Milito converted for the second. Maicon and Stankovic got the other two as a pedestrian-looking Milan chased shadows.

"Kaka is not for sale" sang the Inter fans to mock Milan supporters' insistence last season that they would not sell their talisman to Real Madrid. How they missed him as the former Real Madrid man Wesley Sneijder dominated. Mourinho, who sparked controversy last week for replacing Sulley Muntari after 25 minutes and said he looked drained from fasting during Ramadan, left the Ghanaian on the bench but brought him on with half an hour left. Sneijder, who moved to San Siro last week, had a superb home debut.

Player of the week: Pedro

*Every single one of the 18 goals Barcelona scored in pre-season came from a product of the club's youth system and no one was more prolific than the winger Pedro, who netted five times and was the scorer of the last and most important of those strikes – the one that sealed the European Super Cup for Barcelona in injury time in Monaco on Friday night to earn them their fifth trophy of the season.

Pedro could even start tonight against Sporting Gijon, with both Thierry Henry and Zlatan Ibrahimovic yet to get off the mark in pre-season. Pedro won the third division title under Josep Guardiola before the coach made the step up to the Barcelona first team and last season, with six starts, Pedro followed his manager.

Now with a €75m (£66m) buyout clause on his new five-year contract and the No 17 on his back, the boy from Tenerife is ready to push for a regular first-team place.

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