Not for the first time, injuries are a concern for Real Madrid

Zinedine Zidane must rue the international break every time it comes around, every time his Real Madrid players jet around the world turning out for their countries. Almost invariably, a number of them return to the Santiago Bernabeu with some sort of injury or know. This week has been no different.

The international week has hit Real Madrid hard. Zidane’s side trained together on Thursday, but Raphael Varane and Thibaut Courtois both missed the session. Gareth Bale was also missing with the Welshman already ruled out of Real Madrid’s away trip to face Real Mallorca this weekend.

It was also reported that Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal also trained away from the main group after picking up knocks while Fede Valverde also worked on his own. Add these injuries to the ones already keeping Marco Asensio, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Nacho and Lucas Vazquez out of action and Zidane has something of a crisis on his hands.

Real Madrid’s season has been a paradox to this point. They currently sit top of La Liga, but that’s only as a result of the faltering performances of their rivals. Zidane’s side have been the best of a bad bunch, with Atletico Madrid and Barcelona both struggling for consistency over the early part of the campaign.

A series of poor performances have resulted in speculation around Zidane’s job security. A number of in-the-know journalists and media members believe Jose Mourinho has been lined up as the Frenchman’s replacement for whenever club president Florentino Perez decides to pull the trigger.

It’s with this foot on his throat that Zidane needs to instil consistency in his team over the next few weeks up until the next international break and up until Christmas after that. That will be much tougher with the number of injuries now being absorbed by Real Madrid. Zidane will have to come up with a number of solutions.

Real Madrid will be favourites for the away game at Real Mallorca this weekend. That was meant to be their warm-up for the first Clasico of the season, although that fixture is now in doubt following Barcelona’s statement on the arrests over the Catalan independence movement.

Nonetheless, this next stretch of fixtures will be crucial in determining the success or failure of Real Madrid’s season. Injuries, among other things, have held them back, but there’s no time to feel sorry for oneself. Zidane must find a way to make do with the squad he has.

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Brahim Diaz is back from injury and Real Madrid might need him immediately

Within just a few months of arriving at the Santiago Bernabeu, Brahim Diaz had played as many games for Real Madrid as he had in three years for Manchester City. The 20-year-old midfielder isn’t a Galactico and wasn’t given the usual ticker-tape reception upon his arrival in the Spanish capital. Signed for just €17 million in January, Brahim was meant to be one for the future, but he made an immediate impression.

The midfielder missed the vast majority of Real Madrid’s pre-season with a persistent hamstring injury and then suffered an abdominal strain just as he was getting close to a return in late August. Finally, however, it seems that Brahim will be an option for Zinedine Zidane again. The Frenchman might need him immediately.

Real Madrid’s midfield has been difficult to work out over the early part of the season. Their season as a whole to this point has defied deciphering. Zidane finds himself under intense pressure. It seems that just one more adverse result will be enough to force Florentino Perez to pull the trigger with Jose Mourinho reportedly waiting in the wings to take over at any time.

Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric have all played well at points, but they have also suffered almighty dips in form. Fede Valverde has forced his way into the first team fold. The young Uruguayan has publicly made the point that he deserves even more game time, but he is the only player Zidane can bring into his midfield to freshen things up and rotate.

This is where Brahim might come in from this weekend. The 20-year-old caught the eye in the final games of last season, finding the net and notching an assist in the five starting appearances he made in La Liga. His drive and energy through the centre of the pitch could certainly be of use to Real Madrid at this moment. It could give the likes of Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard the supply line they need.

Brahim certainly isn’t the sole solution to Real Madrid’s problems. Despite the good first impression he made over the second half of last season, the 20-year-old is still one for the future, but he could help ease the logjam that has developed in Zidane’s midfield. He could bring something different.

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Jose Mourinho return would be the mark of Real Madrid’s lack of direction

Zinedine Zidane was supposed to be the solution. Instead, the Frenchman is starting to look like at least one of the causes of Real Madrid’s recent problems. The capital club might be sat at the top of Spanish Liga table, but that doesn’t quite tell the whole story of their season so far.

Back-to-back draws against Atletico Madrid and Club Brugge, with Real Madrid fighting back from 2-0 down at home to claim a point against the Belgians, have piled the pressure on Zidane. Now, it seems he might be just one or two bad results away from being sacked such is the level of speculation around his position.

Potential replacements have been discussed. Xabi Alonso’s name has been put forward, with the former Real Madrid midfielder currently a coach at Real Sociedad. Max Allegri has also been mentioned, with the Italian coach currently out of work after leaving Juventus at the end of last season.

The Spanish press seem convinced, however, that Jose Mourinho is the man most likely so succeed Zidane, returning to the Santiago Bernabeu six years after his first stint there came to an end. He is apparently the man club president Florentino Perez sees as the solution to Real Madrid’s immediate problems.

Mourinho, of course, has pedigree. While his first spell at Real Madrid ended acrimoniously, he did enjoy success there, beating Pep Guardiola’s great Barcelona side to a league title. The Portuguese is a two-time Champions League winner and has won championships in four different countries. But his return to Real Madrid would be a mark of the club’s lack of direction.

He would be a plaster on a gaping wound. Mourinho showed in his last job as Manchester United manager that a toxic environment brings out the worst in him. By taking over at Real Madrid he would be stepping into an environment even more toxic than the one he left behind at Old Trafford nearly a year ago.

Real Madrid’s last three appointments have all been misguided. This time they must get it right. They must evoke the spirit of their 2010 appointment of Mourinho, when the Portuguese was the best manager in the European game, but avoid the man himself. Back then, Real Madrid waited to get the right man in. Perez must look back at that example in order to move forward.

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Phil Foden must demand more game time from Pep Guardiola

Phil Foden was given the grand total of one minute of game time at the end of Manchester City’s Champions League group stage game against Dinamo Zagreb, but that’s all he required to make an impression, finding the net to cap a comfortable, if uninspiring, win on Tuesday night.

The 19-year-old must have felt a burning sense of vindication. Foden has found himself on the peripheries of the City first team so far this season, making just one substitute cameo in eight Premier League games. In fact, his only start this season came in the Carabao Cup win over Preston North End.

After the Champions League win over Dinamo Zagreb, Guardiola was keen to apologise to Foden for not giving him more time on the pitch. “He deserves to play. I want to give him minutes. Every time I don’t play him, I am in front of him saying I’m sorry,” said the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss.

“But it’s Kevin de Bruyne there, Rodri, Bernardo Silva, David Silva, Ilkay Gundogan, I’m so sorry. I know the best way to grow up is to play minutes, but he’s so young. I don’t know how many players that age play have played more minutes in the recent past, the minutes he has played the last season with us, but he’s going to be an incredible player for us in the future. We trust in him a lot. But it is what it is.”

But Guardiola needs to stop apologising to Foden and start giving him the game time he deserves. This is a player who has been billed as a one in a generation talent. A player Guardiola has gushed about time and time again. But the Catalan’s team selections paint a very different picture.

It’s time for Foden to start demanding first team football or start plotting a route out of the Etihad Stadium. Now 19 years old, the midfielder must start developing week-on-week. Guardiola has previously said that he wants Foden to be more vocal, to find his voice. Well, now is the time for the teenager to knock on the manager’s door.

There is no denying Foden’s talent and there is some weight in the theory that he is in the best possible place for his development. He is a City academy product and Guardiola has a track record in bringing through players of his type. But that theory falls down if he’s only being given next to no game time.

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Why Real Madrid are getting better every week under Zinedine Zidane

For Real Madrid there will be enquiries into why their Champions League campaign has not started off on the front foot, but in the league everything seems to be taking shape, with coach Zinedine Zidane perhaps in the midst of his most difficult and testing season.

Last night Real could only draw with Belgian side Club Brugges at the Santiago Bernabeu which led to the inevitable boos, though in truth the match, which finished 2-2, would have felt like a small victory after the home side found themselves 2-0 down.

That match followed their first game in the group stages where they were easily beaten by PSG in Paris by 3-0. The defeat in Paris was probably overblown- a lot of very good teams are going to lose their this season, true the result wasn’t good but it wasn’t catastrophic either. What followed felt much more important.

So it was back to La Liga where Madrid had been making heavy weather of their results, to be fair eternal rivals Barcelona were too. But the fixture list did not look good for Zidane’s men. Following the PSG defeat they would have to play early front runners Sevilla away from home and also stay on the road to play the derby against Atletico Madrid, a side genuinely after the La Liga title this season.

Many thought that down south in Spain, Madrid would falter and yet they didn’t-they won and kept a clean sheet to boot. The final score reflected the closeness of the game with a 1-0 result, but that was still 3 massive points for Los Blancos.

The next match was set up as two genuine rivals for the league went head to head in Madrid, and that match ended 0-0 with the majority of the game being a midfield battle which became quite fascinating to watch. Eden Hazard in particular was given praise for getting physically stuck into the match. Hazard has arguably struggled this season for the club despite coming back from injury, but he should improve over time.

The draw at Atletico has suddenly put Madrid on top of the standings, albeit on goal difference and a top squeeze down to 5th place but still amongst all the criticism’s and the bla bla bla, Madrid under Zidane are top of the league and that is all that matters.

There will, of course, be more twists and turns and Madrid do not look like the polished finished article just yet. But with Gareth Bale to come back from injury and some emerging talent in the form of Rodrygo et all there is a lot of hope for Madrid. They need to steady that Champions League ship though.

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Lionel Messi’s injuries are hampering season for him and Barcelona already

It’s normally the case that by the end of September Lionel Messi has yet to score a goal this season but the 2019/20 season has started out in a frustrating manner for the Barcelona legend.

Messi has been injured for the majority of Barcelona’s games and has only played twice in the league and once in the Champions League when Barcelona drew 0-0 away to Borussia Dortmund. So 3 games in and no goals and niggling injuries has certainly hampered Messi’s start and of course his team have suffered too.

Barca are in 4th place after seven games and have already lost two games, the good news perhaps is that despite a stop/start beginning to their season and the fact that their away form has been questionable they are only 2 points behind league leaders and eternal nemesis Real Madrid.

It just shows to go how important a player like Messi is, as Barcelona have simply not been the same without him. True at times Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez have taken games by the scruff of their neck but in general not even these two great players can add the missing touch to a team who are so dependent on the Argentine play maker.

Messi now has another injury after coming back from one and coach Ernesto Valverde who first thought it would be nothing serious is sweating over Messi’s fitness. Alas whilst Messi will miss the next league game and Champions League one, the blessing in disguise for the club is that Messi most probably will not be available during the international break for Argentina. Keeping him fresh for a possible return before the end of October. Well that is the plan anyway.

Valverde himself is under his own pressure and was lucky to keep his job last season after the team failed so miserably against Liverpool in the Champions League semi-final. But the board have stuck by him, after all he has won a few La Liga titles and done so in style.

Of course it has not all been bad for Messi who actually picked up the FIFA The Best award based on last season where yet again he scored over 50 goals on the way to helping Barca win the league title. A title this season would be even more remarkable given that Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid seem up for the challenge this season.

What is sure is that Barca need Messi back as soon as possible because if his injury problems continue it could well derail the club’s season and Messi could end up have quite a forgettable one.

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Could Martin Odegaard return to Real Madrid sooner than expected?

Not so long ago, Martin Odegaard found himself on the scrapheap alongside the likes of Freddy Adu, Kerlon and Gael Kakuta. Signed by Real Madrid as a prodigious teenager, the Norwegian was barely given a chance at the Santiago Bernabeu before he was written off. How such hastiness now looks foolish.

On loan from the capital at Real Sociedad, Odegaard has arguably been the best player in La Liga over the first few weeks of the season. The Norwegian, now 20 years old, has scored twice and has contributed one assist in six appearances for the Basque side, but those numbers don’t quite do justice to the impact he has made.

There was one particular moment in Real Sociedad’s 3-0 win over Alaves on Thursday night that illustrated the level at which Odegaard is playing right now. The Norwegian picked up the ball, beat two players and then threaded through a pass few would have seen let alone make for Mikel Oyarzabal to finish.

Odegaard is playing so well that some have already speculated whether he could be recalled early by Real Madrid. The Norwegian is on loan for the next two years at the Anoeta, but with Zinedine Zidane short of options in midfield he is surely already thinking about how he could use the 20-year-old in his own team.

“At the end of last season, I felt like it would be best for me not to return to Madrid,” Odegaard explained in an interview given just a few weeks ago. “At Madrid, there are lots of big-name players and there is a lot of competition. It was obvious that it was better for me to ask for a new loan, which I think the club also accepted. That’s why we decided so soon.”

Real Madrid’s signing of Odegaard all those years ago finally looks to be paying off, but they have yet to gain any benefit themselves. Instead it’s Real Sociedad, who sit just one point adrift of Real Sociedad at the top of La Liga, who are getting the best from the Norwegian as he matures into the superstar he always promised to be.

The discussion now being had at the Santiago Bernabeu is surely now focused on whether it would be better to keep Odegaard out on loan at Real Sociedad for the full duration of his loan spell or to recall him and start integrating him into the Real Madrid first team. If he continues playing in this manner, the decision might be made for them.

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Football turns back time as Lionel Messi wins The Best Fifa Award

Lionel Messi has won ‘The Best’ Fifa award ahead of Virgil van dijk and Cristiano Ronaldo and it feels as though the clock has been turned back.

This isn’t to say that Messi didn’t deserve it, because technically he is far and away the best player in the world, but it had been a few years since Messi had picked up any type of best footballer award and it will be very welcome to him that he has been recognised once more.

Messi was brilliant in the league as usual as Barcelona won another title and in all competitions he scored over 50 goals, which for his age and consistency is just simply breathtaking.

There would be disappointments for him of course. Namely the Champions League where it was clear that Barcelona threw away the chance to win it. Having a superb run into the semi final 2nd leg and leading Liverpool 3-0, they disintegrated at Anfield and lost 4-0 to lose 4-3 on aggregate. Had they kept their shape and nerve surely they would have beaten Tottenham in the final?

In the Copa del Rey, Barcelona were shocked and beaten in the final and the Copa America ended yet again in misery for him. But Messi for the first time in a few years has been recognised for his consistency in the past season, and that should be applauded.

Liverpool’s Virgil van dijk might feel aggreived along with betting punters as he was 1/5 to win the award, and his name did seem on it. Van dijk was instrumental in Liverpool’s Champions League win and the club came 2nd with 97 points in the Premier League too Manchester City. He had a wonderful season no doubt.

Missing from the gala event in Italy was Cristiano Ronaldo and given that he now plays in the country one has to wonder if information slipped out to the Juventus hit man that he wasn’t going to win the award, and so stayed away. If so this should be a story given that betting is permitted on the event, but it will probably go mostly unnoticed.

Ronaldo would have felt upset and after winning the league with Juventus and the UEFA Nations League with Portugal he might just have a point. Are UEFA declaring that the Nations League isn’t really that important after all? If it had been the Euro’s surely that would have been enough for Ronaldo to win the award.

What can be agreed at the end of the day is that the whittled down nominees are all great players and deserved to win, there can only be one and as good as he is maybe Messi’s victory has come as a surprise to some.

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Real Madrid need Eden Hazard to hit the ground running

It was somewhat remarkable that having spent around £300 million on new players Real Madrid started their La Liga campaign with not one of those new signings in their starting lineup. Indeed, Zinedine Zidane has been forced to rely on the same old faces over the past few weeks.

Injuries have crippled the capital club over the early part of the season, with Eden Hazard ruled out of action through a thigh injury. The Belgian was Real Madrid’s marquee signing this summer, joining from Chelsea in a transfer worth around £100 million. Many see him as the natural heir to Cristiano Ronaldo.

However, Hazard has been made to wait for his Real Madrid debut. Meanwhile, his new team has struggled to get going, winning just one of their opening three La Liga fixtures, drawing at home to Real Valladolid and losing away to Villarreal. We’re only just into September and Atletico Madrid already hold a five-point lead over their city rivals.

A familiar sense of malaise has taken grip at the Santiago Bernabeu with some already suggesting that Zidane could resign in frustration over the club’s favour to sign him a central midfielder (namely Paul Pogba) in the summer transfer window. Real Madrid’s troubles will take a long time to untangle.

And so Real Madrid need Hazard to hit the ground running whenever he does return from injury. Recent reports state that the Belgian is stepping up his recovery and could make his debut once the September international break is out of the way. That moment cannot come quick enough for the capital club.

Before his injury there were concerns over Hazard’s fitness. Indeed, the 28-year-old looked to have enjoyed himself a little too much over the summer, turning in a number of sluggish performances over pre-season. Nonetheless, Real Madrid have invested a lot of time, having chased him for over two years, and money in the Belgian. He will be expected to deliver from the very start.

It’s possible that Hazard could make his competitive debut for his new team against Levante. Real Madrid already have ground to make up at the top of the Spanish Liga table and they need their best players to step up and make a difference. Hazard is one of those players and having missed the first few games of the season he can’t afford to waste any more time.

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Barcelona thrash Real Betis as Antoine Griezmann arrives for the champions

With Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez injured for another game, the focus was on two things in La Liga: 1) How would Barcelona react after losing their first game of the season against Athletic Bilbao, 2) How would Antoine Griezmann perform?

Thankfully the Frenchman announce his arrival for the Spanish league champions and did it in style as Barcelona thrashed Real Betis 5-2 at the Camp Nou. Griezmann scored a brace and looked delighted to get off his mark with the club. The pressure was already growing for the World Cup winner after a move from Atletico Madrid which had cost the Catalan Giants over 100m euros. His first game for the club was poor and when Nabil Fekir opened the scoring for Betis it seemed as if Barcelona and Griezmann would be in real trouble.

They say timing is everything and in football it means a lot when you can equalise just before half time, it was scrappy and seemed to come off of Griezmann’s shin, but that mattered little, the fans were delighted for him and that goal seemed to reenergise the player who went on to have a very confident second half which led to him scoring again, a cracking goal too that swept into the net.

For many Griezmann was the man of the match and it mattered with the likes of Messi, Suarez and Ousmane Dembele out with injury. One wonders where Barca would be in the league had they not signed Griezmann? But what he did at the weekend was step up. It seems incredible to think that just 2 games in the pressure was massive on Griezmann to perform but this is what it is like at clubs like Barcelona, had he put in a no show again at home and Barca lost or even drew as a result, fans would have been venting their anger. But the storm has been calmed, caught in a tube and thrown away, and Griezmann and Barcelona can now look forward to their next game.

As for the league table it’s strange to see Barcelona in 9th place, though there has only been 2 games played. Sevilla and Griezmann’s former team Atletico Madrid top the league standings as they have won both of their opening games.

Barcelona’s next game will be against Osasuna. On paper that seems like 3 points but this game is away from home in Basque County just like the Bilbao match was a few weeks ago. Basque teams have an uncanny ability to turn it on against the likes of Barca and Real Madrid, and Barcelona will have to be on their game to get anything in that encounter.

One thing is for sure, it should be a cracking game.

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