Goalkeeper crisis at Real Madrid ahead of Sevilla clash

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Real Madrid are facing an injury crisis between the sticks as they prepare to host Sevilla tomorrow night, with both of their first choice La Liga net minders potentially sidelined through injury.

Santiago Solari’s side will be desperate to beat Los Rojiblancos, with Pablo Machin’s currently in third, and Real in fourth, separated only by goal difference.

However, the hosts have been hit with a succession of injuries in their squad, and fourth choice goal keeper Luca Zidane could be in line to step in for only his second ever senior appearance.

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Pole Position: How Krzysztof Piątek Has Landed In The Driver’s Seat of Milan’s Mercato Plans

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Nearly six months removed from plying his trade in Poland with first division Ekstraklasa outfit Cracovia, Krzysztof Piątek has taken to Italian soil and calcio like a duck to water by virtue of an all-out goalscoring outburst with Genoa.

An absolute bargain at €4m with 13 Serie A goals (19 goals bagged in 21 total appearances for the Rossoblu since his under-the-radar transfer to the Marassi), Piątek trails only extraterrestrial superstar forward Cristiano Ronaldo for the capocannoniere.

From Kraków to Genoa, in a matter of months, all eyes have become fixated on what the 23-year old is accomplishing on a weekly basis in Italy’s top flight, thus causing quite the stir amongst European powers in search of his striking talents; Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and AC Milan are among the many suitors to have been linked with the Pole as early as October.

Last summer, Argentina star Gonzalo Higuain was sacrificed by the Bianconeri to make room for Ronaldo, paving the way for the ex-Napoli bomber to the San Siro as Milan’s solution to their crisis up front. But, in a matter of weeks, with the visibly disgruntled number nine’s status turned sour, the Juventus loanee appears closer to Chelsea with one foot out the door towards a reunion tour with Maurizio Sarri. As a result, the Rossoneri braintrust have turned to familiar business partner, Genoa president Enrico Preziosi, for Higuain’s replacement in the white-hot Piątek.

Make no mistakes about it, Piątek‘s first six months couldn’t have gone smoother as the trending attacker sits in Pole position of the UCL hopefuls mercato plans. But, the questions on everyone‘s mind as his move begins to materialize are: is Milan jumping the gun on the pistol-shooting forward, and is he ready for the famous red and black shirt?

By the looks of the rumor mill, Preziosi has slapped an approximate price tag of €40-45m on his Polish asset. Considering the slim market for strikers, this is hardly a surprising request when accounting for Piątek’s current value, remarkable goal output, the domestic suitor’s need and age.

Emphasizing more on age, it is worth mentioning that Piątek seems to fall in line with Milan’s adopted strategy under new CEO Ivan Gazidis of bringing in younger talent with future market upside. And if you want to go the hypothetical route here, Milan hold an option to purchase Higuain this summer for around €36m, which they’d obviously bypass if he joins Chelsea. In addition to this, Sevilla have an option of their own to buy André Silva for €39m as confirmed by the Spanish club last month. Under the assumption Higuain departs, and Silva’s agent Jorge Mendes irons out a deal to keep his client in Seville past this campaign, by my estimation, Milan make out well on the financial side of a potential Piątek deal. Additionally, the idea exists of Milan acquiring Piątek on the basis of paying his fee over multiple installments, which in itself benefits the books.

Genoa hold leverage here against Milan as they know Higuain seeks refuge in England and Gennaro Gattuso needs to fill the void instantly by having just one striker in Cutrone at his disposal. Unfortunately for Milan, and many others around Europe facing the same problem up front, it’s a matter of supply and demand – and demand is limited. Then again, the details of a potential transaction are by no means established, so it is speculation at this point of the negotiations.

Shifting towards the subject player, because opinions on him certainly vary and there is a ton to unpack, Piątek’s profile is that of a pure striker.

Evident with his exploits in Liguria, the coveted attacker provides a clinical finishing touch within distance of goal, and against popular belief, is more well-rounded than people may give him credit for.

Piątek isn’t of the burner mould. Instead, a forward who perhaps plays larger than his 1,83 m frame with a reliance on movement, proper positioning, asserting himself, and engaging in, encounters with defenders to see enough of the ball in the final third to bury his chances.

Aerially, Piątek is a threat with his physicality and ability to get on the end of balls played in from the flanks and on set pieces. To call him an opportunist would almost mean that he is a poacher, but that is not the case. Rather, he is a striker who demands the ball and strives to makes the most of his goal sense and understanding of the penalty area, while also demonstrating the desire to aid in the transition from the defending to attacking phase.

Similarly to Dawid Kownacki, Piątek was prematurely dubbed by some as ‘the new Robert Lewandowski’; a low-hanging, convenient nickname for reasons centered around position and country of origin. Bestowing such expectations on him can be dangerous, but seeing as he moved on the cheap, the pressure to meet that unrealistic standard was a non-factor. However, transferring to Milan as a talent now thrusted into the limelight as an expensive replacement for Higuain comes with heaps of responsbility and expectations. There is a standard to meet, and a very high one at that, when wearing the famous red and black as a striker for Milan.

Undoubtedly, the Rossoneri shirt is a heavy one, with a prestigious crest and long line of legends to toss it on their shoulders. And to most, six months of top-flight success does not warrant a large fee, nor a Milan shirt in such a pivotal period for the club seeking a return to European football’s main stage.

There are many loyal Milanisti who prefer to christen ‘predestinato’ Cutrone as the main man over splashing on Piątek, and instead, allocate those funds towards a dynamic winger capable of supporting the 21-year old with gamechanging ability. Doubts wlll continue to be raised about whether Cutrone and Piatek are compatible for a side that often deals with dry spells of service to the forwards who have dependence on it. Then again, how many can effectively fend for themselves? But while the jury is still out on Piątek and his qualifications to help ignite the attack, it would be remiss to doubt sporting director Leonardo and Paolo Maldini in selecting Higuain’s replacement.

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Santiago Solari already on borrowed time at Real Madrid

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Real Madrid’s defeat on Sunday at home to Real Sociedad was their first loss against the Basque club in the Spanish capital in 15 years. La Real ran out 4-1 victors back in April 2004 and Santiago Solari was one of the midfielders that day for the beleaguered hosts.

This time round, the Argentine was sitting in the Madrid dugout and, despite being appointed only two months ago, must already feel like he is on borrowed time in the position. It was the latest damaging result under his stewardship and leaves Los Blancos ten points adrift at the top of La Liga. Continue reading

Brahim Diaz joining Real Madrid leaves more questions than answers

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Real Madrid have confirmed the signing of Manchester City teenager Brahim Diaz on a six-and-a-half year deal, but is it right move for the club and, more importantly, is it the right move for the player?

Diaz, 19, joined City’s youth system from Malaga in 2013 but his contract in Manchester was due to expire this summer. For a number of months he had been telling reporters that he wanted a move way to guarantee more first-team football elsewhere, which he believed would help aid his development as a player. Continue reading

Real Madrid’s average season continues as they look to appoint big name coach

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Real Madrid have not been themselves this season and that continued after they could only draw 2-2 against Villarreal in their latest game in midweek. To rub salt into the wounds Madrid were leading 2-1 with just minutes to go but could not see the game out.

Despite Madrid winning the World Club Cup in December the pressure is on Santiago Solari to keep his job in the hot seat because the cup was won by beating two sides who with all due respect were not on the same level as Madrid. But the club keep continuing to underwhelm in La Liga.

This latest draw means that with 17 games played they have 30 points and are are 7 behind league leaders Barcelona. Los Blancos are also in the very unfamiliar position of 4th place. Both Deportivo on 28 points and Real Betis on 26 are not far behind and the worry is that if the team do not go on a consistent run they could fall even further behind.

In fairness to Solari who stepped in two months ago when Julen Lopetegui was sacked he has done a decent job in a very chaotic environment, but why are Madrid not firing on all cylinders?

The departures of coach Zinedine Zidane is a major factor, with the French legend guiding the club to an historic treble of Champions League trophies. Although it should be noted that Madrid only won the league once with Zidane in charge.

Madrid have always been about having the very best players- even if it hasn’t always worked out and they have been trumped in that department this season. With Cristiano Ronaldo leaving for Juventus, Madrid never replaced him and he has left a gaping hole in that team. This isn’t to say that Madrid have been poor this season, they just have not been their usual confident selves. Much of the limelight has gone onto the shoulders of Gareth Bale.

Bale has scored 10 goals in all competitions for the club this season and is on course to score his personal best. That is 22 which he achieved in his debut season. Still he only has 4 goals in the league and more would have been expected of him.

This season feels like a write off for the club and yet they won’t be giving up anything just yet especially in the Champions League. However you feel there will be a new dawn at the club in the summer which could mean more star players in, some out and certainly a new coach.

 

Aaron Ramsey should join Juventus if he wants to become a complete player

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It’s not everyday that Juventus come calling for you, and what will end up being Arsenal’s loss and Juventus’ gain could well happen this summer when the Arsenal playmaker Aaron Ramsey becomes a free agent.

Arsenal seem to have made a faux pas in letting Ramsey wind down his career, only last season he was voted as the best Arsenal player by the fans which was the 2nd time he had won it. Ramsey is a player that in todays market could fetch anywhere between £40-£60m but in the summer he will be leaving for absolutely nothing.

The reasoning seems to be down to new manager Unai Emery who just can’t fit him into his system and it is the reason that Ramsey has had to start games from the bench. At 28 the Welshman seems to be getting better and better in his role, but it is clear that role is not with Arsenal anymore.

But with Juventus calling Ramsey needs to make the jump to them or any other big continental club. It might be that the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea could throw in their interest, but staying in the Premier League would not be a good move for the player.

Just take a look at his Wales teammate Gareth Bale for evidence. Bale has been utterly brilliant for Real Madrid, and has on the face of it become the greatest British import of all time. It isn’t the fact that Bale has won numerous trophies in his time in Spain, although that does help. But also Bale has grown as a player and reached the potential of his footballing capabilities, few football players ever get to that level but when Bale made that decision to go to Spain he opened the door.

If Ramsey does join Juventus he will be bathed in a rich history of a team that accept nothing more than winning. He will have Cristiano Ronaldo as a teammate and will be most likely be setting him for chances.

It would be a massive move for the player and the obvious obstacles would be the new culture and change of language, but surely that is worth the pay off? Footballers are immensely lucky in the fact that when they move to a foreign land they are instantly looked after and respected, and the Italian game may just suit Ramsey’s one down to a tea, or an Italian cappuccino.

Pound for Pound are Real Betis the best team in La Liga this season?

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It’s been very routine for clubs such as Real Betis to have a few good games and then fade away, but this season the team from the south seem to have more staying power and have made a real impact on La Liga this season.

La Liga has been very exciting this season, mostly because Barcelona and Real Madrid have not had it all their own way. While Barcelona do lead the league they only do so by 3 points over Atletico Madrid. Real Madrid have had their own problems with the sacking of Julen Lopetegui after a nightmare start to the season. Santiago Solari was drafted in but the team don’t feel like classic, solid and reliable Madrid the team we have come to know over the past five years. That is because Zinedine Zidane left the club last summer and so did Cristiano Ronaldo. Real are in 4th place and there is a chance that they could miss out on automatic qualification for next seasons Champions League, that is unless they win the competition for an historic 4th time in a row.

But back to Betis who are in 6th place and just three points behind Madrid and while a title challenge is beyond them the club will be trying to reach a European place finish. Currently they are already there and set for Europa League football next season but if they could finish in the top 4 that would be good enough for Champions League football and they are just one win from achieving that. Of course there is a long time to go and we are not even at the halfway stage yet in Spain but this season Betis seem like a different beast from last.

Before the Christmas break Betis stunned Barcelona by becoming the first team to beat them in the league at the Nou Camp for 2 years and they are currently on a 4 game unbeaten streak with 3 of those matches being wins. To understand why Betis have changed for the better this season we must look at their coach Quique Setien.

Setien joined the club last season and has won 31 of his 65 games in charge so far to give him a 47.6% win rate. Whilst it is true that Setien has never won any managerial honours in his 17 years as a boss he has also never had the opportunities mostly coaching teams in La Liga 2.

One wonders how far he can take Betis, a European finish which is currently on and a deep run in the Copa del Rey would be a successful season for the club who usually fade away in the second half of the season, this is something that Setien will be determined to change in 2019.

Legend Cristiano Ronaldo continues to score goals in Italy with Juventus

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When Cristiano Ronaldo arrived in Italy he arrived with a reputation that included breaking almost every goal scoring record that was ever recorded, if it wasn’t him it was Lionel Messi. This is why Juventus were happy to spend £100m on a player who is 33, and we will likely never see such money thrown down for a player of his age again.

The question for Ronaldo wasn’t about if he would win more titles in his career, that seems a given at a side as strong and dominant as Juventus, but could a player who has scored freely in the Premier League and La Liga do the same in Serie A?

Ronaldo has said himself that the league is tight, the play hard and that there is not much space for forwards to get the opportunity to score goals. In short he is playing in the best defensive league that he has ever known.

And yet once we take a look at his goal scoring feats this season we must just wonder how great is the Portuguese player? He has scored 14 goals in just 19 matches in the league and in all competitions he has 15 from 24. He is on course to have his best goal scoring season league wise since 2015/16 and he is getting older which simply is not affecting him.

In Italy it is very rare for a goal scorer to get past 30 goals in a season. Of course we all know who is sitting at the top of the goal scorer standings? That’s right CR7 himself. He leads by 1 goal and nothing will give him satisfaction than by finishing in the top spot. In the last two seasons the top goal scorers have been Ciro Immobile and Eden Dzeko who both reached 29 goals each and the season before was very special when Gonzalo Higuaín scored 36 goals, this is an all time record in the league and Ronaldo may just have one eye on this.

But Ronaldo has done much more than just score goals and let’s face it if Ronaldo was not playing at Juventus they would still be leading the table by some 10 points and would still win the league. He adds that touch of luxury and what has been most impressive is that he wants to integrate into the team. In short he wants to become a legend at the club just like he has done with Manchester United and Real Madrid.

The ultimate prize for Ronaldo and Juventus will of course be the Champions League, Juventus are looking for their first win in 23 years, Ronaldo is looking for his 4th in a row. Can the serial winner make Juve the serial winners in Europe? Watch this space.

Real Madrid given La Liga head start in 2019

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Real Madrid will have a chance to lay down a 2019 marker to their La Liga rivals on Thursday night, before any other top four side has kicked a ball in 2019.

Santiago Solari’s side head to Villarreal for their first game of the calendar year, with a home game against Real Sociedad on Sunday.

The reason being that due Real’s involvement in the FIFA Club World Cup, they have played a fixture less than their rivals this season.

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Eden Hazard the perfect fit for Real Madrid

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Earlier this week, Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri told reporters ‘it is time to decide’ the future of star player Eden Hazard. The Belgian international has been influential for the Blues this season while he netted his 100th and 101st goals for the club in the Boxing Day victory at Watford.

The playmaker has continually stated he is ‘happy’ at the West London club and all indications suggest he would not cause disruption in his push for an exit. Yet for the best part of 18 months he has continually flirted with Real Madrid, fluttering his eyelashes in their direction on any occasion he is quizzed about his future. Continue reading