Isco and James have been given a second chance at Real Madrid

Not so long ago, Isco and James Rodriguez seemed to be on their way out of the Santiago Bernabeu. The former found himself a peripheral figure while the latter was on loan at Bayern Munich with the Bavarians widely expected to make the deal for the Colombian playmaker permanent. Now, however, Real Madrid need the pair again.

Injuries to Toni Kroos and Luka Modric suffered over the international break have stretched the Real Madrid squad, particularly in the midfield. That has opened the door for Isco and James to make themselves key members of Zinedine Zidane’s team again. The Frenchman needs them to help fill the gaps starting with this weekend’s La Liga fixture away to Real Mallorca.

The pair will hope to evoke the spirit of the 2016/17 season when they both played an important role in leading Real Madrid to a Champions League and La Liga double. Many believe that only one of Isco or James can play in the same team. However, back then there was a place for both. They thrived and Real Madrid thrived on the back of that as a result.

Isco scored 11 times and contributed nine assists in all competitions over the course of the season while James found the back of the net 11 times and contributed 12 assists. At a time when the role of the playmaker is changing, these two were perhaps the purest manifestation of the position in the European game.

Real Madrid have struggled to find their groove over the early part of the season. A large part of the problem has been in their failure to strike the right balance in the final third of the pitch. In Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard they boast three of the most potent attackers in La Liga, but at times their supply line has been lacking. That certainly hasn’t helped Hazard find his feet in his new surroundings.

This is where Isco and James could make a real difference. Both players thrive on confidence and with injury ruling out Kroos and Modric for the time being this is an opportunity for them to find some heading into the winter months. Zidane won’t have welcomed these injuries to two key figures, but it could prove to be something of a watershed moment in their season.

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Not for the first time, injuries are a concern for Real Madrid

Zinedine Zidane must rue the international break every time it comes around, every time his Real Madrid players jet around the world turning out for their countries. Almost invariably, a number of them return to the Santiago Bernabeu with some sort of injury or know. This week has been no different.

The international week has hit Real Madrid hard. Zidane’s side trained together on Thursday, but Raphael Varane and Thibaut Courtois both missed the session. Gareth Bale was also missing with the Welshman already ruled out of Real Madrid’s away trip to face Real Mallorca this weekend.

It was also reported that Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal also trained away from the main group after picking up knocks while Fede Valverde also worked on his own. Add these injuries to the ones already keeping Marco Asensio, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Nacho and Lucas Vazquez out of action and Zidane has something of a crisis on his hands.

Real Madrid’s season has been a paradox to this point. They currently sit top of La Liga, but that’s only as a result of the faltering performances of their rivals. Zidane’s side have been the best of a bad bunch, with Atletico Madrid and Barcelona both struggling for consistency over the early part of the campaign.

A series of poor performances have resulted in speculation around Zidane’s job security. A number of in-the-know journalists and media members believe Jose Mourinho has been lined up as the Frenchman’s replacement for whenever club president Florentino Perez decides to pull the trigger.

It’s with this foot on his throat that Zidane needs to instil consistency in his team over the next few weeks up until the next international break and up until Christmas after that. That will be much tougher with the number of injuries now being absorbed by Real Madrid. Zidane will have to come up with a number of solutions.

Real Madrid will be favourites for the away game at Real Mallorca this weekend. That was meant to be their warm-up for the first Clasico of the season, although that fixture is now in doubt following Barcelona’s statement on the arrests over the Catalan independence movement.

Nonetheless, this next stretch of fixtures will be crucial in determining the success or failure of Real Madrid’s season. Injuries, among other things, have held them back, but there’s no time to feel sorry for oneself. Zidane must find a way to make do with the squad he has.

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Brahim Diaz is back from injury and Real Madrid might need him immediately

Within just a few months of arriving at the Santiago Bernabeu, Brahim Diaz had played as many games for Real Madrid as he had in three years for Manchester City. The 20-year-old midfielder isn’t a Galactico and wasn’t given the usual ticker-tape reception upon his arrival in the Spanish capital. Signed for just €17 million in January, Brahim was meant to be one for the future, but he made an immediate impression.

The midfielder missed the vast majority of Real Madrid’s pre-season with a persistent hamstring injury and then suffered an abdominal strain just as he was getting close to a return in late August. Finally, however, it seems that Brahim will be an option for Zinedine Zidane again. The Frenchman might need him immediately.

Real Madrid’s midfield has been difficult to work out over the early part of the season. Their season as a whole to this point has defied deciphering. Zidane finds himself under intense pressure. It seems that just one more adverse result will be enough to force Florentino Perez to pull the trigger with Jose Mourinho reportedly waiting in the wings to take over at any time.

Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric have all played well at points, but they have also suffered almighty dips in form. Fede Valverde has forced his way into the first team fold. The young Uruguayan has publicly made the point that he deserves even more game time, but he is the only player Zidane can bring into his midfield to freshen things up and rotate.

This is where Brahim might come in from this weekend. The 20-year-old caught the eye in the final games of last season, finding the net and notching an assist in the five starting appearances he made in La Liga. His drive and energy through the centre of the pitch could certainly be of use to Real Madrid at this moment. It could give the likes of Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard the supply line they need.

Brahim certainly isn’t the sole solution to Real Madrid’s problems. Despite the good first impression he made over the second half of last season, the 20-year-old is still one for the future, but he could help ease the logjam that has developed in Zidane’s midfield. He could bring something different.

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Will January additions ease Man City’s defensive crisis?

As soon as Aymeric Laporte hobbled off injured during Manchester City’s 4-0 home win over Brighton in late August projections were made over how it would affect the defending Premier League champions. Amid all the doom and gloom, nobody expected that Laporte’s absence would be so costly.

Only eight games of the 2019/20 Premier League season have been played, but Liverpool already hold an eight point lead over Pep Guardiola’s side. City have suffered collapses against Norwich City and Wolves with their defence especially vulnerable following the injury to John Stones.

Guardiola has so far failed to find a suitable solution to ease Man City’s problems at the back. The Catalan has used Fernandinho as a centre back in Laporte and Stones’ absence. This is designed to keep the link between City’s defence and midfield intact, with the Brazilian key to bringing the ball out from the back.

However, Fernandinho isn’t a defender and that has been obvious in the games he has played at centre back. And so talk has started over who City could target in the January transfer window. The Etihad Stadium outfit might spend their way out of trouble.

Ruben Dias has most recently been linked with a move to the Premier League champions. This isn’t the first time that the Benfica defender has been linked with a move to England, with Manchester United also reported to be interested in the Portuguese international. He would be a shrewd addition for either team.

Guardiola does have a centre back that he has only used off the bench during this injury crisis. Eric Garcia is highly rated as a young defender, but the Man City boss has so far been overlooked in favour of square pegs in round holes. Another expensive signing like Dias would only underline how Guardiola hasn’t yet held up his end of the bargain as an advocate of youth.

However, it’s true that City needed a new centre back before the injuries to Laporte and Stones even hit. Vincent Kompany left them short of options in defence, leaving the Etihad Stadium for Anderlecht. Nicolas Otamendi isn’t a player Man City can depend on, as has been demonstrated over the past few weeks. Rather than fixing new problems, the signing of someone like Dias would patch things up that date back to the summer.

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What will come next for Jurgen Klopp after Liverpool?

There has been a lot of talk over Jurgen Klopp’s future of late. The German has led Liverpool to the top of the Premier League table, holding an eight point lead over defending champions Manchester City. The Reds have still to even get their hands on the trophy – it’s not even Christmas yet – but there has been some speculation over what Klopp might want from his career next.

Every so often there are links made to clubs like Real Madrid. Club president Florentino Perez is believed to be a fan of the German coach, but then who isn’t right now? Klopp, along with Pep Guardiola, is setting the zeitgeist for the current era of the sport at the top level. It’s natural that he should be a man in-demand.

It was recently revealed that Borussia Dortmund offered Klopp the chance to return to the Westfalenstadion in the summer of 2018 after their former coach had suffered defeat in the Champions League final to Real Madrid. They never really stood a chance of luring him from Liverpool, but the fact they even tried underlines that Klopp isn’t exactly rooted to the core of the earth on Merseyside.

Now, it has been suggested that Klopp could take over from Joachim Low after the 2022 World Cup is over. His Liverpool contract would be expired by such a time and the winter World Cup means Klopp could also factor in a short break from the game before moving into his next job.

“I really can not say. I do not know if I would like to. Now, as of today, I do not feel like it,” Klopp responded when asked whether this would be something he would consider. “Stand up now, I’m totally happy with what I do and that’s important in the whole story. I also could not say one hundred percent if I was the right one [to replace Low]. If the question ever arises, I would think about it, but not now.”

Liverpool have still to even reach their peak under Klopp, but they must consider what might come next just as the man himself seems to be. There’s no immediate prospect of the German leaving Anfield to take over as Real Madrid or Germany boss. He will see the job through. But planning must start taking place now.

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Gareth Bale’s Real Madrid future is once again a hot topic

It was all but signed. A deal was agreed between Real Madrid and Chinese Super League side Jiangsu Suning for the transfer of Gareth Bale following a very public saga. Zinedine Zidane was quite clearly doing his best to banish the Welsh winger from the Santiago Bernabeu dressing and China looked to be his only escape route.

Of course, the deal that would have seen Bale earn a staggering £1 million a week fell through and the 30-year-old was left stuck in the Spanish capital. From his point of view, this represented something of a victory. While Bale was understandably angry and frustrated at his treatment, he still wanted to play for Real Madrid.

The dynamic has shifted somewhat since then. Bale has forced his way back into the first team fold, once again becoming a key figure for Real Madrid over the first few weeks of the new season. Indeed, two goals and two assists from six La Liga appearances represents a decent haul.

But now it seems that Bale’s future in the Spanish capital is a hot topic again, with reports emerging that the Welshman now wants to leave Real Madrid. There’s no real suggestion of where he could end up, but now the situation has been flipped with Zidane keen to keep Bale and the player himself eager to leave.

“I think you play with a lot of emotion and anger comes into it of course, but I am just trying to play football, to enjoy it as much as I can and give my best, whether I am here or in Madrid,” Bale explained while on international duty with Wales this week. “Whenever I step onto the pitch I give 100% to help the team and I will continue to do that.”

But is Bale giving 100% to earn himself a move elsewhere or is he playing to keep his place at the Santiago Bernabeu? For the first time in a while, he is in a position of power. China was his only potential destination over the summer, but his early season form will have surely convinced some European suitors to make a move should he make himself available.

The latest twist of the saga concerning Bale’s future in Spain could see Real Madrid refuse to sell him just months after doing everything in their power to ensure he never set foot in their dressing room again.

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Jose Mourinho return would be the mark of Real Madrid’s lack of direction

Zinedine Zidane was supposed to be the solution. Instead, the Frenchman is starting to look like at least one of the causes of Real Madrid’s recent problems. The capital club might be sat at the top of Spanish Liga table, but that doesn’t quite tell the whole story of their season so far.

Back-to-back draws against Atletico Madrid and Club Brugge, with Real Madrid fighting back from 2-0 down at home to claim a point against the Belgians, have piled the pressure on Zidane. Now, it seems he might be just one or two bad results away from being sacked such is the level of speculation around his position.

Potential replacements have been discussed. Xabi Alonso’s name has been put forward, with the former Real Madrid midfielder currently a coach at Real Sociedad. Max Allegri has also been mentioned, with the Italian coach currently out of work after leaving Juventus at the end of last season.

The Spanish press seem convinced, however, that Jose Mourinho is the man most likely so succeed Zidane, returning to the Santiago Bernabeu six years after his first stint there came to an end. He is apparently the man club president Florentino Perez sees as the solution to Real Madrid’s immediate problems.

Mourinho, of course, has pedigree. While his first spell at Real Madrid ended acrimoniously, he did enjoy success there, beating Pep Guardiola’s great Barcelona side to a league title. The Portuguese is a two-time Champions League winner and has won championships in four different countries. But his return to Real Madrid would be a mark of the club’s lack of direction.

He would be a plaster on a gaping wound. Mourinho showed in his last job as Manchester United manager that a toxic environment brings out the worst in him. By taking over at Real Madrid he would be stepping into an environment even more toxic than the one he left behind at Old Trafford nearly a year ago.

Real Madrid’s last three appointments have all been misguided. This time they must get it right. They must evoke the spirit of their 2010 appointment of Mourinho, when the Portuguese was the best manager in the European game, but avoid the man himself. Back then, Real Madrid waited to get the right man in. Perez must look back at that example in order to move forward.

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Have we all underestimated Joel Matip’s quality?

Three goals to the good and cruising, Liverpool had very little to worry about especially with Virgil Van Dijk, the supposed best centre back of his generation, on the pitch. Within 21 minutes, though, the Anfield side had been pegged back to 3-3 by Red Bull Salzburg. Van Dijk had been at fault for at least one of the three goals conceded.

This, of course, was something of a freak event. Van Dijk is indeed the best defender in the European game right now. That he would have such a dismal second half performance against a team a side of Liverpool’s calibre should have seen off with ease was utterly unpredictable.

It raised questions of whether Van Dijk’s usual centre back partner, who was missing through injury for this match, had been underestimated all this time. Joel Matip has been the Dutchman’s partner for the best part of a year, but alongside Joe Gomez Liverpool looked much more vulnerable in defence.

Matip has long been viewed as the lesser of Liverpool’s two centre backs. In fact, some have even identified the German as a weak link in Jurgen Klopp’s team, a component to be exposed. Many have argued that the Anfield side should go back into the transfer window to sign a better, more accomplished replacement.

It’s true that Matip doesn’t always cut the most composed figure at the back for the Reds. His languid, gangly isn’t the most natural of fits for Klopp’s otherwise stylish side. However, it would seem that he has forged an understanding with Van Dijk at the back that gives the Reds their steadiest basis.

Gomez has a higher ceiling than Matip. Indeed, the young England international will most likely surpass the German at one point or another. But with Liverpool currently embarking on their most significant league season in a generation, Klopp doesn’t have time for much experimentation and Matip is his second best central defender.

Much has been made of the way Van Dijk has steadied the Liverpool defence and those around him since his arrival from Southampton 18 months ago. But on the basis of what happened on Wednesday night in the Champions League, Matip has a similar sort of calming effect on his team and on Van Dijk. Their partnership has become a mutually beneficial one and the Reds need the German back from injury as soon as possible.

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Phil Foden must demand more game time from Pep Guardiola

Phil Foden was given the grand total of one minute of game time at the end of Manchester City’s Champions League group stage game against Dinamo Zagreb, but that’s all he required to make an impression, finding the net to cap a comfortable, if uninspiring, win on Tuesday night.

The 19-year-old must have felt a burning sense of vindication. Foden has found himself on the peripheries of the City first team so far this season, making just one substitute cameo in eight Premier League games. In fact, his only start this season came in the Carabao Cup win over Preston North End.

After the Champions League win over Dinamo Zagreb, Guardiola was keen to apologise to Foden for not giving him more time on the pitch. “He deserves to play. I want to give him minutes. Every time I don’t play him, I am in front of him saying I’m sorry,” said the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss.

“But it’s Kevin de Bruyne there, Rodri, Bernardo Silva, David Silva, Ilkay Gundogan, I’m so sorry. I know the best way to grow up is to play minutes, but he’s so young. I don’t know how many players that age play have played more minutes in the recent past, the minutes he has played the last season with us, but he’s going to be an incredible player for us in the future. We trust in him a lot. But it is what it is.”

But Guardiola needs to stop apologising to Foden and start giving him the game time he deserves. This is a player who has been billed as a one in a generation talent. A player Guardiola has gushed about time and time again. But the Catalan’s team selections paint a very different picture.

It’s time for Foden to start demanding first team football or start plotting a route out of the Etihad Stadium. Now 19 years old, the midfielder must start developing week-on-week. Guardiola has previously said that he wants Foden to be more vocal, to find his voice. Well, now is the time for the teenager to knock on the manager’s door.

There is no denying Foden’s talent and there is some weight in the theory that he is in the best possible place for his development. He is a City academy product and Guardiola has a track record in bringing through players of his type. But that theory falls down if he’s only being given next to no game time.

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Why isn’t Joao Cancelo being used to ease Man City’s defensive woes?

The only thing that seemingly stood a chance of halting Manchester City was their own mortality and so it has proved. Indeed, the defending Premier League champions, who have collected 198 points over the past two seasons, have wobbled following the injury suffered by Aymeric Laporte, with John Stones also ruled out for the foreseeable future.

City have looked vulnerable at the back without Laporte and with Stones also out Pep Guardiola has had to get creative, with Fernandinho drafted into the centre back position alongside Nicolas Otamendi for the game against Watford last weekend, a game which saw the Premier League champions go close to a record-breaking win.

Guardiola possesses a great tactical mind and so it’s somewhat surprising that he hasn’t yet resorted to a different shape or formation to mask his team’s shortcomings at the back. City have used a back three on occasion under the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss, so why hasn’t he gone down this route in light of recent injuries?

He has the players to switch to a back three. The signing of Joao Cancelo from Juventus during the summer means Guardiola could now use the Portuguese international as a wing back on the right side with Kyle Walker on the right side of a back three. That would surely close up some of the gaps that have appeared in the City backline in recent games.

Guardiola clearly has faith in Walker. “When Kyle is stable in the mind, he knows exactly what he has to do and always performs well. Be stable here,” the City boss said when asked why Walker wasn’t called up to the last England squad. “Be consistent, be seven or eight (out of 10) all the time – that is what we have to work on with him. He is incredibly strong and he will be back.”

In Cancelo, Man City boast one of the best full backs in the European game right now. It’s becoming a little peculiar that Guardiola isn’t turning to him, especially with City’s defence in the state it currently is. Fernandinho is an effective ball-player from centre back, but he lacks true defensive nous. Playing Cancelo would allow Walker to shift inside and hide deficiencies that Norwich exposed. If they’re not careful, the Canaries might not be the last team to do this.

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