Cristiano Ronaldo was upstaged by Sampdoria’s Fabio Quagliarella

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In Italy Juventus and in particular new signing Cristiano Ronaldo had it all their own way once again. Winning the league with weeks to spare and an 8th successive title. Ronaldo seamlessly joined the club from Real Madrid last summer and became the first ever player to win a Premier League title a Spanish one and then an Italian league. But there was one trophy he wasn’t able to get and it may have been his most jarring- the top goal scorer award which went to Fabio Quagliarella.

A former Juventus player himself Quagliarella now plays for Sampdoria and had a fantastic season scoring 26 goals in all and winning the trophy for top goal scorer. But what has been even more impressive about the player is that he seems to be getting better with age. His 26 goals are the most he has scored in a season and he is now 36. Indeed the season before he netted 19 goals which is his 2nd best campaign.

Of course Ronaldo will be content with a Serie A league title in his debut season but as everybody knows the Portuguese player loves statistics and loves scoring goals and one has to wonder if not landing the prize as top goal scorer has left a bad taste in his mouth?

Or is it simply that Ronaldo is running out of gas? Ronaldo’s haul of 21 league goals is his worst since he was in the Premier League playing with Manchester United in the 2008/09 season. While that sounds shocking he has only played 30 games this season in the league, the last time that happened was in the 2013/14 season with Real Madrid where he was able to score 31 goals, 10 more than this season.

Ronaldo is 34 and it would only be natural that his level would go down, or simply it could be a different manner of things. We should remember that he went the first few weeks of the season without scoring for Juventus, even though he had some superb chances and sometimes was simply unlucky. Purists will point to the fact that Italian football is better defending and seen as an art in the league and that is the reason that Ronaldo has scored his lowest tally in the league in a decade.

It will be fascinating to see how Ronaldo reacts next season, for now Juventus will be massive favourites to win another league title, their 9th in a row perhaps? And that will mean that Ronaldo will get plenty of chances to score goals, maybe he just needed that first season to fit in.

 

 

Martin Odegaard deserves Real Madrid chance

Martin Odegaard

Martin Odegaard looks set to leave Real Madrid on a two-year loan deal to Dutch giants Ajax, according to the latest speculation. The Norwegian has starred during a series of loan stints in the Netherlands, and surely deserves a chance in the first-team squad at Los Blancos.

The 20-year-old is currently on loan at Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem after previously making 43 first-team appearances on loan at Heerenveen, with both his stats and reviews this campaign showing a marked sign of progress. The midfielder has impressed once again in the Eredivisie this campaign by netting eight goals and providing nine assists to help Vitesse into a top seven spot. Continue reading

Keylor Navas set for Real Madrid exit

Keylor Navas

A multitude of reports in the Spanish press on Monday stated that Real Madrid had informed long-serving goalkeeper Keylor Navas that his time at the club was up. The 32-year-old’s final game at the club is set to be against Real Betis on Sunday, in an opportunity for him to say his goodbyes to the fans after five years in the Spanish capital.

The Costa Rican appeared certain to leave the European champions last summer whenever their €40m deal for Thibaut Courtois from Chelsea was completed. However, the Costa Rican number one stuck it out in the Spanish capital and continually referenced his contract at the club and even stating ‘he would rather die’ than leave the Bernabeu. Continue reading

What has happened to Marco Asensio?

It was after a 5-1 aggregate defeat to Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup back in 2017 that Gerard Pique admitted he felt, for the first time, Barcelona to be “inferior” to Real Madrid. There were a number of factors that led the Catalan centre back to make just a bold confession and one of them was surely Marco Asensio.

Asensio scored twice over the two legs of that Spanish Super Cup final, with one of them a stunning strike from distance that deceived Marc-Andre Ter Stegen in the Barcelona goal by moving one way and then the next before finding the back of the net. It was just another moment of brilliance from a player destined for the top.

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Or so it seemed at the time. Asensio was seen as Real Madrid’s next Galactico, the future face of the club. Possibly even a future Ballon d’Or winner. Things have gone a little differently since then, though. In recent times, Asensio has been a shadow of his former self. A pale imitation of the player who shimmered so bright not so long ago.

Zinedine Zidane seems to have lost faith in the 23-year-old, with Asensio now a peripheral figure at Real Madrid. The hope was that Zidane’s return would help restore Asensio. It was, after all, the Frenchman that brought through the young attacker. There has been no such resurgence, though.

Instead, Asensio is, according to reports, being touted around Europe. Liverpool have long tracked the 23-year-old and with Real Madrid supposedly open to a sale it seems that the Anfield outfit might well get their man. Chelsea have also been linked with a move for the attacker, although their transfer embargo could prove to be an obstacle.

This wasn’t how Asensio’s Real Madrid career was meant to pan out, but it appears that Zidane has decided that the 23-year-old doesn’t fit into his plans for the future. The Spanish capital club find themselves in a mess and Zidane must be ruthless in his restoration of his squad, even if it means cutting Asensio.

Along with Gareth Bale, there has been no greater victim of the chaos that has engulfed the Santiago Bernabeu over the past year or so than Asensio. There is still time for him to retrace the upward trajectory he has diverted from, but increasingly it seems that he will do so away from Real Madrid.

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Zinedine Zidane’s biggest season is coming up at Real Madrid

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They say never go back, but in the case of Zinedine Zidane that is what he did at Real Madrid. Walking away after the 2018 Champions League final win over Liverpool, Madrid went into meltdown. Not only did Zidane leave but so did Cristiano Ronaldo and president Florentino Perez went through two managers before Zidane waltzed his way back into the Bernabeu 10 months after leaving.

Truth is though results have not improved since he took over from the beleaguered and unfortunate Santiago Solari. Zidane holds just a 50% win rate compared to a near 70% from his first spell. One wonders if the appointment of Zidane should have been delayed until the end of the season, because at the moment everything looks so deflated even with Zidane in charge.

Real Madrid’s latest defeat came at the hands of Real Sociedad in a 3-1 loss, though to be fair Madrid have never travelled well up to Basque Country. And it does feel that players have switched onto holiday mode and the league still has one more game to go. Real will finish 3rd whatever happens and that guarantees Champions League football for next season, and next season is what it’s really all about for the club.

There will be huge change at the club in the summer and this is when Zidane will be making some sweeping changes to the club. Gareth Bale is almost certain to leave the club. The Welshman still boasts superb quality and would be a fantastic addition to any club in the world, but he needs change, a refresher course so to speak and Madrid still know that he is worth at least 70 million euros to buyers. Toni Kroos seems to have let the season pass him by and could leave also.

But one wonders if Zidane is really ready to shake the apple tree up. Is it time for Sergio Ramos and Marcelo to depart, staple players of the team in the 2010s, but one has to question if their hunger and desire is really there at the club anymore. If they can convince Zidane that it is then maybe they will stay. Karim Benzema who has actually had a decent personal season with the club may have played his last only because of the players that could be coming in.

Madrid have been linked to the likes of Eden Hazard, Neymar and even Kylian Mbappe. It will be interesting to see who the club bring in, but for sure they will have to sell first and at least 6 first team players will be playing their last games for the club next weekend.

For Zidane his 2nd term at Madrid really starts at the end of this season and it could be a career defining one. This will be the season targeted as the comeback one, Barcelon beware.

FIFA are correct to uphold decision to ban Chelsea for two transfer windows and Sarri should be happy with the outcome

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Chelsea have been told by FIFA that they will indeed serve a two window transfer ban which was imposed on them earlier in the season for breaching signing of youngsters and that means the club will not be able to sign any new players until the summer of 2020.

Chelsea will appeal to the courts of attribution but could be likely to lose. Whilst Chelsea should be punished, one cannot get away from the fact that UEFA are not promoting the game in the right direction. Unless one truly hates the club does anyone associated with football want to tie two hands behind a clubs back? Chelsea could win the Europa League enter the Champions League and not be able to buy any new players. Basically killing their chances of winning the competition before they have even started.

On top of that Chelsea have the problem of Eden Hazard their star player who looks like he will be leaving the club in the summer to join Real Madrid. This was further highlighted when the star player was seen nodding his head in a no fashion when fans asked him to stay at the club last week.

Surely the situation is a harsh one for the club who, yes, should receive a ban this summer but not extended to two windows. Ideally why not fine the club £500,000 and give back to hospitals or put back into the grassroots of the game. After all the ban won’t hurt as much as not being out of a little pocket for the club.

Of course the good news if the club are to be banned for purchasing players is that Maurizio Sarri’s job will be safe. It was oddly under threat a few months ago, even though he has steered Chelsea to a Europa League final, a Carabao Cup final and a top 4 place ensuring Champions League football either way next season, that’s not too bad for your debut season surely?

Still who will want to join the club now knowing you can’t buy any players for over a year? That would be like playing Monopoly and going round the board several times until your rivals all have the properties they want. In that sense Sarri suddenly holds all of the cards and with a strong link to Roma, Sarri may just think enough is enough and walk in the summer if he is not being respected at the club.

For now Chelsea are doing well, but the future hardly looks bright.

 

Week 37: Best 11 Players of the Weekend in Fantasy La Liga

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Just one team- Barcelona won from the top 3 as they increased their lead at the top to 11 points over Atletico Madrid. Real Madrid lost again as they just want the season to end but they will finish in 3rd anyway and be ready for the Champions League.

But the excitement is all about who will get that 4th and final Champions League spot. Currently Valencia have 58 points and lead on goal difference from Getafe who also have 58 points and there is also Sevilla in the mix with 56.

Below we take a look at the best performers of this past weekend in La Liga- did you have them in your team?

Formation 4-4-2.

Goalkeeper: Diego Lopez- Espanyol

Diego Lopez has kept his 2nd clean sheet in a row after Espanyol beat Leganes 2-0 to go into 9th place. Lopez gained 7 points at the weekend and now is valued at 4m.

Defender: Jordi Alba- Barcelona

Yet another clean sheet for Jordi Alba and that is why he is rated as the best defender in La Liga Fantasy rankings. 5 points earned as Barcelona eased to a  2-0 win over Getafe.

Defender: Gerard Pique-Barcelona

People talk about Lionel Messi and the main reason that Barcelona have retained their league title. But the pairing of Alba and Pique at the back for the club has been instrumental, and their chemistry is unique. Pique made some great tackles and earned 5 points and his value is 7.5m.

Defender: Roberto Rosales- Espanyol

Roberto Rosales seemed like he was at the heart of everything happening for Espanyol as he helped to keep another clean sheet for the team who are now inside the top 10. Espanyol beat Leganes 2-0 and Rosales is valued at 5.5m.

Defender: Jaume Costa- Villarreal

Jaume Costa starred in Villarreal’s vital 1-0 win over Eibar which now guarantees the club safety for next season. Costa has 22 points for the season and is valued at 6.5m.

Midfielder: Raul Garcia- Athletic Bilbao 

Raul Garcia earned 8 points for Bilbao as they beat Celta Vigo 3-1 to shoot up into a Europa League spot. Garcia had the weekend of his season though as he scored the opening 2 goals of the game for his club including a penalty. Garcia is valued at 8m and has acquired 41 points.

Midfielder: Joaquin Sanchez- Real Betis

Sanchez was influential as the midfielder earned 7 points at the weekend to take his total tally to 37. He scored both of Real Betis’ goals including getting a last minute winner in a memorable weekend for the player.

Midfielder: Arturo Vidal- Barcelona

Vidal earned 5 points to make this team for league leaders Barcelona who brushed aside Getafe 2-0. Vidal got the opening goal and that was his 3rd of the season for the Catalan giants.

Midfielder: Sarabia- Sevilla

Sarabia continues to be an outstanding player for Sevilla and earned 4 points at the weekend. The player is ranked as the best midfielder in La Liga Fantasy rankings with 87 points and is valued at 7m. Sevilla just remain outside of a Champions League place and drew against Atletico Madrid 1-1 at the weekend.

Striker: Borja Iglesias- Espanyol

Borja Iglesias earned a brilliant 8 points as Espanyol beat Leganes 2-0 and the striker scored both goals including a nervous penalty which sealed all the three points. He has 69 points for the season and has scored a terrific 17 goals, claiming to be one of the best forwards in Spain right now.

Striker: Enes Unal- Real Valladolid

Enes Unal wouldn’t see his name on a player of the weekend too much but the Rayo Valladolid player opened the scoring against Vallecano and then assisted in his team’s 2-1 win over the club. Unal has 23 points and is rated at 5.5m.

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Is Jose Mourinho nearing the PSG job?

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Love him or dislike him football doesn’t quite feel the same without the special one Jose Mourinho involved in it, and no Russian punditry doesn’t count. It is obviously only a matter of time before Mourinho is back in management, but with what club will it be for?

With the Premier League and La Liga seemingly ruled out for the time being it seems that Mourinho’s next move could either be to go Italy, he is loved at Inter Milan or perhaps a new fresh challenge in France’s Ligue 1.

A few weeks ago Mourinho was being linked to French giants Lyon, this made sense given that the PSG job looked like a total no- no given how strong the club had been under coach Thomas Tuchel in his debut season.

The problem with Lyon is that they have regularly been a good 20 points off of PSG’s pace. Could the presence of Mourinho and a fresh cheque book really make a difference and end PSG’s dominance in France? It would make for a great challenge for Mourinho, who has never really taken a risk in football since joining Inter Milan a decade ago.

But time is short and quick in football and now Tuchel at PSG is under pressure. Since news broke of Mourinho possibly going to Ligue 1 PSG were knocked out of the Champions League by Manchester United, a team in transition and a team PSG had beat in England in the 1st leg 2-0. PSG had bottled it once again ran the headlines and to be frank it felt like they did.

Then the club missed out on a domestic double by losing the Coupe de France final to unfancied Rennes, all of a sudden PSG won just one trophy this season and have lost countless times as the season comes to an end. It has been a bittersweet one for Tuchel even if PSG did win the league.

The cracks are there that weren’t a few months ago, indeed coming into the new year Tuchel and PSG seemed like the perfect fit. No body is talking about it but surely the threat of Mourinho lurks around the corner for Tuchel.

At the same time Mourinho has had two complete meltdowns in his last 2 jobs and PSG must be weary of that. Has Mourinho learned from those experiences and more importantly is he willing to learn. Just for the circus of it all having Mourinho in Paris seems great for football, but Tuchel may well still be the right man for the club if they give him time.

 

Real Madrid must ease reliance on Karim Benzema next season

Almost from the moment Zinedine Zidane’s return to Real Madrid was confirmed, the Santiago Bernabeu outfit have embarked on the longest pre-season programme in football history. Indeed, with Real Madrid out of the Liga title race, out of the Copa del Rey and out of the Champions League, the final couple months of the season became about preparing for the next one.

This has seen Zidane experiment with a number of options in essentially dead rubber games. He has tried different options in goals – Thibaut Courtois, Keylor Navas and even his own son, Luca Zidane. He has alternated between Marcelo and Sergio Reguilon at left back. Alvaro Odriozola and Dani Carvajal have taken it game about at right back. Jesus Vallejo has earned the Frenchman’s trust while even the forgotten man Mariano Diaz has been given a chance up front.

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Of course, Mariano has only been given a run in the first team due to the injury suffered by Karim Benzema. Questions were asked of the Frenchman last season, to the extent where his exit from the Santiago Bernabeu looked probable. However, the exit of Cristiano Ronaldo last summer changed things and Benzema has delivered, crossing the 30-goal mark.

However, Real Madrid have become too dependent on the goals of Benzema. With Mariano’s goal in the win over Villarreal last weekend, he became the first player that isn’t Benzema to find the back of the net in 568 minutes. While they were once reliant on Ronaldo to provide a cutting edge in the final third, now it’s Benzema they lean on.

This is arguably the most pressing of all the concerns Zidane must have in his mind ahead of next season. Real Madrid will undergo a summer overhaul, with the squad almost certain to be replenished. It is in the final third where their efforts will be focused most acutely and they must find goals.

Quite simply, the likes of Marco Asensio, Gareth Bale, Isco and Lucas Vazquez haven’t contributed enough in front of goal this season. Even Vinicius Junior, the breakout star of the 2018/19 La Liga season, needs to sharpen up his finishing. The addition of players like Eden Hazard and Luka Jovic, both expected to join Real Madrid this summer, should held, but Zidane knows what he must find ahead of next season – goals.

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Iker Casillas is a legend who has nothing else left to prove and should retire after heart scare

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It only feels like yesterday when Iker Casillas replaced Cesar Sanchez in goal for Real Madrid in the final absorbing minutes of the 2002 Champions League final. Real were leading the game 2-1 against Germans Bayer Leverkusen but had a poor second half where Leverkusen created wave after waves of attacking football, the game seemed destined to end 2-2. But Casillas pulled off a string of fantastic saves and although he had made a cameo part in the final he emerged as a hero, saving the day for the club who went onto win their 9th European Cup.

From that day forward Casillas established himself as Real Madrid’s No.1. goalkeeper and would keep the job between the sticks for the next 13 years. In that time he won everything a player possibly could. As Madrid’s first choice he was also naturally Spain’s too, and was part of the most successful Spanish side in history.

Casillas has spent the last four seasons at Porto after his surprise move there took place in 2015, but it felt like the right time for him to be moving on. Recently though it came as shock news to learn that Casillas had suffered a heart attack, even if mild on the training pitch. It is not something which one fathoms about happening to a 37 year old elite athlete.

Casillas is fine, he is good and that is all that really matters at this stage. But he must be incredibly shaken up and also ask why this has happened to him? He has put on a brave face in front of the media but there is no doubt that tears have been shed and part of this isn’t because he has survived and is thankful. It is also a realisation that his football career is over. Of course nothing has been made official and if Casillas can continue all good to him. But he must be fearful in some respects and he must also have the ability to protect himself and his health. Yes his career is ending perhaps 3-4 years before he would have ideally liked, but at the same time doesn’t it make sense to hang up his boots?

What does Casillas have left to prove, he has literally won every trophy one could ask for. This includes 19 trophies for Real Madrid, 5 league titles and 2 Champions Leagues. He won the league in Portugal with Porto last season. There could yet be another title this season as Porto are just 2 points behind Benfica with 2 games left to play in what should be a thrilling end to the season.

And then there is the glory with Spain. Two European Championships and a World Cup, in an extraordinary four year period.

Perhaps Casillas needs to reflect on the utterly amazing career he has had, this dreadful attack did not happen when he was 27, but at 37, he has had a 95% career in football. Simply for his health and well being he should be dropping the football gloves for the microphone of punditry and saying goodbye to his playing days- remaining a legend in any football fans eyes.