Barcelona need to re focus for next season and Messi and Xaxi could be key to that

Whilst Barcelona are top of the league standings for now and are still in the Champions League any fan who watches them will tell you that they are not having their usual dominant season. They simply don’t look like the Barcelona side that have graced their league and European football for the past decade.

They have had some injuries in Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann has taken time to fit in and doesn’t have consistently good games. Lionel Messi is getting older but he is still a fantastic player, but there is a feeling that he needs to be re motivated. New coach Quique Setien seems like a good man but one really has to question if he is the right person to take Barcelona forward.

Setien’s appointment came after a panic decision led by the board and Eric Abidal to sack Ernesto Valverde, who the players really liked. Everything felt hurried in their decision and the severance got messy so to speak. So bad that Messi himself spoke out about his feelings that Valverde should never have been sacked.

Bringing in Setien always felt like the wrong decision especially when news broke that Barca and Abidal had chased after ex player Xavi to be the new coach. Xavi was loyal to his Chinese team though and rejected the offer for now. Come August and the next season and it is thought that Xavi will be available and will be Barca’s new coach.

Appointing Xavi would make sense, his blood runs the colours of the club, he is respected by his peers and the fans love him. This could work, but of course he will judged on results only. Messi could well improve, even though he is actually having a decent season maybe it has lacked some spark from the high bar that he has set himself.

Next season has to be about focusing for the club. When the Suarez injury hit and the club looked for last minute deals, it made no sense. They wanted to pay big money to Everton to secure Richarlison, Everton quite rightly in January said no. And they simply went window shopping again, with not much care or focus. The truth is Barcelona didn’t want or need Richarlison, and they ended up going for Martin Braithwaite, a decent player but journeyman who simply will not fit into the team.

This was a basic blunder by the club and not to undermine Braithwaite’s skills, but players brought into any club must have a desired role so they can play and fit into the team like a jigsaw. Braithwaite through no fault of his own has been plucked out and expected to be the difference within the team. Instead his biggest highlight might be just sharing a dressing room with Messi. This all comes down to Barcelona panicking.

Bringing in Xavi next season there will be the hope that the team can re focus, he understands the club and was part of the team that was hailed as the best club side in history in the late 2000s and early 2010s.

Barcelona still have the magic, still have their integrity, but in football life moves fast. Wit La Liga possibly being suspended this year over the virus it gives the club time to assess the situation, the question is will they make the right choices or continue to panic?

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After postponement of Euro 2020 & Copa America: Realistic options for European football

It was like the secret that every football fan knew in advance, that Euro 2020 and the Copa America would not be taking place this summer. It was announced and confirmed by UEFA on Tuesday morning and was obviously the right and correct decision.

With the two major tournaments being delayed a year until the summer of 2021 it frees up the summer for domestic seasons to continue. The hope of course is that the seasons will be able to continue. In the Premier League for example the FA have penciled in a return date of the first week of April. But that decision was made  a week ago.

The problem is that domestic sport returning that early seems like a far stretch with the world in chaos and uncertainly over the Coronavirus, which isn’t supposed to hit its peak according to scientists until the summer, possibly in June. Once it does then things are supposed to start returning to normal.

So the worry is can domestic seasons be finished this season? Of course that will be up to every different association and it wouldn’t be a surprise if, for example. Serie A is declared null and void this season, with Italy being hit the worst out of European countries. Spain has also taken a hit. It is less so in England, where the country continues to take a very different stance than its European counterparts by trying to continue to live day to day whilst other countries are on total lock down.

So when does the delay become a problem? Well there was 2 months of the season to finish and with no major tournaments now in the summer that means domestic football could, in theory, continue. The new season could also be delayed maximum to mid September and there would need to be at least a five week gap between the end of the season and the new one.

That would mean that this season would need to end by at least the beginning of August and start at the beginning of June. Of course football could be kicking off sometime in April and if that happens, then all is well with the world again, that is the hope. The biggest fear is that the virus drags on or even gets worse before it gets better. One would hope though that with almost a 3 month safety net all domestic leagues could continue again this summer.

These are very uncertain times, something that no new generation or the one before it has faced before, so nobody really knows what will happen, but for once UEFA has tried to help the situation and so has Conmebal to try and make the right decisions.

 

 

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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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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What does the future hold for James Rodriguez?

It seemed unlikely that James Rodriguez would ever play another competitive game for Real Madrid. The Colombian had been sent on a two-year loan deal to Bayern Munich, with the Bavarians holding an option to sign him permanent after that period. Even when Bayern Munich decided not to exercise that option at the end of last season it seemed probable that Real Madrid would move him on.

And yet James was kept at the Santiago Bernabeu for the 2019/season. The initial signs were positive for the playmaker. He looked to have regained the trust of Zinedine Zidane, earning a place in the Real Madrid after a number of impressive performances over pre-season. There is still a player in there.

Now, though, James’ time at the Santiago Bernabeu might well be over. The Colombian has struggled for game time of late with Zidane overlooking the playmaker for every game Real Madrid have played since the Copa del Rey defeat to Real Sociedad at the start of February. He has been ostracised at a time of the season when Zidane could use the extra squad depth.

Speculation is already swirling over where James could pitch up next, with Wolves reported to be interested in the 28-year-old. A switch to Molineux would be somewhat remarkable, making a real statement about the progress they have made over the past few seasons under Nuno Espirito Santo.

James is still an exceptional player with exceptional talent. He could still enjoy a fruitful twilight to his career. He hasn’t played poorly in the handful of appearances he has made for Real Madrid this season, but an elite level team needs performers who can make a difference. Increasingly, James finds himself a passenger. He is no longer the headline grabber he was a few years ago. He is no longer capable of deciding a game almost entirely on his own.

Signed after the 2014 World Cup where he was the player of the tournament for Colombia, James looked like a natural ‘Galactico’ in his early days as a Real Madrid player. The aura faded quickly though and with Los Blancos in a transitional period the time has come for James to leave. That much has been proven this season. For all parties concerned, it’s probably best that a parting of ways comes this summer.

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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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Real Madrid must build momentum after Clasico triumph

It was the archetypal six-pointer. With a defeat, Real Madrid would have fallen five points behind Barcelona at the top of La Liga. Instead, their win over the Catalans saw them establish a one-point lead over their fiercest rivals in the race to be crowned Spanish champions for the 2019/20 season.

Indeed, last Sunday’s Clasico was a season-defining fixture for both teams, but particularly for Real Madrid given their run of poor form leading up to the match. Zinedine Zidane’s side let slip a three-point lead with a home draw against Celta Vigo and a defeat to Levante in back-to-back games before the clash with Barcelona.

Now, though, Real Madrid must build some momentum to consolidate their Clasico victory over Barcelona. Zidane’s side face a tough trip to the Benito Villamarin to face Real Betis this weekend and only a win will do, especially considering Barca’s victory at the same venue over the same opponents just a few weeks ago.

After that Real Madrid face a winnable run of fixtures against Eibar, Valencia, Real Sociedad and Real Mallorca. The games against Valencia and Real Sociedad will be a challenge, especially in the case of the latter who have been one of La Liga’s most exhilarating sides in La Liga this season. La Real have already beaten Real Madrid once in the Copa del Rey this season.

Zidane must look to establish some rhythm on the back of his team’s performance against Barcelona in last week’s Clasico. Real Madrid’s second half display in particular was encouraging from Zidane’s perspective, with Marcelo, Fede Valverde and Vinicius Junior all impressing for the hosts.

The fixtures will come thick and fast between now and the end of the season with Real Madrid facing a challenge to overturn a 2-1 first leg deficit against Manchester City in the Champions League. Zidane will have to make full use of his squad over the coming weeks. Marcelo, Eder Militao, Rodrygo, Isco and Luka Jovic, maybe even Mariano Diaz who made a surprise impact against Barcelona, will all have a part to play.

This is a critical point in Real Madrid’s season. They have once again installed themselves as title favourites, but it would only take one more slip up for Los Blancos to concede their advantage again. The Clasico win over Barcelona must prove to be a catalyst rather than just a peak followed by another trough.

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Clasico performance showed Marcelo isn’t finished at Real Madrid

When the Real Madrid team sheet was published before last week’s season-defining Clasico clash against Barcelona there was a notable surprise name included. It had been assumed that Zinedine Zidane would start Ferland Mendy against the Catalans with the French left back rested for a number of matches beforehand.

However, it was Marcelo who was picked to play at left back, raising some eyebrows. The Brazilian hasn’t enjoyed the best of seasons, with many predicting that he will leave the Santiago Bernabeu at the end of the campaign. A move to Serie A has been mooted and with Mendy now seen as Real Madrid’s first choice left back there was little to keep him in the Spanish capital.

Against Barca, though, Marcelo was exceptional. He provided Real Madrid with an outlet throughout and was crucial in securing a 2-0 win that saw Zidane’s men return to the top of La Liga. After a run of poor results it was critical that Los Blancos got back to winning ways and re-established their advantage over their fiercest rivals and title challengers.

Of course, one impressive display, even one in a Clasico against an opponent of Barcelona’s calibre, doesn’t necessarily mean that Marcelo has a long term future at Real Madrid. Mendy still looks to be Zidane’s first choice in the position and at 24 years old the Frenchman will continue to get better and better as he gains maturity.

Zidane has recently stood up for Marcelo in the face of mounting criticism, making an argument in favour of one of Real Madrid’s most decorated players. “It’s upsetting because he gives his all when he plays – not just Marcelo, all the players do – but this isn’t going to change. I can say it’s upsetting, it’s not good because they go out there and play to their maximum. The fans who were there saw that.”

In the immediate term, Marcelo still has something offer. He remains an attacking force and still has the trust of his Real Madrid teammates. That was evident in his display against Barcelona and with the fixtures coming thick and fast Zidane will need to use his full squad between now and the end of the season. Marcelo will be called upon again before too long and having impressed against Barca that might now not seem like such a risk.

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El Clasico is now a meeting between two flawed sides

It’s a fixture that has defined an entire era of European football. Of course, El Clasico, the meeting between Spain’s two biggest and most illustrious clubs has long been a fixture to watch out for, but the rivalry between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo made it a much-watch event for all football fans around the world.

Even with Ronaldo now gone, it remains the biggest fixture in the sport. But unlike in recent years this is now a meeting between two greatly flawed sides. That will be apparent this Sunday when Real Madrid welcome Barcelona to the Santiago Bernabeu for the second Clasico of the season.

These are two teams fighting for the Spanish title at the top of La Liga. Ordinarily, this would be a sign of strength, but this season has seen both Barca and Real Madrid suffer great inconsistencies. Until two weeks ago the latter looked to be in control of the race, holding a three-point advantage at the top of the table. One draw and one defeat later, now it’s Barcelona who hold a two-point lead heading into this weekend’s clash.

“It’s not just any other game,” Sergio Ramos explained in a recent interview. “Despite there just being three points at stake, as there is in every game, El Clasico is a game unlike any other. Beating Barcelona would bring us great joy.

“What’s more, it usually has a really positive impact on the group in terms of morale. Both teams know that and it’s something that we have to deal with as best we can to turn it into an incentive that drives you on to victory. Right from the start of the week, the whole experience is different. It brings a lot of media attention, but that’s also what makes this game so great, La Liga, the players… The feeling you get is one that comes from inside, it’s really hard to explain.”

Both teams appear to be in the midst of a generation transition, but the prize on offer remains the same as always. Sunday’s Clasico will have a real bearing on where the Spanish Liga title ends up this season. A Barcelona win, despite all their problems, would put them five points clear at the top. A Real Madrid win would put them back in control. There is a lot on the line, but this is a match defined not by its strength, as has previously been the case, but its weakness.

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Is it time to assess Sergio Ramos’ Real Madrid future?

He is Real Madrid’s spiritual leader and one of the most decorated players in the club’s long and storied history, but Sergio Ramos has his flaws. Many of them. Of course, they have always been masked by what he brought to the team on the pitch. Now, though, Ramos’ contribution isn’t so positive.

The red card he was shown in the Champions League round of 16 first leg defeat to Manchester City means nobody has been sent off more times in the competition than Ramos. The defender has also previously been shown red against Galatasaray, Ajax and Olympiacos, but this could prove to be his most costly dismissal yet.

Ramos’ absence means Eder Militao will likely play alongside Raphael Varane for the second leg at the Etihad Stadium. Militao has provided Real Madrid with some depth over the course of the season, but the summer signing has still shown vulnerabilities. Man City will look to exploit that to get the job done and progress to the Champions League quarter finals.

On the flip side, Ramos isn’t the force he once was. Real Madrid might not miss him as much as they would have in seasons gone by. Against City on Wednesday night, he was something of a liability. It has been that way for much of the season, with Varane usurping Ramos as Zinedine Zidane’s defensive bedrock.

Wednesday night’s red card was the 26th of Ramos’ career to date as a Real Madrid player. He has never managed to leave that part of his game behind, but while his other qualities used to make up for this that might not no longer be the case. The end is surely approaching for the 33-year-old at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Ramos has a contract with Real Madrid until the summer of 2021. Talks have recently taken place, but no breakthrough has been made yet. If Real Madrid are to claim a transfer fee for their captain this summer presents them with the last opportunity to do so. “The relationship with the club is magnificent in every way,” Ramos explained recently

“So there is no rush on any side – mine or club. I’ve never made extra demands, I understand club’s policy with players of certain age. If club wants me to say, I’ll stay, no need to worry.” What if Real Madrid don’t want Ramos to stay, though? His future in the Spanish capital isn’t for certain.

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