Is Kylian Mbappe destined to end up at Real Madrid?

There’s a picture that surfaced a few years ago. It shows a young Kylian Mbappe, no older than 12, sitting on his bed surrounded by posters on the walls. On those posters is Cristiano Ronaldo, the player the French kid idolised. Indeed, it’s believed that Mbappe has always held an affinity for Real Madrid, the club Ronaldo played his best football for.

Now, the French forward is considered one of the best players in the world and has Real Madrid chasing him. Mbappe’s contract at Paris Saint-Germain expires in 2022, but there is already a race being contested regarding his next move. PSG are desperate to sign their prize asset to a new deal, but Mbappe and his representatives have so far rejected all approaches.

This has encouraged Real Madrid who view the young forward as their ideal signing. They wanted Mbappe in the summer of 2018 when he made the move to the Parc des Princes from Monaco. They have kept up their interest and now there are reports that the Spanish giants could make a staggering £340 million over for the player next summer. This illustrates how badly they want him.

So is Mbappe destined to end up at the Santiago Bernabeu? With Real Madrid in the midst of a transition between a generation defined by the exerts of Ronaldo and the new crop of youngsters fronted by the likes of Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior, Mbappe would be the perfect addition to lead them into a new age.

Real Madrid is a club that revels in fast and furious football. While they have attempted to change their ways in recent years, favouring more technically-skilled players like Isco, the Santiago Bernabeu still like to see a player bombing forward at pace more than anything else. Mbappe, of course, would satisfy those preferences.

Such is the expectation that Mbappe will make the move to the Spanish capital sooner or later there are already reports that PSG have started searching for his replacement, with Antoine Griezmann seen as a top target due to his failure to settle in at Barcelona following his summer move from Atletico Madrid.

Indeed, the pieces seem to be falling into place for Mbappe and Real Madrid. Seen as world football’s next true superstar, if he’s not already at that sort of level, Real Madrid wouldn’t just be buying a player, but something to define an entire generation at the club. His price could come to reflect that.

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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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Barcelona slump presents Real Madrid with an opportunity

It’s been a peculiar start to the 2019/20 season in Spain. Before a ball was kicked, predictions were made of a tight title race at the top of La Liga that would take many twists and turns over the course of the campaign. That has so far materialised, but not in the way most expected.

Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid have all suffered faltering starts to the season. Diego Simeone, Ernesto Valverde and Zinedine Zidane have all come under pressure and have all fielded questions over their ailing teams. Just one point separates the three sides at the top of La Liga, but that is a picture of their struggles so far rather than their strength.

This week, the picture is bleakest for Barcelona. The Catalans looked to be finally hitting their stride with five consecutive victories and Lionel Messi finding something close to his best form again, but that rise has been stunted by a shock defeat to Levante at the weekend followed by an insipid 0-0 draw at home to Slavia Prague in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Atletico Madrid are also toiling, winning just two of their last six fixtures in all competitions. Meanwhile, Real Madrid might well be the team in the best shape at this moment. They suffered a shock loss to Real Mallorca before the last international break, but have responded with wins over Galatasaray and Leganes, although the weekend’s draw at home to Real Betis was below-par.

Barcelona’s slump presents Real Madrid with an opportunity to really kick-start their season. Injuries have eased for the capital club in recent weeks and Zidane is now able to pick something close to his full-strength team. Karim Benzema is in goalscoring form, while there are signs that Eden Hazard is starting to grow accustomed to his new surroundings.

Real Madrid take on Galatasaray at home in the Champions League on Wednesday. A win is required after a poor start to their European campaign, but there would be a larger significance to three points for Los Merengues. It would show that they are starting to build something. They might be a long way from being the finished product, the finished article, but there is at least some signs of progress. The same can’t be said for Atletico Madrid and Barcelona right now.

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Casemiro is one of Zinedine Zidane’s favourites, but how healthy is that for Real Madrid?

With Real Madrid’s La Liga match against Leganes effectively decided in the first half, with the capital club 3-0 up at half time, Zinedine Zidane took the opportunity in the second half to rotate his team. Karim Benzema was given a rest, with Toni Kroos also withdrawn for the final half hour or so.

One player who stayed on the pitch was Casemiro. That shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise. He always stays on the pitch. In fact, the Brazilian has become such a favourite of Zidane’s he has become a punchline. Along with Lucas Vazquez, Casemiro is mocked for being the teacher’s pet.

“I am here to play,” Casemiro said after the comfortable win over Leganes, responding to a question about Zidane’s decision not to take off the Brazilian. “The coach knows the minutes I have to play; I’m resting more when the matches end. We have a coaching staff that knows the moments [where] I have to rest. I’m in really good form, I’m really enjoying it and I want to play all the time.”

It’s certainly true that Real Madrid look a more structured team with Casemiro at the base of their midfield. In recent weeks, the Brazilian has forged a strong understanding with Fede Valverde, the young Uruguayan who has made quite the impression over the early part of the season.

That has left just one position for Kroos and Luka Modric. In a way, it has helped Zidane that both players have suffered from injuries of late, but the pair are close to regaining full fitness and so the Real Madrid boss might have a tough decision to make. Whatever decision he comes to, you can bet that Casemiro won’t be the one to miss out.

Casemiro has been one of Zidane’s most reliable performers over his two spells as Real Madrid manager and so it’s only natural that the Frenchman continues to show faith in the 27-year-old. But it’s not probably not so healthy for a team like Real Madrid, a team that plays so many games in a season, to be so reliant on a single figure. In isolation, Zidane’s refusal to give Casemiro a rest against Leganes mattered little, but it said a lot about how he sees the fragility of his side.

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Why does Sergio Ramos continue to hit Real Madrid’s penalties?

Real Madrid were 2-0 up and cruising when they were awarded a penalty kick against Leganes on Wednesday night. Rodrygo and Toni Kroos had already found the net and so this was a chance to further boost the confidence of one of their struggling players. Eden Hazard should have been the prime candidate. Instead, Sergio Ramos took it. And missed.

Ultimately, Ramos was given a second chance to convert from the spot after the VAR spotted that Juan Soriano had strayed off his line in making the save, but in having his first attempt saved the Real Madrid captain had already raised the question – why does he continue to hit his team’s penalties?

Ramos has held first refusal on most goalscoring set pieces since Cristiano Ronaldo left for Juventus in the summer of 2018, boosting the centre back’s numbers to a career high of six goals in La Liga over the course of last season. But Ramos isn’t an especially strong penalty taker and he certainly isn’t an expert freekick taker.

As captain, Ramos should have the self-awareness to recognise there are better candidates around him to take freekicks and penalties. By claiming them for himself, the defender is only acting out of selfishness and egotism. While it didn’t against Leganes, it could cost Real Madrid.

Ramos has always carried a goal threat. He is a potent presence in the box, getting on the end of freekick and corner kick deliveries. There are few as good as him at attacking a cross whipped right on top of the opposition goalkeeper. Ramos also knows how to act as an emergency striker when his team is desperately looking for a winner.

That is enough for a centre back. Ramos’ primary function on a football pitch isn’t to score goals, it’s to stop them from being scored against Real Madrid. Taking penalties and freekicks is only a distraction to Ramos and Real Madrid as a whole. As club captain, delegation should be among his duties.

It’s somewhat surprising that Zidane hasn’t handed penalty duties to someone like Karim Benzema over Ramos. Maybe Hazard will take more of them once he regains match sharpness, but such is the influence of Ramos in the Santiago Bernabeu dressing room it might not be easy to wrestle the ball off his captain.

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Vinicius Junior must be harnessed by Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid

Last season, he was pretty much the only reason to watch Real Madrid, at least for a period of the club’s 2018/19 campaign. Indeed, while the Santiago Bernabeu tried to quickly forget what happened last season, the emergence of Vinicius Junior was a bright point. It gave Real Madrid something to build on.

Vinicius almost single-handedly changed the tone around the Santiago Bernabeu after the sacking of Julen Lopetegui midway through the season. Until then, the teenage Brazilian had been kept at Castilla despite his obvious potential. It wasn’t until the appointment of Santiago Solari that Vinicius was unleashed and the impact he made was profound.

Since then, though, he has seemingly regressed. Injury ended Vinicius’ season early, but the Brazilian has struggled to pick up where he left off this season. Indeed, Zinedine Zidane has used the teenager sparingly. Vinicius has fallen down the pecking order even with Marco Asensio out injured for the long term and Gareth Bale still something of a scapegoat.

This was illustrated by the news that Vinicius has been left out of the matchday squad for Wednesday’s La Liga fixture against Leganes. As things stand, Zidane favours another teenage Brazilian, Rodrygo, with Lucas Vazquez, Isco and Luka Jovic also injured in the squad.

Vinicius has been a target for more criticism than most over the early part of Real Madrid’s season. Fans and pundits were afforded a glimpse of what the Brazilian can bring last season and they want more. But it is up to Zidane and Real Madrid to harness and protect the youngster.

Such was the impact made by Vinicius last season it’s easy to forget that he is still only 19-years-old. He still has a lot of growing to do, both as a person and a player. Sometimes, it seems that the teenager is trying to do too much and in this labouring he is losing the spontaneity that made him so potent before the summer.

Therefore it’s probably for the best that Zidane takes him out of the firing line for the time being. Real Madrid have the players to cope without him. The likes of Bale, Karim Benzema and Hazard can carry them in the final third. Vinicius remains a shimmering prospect for the future, but those around him must consider what is best for him in the present.

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Is VAR and a lack of common sense ruining the game we love?

Yet again the talking point of the weekend is not so much the football but VAR and one wonders if common sense is now ruining the game we love?

There are so many different issues after a few months of VAR and that can be normal when a new service is implemented but it has also been evidently frustrating for fans. Now when your team score, you cheer with uncertainty, you just never know if play will be called back. It is even harder if you are at a game. Take yesterday’s match between Arsenal and Crystal Palace as a huge example. The game was locked at 2-2 but Arsenal had taken the lead, it was a goal, but it wasn’t. Fans in the stadium honestly had no idea what was going on. Replays were not shown, no explanation was given, but there was a long delay. The goal looked legitimate, but VAR had spotted something between two players in the build up something and nothing if truth be told and Arsenal were denied what most probably would have been the win.

The offside rule is another problem. How can a player be deemed to have an advantage or looking for one if their nose, or hair or foot is offside? This isn’t VAR’s fault of course and it is only going by the laws of the game, but they are silly ones at best. The same problem is the hand to ball, ball to hand rule in the penalty area. How can it be a penalty when no obvious cheating is involved? We now have a situation where an opposing player can now fire the ball into a defenders arm and get given a penalty, stone wall in some people’s opinion, this seems almost warped and is ruining the game.

Penalties are given far too easily, but at the end of the day when VAR was supposed to clear up match day controversy it is actually simply adding to it. So what is the solution? First off common sense needs to prevail, it is easy to tell if a player is putting themselves in a position to cheat or take an advantage or handle the ball or mistakenly do so. VAR needs to be quicker in its decisions and perhaps VAR should be less used and let the referee be able to make decisions. One area where VAR is needed is offside because the linesman’s job seems obsolete now, too many are too poor at their job. And what VAR does spectacularly right is when a player is NOT offside and is able to rule that out.

I think it’s fair to say that even if you are for VAR, the system has made too many errors and the judgement really hasn’t been there on a consistent basis. That’s fine it is new, but perhaps this has all been rushed out far too quickly? The football, the players and the goals should be the talking point of the weekend, not VAR and that is the bottom line.

Rodrygo has moved up Zinedine Zidane’s pecking order at Real Madrid

Signed for €45 million in the summer of 2018, Rodrygo was identified as one for the future for Real Madrid. It wasn’t until this summer that the Brazilian finally made the move to the Santiago Bernabeu, but nonetheless he was signed for what he might deliver in years to come rather than what he might deliver now.

A lot has changed over the first few months of the 2019/20 season, though. Rodrygo has eased his way into the first team fold at Real Madrid, with his starting place and performance in the midweek Champions League win over Galatasaray suggesting that the Brazilian may have moved up Zinedine Zidane’s pecking order.

When the season started, Vinicius Junior, Brahim Diaz and Lucas Vazquez were all deemed to be ahead of Rodrygo in this ranking, but the Brazilian looks to have surpassed these three players in the past few weeks. He seems to have earned the trust of Zidane, which isn’t the easiest thing to do. Just ask Gareth Bale.

“I’m happy for the opportunity as I fulfilled a dream,” Rodrygo said after his performance against Galatasaray, his debut in the Champions League. “I found out today when Zidane revealed the starting XI. I was very nervous, but I enjoyed it. It did surprise me, of course. The coach just told me to have fun, to fulfil my defensive duties and to play and enjoy it when I had the ball. I did what Zidane told me and my teammates have congratulated me.”

Of course, it’s likely that Zidane will field Bale, Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard as his front three when they are fit and firing. Real Madrid also have Marco Asensio to come back from injury, although the Spanish international is expected to miss the majority of the season. He is a more proven option than Rodrygo.

But Zidane can mould the Brazilian in the way he wants. While the Frenchman seems to have lost sway with a number of his squad, Rodrygo is still keen to impress his new manager just to get a place in the season and so that faith could be extremely valuable to the Real Madrid manager. Rodrygo might have signed as one for the future, but that future may have arrived a little sooner than anticipated.

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Fede Valverde is proving himself as a midfield solution for Real Madrid

Zinedine Zidane knows what it takes to be a successful midfielder at a club like Real Madrid, but that didn’t stop Fede Valverde going to the Frenchman earlier on this season to demand that he be given more game time. The young Uruguayan clearly has a high opinion of himself and that is to be applauded.

He might have also had a point. Real Madrid’s midfield has become something of a paradox in recent times. In Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric they boast three of the most accomplished central operators in recent times, but they are fading. Modric in particular seems to be in the twilight of his career even if he is more than capable of pulling off the odd Man of the Match performance.

Valverde is one of the few players Zidane can turn to to freshen things up through the middle and that’s exactly what he has done in recent performances. In fact, the Uruguayan could be considered a first team figure at this point after a number of impressive displays. Zidane maybe should have listened to him a little sooner.

“I think anywhere in the centre of the field,” he replied when asked where he sees his best position. “Zidane puts me at 5 or 8. There I feel comfortable, safe when playing and with the desire to attack the opponent’s area. He asks me to give my best, what I am doing in training.

“When a coach gives you that confidence, it helps you a lot. Wearing the Madrid shirt is a dream for any player in the world, and serves as motivation to continue improving, strengthening the head and learning.”

Against Real Mallorca on Saturday, Real Madrid struggled badly for structure in the centre of the pitch. Zidane’s selection of James Rodriguez and Isco in the same lineup made them top heavy and they were made to pay for that, losing 1-0 on the Balearic island. Valverde was introduced in the second half, but the damage had already been done by that point.

Valverde gives Real Madrid the structure they so desperately lacked against Real Mallorca. Casemiro used to do that, but more recently the Brazilian has become something of a liability. With Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard the first choice front three right now, Zidane needs an anchor in the middle and Valverde is proving himself as that player.

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Not for the first time, injuries are a concern for Real Madrid

Zinedine Zidane must rue the international break every time it comes around, every time his Real Madrid players jet around the world turning out for their countries. Almost invariably, a number of them return to the Santiago Bernabeu with some sort of injury or know. This week has been no different.

The international week has hit Real Madrid hard. Zidane’s side trained together on Thursday, but Raphael Varane and Thibaut Courtois both missed the session. Gareth Bale was also missing with the Welshman already ruled out of Real Madrid’s away trip to face Real Mallorca this weekend.

It was also reported that Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal also trained away from the main group after picking up knocks while Fede Valverde also worked on his own. Add these injuries to the ones already keeping Marco Asensio, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Nacho and Lucas Vazquez out of action and Zidane has something of a crisis on his hands.

Real Madrid’s season has been a paradox to this point. They currently sit top of La Liga, but that’s only as a result of the faltering performances of their rivals. Zidane’s side have been the best of a bad bunch, with Atletico Madrid and Barcelona both struggling for consistency over the early part of the campaign.

A series of poor performances have resulted in speculation around Zidane’s job security. A number of in-the-know journalists and media members believe Jose Mourinho has been lined up as the Frenchman’s replacement for whenever club president Florentino Perez decides to pull the trigger.

It’s with this foot on his throat that Zidane needs to instil consistency in his team over the next few weeks up until the next international break and up until Christmas after that. That will be much tougher with the number of injuries now being absorbed by Real Madrid. Zidane will have to come up with a number of solutions.

Real Madrid will be favourites for the away game at Real Mallorca this weekend. That was meant to be their warm-up for the first Clasico of the season, although that fixture is now in doubt following Barcelona’s statement on the arrests over the Catalan independence movement.

Nonetheless, this next stretch of fixtures will be crucial in determining the success or failure of Real Madrid’s season. Injuries, among other things, have held them back, but there’s no time to feel sorry for oneself. Zidane must find a way to make do with the squad he has.

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