Real Madrid now face defining stretch of their season

It was hardly a vintage Real Madrid performance, but Saturday’s 2-0 home win over Espanyol illustrated the momentum that Zinedine Zidane’s players have built up in recent weeks. They weren’t at their best and even looked vulnerable at times, but there was never any sense that points were about to be dropped, going top of La Liga until Barcelona’s match against Real Mallorca later the same day.

Real Madrid will need to be better over the coming weeks, though. With victory over Espanyol, they now face a defining stretch in their season. First up is the Champions League game against Club Brugge. That will be something of a dead rubber with Real Madrid already certain of their place in the last 16 and unable to catch Paris Saint-Germain in top spot, but what follows will have a lot more riding on it.

Zidane will take his side to the Mestalla next week. Despite Valencia’s recent struggles, it remains one of the toughest venues to visit in Spanish football and Zidane will be without both Marcelo and Ferland Mendy for that trip following the latter’s red card late on in the win over Espanyol.

After that Real Madrid will make the journey to the Camp Nou to take on Barcelona in the first Clasico of the season. Of course, these games often come with additional meaning attached, but there appears to be even more riding on this Clasico. It could set the tone for the rest of the season in La Liga, establishing a dynamic in the title race. It could be a watershed.

Then Real Madrid will take on Athletic Club at home in the final match before the winter break. It’s at that point that both Zidane’s team and Barcelona, as well as the rest of La Liga, will be assessed. It’s at this point that we will be able to make a solid judgement on who will prevail in the tightest La Liga title race for a number of years.

Real Madrid have done well to move past their vulnerabilities of the early part of the season and build a head of steam in recent weeks. But the issues of old may re-emerge if the period between now and Christmas goes badly. This may prove to be the most important stretch of their whole season.

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How many lives does Ousmane Dembele have at Barcelona?

When Ousmane Dembele signed for Barcelona from Borussia Dortmund, it seemed to be a huge statement from the Catalans that they were still going places.

Although his €100m+ fee was considered steep, Dortmund were very firm in their negotiations. Pay up or he stays.

The player himself eventually went on strike to force through the move, and that hinted at the type of character the Blaugranes were getting. Continue reading

Fantasy LaLiga picks for this weekend – Messi has to be in

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.

Goalkeeper – Unai Simon (Athletic Bilbao) – 5.5 million Continue reading

Real Madrid have momentum, but injuries present real test

On the face of things, Real Madrid are in good shape to face Barcelona in the first Clasico of the season in two weeks time. Zinedine Zidane’s side have gone eight games without defeat and have kept pace with their Catalans at the top of the Spanish Liga table. Some might even have them as title favourites on recent form, with Barca struggling somewhat.

Form isn’t Real Madrid’s most pressing problem right now, though. Injuries have been piling up in recent weeks. At current count, no fewer than 16 players are affected by some sort of knock or injury, with a number of key figures doubtful for that first Clasico of the season in the not so distant future.

Eden Hazard is perhaps Zidane’s biggest concern ahead of that match. The Belgian was expected to return from injury in time to face Barcelona, but has suffered another setback that could see him sidelined. Then there’s Gareth Bale who is also in a race against his own fitness to feature. Despite recent controversies, the Welshman remains one of Real Madrid’s most potent players.

Marcelo has joined Bale and Hazard in the treatment room. The Brazilian had found a good vein of form in recent weeks and so his absence is another blow to Real Madrid at such a critical time of the season, although Ferland Mendy will be able to slot in at left back. The Frenchman has also found his way of late following his summer move from Lyon.

Sergio Ramos is another who is doubtful for the league match against Barcelona, while centre back partner Raphael Varane similarly a concern. Dani Carvjal, Alphonse Areola, Alvaro Odriozola, Casemiro, Mariano Diaz and Vinicius Junior all have issues of their own, and there’s the long-term injury to Marco Asensio.

Karim Benzema could also miss the clash with Barcelona. This would leave Real Madrid without their top scorer and spiritual leader. Ramos might be the one with the captain’s armband, but it’s the French striker who is the dynamo through which their play flows. Without Benzema, Real Madrid often lack direction, not to mention cutting edge in the final third.

Real Madrid have built some momentum in recent weeks. Barcelona are not without their own problems right now and so Zidane and his players will surely be confident of victory in the first Clasico of the season. But it’s not quite clear what players will actually make the pitch.

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Is Eric Abidal to blame for Barcelona’s funk?

It’s hard work watching Barcelona at the moment.

A few weeks into the season all that was being talked about was how it was their worst start for 25 years, but a few big wins at home switched the narrative to some extent.

Unfortunately for the Catalans, that didn’t last long.

Used to powering ahead of the chasing pack, Barca seem to be treading water most weeks, and a prime example of their funk came against Leganes a short while ago in La Liga. Continue reading

Real Madrid growing into title race after shaky start to season

Had Real Madrid made the trip to the Basque Country to face Alaves even just a few weeks ago it’s likely they would have been dealt some sort of blow. Before the visit of Zinedine Zidane’s side on Saturday, Alaves had lost just one game at home (to Sevilla) all season long. They were in good form and fancied their chances of taking something from Real Madrid.

By full time, though, the capital club were celebrating a well-earned three points. The conditions at Mendizorrotza were atrocious, with heavy rain making the pitch a difficult surface to play on. This was the sort of game Real Madrid would have drawn or lost earlier in the season, but they are a different sort of group of players now.

Real Madrid have made real progress in recent weeks. The defeat to Real Mallorca at the end of October has proved to be a watershed for the club. Since then, the capital club have gone eight games without suffering defeat. They have played well over that spell, but they have also dug deep when required. It was required to claim the victory against Alaves on Saturday.

The result took Real Madrid to the top of La Liga and with Barcelona at the Wanda Metropolitano to face Atletico Madrid on Sunday night there’s a real chance that Zidane’s men will make that position stick beyond the weekend. This could prove to be a real turning point in their season.

While the malaise at Barcelona seems to grow with every match, with Ernesto Valverde coming under increasing pressure, Real Madrid are becoming more and more comfortable in their own skin. Zidane looked to be something of a dead man walking, in managerial terms, earlier in the season. Now, his squad appear to be fighting for him again.

Of course, there is a long way to go until the end of the season, but Real Madrid are more than playing their part in a title race that will surely witness many more twists and turns. They have absorbed a lot since the summer and look to be a better team and a stronger group of characters for it. That might serve them well as their contest with Barca at the top of La Liga goes down to the wire.

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Rakitic will be a big loss to Barcelona

As football teams evolve, so players come and go.

New managers have different ideas of how they want the game to be played, and that can often mean that players who were previously untouchable as starters, are left on the periphery.

That set of circumstances has befallen Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic, albeit he still has the same coach in Ernesto Valverde. Continue reading

Barcelona’s reserve full-backs must take their chance

When a player gets to join the likes of Real Madrid or Barcelona, the next step is to ensure that they get regular minutes on the pitch.

Often this only comes about because of an injury to a first choice player, but far too often at these big clubs, so-called reserve players don’t take their opportunities.

With success evidently required with some degree of immediacy these days, managers simply don’t have the time to persevere with those players that aren’t at the races from the get go. Continue reading

Has Antoine Griezmann been a success or failure at Barcelona?

Though it came a year too late, Antoine Griezmann finally donned the Blaugrana from the beginning of the current season.

Seemingly seeing the error of his ways, the Frenchman departed Atletico Madrid for Barcelona with the good wishes of his former club.

To say that he wasn’t well received by the Barca fans who felt cheated by his behaviour from a year before, however, is an understatement. Continue reading

Lionel Messi: Barcelona’s solution or their problem?

For the best part of 15 years now, Lionel Messi has wowed fans of FC Barcelona.

Even as a young 17-year-old, the Argentinian had the ability to get supporters off of their seats with consummate ease.

As soon as he’d made his debut in the first team, there was never any doubt that he would go on to become a world star, but that’s been almost as much of a curse as it’s been a blessing. Continue reading