Marco Asensio can start to look forward to Real Madrid return

You could see it in his face. He knew. With pre-season winding down and the start of the new season coming into sight, Marco Asensio suffered a knee injury in a Stateside friendly against Arsenal. With his head in his hands on a stretcher, crying, it was clear that the 23-year-old would be out for some time.

Indeed, Asensio has missed the entire season to date and is expected to remain out for some time yet. Real Madrid have coped in his absence, with Rodrygo emerging as something of a superstar. Zinedine Zidane has managed to take his team to the peak of the Spanish Liga table where Real Madrid trail Barcelona only on goal difference.

And yet the return of Asensio will significantly strengthen Real Madrid. While the 23-year-old has frequently struggled for form and consistency over his time at the club, he remains a difference-maker. At present, Real Madrid have grown too reliant on Karim Benzema for a spark in the final third of the pitch. Asensio would take some of that burden.

Of course, with Rodrygo now considered a first team figure and Eden Hazard joining from Chelsea in the summer Asensio will still have to work to regain his place in Zidane’s side, but in terms of natural talent the 23-year-old is still one of the very best on the books at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Reports in the Spanish press this week claim Asensio is back on the training pitch and working with a ball at his feet having completed a programme of gym work over the winter break. The Spanish international is still doing his rehabilitation on his own, although Hazard joined Asensio in some of his work as he continues his own recovery from injury. The signs are positive for both players after something of a dark period. It might not be long before Asensio is training with his teammates again.

There is a growing sense that Asensio could in fact return to first team action before the end of the season, although Zidane should be wary of rushing back a player who has spent the last seven months out of action with a serious injury. Asensio’s work between now and the end of the season should be about preparing him for the 2020/21 campaign. That’s when he could make a real impact for Real Madrid again.

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What does the future hold for Dani Ceballos at Real Madrid?

Real Madrid were reluctant to include a purchase option in the loan contract of Dani Ceballos as they sent the midfielder to Arsenal for a season last summer. There was an acceptance that while the 23-year-old needed first team football, he still had a future at the Santiago Bernabeu. North London looked to be the perfect place to show what he can do.

Ceballos’ loan at Arsenal hasn’t exactly gone to plan, though. The Spaniard has struggled for form and fitness, becoming something of a forgotten figure as the Gunners have suffered a season they won’t want to remember. When he signed, Arsenal had hoped Ceballos could be persuaded to stay. Now, it seems they are counting down the days until he returns to the Spanish capital.

What future will Ceballos have at the Santiago Bernabeu, though? A lot has changed since the 23-year-old left, with Fede Valverde emerging as a key figure in the centre of Real Madrid’s team. Indeed, the Uruguayan is now one of the first names on Zinedine Zidane’s team sheet with Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric left to fight for just two starting places.

Of course, Ceballos is a very different type of player to Valverde, but with the Uruguayan filling a position that Kroos could have feasibly performed, the scope for breaking into the Real Madrid team has narrowed. What’s more, Isco has enjoyed something of a career renaissance in recent months and so it’s difficult to see what Ceballos could offer Zidane that the Frenchman doesn’t already have.

There is a feeling that Ceballos could benefit from a fresh start. He is an extremely talented player, but at both Arsenal and Real Madrid he hasn’t been harnessed. Recent speculation has linked the midfielder with a move to Valencia. That’s the sort of move that could see him rediscover the form that made him so sought after at Real Betis.

Ceballos must also take responsibility for his own poor performances. Injuries have seriously hindered him this season, but he has been too passive when he has made it on to a football pitch. The 23-year-old must start taking games by the scruff of the neck. Ceballos is moving into a crucial stage of his career if he is to fulfil his very obvious potential. He can’t waste any more time.

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Best 11 Players of the Weekend in La Liga: Matchday 20

Barcelona won and Real Madrid also and the two giants of Spanish football remain locked in at the top on the same points. They now have an 8 point lead over 3rd placed Atletico Madrid who lost their 3rd game of the season. Let’s take a look at what players in La Liga performed the best in matchday 20.

Formation: 4-4-2

Goalkeeper: Marko Dmitrovic- Eibar

Many goalkeepers earned 7 points with clean sheets but it is Eibar’s Marko Dmitrovic who stood out. The reason being he made some vital saves and ended up keeping a clean sheet against Atletico Madrid, no mean feat at all. He now has 9 points and is valued at 6.5m.

Defender: Leandro Cabrera- Getafe

Leandro  Cabrera was brilliant as his side won 3-0 over Leganes and he earned 9 points, thus he kept a clean sheet and also he opened the scoring which would lead to the win. It was a perfect weekend for the defender who has 29 points and is valued at 5.5m.

Defender: Allan-Romeo Nyom- Getafe

Just like Cabrera, Nyom had a great weekend as part of the defence that kept a clean sheet and he also scored a goal. He only earned 8 points though as he was also booked in an eventful game. He is valued at 6m.

Defender: Damien Suarez- Getafe

Sticking with Getafe, Suarez earned 7 points as the club beat Leganes in a 3-0 game which was one sided. This was his 4th clean sheet this season and he now has  total of 14 points and is valued at 7.5m.

Defender: Samuel Umtiti- Barcelona

This was a very important game for Samuel Umtiti playing his first game for new Barcelona manager Quique Setien and only his 5th start of the season so there was a lot to prove as Barcelona won their game 1-0. Umtiti can be brought into your team for 7.5m.

Midfielder: Casemiro- Real Madrid

Real Madrid recorded a 2-1 win over Sevilla and Casemiro was brilliant in scoring 2 goals and he earned 7 points. It would have been more but he lost some through being booked near the end of the game. The player now has 25 points and is valued at 7.5m.

Midfielder: Sergio Canales- Real Betis

Sergio Canales earned 8 points from midfield as Real Betis beat Real Sociedad 3-0. Canales assisted in the opening goal and then scored the 3rd and final one to top off a great days work. He now has 15 points and is valued at 7.5m.

Midfielder: Joaquin Sanchez- Real Betis

Joaquin Sanchez was brilliant in midfield as Betis beat Sociedad 3-0. He helped the team keep a clean sheet, attacked well and he scored. It was his 7th goal of the season and he has been rather outstanding this term. He can be bought for 7.5m.

Midfielder: Arturo Vidal- Barcelona

Vidal held the line well and kept his head in what was a very close win for Barcelona as they won 1-0 over Granada. He also assisted Lionel Messi for Barcelona’s only goal of the game. Vidal has 34 points and is valued at 12.5m.

Striker: Ante Budimir- Mallorca

Ante Budimir earned a whopping 10 points at the weekend as his side beat Valencia 4-1 and Budimir had his game of the season. He scored 2 goals winning the game and assisted in the last goal. He has 8 goals now this season and can be brought into your team for 6.5m.

Striker: Lionel Messi- Barcelona

Lionel Messi is used to being in teams of the weekend, and he scored his sides only goal as Barca won 1-0. Messi was the difference once more and earned 4 points at the weekend. He now has 71 points and is in the lead of La Liga strikers by 13 points. It was Messi’s 14th goal of the season.

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Real Madrid have fight, but for how long can they scrape results?

In the context of this season’s title race in La Liga it could prove be a big moment. Sevilla have ambitions of their own, with Julen Lopetegui taking the Andalusian side into the top four. Some have even suggested that Sevilla might make themselves outside challengers for the Spanish title this season. They must have fancied their chances of leaving the Santiago Bernabeu with something on Saturday.

Real Madrid, though, claimed a 2-1 win to establish a three-point lead over Barcelona at the top of La Liga with their Catalan rivals set to play Granada at home on Sunday evening. This was the sort of game Zinedine Zidane’s side likely would have dropped points from earlier in the season. It could even be argued that Sevilla were the better of the two teams on balance.

With Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Sergio Ramos and Fede Valverde all out through injury or suspension, Real Madrid were short-handed. The absence of Benzema in particular posed Zidane with a real problem. The French striker is enjoying the season of his life, but the drop off in quality in Benzema’s absence is dramatic.

Luke Jovic set up the opening goal with a clever backheel flick for Casemiro, but the Serbian striker has struggled to find his place at Real Madrid since joining from Eintracht Frankfurt in the summer. In the main, Jovic doesn’t facilitate others around him in the way Benzema does. Thus Real Madrid are a poorer team in attack with the Serbian leading the line. This was evident against Sevilla.

And yet Real Madrid still managed to find enough within themselves to claim a crucial three points at a critical point of the season. This has become a trend for Zidane’s side over the past few weeks. It was a similar story against Atletico Madrid in the final of the Spanish Supercopa, with a penalty shootout getting Real Madrid over the line when they probably should have lost in 120 minutes of open play.

This is obviously a good quality to have, but for how long can this sustain Real Madrid? There is still a sense that they have yet to find top form and top gear this season. They have scraped through games at time, just getting over the line when they probably should have fallen short. Zidane still has to take Real Madrid to a higher level.

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Luka Modric is coming to the end, but remains Real Madrid’s brightest spark

2018/19 was a peculiar season for Luka Modric. The Croatian shone at the Russia World Cup, leading his country to the final. May 2018 also saw him lift the Champions League trophy for the third straight year. Modric struggled for fitness and form after the summer of 2018, though.

It was arguably his poorest as a Real Madrid player, which made his success in winning the Ballon d’Or somewhat ironic. This led to speculation over Modric’s future at the Santiago Bernabeu. Last summer, it was even rumoured that he could leave for Serie A, with Inter believed to be long-term suitors of the player.

At 34 years old there is little doubt that Modric is now entering the twilight of his career. This prompted many to suggest that Real Madrid should cash in on a player who had been one of their most influential over the past decade, but now has a limited shelf life. On the basis of what we have seen this season, though, it’s just as well they didn’t.

It’s true that Zinedine Zidane is using Modric more sparingly, resting the Croatian more often than he has in the past. Modric might not even be considered a member of Real Madrid’s favoured starting lineup, with the emergence of Fede Valverde leaving Toni Kroos and the Croatian to fight over one midfield position. Against Barcelona before Christmas, for instance, Modric started on the bench.

And yet the 34-year-old remains Real Madrid’s brightest spark when he is on the pitch. He might not have the mobility any longer to win the fiercest of battles in the centre of the pitch, explaining why Zidane has taken to favouring Casemiro, Kroos and Valverde in midfield for the biggest games, but Modric has rediscovered his inherent creativity this season.

“Modric is such an important player for this team and he’s always going to be,” Zidane said after a particularly impressive performance by the Croatian in an important 3-0 win over Getafe, a result which lifted Real Madrid level on points with Barcelona at the top of La Liga. “Luka Modric is Luka Modric.”

This might still prove to be Modric’s last season at the Santiago Bernabeu, with Inter still thought to be interested in the player and speculation still swirling, but at least if he leaves now the Croatian will leave good memories right up until the end.

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How badly will Real Madrid miss Fede Valverde against Sevilla?

It was the moment that essentially decided the Spanish Supercopa final. Real Madrid’s win over Atletico Madrid in Saudi Arabia last weekend won’t be remembered for the penalties in the shootout, nor will anything during the 90 minutes stick in the mind. Instead, Fede Valverde’s cynical, last-ditch tackle on Alvaro Morata will be remembered.

The Uruguayan midfielder didn’t really have any other choice. With five minutes left of extra time, Morata was released clean through on goal. Valverde was the only one chasing back and so it was up to him to fell the Atletico Madrid striker, taking the straight red card for his troubles.

Valverde picked up the Man of the Match award almost purely for his tackle, raising a debate over whether such a decision was in the spirit of the game. Whether it was or wasn’t, the 21-year-old will now miss Real Madrid’s home match against Sevilla on Saturday, a landmark moment in this season’s title race at the top of La Liga.

The Uruguayan has become a key member of Zinedine Zidane’s side this season. He has filled a hole in Real Madrid’s midfield, leaving Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric to fight over just two positions. It’s no exaggeration to say Valvede is now one of the first names on the team sheet.

Against Sevilla, Real Madrid will need to win the battle in the centre of the pitch. Julen Lopetegui will have revenge on his mind, returning to the Santiago Bernabeu for the first time since he was sacked as Real Madrid manager last season, and his team, currently sitting in fourth place, are a strong outfit capable of beating the best.

This is a critical point of the season for Spain’s top two. The fixtures will come thick and fast over the next few weeks as the Copa del Rey and Champions League start to clutter their schedule. A lot will be demanded of players like Valverde, but the 21-year-old will miss Saturday’s important match.

It will instead be up to the likes of Casemiro and Kroos to disrupt Sevilla’s play through the middle of the pitch. The Andalusians are excellent in transition and so Real Madrid must provide protection for their back four. Valverde would have helped do this. Finding someone to perform his duties will be key to what happens on Saturday.

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Barcelona sack Ernesto Valverde but the situation turns into a farce

Barcelona have sacked coach Ernesto Valverde but the handling of the affair ended up turning into a farce. Instead of the club making a professional decision the story ran out of control when former player Xavi rejected taking the job.

The Catalan giants ended up exposing themselves early, Valverde knew he was out of a job as the Barca board scrambled to appoint someone after the club were beaten 3-2 by Atletico Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup semi-finals out in Saudi Arabia. The timing though seems off. It is ended with Barcelona fans having a Valverde for a domestic league game, only to see him and the team go halfway around the world to play in the Super Cup and the team coming back with Valverde gone and a new manager in place.

But why now? Why did Barcelona make this decision? Valverde after all becomes the first Barcelona coach in 17 years sacked mid way through the season. The last was Louis van Gaal. It has been reported that Barcelona panicked when they witnessed the Atletico game. The club were 2-1 up with 10 minutes to go and lost 3-2. It reminded them of the Champions League collapses against Roma and Liverpool when the club spurned a 3 goal lead, each time with Valverde in charge.

It’s odd in a way that the club have finally said goodbye to him given that they are top of the league in Spain and qualified for the knock out stages of the Champions League. If they were going to sack him surely it would have come days after going out of the Champions League in embarrassing fashion to Liverpool, or at the end of last season, but he was liked by the board, well until now.

So who will be replacing him? It should have been Xavi and that would have been the natural decision. But the former Barca great actually did the most decent thing and declined to leave his current managerial position at Al Sadd during their season. It was reported he could take over in the summer but Barca wanted someone now. That someone is Quique Setien.

Setien’s last job was coach of Real Betis where he recorded some great results including beating Barcelona. He has long been an admirer of the clubs playing philosophy and could be the perfect replacement, only time will tell on that, but he has never had a win rate above 50%, at the same time he has never coached one of the elite teams and at 61 his dream has finally come true.

As for Valverde, well once you have managed Barcelona it is like winning an Oscar and he will be high demand, with no problems to find another job, although he will more than likely take the next 6 months off. The one shame is the way Barcelona handled it all for a man who probably should have gone this summer. Having said that one could question if he has been a failure for Barcelona? Sure their performances collapsed in the Champions League but Barcelona won 2 league titles under him and two cups. Week in week out they did a job on Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid to win La Liga.

Former Barcelona great Andres Iniesta called the handling of Valverde’s sacking ‘a bit ugly’, and he was right to say that. It’s interesting how loyal figures at the club are usually shown the back door or the handling for their exits is not done let’s say with the best of etiquette in mind. But what is done is done and Setien will be thrown in at the deep end, his dream has finally arrived and he will be hoping that it isn’t a nightmare.

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Best 11 Players in Spain’s Copa del Rey

The top teams were not involved in the latest round of the Copa del Rey as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Valencia contested a new format of the Spanish Super Cup which was being played as a mini tournament in Saudi Arabia. That means that this week let other players shine. With no league matches over the weekend we will take a look at the best performing players in the Copa del Rey.

Goalkeeper: Alejandro Remiro- Real Sociedad

Alejandro Remiro made some good saves as Real Sociedad his team then went on to beat Ceuta by 4-0. But it was his initial saves early in the game that enabled the team to grow in confidence and win. Remiro is valued at 6m and has kept 3 clean sheets in the league so far.

Defender: Sergi Gomez- Sevilla

Sergi Gomez was a rock in defence for Sevilla and whilst the other two defenders by his side also played their part they got booked. But Gomez played a clean game and the 27 year old looked impressive as his side beat Escobedo 5-0.Gomez is 6.5m to buy.

Defender: Lucas Olaza- Celta Vigo

Celta Vigo overcame Merida 4-1 and Lucas Olaza held his own as left back. He made some brave challenges and even though he was part of a defence that conceded a goal, it’s harsh to be critical of his over all performance when his team wins so well.

Defender: Jesus Navas – Sevilla

A supremely gifted footballer and Jesus Navas put in a great display as Sevilla won their game 5-0. He kept a clean sheet and he assisted in the 5th goal to round up a great game for him. It’s worth noting that Navas normally plays in midfield for Sevilla, but they deployed him in defence for this cup game

Defender; Ander Capa- Athletico Bilbao

Ander Capa had an excellent game as his side won 4-0 and of course he kept a clean sheet. He is having a really good domestic season in La Liga too where he has scored 26 pts and can be bought for 5.5m which looks like a very decent price.

Midfielder: Maxime Gonalons- Granada

Maxime Gonalons had a very solid game in the middle of the field as his team Granada won 1-0 against Tamaraceite. Many pundits thought the score would be bigger, but Gonalons simply put his head down and knew this would be a tough physical battle and he left the pitch with no cautions against him. In La Liga he has only earned 3 pts so far but can be snapped up for a relatively cheap 5m.

Midfielder: Carbo Bellapart- Badalona

True you may not have heard of Carbo Bellapart who plays in the lower leagues for Badalona. But he played such an important part as his team stunned and knocked out La Liga team Getafe, by winning 1-0. He was assured and confident and local media praised him.

Midfielder: Matias Vargas- Espanyol

Espanyol faced a potential tricky tie against San Sebastian Reyes who talked up a good game before the match. They made Espanyol work hard for the win and Vargas distributed the ball well, as his side eventually won 2-0.

Striker: Soriano – Girona

Soriano scored two goals and helped his club overcome a resiliant round of football. Girona were playing in La Liga only a few years ago and they will want to get back, they played some good football in this cup game as they look to have a deep run. Soriano is 34 now and has been around for a while and the veteran striker would have been very happy to have scored a brace to help his team.

Striker: Asier Villalibre- Athletico Bilbao

Asier Villalibre had a fantastic game as he scored two goals in Athletico Bilbao’s 4-0  win away to Sestao. He was really on his game and perhaps is deserving more of La Liga game time. He certainly had his own personal match of the season with this performance.

Striker: Enes Unal -Valladolid

Enes Unal has been lightning up La Liga lately and he came through in the Copa del Rey also. He scored both goals as his side Valladolid beat Marbella 2-1. Even though they were the favourites to win the match finished at 1-1. But Unal was able to strike in extra time to get the winner. He is valued at 5.5m to bring into your team.

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Is Raul Gonzalez destined to be Real Madrid manager one day?

It had rumoured for years, so there was little surprise to the reports that surfaced on Saturday morning claiming Barcelona want Xavi Hernandez to be their next manager. The former midfielder is currently in Qatar as Al-Sadd head coach and has long been tipped as a future boss of the Catalan club. That future might now be a little closer with Ernesto Valverde under intense pressure after recent results.

Of course, Real Madrid have their own Xavi-type figure. Raul Gonzalez has long been talked about as a future manager of the Santiago Bernabeu outfit, currently in charge of the club’s Castilla team. He, like Xavi, seems destined to take the reins of the club they became a legend for as a player.

He might have to wait a bit longer to take to the touchline at the Santiago Bernabeu. Zinedine Zidane was under pressure earlier in the season, with a series of poor results and performances putting his job on the line, but he has since turned things around. Many now see Real Madrid as the frontrunners in this season’s La Liga title race, tied with Barcelona at the top of the table.

However, football fickle, especially in the Spanish capital where Real Madrid went through no fewer than three different managers last season. Zidane looks secure right now, but the Frenchman is only ever two or three bad results away from a crisis. Florentino Perez isn’t exactly known for patience.

Perez is also known to be a fan of Mauricio Pochettino. If Zidane is sacked at some point in the not so distant future, the former Tottenham manager is likely to be at the top of the shortlist. But Pochettino won’t be out of work for much longer. As Europe’s most sought after coach, he will surely have a job before the start of next season and it’s difficult to envisage things could unravel that quickly for Zidane at Real Madrid.

This could move Raul up the hypothetical shortlist. The former forward has impressed many with his start to managerial life at Castilla and could feasibly follow the precedent set by Zidane in making the jump from Real Madrid’s B team to coaching the senior team. Raul had a great football mind as a player and Real Madrid could soon count on him having the same as a manager.

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Does Brahim Diaz have a future at Real Madrid?

It’s now one year since Brahim Diaz made his debut for Real Madrid. At the time, the midfielder’s signing from Manchester City was viewed as quite the coup for the Spanish giants. Brahim might have struggled for first team opportunities under Pep Guardiola at the Etihad Stadium, but this was a player who seemingly had a bright future in the game.

The initial impression made by the youngster was a good one. Real Madrid suffered a dismal second half of the 2018/19 season, but Brahim was one bright spark for them. Heading into the summer, it seemed that he would be a part of Zinedine Zidane’s plans going forward. That no longer looks to be the case, though.

This season, Brahim has played just 41 minutes for Real Madrid. Even taking into account the appearances made towards the end of last season, he has received just 435 minutes of first team football in a year. That is not nearly enough for a player at this stage of his development. He needs to play.

For Brahim, this has raised the possibility that he could be loaned out in the January transfer window. Of course, Real Madrid already have a number of bright, young talents out on loan – Martin Odegaard is at Real Sociedad, Achraf Hakimi is at Borussia Dortmund and Takefusa Kubo is at Real Mallorca – and so this wouldn’t be a decision without precedent. What’s more, the success of the aforementioned trio proves the success of this programme, with Odegaard one of the best players in La Liga this season.

This would suggest that Real Madrid still have high hopes for Brahim. Odegaard, for instance, is still considered a key part of the club’s future, but is out at Real Sociedad to gain first team experience. A similar sort of move for Brahim would surely serve him well and return him to the Santiago Bernabeu a more hardened professional and more rounded player.

However, other reports claim Real Madrid would be open to offloading Brahim entirely, seemingly unconvinced that he will ever be good enough for them. This would be a hasty decision, particularly given how few first team opportunities he has been handed this season. Brahim has never been given the chance to show what he can do in a winning team. Getting rid of him now would be a waste.

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