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.

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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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Asensio, Ceballos, Isco set for big season for club and country

Had Zinedine Zidane remained at the Santiago Bernabeu over the summer, it’s debatable whether Dani Ceballos would have stayed there with him. The young midfielder was signed as one of Real Madrid’s marquee additions last season following an impressive showing at the 2017 European Under-21 Championships, but failed to make much of an impression last term, only making a handful of appearances.

For whatever reason, Zidane didn’t appear to rate Ceballos, despite the quality he had shown for both Spain’s Under-21 side and Real Betis. Talk started to build towards the end of last season that the midfielder could be loaned out or even sold in the summer. Given the accuracy of the rumours that built regarding the respective futures of Mateo Kovacic and Cristiano Ronaldo, those suggestions likely had some weight.

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The surprise exit of Zidane at the end of the 2017/18 campaign gave a number of Real Madrid players a career reprieve, and Ceballos was one of those players (along with Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema). Even better for the 22-year-old was the subsequent appointment of Julen Lopetegui as Zidane’s successor.

He couldn’t have hoped for a better manager. Having worked with Spain’s youth teams all the way through to the senior squad, Lopetegui is a coach who tends to favour young, homegrown talent. We have already started to see that have an impact on the likes of Marco Asensio, Isco and of course Ceballos, with all three installed as first team figures over the early part of the season.

It’s not just for Real Madrid that Ceballos has enjoyed some early success this season. He was handed his competitive debut for Spain on Tuesday night, starting the Nations League game against Croatia. Ceballos excelled as Spain thumped the World Cup finalists 6-0 and put down an early marker under new manager Luis Enrique.

Ceballos is set for a big season for both club and country. His career appeared to have hit the skids last season as first team opportunities became harder to come by at Real Madrid, subsequently locking him out of the national team reckoning. Now, he looks to be back on track, as is Asensio.

He took looked to have struck a period of early stagnation in his career, failing to build on what was a blistering start to the season last year. In time, Asensio found himself a peripheral figure at the Santiago Bernabeu. It was a similar story for Isco too; one of the most talented players in the Real Madrid squad, but restricted to appearances off the bench.

Things are changing at Real Madrid, though, and the likes of Asensio, Ceballos and Isco will be vindicated in their decision to stick it out in the Spanish capital. Lopetegui is turning Real Madrid into a more homegrown, possession-based outfit and the benefits of that are already being felt my many of their squad.

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Bale will relish central Real role under Lopetegui

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The transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid to Juventus sent shock waves through La Liga – with many assuming the Portuguese international would see out his career in Madrid.

However as the dust settles on his move, the club will move forward – with the new season just weeks away.

Club President Florentino Perez is likely to sign a superstar name to replace Ronaldo, with Chelsea’s Eden Hazard widely predicted to be his main target.

However the man mooted to be Ronaldo’s replacement by new manager Julen Lopetegui, in the immediate term, is already at the club – Gareth Bale.

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Abject Spain crash out of tournament

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Fernando Hierro’s Spain were left licking their wounds as they crashed out of the World Cup Following a disappointing performance that leaves many querying where they go from here.

Spain went ahead early in the tie when 38-year-old Russian defender Sergei Ignashevich inadvertently turning a Marco Asensio free kick into his own net as he bid to stop Sergio Ramos at the back post.

Despite going ahead, Spain failed to turn their dominance into further chances and paid the price before half-time as the tournament hosts secured a shock penalty as Artem Dzyuba’s header from a corner hit Gerard Pique‘s outstretched arm. Continue reading