Thibaut Courtois has become the ‘Galactico’ goalkeeper Real Madrid wanted

For a long time, it seemed to be in David De Gea’s destiny that he would one day be presented to the Santiago Bernabeu as a Real Madrid goalkeeper. Were it not for a faulty fax machine, the Manchester United shot-stopper would have signed for the Spanish giants in the summer of 2015.

In the end, though, Real Madrid signed another former Atletico Madrid goalkeeper, with Thibaut Courtois joining Los Blancos two summers ago. At the time, many saw the Belgian’s addition as unnecessary. Keylor Navas was widely regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the game. What’s more, the Costa Rican was a favourite with the club’s fans.

Initially, Courtois struggled. The pressure of playing for Real Madrid, in front of one of the most demanding fanbases in world football, appeared to get to him, turning in a number of less-than-convincing performances. Now, though, Courtois has grown into his role. He has become the ‘Galactico’ goalkeeper Real Madrid wanted for a number of years.

Real Madrid’s defence has been key to their challenge at the top of the Spanish Liga table this season and Courtois has more than played his role in that. In the early days, the likes of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane looked unsettled with the Belgian behind them. They were more comfortable with Navas as their goalkeeper.

The relationship between Real Madrid’s number one and the centre backs in front of him has improved a lot since then, though. Ramos and Varane are now the strongest defensive pairing in the Spanish game, but without a solid goalkeeper like Courtois behind them they wouldn’t be so formidable.

“I’m happy with him and I’m sure he’s happy with the game he put in,” Zidane said about Courtois after a particularly impressive performance from the Belgian earlier in the season. “He’s our goalkeeper, we’re happy with him. We have to keep this up, keeping cleans sheets… He’s my keeper, for me he’s the best, no doubt about it.”

La Liga is awash with world class goalkeepers at the moment. Jan Oblak and Marc-Andre Ter Stegen are among the very best in the game right now. Some might even rank them as number one and number two. Courtois, however, has joined that sort of company this summer with his performances for Real Madrid.

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Are Real Madrid more comfortable at the Estadio Alfredo di Stefano?

At first, it was something of a novelty, but the sight of Real Madrid playing home games at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano while the Santiago Bernabeu is being redeveloped has become a familiar one over the last few weeks, with Zinedine Zidane’s side winning four from four games they have played at their home from home.

Previously only used for youth games and Castilla fixtures, Real Madrid’s training ground stadium in Valdebebas has hosted the Liga leaders as they chase down only their second Spanish title in the last eight years. Zidane and his players have looked at ease in these surroundings.

It is, after all, where they train every day. There is a luxury hotel on site for Real Madrid’s players to stay overnight should they want to relax the night before the game and not have the worry of a commute into the centre of the city. Zidane has got his players into a routine of walking over to the stadium from their lodgings on the other side of the complex.

It’s all very leisurely and that has relaxation has been evident in the performances Real Madrid have turned in at their temporary home since the resumption of the Spanish league season. This begs the question – are Real Madrid more comfortable at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano than they have been in recent times at the Santiago Bernabeu?

The Santiago Bernabeu might be the club’s historic and spiritual home, but there is a fear factor to playing there – for home players as well as those visiting. Ask Gareth Bale about that fear factor. He has experienced it first hand over the last few years. The historic venue is a footballing coliseum, but the casualties are often Real Madrid’s own players.

The rural, lowkey surroundings of the Valdebebas training complex have eased Real Madrid back into a title race that, at the time of La Liga’s resumption, looked destined to go down to the wire. It would have been understandable had Zidane and his players felt the pressure, but that pressure hasn’t been evident in their recent performances. Real Madrid will return to the Santiago Bernabeu and their world will regain some sense of normalcy, but for now the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano seems to be the best home for them.

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Zinedine Zidane deserves more credit for turning Real Madrid around

He is the most successful manager in the history of the Champions League, becoming the only coach to win the European Cup three times by leading Real Madrid to a victory over Liverpool in Kiev two years ago. And yet Zinedine Zidane, as he left the Santiago Bernabeu in the summer of 2018, was still seen as a somewhat fortunate figure.

The Frenchman, they claimed, was fortunate to preside over the strongest team in European football. Anyone could succeed at Real Madrid, they said. Of course, this theory was blown out of the water when, with largely the same squad, Julen Lopetegui and then Santi Solari floundered as Zidane’s successors the very next season.

This prompted Florentino Perez to lure Zidane back to the club where he has since turned things around. Barcelona’s draw against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday night means Real Madrid can go four points clear at the top of La Liga with a win over Getafe on Thursday. With just five games to play after that, this would almost certainly be an unassailable lead.

Of course, many of Real Madrid’s flaws have still been exposed over the course of the 2019/20 campaign. While this season might end up a league title in-hand, it hasn’t been a vintage season in terms of the performances produced on the pitch. But that Real Madrid still find themselves in charge of the title race underlines Zidane’s influence.

In an age of footballing ideology, Zidane has been harmed by his lack of a defining managerial identity. Unlike the likes of Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and even Jose Mourinho, he doesn’t mould teams in one specific way. Instead, he works with what he has and adapts. That is his strength, as is winning.

Real Madrid have hit the ground running following the restart, winning all five of the games they have played. Zidane has forged a winning team from a group of players that lacked any sort of coherent approach when he returned to the Santiago Bernabeu just over a year ago. And yet still the Frenchman doesn’t get the credit he deserves. When the best coaches working in the game right now are listed, Zidane rarely emerges top. Sometimes he isn’t even mentioned at all. The results, however, prove that the Real Madrid manager should be in that discussion.

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Have Barcelona just conceded the La Liga title to Real Madrid?

Real Madrid are now the odds on favourites to win La Liga after Barcelona drew 2-2 at home against Atletico Madrid in an entertaining match.

Barcelona are looking at a hat trick of titles but their fierce rivals Real look like they will stop them. Barca have dominated in Spain of late winning 4 of the last five, in the last decade they have won 7 titles alone.

Whilst Real Madrid have dominated on the European scene in the last decade winning 4 Champions Leagues, including three in a row they have failed mostly on the domestic front. Though in 2017 they broke the Barca stranglehold by winning the title which is, up to this point, coach Zinedine Zidane’s only managerial league title.

At the beginning of the season with Zidane coming back and the soap opera of Gareth Bale will he won’t he leave it was thought that Real were going to experience a season of transition, however they look stun to set everyone if they can wrap up the title this season. It could well go amongst Zidane’s very best achievements of his glittering career given that many thought Madrid could be playing second fiddle to not only Barcelona but Atletico Madrid also.

As it stands Real are top by just one point but they have a game extra to play which takes place on Thursday, July 2nd. It is a home game against Getafe which they will be expected to win with ease.

Win that and they will go 4 points clear with just five games left to play. Barca have been a mess lately where they have drawn 3 of their last four games and dropped vital points. In the game against Atletico there was 3 penalties, one for Lionel Messi but Saul converted 2 goals from the spot for Atletico and that was enough to take 2 points from Barcelona. Indeed Atletico then had a chance to win the game and put even more misery on Barca.

If another clasico remained between the two clubs then the league would not feel as over as it does now. At least then Barca could stake their claim and give it one last try. But the two teams have already met each other. Real’s remaining games all look winnable and yet of course you never quite know what will happen. Lose to Getafe tomorrow and everything changes again. But for now it looks like Real are in the driving seat to win their 34th Spanish title.

 

 

Could Cristiano Ronaldo return to Real Madrid?

As often as it had been rumoured, few believed Cristiano Ronaldo would actually leave Real Madrid in the summer of 2018. Most thought the Portuguese forward was merely agitating for a new contract when towards the end of the 2017/18 season he started hinting that an exit from the Santiago Bernabeu could be in the offing.

Ronaldo wasn’t bluffing, though, and left the Spanish capital to sign for Juventus in what was, at the time, one of the most unexpected transfers of recent times. It appeared to be a good fit. Juve wanted a superstar who could help deliver them the Champions League and Ronaldo was a five-time winner of European club football’s biggest prize.

In Turin, though, Ronaldo’s levels have slipped. He is still a hardened goalscorer, scoring 44 goals over the last two seasons, but he feels somewhat peripheral at Juventus. At Real Madrid, he had an entire team built around him. They played to his every strength. He doesn’t have that luxury in Italy and it has manifested itself in a lot of detached performances.

This has led to some recent speculation that Ronaldo could end up back at Real Madrid. Juventus have been badly hit by the financial knock-on of the global coronavirus pandemic and might now have to rid their books of Ronaldo’s astronomical salary. And if Ronaldo is made to leave Italy the Santiago Bernabeu might be the best place for him.

The argument could be made that Los Blancos have moved on without the 35-year-old. Real Madrid are in good shape for the title at the top of La Liga, with Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard forging a partnership that has filled the void that was left by Ronaldo at the club. Zinedine Zidane has, finally, taken them forward.

And yet there remains a sense that Ronaldo was meant to stay at Real Madrid. It is the club of his greatest legacy, the club where he achieved the most. The more that passes, it becomes clearer that the Portuguese’s move to Juventus was an ill-judged mistake, even if he is to lift a second successive Scudetto this season. There could still be scope for him to correct that mistake, though. There might still be a place for him at the Santiago Bernabeu, both in Zidane’s team and in the hearts of the club’s fans.

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How will Achraf Hakimi fit in at Real Madrid next summer?

While the likes of Marco Asensio, Karim Benzema, Eden Hazard et al. have claimed the headlines for themselves since the resumption of the Spanish Liga season after the coronavirus hiatus, Real Madrid’s resurgence over the past few weeks has been built on a solid defence.

Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane’s centre back partnership is among the strongest in the European game right now, with Marcelo and Ferland Mendy rotating in and out of Zinedine Zidane’s starting lineup to great effect. And at right back Dani Carvajal has found fitness to become a reliable performance once again after some injury troubles.

Carvajal could have some competition for his place after the summer, though. Achraf Hakimi is set to return to the Santiago Bernabeu after two years on loan at Borussia Dortmund, with the Moroccan earning a reputation for himself as one of the brightest young players in the European game at this moment.

Hakimi is a formidable force down the right wing and having been given his first chance at Real Madrid by Zidane there’s reason to believe he will be given another chance in the Spanish capital next season. Along with the likes of Martin Odegaard and Takefusa Kubo, both of whom are also out on loan this season, Hakimi is seen as the future of Real Madrid.

Those who doubt that Zidane can satisfy both Hakimi and Carvajal in the same squad should look at how he has used Marcelo and Mendy. The latter is widely seen as Zidane’s first choice at left back, with the Frenchman quickly settling in following his transfer from Lyon last summer, but Marcelo has still proved his worth over the course of the campaign.

“We’ll see after the season,” Dortmund coach Lucien Favre said when asked whether Hakimi, as well as Jadon Sancho, will still be at the club beyond the summer. “Of course, players will leave. We hope the players will stay, but it is possible that players will leave. You have already mentioned two [Hakimi and Sancho] that we don’t definitely know about. Of course, they could stay with us, which would be very good for me. But we’ll see what we’ll do, whether it’s in defence, midfield or attack.”

Squad depth is something Real Madrid have over Barcelona and the return of Hakimi to the Santiago Bernabeu this summer could give them another advantage over their fiercest rivals. The Moroccan still has some work to do in order to refine his game, particularly in the defensive sense, but he is a player with great potential and it appears destined that he will fulfil that potential in the Spanish capital.

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Could Real Madrid be on the verge of signing Kanté?

It is not a secret that Real Madrid’s management has been searching for quality midfielders to bolster the ranks. While one name that has been linked with the team to fill the gap is Rennes midfielder Eduardo Camavinga, he’s not the only one that has been targeted. Another signing that could be on the horizon for the Madrid side is N’Golo Kanté.

Chelsea are supposedly looking to push various players out the door to make room for big signings, and Kanté is apparently one of the names to go. Real Madrid have shown interest in signing him before, so perhaps now is the time for them to submit a deal that can tempt him to move to Spain.

As it happens, in 2016, Kanté was linked as a potential reinforcement for the team, but that never happened. Then, in 2019, he was mentioned again as a possibility, although it was reported that Kanté himself opted not to join Real Madrid at that time. Yet, without any sort of backing or alternative deal from Chelsea this time around, perhaps he’ll find himself moving to the Spanish side in 2020.

Stamford Bridge is looking to host players like Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner and Kai Havertz as part of the home team, and the likelihood is that at least one of these transfers will be a costly affair. For Chelsea to afford all three, with Ziyech already signed, they’ll need to acquire the money from somewhere – hence the sale of Kanté and others.

What Could Kante Bring to Real Madrid?

One Spanish newspaper has pointed out that this is Real’s big moment to seize Kanté, as his talent is beyond what can be expressed in words. He has multiple skills which would fit perfectly into Zidane’s formation. Real Madrid hasn’t made any sort of move to secure the player yet, so only time will tell if the team decides to make a solid offer for him.

They’d be better off moving quickly as well because word has it that Paris Saint-Germain is preparing to make a bid for Kanté too. After all, considering that he established himself as one of the Premier League’s best players following his signing by Leicester in 2015, multiple teams have kept a close eye on where he goes. This is what could lead the Ligue 1 team to make a substantial offer to Chelsea if they believe that the London team will hand him over to them.

That being said, Kanté has struggled with injuries during this past season, although this hasn’t been a cause for Chelsea to get rid of him. Instead, it’s solely to bring new blood to the team, sources suggest.

Kanté has been one of the footballers who has been wagered on frequently when it comes to sports betting, too. Throughout his years of activity since signing to Leicester and onwards, sites like Betwinner have seen an influx of wagers on the Frenchman. The fact that this sportsbook also has its own mobile app ensured that these bets would remain highly active. And if you’re interested in engaging in such, you can view how to install Betwinner mobile app for Android devices prior to downloading it.

Regardless of where Kanté ends up, the likelihood is that he’ll maintain his high level of play, so bets on him should remain high. Whether that be with Real Madrid or Paris Saint-German remains to be seen. However, he will always be one to watch out for when he’s on the pitch.

Vinicius Junior proves once again why he is so valuable to Real Madrid

Zinedine Zidane is no stranger to throwing in a curve ball with his team selections and the Real Madrid performed a familiar trick on Sunday by naming James Rodriguez to his starting lineup for the crucial away game at Real Sociedad. This was the same James who hadn’t started a game for Los Blancos since the defeat to Real Mallorca all the way back in October.

Such was the fuss made about the Colombian’s presence that not much was said about the call to rest Eden Hazard just days after he’d turned in his best performance as a Real Madrid player so far in the 3-0 win over Valencia. In his place, Vinicius Junior was trusted on the left side of attack.

There is no doubting the potential Vinicius possesses. It’s easy to forget the Brazilian winger is still only a teenager such has been the impression he has made on the Santiago Bernabeu over the last two seasons. But for all that Vinicius frustrates and still has a lot of refining to do to his game, he is extremely valuable to Los Blancos.

He proved this, not for the first time, in the 2-1 win over Real Sociedad that took Real Madrid to the top of La Liga for the first time since their Clasico win over Barcelona at the start of March. While the visitors to the Anoeta struggled to break down La Real for much of the match, Vinicius made things happen.

It was the Brazilian teenager who win the penalty kick that Sergio Ramos stroked home to send Real Madrid on their way. There is an unpredictability and sometimes a lack of control to Vinicius’ dribbling, but this is partly what makes him so difficult to defend against and why when he gets the ball something tends to happen.

With James and Karim Benzema generally unwilling to drive at the opposition defence, Vinicius attempted to run through them. This saw him dispossessed a number of times, and the Brazilian could still do with polishing his final product in the final third, but nobody else currently at the Santiago Bernabeu approaches the game like he does. He gives Zidane something different and that something different helped earn Real Madrid what could prove to be a season-defining result. A result that puts them on course for the Spanish title.

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Sociedad clash will prove whether or not Real Madrid are ready for the title

Before the coronavirus pandemic struck, before the world changed and football ground to a halt across Europe and around the globe, Real Madrid provided a microcosm of their season in two back-to-back games. By beating Barcelona in El Clasico on March 1st, Zinedine Zidane’s side took a big step towards the Spanish title. The very next match saw them stumble. Again.

Indeed, it was typical of Real Madrid’s season that after beating Barca in what was their most important match of whole campaign, they suffered a damage defeat to Real Betis just days later, conceding top spot in La Liga to their Catalan rivals. Every time Los Blancos have looked set to stretch their legs in the title race, they fall.

This is why Sunday’s match away to Real Sociedad is so important. Real Madrid, who turned in one of their best performances of the season against Valencia on Thursday, have the chance to leapfrog Barcelona on the basis of their superior head-to-head record with a win at the Anoeta.

Zidane surely took great encouragement from how his side played against Valencia, with their second half performance especially impressive. Things simply clicked for Los Blancos. Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard showed signs of a burgeoning partnership. Marco Asensio scored with his first touch in over a year, also assisting in his first game back following a long term injury layoff.

Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Ernesto Valverde proved that they could play together as a midfield trio while Ferland Mendy showcased, not for the first time this season, why he has now surpassed Marcelo in the pecking order for the left back position at the Santiago Bernabeu.

But this performance will be for nothing if Real Madrid fail to take advantage of the situation it helped create. Sunday presents Los Blancos with an opportunity to take a grip of the title race and put it on their own terms with just eight fixtures of the 2019/20 season left to play. They failed to do so against Real Betis and Real Madrid must prove they have learned lessons since then.

Sociedad won’t be an easy side to better. While they have suffered a run of poor form since the return of La Liga, drawing against Osasuna and losing to Alaves, they are a team full of quality, still in the hunt for Champions League qualification. These are the sort of matches Real Madrid need to win to become champions, though. This game will prove whether or not they are ready.

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Are things finally clicking into place for Real Madrid?

Real Madrid could never have predicted the circumstances amid which it would materialise, but in the second half of Thursday’s 3-0 win over Valencia Los Blancos produced a performance close to what they had always envisaged for this group of players. It wasn’t perfect, but nearer to that mark than anything witnessed up until then this season.

Until that point, many had debated and discussed what exactly Zinedine Zidane wanted from his Real Madrid side. What he wanted them to be. The Frenchman had steadied the Santiago Bernabeu side, appointed late last season to get a head start on the 2019/20 campaign, but a lot of questions remained unanswered.

Thursday night might prove to be a turning point in this season’s title race and in Zidane’s second stint in charge of the capital club. With Eden Hazard fit again, a burgeoning understanding with Karim Benzema evident and Marco Asensio back on a football pitch after a year out of the game through injury,

There was movement all over the pitch. Ferland Mendy provided drive down the left side, contributing an excellent assist for Asensio’s goal with his first touch off the bench. Dani Carvajal offered something similar on the opposite flank which allowed Hazard the freedom to cut inside and link up with Benzema. The two players appear to operate on the same wavelength.

A midfield trio of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Ernesto Valverde gave Real Madrid the right balance of control and energy in the centre of the pitch, with the usual centre back pairing of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane backing them up. All of a sudden, things came together very quickly for Real Madrid.

Of course, Los Blancos have produced impressive performances before this season. They have managed to keep pace with Barcelona at the top of La Liga and have put a number of opposition sides to the sword in the process. The problem is they have suffered nearly as many dips as peaks.

This time it felt different, though. In the past, Real Madrid’s best performances had been the byproduct of a sparking individual display by Benzema or someone else. Their performance against Valencia, however, was a result of their performance as a whole. Their new identity, which was evident perhaps for the first time this season.

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