Real Madrid finally finding momentum after sticky start to season

There were those who doubted Zinedine Zidane would even survive the last international break. The two-week break after the defeat to Real Mallorca left Real Madrid president Florentino Perez with a long time to fester on what was the club’s worst result of the season so far. If Real Madrid were making progress under Zidane, it was difficult to see it.

Since that defeat, though, the capital club have finally found their groove. There is a sense that Real Madrid are starting to build something, underlined by their comprehensive 4-0 win over Eibar on Saturday and the sight of Zidane’s men at the top of La Liga for a few hours before Barcelona’s win over Celta Vigo on the same night.

Zidane is finally settling on a favoured lineup, most notably in the centre of the pitch. Luka Modric has returned from injury, but he is having to fight for his position alongside Toni Kroos, with Casemiro and Fede Valverde currently favoured for two of the three central midfield spots. Valverde in particular has been a revelation. The Uruguayan’s emergence at the Santiago Bernabeu is a big reason behind Real Madrid’s recent resurgence.

In attack, Rodrygo has electrified the Spanish and European game, scoring a hat-trick in the Champions League win over Galatasaray during the week. Indeed, the Brazilian teenager has become Real Madrid’s ‘Next Big Thing’ over the past weeks, making the position on the right side of Zidane’s front three his own.

Then there’s Eden Hazard. The Belgian has faced his critics since signing for Chelsea in the summer transfer window, with some even questioning his fitness levels. It is certainly true that Hazard has taken his time in growing accustomed to his new surroundings, but there are signs that he is starting to find his feet.

Hazard was at his sparkling best in the 4-0 win over Eibar on Saturday. Most encouraging, from a Real Madrid point of view, is the understanding with Karim Benzema the Belgian seems to have developed. That is a relationship Zidane should seek to build around. It could be the key to Real Madrid’s season.

Since that defeat to Real Mallorca, Real Madrid have gone five games without conceding, scoring 16 in the process. Zidane was widely seen as a dead man walking when the last international break arrived. Now that we are heading into another international break, the last of the year, Zidane and his side have a very different complexion.

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Would Paul Pogba be a good fit for Real Madrid?

It threatens to become the transfer saga that will define this summer in European football. There has been smoke for months and the closer we get to the end of the season, the fire is starting to appear. Paul Pogba is, reportedly, a target for Real Madrid and the player himself has done nothing to distance himself from rumours linking him with an imminent exit from Manchester United.

The Frenchman’s Old Trafford career has been a difficult one to decipher. It is widely agreed that Pogba is United’s best outfield player and yet his inconsistency since returning to the club from Juventus has infuriated and frustrated. Now, there is a growing acceptance at Man Utd that if Real Madrid come calling with a mega-money offer this summer, they should sell.

Paul Pogba

This assumes, however, that Pogba will fare better at Real Madrid than he has at Manchester United. Is that really the case? Real Madrid already boast one of the best midfield units in the European game, so where would the Frenchman fit? Is he really what the Spanish giants need at this time?

Well, perhaps. It is certainly the case that the midfield unit of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric have delivered great success for Real Madrid over the years, but at least in the case of the latter two, age is catching up with them. Modric, in particular, has become a shadow of his former self, enduring the worst season of his career.

It’s entirely possible, maybe even expected, that Modric will leave the Santiago Bernabeu this summer, with Inter Milan believed to be a potential destination for the Croatian. Kroos could also leave. The German has long been linked with a switch to the Premier League. There would be no shortage of suitors.

This could open up space for Pogba to fill. Real Madrid have become a stagnant side over the past season and the Frenchman would help shape things up, giving them some much-needed drive through the middle of the pitch. If Zinedine Zidane is intent on playing a 4-3-3 system, as seems to be the case, then Pogba would fit in on the left side of that midfield trio.

That’s where Pogba excelled in his time at Juventus and Zidane could replicate that environment to get the best out of a player with the capacity to dominate games. Real Madrid are set for a summer overhaul and there’s reason to believe Pogba would give them something they don’t currently have.

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La Liga’s top picks for fantasy football this weekend

 

La Liga

All La Liga teams are in action this weekend so let’s take a look at the top fantasy La Liga picks for the upcoming games.

Starting on Friday evening, there are 20 La Liga fixtures to look forward to.

Goalkeeper – David Soria (Getafe) – 6.0 million

I’ve gone with Getafe’s David Soria for the goalkeeper spot. Getafe are at home to bottom team, Huesca, so a clean sheet is very much a possibility for Jose Bordalas’ side. Soria has 46 points this season.

How can Barcelona’s Lionel Messi only be the 5th best player in the world?

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The awards season can usually give us surprise leanings and results, although at least for the past decade the winner’s have usually been right. But 2018 can be seen as an exception. Lucas Modric swept all before him in 2018, not trophy wise with his club and country but on a personal level trophy wise, but did he truly deserve accolade after accolade? Then there was the quite bizarre announcement at the Ballon d’Or awards that Lionel Messi wouldn’t win, ok this was half expected given that Messi had not won other awards, but then they went one step further and gave him 5th place, really, 5th place.

First let’s analyse why Modric should never have won the trophy. To do this we first must point out that Modric is a superb player who had a great year. This included being a part of the Real Madrid team that won the Champions League for a 3rd time in a row. And then being a part of the Croatia team that got to a World Cup final. Those are fantastic achievements. But at the same time it also disregards Real Madrid’s domestic season, fought over 38 hard games and 9 months, where they lost the title once again to Barcelona. Indeed Madrid didn’t even finish 2nd and trailed Barcelona by a whopping 17 points. But in a World Cup year- why should that matter?

If the awards were to be influenced by a World Cup why didn’t Antoine Griezmann win the trophy? A player who was influential in the World Cup knock out goals, dominant and confident in midfield and scoring important goals and winning the World Cup. Was Europe on the awards minds? Well be mindful that Griezmann won the Europa League and then when his side Atletico met Real in the Super Cup clash, Atletico won that too.

It may sound controversial but Modric sweeping the awards was set in stone after the World Cup final where FIFA gave the sympathy award of best player at the tournament to Modric, who had just lost the World Cup. Had Croatia won it, Griezmann would have won best player- do we need evidence? Go back to 2014 when Lionel Messi won the best player award when his Argentina side had lost the final to Germany. The look on Messi’s face said it all.

Now to Messi himself and how could he have come 5th in the world? On his day he is a better player than the four that finished above him. But what else could have been the reason? Over Modric there might be a case given that Modric won the Champions League and got to a World Cup final. Although Messi can claim to have won the league and cup, so a domestic double and let’s not forget at his age of 31 he just averaged his best ever games to goals ratio.

Next up is Cristiano Ronaldo, again a Champions League winner. But Messi has that double and a personal better season over him and both did not do well at the World Cup. Griezmann and Mbappe follow next and they did have a better season than Messi trophy wise with World Cup, Europa League, French League and domestic cups between them and yet they only finished 3rd and 4th.

The awards season used to give the best out to the best players. This year that trend has shifted mostly because new blood was wanted after Messi and Ronaldo dominated for a decade, but although Modric is a very special player, Griezmann or Mbappe should have won the award and Messi certainly shouldn’t have been out of the top 3.

Defensive issues for Solari ahead of Valencia test

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Santiago Solari knew that life as Real Madrid manager would not be an easy ride, but following his first defeat last weekend, he now faces a huge La Liga clash against Valencia on Saturday.

The defending European champions were defeated 3-1 away at Eibar in La Liga Game Week 13, ending Solari’s honeymoon period of four unbeaten games in all competitions since taking over from Zinedine Zidane.

The Argentinian welcomed back first team stars Raphael Varane and Marcelo to his defence, following injury, but they were unable to keep Eibar out at the Estadio Municipal de Ipurua.

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Caution should be applied as Gareth Southgate’s England reach UEFA Nations League semi finals

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England have had a superb calendar year which has culminated in reaching their second competition semi final in a row, the UEFA Nations League after this summers World Cup. Ironically to do so they had to beat Croatia, the team that they lost to at the World Cup.

The game against Croatia which was held at Wembley Stadium in London was awash with revenge, but it was the away team that took the lead, and with just thirty minutes left it looked like England would yet again lose to the World Cup runners up. But an equaliser followed and Harry Kane got the winner and it’s true that the weight of that World Cup loss was lifted.

The nation is lifted and England will now go to play in the semi finals in Portugal next June- their opponents will not be known until December when the draw is made.

The press have put down England’s opponents. Croatia have been called wannabe’s whilst there was plenty of jibes at Germany after they were relegated from League A. The question though is does any of this really matter? After all Croatia did knock England out of the World Cup and did reach the final. Germany won the World Cup in 2014, and although they have had a rough 12 months will bounce back. Some respect needs to be afforded to these teams.

Imagine if England go on to win the Nations Cup, it would be the first real trophy England would have won since winning the World Cup in 1966- no we are not going to count the Le Tournai tournament in 1998 where the winning captain Alan Shearer had a face like thunder. If England win, the country may just go into hyperbole. But hold your horses, this isn’t the European Championships and it isn’t the World Cup, it is just a glorified competition borne from UEFA that just adds more football to an over inflated season.

In some ways you can’t blame coach Gareth Southgate and the players- they play too win, and there is a trophy and prestige to be won. You beat who is in front of you and now there is an extra final to be played, so of course you are going to take it seriously. But should pundits and fans? Does there not come a time where we can separate the competitions that matter? If we fixate over every small competition are we all just settling for second best? So if England do win it, congratulations, but hopefully there won’t be an everlasting love in, after all it is a competition that just feels like batched glorified friendlies with points.

Southgate is a good coach, a good listener and has a real chemistry with his players. This squad wants to play for him, and let’s not be churlish here, England does have a very good team, good enough to win Euro 2020? Right now that would be in balance, but in 2 years time with progress made and no hitches, England have every chance. Don’t fall for second best has to be the mindset here. Play these games, win them and move on to what really matters.

 

Do the world’s best players really have to play in Spain to win FIFA World player of the year?

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Chelsea star Eden Hazard who has been linked with Real Madrid joked about it in a press conference and many professional footballers have brought it up in recent weeks that to win the best player in the world award you have to be playing in Spain, but is that true?

A quick glance at who has won the player of the year in recent seasons would suggest that it is very true that players have come from Spain. A player has not won the award outside of Spain since 2008. Meaning that the last 10 winners have come from players playing in La Liga.

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi has 5 of those wins and ex Real Madrid player Cristiano Ronaldo has 4 wins. Luka Modric broke the mould this year in winning the award now called FIFA The Best awards. Modric incidentally became the first player to win the award that wasn’t Messi or Ronaldo since 2007.

So yes on reflection it does seem that you need to play in La Liga, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Anyone that has followed football throughout the last decade could not have ignored the achievements of both Messi and Ronaldo who have brought the game onto another level. Had one been playing in Spain and one in Italy as they do now we could be sure to think that the awards would have been split between those countries. Simply put these two players have been so good that the awards could not ignore them and it is just coincidence that they both played in Spain.

Since 2008 Messi and Ronaldo have dominated football and have won 49 trophies between them including 8 Champions Leagues. They have scored countless goals the likes we haven’t seen since the 1950s and have dazzled with their play. Both players have simply been very deserving of their achievements and awards.

Hazard may have been joking or he may have not but one of the huge factors that other players from the major leagues have not won the award in the last decade is that awards tend to also go to how your team has performed. It’s why even though Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah came third in the voting that he was never realistically in with a chance of winning the award, as Liverpool won no trophies last season.

Hazard probably has little chance to win the award next year given that Chelsea are competing in the Europa League. Even if they win it there is no guarantee the award is coming his way, you only have to ask Antoine Griezmann about that, who won it last season with Atletico Madrid.

To win the award you must perform exceptionally well, be an attacking player and your club really has to win the Champions League and that is the real definition of winning the award not what country you play in.

 

Modric: Worthy of all the individual awards?

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real-madrid-010918nPortuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentine legendary footballer Lionel Messi have dominated world football over the years with their supreme consistency and match-winning abilities.

However, it has all changed this season with Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric awarded the FIFA Men’s Player of 2018 award at the expense of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi who were the other 2 finalists on the podium. It was all the more shocking considering the fact that Lionel Messi was not nominated amongst the Top 3 nominees for the first time since 2006. Not only this, the Croatian even went on to pip the Portuguese supremo and Liverpool’s maestro for the UEFA player of the year award on the back of an incredible season.

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Casemiro- The Next Makelele

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14962557423749The Santiago Bernabeu wore a festive look with the club supporters in a state of excitement. It seemed as if Christmas had come early. There was every reason to believe so with their beloved team Real Madrid all set to battle it out against fierce rivals Barcelona at home, trailing the latter by just 3 points. A win at home had every chance of generating the momentum necessary for a league challenge.

Barcelona manager Luis Enrique had opted to rest Argentine superstar Lionel Messi who had been a major threat in previous fixtures scoring goals and assists with great splendour which was nothing short of music to the ears. At the same time, Spanish manager Rafa Benitez had fielded a lineup consisting of some of the most attacking minded midfielders in the business like Luka Modric, James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos.

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Asensio- Real Madrid’s next Galactico

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15043574173140Real Madrid president Florentino Perez is hardly the man expected to take a decision from his heart. The 71-year-old enjoys a reputation of being extremely cold-hearted and emotionally detached when it comes to taking decisions catering to the interests of the club. Some of the finest managers in football history like Carlo Ancelloti, Jose Mourinho, Vicente del Bosque, Rafael Benitez will willingly testify to the fact that dealing with a shrewd tactician like Perez is no mean feat in itself.

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