Could latest Gareth Bale episode finally force his exit from Real Madrid?

It was hardly a surprise when Gareth Bale was left out of Real Madrid’s matchday squad to face Manchester City in this week’s Champions League last 16 second leg at the Etihad Stadium. After all, the Welsh winger has been something of a peripheral figure for the Spanish side this season, only making a handful of starts over the 2019/20 campaign.

What was surprising, though, was the reason Zinedine Zidane gave for Bale’s absence in Manchester. “It was a personal conversation I had with him. He preferred not to play,” the Frenchman responded when asked why the 31-year-old hadn’t travelled with the rest of the squad for the crunch match. “The rest remains between me and him but he said he didn’t want to play.”

The true nature of the conversation between Bale and Zidane is not known, but it doesn’t reflect well on the former that he has decided against even travelling to one of his team’s most important games of the season so far. Bale has earned some sympathy of late for the situation he finds himself in in the Spanish capital, but this episode might see him lose some of his defenders.

Until now, the relationship between Bale and Real Madrid had cooled. While the two parties have been tethered together through inconvenience for years, there was an acceptance on both sides that nothing was about to change. The most recent noises out of the Bale camp are that he will see out the rest of his contract at the Santiago Bernabeu while Real Madrid have seemingly run out of ways to get the player out of the club.

The in-fighting had stopped, but this latest episode has the potential to stoke tensions once more. Last summer, Real Madrid came close to moving Bale on to the Chinese Super League only for them to demand a transfer fee at the last moment. It’s a stance they have kept ever since, but if they feel Bale is becoming a toxic influence, rather than just a passive one, in the dressing room it’s possible they could change that stance and forego any fee.

It’s a shame for all concerned that Bale and Real Madrid have ended up in this situation. Until this week, it appeared set to continue until the summer of 2022, when Bale’s contract in the Spanish capital will expire. But what has now happened has the potential to shift the landscape.

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With the title in the bag can Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid knock Manchester City out of the Champions League?

It’s certainly been an odd season and no one can deny that after the terrible Coronavirus broke up every domestic league in the world. It was the teams who were able to respond quickly after the restart that benefited the most and one of those was Real Madrid.

That the season was Zinedine Zidane’s comeback one after leaving Madrid in 2018 was spectacular that it ended with a La Liga title. Taking away Barcelona’s chance to win a unique hat trick of titles in the process.

No other team in Spain came close to Madrid since the restart with Zidane’s team remaining undefeated and collecting an impressive 28 points from their final 10 games. It was that type of consistency that Barcelona simply could not live with. What is interesting is that despite their flawless consistency Madrid didn’t score many goals in those last 10 games, just 18, where normally you would expect between 25-30 for such a team. At the same time no team in Spain was on fire with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid scoring the most in this period with just 19.

Overall Madrid scored 70 goals, 16 less than Barcelona and less than 2 goals per game, however with 25 goals conceded they had the best defence in the league. Results were not overwhelming but Madrid ground down hard and dug for the wins and it is an important league title given that it is only Zidane’s 2nd title with the team. Incredibly Zidane has won more Champions League’s with Madrid than titles as manager.

And speaking of the Champions League we turn our attentions to the round of 16, where Madrid still have to face off against Manchester City. The 1st leg was a major blow for Zidane’s team who saw City come back from a goal down to win 2-1 at the Bernabeu in what was hailed as a famous victory for Pep Guardiola’s team.

The 2nd leg has been in limbo for 4 months but the two teams will finally meet in Manchester on August 7th and Guardiola’s team will be the favourites to get to the quarter finals.

In short Madrid need to come to the Etihad and score 2 goals, that will be the minimum requirement, they can even concede one and then hope for extra time. Either that or Madrid will have to produce their best game of the season and win big. That seems unrealistic away to this City side and the fact that Madrid have, for them, scored very few goals this season.

It would be a major plus if Madrid were to knock City out and at the same time if they were to be beaten here the icing on the cake as their season draws to an end would be expired and stale.

There is also the shift in power to talk about. A few seasons ago it would have been unthinkable to see Madrid being knocked out in Europe against City, but times can change quick in football. The teams have met before in Europe, clashing in fact in a semi-final where Madrid were simply too strong in the end, but City hold all the ace cards going into this 2nd leg.

Zidane’s job will be safe with the title in the bag even if Madrid are knocked out. And so much time has passed between the 1st and 2nd legs that a lot of perspective can be seen, no rush knee jerk decisions for example. For now Zidane has steered a sinking ship to the title and the thought process must be a clear out in the summer and seeing new fresh faces at the Bernabeu.

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What does the future hold for Gareth Bale as a Real Madrid player?

As Real Madrid have sprinted towards the Spanish title, Gareth Bale’s antics as a substitute in the stands have become something of a sideshow. During the win over Alaves, the Welsh winger was pictured pretending to sleep with his legs up on the feet in front of him and his face mask over his eyes. The hijinks didn’t stop there, with Bale fashioning a paper cup into a pair of binoculars as his teammates claimed a 2-1 win over Granada on Monday.

Of course, this certainly isn’t the first time the 30-year-old has played the clown whilst at Real Madrid. In fact, it’s a role Bale has taken to over the last year or so. Take the infamous ‘Wales, golf, Madrid’ flag and the countless pictures of him practising his golf swing or putting during training. Bale relishes a spot of trolling, that much has been proven

But what does the future hold for the Welshman in the Spanish capital? Of course, Bale came desperately close to leaving Real Madrid for the Chinese Super League last year only for the plug to be pulled on the deal at the very last moment. Now, he has been ostracised from the first team at the Santiago Bernabeu, with the relationship between Bale and Zinedine Zidane seemingly beyond saving.

Zidane has never been a big fan of Bale’s. The story goes that the Frenchman wanted him out of the club at the end of the 2017/18 season, with Real Madrid’s failure to comply with that wish one of the reasons Zidane felt it necessary to resign as head coach. When Zidane was lured back to the club less than a year later, he was promised that he would have the freedom to shape his team as he saw fit. There is no place for Bale in that team then and there still isn’t now.

Bale, however, has a contract that runs until the summer of 2022 and it appears he has every intention of earning every penny he is owed from it. The Welshman feels mistreated by Real Madrid and sees this as his way of taking revenge. It will, however, see Bale waste his peak years as a professional. By 2022, he will be 32 and into the twilight of his career. Is that a price worth paying for revenge?

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Ferland Mendy once again proves he belongs at Real Madrid

In Marcelo, Real Madrid boasted the best left back in the European game for the best part of a decade. Indeed, the Brazilian has been a near ever-present at the Santiago Bernabeu in recent years, but it became clear towards the end of last season that change was needed. Real Madrid required a new left back.

They found that new left back in Ferland Mendy, signed from Lyon last summer. The Frenchman took a month or two to grow accustomed to his new surroundings, and his new teammates, but has quickly established himself in the Real Madrid. He has become Zinedine Zidane’s favoured choice at left back, over Marcelo.

Against Alaves, Mendy demonstrated how he has become such an important figure for Real Madrid this season. While the visitors to the Estadio Alfredo di Stefano, where Los Blancos are playing while the Santiago Bernabeu is redeveloped, held their own for the majority of the contest, they struggled to cope with the direct running and dribbling of the French full back.

Time and time again, particularly in the opening 45 minutes, Mendy burst through to the byline and cut back for a teammate. It was only through the wastefulness of those teammates that he was denied an assist, although he did win the penalty kick that led to Karim Benzema’s opener.

Marcelo has been rotated in an out of the Real Madrid starting lineup by Zidane this season, with the Brazilian somewhat rejuvenated by the competition now being provided to him by Mendy. Indeed, the veteran has been able to find better form this season than he did last season, when his decline looked terminal.

But Mendy still offers another dimension over his Brazilian teammate. Zidane wants his Real Madrid side to play an energetic, high tempo game that sees plenty of running and vertical movement from attackers. Mendy embodies this. There are few better currently at the Santiago Bernabeu than him at driving at opponents and forcing them into decisions. From that, opportunities frequently come.

If Real Madrid are to go the distance and clinch only their second La Liga title in eight years, the performances of Mendy will have been a major factor in getting them over the line. The French left back has become a reflection of what Zidane wants to achieve at the Santiago Bernabeu.

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Would Real Madrid be the best destination for Kai Havertz?

His name has become a staple of the gossip column in recent weeks, and with very good reason. Kai Havertz has the makings of a generational talent. Not since the emergence of Mesut Ozil has Germany produced such a talented young player and so it’s natural that Europe’s elite are lining up to pitch themselves to the Bayer Leverkusen youngster this summer.

Chelsea and Liverpool have been most commonly linked with a move for the 20-year-old, but the former in particular seemingly edging the race. The Stamford Bridge club have already spent big on the signings of Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech and it seems they wish to continue that spending by completing a deal for Havertz, with Leverkusen demanding a fee of at least £100 million.

The Premier League isn’t the only potential destination for Havertz, though. Real Madrid have also been linked with the German. In fact, for a long time it seemed that the Spanish giants were leading the pursuit of the young midfielder. Havertz has been compared by many to a young Zinedine Zidane and so who better to develop him further than the man himself?

But where would Havertz fit in at the Santiago Bernabeu? Zidane has favoured a 4-3-3 shape this season, with the Frenchman rotating between Casemiro, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Ernesto Valverde in the centre of the pitch. Havertz, however, is a very different sort of midfielder to any of these three.

In fact, it can be debated whether Havertz is a midfielder at all. Bayer Leverkusen, for instance, used him as a centre forward when Kevin Volland was out injured after the resumption of the season, with the youngster adapting to the role seamlessly. He looked a natural in the role.

That’s because Havertz has the attacking instincts of a forward. He makes runs to get in behind opposition defences and get on the end of crosses into the middle. In the current Real Madrid side, he might be of best use on the right side of the attack, a position where Zidane has chopped and changed between a number of different options. The Santiago Bernabeu is where some of the brightest and best young players go to prove themselves. It would be a fitting stage for a player of Havertz’s talent and potential.

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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.

 

 

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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El Clasico has become must-win match for crumbling Real Madrid

Not so long ago, Real Madrid looked to be cruising. They were top of La Liga, winning games through muscle memory with the last 16 of the Champions League to look forward to having finished as European champions four times in the last six seasons. Now, though, Zinedine Zidane’s side aren’t in such great shape.

A home draw to Celta Vigo followed by a defeat to Levante has seen Real Madrid relinquish their advantage at the top of La Liga and now, after a 2-1 home defeat in the first leg of their last 16 tie against Manchester City, they look set to crash out of the Champions League. Zidane’s side are facing real questions.

While Los Blancos previously saw this Sunday’s Clasico against Barcelona as an opportunity to confirm their superiority over their historic rivals, it has now become an match to save their season. The damage that another defeat would cause isn’t even worth thinking about for Zidane and his players. They must win. Wednesday’s loss to Man City must be forgotten before the weekend.

“We had a good game for 75 minutes,” Zidane insisted after the first leg defeat in the Champions League. “We’re annoyed by the defeat, but the tie lasts 180 minutes. Now we have to take the positives. There aren’t many positive things in the result, but we had a good game apart from the last few minutes. We were good for 70 minutes. Now we have to go there and win if we want to go through. We needed 10 more minutes of concentration in a very difficult match and, in the end, we paid for it.”

It’s certainly true that Real Madrid must maintain their concentration better against Barcelona. The Catalans have a good record at the Santiago Bernabeu and an away win in the Spanish capital would see them go five points clear at the top of La Liga. Barca have suffered inconsistencies of their own over the course of the season, but it would take a real dip in form from Quique Setien’s team for Real Madrid to get back into the race in that scenario.

Real Madrid have recovered from a poor run once before this season. Now they must do so again. They could do with Karim Benzema rediscovering his scoring touch, and with Vinicius Junior finding some composure in the box, among other things. Real Madrid’s season is far from over, but it is crumbling.

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