Three players who could leave Barcelona in January

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There are just another few weeks remaining until the transfer window is open for business once again.

Noises have already been made from various players and clubs, some more subtle than others it must be said.

Most of the spadework on deals will have been done prior to January 1, 2019, with the nuts and bolts of any switch to be ironed out in good time after that date. Continue reading

Getafe continue to defy doubters in La Liga

Getafe

It is easy to forget Getafe were only promoted to Spain’s top flight 18 months ago, via the convulted playoff system. Last season, Loz Azulones recorded an impressive eighth-placed finish – just one spot away from European qualification – and they are on course to repeat the feat this time round.

Since the start of the 2017-18 campaign, Jose Bordalas’s men have conceded just 45 goals across their 53 matches in La Liga. It is a remarkable record with only Atletico Madrid (32 goals conceded in that timeframe) holding stronger defensive numbers. Continue reading

Struggling Villarreal right to dismiss boss Javier Calleja

Villarreal

Monday morning saw Villarreal boss Javier Calleja become the fifth managerial casualty of the current La Liga campaign. In truth, it was no surprise. The Yellow Submarine sit just one place above the relegation zone and are one of the biggest underachievers in this crazy season in Spain.

Their performances were not alarmingly bad nor is relegation a serious concern at present. They have conceded the same amount of goals as Real Madrid and Barcelona. But the reality is this a side who should be doing an awful lot better and Calleja, well-liked at the club, cannot complain about losing his position. Continue reading

Self-criticism would serve Denis Suarez well

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In the wake of Barcelona’s Copa del Rey round of 32 second leg victory over Cultural Leonesa, Denis Suarez completely changed tack in his post-match interview.

To this point the Galician had always been more than happy to adopt the party line that he was going to ‘wait for his chance,’ and ‘work hard’ at Barcelona etc.

However, after a two-goal salvo against Barca’s Segunda B opponents, the attacking midfielder was in no mood to beat around the bush anymore. Continue reading

Riqui Puig is the player Barcelona have been waiting for

He was only on the pitch for 35 minutes, thrown on as a second half substitute with the game already won by then, but that was enough for Riqui Pique to catch the eye of everyone inside Camp Nou on Wednesday night. Long hyped as Barcelona’s next best thing, this was a glimpse of the future for the Catalan club.

There was something Xavi-esque about the display Puig put in against Cultural Leonesa, particularly his run and chipped through ball for Barcelona’s fourth goal on the night. Sure, it might have been against third tier opposition, but it takes a lot of ability for a player, any player, never mind one 17 years old, to command the Camp Nou turf like Puig did.

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Alongside Carles Alena, Barcelona fans were afforded a glimpse of what their team’s midfield of the future might look like. The Catalans have struggled to find players good enough to replace Andres Iniesta and Xavi, with Paulinho, Arturo Vidal, Arda Turan, Denis and Rafinha all given a shot. While Paulinho proved himself to be a decent option, and Vidal has played a lot in recent weeks, nobody has come close to filling the void.

Arthur has, so far, proved to be an astute signing, joining Barcelona from Gremio in the summer. Over time, it’s possible that he could form a midfield unit alongside Alena and Puig, who is still maturing. This could be the platform that sustains Barcelona in the post-Lionel Messi age.

What’s more, both Alena and Puig represent a recovery to the ways of old for Barcelona. The path from La Masia to the senior team has been walked by few in recent years, with the Catalan club instead splurging hundreds of millions on players in the transfer market.

Alena and Puig are both players forged from the Barcelona mould. They look like Barcelona players, they play like Barcelona players. Not since Thiago Alcantara has a midfielder looked like such a natural fit for the Catalan club. Now, Barca must ensure they don’t undervalue them and lose them to Bayern Munich.

Puig has been linked with a number of elite clubs, with Spurs the latest to be reported suitors for the teenager. Mauricio Pochettino took in a Barcelona B game during the international break, raising speculation that he could make a move for Puig, taking advantage of the contract regulations that leave Spanish sides at a disadvantage when it comes keeping teenagers.

Barcelona must do all they can to keep Puig. Not for years has a young prospect so clearly represented the future of the club. The era of Messi will one day come to an end and with the Argentinean now 31 Barca must start making plans. Puig is one of the players they should plan around. His 35-minute performance in the Copa del Rey demonstrated that.

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Umtiti’s selfishness could cost Barca

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Samuel Umtiti is going to have ‘conservative’ treatment on his persistent knee problems in a bid to cure them, rather than resorting to surgery.

The Barcelona centre-back has clearly been short of his best this season, and one can deduce that it’s due in no small part to those ongoing issues.

To that end, it’s surprising that the French World Cup winner, when the problem first became apparent, didn’t immediately go under the knife and ensure the problem was resolved once and for all. Continue reading

Have Atletico Madrid already blown La Liga title?

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Atletico Madrid may be only three points off the top of La Liga but there is a growing sense they have already blown their best chance of a league title since their 2014 triumph. In fact, the possibility of them lifting the Spanish title this year is seemingly significantly higher than it was whenever they pipped Barcelona on the final day five seasons ago.

The Catalan giants are once more at the top of the pile but have already dropped 14 points from their opening 14 games and the title race has been, until now, wide open. Diego Simeone’s men must surely be cursing their own failures to reach their potential – which is so much more than 25 points in the same time frame. Continue reading

Real Betis face potentially season-defining fixtures

Real Betis

Real Betis have begun their crucial 24-day run of fixtures in the build-up to Christmas with the perfect start. Last week, they clinched qualification to the knockout stages of the Europa League with a 1-0 win over Olympiakos and three days later, they secured a 1-0 win at home to an in-form Real Sociedad in La Liga.

Both victories were important in very different senses – one guaranteeing the prestige of European football will tick into March at least and the other a much-needed three points in La Liga – ahead of five more significant matches in the busiest time of the campaign. Continue reading

Will Athletic Club Bilbao be relegated from La Liga?

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Last season was an unmitigated disaster for Athletic Club Bilbao. A club who have become accustomed to competing in European football, and one of only three to never have been relegated from La Liga since its inception – along with Real Madrid and Barcelona – saw them finish 16th, and with no more points than any other side who beat the drop.

Such underperformance was pinned on boss José Ángel Ziganda – a loyal club servant as a player and coach but inexperienced at the top level in the dugout. This was a team too good to be struggling so badly. With players like Inaki Williams, Inigo Martinez and Iker Munain – they should have been challenging for a top six spot. Continue reading

Looking back to how Cristiano Ronaldo emerged as a centre-forward at Real Madrid

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On the 4th January of 2016, a new era began at the Santiago Bernabeu, where Zinedine Zidane was announced as the new manager of Real Madrid on a two-and-a-half-year deal. The departure of Rafa Benitez was simply inevitable, as his short and unconvincing time at the club had to come to an end.

At the time of the announcement, there were a lot of mixed thoughts on the decision made by Los Blancos, with the majority being filled with excitement as the Frenchman aimed to extend his legacy at the club by bringing in success as a manager. However, the rest of the footballing world felt the appointment was a huge risk, with Zidane lacking managerial experience and tactical knowledge.

During his time as the coach of Real Madrid, Zidane went on to one La Liga title, three Champions League trophies and one Spanish Super Cup as well as a number of individual awards. The European dominance along with winning the club’s 33rd league title in 2017 would not have been possible had the coach kept Cristiano Ronaldo on the left flank instead of moving him up top as a lone forward.

Focusing more on Ronaldo, he first started to acknowledge this new role under Benitez, when Karim Benzema was suffering from a few injury issues. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner faced a number of problems whilst playing in this position, with the main one being the side was not built around him, and Benitez’s defensive style of play did not work well with Real Madrid’s free-flowing system.

On the other hand, once Zidane was introduced into the managerial picture, Ronaldo became the perfect number nine in Europe due to his movement on and off the ball and his pure instincts. The best example to show that he adjusted to a new approach and style is the 3-0 victory over rivals Atletico Madrid in November 2016, when his hat-trick summed up his growth as a centre forward.

The 4-4-2 diamond formation got the best out of both strikers in Benzema and Ronaldo, with the former playing as the deep-lying forward who would combine with the midfielders, whilst the latter would remain in the final third of the pitch and come up with the goods for when his side needed him the most. Overall, the improvements became evident as the trophies started to come in.

Ronaldo’s transition from being a dazzling winger to a dominant and ruthless forward became much easier, when Portugal coach Fernando Santos started playing him up front alongside either Ricardo Quaresma or Luis Nani. Playing in the same role as well as a similar formation at both club and international level has allowed the Madeira-born star to adapt and thrive within this new change.

It’s definitely not easy to pick out an international game that proved Portugal were on top of their game and the opposition. Though, the most recent and memorable competitive fixture that comes to mind is the World Cup match between Portugal and Spain, where Ronaldo’s incredible hat-trick allowed his team to pick up a vital point early in the tournament as they went past the group stages.

Throughout the closely-watched game, Portugal were defensively sound and composed to a certain level whilst Ronaldo’s influence on the pitch gave Santos’ men some hope that they would get something out of this match. In the end, the test of patience pulled through as Portugal earned themselves an invaluable point and Ronaldo went on to steal the headlines for the next few days.

Overall, it is fair to say that two to three managers have helped Ronaldo to become the centre-forward he is today. Although he is playing as a left-winger for Juventus at this moment of time, the Italian side will be relying on his individual brilliance in strike as the Serie A and Champions League campaign goes on, especially given that they are aiming to complete the treble this season.