Karim Benzema-Eden Hazard partnership has changed the picture for Real Madrid

Something has changed at the Santiago Bernabu since the resumption of the Spanish Liga season – or the Estadio Alfredo di Stefano as Real Madrid’s home stadium is until the end of the 2019/20 campaign. They have taken their time, but Zinedine Zidane’s side have finally found their groove.

Indeed, Los Blancos have won all four of the matches they have played since the return of La Liga to rise to the top of the table. Victory over bottom side Espanyol on Sunday will see them go two points clear of Barcelona, putting them in pole position to win over their second league title in eight years.

There have been a number of different factors behind this resurgence, but the developing partnership between Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard has fundamentally changed the landscape for the club. This is the duo around which Zidane now seemingly plans on building his entire side around.

Real Madrid have struggled for attacking cohesion ever since the moment Cristiano Ronaldo swapped the Spanish capital for Turin, joining Juventus in the summer of 2018. Benzema picked up some of the slack somewhat last season, but Los Blancos struggled to fill the void left by their record top scorer.

Hazard was signed as the heir to Ronaldo, but the Belgian is a very different sort of player. It wasn’t clear until a few weeks where exactly he would fit into the Real Madrid team, with injuries fragmenting his first season in the Spanish capital. Now, though, the picture is much clearer.

Benzema and Hazard operate on the same wavelength. They have only been teammates for a year, not even a full season yet, but they recognise each others’ runs, each others’ movements. Some players just get one and other, and Benzema and Hazard certainly seem to be among them. Their partnership seems natural, as if it comes easily to them.

If Real Madrid are to clinch the championship, dethroning Barcelona as the kings of Spanish football, it will likely be on the back of Benzema and Hazard’s relationship. Others are contributing, with Marco Asensio back from injury, Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane forming a defensive wall at the back and Luka Modric back in form, but it’s the Belgian and the Frenchman at the head of the attack driving Los Blancos forward.

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Are things finally clicking into place for Real Madrid?

Real Madrid could never have predicted the circumstances amid which it would materialise, but in the second half of Thursday’s 3-0 win over Valencia Los Blancos produced a performance close to what they had always envisaged for this group of players. It wasn’t perfect, but nearer to that mark than anything witnessed up until then this season.

Until that point, many had debated and discussed what exactly Zinedine Zidane wanted from his Real Madrid side. What he wanted them to be. The Frenchman had steadied the Santiago Bernabeu side, appointed late last season to get a head start on the 2019/20 campaign, but a lot of questions remained unanswered.

Thursday night might prove to be a turning point in this season’s title race and in Zidane’s second stint in charge of the capital club. With Eden Hazard fit again, a burgeoning understanding with Karim Benzema evident and Marco Asensio back on a football pitch after a year out of the game through injury,

There was movement all over the pitch. Ferland Mendy provided drive down the left side, contributing an excellent assist for Asensio’s goal with his first touch off the bench. Dani Carvajal offered something similar on the opposite flank which allowed Hazard the freedom to cut inside and link up with Benzema. The two players appear to operate on the same wavelength.

A midfield trio of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Ernesto Valverde gave Real Madrid the right balance of control and energy in the centre of the pitch, with the usual centre back pairing of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane backing them up. All of a sudden, things came together very quickly for Real Madrid.

Of course, Los Blancos have produced impressive performances before this season. They have managed to keep pace with Barcelona at the top of La Liga and have put a number of opposition sides to the sword in the process. The problem is they have suffered nearly as many dips as peaks.

This time it felt different, though. In the past, Real Madrid’s best performances had been the byproduct of a sparking individual display by Benzema or someone else. Their performance against Valencia, however, was a result of their performance as a whole. Their new identity, which was evident perhaps for the first time this season.

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Why Barcelona’s Lionel Messi remains motivated for La Liga’s final sprint

Just like that the La Liga season is ready to return, and with the resumption of the Spanish top flight, the rest of the league should be wary that Barcelona’s Lionel Messi has a triple motivation for success in 2019/20.

The Blaugranes captain often carries the weight of the team on his shoulders, but one shouldn’t forget the weight of history also follows him around. Continue reading

Real Madrid: Total Overhaul?

Few football clubs have enjoyed prolonged glory like Spain’s Real Madrid. In fact, Real is considered one of the most prestigious clubs in the football world, and across all sports fields for that matter. Real achieved this acclaim in a different way than most other clubs, utilizing socios, or club members, who own and operate all facets of the franchise.

Founded in 1902, Real Madrid was estimated in 2019 to be worth 3.8 billion Euros as the second highest-earning football club in the world. For any football pundit, this information isn’t surprising. After all, in their 118 years of existence, Real Madrid lifted 33 domestic league titles, 19 Copa del Rey trophies, a remarkable 13 Champions League trophies, and 4 FIFA Club World Cup titles. Some of these wins stretch back over a century ago, like the club’s first Copa del Rey triumph in 1905.

Real has entertained the fans with some of the greatest athletes of all time, as well. Top goal scorers and creative stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Raul, Alfredo di Stefano, and Karim Benzema called Madrid home for years. And players like Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos have appeared in upwards of 500 football matches wearing the Real Madrid jersey.

Others, like Ronaldo- the Brazilian or original one as some call him, Luka Modríc, and Cristiano Ronaldo received their prestigious Ballon D’Or awards while on the team. In fact, to this day, Real Madrid’s head coach, Zinedine Zidane, is one of his generation’s greatest players, and won the UEFA Club Footballer of the Year award in 2002 while playing for the club he now leads.

 Future Plans

Most recently, Real Madrid have been associated with the superstar power of Cristiano Ronaldo. A dynamic and powerful goal scorer with an unstoppable drive, Ronaldo led a highly talented cast for nine years at Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. The team flew high and attracted record number of fans to the stadium, remote viewership of games, and title wins, leading many to consider this era as Ronaldo’s.

However, in 2018 Ronaldo moved to Juventus to play in Italy’s Serie A. Despite this move, Real Madrid have not crumbled, though president Florentino Pérez seems likely to address the club at its foundational roots in an attempt to revitalize the team following their leader’s departure.

Meanwhile, in the US, NBA franchise the Golden State Warriors have also recently overhauled their mediocre team, drawing in star players as well as solid, vetted athletes. In fact, the Golden State Warriors have a near monopoly on NBA basketball odds in the US since winning the NBA Championship in 2015, 2016, and again in 2018. It seems Real Madrid is looking to rebuild its squad in a similar manner, though this change isn’t motivated by disappointing play. It’s preventative, if anything.

 Stadium & Roster

First, Pérez has shown interest in demolishing Estadio Santiago Bernabéu in order to begin construction on a ‘digital stadium of the future’. However, his comments have left some fans in mourning, and others confused. While many will mourn the loss of a stadium as well-loved as Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, most are waiting for the club to roll out its plans to understand what exactly a ‘digital stadium’ entails.

The stadium is set to have a capacity of 90,000. Other plans for the updated stadium include a wrap-around facade onto which images can be projected, retractable roofs that will cover all seating, and additional leisure and entertainment activities within, like shopping and a museum.

However, Perez also seems hellbent on revamping Real Madrid’s once-motley crew. While some franchises, like the Golden State Warriors, have to start from scratch to build a strong team, Madrid won’t face such challenges. While rebuilding a team is often undertaken for many top clubs that lose a star player, Real Madrid is full of star power.

Still, some athletes may be moving on. Rumor has it that in order to welcome in shining young recruits, Zidane may be letting go of players like James Rodriquez, Gareth Bale, Lucas Vasquez, and Mariano Diaz. Even important figures such as Marcelo and Luka Modric also face uncertain future despite historic wins with the club.

The above moves could be made in order to welcome new talent like Eduardo Camavinga, a 17-year-old midfielder with great promise. This comes after attempts to land Paul Pogba from Manchester United have fluctuated between cold and hoot. There is also interest in Raul Jiménez, a forward who may be able to pick up some of the pieces in attack in case Benzema leaves.

What is Real Madrid’s long term plan for Karim Benzema?

With 14 goals in La Liga this season, Karim Benzema had been enjoying a successful campaign before the global coronavirus crisis brought everything to a halt. Now, there is no suggestion of when the La Liga season will resume and every other division in Europe is in the same situation. These are unprecedented times for the sport.

And so with no matches to preview or react to it’s time to consider some big picture questions. Real Madrid find themselves in the midst of a transition. Zinedine Zidane’s side might be fighting near the top of La Liga for only their third title in 11 years, but this is a squad that is still stuck between the Old Guard and the new generation.

One question Real Madrid must find an answer to over the next few seasons concerns the future of Benzema. At 32 years old, the Frenchman is coming into the twilight of his career, but he is seemingly only getting better with age. So should Los Blancos look to replace Benzema sooner rather than later or stick with him for the long term?

A number of big name strikers have been linked with a move to the Santiago Bernabeu in recent years. Most persistently, Robert Lewandowski has been speculated to be on Real Madrid’s radar with the Polish centre forward widely believed to be keen on making the switch to the Spanish capital at one point.

For all his undeniable brilliance, though, Lewandowski is only one year younger than Benzema at 31. He wouldn’t be a long term successor to the Frenchman. Real Madrid would surely face the same dilemma with Lewandowski as they do now with Benzema. Instead, they need someone who will carry their attack for years to come.

Erling Haaland fits the bill. The Norwegian has hit the ground running at Borussia Dortmund and at just 19 years old is set to spend the next decade at the elite level of the sport. Harry Kane has also been previously mentioned as a future ‘Galactico’ and with the England international reportedly considering his future at Tottenham Hotspur the pieces might be falling into place for him to join Real Madrid.

Of course, Los Blancos spent big on the signing of Luka Jovic last summer. He was meant to be the long term successor to Benzema, but has so far struggled to grow accustomed to his new surroundings. Finding a successor to Benzema won’t be easy, but Real Madrid must start devising a plan of action.

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Could Mariano Diaz play a role for Real Madrid down the title race final stretch?

It was surprising enough that Mariano Diaz was named in the Real Madrid squad for last week’s Clasico clash against Barcelona. That the striker was introduced for the final few minutes and then found the back of the net as well was even more surprising. It was just another crazy moment in what has been a crazy season in La Liga.

Until that game Mariano hadn’t made an appearance in the Spanish top flight this season. Indeed, the former Lyon striker who returned to the Santiago Bernabeu in the summer of 2018 has been ostracised by Zinedine Zidane recently, making just three appearances for Real Madrid over the 2019/20 campaign.

However, it’s possible that Mariano could play a role for Real Madrid between now and the end of the season. With Luka Jovic still struggling to find his feet at the Santiago Bernabeu after his summer signing from Eintracht Frankfurt, Zidane will need a second choice striker to provide some back up for Karim Benzema.

While Benzema has been in excellent form over the season as a whole, the Frenchman has scored just once in La Liga since the turn of the year. It could be the case that Zidane even looks to Mariano as an alternative rather than just a deputy for Benzema. His impressive performance, even if it was only for a few minutes, against Barcelona certainly won’t have harmed his cause.

Mariano’s stoppage time goal against Barca to secure all three points for Real Madrid suggest that the striker should have been given more of an opportunity since returning to the Spanish capital two summers ago. This is a player who scored 18 times in 30 starts for Lyon in Ligue 1 three seasons ago. Mariano is a proven goalscorer who surely has something to offer Los Blancos.

This is a Real Madrid side that is in transition. In any other season Zidane’s team would be in trouble, but Barcelona are also going through something of a transition. They have suffered from the same inconsistencies having already gone through one manager following the sacking of Ernesto Valverde.

In the long term, it’s possible that Mariano won’t have much of a future as a Real Madrid player. However, at this moment the 26-year-old has something to offer Zidane. His Clasico goal against Barcelona could become more than just an anomaly.

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No circus at Real Madrid as Zidane is quietly getting the job done

There was much scepticism when Zinedine Zidane returned as coach of Real Madrid last summer after walking out of the club a year beforehand. But the Frenchman’s return is being justified by every passing week, and Real Madrid are top of La Liga.

Madrid have 49 points and it is only their fierce rival Barcelona who can stop their quest for a La Liga title, they currently have 46 points. In 3rd is Getafe with 39 points. It has been quite an achievement for Madrid under Zidane who have just come off of a great weekend as they beat their eternal rivals in the derby Atletico Madrid 1-0 keeping a clean sheet in the process. That score line summed up Madrid, no mad 4-3 wins and games filled with red cards, just a simple 1-0 will do the job.

That win ended Atletico’s title hopes too and Diego Simeone’s side now sit a huge 14 points behind their rivals.

Compared to other seasons Real are not scoring tons of goals, just 40 so far for them. True that is still the 2nd best in the league but is still 12 behind Barcelona and only one in front of Villarreal. But it is in defence where Real are really shining, conceding just 13 goals this season which is by far the best defensive record in the league. They allowed a great side like Atletico just 1 shot on target the whole game at the Bernabeu and at home that figure goes down to just 7 goals shipped.

Sergio Ramos has helped keep 11 clean sheets whilst Raphael Varane and Daniel Carvajal have kept 10. Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has easily been the best shot stopper in the league and whilst we associate Madrid with attack and goals the focus has clearly been on defence.

Only Karim Benzema has been scoring the goals for Real, he currently has 13 and the days of having a player scoring 40 or 50 goals a season in Cristiano Ronaldo has long gone. He will be for ever thanked at the club, but football is and always will be a team game and that is the mentality of the club under Zidane this season.

Incredibly Real have only won the league once in the past 7 years which last happened in 2017. Whilst Madrid will have a go on all fronts in the Champions League club president Florentino Perez would love to deliver the league and knock back Barcelona, it would mean a great deal to stop Barca winning their 3rd league title in a row.

As far as the Champions League goes, Madrid will face off against Manchester City in what should be a mouth watering 2 legged affair. It also brings back Pep Guardiola to the Bernabeu he whose blood bleeds the colours of Barcelona, just for some more added spice.

Can Madrid win their 2nd title in 8 years, they have given themselves every chance to do so, and for now it looks like Zidane has come back to save Madrid who were clearing in a chaotic mess a year ago.

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Karim Benzema’s lack of supply line is Real Madrid’s biggest problem

Just as Eden Hazard looked to be finding his feet as a Real Madrid player, injury struck. Again. Of course, the Belgian had to wait a number of weeks for his first appearance for his new club after suffering an injury right at the end of pre-season. Now, Hazard is on the sidelines with an ankle injury which is widely expected to rule him out of next week’s Clasico.

On his day, there aren’t many better than Hazard in the European game right now. He has the ability to win a match almost entirely on his own, but his biggest benefit to Real Madrid right now is in the supply line he offers Karim Benzema. The partnership between Benzema and Hazard has the potential to carry Real Madrid a long way.

There were signs of a growing understanding between the two players before Hazard’s injury. Now that the Belgian is ruled out for the time being, the lack of a supply line for Benzema has become Real Madrid’s biggest problem, the thing that could compromise their whole season.

The issue has been mitigated in recent weeks by the form of Rodrygo. The Brazilian teenager has exploded on to the scene this season, but he is still of a very tender age and can’t be expected to carry Real Madrid on a weekly basis. Then there’s Vinicius Junior, Real Madrid’s other teenage Brazilian.

After a shaky start to the season which had some questioning whether a loan away from the Santiago Bernabeu would be best for the youngster, Vinicius has rediscovered some of last season’s form. But he remains a volatile sort of player. A lack of final product has been Vinicius’ problem from the moment he broke through.

Gareth Bale has played well at times this season, but he too is sidelined through injury. What’s more, the Welshman is expected to finally leave the Spanish capital in the not so distant future. And Marco Asensio is predicted to miss all of the 2019/20 campaign after suffering an ACL injury in the summer.

Benzema is the face of Real Madrid in the post-Cristiano Ronaldo age. He is the player Zinedine Zidane has built around in an attempt to take the club back to the top of the Spanish and European game, but he might not have the building blocks to do that.

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Karim Benzema contract talk underlines his importance to Real Madrid

There was a time not so long ago when Karim Benzema’s time as a Real Madrid player looked as good as over. The Frenchman was given the now customary roasting by the Santiago Bernabeu crowd as they expressed their disgruntlement at the striker’s lack of edge in front of goal. It seemed likely Benzema would leave the Spanish capital sooner rather than later.

A lot has changed since then. In the post-Cristiano Ronaldo age, it has been Benzema who become the face of Real Madrid. The Frenchman hasn’t quite stepped into the void vacated by his former Portuguese teammate (because who could really do that?), but he has upped his own levels to mitigate the blow.

In fact, Benzema has actually scored more goals for Real Madrid over the past two seasons than Ronaldo has for Juventus over the same time frame. It’s therefore unsurprising that the Spanish capital club are now reportedly looking to extend Benzema’s contract until 2023. He has quite simply become the most important player at the club.

Real Madrid’s hopes and dreams for this season are resting on Benzema. That isn’t exactly the best position to be in when the Frenchman has suffered more than a few injury problems over the years, but it is the reality of the situation for a team still transitioning between the Ronaldo age and a new generation.

Zinedine Zidane might now have Eden Hazard and Rodrygo, the teenage Brazilian who has taken Real Madrid by storm this season, but both players still require Benzema to play off. Luka Jovic was signed for around £60 million from Eintracht Frankfurt in the summer, but the Serbian has so far failed to show anything that suggests he can effectively deputise for Benzema.

Toni Kroos and Luka Modric are also better players when Benzema is on the pitch. The Frenchman is the dynamo through which Real Madrid play through. The drop off when he is not involved is drastic and so it’s understandable that they wish to tie him down for the foreseeable future even as he enters the twilight years of his career.

For a long time it seemed that Benzema would one day play in the Premier League. A move to Arsenal was a staple of the gossip column for a number of years, but Real Madrid have gone from being unsure of his place at the club to being unable to let him leave.

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A preview of gameweek 5 in LaLiga

Football, football, football.

Here is our preview of all ten games in LaLiga this coming weekend.

Osasuna v Real Betis

Key men: Roberto Torres (Osasuna); Nabil Fekir (Real Betis)

Prediction: Osasuna 1 – 1 Real Betis Continue reading