What is Real Madrid’s long term plan for Karim Benzema?

With 14 goals in La Liga this season, Karim Benzema had been enjoying a successful campaign before the global coronavirus crisis brought everything to a halt. Now, there is no suggestion of when the La Liga season will resume and every other division in Europe is in the same situation. These are unprecedented times for the sport.

And so with no matches to preview or react to it’s time to consider some big picture questions. Real Madrid find themselves in the midst of a transition. Zinedine Zidane’s side might be fighting near the top of La Liga for only their third title in 11 years, but this is a squad that is still stuck between the Old Guard and the new generation.

One question Real Madrid must find an answer to over the next few seasons concerns the future of Benzema. At 32 years old, the Frenchman is coming into the twilight of his career, but he is seemingly only getting better with age. So should Los Blancos look to replace Benzema sooner rather than later or stick with him for the long term?

A number of big name strikers have been linked with a move to the Santiago Bernabeu in recent years. Most persistently, Robert Lewandowski has been speculated to be on Real Madrid’s radar with the Polish centre forward widely believed to be keen on making the switch to the Spanish capital at one point.

For all his undeniable brilliance, though, Lewandowski is only one year younger than Benzema at 31. He wouldn’t be a long term successor to the Frenchman. Real Madrid would surely face the same dilemma with Lewandowski as they do now with Benzema. Instead, they need someone who will carry their attack for years to come.

Erling Haaland fits the bill. The Norwegian has hit the ground running at Borussia Dortmund and at just 19 years old is set to spend the next decade at the elite level of the sport. Harry Kane has also been previously mentioned as a future ‘Galactico’ and with the England international reportedly considering his future at Tottenham Hotspur the pieces might be falling into place for him to join Real Madrid.

Of course, Los Blancos spent big on the signing of Luka Jovic last summer. He was meant to be the long term successor to Benzema, but has so far struggled to grow accustomed to his new surroundings. Finding a successor to Benzema won’t be easy, but Real Madrid must start devising a plan of action.

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Unexpected La Liga hiatus could benefit Real Madrid’s injured contingent

These are unprecedented times with European football set for a hiatus of undetermined length, with news of the suspension of the 2019/20 La Liga season coming on Friday. There is no suggestion as to when the Spanish title race will resume as the sport grapples with how to handle this situation.

The break for Real Madrid comes after a damaging defeat to Real Betis, a loss which saw Zinedine Zidane’s side once again concede their advantage over Barcelona at the top of the table. The Clasico win over the Catalan outfit looked to have given Real Madrid the momentum, but they lost that in losing at the Benito Villamarin.

There could be a silver lining to this unexpected hiatus for Real Madrid, though, especially for the players who are currently on the sidelines through injury. Eden Hazard in particular is surely relishing the opportunity that a few extra weeks of recovery will give him to get back on a football pitch before the end of the season.

Hazard underwent surgery in Dallas last week and is expected to be missing from action for quite some time. This latest injury blow was predicted to all but finish the Belgian’s season, but time is now on his side. Real Madrid haven’t seen the best of Hazard so far. He could still make an impression before this campaign is out.

Thibaut Courtois and Marcelo have also picked up knocks of late, with the duo expected to miss the games against Eibar and Manchester City had they gone ahead as planned. Courtois is a key first team figure and has finally proven himself as the ‘Galactico’ goalkeeper he was signed to be this season. Marcelo has also demonstrated his worth recently, shining in the Clasico victory over Barcelona.

Then there’s Marco Asensio. The Spanish international has missed the entirety of the season so far, suffering a serious injury just weeks before the start of the 2019/20 campaign. Asensio is now back in training though and so if the season is now to be extended into the summer, as has been mooted, then the 24-year-old will stand a better chance of returning to the pitch before the honours are handed out.

There’s no knowing how this La Liga season will end, or whether it will end at all, but there is still a scenario in which Real Madrid could benefit. The break, even in the face of grave societal challenges, might rejuvenate a number of players at the Santiago Bernabeu.

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What does the future hold for James Rodriguez?

It seemed unlikely that James Rodriguez would ever play another competitive game for Real Madrid. The Colombian had been sent on a two-year loan deal to Bayern Munich, with the Bavarians holding an option to sign him permanent after that period. Even when Bayern Munich decided not to exercise that option at the end of last season it seemed probable that Real Madrid would move him on.

And yet James was kept at the Santiago Bernabeu for the 2019/season. The initial signs were positive for the playmaker. He looked to have regained the trust of Zinedine Zidane, earning a place in the Real Madrid after a number of impressive performances over pre-season. There is still a player in there.

Now, though, James’ time at the Santiago Bernabeu might well be over. The Colombian has struggled for game time of late with Zidane overlooking the playmaker for every game Real Madrid have played since the Copa del Rey defeat to Real Sociedad at the start of February. He has been ostracised at a time of the season when Zidane could use the extra squad depth.

Speculation is already swirling over where James could pitch up next, with Wolves reported to be interested in the 28-year-old. A switch to Molineux would be somewhat remarkable, making a real statement about the progress they have made over the past few seasons under Nuno Espirito Santo.

James is still an exceptional player with exceptional talent. He could still enjoy a fruitful twilight to his career. He hasn’t played poorly in the handful of appearances he has made for Real Madrid this season, but an elite level team needs performers who can make a difference. Increasingly, James finds himself a passenger. He is no longer the headline grabber he was a few years ago. He is no longer capable of deciding a game almost entirely on his own.

Signed after the 2014 World Cup where he was the player of the tournament for Colombia, James looked like a natural ‘Galactico’ in his early days as a Real Madrid player. The aura faded quickly though and with Los Blancos in a transitional period the time has come for James to leave. That much has been proven this season. For all parties concerned, it’s probably best that a parting of ways comes this summer.

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Could Mariano Diaz play a role for Real Madrid down the title race final stretch?

It was surprising enough that Mariano Diaz was named in the Real Madrid squad for last week’s Clasico clash against Barcelona. That the striker was introduced for the final few minutes and then found the back of the net as well was even more surprising. It was just another crazy moment in what has been a crazy season in La Liga.

Until that game Mariano hadn’t made an appearance in the Spanish top flight this season. Indeed, the former Lyon striker who returned to the Santiago Bernabeu in the summer of 2018 has been ostracised by Zinedine Zidane recently, making just three appearances for Real Madrid over the 2019/20 campaign.

However, it’s possible that Mariano could play a role for Real Madrid between now and the end of the season. With Luka Jovic still struggling to find his feet at the Santiago Bernabeu after his summer signing from Eintracht Frankfurt, Zidane will need a second choice striker to provide some back up for Karim Benzema.

While Benzema has been in excellent form over the season as a whole, the Frenchman has scored just once in La Liga since the turn of the year. It could be the case that Zidane even looks to Mariano as an alternative rather than just a deputy for Benzema. His impressive performance, even if it was only for a few minutes, against Barcelona certainly won’t have harmed his cause.

Mariano’s stoppage time goal against Barca to secure all three points for Real Madrid suggest that the striker should have been given more of an opportunity since returning to the Spanish capital two summers ago. This is a player who scored 18 times in 30 starts for Lyon in Ligue 1 three seasons ago. Mariano is a proven goalscorer who surely has something to offer Los Blancos.

This is a Real Madrid side that is in transition. In any other season Zidane’s team would be in trouble, but Barcelona are also going through something of a transition. They have suffered from the same inconsistencies having already gone through one manager following the sacking of Ernesto Valverde.

In the long term, it’s possible that Mariano won’t have much of a future as a Real Madrid player. However, at this moment the 26-year-old has something to offer Zidane. His Clasico goal against Barcelona could become more than just an anomaly.

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Real Madrid must build momentum after Clasico triumph

It was the archetypal six-pointer. With a defeat, Real Madrid would have fallen five points behind Barcelona at the top of La Liga. Instead, their win over the Catalans saw them establish a one-point lead over their fiercest rivals in the race to be crowned Spanish champions for the 2019/20 season.

Indeed, last Sunday’s Clasico was a season-defining fixture for both teams, but particularly for Real Madrid given their run of poor form leading up to the match. Zinedine Zidane’s side let slip a three-point lead with a home draw against Celta Vigo and a defeat to Levante in back-to-back games before the clash with Barcelona.

Now, though, Real Madrid must build some momentum to consolidate their Clasico victory over Barcelona. Zidane’s side face a tough trip to the Benito Villamarin to face Real Betis this weekend and only a win will do, especially considering Barca’s victory at the same venue over the same opponents just a few weeks ago.

After that Real Madrid face a winnable run of fixtures against Eibar, Valencia, Real Sociedad and Real Mallorca. The games against Valencia and Real Sociedad will be a challenge, especially in the case of the latter who have been one of La Liga’s most exhilarating sides in La Liga this season. La Real have already beaten Real Madrid once in the Copa del Rey this season.

Zidane must look to establish some rhythm on the back of his team’s performance against Barcelona in last week’s Clasico. Real Madrid’s second half display in particular was encouraging from Zidane’s perspective, with Marcelo, Fede Valverde and Vinicius Junior all impressing for the hosts.

The fixtures will come thick and fast between now and the end of the season with Real Madrid facing a challenge to overturn a 2-1 first leg deficit against Manchester City in the Champions League. Zidane will have to make full use of his squad over the coming weeks. Marcelo, Eder Militao, Rodrygo, Isco and Luka Jovic, maybe even Mariano Diaz who made a surprise impact against Barcelona, will all have a part to play.

This is a critical point in Real Madrid’s season. They have once again installed themselves as title favourites, but it would only take one more slip up for Los Blancos to concede their advantage again. The Clasico win over Barcelona must prove to be a catalyst rather than just a peak followed by another trough.

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Clasico performance showed Marcelo isn’t finished at Real Madrid

When the Real Madrid team sheet was published before last week’s season-defining Clasico clash against Barcelona there was a notable surprise name included. It had been assumed that Zinedine Zidane would start Ferland Mendy against the Catalans with the French left back rested for a number of matches beforehand.

However, it was Marcelo who was picked to play at left back, raising some eyebrows. The Brazilian hasn’t enjoyed the best of seasons, with many predicting that he will leave the Santiago Bernabeu at the end of the campaign. A move to Serie A has been mooted and with Mendy now seen as Real Madrid’s first choice left back there was little to keep him in the Spanish capital.

Against Barca, though, Marcelo was exceptional. He provided Real Madrid with an outlet throughout and was crucial in securing a 2-0 win that saw Zidane’s men return to the top of La Liga. After a run of poor results it was critical that Los Blancos got back to winning ways and re-established their advantage over their fiercest rivals and title challengers.

Of course, one impressive display, even one in a Clasico against an opponent of Barcelona’s calibre, doesn’t necessarily mean that Marcelo has a long term future at Real Madrid. Mendy still looks to be Zidane’s first choice in the position and at 24 years old the Frenchman will continue to get better and better as he gains maturity.

Zidane has recently stood up for Marcelo in the face of mounting criticism, making an argument in favour of one of Real Madrid’s most decorated players. “It’s upsetting because he gives his all when he plays – not just Marcelo, all the players do – but this isn’t going to change. I can say it’s upsetting, it’s not good because they go out there and play to their maximum. The fans who were there saw that.”

In the immediate term, Marcelo still has something offer. He remains an attacking force and still has the trust of his Real Madrid teammates. That was evident in his display against Barcelona and with the fixtures coming thick and fast Zidane will need to use his full squad between now and the end of the season. Marcelo will be called upon again before too long and having impressed against Barca that might now not seem like such a risk.

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El Clasico is now a meeting between two flawed sides

It’s a fixture that has defined an entire era of European football. Of course, El Clasico, the meeting between Spain’s two biggest and most illustrious clubs has long been a fixture to watch out for, but the rivalry between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo made it a much-watch event for all football fans around the world.

Even with Ronaldo now gone, it remains the biggest fixture in the sport. But unlike in recent years this is now a meeting between two greatly flawed sides. That will be apparent this Sunday when Real Madrid welcome Barcelona to the Santiago Bernabeu for the second Clasico of the season.

These are two teams fighting for the Spanish title at the top of La Liga. Ordinarily, this would be a sign of strength, but this season has seen both Barca and Real Madrid suffer great inconsistencies. Until two weeks ago the latter looked to be in control of the race, holding a three-point advantage at the top of the table. One draw and one defeat later, now it’s Barcelona who hold a two-point lead heading into this weekend’s clash.

“It’s not just any other game,” Sergio Ramos explained in a recent interview. “Despite there just being three points at stake, as there is in every game, El Clasico is a game unlike any other. Beating Barcelona would bring us great joy.

“What’s more, it usually has a really positive impact on the group in terms of morale. Both teams know that and it’s something that we have to deal with as best we can to turn it into an incentive that drives you on to victory. Right from the start of the week, the whole experience is different. It brings a lot of media attention, but that’s also what makes this game so great, La Liga, the players… The feeling you get is one that comes from inside, it’s really hard to explain.”

Both teams appear to be in the midst of a generation transition, but the prize on offer remains the same as always. Sunday’s Clasico will have a real bearing on where the Spanish Liga title ends up this season. A Barcelona win, despite all their problems, would put them five points clear at the top. A Real Madrid win would put them back in control. There is a lot on the line, but this is a match defined not by its strength, as has previously been the case, but its weakness.

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Is it time to assess Sergio Ramos’ Real Madrid future?

He is Real Madrid’s spiritual leader and one of the most decorated players in the club’s long and storied history, but Sergio Ramos has his flaws. Many of them. Of course, they have always been masked by what he brought to the team on the pitch. Now, though, Ramos’ contribution isn’t so positive.

The red card he was shown in the Champions League round of 16 first leg defeat to Manchester City means nobody has been sent off more times in the competition than Ramos. The defender has also previously been shown red against Galatasaray, Ajax and Olympiacos, but this could prove to be his most costly dismissal yet.

Ramos’ absence means Eder Militao will likely play alongside Raphael Varane for the second leg at the Etihad Stadium. Militao has provided Real Madrid with some depth over the course of the season, but the summer signing has still shown vulnerabilities. Man City will look to exploit that to get the job done and progress to the Champions League quarter finals.

On the flip side, Ramos isn’t the force he once was. Real Madrid might not miss him as much as they would have in seasons gone by. Against City on Wednesday night, he was something of a liability. It has been that way for much of the season, with Varane usurping Ramos as Zinedine Zidane’s defensive bedrock.

Wednesday night’s red card was the 26th of Ramos’ career to date as a Real Madrid player. He has never managed to leave that part of his game behind, but while his other qualities used to make up for this that might not no longer be the case. The end is surely approaching for the 33-year-old at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Ramos has a contract with Real Madrid until the summer of 2021. Talks have recently taken place, but no breakthrough has been made yet. If Real Madrid are to claim a transfer fee for their captain this summer presents them with the last opportunity to do so. “The relationship with the club is magnificent in every way,” Ramos explained recently

“So there is no rush on any side – mine or club. I’ve never made extra demands, I understand club’s policy with players of certain age. If club wants me to say, I’ll stay, no need to worry.” What if Real Madrid don’t want Ramos to stay, though? His future in the Spanish capital isn’t for certain.

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El Clasico has become must-win match for crumbling Real Madrid

Not so long ago, Real Madrid looked to be cruising. They were top of La Liga, winning games through muscle memory with the last 16 of the Champions League to look forward to having finished as European champions four times in the last six seasons. Now, though, Zinedine Zidane’s side aren’t in such great shape.

A home draw to Celta Vigo followed by a defeat to Levante has seen Real Madrid relinquish their advantage at the top of La Liga and now, after a 2-1 home defeat in the first leg of their last 16 tie against Manchester City, they look set to crash out of the Champions League. Zidane’s side are facing real questions.

While Los Blancos previously saw this Sunday’s Clasico against Barcelona as an opportunity to confirm their superiority over their historic rivals, it has now become an match to save their season. The damage that another defeat would cause isn’t even worth thinking about for Zidane and his players. They must win. Wednesday’s loss to Man City must be forgotten before the weekend.

“We had a good game for 75 minutes,” Zidane insisted after the first leg defeat in the Champions League. “We’re annoyed by the defeat, but the tie lasts 180 minutes. Now we have to take the positives. There aren’t many positive things in the result, but we had a good game apart from the last few minutes. We were good for 70 minutes. Now we have to go there and win if we want to go through. We needed 10 more minutes of concentration in a very difficult match and, in the end, we paid for it.”

It’s certainly true that Real Madrid must maintain their concentration better against Barcelona. The Catalans have a good record at the Santiago Bernabeu and an away win in the Spanish capital would see them go five points clear at the top of La Liga. Barca have suffered inconsistencies of their own over the course of the season, but it would take a real dip in form from Quique Setien’s team for Real Madrid to get back into the race in that scenario.

Real Madrid have recovered from a poor run once before this season. Now they must do so again. They could do with Karim Benzema rediscovering his scoring touch, and with Vinicius Junior finding some composure in the box, among other things. Real Madrid’s season is far from over, but it is crumbling.

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Real Madrid move for Eduardo Camavinga would follow recent trend

The January transfer window has only just closed, but the football transfer rumour mill never stop churning out speculation. That has been proven over the past few weeks, with Hakim Ziyech completing a move to Chelsea, Manchester United believed to be monitoring Jadon Sancho and Liverpool weighing up an offer for Timo Werner. Real Madrid have also been the subject of much conjecture.

Most recently, the Santiago Bernabeu club have been linked with a move for Eduardo Camavinga, the 17-year-old who has made quite the impression for Rennes in Ligue 1 this season. Real Madrid have tracked the midfielder for some time, but Camavinga is playing at such a level, showing such promise, that almost every elite European side are sure to at least register their interest.

Camavinga would provide good cover for Casemiro, with the teenager playing in the same position as the Brazilian. While the Rennes man would surely receive some first team football at Real Madrid, his signing would be an investment in the future. As footballing teenagers go, there aren’t many better than Camavinga at this point in time.

His signing would follow a recent trend for Los Blancos. Renowned for targeting the very best in the transfer market, ‘Galacticos’ as they have been dubbed, Real Madrid have instead chased the best young talent in recent years. This isn’t to say that they no longer sign players in their peak – see Eden Hazard, for example – but Real Madrid are casting one eye to the future with their transfer policy.

They made just one signing in January, with Reinier Jesus making the move to the Spanish capital from Flamengo for £26 million. The teenage Brazilian won’t feature much between now and the end of the season, but he has been signed with the future in mind. He is seen as a playmaker in the mould of someone like Kaka.

Rodrygo also pitched up at Real Madrid last summer, joining Los Blancos for a deal worth around €45 million to sign the young winger. And then there was Vinicius Junior, who arrived in the Spanish capital for around the same fee 12 months previously. Real Madrid are building a team of promising young players they hope will sustain them for the next decade. Camavinga, if Real Madrid are indeed interested, would fit the bill.

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