Unexpected La Liga hiatus could benefit Real Madrid’s injured contingent

These are unprecedented times with European football set for a hiatus of undetermined length, with news of the suspension of the 2019/20 La Liga season coming on Friday. There is no suggestion as to when the Spanish title race will resume as the sport grapples with how to handle this situation.

The break for Real Madrid comes after a damaging defeat to Real Betis, a loss which saw Zinedine Zidane’s side once again concede their advantage over Barcelona at the top of the table. The Clasico win over the Catalan outfit looked to have given Real Madrid the momentum, but they lost that in losing at the Benito Villamarin.

There could be a silver lining to this unexpected hiatus for Real Madrid, though, especially for the players who are currently on the sidelines through injury. Eden Hazard in particular is surely relishing the opportunity that a few extra weeks of recovery will give him to get back on a football pitch before the end of the season.

Hazard underwent surgery in Dallas last week and is expected to be missing from action for quite some time. This latest injury blow was predicted to all but finish the Belgian’s season, but time is now on his side. Real Madrid haven’t seen the best of Hazard so far. He could still make an impression before this campaign is out.

Thibaut Courtois and Marcelo have also picked up knocks of late, with the duo expected to miss the games against Eibar and Manchester City had they gone ahead as planned. Courtois is a key first team figure and has finally proven himself as the ‘Galactico’ goalkeeper he was signed to be this season. Marcelo has also demonstrated his worth recently, shining in the Clasico victory over Barcelona.

Then there’s Marco Asensio. The Spanish international has missed the entirety of the season so far, suffering a serious injury just weeks before the start of the 2019/20 campaign. Asensio is now back in training though and so if the season is now to be extended into the summer, as has been mooted, then the 24-year-old will stand a better chance of returning to the pitch before the honours are handed out.

There’s no knowing how this La Liga season will end, or whether it will end at all, but there is still a scenario in which Real Madrid could benefit. The break, even in the face of grave societal challenges, might rejuvenate a number of players at the Santiago Bernabeu.

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Who should Real Madrid target in the January transfer window?

Last summer’s transfer window saw Real Madrid spend more than any side in Europe. Indeed, the Spanish giants went big as they added Eden Hazard, Luka Jovic, Ferland Mendy, Eder Militao, Rodrygo and Alphonse Areola all making the move to the Santiago Bernabeu. Not every signing was a ‘Galactico,’ but it did underline the club’s bullish approach to recruitment.

Now the transfer window is just days away from opening again. January will present Real Madrid the chance to reinforce their squad and as is always the case a number of players have been linked with a move to the Spanish capital. It wouldn’t be a transfer window without much speculation around Real Madrid.

There will be more conjecture around their long-standing interest in Paul Pogba. Zinedine Zidane was desperate for the French midfielder to be signed in the summer only for Manchester United to dig their heels in. Pogba has barely played this season due to injury and the suggestion is that he still wants a move away from Old Trafford.

However, prising Pogba from Man Utd’s grips midway through the season when they are already short of midfielders will be difficult and so Real Madrid might be forced to wait until the end of the season to get their man. With that in mind, who should they target in this upcoming transfer window?

Boubakary Soumare is reportedly on Real Madrid’s radar. The Lille midfielder would be a shrewd addition given his qualities as a midfielder. Standing at 6ft 2″, he possesses the physical attributes of Pogba, but has the work rate and modesty of someone like N’Golo Kante. He would be a popular figure at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Real Madrid’s midfield isn’t in such desperate need of reinforcement, though, following the emergence of Fede Valverde and rejuvenation of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric. Instead, it’s in attack where they could use a deputy to Karim Benzema. Jovic was supposed to be that figure, but the Serbian has struggled to acclimatise to his new surroundings.

Benzema is enjoying the season of his life, but Real Madrid have become a little too dependent on the French striker of late. When he’s missing, or even when he’s not in top form, they struggle to get results. This was evident in the recent draws against Valencia, Barcelona and Athletic Club. If Real Madrid are to target new signings this January, this is where they could use them most.

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Real Madrid finally finding momentum after sticky start to season

There were those who doubted Zinedine Zidane would even survive the last international break. The two-week break after the defeat to Real Mallorca left Real Madrid president Florentino Perez with a long time to fester on what was the club’s worst result of the season so far. If Real Madrid were making progress under Zidane, it was difficult to see it.

Since that defeat, though, the capital club have finally found their groove. There is a sense that Real Madrid are starting to build something, underlined by their comprehensive 4-0 win over Eibar on Saturday and the sight of Zidane’s men at the top of La Liga for a few hours before Barcelona’s win over Celta Vigo on the same night.

Zidane is finally settling on a favoured lineup, most notably in the centre of the pitch. Luka Modric has returned from injury, but he is having to fight for his position alongside Toni Kroos, with Casemiro and Fede Valverde currently favoured for two of the three central midfield spots. Valverde in particular has been a revelation. The Uruguayan’s emergence at the Santiago Bernabeu is a big reason behind Real Madrid’s recent resurgence.

In attack, Rodrygo has electrified the Spanish and European game, scoring a hat-trick in the Champions League win over Galatasaray during the week. Indeed, the Brazilian teenager has become Real Madrid’s ‘Next Big Thing’ over the past weeks, making the position on the right side of Zidane’s front three his own.

Then there’s Eden Hazard. The Belgian has faced his critics since signing for Chelsea in the summer transfer window, with some even questioning his fitness levels. It is certainly true that Hazard has taken his time in growing accustomed to his new surroundings, but there are signs that he is starting to find his feet.

Hazard was at his sparkling best in the 4-0 win over Eibar on Saturday. Most encouraging, from a Real Madrid point of view, is the understanding with Karim Benzema the Belgian seems to have developed. That is a relationship Zidane should seek to build around. It could be the key to Real Madrid’s season.

Since that defeat to Real Mallorca, Real Madrid have gone five games without conceding, scoring 16 in the process. Zidane was widely seen as a dead man walking when the last international break arrived. Now that we are heading into another international break, the last of the year, Zidane and his side have a very different complexion.

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Should Chelsea bin Morata?

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It took an absolute age to arrive, but Alvaro Morata’s goal against Vidi in Chelsea’s midweek Europa League game will be welcomed by player and club alike.

The pressure that had been on the Spaniard’s shoulders was evident as the tears flowed, the monkey finally off of his back.

Maurizio Sarri was more than happy with such emotion, suggesting he’d like to see more of it if it meant the centre-forward was amongst the goals more often. Continue reading

Four Reasons Why Chelsea Can win the Premier League this Season

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Chelsea are in red-hot form at the moment as evidenced by their most recent victory over a newly-promoted Cardiff side who have managed to garner just two points from their opening five games in the Premier League thus putting them in danger of relegation despite it being so early in the season.

Whilst many might dismiss Chelsea’s win over Cardiff as a routine victory considering the latter’s position on the league table, the dominant manner with which the Blues won the game is a testament to their Quality this season.

Without further ado here are 5 reasons why Chelsea can win the Premier League this season;

Eden Hazard’s Brilliance

In the past few years, Eden Hazard hasn’t had the best of luck regarding Chelsea’s managerial choices. From Jose Mourinho to Antonio Conte – two managers with defensive tactical advocacies back-to-back have prevented the Belgium international from showing the Premier League and and world what he’s truly capable of.

Whilst he’s always been Chelsea’s key man, the defensive responsibilities placed on him along with the lack of fluidity on the pitch continuously prevented him from playing to the best of his ability – not anymore, though, as he now plays in a system that let’s him focus on attacking thanks to the presence of Maurizio Sarri at the helm of Chelsea’s tactical affairs.

Hazard has scored five goals and registered two assists in 5 Premier League games, two of which saw him come in off the bench. His goal and assist contributions, though, don’t tell the full story of his brilliance for Chelsea this season considering how well he’s been bringing other players into play and drawing opposition defenders out of position to create space for his opponents. Hazard is currently playing at a level rivaled only by the likes of Messi, Neymar and Ronaldo – With Hazard in this kind of form, Chelsea are unstoppable going forward.

Strength in Depth

Since the start of the campaign Willian and Pedro, both of whom were rumoured to be on their way out of Stamford Bridge have been used interchangeably by Sarri to great effect with Pedro being Sarri’s preferred option at the start of games. The Italian tactician’s use of both players has kept Chelsea unpredictable going forward and also prevented either of them from tiring out ahead of upcoming Premier League encounters.

Sarri is also able to utilise either Olivier Giroud or Alvaro Morata up front, and whilst they’re not really as prolific as they should be, they’re capable of scoring goals.

In midfield Sarri is able to call upon Real Madrid loanee Mateo Kovavic, Ross Barkley, Jorginho, Kante and Danny Drinkwater, all of whom are capable of putting in great performances should they be deployed in any area of the midfield.

Even in defence, Chelsea’s strength in depth is telling, hence when the Europa League begins the Blues will be able to participate without neglecting their Premier League ambitions and vice versa.

Jorginho’s Midfield Masterclass

Italy international Jorginho has settled into Chelsea’s midfield quite nicely having contributed a great deal to the team’s increased fluidity, attacking prowess, and, of course, success.

Despite being yet to register an assist this season, due in large part to his deep-lying playmaker role, Jorginho has effectively dictated Chelsea’s play for five games in a row, often allowing his teammates to constantly move into different areas of the attacking third knowing fully well that the ball will be distributed to them at the right time, with the right pace and the right weight.

Jorginho appears to be one of Chelsea’s most influential players as he’s very integral to the success of Sarriball, especially against high pressing teams.

His presence in the side could see Chelsea go all the way and win the Premier League title come the end of the season.

Chelsea’s Support

Chelsea’s support has been tremendous since the start of the season. The club’s fans are ecstatic thanks to the team’s attacking mentality, and their success whilst utilising a more attacking system than the fans have been used to seeing over the past few years.

The club’s support have received Maurizio Sarri’s system with open arms and the joyous mood of the fans has helped to motivate Chelsea’s players to perform to the best of their abilities and grab maximum points each time they step onto the pitch.

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What next for Alvaro Morata?

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It’s only been 12 months since Alvaro Morata landed in west London, after Chelsea had agreed a £60 million club record fee with Real Madrid for his services.

After a wonderful first few months it certainly appeared to be money well spent by the Blues’ hierarchy, and those supporters that were worried by Diego Costa’s departure soon calmed down when they saw what Morata brought to the table.

Tall, athletic, not frightened of the physical aspects of the game and with an eye for goal… the Spaniard was a modern version of a traditional centre-forward.

There wasn’t a weakness in his game at that point, which makes the way in which he tailed off so dramatically even harder to understand.

Plenty of players suffer crises of confidence at various points in their careers, but relatively few take a real nose dive so quickly.

Injury and suspension are mitigating factors, but the fact remains, Morata just wasn’t at the races for pretty much the whole of the second half of the season.

Being talked up as likely to be one of the stand out players at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the striker was so far off of the pace that he didn’t even make Julen Lopetegui’s final 23-man squad.

The bitterest pill for him to swallow was that the man who he replaced at Chelsea, Costa, took his seat and thrived for much of the time Spain were in the tournament.

Now back in pre-season training with the Blues, Morata is amongst a host of players that need to prove themselves all over again with new coach Maurizio Sarri in situ.

With rumours continuing to swirl that the coach wants to bring Gonzalo Higuain to London, one has to wonder if the Spaniard’s days are already numbered.

Should the Argentinian make the move to the English capital, however, it does open up some space at Juventus.

It’s a club that Morata knows well having played there before Real Madrid decided to take him back to the Santiago Bernabeu.

With only the Europa League to play for at Chelsea, the carrot of another Champions League tournament is likely to prove too hard to resist.

It will also afford the striker the opportunity to link up with his Los Blancos colleague, Cristiano Ronaldo.

Of course, a lot needs to happen in order for that particular set of dominoes to start falling, but it has to be a consideration.

Simply put, if he stays in England and doesn’t re-discover his golden touch, he’ll be an outcast, and for a player that is still only 25 years of age, that’s criminal and can’t be allowed to happen.

When on his game, his numbers are as good as his contemporaries, and he deserves the chance to resurrect his career.

Whether Chelsea decide to play hard ball or not – given the expected departures of Thibaut Courtois and Eden Hazard – we’ll just have to wait and see.

But they’ll need to be mindful of keeping hold of an unhappy player.

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Is Willian really the answer to Barça’s problems

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Reports on Saturday suggest that Barcelona have upped the ante in their bid to sign Chelsea’s attacking midfielder, Willian.

There’s been no suggestion whatsoever that the player is unsettled, with the Catalan club appearing to do all of the running.

A reported £55 million bid is on the table for the player with the ball now firmly in his and Chelsea’s court. Continue reading

Hazard’s departure is final nail in Chelsea’s coffin

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If Chelsea aren’t yet in crisis, they soon could be, with a trio of their top stars rumoured to be leaving.

Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois seems almost certain to head back to Madrid and sign for Real, because it’s an open secret that the Belgian misses his wife and children, all of whom live in the Spanish capital.

Willian hasn’t denied the rumours linking him to Barcelona although the Catalans, already overbooked in midfield, should think twice about spending €70 million, if reports are to be believed, on a player who will shortly turn 30. Continue reading

Chelsea’s delayed signing is setting Maurizio Sarri up for failure


Maurizio Sarri to Chelsea has been spoken about so much that it seems like a done deal. Only, it isn’t.

As of now, the facts remain the same: Antonio Conte is the manager of Chelsea and Maurizio Sarri is still employed by Napoli. This remains a problem for all four parties involved. Why? Well Conte is the manager of a club who doesn’t want him. Sarri is employed by a club who has no use for him. Chelsea can’t get their transfer campaign started until this is resolved, and Napoli are paying two coaches to do one job.

At the end of the day, the bigger problem lies with Chelsea and Maurizio Sarri; however, as Conte has a huge buyout clause in his contract and will be paid very well to walk away. Napoli also have their coach in place and have begun signing new players, therefore, they are not affected by Sarri still being on the books.  Continue reading

Martinez deserves credit for brave decisions


Roberto Martinez is a manager who has certainly faced his critics in English football, especially following a tenure as Everton boss that saw his sides often blow hot and cold.

However, with his side 2-0 down against minnows Japan and in the face of a shock exit from the World Cup, the former Wigan manager showed his nous to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Many were quick to malign the Spaniard’s tactical decisions when he opted to bring on Maroune Fellaini and Nacer Chadli in a bit to turn the game around.

Those people were soon left with egg on their face as the introductions quickly turned Continue reading