Real Madrid have fight, but for how long can they scrape results?

In the context of this season’s title race in La Liga it could prove be a big moment. Sevilla have ambitions of their own, with Julen Lopetegui taking the Andalusian side into the top four. Some have even suggested that Sevilla might make themselves outside challengers for the Spanish title this season. They must have fancied their chances of leaving the Santiago Bernabeu with something on Saturday.

Real Madrid, though, claimed a 2-1 win to establish a three-point lead over Barcelona at the top of La Liga with their Catalan rivals set to play Granada at home on Sunday evening. This was the sort of game Zinedine Zidane’s side likely would have dropped points from earlier in the season. It could even be argued that Sevilla were the better of the two teams on balance.

With Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Sergio Ramos and Fede Valverde all out through injury or suspension, Real Madrid were short-handed. The absence of Benzema in particular posed Zidane with a real problem. The French striker is enjoying the season of his life, but the drop off in quality in Benzema’s absence is dramatic.

Luke Jovic set up the opening goal with a clever backheel flick for Casemiro, but the Serbian striker has struggled to find his place at Real Madrid since joining from Eintracht Frankfurt in the summer. In the main, Jovic doesn’t facilitate others around him in the way Benzema does. Thus Real Madrid are a poorer team in attack with the Serbian leading the line. This was evident against Sevilla.

And yet Real Madrid still managed to find enough within themselves to claim a crucial three points at a critical point of the season. This has become a trend for Zidane’s side over the past few weeks. It was a similar story against Atletico Madrid in the final of the Spanish Supercopa, with a penalty shootout getting Real Madrid over the line when they probably should have lost in 120 minutes of open play.

This is obviously a good quality to have, but for how long can this sustain Real Madrid? There is still a sense that they have yet to find top form and top gear this season. They have scraped through games at time, just getting over the line when they probably should have fallen short. Zidane still has to take Real Madrid to a higher level.

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Barcelona must prioritise Pique’s successor

Time and again we are told of Barcelona’s dependance on Lionel Messi and how they wouldn’t be close to the same team without his influence.

That is ostensibly true of course, but there are other players in the team that are coming to the end of their professional careers and for whom the Catalans will find just as hard to replace.

One of those is their central defender, Gerard Pique. Continue reading

Top fantasy La Liga picks for this weekend’s action in Spain

We have another full schedule of LaLiga games coming up in Spain this weekend.

It’s time to look ahead to the upcoming games as you decide on what changes, if any, to make in fantasy LaLiga.

Have a read and see if any tips stick out which might suit your fantasy LaLiga team this weekend.

Continue reading

Luka Modric is coming to the end, but remains Real Madrid’s brightest spark

2018/19 was a peculiar season for Luka Modric. The Croatian shone at the Russia World Cup, leading his country to the final. May 2018 also saw him lift the Champions League trophy for the third straight year. Modric struggled for fitness and form after the summer of 2018, though.

It was arguably his poorest as a Real Madrid player, which made his success in winning the Ballon d’Or somewhat ironic. This led to speculation over Modric’s future at the Santiago Bernabeu. Last summer, it was even rumoured that he could leave for Serie A, with Inter believed to be long-term suitors of the player.

At 34 years old there is little doubt that Modric is now entering the twilight of his career. This prompted many to suggest that Real Madrid should cash in on a player who had been one of their most influential over the past decade, but now has a limited shelf life. On the basis of what we have seen this season, though, it’s just as well they didn’t.

It’s true that Zinedine Zidane is using Modric more sparingly, resting the Croatian more often than he has in the past. Modric might not even be considered a member of Real Madrid’s favoured starting lineup, with the emergence of Fede Valverde leaving Toni Kroos and the Croatian to fight over one midfield position. Against Barcelona before Christmas, for instance, Modric started on the bench.

And yet the 34-year-old remains Real Madrid’s brightest spark when he is on the pitch. He might not have the mobility any longer to win the fiercest of battles in the centre of the pitch, explaining why Zidane has taken to favouring Casemiro, Kroos and Valverde in midfield for the biggest games, but Modric has rediscovered his inherent creativity this season.

“Modric is such an important player for this team and he’s always going to be,” Zidane said after a particularly impressive performance by the Croatian in an important 3-0 win over Getafe, a result which lifted Real Madrid level on points with Barcelona at the top of La Liga. “Luka Modric is Luka Modric.”

This might still prove to be Modric’s last season at the Santiago Bernabeu, with Inter still thought to be interested in the player and speculation still swirling, but at least if he leaves now the Croatian will leave good memories right up until the end.

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How badly will Real Madrid miss Fede Valverde against Sevilla?

It was the moment that essentially decided the Spanish Supercopa final. Real Madrid’s win over Atletico Madrid in Saudi Arabia last weekend won’t be remembered for the penalties in the shootout, nor will anything during the 90 minutes stick in the mind. Instead, Fede Valverde’s cynical, last-ditch tackle on Alvaro Morata will be remembered.

The Uruguayan midfielder didn’t really have any other choice. With five minutes left of extra time, Morata was released clean through on goal. Valverde was the only one chasing back and so it was up to him to fell the Atletico Madrid striker, taking the straight red card for his troubles.

Valverde picked up the Man of the Match award almost purely for his tackle, raising a debate over whether such a decision was in the spirit of the game. Whether it was or wasn’t, the 21-year-old will now miss Real Madrid’s home match against Sevilla on Saturday, a landmark moment in this season’s title race at the top of La Liga.

The Uruguayan has become a key member of Zinedine Zidane’s side this season. He has filled a hole in Real Madrid’s midfield, leaving Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric to fight over just two positions. It’s no exaggeration to say Valvede is now one of the first names on the team sheet.

Against Sevilla, Real Madrid will need to win the battle in the centre of the pitch. Julen Lopetegui will have revenge on his mind, returning to the Santiago Bernabeu for the first time since he was sacked as Real Madrid manager last season, and his team, currently sitting in fourth place, are a strong outfit capable of beating the best.

This is a critical point of the season for Spain’s top two. The fixtures will come thick and fast over the next few weeks as the Copa del Rey and Champions League start to clutter their schedule. A lot will be demanded of players like Valverde, but the 21-year-old will miss Saturday’s important match.

It will instead be up to the likes of Casemiro and Kroos to disrupt Sevilla’s play through the middle of the pitch. The Andalusians are excellent in transition and so Real Madrid must provide protection for their back four. Valverde would have helped do this. Finding someone to perform his duties will be key to what happens on Saturday.

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What would success in 2019/20 look like for Barcelona?

It’s fair to say that this season has been quite a tumultuous one for Barcelona.

It began with missed transfer targets. Though Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie De Jong were added to the roster, both Neymar and Matthijs De Ligt were missed, even though the latter was virtually promised by president, Josep Maria Bartomeu.

That put a sour taste in supporters mouths before a ball had even been kicked. Continue reading

Barcelona sack Ernesto Valverde but the situation turns into a farce

Barcelona have sacked coach Ernesto Valverde but the handling of the affair ended up turning into a farce. Instead of the club making a professional decision the story ran out of control when former player Xavi rejected taking the job.

The Catalan giants ended up exposing themselves early, Valverde knew he was out of a job as the Barca board scrambled to appoint someone after the club were beaten 3-2 by Atletico Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup semi-finals out in Saudi Arabia. The timing though seems off. It is ended with Barcelona fans having a Valverde for a domestic league game, only to see him and the team go halfway around the world to play in the Super Cup and the team coming back with Valverde gone and a new manager in place.

But why now? Why did Barcelona make this decision? Valverde after all becomes the first Barcelona coach in 17 years sacked mid way through the season. The last was Louis van Gaal. It has been reported that Barcelona panicked when they witnessed the Atletico game. The club were 2-1 up with 10 minutes to go and lost 3-2. It reminded them of the Champions League collapses against Roma and Liverpool when the club spurned a 3 goal lead, each time with Valverde in charge.

It’s odd in a way that the club have finally said goodbye to him given that they are top of the league in Spain and qualified for the knock out stages of the Champions League. If they were going to sack him surely it would have come days after going out of the Champions League in embarrassing fashion to Liverpool, or at the end of last season, but he was liked by the board, well until now.

So who will be replacing him? It should have been Xavi and that would have been the natural decision. But the former Barca great actually did the most decent thing and declined to leave his current managerial position at Al Sadd during their season. It was reported he could take over in the summer but Barca wanted someone now. That someone is Quique Setien.

Setien’s last job was coach of Real Betis where he recorded some great results including beating Barcelona. He has long been an admirer of the clubs playing philosophy and could be the perfect replacement, only time will tell on that, but he has never had a win rate above 50%, at the same time he has never coached one of the elite teams and at 61 his dream has finally come true.

As for Valverde, well once you have managed Barcelona it is like winning an Oscar and he will be high demand, with no problems to find another job, although he will more than likely take the next 6 months off. The one shame is the way Barcelona handled it all for a man who probably should have gone this summer. Having said that one could question if he has been a failure for Barcelona? Sure their performances collapsed in the Champions League but Barcelona won 2 league titles under him and two cups. Week in week out they did a job on Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid to win La Liga.

Former Barcelona great Andres Iniesta called the handling of Valverde’s sacking ‘a bit ugly’, and he was right to say that. It’s interesting how loyal figures at the club are usually shown the back door or the handling for their exits is not done let’s say with the best of etiquette in mind. But what is done is done and Setien will be thrown in at the deep end, his dream has finally arrived and he will be hoping that it isn’t a nightmare.

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Best 11 Players in Spain’s Copa del Rey

The top teams were not involved in the latest round of the Copa del Rey as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Valencia contested a new format of the Spanish Super Cup which was being played as a mini tournament in Saudi Arabia. That means that this week let other players shine. With no league matches over the weekend we will take a look at the best performing players in the Copa del Rey.

Goalkeeper: Alejandro Remiro- Real Sociedad

Alejandro Remiro made some good saves as Real Sociedad his team then went on to beat Ceuta by 4-0. But it was his initial saves early in the game that enabled the team to grow in confidence and win. Remiro is valued at 6m and has kept 3 clean sheets in the league so far.

Defender: Sergi Gomez- Sevilla

Sergi Gomez was a rock in defence for Sevilla and whilst the other two defenders by his side also played their part they got booked. But Gomez played a clean game and the 27 year old looked impressive as his side beat Escobedo 5-0.Gomez is 6.5m to buy.

Defender: Lucas Olaza- Celta Vigo

Celta Vigo overcame Merida 4-1 and Lucas Olaza held his own as left back. He made some brave challenges and even though he was part of a defence that conceded a goal, it’s harsh to be critical of his over all performance when his team wins so well.

Defender: Jesus Navas – Sevilla

A supremely gifted footballer and Jesus Navas put in a great display as Sevilla won their game 5-0. He kept a clean sheet and he assisted in the 5th goal to round up a great game for him. It’s worth noting that Navas normally plays in midfield for Sevilla, but they deployed him in defence for this cup game

Defender; Ander Capa- Athletico Bilbao

Ander Capa had an excellent game as his side won 4-0 and of course he kept a clean sheet. He is having a really good domestic season in La Liga too where he has scored 26 pts and can be bought for 5.5m which looks like a very decent price.

Midfielder: Maxime Gonalons- Granada

Maxime Gonalons had a very solid game in the middle of the field as his team Granada won 1-0 against Tamaraceite. Many pundits thought the score would be bigger, but Gonalons simply put his head down and knew this would be a tough physical battle and he left the pitch with no cautions against him. In La Liga he has only earned 3 pts so far but can be snapped up for a relatively cheap 5m.

Midfielder: Carbo Bellapart- Badalona

True you may not have heard of Carbo Bellapart who plays in the lower leagues for Badalona. But he played such an important part as his team stunned and knocked out La Liga team Getafe, by winning 1-0. He was assured and confident and local media praised him.

Midfielder: Matias Vargas- Espanyol

Espanyol faced a potential tricky tie against San Sebastian Reyes who talked up a good game before the match. They made Espanyol work hard for the win and Vargas distributed the ball well, as his side eventually won 2-0.

Striker: Soriano – Girona

Soriano scored two goals and helped his club overcome a resiliant round of football. Girona were playing in La Liga only a few years ago and they will want to get back, they played some good football in this cup game as they look to have a deep run. Soriano is 34 now and has been around for a while and the veteran striker would have been very happy to have scored a brace to help his team.

Striker: Asier Villalibre- Athletico Bilbao

Asier Villalibre had a fantastic game as he scored two goals in Athletico Bilbao’s 4-0  win away to Sestao. He was really on his game and perhaps is deserving more of La Liga game time. He certainly had his own personal match of the season with this performance.

Striker: Enes Unal -Valladolid

Enes Unal has been lightning up La Liga lately and he came through in the Copa del Rey also. He scored both goals as his side Valladolid beat Marbella 2-1. Even though they were the favourites to win the match finished at 1-1. But Unal was able to strike in extra time to get the winner. He is valued at 5.5m to bring into your team.

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Is Raul Gonzalez destined to be Real Madrid manager one day?

It had rumoured for years, so there was little surprise to the reports that surfaced on Saturday morning claiming Barcelona want Xavi Hernandez to be their next manager. The former midfielder is currently in Qatar as Al-Sadd head coach and has long been tipped as a future boss of the Catalan club. That future might now be a little closer with Ernesto Valverde under intense pressure after recent results.

Of course, Real Madrid have their own Xavi-type figure. Raul Gonzalez has long been talked about as a future manager of the Santiago Bernabeu outfit, currently in charge of the club’s Castilla team. He, like Xavi, seems destined to take the reins of the club they became a legend for as a player.

He might have to wait a bit longer to take to the touchline at the Santiago Bernabeu. Zinedine Zidane was under pressure earlier in the season, with a series of poor results and performances putting his job on the line, but he has since turned things around. Many now see Real Madrid as the frontrunners in this season’s La Liga title race, tied with Barcelona at the top of the table.

However, football fickle, especially in the Spanish capital where Real Madrid went through no fewer than three different managers last season. Zidane looks secure right now, but the Frenchman is only ever two or three bad results away from a crisis. Florentino Perez isn’t exactly known for patience.

Perez is also known to be a fan of Mauricio Pochettino. If Zidane is sacked at some point in the not so distant future, the former Tottenham manager is likely to be at the top of the shortlist. But Pochettino won’t be out of work for much longer. As Europe’s most sought after coach, he will surely have a job before the start of next season and it’s difficult to envisage things could unravel that quickly for Zidane at Real Madrid.

This could move Raul up the hypothetical shortlist. The former forward has impressed many with his start to managerial life at Castilla and could feasibly follow the precedent set by Zidane in making the jump from Real Madrid’s B team to coaching the senior team. Raul had a great football mind as a player and Real Madrid could soon count on him having the same as a manager.

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Can Ansu Fati become Lionel Messi’s successor?

Before the start of the 2019/20 campaign, only those with knowledge of Barcelona’s youth team players had heard of Ansu Fati.

The youngster had sailed through most of the age groups at the club, due in no small part to the fearlessness with which he approached every challenge.

That has stood him in good stead since his promotion to the first team. Continue reading