Why Real Madrid are getting better every week under Zinedine Zidane

For Real Madrid there will be enquiries into why their Champions League campaign has not started off on the front foot, but in the league everything seems to be taking shape, with coach Zinedine Zidane perhaps in the midst of his most difficult and testing season.

Last night Real could only draw with Belgian side Club Brugges at the Santiago Bernabeu which led to the inevitable boos, though in truth the match, which finished 2-2, would have felt like a small victory after the home side found themselves 2-0 down.

That match followed their first game in the group stages where they were easily beaten by PSG in Paris by 3-0. The defeat in Paris was probably overblown- a lot of very good teams are going to lose their this season, true the result wasn’t good but it wasn’t catastrophic either. What followed felt much more important.

So it was back to La Liga where Madrid had been making heavy weather of their results, to be fair eternal rivals Barcelona were too. But the fixture list did not look good for Zidane’s men. Following the PSG defeat they would have to play early front runners Sevilla away from home and also stay on the road to play the derby against Atletico Madrid, a side genuinely after the La Liga title this season.

Many thought that down south in Spain, Madrid would falter and yet they didn’t-they won and kept a clean sheet to boot. The final score reflected the closeness of the game with a 1-0 result, but that was still 3 massive points for Los Blancos.

The next match was set up as two genuine rivals for the league went head to head in Madrid, and that match ended 0-0 with the majority of the game being a midfield battle which became quite fascinating to watch. Eden Hazard in particular was given praise for getting physically stuck into the match. Hazard has arguably struggled this season for the club despite coming back from injury, but he should improve over time.

The draw at Atletico has suddenly put Madrid on top of the standings, albeit on goal difference and a top squeeze down to 5th place but still amongst all the criticism’s and the bla bla bla, Madrid under Zidane are top of the league and that is all that matters.

There will, of course, be more twists and turns and Madrid do not look like the polished finished article just yet. But with Gareth Bale to come back from injury and some emerging talent in the form of Rodrygo et all there is a lot of hope for Madrid. They need to steady that Champions League ship though.

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Real Madrid need Eden Hazard to hit the ground running

It was somewhat remarkable that having spent around £300 million on new players Real Madrid started their La Liga campaign with not one of those new signings in their starting lineup. Indeed, Zinedine Zidane has been forced to rely on the same old faces over the past few weeks.

Injuries have crippled the capital club over the early part of the season, with Eden Hazard ruled out of action through a thigh injury. The Belgian was Real Madrid’s marquee signing this summer, joining from Chelsea in a transfer worth around £100 million. Many see him as the natural heir to Cristiano Ronaldo.

However, Hazard has been made to wait for his Real Madrid debut. Meanwhile, his new team has struggled to get going, winning just one of their opening three La Liga fixtures, drawing at home to Real Valladolid and losing away to Villarreal. We’re only just into September and Atletico Madrid already hold a five-point lead over their city rivals.

A familiar sense of malaise has taken grip at the Santiago Bernabeu with some already suggesting that Zidane could resign in frustration over the club’s favour to sign him a central midfielder (namely Paul Pogba) in the summer transfer window. Real Madrid’s troubles will take a long time to untangle.

And so Real Madrid need Hazard to hit the ground running whenever he does return from injury. Recent reports state that the Belgian is stepping up his recovery and could make his debut once the September international break is out of the way. That moment cannot come quick enough for the capital club.

Before his injury there were concerns over Hazard’s fitness. Indeed, the 28-year-old looked to have enjoyed himself a little too much over the summer, turning in a number of sluggish performances over pre-season. Nonetheless, Real Madrid have invested a lot of time, having chased him for over two years, and money in the Belgian. He will be expected to deliver from the very start.

It’s possible that Hazard could make his competitive debut for his new team against Levante. Real Madrid already have ground to make up at the top of the Spanish Liga table and they need their best players to step up and make a difference. Hazard is one of those players and having missed the first few games of the season he can’t afford to waste any more time.

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Sarriball still loading in Turin

Despite replacing Massimiliano Allegri’s conservatism with Sarriball, Juventus still looked lethargic in attack and shaky at the back. At times, the bianconeri had all eleven players behind the ball, conceding the entire pitch to Parma. While Roberto D’Aversa’s men will prove hard to break down this season, they’re no Real Madrid and Juventus should have looked to remain on the front foot.

Juventus started the game with no new signings in the lineup and went with Douglas Costa, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Gonzalo Higuain up front. The trio did just enough to secure the three points, despite their Portuguese superstar proving wasteful.

Ronaldo’s inefficiency in front of goal was surprising, but Juve’s lack of movement was even more worrying. When Miralem Pjanic was in possession, the Bosnian international rarely had options and was typically forced to spread the ball wide.

Maurizio Sarri has identified the player as his regista, however, the former Roma midfielder doesn’t look suited to the role. Pjanic is the type of player that likes to dribble with the ball at his feet, while Sarri’s ideal regista takes a maximum of two touches before relinquishing it. Take Jorginho, for example. The Chelsea midfielder is constantly involved in his side’s buildup play and is regularly on the move out of possession.

Pjanic, by contrast, needs to be the one playing the final ball in the final third, otherwise, his creativity is wasted. The reality is, he couldn’t be more different than Jorginho. This is one crucial, fundamental difference between Sarri’s sides in the past and Juventus today. However, let’s be clear: Sarri will have an easier time instilling his philosophy when Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey become regulars.

In attack, Sarri will encounter further headaches. While Higuain or Dybala suffice as strikers, Ronaldo and Douglas Costa aren’t exactly ‘Sarriball’ wingers. Both like to take on the opposition and tend to drift around the pitch freely.

As it concerns Ronaldo, that shouldn’t be an issue as he will be handed carte blanche like Eden Hazard was at Chelsea. However, with Ronaldo moving positions at will, the other winger must be disciplined positionally. For all his strengths, that’s not the first quality you tend to associate with Douglas Costa. The Brazilian is electric in possession and is Juventus’ best one vs one winger, but usually floats around the pitch. At Napoli, Jose Callejon acted as this wide-man as Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens interchanged positions.

The Spaniard’s second-post runs were a crucial aspect to Sarriball and will be something the veteran tactician will be hoping to introduce via Douglas Costa. Otherwise, he will likely turn to Federico Bernardeschi on the bench.

Until the bianconeri’s attack are comfortable with the intricacies of Sarri’s system, the Juventus we see from week-to-week will be closer to their former boss than their current one. Sarri himself mentioned it would take him six months before his football is in full flow, and it’s clear to see why. While it’s still early days, the notable differences between Juventus’ roster and Sarri’s former sides are still a cause for concern. After all, as good as Pjanic and Douglas Costa are, he’s arguably a regista and a winger away from his ideal eleven.

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Eden Hazard already has doubters to prove wrong at Real Madrid

He was Real Madrid’s marquee summer signing. Eden Hazard had been trailed by the Spanish giants for a number of years and this summer they finally got their man, paying Chelsea around £100 million to sign the Belgian. He was, in the eyes of many, the natural successor to Cristiano Ronaldo who left the Santiago Bernabeu one year previously.

On his day, Hazard is indeed one of the best players in world football. He demonstrated this over ____ years at Chelsea. It was little surprise that Real Madrid prioritised his signing. Hazard has the sort of X factor that players need to succeed in the Spanish capital.

He hasn’t shown that so far, though. The 2019/20 season has yet to start in Spain, but Hazard is already finding that he has more than a few doubters to prove wrong. Pre-season has been difficult for Real Madrid and the Belgian has become the embodiment of these struggles.

For starters, questions have been asked about Hazard’s weight since he returned from his off-season break. The Belgian has always been a little stocky, but it’s true that over pre-season he looked a little heavier than usual. Whether this was enough to compromise his performances on the pitch is another matter, but it has provided critics with ammunition.

There are also questions over where the former Chelsea man will fit into Zinedine Zidane’s team. Vinicius Junior broke through last season and looked to have nailed down a place as a regular starter for Real Madrid. But surely there’s no place for both the Brazilian teenager and Hazard in the same side given that they play off the same wing?

What’s more, Hazard has picked up a hamstring injury that will rule him out of action for the first few weeks of the new season. With Marco Asensio already on the sidelines, set to miss the whole season with a torn ACL, this leaves Zidane somewhat short on attacking options following a summer when close to £300 million was largely spent on attackers.

It already feels like Real Madrid’s season is spiralling out of control and they haven’t even played a competitive game yet. Defeat to Celta Vigo this weekend would see the pressure heaped on Zidane and Hazard could also find himself a target. Some believe his lack of professionalism is a problem.

The Belgian will likely come good in Spain. It’s far too early to make any firm judgements, but Hazard already has his doubters and such is the nature of the football scene in the Spanish capital it will take a lot to silence them.

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Is this Real Madrid’s strongest lineup for next season?

With Zinedine Zidane now settled back in charge at the Santiago Bernabeu, he has some decisions to make regarding Real Madrid’s strongest eleven for the coming season.

Incoming stars like Eden Hazard and Luka Jovic will most certainly be taking their place in the starting lineup in what could be a 4-3-3 formation for the Spanish giants.

Goalkeeper

Zidane seems to prefer Keylor Navas as a first-choice goalkeeper. However, with the Costa Rican international now 32, Zidane may decide to opt for Thibaut Courtois this season with the Belgian only 27 and entering what should be the ‘prime years’ of his career. Continue reading

Pressure on Zinedine Zidane at its greatest to beat Barcelona

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Zinedine Zidane the magic man is back at Real Madrid and this coming season all of the pressure will be on the Frenchman to deliver the title and usurp Barcelona who have been completely dominant.

When Zidane came back to Real in March the club hardly exploded and indeed didn’t really improve under him but at the end of the day he was brought back earlier to just stabilise the ship. Zidane will know as will the fans that the real business with the club will commence when the league season kicks off in August. And you can forget about the Champions League. Whilst they will fight to be champions of Europe once again the priority will be about winning La Liga. Incredibly Madrid have only won 1 La Liga title in the past 7 years.

Madrid have spent big and the purchase of Eden Hazard from Chelsea is their star signing. He is the one that is supposed to bring the balance back to the team. But Hazard as great as he is, can go missing in games. It will be Zidane’s task to guide the Belgian through the season where consistency becomes key to success.

Paul Pogba has been hinted at but he will have to fall into place and one wonders if his signing will be good for such a sensitive player. Even Ronaldo got booed at the Bernabeu.

The truth is that Zidane is about to undergo the biggest challenge of his career. Not only does he have to perform well on his return, and remember they say never go back to your old clubs. But he has to stop Barcelona from winning the league which is easier said than done. And of course Barca will not be the only threat to Madrid this season with their city rivals Atletico Madrid making huge progress and buying Joao Felix who is supposed to be the next big player. They will be in with a shout for the league too.

Zidane will need to find a good balance with his team and they will have to attack and be much more aggressive this season with the ball. One finds that Madrid just aren’t quite there and need a striker that can get them 30 goals a season. Is it simple that the club still haven’t recovered from losing Ronaldo? Benzema is good but he isn’t Ronaldo.

Maybe just maybe Zidane will give another chance to Gareth Bale who in truth has done little wrong. Zidane simply has the greatest season challenge of his career to date.

 

 

If Real Madrid can make one more big signing, who should they target?

Real Madrid have wasted little time in overhauling their squad this summer. It became apparent fairly early on last season that fundamental change was required at the Santiago Bernabeu and so this transfer window has been a long time in the planning. Nonetheless, the speed at which Real Madrid have acted in signing players has been remarkable.

The calendar hasn’t even crossed over into July yet and Real Madrid have already spent close to £300 million on new players. They signed Eder Militao from Porto and left back Ferland Mendy from Lyon. Teenage forward Rodrygo was signed from Santos with Luka Jovic also added to the squad after a sensational season with Eintracht Frankfurt. And, of course, they finally managed to lure Eden Hazard, a long term target, from Chelsea.

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Despite all this, Real Madrid don’t appear done. The Spanish giants continue to be linked with a number of high profile targets, with a new name added to the list on a weekly basis. Financial Fair Play (FFP) means Real Madrid cannot spend much more, but there is a belief that they have room for one more big name, big money addition. So with that in mind, who should they target?

Zinedine Zidane’s most pressing need would seem to be in the centre of midfield. One of Casemiro, Toni Kroos or Luka Modric is expected to leave the Spanish capital this summer with Kroos and Modric in particular starting to fade. The latter has been frequently linked with a move to Inter Milan while the former has attracted Premier League clubs. Marcos Llorente has already been sold to Atletico Madrid.

This has led to links with Paul Pogba, a player Zidane has openly admitted to being a fan of. The Frenchman wants out of Manchester United this summer, but with the Old Trafford outfit reportedly demanding £160 million for their prize asset he could be out of Real Madrid’s reach. Christian Eriksen is another option. He too wants to leave the Premier League.

Real Madrid could instead choose to strengthen their defensive line even further, with Sergio Ramos’ future still up in the air. Kalidou Koulibaly has been mentioned as a potential target, although most intriguingly the Santiago Bernabeu club have apparently entered the race as late suitors for Matthijs de Ligt.

Of course, there are other matters for Zidane and Florentino Perez to attend to before the start of the new season. Gareth Bale, for instance, has become a thorn in their side, particularly with the Welsh winger unwilling to leave on loan. Kroos and Modric’s futures have also to be resolved. Marcelo could also leave.

But if Real Madrid do truly have the money to make one more big addition this summer, they must plot carefully. Pogba would fit the bill, but they may have to move on quickly given the price tag hanging around his neck. It might not about who would be best for Real Madrid, but who they can get.

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Sarri out, Lampard in but could this be a huge mistake for Chelsea?

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And so it was confirmed over the weekend that Maurizio Sarri has left Chelsea and took the reigns at Italian champions Juventus after just one season. And the favourite a 1/20 bet to take over is Frank Lampard, but could this be a huge mistake from the Europa League cup winners?

Giving Lampard the job actually makes no sense at all, but this isn’t to discredit him in anyway. Lampard is an intelligent person, was a wonderful football player, knows the game inside out and knows how to win as a player. But surely the key factor here is that he used to play for Chelsea and is rightly regarded as a club legend. So with that knowledge, are we to believe that the only reason Lampard looks set for the job at Stamford Bridge is because he is a club legend and ex player. It does seem so.

Sarri was never liked at the club and it is no surprise that he packed his bags. This is unfortunate, he was obviously a good coach for the Blues, winning the Europa League in his debut season, finishing 3rd, losing 2 games at home all season and reaching the Carabao Cup final. Fans complained of his tactics and always selecting Jorginho, who for them was underperforming but always got the chance to play. Scapegoating comes to mind and perhaps Sarri was right to leave after a year if he felt no love.

Lampard will be warmly welcomed there is no doubt about that and everyone will want him to do well. But the fact is that he has just one professional season under his belt and that was in the Championship with Derby. He had some highs with the club reaching the play-off finals but they did not win it and in the league they finished 6th, just like they had the previous season without Lampard.

Perhaps this is all in the timing and no one is suggesting that Lampard is not good enough to coach Chelsea. But he will have a hard ask on his hands. Eden Hazard by far the clubs best player has left for Real Madrid and the club face a two window transfer ban. This could be reduced to one window on appeal but if it is it is still likely to be this summers one that is affected.

It is thought that Lampard has struck a deal where what ever happens he will be in the job for at least 2 years. This seems like fantasy, and if Chelsea have a nightmare first season under him, he could be fired and a bright promising career in management could fizzle out at least if Lampard has dreams of coaching the bigger teams.

Of course one can think back to another club legend taking the coach’s job just a few months ago, that was Thierry Henry at Monaco, and look how that ended, sacked after three months and replaced with the man he had taken the job from.

At the same time look at this from his point of view- he loves Chelsea and if they have come calling for him, that will be too hard to refuse. At the same time does he really want to spend another season in the Championship when he could be in charge of a Premier League club who are also in the Champions League? Of course not, and so unless there are any last minute hitches this will happen and he should be wished good luck.

 

 

Have Real Madrid forgotten about Vinicius?

Real Madrid tend to get their man, even if it takes a few years. Eden Hazard had long appeared destined to one day pull on the famous white jersey of the Spanish giants with the Belgian finally making the move to the Santiago Bernabeu this summer. It’s a move that had been a long, long time in the making.

Of course, Real Madrid still have a void to fill after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus last summer. Not just in terms of goals, but in terms of stardust. They need players who can handle the weight of carrying a club of such stature. Hazard certainly fits the bill in that regard.

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But positionally and tactically, did Real Madrid really need Hazard? He is a left-sided attacker and it’s on the left side where Zinedine Zidane’s side are strongest. They have Marco Asensio, but more notably it’s where Vinicius Junior made himself the brightest teenage talent in Spanish football last season.

Indeed, the Brazilian was the breakout star of the 2018/19 La Liga season. He was a revelation for Real Madrid, becoming their most important player for a spell between the turn of the year and Easter. Were it not for injury he might well have done more to save Real Madrid’s campaign.

It was expected that Vinicius would hold down a starting place next season, but will that still be the case now that Hazard has been signed? Can Zidane find a way to fit both the Brazilian and the Belgian into the same team? If he can’t, could the money used to spend Hazard have been used elsewhere?

Real Madrid had a number of positions to fill this summer. They needed a centre forward and got one in the form of Luka Jovic, signed from Eintracht Frankfurt after an excellent season in Germany. They needed a left back and got one in the form of Ferland Mendy, signed from Lyon.

Zidane also needs a central playmaker, with Real Madrid linked with both Christian Eriksen and Paul Pogba. Might it be the case that Hazard becomes more of a central force so that both he and Vinicius can be accommodated in the same side? He has, after all, played that role on occasion for Belgium.

Real Madrid needed players who could perform here and now. But they mustn’t neglect their future in the process of overhauling their team. Hazard represents the here and now, while Vinicius represents their future. The challenge for Zidane is to look after both.

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Eden Hazard is now La Liga’s gain and Premier League’s loss

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After Friday’s breaking news in England and Spain, it is now official that Eden Hazard has moved from Chelsea to Real Madrid for a reported figure of around £100-£120million. Following the constant reports summer after summer, the Belgian international finally completes his dream of playing for the club he supported as a youngster, which he has expressed in interviews time and time again.

Going a bit deep into the two parties, they have had their ups and downs throughout the term but will be looking to make huge amends over the summer. The Blues may have found themselves in a sticky situation, with the transfer ban coming into effect for the next two windows whilst manager Maurizio Sarri is expected to leave the club for Juventus. Meanwhile, with Real Madrid, they have already signed Eder Militao and Luka Jovic as well as continuing to target a few of the best players within Europe.

Focusing back onto Hazard, it always looked like a deal would be more of when rather than if it happens, which would really be seen as an insane shift in power as La Liga will arguably be bringing in someone that has been the best player in the Premier League for the last couple of years. With his individual brilliance, end product in the final third and his mentality to show up in the big games, he has unsurprisingly been ahead of the likes of Harry Kane, Kevin De Bruyne, Mohamed Salah and co.

Spending seven full seasons within English football, it is no secret that the 28-year-old joined the club as a quiet and shy boy, but is now leaving as a Chelsea legend, potentially a Premier League great and most importantly as a complete man. Achieving six major trophies in 352 appearances, including two league titles, he has dominantly completed 110 goals and 92 assists in all competitions.

For sure, the 2018/19 La Liga season seemed a bit one-sided and uncompetitive as Barcelona won the league by 11 full points. However, Los Blancos will have learnt their lesson from the lack of business they completed last summer, which led to an average season compared to their usual standards, as they finished in third-place and were embarrassingly eliminated from the Champions League in the round of 16.

With Cristiano Ronaldo leaving the capital of Spain for Italian giants Juventus last year, Ernesto Valverde’s system hindering both Barcelona and Lionel Messi, whilst Diego Simeone’s men are beginning to experience a crazy transition period on and off the pitch, the rising signs are clearly there, that neither of the sides are quite ready to dominate the Spanish league consistently for the next couple of years or so.

The quality in La Liga may no longer be the same as it used to be, on the other hand, all three of Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid will surely be looking into taken the title challenge up a notch and aim to regain European dominance again. Fortunately, the Eden Hazard factor will come into play for Zinedine Zidane’s side, as they were somehow lacking the cutting edge in the opposition’s half and could not beat the mid-table teams, a really concerning issue that has now been resolved with ease.

Looking back at the Premier League, they have lost the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho over the last five to ten years, due to the pulling power that both Barcelona and Real Madrid have been boasting about for such a long time. And even after that, English football has still remained popular and truly thrilling, but the departure of Hazard will eventually lead Chelsea to fall down the pecking order and maybe a shit in power within London.

It is more than fair to say that Liverpool and Manchester City are ahead of the rest of the top sides in the league, two well-known teams that have incredibly gone head-to-head with one another for the league title in the season that just went passed. On that note, the last thing either Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United or Tottenham Hotspur want, is to lose their key players and fail to reach their ambitions of being successful.

The flaws and weaknesses that Real Madrid constantly showed this term, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see it being harshly passed onto Chelsea football club, who will now be missing the much needed creativity and intelligence in the final third of the pitch. Not only that but if Maurizio Sarri leaves soon, the Blues may end up having a catastrophic season and could finish outside of the Champions League/Europa League spots.

Overall, there are no doubts at all that Eden Hazard will take his pure brilliance and sheer class from the Premier League to the La Liga, an incredible league that is focused on proactive and technical football rather than relying on the players’ physicality and intention to solely counter during transition. At the end of the day, the Belgian winger has deserved this huge move and it should have happened straight after the 2018 World Cup. Nevertheless, he has remained professional and stayed patient.