Should Zinedine Zidane give Alphonse Areola a chance?

There was a symbolism to Wednesday’s Champions League clash between Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid. These were two giants of the European game who have somewhat lost their way over the past year or so. Are there two more volatile footballing arenas than the Parc des Princes and Santiago Bernabeu right now?

There were subplots everywhere, but perhaps the most compelling one concerned the two mean in goals. Of course, until a few weeks ago Keylor Navas was a Real Madrid player. The Costa Rican won three Champions League titles during his time in the Spanish capital, but lost his starting place to Thibaut Courtois after the Belgian’s arrival last summer.

Navas was subsequently sold to PSG in the final few days of the summer transfer window and started against his former team on Wednesday night. The Costa Rican must have drawn great satisfaction from the clean sheet he kept and the emphatic 3-0 win he helped his team to.

On the flip side, Courtois looked shaky throughout. There were no glaring errors from the Belgian, but he might have done a little more to stop both of Angel di Maria’s two goals and looked unsure of himself from the first whistle until the last. This wasn’t an isolated case either. Courtois has been suspect for a number of months.

Courtois has now gone 15 games in all competitions without keeping a clean sheet. Real Madrid’s defence looked much steadier with Navas behind them, but that didn’t stop the Costa Rican from being cast aside. The suspicion is that Florentino Perez never saw Navas as befitting of a club of Real Madrid’s size and stature.

Alphonse Areola headed in the opposite direction to Navas in the summer window and so Zinedine Zidane does have another option between the sticks. Could Areola be given an early chance to prove himself at his new club? The poor form of Courtois might well be opening the door for the 26-year-old.

Despite being signed for over £30 million, Courtois has never really proved himself at Real Madrid. The Belgian certainly isn’t to blame for the issues his team have faced over the past year, but his influence at the back hasn’t done anything to help steady the ship. Zidane could be forgiven for looking at his new second choice goalkeeper and pondering if he might give him something Navas took when he left for France.

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A preview of gameweek 5 in LaLiga

Football, football, football.

Here is our preview of all ten games in LaLiga this coming weekend.

Osasuna v Real Betis

Key men: Roberto Torres (Osasuna); Nabil Fekir (Real Betis)

Prediction: Osasuna 1 – 1 Real Betis Continue reading

Early season issues must be left behind by Real Madrid

Many expected Real Madrid to struggle early on this season after what was a tumultuous summer for the capital club. However, an impressive 3-1 away win over Celta Vigo on opening weekend suggested that things would all right after all. It didn’t take long for those suggestions to wash away.

Real Madrid have won just one of their first three fixtures of the new La Liga season. For context, Zinedine Zidane’s side are already five points off rivals Atletico Madrid at the top of the table. The problems of last season continue to afflict this group of players. On the basis of what we have seen so far, nothing has been solved over the summer.

Injuries have been a factor in this. Eden Hazard was Real Madrid’s marquee signing of the summer, joining from Chelsea for a deal worth around £100 million. However, the Belgian has yet to make the field for his new team, sidelined through injury as Real Madrid have struggled to find traction.

Ferland Mendy has only just returned to first team action, playing in the defeat to Villarreal before the international break. Luka Jovic, a big money sining from Eintracht Frankfurt, has so far struggled to find a place in Zidane’s team, with some even speculating that the Serbian striker’s stay at the Santiago Bernabeu could be a short one.

On top of this, Eder Militao has yet to make his Real Madrid debut, with Sergio Ramos and Nacho Fernandez both suspended for the Champions League opener away to Paris Saint-Germain next week. Teenage forward Rodrygo has also been denied his first team bow up to this stage.

Perhaps it’s wise that Zidane has, by design or not, phased in Real Madrid’s squad overhaul, but results have been disappointing over the early part of the season and the capital club must hit the ground running when they return from the international break. They don’t have any more time to waste, especially with Atletico Madrid enjoying such a strong start to the season.

The Santiago Bernabeu is not a happy place right now. Only Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema have found anything close to their top form in the first three Liga games of the season. This season was meant to be one of change. They can’t hold off that change any longer.

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A preview of all the action in gameweek 4 of LaLiga

Another full list of LaLiga matches awaits all Spanish football fans this weekend. There are some very interesting matchups to look out for as well.

Here is our preview of all ten games.

Mallorca v Athletic Bilbao

Key men: Salva Sevilla (Mallorca); Inaki Williams (Athletic Bilbao)

Prediction: Mallorca 0 – 1 Athletic Bilbao Continue reading

Real Madrid need Eden Hazard to hit the ground running

It was somewhat remarkable that having spent around £300 million on new players Real Madrid started their La Liga campaign with not one of those new signings in their starting lineup. Indeed, Zinedine Zidane has been forced to rely on the same old faces over the past few weeks.

Injuries have crippled the capital club over the early part of the season, with Eden Hazard ruled out of action through a thigh injury. The Belgian was Real Madrid’s marquee signing this summer, joining from Chelsea in a transfer worth around £100 million. Many see him as the natural heir to Cristiano Ronaldo.

However, Hazard has been made to wait for his Real Madrid debut. Meanwhile, his new team has struggled to get going, winning just one of their opening three La Liga fixtures, drawing at home to Real Valladolid and losing away to Villarreal. We’re only just into September and Atletico Madrid already hold a five-point lead over their city rivals.

A familiar sense of malaise has taken grip at the Santiago Bernabeu with some already suggesting that Zidane could resign in frustration over the club’s favour to sign him a central midfielder (namely Paul Pogba) in the summer transfer window. Real Madrid’s troubles will take a long time to untangle.

And so Real Madrid need Hazard to hit the ground running whenever he does return from injury. Recent reports state that the Belgian is stepping up his recovery and could make his debut once the September international break is out of the way. That moment cannot come quick enough for the capital club.

Before his injury there were concerns over Hazard’s fitness. Indeed, the 28-year-old looked to have enjoyed himself a little too much over the summer, turning in a number of sluggish performances over pre-season. Nonetheless, Real Madrid have invested a lot of time, having chased him for over two years, and money in the Belgian. He will be expected to deliver from the very start.

It’s possible that Hazard could make his competitive debut for his new team against Levante. Real Madrid already have ground to make up at the top of the Spanish Liga table and they need their best players to step up and make a difference. Hazard is one of those players and having missed the first few games of the season he can’t afford to waste any more time.

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UEFA make Real Madrid unseeded in an odd move for the Champions League draw

The draw for the Champions League season 2019/20 will take place later today and sadly UEFA have made it all about them. In a stunning move, which actually feels more bizarre they have decided not to seed Real Madrid.

Now even if you are not a fan of the club, that is beside the point. Barcelona fans for example may just be laughing at the idea that Madrid have been relegated to Pot 2. However if you are a fan of football then you’ll be scratching your head and wondering why a club that has won the competition 4 times from the past 6 years isn’t being seeded.

The story has gone completely under the carpet which is a bit of a travesty really. Had Liverpool won the competition 4 from the last 6 years could you imagine the media in England? And these type of stories shouldn’t go unnoticed around Europe and only be centered on one country. All sports media should be crying out loud because this is a playing like a bad joke from UEFA. They are not rewarding success, they are making their awkward points system all about them and not the club- and then UEFA wonder why some of them threaten to breakaway and start a super league.

As news stories go, this one may not feel important, but it should be. UEFA used to respect the clubs that won their own leagues and competitions. UEFA have punished Madrid based on last season alone when they didn’t win the Champions League or the Spanish title. Punished for one season, makes little sense when they have dominated the competition for years.

However rules are rules and the likelihood is that Madrid will qualify for the knock out stages anyway.

The draw should be an exciting one as Madrid count draw one of the very big teams. Imagine for if example they came head to head with Liverpool that would be a repeat of the 2018 final. Not only would Liverpool be after revenge but how will Mohamed Salah react to having to play against Sergio Ramos. Put it this way you wouldn’t want to be Ramos when Liverpool play at Anfield.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has said this season will be the hardest in the Champions League ever, and with teams always improving he has a good point. Any one of 6 teams could win it this season, or perhaps we will have a major surprise.

 

A preview of this weekend’s LaLiga action

Another full list of LaLiga matches awaits all Spanish football fans this weekend. There are some very interesting matchups to look out for as well.

Here is our preview of all ten matches.

Sevilla v Celta Vigo

Key men: Jordan (Sevilla); Aspas (Celta Vigo)

Prediction: Sevilla 2 – 1 Celta Vigo

Sevilla are the early LaLiga leaders and I can’t see that changing after this game. They should overcome Celta Vigo on Friday night. Continue reading

Barcelona thrash Real Betis as Antoine Griezmann arrives for the champions

With Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez injured for another game, the focus was on two things in La Liga: 1) How would Barcelona react after losing their first game of the season against Athletic Bilbao, 2) How would Antoine Griezmann perform?

Thankfully the Frenchman announce his arrival for the Spanish league champions and did it in style as Barcelona thrashed Real Betis 5-2 at the Camp Nou. Griezmann scored a brace and looked delighted to get off his mark with the club. The pressure was already growing for the World Cup winner after a move from Atletico Madrid which had cost the Catalan Giants over 100m euros. His first game for the club was poor and when Nabil Fekir opened the scoring for Betis it seemed as if Barcelona and Griezmann would be in real trouble.

They say timing is everything and in football it means a lot when you can equalise just before half time, it was scrappy and seemed to come off of Griezmann’s shin, but that mattered little, the fans were delighted for him and that goal seemed to reenergise the player who went on to have a very confident second half which led to him scoring again, a cracking goal too that swept into the net.

For many Griezmann was the man of the match and it mattered with the likes of Messi, Suarez and Ousmane Dembele out with injury. One wonders where Barca would be in the league had they not signed Griezmann? But what he did at the weekend was step up. It seems incredible to think that just 2 games in the pressure was massive on Griezmann to perform but this is what it is like at clubs like Barcelona, had he put in a no show again at home and Barca lost or even drew as a result, fans would have been venting their anger. But the storm has been calmed, caught in a tube and thrown away, and Griezmann and Barcelona can now look forward to their next game.

As for the league table it’s strange to see Barcelona in 9th place, though there has only been 2 games played. Sevilla and Griezmann’s former team Atletico Madrid top the league standings as they have won both of their opening games.

Barcelona’s next game will be against Osasuna. On paper that seems like 3 points but this game is away from home in Basque County just like the Bilbao match was a few weeks ago. Basque teams have an uncanny ability to turn it on against the likes of Barca and Real Madrid, and Barcelona will have to be on their game to get anything in that encounter.

One thing is for sure, it should be a cracking game.

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Why PSG are to blame for Neymar’s transfer saga

The Neymar transfer saga keeps on raging on and it is threatening to undermine PSG’s season, the champions have already lost one game and further more could happen until the team know exactly what is happnening with the Brazilian.

Tensions were brought to a head when in the curtain raiser of the season PSG beat Rennes in the cup competition, league champions who meet the cup winners and Neymar who didn’t play in the game went to be part of the photo celebrations but was pushed out of the photo by Kylian Mbappe, who now sees himself as PSG’s main player.

So Neymar has been very distant, some claim him to be injured that is the offical story, but let’s be honest, coach Thomas Tuchel is not going to select someone whose mind is clearly elsewhere.

It is clear that Neymar will never play for PSG again, so what is the delay all about? The obvious answer would be that PSG want a decent deal, after all they paid over 200m euros for him. The fact is that PSG should simply be looking for a long term deal and demand those terms. Players can be involved but they should be able to get back the money they invested. If it takes Barcelona or Real Madrid four or five years to finish up payments then so be it, PSG are not clamouring for money, and they don’t need it. So why not be able to wait for some payments, and get rid of the problem which is Neymar.

The saga of Neymar is not then Barcelona or Real Madrid’s fault to find the price tag and or players to swap, its solely down to PSG- Neymar has never wanted to be there, and getting him in the first place was the biggest mistake. PSG would still have won the league and cups they have entered, and so all in all his acquistions save for shirt sales and fan hype seems unfounded.

Now that PSG have made the mistake in getting Neymar, they need to sell him, the whole situation has made little sense. Except that the deal you want you can’t have now, but later it will work out. In being stubborn with a player they should never have bought they are making it toxic for the club and throughtout this summer PSG have been appearing in the press for all the wrong reasons. This one looks like it will drag until the deathly hours when the window finally closes on September 2nd. It couldn’t come quick enough.

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Could Zidane quit Real Madrid for a second time?

Real Madrid’s objectives are always the same, to win every trophy they are in. But that has had to change after last seasons nightmare, chaotic turn of events that saw Zinedine Zidane quit the club and then they went through two different managers in the space of 8 months as they failed on all fronts, something had to change and surprisingly Zidane was back in, he had stepped in so to speak to save Florentino Perez’s presidency.

All was set to be recharged this season, Zidane would have the money to spend, the great one was back, he who had won 3 Champions League’s in a row. However no one at the club was counting on the Gareth Bale factor. It was simple Zidane wanted to sell the Welshman, he was in no way shape or form in his plans. With a Chinese move imminent where Bale would earn a staggering 1m a week, it was Perez of all people who pulled the plug. He quite rightly recongnised Bale’s qualities and refused the sale of him. Now Zidane was stuck with him.

At that point after such determination to get rid of Bale, Zidane could have walked, his excuse this time being that he was undermined. But that never happened and he stayed as the beginning of the season took hold and Madrid had problems away to Celta Vigo before powering through 3-1, which included an assist by Bale for Madrid’s opening goal.

At the weekend against Valladolid, Madrid were 1/7 to win the game, this is a team they used to stick 6 plus goals past when playing at the Santiago Bernabeu, this time they drew 1-1. They were leading 1-0 for the majority of the game before a player whose surname would ring moans and groans throughout the Madrid fans ears scored, his name Mr. Guardiola- no, you really couldn’t make it up.

It’s so early in the season that it would be harsh to judge Zidane and Madrid, and time is needed. But La Liga is a league where 3 teams are going for the title in themselves, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona. And, as previous seasons have proven there is hardly any measure of error in Spanish football, you drop points especially at home and you lose league titles.

If the rot continues and remember this is one game, but if results don’t come in and if Bale underperforms like he did at the weekend, could Zidane just think that he was right and leave the club. Crazier things have happened and it wouldn’ t be a surprise. Patience is thin at Madrid and Zidane isn’t one of those that waits around to be sacked. The next six weeks will be telling if he walks for a second time.

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