Real Madrid: Total Overhaul?

Few football clubs have enjoyed prolonged glory like Spain’s Real Madrid. In fact, Real is considered one of the most prestigious clubs in the football world, and across all sports fields for that matter. Real achieved this acclaim in a different way than most other clubs, utilizing socios, or club members, who own and operate all facets of the franchise.

Founded in 1902, Real Madrid was estimated in 2019 to be worth 3.8 billion Euros as the second highest-earning football club in the world. For any football pundit, this information isn’t surprising. After all, in their 118 years of existence, Real Madrid lifted 33 domestic league titles, 19 Copa del Rey trophies, a remarkable 13 Champions League trophies, and 4 FIFA Club World Cup titles. Some of these wins stretch back over a century ago, like the club’s first Copa del Rey triumph in 1905.

Real has entertained the fans with some of the greatest athletes of all time, as well. Top goal scorers and creative stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Raul, Alfredo di Stefano, and Karim Benzema called Madrid home for years. And players like Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos have appeared in upwards of 500 football matches wearing the Real Madrid jersey.

Others, like Ronaldo- the Brazilian or original one as some call him, Luka Modríc, and Cristiano Ronaldo received their prestigious Ballon D’Or awards while on the team. In fact, to this day, Real Madrid’s head coach, Zinedine Zidane, is one of his generation’s greatest players, and won the UEFA Club Footballer of the Year award in 2002 while playing for the club he now leads.

 Future Plans

Most recently, Real Madrid have been associated with the superstar power of Cristiano Ronaldo. A dynamic and powerful goal scorer with an unstoppable drive, Ronaldo led a highly talented cast for nine years at Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. The team flew high and attracted record number of fans to the stadium, remote viewership of games, and title wins, leading many to consider this era as Ronaldo’s.

However, in 2018 Ronaldo moved to Juventus to play in Italy’s Serie A. Despite this move, Real Madrid have not crumbled, though president Florentino Pérez seems likely to address the club at its foundational roots in an attempt to revitalize the team following their leader’s departure.

Meanwhile, in the US, NBA franchise the Golden State Warriors have also recently overhauled their mediocre team, drawing in star players as well as solid, vetted athletes. In fact, the Golden State Warriors have a near monopoly on NBA basketball odds in the US since winning the NBA Championship in 2015, 2016, and again in 2018. It seems Real Madrid is looking to rebuild its squad in a similar manner, though this change isn’t motivated by disappointing play. It’s preventative, if anything.

 Stadium & Roster

First, Pérez has shown interest in demolishing Estadio Santiago Bernabéu in order to begin construction on a ‘digital stadium of the future’. However, his comments have left some fans in mourning, and others confused. While many will mourn the loss of a stadium as well-loved as Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, most are waiting for the club to roll out its plans to understand what exactly a ‘digital stadium’ entails.

The stadium is set to have a capacity of 90,000. Other plans for the updated stadium include a wrap-around facade onto which images can be projected, retractable roofs that will cover all seating, and additional leisure and entertainment activities within, like shopping and a museum.

However, Perez also seems hellbent on revamping Real Madrid’s once-motley crew. While some franchises, like the Golden State Warriors, have to start from scratch to build a strong team, Madrid won’t face such challenges. While rebuilding a team is often undertaken for many top clubs that lose a star player, Real Madrid is full of star power.

Still, some athletes may be moving on. Rumor has it that in order to welcome in shining young recruits, Zidane may be letting go of players like James Rodriquez, Gareth Bale, Lucas Vasquez, and Mariano Diaz. Even important figures such as Marcelo and Luka Modric also face uncertain future despite historic wins with the club.

The above moves could be made in order to welcome new talent like Eduardo Camavinga, a 17-year-old midfielder with great promise. This comes after attempts to land Paul Pogba from Manchester United have fluctuated between cold and hoot. There is also interest in Raul Jiménez, a forward who may be able to pick up some of the pieces in attack in case Benzema leaves.

Zinedine Zidane’s hasn’t figured out Real Madrid’s midfield conundrum

It wasn’t known how the surprise defeat to Real Sociedad in the Copa del Rey during the week would affect Real Madrid, but their 4-1 away win over Osasuna on Sunday allayed any fears over any lasting damage, giving the capital club a six-point lead ahead of Barcelona at the top of La Liga with the Catalans set to face Real Betis on Sunday evening.

Indeed, it was an emphatic response from Zinedine Zidane’s side, especially after falling behind early on. Osasuna made the first 20 minutes tough for the visitors to Pamplona, but Real Madrid adjusted and came storming back, adding some gloss to the scoreline late on in the second half.

However, the match still gave Zidane something to think about. While many areas of his team are working there, Real Madrid still have something of a midfield conundrum. Against Atletico Madrid, the Frenchman picked five central operators in the hope that they would help control the derby. All they did, though, was clog up the centre of the pitch with changes made at half time in accordance.

Against Osasuna, Zidane opted for a lighter midfield, with Gareth Bale surprisingly selected over Toni Kroos despite the Welshman being ostracised recently. The idea was that this would free up space for the likes of Isco and Luka Modric to drive into, but with few bodies in the centre of the pitch Real Madrid struggled for control.

Real Madrid’s midfield has been something of a contradiction this season. While Casemiro, Kroos, Modric and Fede Valverde have all excelled in recent months, particularly in the case of the latter, Zidane has yet to settle on the shape and system to get the absolute best out of them. He seems unsure on which three to pick for the biggest, most important games.

In the end, Isco and Modric used the extra space offered to them against Osasuna to their advantage, putting the tiring hosts to the sword in the second half. But against higher calibre sides they might have been played around. Real Madrid’s high press wasn’t up to much. With the Spanish title race set to intensity over the next few weeks, and the Champions League soon to return for the round of 16 stage, Zidane will surely have to settle on what he wants his midfield unit to look like.

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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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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

kondogbia

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.