Is Rafa Benitez ruining his career at Newcastle United?

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How Rafa Benitez is still manager at Newcastle United is anyone’s guess. He has had major run ins with owner Mike Ashley and has not been given the budget to match his transfer requests after steering the team to Premier League football.

Benitez has been a real servant to the club and let’s not make any mistake about it Newcastle are a big club with a fine stadium and a fantastic set of supporters. But did Benitez make a huge error joining the club and has he overstayed his welcome?

It all must have hit home for him on Boxing Day when his troubled side travelled to Anfield to play Liverpool. Just over 10 years ago he was the boss man at Liverpool where he oversaw 2 Champions League finals with The Reds winning in 2005 in that infamous final with AC Milan where they came back from 3-0 down to win the trophy. Utterly memorable times. Fast forward to 2018 and Benitez saw his side lose 4-0 to Jurgen Klopp’s team one that is still unbeaten for the season, it was easy to feel sorry for how far Benitez has fallen managing a team that are in the bottom six of the league and could be relegated.

And relegated is word that Benitez has used on more than one occasion this season. Benitez has been manager of Newcastle for 2 years following his sacking at Real Madrid that lasted for 7 months after him and his coaching team made fatal errors. One of them at Madrid was fielding an ineligible player in a Copa del Rey match that meant the club were thrown out of that seasons competition. It was a schoolboy error at the biggest club in the world and could not be tolerated.

Somewhat one could argue that Benitez shied away from La Liga and the big leagues to take a job with Newcastle who were at that stage in the Championship, that decision in and of itself seemed like a shock one. But his decision seemed justified as The Magpies under his guidance were promoted to the Premier League.

But it has been a hard slog back in the league this season and Benitez has won just 42.7% of his games with the club. This is his lowest win rate since coaching in the second division of the Spanish league 21 years ago.

At 58 Benitez has time on his hands and he has at least another 10 years maybe more in the game as a coach. But one has to wonder if he has damaged his resume somewhat by sticking with Newcastle. Not seen as a lack of respect for this great team but they are not amongst the elite of some of the clubs that Benitez has coached in his career. Some believe this will be his final season with Newcastle, he has the support of the fans and after the club was relegated he stayed with them, not many coaches of his experience would have done that.

Benitez remains a very special manager but will some of the bigger clubs believe that to be true and will these past few seasons be thought of as the wilderness years for him?

From Real Madrid to Manchester City who will win the Champions League?

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The draw for the last 16 of the Champions League, Europe’s premier competition has been made this week and this has given us a clearer view of the teams who should be advancing further into the competition and aiming to be crowned the first champions not to be Real Madrid since 2015. Below we will take a look at the match ups.

Schalke v Manchester City

Let’s be honest Schalke will be the clear underdogs to advance to the last 8 in this match up. They finished 2nd to Porto in their group and were beating by them 3-1 in their only defeat of the group stages. They will need a positive result at home with the 2nd leg being away. Manchester City started slow in the groups and couldn’t beat Lyon in two attempts but everything is clicking for the Premier League champions who finished 1st in their group.

Prediction: Manchester City to win.

Atletico Madrid v Juventus

Juventus one of the early Champions League favourites have been handed a very difficult tie in the last 16. Atletico will be a very tough opponent and Juventus will have to have the luck not to have key players out. Expect a low scoring and physical game. Winning the Champions League has become the old lady’s priority though and they should just have enough to get through this huge test.

Prediction: Juventus to win.

Manchester United v PSG

Everyone has been quick to write off Manchester United but that was when Jose Mourinho was in charge. Since his sacking the team will have a fresh perspective and will be relaxed for this game. At their best United can give PSG a good game. Still if Neymar and Kylian Mbappe can keep up their good form, PSG will be expected to get through these games which could see many goals scored, in two exciting matches.

Prediction: PSG to win.

Tottenham Hotspur v Borussia Dortmund

Tottenham have not performed as well as they would like in the Champions League compared to the Premier League. These games will be of two different stories, where Spurs can win their home game. But the atmosphere in Germany is set to be too much and too rich for this team, and Dortmund who have been brilliant, resilient and strong this season will be very difficult to beat.

Prediction: Borussia Dortmund to win

Lyon v Barcelona

You never quite know what to expect from Lyon and if they were to win this first leg nobody should be too surprised. But Barcelona have too much quality for the French team, who are not even at their best like a decade ago. Barcelona can score many goals in these two matches which will be open and attacking, and Barca will use their home advantage in the 2nd leg to drive their point home.

Prediction: Barcelona to win

Roma v Porto

This is a really even tie where both teams will fancy their chances of progression. Porto will remain the favourites as they have become very difficult to beat at home, but do not look the best on the road. In a very close game we expect Porto to just make it through.

Prediction: Porto to win

Ajax v Real Madrid

Could there be a shock on the cards? Will Real Madrid exit the Champions League for the first time in 3 years without winning it. We think there could be a shock here. Ajax have their best team since they last won the competition in 1995 and it should be noted that they didn’t lose a game in their group, even though they had to play Bayern Munich. We usually get some shocks in the competition and this could be one. Real Madrid have been very average since the departures of both Zinedine Zidane as coach and the great Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus.

Prediction: Ajax to win

Liverpool v Bayern Munich

Had this game taken place two years ago we could say Bayern Munich all the way, but Liverpool have the tools to win this game. They are incredibly difficult to beat at home and this side can also score goals away in the very big games when it really matters. Plus they have a German Jurgen Klopp as manager who knows Bayern inside out. Bayern have been poor for their standards in the Bundesliga this season, and this will be a very difficult game for them.

Prediction: Liverpool to win

 

 

 

Is it time for Isco to leave Real Madrid?

In the grand scheme of things, Real Madrid’s home defeat to CSKA Moscow meant little. For the defending European champions, it was a dead rubber. It might have been humiliating to be so comprehensively dismantled by inferior opposition on their own patch, but Real’s place in the last 16 of the Champions League had already been secured. For one player, though, it was a breaking point.

Having been booed and jeered all night long, Isco snapped. He mouthed ‘what do you want?’ to the notoriously tough to please Santiago Bernabeu crowd, raising his arms in complete and utter exasperation. This reaction had been building for quite some time. Given all that the playmaker has faced this season, it was always likely that he would give some back.

Isco

Isco has been a peripheral figure for Santiago Solari since he took over from Julen Lopetegui. Lopetegui wanted to build his Real Madrid team around Isco given the success he enjoyed using the playmaker in his Spain team in the build up to the World Cup. Solari, though, hasn’t been so keen on the 26-year-old, who has spent the past few weeks on the bench.

Even when Isco has been given game time, he has underwhelmed. He has the look of a player who has given up. Speculation continues to build over his future at Real Madrid, with a move to the Premier League frequently mooted. Manchester City are reportedly interested. It’s becoming harder to envisage how Isco will turn things around at the Santiago Bernabeu.

A fresh start might be what he needs. Isco wasn’t the most natural of signings for Real Madrid back when he joined from Malaga in 2013. He was a different sort of player to the kind they were used to at the Santiago Bernabeu at that time, but his arrival was meant to herald a new age for the capital giants.

It hasn’t worked out that way, though, and now it seems that Isco and Real Madrid might be ready for a parting of the ways. At 26, Isco needs to make the most of the next few years. These are supposed to be his peak years and yet he is spending them sat on the bench at the Santiago Bernabeu.

A move to City would surely appeal. Pep Guardiola would know how to get more out of a player like Isco. The Premier League champions could use a wildcard like him in the final third. Guardiola and Isco would be good for each other.

Isco wouldn’t come cheap. Real Madrid would likely look for upwards of £50 million, at least, for the playmaker. Still, at that price there would be plenty of suitors. Isco has his admirers, it’s just that not many of them are currently at the Santiago Bernabeu. It might be time for him to leave them behind for everyone’s good.

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Chelsea star Eden Hazard is wrong to talk about Real Madrid

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Player loyalty is often questioned in the modern age and that topic will rise up again and should be the priority with Chelsea fans after star playmaker and goal scorer Eden Hazard’s recent comments.

The Belgian international who has clearly been Chelsea’s best player of the past couple of years said that he dreamt to play for Real Madrid. Adding that sometimes he thinks he should join whilst sometimes he thinks he shouldn’t. To top it all he added that Real were the best team in the world.

Now let’s talk about ambition first. Of course most football players want to play for the ‘great’ Real Madrid at one point in their career and it would be churlish to deny them that right if they are good enough which Hazard clearly is. How many professional footballers in history can say that they have done so? At Madrid Hazard would shine and he would consistently win trophies and it would be a crowning moment of his career that is easy to understand.

But then there is the flipside of this argument and it comes in the form of respect. Respect to the club you are at and respect to the loyal fans who adore you. Sure Hazard was just being honest in saying Real are the best team, but why not use some diplomacy just like he does and every other player does in post match interviews? By coming out with a blatant hard line truth it feels he is simply wooing Real Madrid president Florentino Perez to get him. Plus shouldn’t he be publicly saying that Chelsea are the best team?

It just seems off that Hazard would come out with statements that he sometimes thinks about joining Madrid when maybe he doesn’t realise just how lucky he is at Chelsea. Here he is seen like a footballing God, at Madrid he will just be another player in the pond. But in some ways that doesn’t exactly matter, it seems inevitable that Hazard will join Madrid probably next summer given how Perez has kept the budget tight this past summer at the club.

It’s just that attitude that has come along with it. In comparison if Paul Pogba says good things about Barcelona, row no, 1,009 would flare up with him and manager Jose Mourinho. The bottom line surely is to zip it, and believe 100% in the club that you are at for the time being. If anything it feels like a slap in the face for Chelsea’s fans.

 

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

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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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La Liga Weekend Picks – Round 2

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The first weekend of the season in La Liga saw Real Madrid, Barcelona, Levante, Real Socieded, Sevilla, Huesca and Athletic pick up victories, while Valencia and Atletico Madrid shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw. Let’s take a look at which players could shine for their clubs this weekend.

GK – Oier (Levante)
Oier was one of five goalkeepers in La Liga to pick up seven points at the weekend, helping Levante win 3-0 away at Real Betis. Valued at 5.50m with a promising set of fixtures coming up, the 28-year-old could be worth looking at.

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Unai Emery must show he’s up to the job at PSG

It didn’t take long for the sniping to begin. The French newspapers the morning after Paris Saint-Germain’s crushing Champions League defeat to Real Madrid were filled with dressing room disgruntlement and backroom scrutiny of Unai Emery and the tactics he employed at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Indeed, PSG were largely passive against the defending European champions, failing to make the most of the opportunity they were presented. Emery already had a reputation in Spain for being something of a big game coward, for bottling the big occasion, and what happened last month only added to that reputation.

And so Emery’s job is very much on the line in Tuesday’s Champions League last 16 second leg. With the deficit standing at 3-1, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that PSG could still overturn Real Madrid, even without Neymar. But elimination from the competition would surely spell the end for the Spaniard in the French capital.

The Champions League is, after all, where PSG want to make their mark. They didn’t spend £200 million on Neymar to retain the Ligue 1 title. They have their sights set on the very top of the European game, with the club’s Qatari owners disappointed that they haven’t already scaled such heights.

Everything looked to be in PSG’s favour this season, with the field as open as it has been for years. Real Madrid, even taking their recent upturn in form into account, aren’t the formidable force they were a year ago, with Barcelona still in transition under Ernesto Valverde. Manchester City are something of an unknown quantity, with Bayern Munich enduring a mixed campaign, sacking a manager earlier in the campaign.

For many, PSG were the favourites to win the whole thing after the group stages. They were the competition’s top scorers after six games, with the much-hyped frontline of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani the most potent in the game. Yet all this was unravelled in the first leg against Real Madrid.

Increasingly, Emery is being viewed as the weak link. PSG now have a team strong enough to challenge in the Champions League, such has been in the investment at the Parc des Princes over the past few years. He has failed to harness the quality of his best players when the occasion has called for it. He’s not of the same caliber as his squad having never achieved anything in the Champions League before. Europa League titles don’t count for a lot in this case.

It’s not just in the defeat to Real Madrid that Emery has provided a rod for his own back. PSG faced a similar season-defining moment in the Champions League last season, taking a 4-0 lead into a round of 16 second leg against Barcelona. What happened in that second leg (an astonishing Barca 6-1 win) showed to many that Emery isn’t up to the job. Now, with the scenario flipped, he must show to his doubters, of which there are many, that he is.

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Our La Liga team of the week

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Here are our top performers from La Liga’s weekend action, as impressive wins for Atletico Madrid, Girona and Real Sociedad see players from these teams feature heavily in our eleven!

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La Liga game of the week: Madrid demolish abject Sociedad at the Bernabeu

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This week’s La Liga game of the week saw Real Madrid bounce back from their surprise 2-2 away draw against Levante with a resounding victory at the Bernabeu – running out 5-2 winners over Real Sociedad as they seek to consolidate their position in next season’s Champions League.

Zidane and his men will have invariably been feeling the pressure ahead of this fixture, fully aware that any further slip-ups could result in Villarreal breathing down their necks.

A statement was needed from Los Blancos and was made emphatically from the first minute, as midfielder Lucas Vasquez headed in from a Cristiano Ronaldo cross within the first sixty seconds of the match to put is side immediately in the driving seat. Continue reading