Real Madrid are showing others how to get rid of deadwood

A squad overhaul was always likely at Real Madrid this summer. Indeed, their 2018/19 season unravelled so quickly it gave everyone at the Santiago Bernabeu time to devise a strategy and in the space of two weeks the Spanish giants went about spending the best part of £300 million on new signings.

They signed Luka Jovic from Eintracht Frankfurt with Brazilian attacker Rodrygo arriving from Santos. Eder Militao was added, joining from Porto, while left back Ferland Merland was signed from Lyon. And of course, the long pursuit of Eden Hazard finally came to an end, with the Belgian signing for a fee reported to be around £100 million plus add-ons.

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This is what has hogged the headlines in the Madrid press over the off-season. Real Madrid might not be finished spending either with recent reports claiming they have made an offer to Manchester United for Paul Pogba, a player Zinedine Zidane has been keen on for quite some time.

But Real Madrid’s summer has been about more than just big money signings. Zidane spent the final weeks of last season testing his squad, rotating players in and out of the team to determine who would be kept and who would be sold on. He is now acting on this, with numerous exits already secured.

Real Madrid are showing others how to get rid of deadwood from their squad. Mateo Kovacic has been sold for a fee of around £40 million to Chelsea, with Marcos Llorente leaving for Atletico Madrid. Then there’s Raul de Tomas, the striker who spent last season on loan at Rayo Vallecano. He’s been sold to Benfica for £20 million.

On top of this, Real Madrid are reportedly in talks to sell Dani Ceballos, Marco Asensio, Gareth Bale, Nacho Fernandez, Isco and Lucas Vazquez. Whether or not some of these players should be listed for transfer in the first place is up for debate, but Real Madrid are acting quickly to overhaul their squad.

Contrast this to the way Manchester United have struggled to free up space in their squad. Mateo Darmian, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Alexis Sanchez and Ashley Young have all been tipped to leave Old Trafford and yet they still remain. Some have even been handed new contracts in the past few months.

The past year hasn’t exactly seen Real Madrid painted as the perfect football club. They have made bad decisions and were made to pay for them. But they are now correcting some of their past mistakes. They are setting a precedent not just in the players they are bringing in, but in those they are moving on as well.

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Real Madrid’s clear out begins

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The news that Sergio Ramos has personally requested a transfer from Real Madrid should sound the alarm bells.

With a plethora of staff already being made available by the club, losing their talismanic captain just a year after Cristiano Ronaldo is a sure sign that Los Blancos are still on the way down.

Zinedine Zidane knew when he returned to the helm at the Santiago Bernabeu that this wouldn’t be an overnight job, but even he must’ve been surprised at just how far behind Barcelona his side have fallen. Continue reading

Zidane’s Real Madrid rebuild not just about attracting new ‘Galacticos’

The speculation started swirling almost as soon as Zinedine Zidane walked through the Santiago Bernabeu door again. The Frenchman’s return as Real Madrid manager was a shock, not least because of the way he’d left the club just nine months previously. His relationship with Florentino Perez, it was said, had broken down over direction and transfers, or a lack thereof, so Zidane surely got what he wanted in being lured back.

Indeed, Real Madrid are expected to make big moves in the transfer market this summer. Zidane will be afforded the freedom to mould his team as he likes, with a deal for Porto defender Militao already secured. But other, more illustrious names have been linked – the likes of Eden Hazard, Kylian Mbappe, Neymar etc.

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Zidane’s rebuild should be about more than just attracting a new generation of ‘Galacticos,’ though. This was demonstrated by the performance of three players in particular as the Frenchman got off to a winning start in his second stint as Real Madrid manager with victory over Celta Vigo last weekend.

Having been ostracised by previous manager Santiago Solari, Marco Asensio, Gareth Bale and Isco were all handed starts by Zidane and all three repaid that faith, with the latter two scoring. It was a reminder of the under-utilised talent that remains at the Santiago Bernabeu. Neither Santiago nor Julen Lopetegui made the most of that.

Questions remain over Bale. The Welshman’s relationship with Zidane wasn’t the warmest, leading him to make comments after last season’s Champions League final suggesting a move away from Real Madrid was on the cards. Bale only stayed because Zidane left, so the return of the former Ballon d’Or winner rakes up old questions.

Asensio and Isco, on the other hand, were seen as the future of Real Madrid by Zidane in his first spell. Asensio, in particular, flourished under the Frenchman, when he looked like one of the best young players in the European game. Since then, Asensio has lost his way, but his performance against Celta Vigo suggests confidence is flowing back into his game.

It’s certainly true that Real Madrid need rejuvenation. They need a new direction and new players in the transfer market this summer. But they also need to make the most of what they have got. They haven’t done that this season, but Zidane might be the man to change this.

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Zidane’s Real Madrid return could offer reprieve for Isco

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The return to La Liga side Real Madrid of Zinedine Zidane could spell a return to first team action for midfielder Isco, after previous boss Santiago Solari froze out the Spanish international this season.

The former Malaga player has not started a La Liga game since Solari replaced Julen Lopetegui in back in October 2018, and the club announced earlier this week that they would be opening disciplinary proceedings against him, after he missed a team meeting.

However, with Zidane coming back to the club he left nine months ago, he could look to bring the 26 year-old back in from the cold.

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Is Zidane the right choice for Real Madrid?

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No one could’ve predicted a scenario that saw Zinedine Zidane take over the Real Madrid hotseat just 10 months after he left it, but that’s precisely what’s happened in the aftermath of Los Blancos sacking their second coach this season, Santiago Solari.

The reasons could be many and though he’s not short of a euro or two, financial considerations will surely have played a huge part.

A promise from Florentino Perez that certain players will arrive or that Zidane will have a war chest of cash to go out and buy the very best is likely to be another. Continue reading

James Rodriguez to lead Real Madrid summer exodus

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James Rodriguez is set to leave La Liga this summer, with Real Madrid happy for the Colombian international to move on after an unfulfilled five years at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Rodriguez, 27, signed for Los Blancos ahead of the 2014-15 campaign, on the back of an outstanding performance at the World Cup two months before, however his face never seemed to fit at the club particularly under previous boss Zinedine Zidane.

Despite the last two seasons on loan at Bayern Munich, he does not appear to be guaranteed a continued role in Bavaria either.

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Is it time for Isco to leave Real Madrid?

In the grand scheme of things, Real Madrid’s home defeat to CSKA Moscow meant little. For the defending European champions, it was a dead rubber. It might have been humiliating to be so comprehensively dismantled by inferior opposition on their own patch, but Real’s place in the last 16 of the Champions League had already been secured. For one player, though, it was a breaking point.

Having been booed and jeered all night long, Isco snapped. He mouthed ‘what do you want?’ to the notoriously tough to please Santiago Bernabeu crowd, raising his arms in complete and utter exasperation. This reaction had been building for quite some time. Given all that the playmaker has faced this season, it was always likely that he would give some back.

Isco

Isco has been a peripheral figure for Santiago Solari since he took over from Julen Lopetegui. Lopetegui wanted to build his Real Madrid team around Isco given the success he enjoyed using the playmaker in his Spain team in the build up to the World Cup. Solari, though, hasn’t been so keen on the 26-year-old, who has spent the past few weeks on the bench.

Even when Isco has been given game time, he has underwhelmed. He has the look of a player who has given up. Speculation continues to build over his future at Real Madrid, with a move to the Premier League frequently mooted. Manchester City are reportedly interested. It’s becoming harder to envisage how Isco will turn things around at the Santiago Bernabeu.

A fresh start might be what he needs. Isco wasn’t the most natural of signings for Real Madrid back when he joined from Malaga in 2013. He was a different sort of player to the kind they were used to at the Santiago Bernabeu at that time, but his arrival was meant to herald a new age for the capital giants.

It hasn’t worked out that way, though, and now it seems that Isco and Real Madrid might be ready for a parting of the ways. At 26, Isco needs to make the most of the next few years. These are supposed to be his peak years and yet he is spending them sat on the bench at the Santiago Bernabeu.

A move to City would surely appeal. Pep Guardiola would know how to get more out of a player like Isco. The Premier League champions could use a wildcard like him in the final third. Guardiola and Isco would be good for each other.

Isco wouldn’t come cheap. Real Madrid would likely look for upwards of £50 million, at least, for the playmaker. Still, at that price there would be plenty of suitors. Isco has his admirers, it’s just that not many of them are currently at the Santiago Bernabeu. It might be time for him to leave them behind for everyone’s good.

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Marco Asensio’s comments reveal Real Madrid problems

There was a moment last season, just a few weeks into the 2017/18 campaign, when Marco Asensio looked to have taken that next step. With one particularly stunning strike in the Spanish SuperCopa win over Barcelona in August, he became the vanguard of the next generation. A world beater.

Over the course of the season, though, Asensio lost his way. Zinedine Zidane seemingly lost faith in the youngster, who was a peripheral figure by the time Real Madrid went on to win their third successive Champions League title. There were even rumours that he could leave the Spanish capital, with a move to the Premier League mooted.

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The summer, and Zidane’s exit, should have been a fresh start for Asensio. Julen Lopetegui was a manager renowned for his faith in young, homegrown talent and had got the best out of Asensio during his time as Spain coach. And yet with Lopetegui gone and Santiago Solari already appointed as his replacement, Asensio is still a shadow of his former self.

Comments made by the 22-year-old this week, on the same day that Solari’s appointment was confirmed, were revealing of the nature of the Real Madrid dressing room this season. “For me, I don’t see Madrid in a crisis,” he insisted in an interview. “And I don’t think it’s for me to carry the team – there are players who are much more experienced, have more years playing under their belts and more status than I have and they’re the ones who have to lead the team. When the new coach arrived I started off playing but now I am getting less chances but we’ll draw any conclusions when the season has ended.”

These remarks painted a picture of a dressing room lacking in leadership. Much has been made of Real Madrid’s failure to replace the goals lost through the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer, but they also lost his character and driving spirit. Ronaldo dragged his teammates through stages of last season and without him Real Madrid have become spineless.

The argument could be made that as a 22-year-old with not much in the way of top tier experience, Asensio shouldn’t be the one to carry and lead Real Madrid. But this is a player who is tipped as a future Ballon d’Or winner, he could go on to become one of the best players in the game, and with that quality comes a burden of responsibility.

Asensio is one of the players who must raise his game to help Real Madrid out of the hole they currently find themselves in, and he can’t rely on others to take the lead. The likes of Asensio, Isco, Karim Benzema, Luka Modric and Gareth Bale need to take responsibility for their own performances, but this week has revealed the true extent of the problems Solari has inherited.

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Real Madrid edge closer to Conte appointment

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Real Madrid are set to announce Antonio Conte as their new boss in the coming days, in the wake of their 5-1 La Liga thrashing away at Barcelona last weekend.

That defeat at the Camp Nou is likely to be the death knell for Julen Lopetegui as manager of the 2017-18 Champions League winners, with his departure in the offing.

Club President Florentino Perez, famous for his ruthlessness and lack of patience with managers, is set to confirm Lopetegui’s departure before the end of the week.

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Julen Lopetegui is getting the most from Real Madrid

The hiring of Julen Lopetegui as Real Madrid manager was a peculiar one. Of course, the circumstances around his appointment were farcical, with Lopetegui sacked as Spain boss on the eve of the World Cup. It wasn’t just the circumstances that made the hiring peculiar, though.

Before pitching up at the Santiago Bernabeu Lopetegui had been a manager at just one club side, Porto. His coaching experience beyond that was purely at national team level, working through the youth ranks with Spain before being handed the senior team job. Even at senior team level, though, Lopetegui never managed at a major tournament.

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It was a bold appointment from Real Madrid, a club who usually only go for the most experienced and most proven managers. But we are already seeing the influence of Lopetegui in the way the capital side have started the season, both in La Liga and the Champions League.

Real Madrid might have dropped points away to Athletic Bilbao last weekend, they have made an otherwise perfect start to the La Liga season, backing that up with an impressive and comprehensive 3-0 win over Roma in the Champions League on Wednesday night.

That win over Roma was marked by goals from Gareth Bale, Isco and Mariano Diaz. This went some way to illustrating the difference Lopetegui has made at the Santiago Bernabeu in a very short space of time. While Zinedine Zidane’s record as Real Madrid manager cannot be questioned, winning three straight Champions League titles at the club, he didn’t always made the most of his squad.

Marco Asensio, for instance, stagnated under Zidane. Isco struggled to find a place in the Real Madrid team too, with Bale and Karim Benzema also stunted in their development. Zidane knew how to win knockout games, but there were a number in his squad who were seemingly unhappy and certainly under utilised by the Frenchman.

Dani Ceballos perhaps provides the starkest illustration of this so far. Had Zidane stayed over the summer, it’s likely the young midfielder would have left Real Madrid, either on loan or on a permanent deal. Ceballos might be billed as one of the stars of Spain’s future, but Zidane didn’t seem to be a fan, giving the former Real Betis player very few opportunities last season.

Now, however, Ceballos has been installed as a key player for both club and country, starting in Spain’s 6-0 Nations League demolition of Croatia last week. Ceballos has some work to do to nail down his position for Real Madrid, but his early season performances mean he has certainly made an impression.

Lopetegui is a maximiser. That’s why he was so good as Spain manager, where signings cannot be made. Lopetegui is now maximising Real Madrid’s squad. Even in the post-Ronaldo age, they still boast so much quality and that is now coming to the fore under their new manager.

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