Barcelona need Messi back as they lose first game of La Liga season against Bilbao

Barcelona don’t usually lose too many games and in recent seasons they have gone 4 or 5 months into the season without a defeat but they opened up their La Liga campaign with a 1-0 loss against Athletic Bilbao last night.

Barca were expected to cruise as ever to a win and pick up three points and though they were the better team having a lot of attacking intent, there was always a feeling with the clock running down and the match still at 0-0 that Bilbao would get their one good chance to put this game to bed, and they did.

It happened in the 88th minute and it wasn’t just any old scrappy goal. No this was a thing of beauty and it was scored by Artiz Aduriz. That the winning goal would go to him was extra special given that he is a legend at Bilbao and he is 38 and probably playing his last season with the club. Nobody beforehand could have written the script and believed that Aduriz would be the matchwinner. For Bilbao the party went into the night and this will be a very special result for them.

Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid who are expected to challenge Barca this year for the title would have been looking on at that result- could this be one of those seasons where the football doesn’t click for Barca?

Well Lionel Messi wasn’t playing and it is fair to say that at least with his club he is THAT good that when he doesn’t play he is missed. Messi currently has a calf strain and could miss all of the games this month, which is terrible news for the current La Liga champions.

This is when new signing Antoine Griezmann is expected to step up but that didn’t happen and the club will now be focusing on returning back to the Nou Camp, the question though in everyone’s minds afterwards is is this is a one off blip or is it a sign of things to come?

As usual Barca had the more possession bringing in over 70% but at the end of the day they only had 2 shots on target, that simply isn’t good enough.

Barcelona will play Real Betis next weekend at home and that will gage for us just how strong this team will be, they usually score a few goals against them, but Betis have bought well this season including getting in Nabil Fekir who has been brilliant with Lyon for several seasons.

What is clear is that the pressure is now immediately on Barcelona not to drop any more points in the next few months, that is how consistent it can be in Spain, and they will be praying that Messi can come back sooner rather than later.

Where does Luka Jovic fit in at Real Madrid?

It’s ironic for a team that treated a large part of last season, in essence, as pre-season that their actual pre-season, when it finally arrived, hasn’t exactly gone to plan. Indeed, while these games, usually played in farflung corners of the globe, are generally meaningless, Real Madrid have been given something to think about.

First, there was a heavy defeat to Bayern Munich. Then there was a dreadful first half performance against Arsenal when only the second half introduction of Gareth Bale helped to turn things around. And finally, there was the humiliation at the hands of rivals Atletico Madrid, shipping no fewer than seven goals including five in the first half alone.

In all three games Zinedine Zidane has cut a concerned figure on the touchline. The former midfielder was lured back to the Santiago Bernabeu a few months ago in the belief that he was the only man who could figure things out. Now, with the start of the 2019/20 season just weeks away Zidane seems as baffled as ever.

Close to £300 million has been spent on new signings, with Eden Hazard, Eder Militao, Ferland Mendy, Rodrygo and Luka Jovic added to the squad. Those new additions have struggled to find their feet in pre-season, but the struggles of Jovic have been so severe they have raised questions about his place at Real Madrid.

Jovic enjoyed a hugely successful season last term, leading Eintracht Frankfurt to the semi finals of the Europa League. He is considered one of the brightest young strikers in the European game, but it’s difficult to see where he fits into Zidane’s side.

So far this pre-season he has come on as a second half substitute (against Bayern Munich) and been subbed off twice (against Arsenal and Atletico Madrid), picking up a knock. Jovic has failed to show that he can play alongside Karim Benzema in a front two, where can he be accommodated?

With Marco Asensio expected to miss the majority of the 2019/20 season with an ACL injury, the front three picked for the friendly against Atleti – Hazard, Benzema and Vinicius Junior – is predicted to be Zidane’s favoured attack. Behind that, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric with room for another midfield signing (possibly Paul Pogba or Christian Eriksen).

Zidane also has Lucas Vazquez and Isco to choose from. Mariano Diaz continues to hang around the Santiago Bernabeu too. And there’s Gareth Bale. It’s possible that despite spending in excess of £50 million Jovic will join the ranks of players on the fringes of the Real Madrid first team. Nothing we have seen early on in his career at the club suggests otherwise.

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Christian Eriksen could become Real Madrid’s Philippe Coutinho

Real Madrid aren’t always the most discreet in their transfer business. When they want a player, the world tends to know about it. Take their pursuit of Eden Hazard over a number of years, for instance. There was no element of surprise left by the time the Belgian actually completed a move to the Spanish capital this summer.

Their pursuit of Paul Pogba is another saga which has played out in front of everyone, with Manchester United still holding firm in their £150 million valuation of the player. Real Madrid, according to reports, are unwilling and unable to pay that amount for the French midfielder and so it’s becoming increasingly likely Pogba will stay where he is for at least another season.

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For a long time, it has been presumed that Christian Eriksen would be Real Madrid’s alternative to Pogba. The Dane has already confessed his desire to leave Tottenham Hotspur this summer and the Santiago Bernabeu outfit are believed to be long term admirers. Rumours continue to swirl.

But where would Eriksen fit in at Real Madrid? He is a very different type of player to Pogba. It’s easy to see where the Frenchman could be accommodated in Zinedine Zidane’s side – on the left side of a midfield three – but Eriksen isn’t someone who likes to drive forward with the ball. Instead, he is the player who picks the final pass.

He usually does this from a position on the left side. Sure, he drifts into the middle, sometimes dropping back into the centre of midfield, but his position as it reads on the team sheet is on the left wing. He might not be a winger in the traditional sense, but that is his best place.

Real Madrid don’t have room for another left-sided attacker. They were already well-stocked for options (Vinicius Junior, Marco Asensio, Lucas Vazquez) before this summer and now they have added Hazard to their squad. How would Zidane possibly fit Hazard and Eriksen into the same side without moving one of them out of position?

Eriksen would be a signing for the sake of a signing much like Philippe Coutinho was for Barcelona 18 months. The Brazilian arrived at Camp Nou without an obvious role to play, with Coutinho now likely to be sold this summer after failing to make much of an impression. Eriksen could become Real Madrid’s very own Coutinho should he leave Spurs for the Santiago Bernabeu.

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Pressure on Zinedine Zidane at its greatest to beat Barcelona

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Zinedine Zidane the magic man is back at Real Madrid and this coming season all of the pressure will be on the Frenchman to deliver the title and usurp Barcelona who have been completely dominant.

When Zidane came back to Real in March the club hardly exploded and indeed didn’t really improve under him but at the end of the day he was brought back earlier to just stabilise the ship. Zidane will know as will the fans that the real business with the club will commence when the league season kicks off in August. And you can forget about the Champions League. Whilst they will fight to be champions of Europe once again the priority will be about winning La Liga. Incredibly Madrid have only won 1 La Liga title in the past 7 years.

Madrid have spent big and the purchase of Eden Hazard from Chelsea is their star signing. He is the one that is supposed to bring the balance back to the team. But Hazard as great as he is, can go missing in games. It will be Zidane’s task to guide the Belgian through the season where consistency becomes key to success.

Paul Pogba has been hinted at but he will have to fall into place and one wonders if his signing will be good for such a sensitive player. Even Ronaldo got booed at the Bernabeu.

The truth is that Zidane is about to undergo the biggest challenge of his career. Not only does he have to perform well on his return, and remember they say never go back to your old clubs. But he has to stop Barcelona from winning the league which is easier said than done. And of course Barca will not be the only threat to Madrid this season with their city rivals Atletico Madrid making huge progress and buying Joao Felix who is supposed to be the next big player. They will be in with a shout for the league too.

Zidane will need to find a good balance with his team and they will have to attack and be much more aggressive this season with the ball. One finds that Madrid just aren’t quite there and need a striker that can get them 30 goals a season. Is it simple that the club still haven’t recovered from losing Ronaldo? Benzema is good but he isn’t Ronaldo.

Maybe just maybe Zidane will give another chance to Gareth Bale who in truth has done little wrong. Zidane simply has the greatest season challenge of his career to date.

 

 

Why won’t Atletico Madrid let Griezmann join Barcelona?

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It was supposed to be easy. Atletico Madrid would sign Joao Felix and for the fee they paid they would recoup it back with the sale of long serving player Antoine Griezmann, except and to Griezmann’s surprise that isn’t quite happening.

Felix has arrived but Griezmann who was expected to join Barcelona is still with Atletico and the next part of the story sounds jarring. Griezmann failed to turn up for training for a recent session and the club have now fined him the maximum fine of 200,000 euros for doing so. Sure you can’t miss training but at the same time it was Griezmann who helped his club out last season by staying with them when he wanted to leave for Barcelona. He stayed out of loyalty after Atletico were handed a transfer ban and couldn’t buy any players to replace Griezmann.

Now with this situation it feels as if Griezmann’s career with Atletico one that has been brilliant could well end up turning sour. Surely no one at the club wants that, and what Atletico are doing is quite wrong.

So why have Barcelona been taking their time in buying him? The truth is that they couldn’t make a move until after July 1st because Griezmann’s contract buy out clause before then was set at the ludicrous price of 200m euros. But after July 1st because of his contract that asking price fell to 120m euros.

The next process was supposed to be easy and that was Barcelona coming in for Griezmann, except one week has gone by and there has been no contact from them. Because of this Atletico have acted on Griezmann who in his head is a Barca player and that is where the fine comes from.

This makes sense but at the same time the loyalty that the Frenchman has shown the club has to count for something, but it doesn’t seem to be the case.

So will Barcelona come in for him? They should do but the delay is puzzling, perhaps they are thinking to delay the transfer and try and get a better deal in the region of 100m and not 120m, that could well be the thinking. As for Griezmann he will be livid with his current club and annoyed with possibly his new one for dragging this situation through the mud. He should be in theory sporting a Barca shirt right now, instead Griezmann is finding himself in football limbo with 200k less in the bank as a result.

 

Atletico Madrid break transfer record with signing of Joao Felix as Griezmann looks set to join Barcelona

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Move over Cristiano Ronaldo, Joao Felix the latest Portuguese sensation has arrived, and arrived he has with a thud of epic monetary proportions. Atletico Madrid made Europe look at them in awe when they announced his signing this week for a cool £113m, making Felix who is just 19, the 5th most expensive player in football history.

Felix looks the part and what little we have seen of him looks quite incredible. For Benfica last season he greatly helped them win the league and from 26 league games he scored 15 times. Overall he played 43 matches and netted 20 times, and for a player to be performing like that at his age suggests that Madrid have spent well.

As for Diego Simeone’s side Felix represents their biggest spending ever on a player and they have come to an agreement with Benfica to pay them 30m in one payment with the rest of the transfer fee coming from instalments. But why have Atletico bought Felix for so much?

Well to put it simply Felix is really being ranked up there with the likes of other Portuguese players who have graced the game in Luis Figo and of course Cristiano Ronaldo, if Felix is as good as he is obviously going to improve Atletico and his sell on price could be fantasy numbers, that will be the long term plan for Atletico anyway as they try and break Barcelona and Real Madrid’s dominance in La Liga.

The other reason to spend so big is that it has been reported that after years of playing with Atletico that Antoine Griezmann is finally leaving the club to join Barcelona for a similar fee that Atletico paid Benfica for Felix, it all rather makes sense then.

Though Griezmann choosing Barcelona is up for debate, wasn’t this the same club who came in for the French World Cup winner last summer only for Griezmann to reject them on the grounds that he didn’t want to be Lionel Messi’s ‘lieutenant’? Of course Griezmann really should have just left it at the core reason for him not joining which was down to loyalty of his club who were, at the time, currently going through a transfer ban.

Back to Felix and not only can he score goals he can create them too and Atletico’s fans look like they will be in for quite a treat. Atletico are also in the Champions League, and the fact that they still have Simeone in the dug out is testament to the clubs owners, who still find the best ways to attract quality players despite the hardships they find themselves each season in Spain. Roll on next season when Felix will do his best to light up the league, and take some of that magic away from Messi.

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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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Atletico Madrid undergo unprecedented upheaval

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This is a summer of mass upheaval at Atletico Madrid which has not been seen before in the Diego Simeone era. A plethora of players have left the club already for pastures new – Lucas Hernandez, Filipe Luis, Diego Godin, Gelson Martins and Juanfran Torres are among the confirmed exits (while Rodri is set for a move away too) to a squad which was never renowned for its depth.

That has left just 14 outfield players remaining and that is including Antoine Griezmann - who has confirmed he will leave this summer, probably joining Barcelona – and Alvaro Morata, on loan at Chelsea. As for the others, Angel Correa, Vitolo and Nikola Kalinic are all supposedly available for sale. Would the last player left please turn out the lights? Continue reading

Valencia transfer window to build on continuity and growth

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Valencia have recorded two successive top four finishes under their impressive boss Marcelino Garcia Toral and the message for the coming season is simple – more of the same please! Los Che, in their centenary year, also added the Copa del Rey title in May and want to continue to build on the momentum they have now built up.

Their success has been built on continuity and consistency, keeping and improving the same core of players within the squad and adding astutely. The club have not sought to make waves in the transfer market but unlike in recent years, they have acted astutely and shrewdly – impressively building a squad capable of challenging Spain’s elite. Continue reading

Spain Under-21 success show huge potential

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Spain’s Under-21 side deservedly lifted the European Championships trophy this summer. They defeated their German counterparts 2-1 in the final and thus extracted revenge for their loss to the same opponents in the showpiece two years prior. Following an opening day loss to Italy, La Rojita excelled throughout and once again illustrated the bright future of the Spain national team.

Whereas in 2017 the player of the tournament was midfielder Dani Ceballos – who was once again starred this time out – it was his former Real Betis teammate Fabian Ruiz, now at Napoli, who took the main plaudits. His outings were a tour de force and showed why he is developing into what can be described as a ‘complete midfielder’ in the south of Italy. Continue reading