Zidane offers a new lifeline for Real Madrid after chaotic season

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Zinedine Zidane’s return to Real Madrid as coach has been well documented but once the dust has settled, the press conferences taken place and the excitement dissipated what Madrid fans needed and owner Florentino Perez was a reaction from what has been on the large part a dismal season for Los Blancos. That reaction came at the weekend after a solid 2-0 win at home to Celta Vigo.

It was a relief win because anything else would have felt like a comedown after the high of Zidane returning or even worse a continuation of Santiago Solari’s leadership. In truth Solari was offered a dream job and took it but was in no position to take it up, and he shouldn’t be completely blamed for what has been a forgettable season.

So what will be Zidane’s objective until the end of the season? First and foremost his job will be to install a winning mentality again, that of invincibility and it is obvious that his players are thrilled that he is back in the dug out. Giving Zidane those 10 matches or so until the end of the season was a smart choice from Perez as it gives Zidane a feel for the role again before more serious issues of having a smooth pre season and then a serious next one.

But the issue of this season will be trying to finish in 2nd place and the runners up spot to Barcelona. With Atletico Madrid losing 2-0 at Bilbao at the weekend Madrid have been able to close the gap on Diego Simeone’s side to just 2 points and it is clear that with Zidane stepping in Real now has the drive to progress.

Neither Atletico or Real will be catching Barcelona this season who have taken a 10 point lead at the top with 10 games remaining. In theory it’s up for grabs but the way that Barcelona have been playing they would have to suffer one of the biggest meltdowns in their history and that seems simply too unlikely.

But who can get 2nd place? And make no mistake 2nd place is important to Real Madrid in a season when if they finish 3rd simply seems odd. Atletico still have some very tough matches including having to play Barcelona away from home and it seems that these two who have been in many battles before are about to under go another one, albeit one which is less glamourous.

Week 28: Best 11 Players in Fantasy La Liga

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Week 28 in La Liga saw Barcelona extend their lead at the top of the standings to 10 points after they destroyed Real Betis 4-1 whilst Atletico Madrid lost at Athletic Bilbao. Zinedine Zidane’s spectacular return to Real Madrid saw the club win 2-0 as their objective will be to finish as runners up. Below we take a look at the best 11 players who performed over this past weekend.

Goalkeeper: Iago Herrerin

Athletic Bilbao’s Iago Herrerin gets the vote for best goalkeeper of the weekend not only picking up 7pts but because the opposition was Atletico Madrid who are in 2nd place and this was the first time that they could not score a goal in over a month with Herrerin keeping a clean sheet. Herrerin is 4th in the goalkeeper standings and can be bought for just 5m.

Defender: Marcelo

Marcelo has been the forgotten player at Real Madrid starting just 13 games this season. But with the return of Zidane, he is back and got the most points for a defender this week with 7. Not only did he help keep a clean sheet in Real Madrid’s 2-0 victory over Celta Vigo but he assisted in Gareth Bale’s goal. Marcelo can be brought into your team for 8m and could well return as a regular under Zidane’s wing.

Defender: Sergio Ramos

Ramos was disciplined for Real Madrid’s latest victory and needed to be as yellow cards and reds has frequently lost him points. But he put in a solid mature display and picked up 5pts at the weekend. He is valued at 9m and is 3rd in the defender rankings.

Defender: Vitorino Antunes

Antunes was one of the best defenders in La Liga for week 28 and picked up 5pts with his club Getafe who drew 0-0 with Valencia. It was  a massive result as it kept Getafe in 4th place. He has been solid all season and is just 6m to buy.

Defender: Damian Suarez

The reason that Getafe have conceded just 24 goals this season is mostly down to Suarez’s leadership at the back. And he earned 5pts by keeping Valencia quiet. The player can be brought into your team for 8.5m.

Midfielder: Portu

Portu, the Girona midfielder had a weekend to remember as he scored both goals in his teams 2-0 win over Leganes. He earned a whopping 10pts at the weekend by doing so and his team kept a clean sheet. He is 9th in the rankings for midfielders and can be brought in for 8.5m which looks a bargain.

Midfielder: Mario Suarez

Mario Suarez scored Rayo Vallecano’s only goal to earn 4pts at the weekend despite his team losing 3-1 to Villarreal. At the same time Suarez earned amongst the most points of midfielders at the weekend  as he scored his first goal of the season. He is valued at 3m.

Midfielder: Borja

Borja saw his team Girona win 2-0 and move up the table. He has been reliable this season and has scored a few goals with some assists. He could be a shrewd transfer and comes in at 7m.

Midfielder: Adrian Januzaj

Januzaj scored the opening goal for Real Sociedad which ended up earning his team a point and moving into 10th spot. He is valued at 6.5m and assists more (3 this season) than scores, and this was his first goal of the season. But with 4pts he has made the team of the week.

Striker: Lionel Messi

No player even comes close to the great Lionel Messi this week as he scored a fantastic hattrick against Real Betis to earn a whopping 14pts. He now has 143pts in Fantasy La Liga standings and is 60pts ahead of 2nd placed Luis Suarez. If you can afford him Messi will unsurprisingly set you back 20m.

Striker: Karl Toko Ekambi

Villarreal have struggled this season but perhaps Ekambi has found his scoring boots as the forward scored twice at the weekend against Vallecano. His goals could save the club from relegation. He has 6 goals this season and can be snapped up for 6m.

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Week 27: Best 11 Fantasy Players in La Liga

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Week 27 of Span’s La Liga season didn’t see much movement at the top as all of the top 4 sides won their respective games. Only Atletico Madrid have a chance of catching Barcelona now and they are still 7 points adrift of Lionel Messi and co. Below we take a look at the players that performed the best over the weekend.

Goalkeeper: Sergio Asenjo

Villarreal’s 2-0 win over Levante away from home at the weekend was huge as it lifted the team out of the relegation zone. Asenjo made some critical saves and kept a clean sheet to get into this team. He is ranked as the 9th best keeper this season in la liga fantasy even though his team are 17th which says a lot about his overall value to the team and perhaps he is a snip to keep up his form at 7m.

Defender: Victor Ruiz

Ruiz has not performed so well this season but was part of a Villarreal team that needed to win at the weekend and held firm to keep a clean sheet and earn 5pts. He is valued at 7m.

Defender: Santiago Arias

Santiago Arias makes our cut again as he was part of an Atletico Madrid side who claimed a clean sheet at home against Leganes. Arias has been one of the best defenders in La Liga this season and is currently ranked in 3rd place, his value is 8.5m

Defender: Aissa Mandi

Mandi has been solid for Real Betis at the back for the past few seasons and the youngster who used to play for Reims was part of  a defence that kept  a clean sheet against Celta Vigo to earn 5pts in La Liga fantasy he is currently just outside the top 10 standings.

Defender: Juan Torres

Torres led the line for Atletico once again and remains an integral part of the squad. Goalkeeper Jan Oblak has become very reliant on him as his team once again kept  a clean sheet to put the pressure on Barcelona. Torres is just 5m if you want to add him to your squad and earned another 5pts at the weekend.

Midfielder: Luka Modric

The Real Madrid and world player of the year shot into life v Rayo Valladolid and his team needed him as they romped home 4-1. Modric got on the score sheet to earn himself 4pts and his confidence took a major boost. He is valued at 8m.

Midfielder: Sarabia

There is no better midfielder in Spain than Sarabia who heads our La Liga midfielder fantasy points and he added another 4pts as he scored for Sevilla in their fantastic 5-2 win over Real Sociedad to keep the club in the hunt for a European finish. He is valued at 7m which looks like a bargain and is a massive 14pts ahead of 2nd place.

Midfielder: Daniel Parejo

The Valencia stalwart sits in 2nd place in the fantasy La Liga standings and earned 4pts at the weekend with his club as they beat Girona in a classic 3-2 match. He is valued at 8.5m.

Midfielder: Santiago Carzola

Carzola assisted the vital goal which helped his club Villarreal to a win and climbed out of the danger zone also. Carzola is 8th in the standings and valued at just 5.5m which looks like a good buy.

Striker: Wissam Ben Yedder

We don’t have to look further than Ben Yedder for our striker of the week after the forward scored a magical hat trick against Real Sociedad in the clubs 5-2 win and earned a massive 14pts in the process. He is ranked 3rd in La Liga fantasy striker and just 3pts behind Luis Suarez. Ben Yedder’s value is 7m.

Striker: Karim Benzema

The Real Madrid forward needed a game like this after a bad couple of weeks for his side. Madrid beat Vallecano 4-1 and Benzema looked back to his best scoring 2 goals and then assisting for Modric to score the 4th and final goal. He is valued at 10m and earned 10pts.

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Best 11 fantasy players in La Liga over the weekend

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It was another competitive weekend in Spain’s La Liga which saw Barcelona win El Clasico over Real Madrid and stretch their lead over them. Below we take a look at the top performing players in Spain and how they affected, the European Fantasy League La Liga points tables over the weekend.

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Goalkeeper- Marc ter Stegen- Barcelona

ter Stegen gets the vote as goalkeeper of the week as he made some crucial saves in the biggest game in Europe to keep a clean sheet away to Real Madrid a Barcelona went 7 points clear at the top of La Liga. In the process ter Stegen earned 7 points.

Defender- Diego Godin – Atletico Madrid

At 33 years old Diego Godin is one of the best defenders in the league and with 6 points earned last weekend he gained the most points of any one in the back four. Atletico won their match 2-0 and he was part of a team that kept a clean sheet ensuring his club remain in 2nd place and look more secure for a Champions League place now.

Defender- Gerard Pique – Barcelona

Gerard Pique again was a rock in the Barcelona defence who were collectively very impressive when they played their great rival Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. And he earned 5 points in the process to be amongst the best defenders of the weekend.

Defender – Jordi Alba- Barcelona

A defender who isn’t afraid to come forward and Alba of course was part of the Barcelona team to keep yet another clean sheet. Always rock solid at the weekend and earning 5 points just like his teammate Pique.

Defender- Santiago Arias – Atletico Madrid

Arias earned the same points as some of the best defenders in La Liga and he put in a storming display as part of the Atletico back four, earning 5 points and keeping a clean sheet as his team beat Real Sociedad away from home 2-0. Arias at 27 is making his debut season for the club but has now become a regular.

Midfielder- Ivan Rakitic- Barcelona

Ivan Rakitic scored the goal that sealed Barcelona’s win over Real Madrid and the player in the process earned 6 points which gave him the most points for a midfielder this weekend in the fantasy league. He is currently in 12th position overall with 32 points.

Midfielder- Santiago Carzola- Villarreal

Carzola has proved yet again at the weekend why he is 9th overall in the fantasy standings for a midfielder. Despite Villarreal losing 2-1 to Alaves, Cazorla scored a penalty and earned vital points.

Midfielder- Sergi Roberto- Barcelona

Some are saying it was tactical brilliance from Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde to switch his players up and put Sergi Roberto in for the match v Real Madrid. It held the ball up very well and was part of a team that kept Madrid without a goal and linked up play well assisting Ivan Rakitic for the only goal of the game was the icing on top.

Midfielder- Takashi Inui- Alaves

Inui was superb as Alaves beat Villarreal 2-1 at the weekend and it was the Japanese midfielder who got the winner and earned 4 points at the weekend to be included in the best 11 performers.

Forward- Christian Stuani- Girona

Christian Stuani is 5th in the overall standings with a fantasy transfer value of 8.5m and he earned amongst the top points at the weekend with 8. He scored both goals as Girona beat Vallecano 2-0 away from home.

Forward- Alvaro Morata- Atletico Madrid

Along with Christian Stuani, Alvaro Morata was the highest performing forward of the weekend with 8 points. Morata has quickly settled into his loan deal from Chelsea, is valued at 8m and he scored 2 goals in the space of 3 minutes to give his team the win.

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Pound for Pound are Real Betis the best team in La Liga this season?

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It’s been very routine for clubs such as Real Betis to have a few good games and then fade away, but this season the team from the south seem to have more staying power and have made a real impact on La Liga this season.

La Liga has been very exciting this season, mostly because Barcelona and Real Madrid have not had it all their own way. While Barcelona do lead the league they only do so by 3 points over Atletico Madrid. Real Madrid have had their own problems with the sacking of Julen Lopetegui after a nightmare start to the season. Santiago Solari was drafted in but the team don’t feel like classic, solid and reliable Madrid the team we have come to know over the past five years. That is because Zinedine Zidane left the club last summer and so did Cristiano Ronaldo. Real are in 4th place and there is a chance that they could miss out on automatic qualification for next seasons Champions League, that is unless they win the competition for an historic 4th time in a row.

But back to Betis who are in 6th place and just three points behind Madrid and while a title challenge is beyond them the club will be trying to reach a European place finish. Currently they are already there and set for Europa League football next season but if they could finish in the top 4 that would be good enough for Champions League football and they are just one win from achieving that. Of course there is a long time to go and we are not even at the halfway stage yet in Spain but this season Betis seem like a different beast from last.

Before the Christmas break Betis stunned Barcelona by becoming the first team to beat them in the league at the Nou Camp for 2 years and they are currently on a 4 game unbeaten streak with 3 of those matches being wins. To understand why Betis have changed for the better this season we must look at their coach Quique Setien.

Setien joined the club last season and has won 31 of his 65 games in charge so far to give him a 47.6% win rate. Whilst it is true that Setien has never won any managerial honours in his 17 years as a boss he has also never had the opportunities mostly coaching teams in La Liga 2.

One wonders how far he can take Betis, a European finish which is currently on and a deep run in the Copa del Rey would be a successful season for the club who usually fade away in the second half of the season, this is something that Setien will be determined to change in 2019.

Awards forgotten man Lionel Messi receives Europe’s golden boot

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It has been a rather odd year for Barcelona’s Lionel Messi. Despite winning another Spanish league, scoring fantastic goals and winning the domestic double, Messi surely still the worlds best football player was overlooked for all the major awards this year. This culminated in the Ballon d’Or award where he placed only 5th, in what had to be seen as quite laughable.

Still some things were put right for the Argentinian play maker who picked up his 5th golden shoe this week, in celebration for his 34 goals in La Liga last season. He fended off Liverpool’s Mohamad Salah who scored just 2 less last season in the Premier League.

In winning the award Messi had this to say: “I love football, but when I started I didn’t expect all this. My dream was to be a professional player. This is thanks to the hard work and effort I have put in, and above all to my teammates. I have the best players in the world at their positions playing beside me.” Messi again was evidently very humble in receiving the award and of course it didn’t go unnoticed that he has now pulled one clear of golden boots from Cristiano Ronaldo who is now plying his trade at Juventus.

This award would have been a satisfying conclusion to 2018 where Messi was disregarded for awards over other players such as Luka Modric who won every gong going. It is true that Modric won the Champions League and reached the World Cup final with Croatia where Messi failed in both competitions. And whilst nobody is saying that Messi should have been accepted as the world’s best player it still felt odd not even recognising his greatness with a top 3 spot.

It should be noted that after yet another hattrick at the weekend Messi now has 14 goals in 14 games and in all competitions he has already scored 20 goals. It seems that Messi wants the very best awards in 2019 and he is certainly going about it the right way. Barcelona look on course to win the league where they have sprinted 5 points clear of great rival Real Madrid, as Messi looks to win his 10th Spanish title. He has also voiced his opinion over the Champions League and will be looking to win that competition for the 5th time in his career after wins in 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2015.

What should be for sure is that if Messi continues at this rate no awards will be able to shun his greatness next year.

 

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

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.

Just 6 points separate Sevilla in 1st place from Girona in 7th in exciting season for La Liga

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What a season it has been so far in the Spanish La Liga title race. Instead of, as in recent seasons Barcelona or Real Madrid taking off and not being seen for dust, both teams have had their struggles in recent weeks and the league remains wide open as we approach December- when is the last time we could say that?

Indeed take away Atletico Madrid’s superb title win in 2014 and there hasn’t been a different winner of the league apart from Barca and Real since the 2003-04 season when Valencia won it. What is also interesting is since then Barcelona has only failed to finish in the top 2 places in one season. In the last 14 years, 11 have finished with either Barca or Real Madrid taking the first two spots.

Of course the quality of football has been superb- even spellbinding at times and no one can argue against that. But for competitive games the Spanish league sure has come up short and we have been left with the same old song and dance of the majority of teams not just being able to challenge for the league but being so far from the top and the league title having that sinking feeling that it is virtually over by Christmas. Not so this season.

The first surprise is seeing Sevilla top of the league, not because they are a poor team but just the fact that it isn’t either Barca or Real sitting there. It is to put it mildly a revelation. Of course Barcelona are right there in 2nd place just a point behind but then again they have Atletico Madrid and Alaves breathing down their necks. And then there is the curious case of Real Madrid, Ronaldo less and showing it in 6th place. The team that have won an incredible 3 Champions League’s in a row won’t be in next seasons competition if the league was to end now.

It’s incredible to think how the league has simply opened up but then again some of the other teams namely Sevilla and Atletico Madrid have plugged away, bought well in the summer and made their threat real. But there has also been change at the super clubs. Andres Iniesta leaving Barcelona was certainly a big deal. Cristiano Ronaldo leaving for Juventus was a big change for Madrid who had become so reliant on him for the past decade. But also Real have suffered the departure of Zinedine Zidane, brought in Julen Lopetegui, sacked him and replaced him with Santiago Solari- for them it is the mid 2000′s all over again.

Realistically some of the teams will fall away and both Barcelona and Real Madrid should be able to find the form to mount a reasonable title challenge. But the likes of Atletico and Sevilla look like they will be sticking around for a while yet and could cause between them a major shock this season in Spain which nobody would have saw coming before the beginning of the season.

Antoine Griezmann needs to leave Atletico Madrid if he wants the Ballon d’Or

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Antoine Griezmann has won no individual awards this year which strikes one as being rather odd. Here he is a player that is playmaker for Atletico Madrid who have won the Europa League this year and beat Real Madrid to win the UEFA Super Cup. On top of that he led France in winning the World Cup, but to the voters he bizarrely isn’t even good enough to make the top 3 best in the world.

Griezmann has publicly bemoaned these decisions and it ends up being a fine line for him. For if he keeps on speaking about he will look like a petulant child who didn’t get his rewards, and yet if he keeps quiet he will rightfully feel that he has missed an opportunity to speak out. But why is it then that Griezmann who continues to win trophies, play well, make goals and score them is being ignored when it comes down to winning individual awards?

Let’s go back to last summer when Barcelona entered talks to buy Griezmann from Atletico, Barca being the only realistic club in Spain that could get him, given that he was never going to consider joining Atletico’s rivals Real Madrid. Griezmann at Barcelona, would have been a sight to behold but talks broke down and it is only now that Griezmann has come out and told us why.

The reason was that he didn’t want to be Messi’s lieutenant and play second fiddle to the Argentine great. Griezmann told Canal+, “was it hard to refuse Barca? It was very difficult. You have Barca who wants you, who calls you, who sends messages. But then there is the club where you are, where you are an important player and where they build a project around you, subconsciously, being Messi’s lieutenant may have played a part.But my team-mates and people at the club did everything, they came to talk to me, they increased my salary. They did everything to show that it was my home and that I shouldn’t leave. It was really complicated times, especially for my wife where I woke her up at 3am to talk about it.”

In some ways Griezmann should be applauded for not making the jump to a bigger club where inevitably more trophies would follow. At the same time Atletico are successful in their own right and will always be able to challenge for trophies at least as long as Diego Simeone is in charge of the club.

The problem for Griezmann though is it seems not only do you have to play in Spain to win the big awards but you also have to be either playing for Barcelona or Real Madrid. This is evidenced in the fact that the best players awards have gone only to these two teams since 2008. The last time a player won the trophy from outside of Spain was in 2007 when Kaka won with AC Milan.

So what can Griezmann do, because winning the World Cup wasn’t good enough to be recognised as the best. If not playing for Barca or Real Madrid it seems that his one option is to lead Atletico to another Champions League final, this time winning it. For now Griezmann’s loyalty may have just cost him the best player in the world tag.