Real Madrid’s clear out begins

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The news that Sergio Ramos has personally requested a transfer from Real Madrid should sound the alarm bells.

With a plethora of staff already being made available by the club, losing their talismanic captain just a year after Cristiano Ronaldo is a sure sign that Los Blancos are still on the way down.

Zinedine Zidane knew when he returned to the helm at the Santiago Bernabeu that this wouldn’t be an overnight job, but even he must’ve been surprised at just how far behind Barcelona his side have fallen. Continue reading

Real Madrid all but surrender late title bid with shock defeat to Girona

Real Madrid v Girona

Last Sunday morning, the Santiago Bernabeu bore witness to what may well have been the end of Real Madrid’s thin hopes of a late La Liga title challenge.

The Spanish giants and current Champions League holders stumbled to a 2-1 defeat to bottom-half side Girona in front of their disillusioned fans.

Girona are enjoying only their third season in the top flight of Spanish football having been promoted to La Liga for the first time in 2016.

Let’s take a look at the fantasy football heroes and zeroes after this surprise win for the Catalonian club.

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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Dani Ceballos’s Coming of Age Season

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992139-01-02There was an unnatural sense of excitement in the air as journalists whispered furiously amongst themselves at the end of an emphatic 3-1 win for Spain against Italy in the semifinals of the UEFA European U-21 Championship conducted in 2017. While the hero of the night undoubtedly was Atletico midfielder Saul who smashed a hat-trick under pressure, there was another youngster who had caught the eye with his spectacular performance, bewitching the audience with his tricks and mesmerising gameplay.

It was none other than 20-year-old Real Betis midfielder Dani Ceballos who made heads turn with his patience, vision and a perfectly weighted assist for Saul’s opener despite the presence of established players like Gerard Deulofeu, Héctor Bellerín. Italian midfielder Roberto Gagliardini lost his mind completely when nutmegged by Ceballos, going to the extent of knocking him to the ground in a desperate attempt to salvage some pride earning him a red card.

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Mariano is a clever signing for Real Madrid

Under Zinedine Zidane, a route between the young ranks and the first team was established at Real Madrid. It was a path followed by the likes of Marco Asensio, Jesus Vallejo, Marcos Llorente and Lucas Vazquez, but not Mariano Diaz, who was sold in the summer of 2017.

Now, the striker is back at the Santiago Bernabeu, returning to the Spanish capital after a year at Lyon, where he impressed, scoring 18 goals in 37 games. Real Madrid were desperate for a striker before the close of the summer transfer window and they have got one in the form of a familiar face.

Mariano

Some will argue that Mariano’s return is an illustration of Real Madrid’s wastefulness. Mariano was always a good squad player for them and arguably should have been kept last summer. The wisdom in allowing both Mariano and Alvaro Morata to leave in the same window was questionable, at best.

But at least Real Madrid have now corrected their initial mistake. Mariano will provide competition in attack for the likes of Karim Benzema and even Gareth Bale. The loss of Cristiano Ronaldo left Real Madrid a little light in the attacking positions, but now they have Mariano, along with Borja Mayoral, to at least ease the burden on Benzema in particular.

Benzema struggled at times last season, scoring just five goals in La Liga all season long. The Frenchman might even have left Real Madrid had Ronaldo not beat him to departing the club, with the club’s notoriously tough-to-please support making a habit of whistling and jeering the 30-year-old.

From Mariano’s perspective, there might be a chance for him to establish himself as a first team figure. This Real Madrid team are in the midst of a transition following the exit of Ronaldo and Zidane at the end of last season. Right the way through the squad, there are youngsters looking to break into the first team over the coming campaign and Mariano is one such name on that list.

On the basis of his performances over the first few games of the new season, Benzema has been revitalised by his break over the summer. The sale of Ronaldo to Juventus has given him more freedom across the frontline. He no longer has to make way for the Portuguese forward. Real Madrid’s formation is now built around Benzema.

Mariano was close to joining Sevilla, with Lyon accepting a bid for the striker before Real Madrid came in with their own offer. But Julen Lopetegui made a personal play to sign Mariano. “Julen called me and told me he would be happy if I came back,” Mariano explained. “A great part of it was when he told me was counting on me.”

Signed as a back-up option, don’t be surprised if Mariano ends up playing an important role at Real Madrid this season. The young striker has proved his doubters, which included Real Madrid wrong at every turn.

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Real Madrid are hopeful that Mariano can follow in the footsteps of Alvaro Morata

Mariano

The very instant news of Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure from Real Madrid was about to become a reality, Madridistas were already compiling their shopping lists for a potential replacement before the words ‘communicado official’ could even be tweeted.

Finding someone to adequately fill the boots of arguably the greatest player in the club’s history would be a tall order, yet the names thought to be in play this summer provided a faint glimmer of hope. Players such as Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Harry Kane, Mauro Icardi and Robert Lewandowski were just some of the most frequently mentioned, as securing the services of at least one was seen not only as a possibility, but a downright certainty.

Then, the weeks rolled along and nothing happened. Nobody was signed. Florentino Perez’s briefcase of cash rumored to be somewhere around the entire GDP of Malta remained unopened. Defcon five had been initiated by supporters convinced of Madrid’s impending doom. After all, could you really trust a Gareth Bale to stay healthy, or a Karim Benzema: scorer of 16 La Liga goals combined over the past two seasons, to pick up the slack in front of net?

Much to dismay of Madridistas, most of the aforementioned targets failed to become available. This left Madrid with two options: overpay for a player of similar profile to the ones already on the squad, or use a measured approach this window and instead bring back a familiar face to provide depth. Los Blancos ultimately chose the latter, ripping Mariano Diaz from the dead, lifeless fingers of Sevilla.

Having risen through their youth ranks, Mariano showed off his ability for the Real Madrid first team in the 2016-17 season; scoring five goals in 14 appearances. Behind the likes of Benzema and Alvaro Morata, chances appeared to be limited so Mariano opted to join Lyon last July and enjoyed a stellar campaign in Ligue 1, netting 18 times in 34 outings.

As part of their agreement with the French club, Real Madrid retained not only 35 percent of Mariano’s playing rights, but they also included a clause that gave them the right to re-sign the player if they matched any future bid for his services. As a result, the €30 million fee Lyon agreed with Sevilla saw the European champions only have to pay €20m to fortify their depth behind Benzema.

It was a shrewd piece of business by Florentino Perez. Not only is Mariano a bargain in this type of market; he will also require little time to adapt having already spent so much time here. Furthermore, returning to Madrid has always been a goal of the forward, evidenced by comments Mariano made last November.

“I have a five-year contract with Lyon but going back to Madrid would be incredible, even if I decided it was best to leave the club in the summer,” he said. It was the correct decision by Madrid to let me go: for me, for them, for Lyon. But it is true that it would be a dream for me to return in the future.”

Now, the players dream will come true and Madrid are hopeful that Mariano’s return could mirror that of one-time Merengue, Alvaro Morata. Similarly brought through the Castilla youth ranks, Morata would feature sporadically for the first team from 2010-2014. Fed up with his lack of opportunities, Madrid granted his wish and sold him to Juventus for €20m, while still possessing a buy-back option in the future. Morata saw ample game time in Turin, allowing him to build the the type of confidence that was instrumental for him to score 27 goals over two seasons.

Madrid were naturally impressed by his progression, so much so, that they exercised their buy-back option for a reasonable fee of €30 million. Coming back as a player re-born, Morata would have a stellar campaign as Benzema’s primary backup; scoring 20 goals in all comps as Madrid captured the league title and the Champions League. Still, Morata was not pleased at the prospect of going into another campaign stuck behind the shadow of the Frenchman.

Consequently, he made his feelings known to Perez and all parties agreed that a change would be best. Madrid would eventually find a willing partner in Chelsea, agreeing to a whopping transfer fee of €67m for the Spaniard. Combining that with the other business conducted with Juve, Perez had essentially made €57m on a striker who was never realistically going to be a full-time starter for his club, while also getting the best season of his career out of him.

To this point, Mariano’s journey appears to be trending the exact same way Morata’s did. With a full season spent at Lyon, he was able to develop integral parts of his game not only physically, but mentally as well. This bodes nicely for a Madrid side that lacks the profile of a striker who is ruthless in front of goal. Given the hallowed number 7 shirt will only enhance expectations of the forward, but if a Galactico is brought in next summer and Mariano has a career season, all will be forgotten.

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Ligue 1 picks for match day 23

We look ahead to the weekends fixtures and anticipate who might be the star performers across the action of match day 23!

Anthony Lopes

The 27-year-old Portuguese goalkeeper has been one of Lyon’s star performers this season and will be eyeing a spot in the national team’s squad as they head off to Russia this summer.

Up against Bordeaux, he’ll be hoping to make it up to double figures for clean sheets for the season.

Gabriel Silva
Saint-Etienne may be near the bottom of the table but come up against the most gun-shy team in the division.

Gabriel Silva has kept four clean sheets in his 11 appearances for the club, so could well be worth consideration for this weekends action. Continue reading