Zinedine Zidane’s biggest season is coming up at Real Madrid

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They say never go back, but in the case of Zinedine Zidane that is what he did at Real Madrid. Walking away after the 2018 Champions League final win over Liverpool, Madrid went into meltdown. Not only did Zidane leave but so did Cristiano Ronaldo and president Florentino Perez went through two managers before Zidane waltzed his way back into the Bernabeu 10 months after leaving.

Truth is though results have not improved since he took over from the beleaguered and unfortunate Santiago Solari. Zidane holds just a 50% win rate compared to a near 70% from his first spell. One wonders if the appointment of Zidane should have been delayed until the end of the season, because at the moment everything looks so deflated even with Zidane in charge.

Real Madrid’s latest defeat came at the hands of Real Sociedad in a 3-1 loss, though to be fair Madrid have never travelled well up to Basque Country. And it does feel that players have switched onto holiday mode and the league still has one more game to go. Real will finish 3rd whatever happens and that guarantees Champions League football for next season, and next season is what it’s really all about for the club.

There will be huge change at the club in the summer and this is when Zidane will be making some sweeping changes to the club. Gareth Bale is almost certain to leave the club. The Welshman still boasts superb quality and would be a fantastic addition to any club in the world, but he needs change, a refresher course so to speak and Madrid still know that he is worth at least 70 million euros to buyers. Toni Kroos seems to have let the season pass him by and could leave also.

But one wonders if Zidane is really ready to shake the apple tree up. Is it time for Sergio Ramos and Marcelo to depart, staple players of the team in the 2010s, but one has to question if their hunger and desire is really there at the club anymore. If they can convince Zidane that it is then maybe they will stay. Karim Benzema who has actually had a decent personal season with the club may have played his last only because of the players that could be coming in.

Madrid have been linked to the likes of Eden Hazard, Neymar and even Kylian Mbappe. It will be interesting to see who the club bring in, but for sure they will have to sell first and at least 6 first team players will be playing their last games for the club next weekend.

For Zidane his 2nd term at Madrid really starts at the end of this season and it could be a career defining one. This will be the season targeted as the comeback one, Barcelon beware.

FIFA are correct to uphold decision to ban Chelsea for two transfer windows and Sarri should be happy with the outcome

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Chelsea have been told by FIFA that they will indeed serve a two window transfer ban which was imposed on them earlier in the season for breaching signing of youngsters and that means the club will not be able to sign any new players until the summer of 2020.

Chelsea will appeal to the courts of attribution but could be likely to lose. Whilst Chelsea should be punished, one cannot get away from the fact that UEFA are not promoting the game in the right direction. Unless one truly hates the club does anyone associated with football want to tie two hands behind a clubs back? Chelsea could win the Europa League enter the Champions League and not be able to buy any new players. Basically killing their chances of winning the competition before they have even started.

On top of that Chelsea have the problem of Eden Hazard their star player who looks like he will be leaving the club in the summer to join Real Madrid. This was further highlighted when the star player was seen nodding his head in a no fashion when fans asked him to stay at the club last week.

Surely the situation is a harsh one for the club who, yes, should receive a ban this summer but not extended to two windows. Ideally why not fine the club £500,000 and give back to hospitals or put back into the grassroots of the game. After all the ban won’t hurt as much as not being out of a little pocket for the club.

Of course the good news if the club are to be banned for purchasing players is that Maurizio Sarri’s job will be safe. It was oddly under threat a few months ago, even though he has steered Chelsea to a Europa League final, a Carabao Cup final and a top 4 place ensuring Champions League football either way next season, that’s not too bad for your debut season surely?

Still who will want to join the club now knowing you can’t buy any players for over a year? That would be like playing Monopoly and going round the board several times until your rivals all have the properties they want. In that sense Sarri suddenly holds all of the cards and with a strong link to Roma, Sarri may just think enough is enough and walk in the summer if he is not being respected at the club.

For now Chelsea are doing well, but the future hardly looks bright.

 

Real Madrid must ease reliance on Karim Benzema next season

Almost from the moment Zinedine Zidane’s return to Real Madrid was confirmed, the Santiago Bernabeu outfit have embarked on the longest pre-season programme in football history. Indeed, with Real Madrid out of the Liga title race, out of the Copa del Rey and out of the Champions League, the final couple months of the season became about preparing for the next one.

This has seen Zidane experiment with a number of options in essentially dead rubber games. He has tried different options in goals – Thibaut Courtois, Keylor Navas and even his own son, Luca Zidane. He has alternated between Marcelo and Sergio Reguilon at left back. Alvaro Odriozola and Dani Carvajal have taken it game about at right back. Jesus Vallejo has earned the Frenchman’s trust while even the forgotten man Mariano Diaz has been given a chance up front.

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Of course, Mariano has only been given a run in the first team due to the injury suffered by Karim Benzema. Questions were asked of the Frenchman last season, to the extent where his exit from the Santiago Bernabeu looked probable. However, the exit of Cristiano Ronaldo last summer changed things and Benzema has delivered, crossing the 30-goal mark.

However, Real Madrid have become too dependent on the goals of Benzema. With Mariano’s goal in the win over Villarreal last weekend, he became the first player that isn’t Benzema to find the back of the net in 568 minutes. While they were once reliant on Ronaldo to provide a cutting edge in the final third, now it’s Benzema they lean on.

This is arguably the most pressing of all the concerns Zidane must have in his mind ahead of next season. Real Madrid will undergo a summer overhaul, with the squad almost certain to be replenished. It is in the final third where their efforts will be focused most acutely and they must find goals.

Quite simply, the likes of Marco Asensio, Gareth Bale, Isco and Lucas Vazquez haven’t contributed enough in front of goal this season. Even Vinicius Junior, the breakout star of the 2018/19 La Liga season, needs to sharpen up his finishing. The addition of players like Eden Hazard and Luka Jovic, both expected to join Real Madrid this summer, should held, but Zidane knows what he must find ahead of next season – goals.

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Predicted lineups for the final EPL games of the season

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The Premier League season draws to a dramatic close this Sunday. All 20 teams are in action, playing out their final game of the 2018/19 campaign.

If Manchester City can take all three points at Brighton, then they will be crowned Premier League champions for the second consecutive season under Pep Guardiola.

If City lose or draw and Liverpool win at home to Wolves then Jurgen Klopp will have delivered the first league title to the Merseyside club for 29 years.

It’s all to play for.

Here are our predicted lineups for those EPL fixtures so have a read in preparation for another EPL fantasy football round. Continue reading

EPL Best XI – Week 37

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The curtain is almost down. The business is almost done. With just a single round of games remaining in the Premier League, the relegation battle is finished but the title race remains very much alive. With the final game of the season being the time that this year’s Premier League champions will be identified, there is still plenty to play for at the summit of England’s top flight. With that said, let’s adopt a 4-3-3 formation this week and see which players performed the best for their clubs this past weekend.

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Our predicted lineups for this weekend’s EPL action

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This weekend sees the penultimate round of Premier League fixtures taking place before the season draws to a close on Sunday, May 12th.

Here are our predicted lineups for those EPL fixtures so have a read in preparation for another EPL fantasy football round.

Everton v Burnley

Everton XI: Pickford, Coleman, Keane, Zouma, Digne, Gueye, Schneiderlin, Richarlison, Sigurdsson, Bernard, Calvert-Lewin

Burnley XI: Heaton, Lowton, Tarkowski, Mee, Taylor, Hendrick, Cork, Westwood, McNeil, Barnes, Wood Continue reading

EPL Weekend Picks – Week 36

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With only three or four games left in the Premier League season depending on which side you are following, things are starting to get serious! The title race looks all set to go down to the wire, while the relegation battle appears closer than many thought possible just a few weeks ago. Cardiff and Brighton appear the two sides most immediately in danger of claiming 18th and the final relegation place, though Southampton are not yet mathematically safe. Title contenders Liverpool and Man City both have games where you would fancy them to win, with City’s arguably the slightly tougher game. With that said, let’s go for a 4-3-3 again and see which players are worth keeping an eye on and including in your fantasy squads this weekend.

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EPL Game of the Weekend – Liverpool vs Chelsea

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Sport has many different forms, of course – competitive, friendly, amateur, professional – as well as different disciplines of course such as tennis, rugby, basketball and of course football. One thing every sport shares is that it really takes that special something to crown a champion. Patty Berg – record holding female PGA golfer – once stated “what does it take to be a champion? Desire, dedication, determination, concentration and a will to win.” Apt words indeed, and words which could well be applied to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side as they maintained their pursuit of a first-ever Premier League title by beating Chelsea 2-0 at Anfield on Sunday. The Reds have looked sublime this season, but this game showed a grit and determination lacking in recent years.

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Eden Hazard used as striker as Chelsea lost against Liverpool

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Many Chelsea supporters have called for Callum Hudson-Odoi to be given more first team opportunities. Maurizio Sarri has finally begun to oblige, putting his faith in the 18-year-old in recent games. However, this has brought up another conundrum for the Italian manager: with Willian in fine form and Eden Hazard being Chelsea’s main man, it’s difficult to drop either of them.

Rather than doing that, Sarri started all three today, with Hazard playing as a makeshift striker, while Hudson-Odoi and Willian operated from the wings. The plan of action could have been deployed because Sarri didn’t believe Gonzalo Higuain or Oliver Giroud weren’t up to the job against Liverpool or simply to get all three wingers into the side. The only thing that is certain is it didn’t work.

Joel Matip and Virgil van Dijk marshalled Hazard very well throughout the game, as he struggled to make his usual impact. It was only when Hudson-Odoi was substituted for Higuain in the 56th minute, which meant Hazard was moved back to the wing, that the Belgian began to thrive. With Chelsea failing to get on the score sheet in a 2-0 at Anfield, it was too little too late. However, there is definitely a lesson to be learned.

Hazard has played as the central figure of Chelsea’s attacks in other games during this season, with varying levels of success. He scored twice in a win against Watford from the centre and also assisted twice against Manchester City from the same position. However, with Hazard being Chelsea’s greatest and most threatening player, he should surely be deployed in the position he plays his best football in, which is undoubtedly from the wing.

As well as potentially detracting from Hazard’s game, playing him in a central role can also be of detriment to his team mates. While he has impeccable control, he doesn’t have the height of someone like Giroud, meaning his team mates don’t have the option of clipping in a high ball for him to battle for in the air.

While Sarri does like to have his team play a passing game, which involves keeping the ball on the floor, Jorginho likes to send a dinked ball into the front man to move the play on. Hazard is usually the beneficiary of these kinds of balls, as his link up play with whoever is occupying the striker spot allows him to get in behind defences once the initial ball has been flicked on.

Today’s loss means that Chelsea are relying on Arsenal and Manchester United losing their games in hand to retain their top four status. With four more Premier League matches remaining, one of which will see them travel to Old Trafford, the Blues can’t afford anymore slip ups if they’re going to get back into the Champions League through the Premier League.

Though before they focus on the league run in, Chelsea will face Slavia Prague in the Europa League on Thursday, a competition which offers them an alternative route into Europe’s primary competition.

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Predicted lineups for this weekend’s EPL action

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Starting on Friday night, the English Premier League has a full schedule of games over this coming weekend.

Here are our predicted lineups for those EPL fixtures so have a read in preparation for another EPL fantasy football round.

Leicester City v Newcastle United

Leicester XI: Schmeichel, Pereira, Morgan, Maguire, Chilwell, Tielemans, Ndidi, Maddison, Gray, Vardy, Barnes

Newcastle XI: Dubravka, Yedlin, Schar, Lascelles, Dummett, Ritchie, Perez, Hayden, Ki, Almiron, Rondon Continue reading