Real Madrid are hopeful that Mariano can follow in the footsteps of Alvaro Morata


The very instant news of Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure from Real Madrid was about to become a reality, Madridistas were already compiling their shopping lists for a potential replacement before the words ‘communicado official’ could even be tweeted.

Finding someone to adequately fill the boots of arguably the greatest player in the club’s history would be a tall order, yet the names thought to be in play this summer provided a faint glimmer of hope. Players such as Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Harry Kane, Mauro Icardi and Robert Lewandowski were just some of the most frequently mentioned, as securing the services of at least one was seen not only as a possibility, but a downright certainty.

Then, the weeks rolled along and nothing happened. Nobody was signed. Florentino Perez’s briefcase of cash rumored to be somewhere around the entire GDP of Malta remained unopened. Defcon five had been initiated by supporters convinced of Madrid’s impending doom. After all, could you really trust a Gareth Bale to stay healthy, or a Karim Benzema: scorer of 16 La Liga goals combined over the past two seasons, to pick up the slack in front of net?

Much to dismay of Madridistas, most of the aforementioned targets failed to become available. This left Madrid with two options: overpay for a player of similar profile to the ones already on the squad, or use a measured approach this window and instead bring back a familiar face to provide depth. Los Blancos ultimately chose the latter, ripping Mariano Diaz from the dead, lifeless fingers of Sevilla.

Having risen through their youth ranks, Mariano showed off his ability for the Real Madrid first team in the 2016-17 season; scoring five goals in 14 appearances. Behind the likes of Benzema and Alvaro Morata, chances appeared to be limited so Mariano opted to join Lyon last July and enjoyed a stellar campaign in Ligue 1, netting 18 times in 34 outings.

As part of their agreement with the French club, Real Madrid retained not only 35 percent of Mariano’s playing rights, but they also included a clause that gave them the right to re-sign the player if they matched any future bid for his services. As a result, the €30 million fee Lyon agreed with Sevilla saw the European champions only have to pay €20m to fortify their depth behind Benzema.

It was a shrewd piece of business by Florentino Perez. Not only is Mariano a bargain in this type of market; he will also require little time to adapt having already spent so much time here. Furthermore, returning to Madrid has always been a goal of the forward, evidenced by comments Mariano made last November.

“I have a five-year contract with Lyon but going back to Madrid would be incredible, even if I decided it was best to leave the club in the summer,” he said. It was the correct decision by Madrid to let me go: for me, for them, for Lyon. But it is true that it would be a dream for me to return in the future.”

Now, the players dream will come true and Madrid are hopeful that Mariano’s return could mirror that of one-time Merengue, Alvaro Morata. Similarly brought through the Castilla youth ranks, Morata would feature sporadically for the first team from 2010-2014. Fed up with his lack of opportunities, Madrid granted his wish and sold him to Juventus for €20m, while still possessing a buy-back option in the future. Morata saw ample game time in Turin, allowing him to build the the type of confidence that was instrumental for him to score 27 goals over two seasons.

Madrid were naturally impressed by his progression, so much so, that they exercised their buy-back option for a reasonable fee of €30 million. Coming back as a player re-born, Morata would have a stellar campaign as Benzema’s primary backup; scoring 20 goals in all comps as Madrid captured the league title and the Champions League. Still, Morata was not pleased at the prospect of going into another campaign stuck behind the shadow of the Frenchman.

Consequently, he made his feelings known to Perez and all parties agreed that a change would be best. Madrid would eventually find a willing partner in Chelsea, agreeing to a whopping transfer fee of €67m for the Spaniard. Combining that with the other business conducted with Juve, Perez had essentially made €57m on a striker who was never realistically going to be a full-time starter for his club, while also getting the best season of his career out of him.

To this point, Mariano’s journey appears to be trending the exact same way Morata’s did. With a full season spent at Lyon, he was able to develop integral parts of his game not only physically, but mentally as well. This bodes nicely for a Madrid side that lacks the profile of a striker who is ruthless in front of goal. Given the hallowed number 7 shirt will only enhance expectations of the forward, but if a Galactico is brought in next summer and Mariano has a career season, all will be forgotten.

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Three U-20 players to keep an eye on in Spain this upcoming season


We as humans are always in search of the latest and the greatest. Whether it be that new smartphone, car or video game; we all want to have at least one foot running in the rat race of relevance.

Football fans are no different. Established players are usually the bed rocks of our club’s success, but there will always be that wandering eye towards players of the future that could eventually take on the mantle left by their predecessors.

Going into this new LaLiga season, there are a handful of young, yet promising starlets that should raise the collective interest of fans everywhere. These U-20 players may be inexperienced, but what they lack in that department is more than made up for in talent that is primed to leave a sizeable impact on their squads now, or in the coming future.

Without further adieu, let’s take a look at three U-20 players to keep an eye on in Spain this season.

Vinícius Júnior (Real Madrid)

Since being snacthed up by Real Madrid at just the tender age of 17, the spotlight has burnt bright on Brazil’s latest footballing prodigy. Purchased for a reported fee of €46 million, Vinícius’ price tag represented the highest amount ever paid by a club for a footballer under the age of 19. Due to a rule forbidding international transfers to move clubs before their 18th birthday, Vinícius had to wait a year before taking his talents to the Spanish capital.

Recruited in preseason to join the first team on strict orders by manager Julen Lopetegui, the Brazilian finally got his opportunity to showcase his skill set. Throughout all of his appearances, Vinícius displayed a change of pace that can flummox defenders. The use of his body for positioning and the ability to dart out of tight spaces was a recipe for drawing countless fouls or creating for his teammates.

Nevertheless, his inexperience at this level of professional football still remains evident. Having spent just one year with Flamengo’s senior side, aspects such as his finishing ability and the accuracy of his passes still need to be refined. Whether Lopetegui is willing to help him polish his game this season remains to be seen, as he may prefer for the Brazilian to work out the kinks with Castilla.


Riqui Puig (Barcelona)

For as long as many could remember, La Maisa’s conveyor belt produced an endless supply of world class talent. Barcelona’s first team was constantly being replenished with young players who were able to step in and maintain the sides incredible level of success. To the surprise of many, the pool of talented players emanating from their youth set-up has dried up considerably in recent years.

After a prolonged wait that has divided much of the fan base, it seems Barcelona have finally uncovered their next gem, a player who has already drawn praise from the likes of Xavi and AC Milan boss Gennaro Gattuso. His name is Riqui Puig, and he is baby faced 18-year-old center midfielder who finally received his long awaited shot with the first team in this summer’s ICC.

Intelligent beyond his years, Puig has already drawn plenty of comparisons to club legend, Andres Iniesta. Whether it’s his feathery touch, birds-eye vision, or calmness in the face of oncoming pressure, Puig has culés excited about the future of their midfield for the first time in a while.


Fran Beltrán (Celta Vigo)

Going into last season, expectations for Rayo Vallecano were tepid at best. If all things shook right, many pipped them to have an outside shot for the play-offs in the Segunda. Little did they know, the goliath-like performances of one of the smallest players on the pitch would springboard them to promotion after a two-year absence from Spain’s top-flight.

Standing at a mere 5ft 5in, 19-year-old Fran Beltrán can be an easy player to miss initially. However, once the whistle is blown, the midfielder is able to captivate your eyes with his incredible ability. Positioned primarily as a deep-playing midfielder, Beltrán made the bulk of his impact at Rayo through his tireless motor and ability to obtain and retain possession.

Purchased by Celta Vigo for €8m, the Spaniard’s acquisition could prove to be one of the bargains of the summer. His role in Galicia will likely be altered, as a potential partnership next to the more stationary Stanislav Lobotka could see Antonio Mohamed ask Beltrán to push forward and be creative force in the team. With his adept passing ability and the desire to succeed at any cost, Beltrán could prove to be one of Celta’s most important figures this upcoming season.

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Atletico Madrid’s new-found depth provides plenty of possibilities in their draw at Mestalla


When LaLiga officially announced the fixtures for this upcoming season in late July, many eyes naturally made their way to the opening weekend. While most of the attention is normally reserved for who Real Madrid and Barcelona will play, this time around it was another match-up that had Spanish football fans collectively licking their lips.

Coming off an incredible campaign — in which they finished fourth — under first-year manager Marcelino, hope and optimism had swelled to new heights at Valencia. Key players such as Geoffrey Kondogbia were retained, while the club brought in a slew of promising signings led by Daniel Wass and Mitshi Batshuayi. Dealing with such a squad as an opening fixture would be challenging enough, but couple that with having to play them at Mestalla and on short rest is another proposition entirely.

Indeed, this was precisely the task laying at the boots of Atletico Madrid. Coming off a thrilling, albeit exhausting, 120 minute affair with Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup on Wednesday, spectators weren’t quite sure of what to expect from Diego Simeone’s men. Back on the touchline after his suspension midweek, El Cholo deployed his tried and tested 4-4-2 formation.  Contrary to the norm, the Argentine decided to bypass the inclusion of a defensive midfielder by resting Rodri, instead going with a more offensive-minded side; which included Saul and Koke in central midfield and Angel Correa wide with Thomas Lemar.

The gamble initially paid-off, as the visitors dominated the proceedings and were able to strike first in the 27th minute. A sensational ball to Correa from Antoine Griezmann fooled the entire Valencia back-line, leaving the Argentine a simple finish to put past Neto. Without the defensive presence behind them, Koke and Saul at times left too much space in behind. This was noticeable when a rare misjudgment of the ball by Diego Godin allowed Rodrigo to equalize in the 60th minute. Going forward, this shouldn’t be of massive concern as it was the Uruguayans first error that directly lead to an opposition goal since 2012 against Barcelona.

One of Atleti’s most promising signings, Gelson Martins, came on for his Colchonero debut and immediately made an impact. In the 18 minutes he was on the field, he completed a total of three dribbles from six attempted. That was more than Valencia had as an entire team, having registered just two. Vitolo and Thomas Partey would also join the Portuguese as substitutions, hardly signifying a massive drop-off from the players they inevitably replaced.

While Atletico ultimately weren’t able to leave Mestalla with all three points, scratching out a draw was nothing to frown about. If anything, this match only further displayed the tremendous amount of depth and positional flexibility that Simeone now possesses. While clubs such as Real Madrid and Barcelona possess world class starting elevens in their own right, it is the quality of their depth that is often the difference in capturing trophies.

With aspirations of once again becoming Spanish champions, it was imperative that Atletico improve in this area compared to years past. Although the season is still very young, we have already seen glimpses of that dream becoming a reality. A more attacking approach is something that will take time to implement in Atletico’s collective psyche, but the early indications have been promising.

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Ousmane Dembele shows why he’s Barcelona’s best “new” signing



In late 2003, hip hop superstar Jay-Z released what many were led to believe was the final album of his career. After months of exhaustive anticipation, The Black Album finally arrived into the hands of huddled masses. The project was met with widespread acclaim and cemented Sean Carter’s legacy as one of his music genres most legendary figures. In particular, it was track number 10 that stood out to many. Public Service Announcement famously begins with Jay boastfully telling his listeners to “allow me to reintroduce myself”; essentially sending a warning to all of his doubters and competitors that the days of ridicule and sleeping on his talents were over. If a 25-yard screamer into the top corner off the right foot of Ousmane Dembele last night could talk, it would have said exactly that.

In hindsight, the 2017/18 season was more like a whisper from the Frenchman. Left to respond in the face of Neymar’s stunning departure to PSG, Barcelona immediately zeroed in on Dembele as their number one target but he wouldn’t come cheap. €105 million plus a reported €40 million in add-ons is what it would take to pry him away from Borussia Dortmund; making him at the time the joint second most expensive football transfer, along with Paul Pogba. The fan fare behind his arrival would reach a fevered pitch and for good reason. The Dortmund star had just won the Bundesliga Rookie of the Season award and was universally recognized as one of the best young talents in the world alongside Kylian Mbappe.

Dembele was eventually handed Neymar’s vacated number 11, in addition to the burden of expectation that would cripple most 20-year-olds. Life in Catalunya would begin promising enough, though, as Dembele would provide the assist to Luis Suarez’s final goal in his Blaugrana debut. Ernesto Valverde had been impressed by what he had seen and decided to grant Dembele his first league start eight days later against Getafe, but it wouldn’t last long. Before the clock even had a chance to strike the half hour mark, Dembele pulled up chasing a ball into the corner of the pitch and clutched at his hamstring. A string of tests eventually would reveal the worst, subsequently sidelining him for the next four months. He was given the medical all-clear on 2 January 2018, but just a couple weeks later, he again injured himself against Real Sociedad and was ruled out for another month.

Seemingly for every one step Dembele took forward, he would have to take another two back. Even when healthy, the Frenchman struggled to gain the trust of his manager. Despite a cup-tied Philippe Coutinho, Valverde decided against starting the youngster in either of the Champions League quarter-final matches against Roma, lamenting the fact that Dembele needed to mature and also assert himself more defensively. He eventually finished the campaign with four goals in 24 appearances across all competitions. The return on investment had left many within the Barcelona hierarchy underwhelmed and left pondering if it was already time to cut their losses.

Rumors of a loan, or even a possible sale of the Frenchman have persisted in the Catalan press all summer. Certain journalists have even appeared to let personal vendettas against him spill into their work, causing division and an uncertainty about where Dembele’s future lies. Off the heels of a poor season, the constant reports and the noise generated from them could have understandably only unsettled him more. However, if yesterday’s Spanish Supercopa was any indication, Ousmane Dembele appears ready to silence all who have soiled his name.

Over 90 tense, scorching minutes, Dembele was seemingly involved in it all. He tracked back defensively, always yearned for the ball, exuded unlimited confidence, consistently took on defenders and capped his performance with a golazo that won his club the trophy. Beyond just the eye test, the hard numbers help further illuminate a performance that would make even the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo blush:

100% shot accuracy; 90% pass accuracy; 64 touches; 41 passes; 4 fouls won; 3 chances created; 3 take-ons; 2 shots; 1 goal.

At least for the time being, this performance should spell the end to ideas that Dembele will be playing his football anywhere else, but for Barcelona. With a season at full fitness and his adaptation to life in Spain getting stronger by the day, Ousmane Dembele comes into the campaign essentially as a new signing. With the likes of Messi, Suarez and Coutinho, Barcelona already held claim to one of football’s most feared attacks and a daunting task for defenses all over the world. Throw in a Dembele at his best, and you could be bordering on unstoppable.

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Three under the radar signings to watch in La Liga this season

Gerard Moreno_1

Seemingly with each transfer window that passes, the amount of money being spent by leagues around the world continues to soar. In the Premier League and Serie A alone, clubs have combined to collectively spend a mind numbing 2,159,150 billion euros this summer. In comparison, La Liga sides have been more prudent, spending a combined 689,920,000 million euros. Indeed, much of the attention garnered by the league this window has  centered around the players who are departing Spain.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Juventus naturally hoarded most of the oxygen, as Real Madrid lost one of the best players in the world and undoubtedly the sport’s most marketable star. Many have wondered what the ramifications would be to the league as a whole, however that has not stopped other clubs from making history with their acquisitions.

Eight clubs have broken their transfer fee record so far this summer (Alaves, Atletico Madrid, Eibar, Espanyol, Girona, Huesca, Rayo Vallecano and Villarreal), proving that many clubs are financially healthy and willing to compete. Nevertheless, there has still been a flurry of shrewd signings that could prove to outperform the fee they were originally purchased for.

Without further adieu, let’s take a look at three players who could pleasantly surprise for their clubs this upcoming season.

Daniel Wass (Valencia) – It has been a relatively quiet window for La Liga’s biggest surprise team of last season. First year manager Marcelino orchestrated an incredible turnaround for Valencia, guiding the club to a 4th place finish on 73 points — just three  behind 3rd placed Real Madrid. Going into the summer, the primary objective of Los Che was to hang on to their on-loan stars — such as Geoffrey Kondogbia and Goncalo Guedes — who were instrumental in the teams ascension. While Guedes’ future is still anything but certain, Valencia were able to iron out a deal to keep Kondogbia at the Mestalla long-term.

Nevertheless, Marcelino was steadfast in his determination to improve the depth of his squad and he did just that with the signing of Daniel Wass from cross country rivals Celta Vigo. At a bargain price of €6m, Valencia have secured an incredibly versatile player who can fill in at both full back positions and across the entirety of midfield.

The right side of the midfield was a particularly thorny issue for Marcelino a season ago, but he now has the services of the experienced Dane, who featured over 100 times the past three seasons and became a mainstay in Galicia.

Takashi Inui (Real Betis) – Another surprising outfit from a season ago was none other than Real Betis. After a difficult stretch, Los Beticos righted the ship to finish an impressive 6th in the table. In an effort to build on that, Quique Setien’s side have been very busy shopping with a particular focus in the bargain aisle.

Seeking out quality players with expired contracts, Betis was able to find a gem in the form of Japan international Takashi Inui. After a sparkling World Cup, in which he scored twice and became one of his nation’s most beloved players, Inui decided to burn his commitment to Eibar and instead move to Andalucia on a free transfer.

The Japanese winger played 34 times for Eibar in La Liga last year, notching five goals for the offensively challenged side. At 30 years old, Inui will now feature for a setup that harbors ambitions of qualifying for the Champions League under the tutelage of a manger renown for his attacking style of play. In what is likely the last big contract of his career, Inui will be determined to show that his performance in the World Cup was merely just a preview of what’s to come.

Gerard Moreno (Villarreal) – Who ever said mistakes can’t be undone? Three years ago, Villarreal sold Gerard Moreno to Espanyol for 50% of his rights and a poultry fee of 1.5 million euros. The forwards departure hardly made waves at the time, yet Moreno would prove to be one of the league’s most productive bargains over the course of his stay in Catalunya.

The Spaniard was especially potent a season ago, as he bagged 16 goals in La Liga, only three fewer than Atletico Madrid star Antoine Griezmann. Moreno’s prowess in front of net was imperative in saving Espanyol from potential relegation. Scoring nearly 50% of his sides goals, Moreno was the attraction for Los Periquitos.

Villarreal were undoubtedly impressed; setting a club record by splashing out 20 million euros in order to retain his services. The pressure will be on Moreno to replicate his form, yet all signs point to the 26-year-old continuing to grow into his own. Finishing fifth last year, Villarreal will hope to do one better this time out and land themselves an automatic Champions League spot. With Moreno leading the line, they should have every opportunity to make their dream turn into a reality.

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