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.

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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Who will still be at Real Madrid this season?

From the moment Zinedine Zidane walked through the door into the press conference deep in the bowels of the Santiago Bernabeu to signal his return to Real Madrid, the gossip column has been full of speculation linking the Spanish capital club with countless elite players.

Indeed, Real Madrid are supposedly set to make moves for Eden Hazard, Christian Eriksen, David De Gea and Paul Pogba, although it seems unlikely that all four targets will make the move to the Spanish capital this summer. Nonetheless, Zidane is expected to shuffle the pack at the Santiago Bernebeu before the start of next season.

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As part of this overhaul, there will be departures. This explains why Zidane has rotated his squad on a week-to-week basis since returning to the club. Real Madrid have long been out of the Spanish title race and suffered a round of 16 exit from the Champions League. Subsequently, Real Madrid have embarked on the longest pre-season in football history, all in order to make sure they don’t face the same struggles next season.

Zidane has experimented in every area of the pitch. Against Getafe on Thursday night, he handed Brahim Diaz, signed from Manchester City in January, his first La Liga start. There have also been starts for Sergio Reguilon over Marcelo and Fede Valverde over the likes of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric. On one occasion, a home game against Huesca, Zidane even gave his son, Luca Zidane, a start in goals.

The Real Madrid manager is testing his players before deciding on who will stay and who will go over the summer. Thibaut Courtois is one who looks almost certain to leave, with Zidane favouring Keylor Navas over the Belgian, who was signed from Chelsea just a year ago. Marcelo is another who looks likely to leave.

It’s in midfield where the greatest turnover could be, though. Casemiro, Kroos and Modric have delivered great success for Real Madrid over the years, but rejuvenation is required and so all three could be up for sale this summer. Karim Benzema, who has hit the 30-goal mark, will be kept, but the Frenchman needs help.

Then there’s Gareth Bale, who is widely expected to be available this summer, but which club would be willing to spend upwards of £60 million on a player who hasn’t shown his best form for years? It might not just be about identifying players to push out the door for Real Madrid, but finding clubs to take them off their hands. That might be the difficult part.

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Zidane pushing for Real Madrid summer clear out

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Zinedine Zidane will push ahead with plans for a squad overhaul this summer, as he pledges to challenge Barcelona for the La Liga title in 2019-20.

The Frenchman has been clear in his desire to make changes at the club he led to three Champions League title between 2014 and 2017, and that means moving on some big names from the Santiago Bernabeu.

Club President Florentino Perez will fund certain transfer targets, but Zidane will have to clear out players to fund extra moves.

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Zidane open to Courtios exit this summer

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With attention turning to next season, Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane has made it very clear that he expects to challenge for the La Liga title in 2019-20.

The Frenchman has been widely reported to be keen on bringing in a number of new faces to inject some life into his ageing side in the coming months.

However, despite club president Florentino Perez confirming he would be backing Zidane in the transfer market, he will have to make some space in his squad with some high profile departures – with goal keeper Thibaut Courtois the latest name to be linked with an exit.

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EPL Player of the Week – Eden Hazard (Chelsea)

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When a player stands out head and shoulders above the vast majority of the rest, there will always be suggestions that there will be a big money move in his not-too-distant future. The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham have seen it while in the Premier League, while Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane experienced similar things during their respective times in La Liga and Serie A. The modern day equivalent to those transfer rumblings would have to be the not so curious case of Eden Hazard, whose performances in recent months have once again sparked speculation that he could be on his way out of Chelsea this summer. One thing Hazard has in common with all of the aforementioned players? Real Madrid.

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Is Eden Hazard the right man for Real Madrid?

Anyone who watched Chelsea’s comfortable 2-0 win over West Ham United on Monday evening surely drew one conclusion – Eden Hazard really wants a move to Real Madrid this summer. The Belgian has been the subject of much speculation linking him with a switch to the Spanish capital and against the Hammers at Stamford Bridge, he was in sparkling form.

Zinedine Zidane was surely watching. So certain are some outlets that Hazard will join Real Madrid at the end of the season they have even reported the exact fee, with Chelsea said to be demanding £100 for their prize asset. With just one year left on Hazard’s contract, that would appear to be market value.

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Do Real Madrid need Hazard, though? Zidane will lead an overhaul of the tired and creaking squad at the Santiago Bernabeu this summer, with outgoings expected along with incomings. Real Madrid never really replaced Cristiano Ronaldo and Hazard is seen by many as the natural successor to the Portuguese forward.

It’s certainly true that Hazard as the strength of personality to handle the pressure that comes with being a ‘Galactico.’ He has been building up to this moment his entire career and so it’s unsurprising that the Belgian has ramped up his performances for Chelsea just as speculation has come to a head.

But what about his positional use to Real Madrid? Hazard, by trade, plays on the left wing. That is, arguably, where Real Madrid are best equipped for the future, with Vinicius Junior the youthful face of the club after a breakthrough season. Zidane also has Marco Asensio in that position. So where would Hazard fit in?

Could he play on the right side? That’s Gareth Bale’s position right now, but the Welshman could be sold to make way for Hazard, so there could be a gap to fill there. But that would require Hazard to adapt his natural game. Are Real Madrid really going to pay £100 million for the Belgian only to turn him into a different player?

Zidane could feasibly use Hazard through the middle, behind Karim Benzema as the central striker. The Belgian has played there before in his career, but not always to great effect. So while Hazard might be destined to pitch up at Real Madrid this summer, it’s not yet clear where he will actually fit in.

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Paul Pogba is wrapped up in such an enigma even he doesn’t know what club he wants to play for

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Rewind four months ago, it is the beginning of December and Paul Pogba, a moody Paul Pogba arrives for training at Manchester United. He doesn’t want to be at the club, not because he doesn’t like the club or like playing in the Premier League but because. well, let’s say he’s not on best friends terms with the manager Jose Mourinho. There have been coded tweets about it, face gestures and Sky Sports once caught some tension in United’s training session between Pogba and Mourinho. There is a constant grey cloud over the club and Pogba wants out.

Pogba has friends in Europe, many friends who are influential and such is his CV which includes playing for Juventus and winning a World Cup with France last summer that his options are wide open. A few months ago there are hints that he will leave United for Barcelona, Lionel Messi seems interested and Barcelona is a million miles away in terms of happiness for Pogba than United with Mourinho in charge. The flirtation seems genuine. But like a professional that he is Pogba will sit it out, maybe something will change.

Just before Christmas it did, and whilst this may sound cruel, Pogba and United’s players got an early Christmas gift when Mourinho was sacked. It may not have been what they wanted- we won’t know until they decide to write their inevitable autobiographies- but it was most certainly what the players needed.

When it was announced that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer former legend with the club would take over, there was relief around the dressing room. The Norwegian may not be the right man for the club, but he was the perfect man for the club right now, right bang in this situation. Since December he has proven that he is the right man for the club and for the next 3 years as he signed a deserved full time contract. He has worn a smile that could have warmed Christian Bale after a press interview and it is no coincidence that Pogba has looked back to his French international best.

Even when Pogba has played bad, he’s played well for Solskjaer. Even when Pogba saw red or threw a strop, Solskjaer has defended him. The manager has more knowledge of human psychology in one finger nail than Mourinho has in a lifetime and it has worked wonders. Plus of course United do have very good players, they just needed motivation and needed to be told that the best form of attack is to attack.

And yet Pogba remains coy on his future. There are reports linking him to Zidane’s Real Madrid, we say Zidane now because it is clear since his return to Madrid the club have turned a corner and will mean to do serious business in the summer. Pogba could fit an attacking midfield role at the Bernabeu perfectly for the club. You get the feeling if a firm offer came in Pogba would say thanks very much and leave. Of course maybe the pinnacle of his football would be at United who are now set on a course to relive some of the glory days of the past.

But maybe Pogba doesn’t entirely know what Pogba wants. What he shouldn’t do like many have before him is join the worlds best team thinking that trophies will naturally come.

When you think like that the joker card of football will ultimately play its hand.

 

Week 29: Best 11 Players in Fantasy La Liga

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It was a weekend where the top 3 clubs all won including two wins out of two for Real Madrid since Zinedine Zidane returned to the club. The full top six is still undecided as European places will be up for grabs. Below we take a look at the best 11 players who performed this past weekend in La Liga. Formation: 4-4-2.

Goalkeeper: Jan Oblak

Only 3 goalkeepers earned 7pts and Jan Oblak was one of them. Already in first position for goalkeepers Oblak had an outstanding game for Atletico Madrid as they destroyed Alaves 4-0 to stay in 2nd place ahead of their rivals Real Madrid. Want Oblak? Well he will cost you 11m but seems worth every penny.

Defender: Diego Godin

Staying with Atletico Madrid, one of the very best defenders to grace the Spanish league makes it into our team of the week and that is Diego Godin. Godin was part of a team that kept a clean sheet and earned 5pts and is valued at 9m.

Defender: Gerard Pique

Gerard Pique the Barcelona legend had a solid game at home and it was an important one as Barca beat their rival Espanyol 2-0 in the local derby. Pique earned 5pts and it was Barcelona’s first clean sheet in 2 games. Pique can be brought in for 7.5m and is currently the highest ranked defender.

Defender: Jose Gaya

Jose Gaya, the Valencia player earned 5pts as his team won a massive game away to Sevilla 1-0. Gaya’s performance was rock solid as Valencia try to cement a European place and he has had good consistency about him and can be bought for 6.5m.

Defender: Jonathan Silva

Jonathan Silva is the defender of the weekend as he earned the most points with 7. The Leganes player assisted for his sides first goal and kept a clean sheet as they beat Getafe 2-0. That was his 6th assist of the season and he is valued at 5m.

Midfielder: Juanfran

Juanfran had an excellent game as Leganes beat Getafe 2-0 and it was Juanfran who got his clubs winner, scoring a goal and helping his side to get a clean sheet too. Juanfran has only had 12 starts but might be finding his best form now and can be snapped up at 5.5m.

Midfielder: Daniel Parejo

It was all down to Parejo as his team beat Sevilla 1-0 and it was Parejo’s penalty that won the day for the away side. Parejo earned himself 6pts and can be brought into your team for 8.5m.

Midfielder: Thomas Partey

Not only did Thomas Partey play his part in keeping a clean sheet for Atletico Madrid but after the club went 3-0 up he rounded it up with his 3rd goal of the season to win the match for the club 4-0. He has been consistent this season and looks a steal at 6m.

Midfielder: Saul Niguez

Another Atletico Madrid player inclusion but richly deserved Saul Niguez opened up the scoring for his club which would lead into a 4-0 victory over poor Alaves. The player earned 6pts in the process and can be bought for 6.5m.

Striker: Iago Aspas

Iago Aspas is worth his weight in gold to Celta Vigo this past weekend as his 2 goals helped the team beat Villarreal 3-2 as they try to survive in La Liga with the skin of their teeth. Aspas was fantastic and he is 8.5m if you think his goals will be able to save the club.

Striker: Lionel Messi

For the second week running Lionel Messi makes the team as the Argentine genius scored both of Barcelona’s goals in their derby match against Espanyol. He has a massive 151pts and got another 8pts at the weekend and would set you back 20m.

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Five players that Zinedine Zidane will want to buy in the summer for Real Madrid

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With Zinedine Zidane back at Real Madrid his hands will be tied for the next two months with the transfer window shut and there will be players in the squad that will be playing for their futures. A clear out will happen at the club as Zidane will try and return Madrid back to the pinnacle of European football and win another Champions League and try to topple Barcelona’s dominance in the Spanish La Liga.

So who will be on Zidane’s wish list? It has been reported that he could have up to 500m euros to spend, that is of course hear say, but at the end of the day we all know that Madrid President Florentino Perez has been holding out and that the club will be spending big money this summer.

We name five players below that should be topping his list.

Kylian Mbappe

Mbappe is the best centre forward in Europe, once we consider his rate of goals and his age. Still only 20 the French international and World Cup winner is having another superb season for PSG and is simply a devastating goal machine. He is the genuine article and would fit into Madrid no problem. The problem is that he cost PSG around £150m, and so could cost Madrid over £200m.

Neymar

Sticking with PSG, Neymar’s name has been mentioned on more than one occasion. The world’s most expensive player at £197m may be available on a loan deal to buy given that for the second consecutive season he has picked up a long term injury. The sticking point is that he is an ex Barcelona player, which could provide some tensions- Madrid would surely love this to rile up their enemies though.

Paul Pogba

Paul Pogba is a new link but it does make sense. Zidane would have watched the French national team last summer and saw just how potentially great Pogba is. His surging runs were fantastic and he could imagine that at Madrid. If Pogba is happy he plays great football. Again a transfer would easily topple the £100m mark.

Sadio Mane

Mane has arguably been Liverpool’s best player this season. He has stepped up this season when at times Mohamed Salah has gone quiet and has scored 17 goals so far. Don’t be fooled into thinking he would come cheap. Liverpool do not sell their players cheap- just look at Phillipe Coutinho for that. Mane would provide that bit of quality when all guns aren’t firing.

Eden Hazard

Last but not least there is Eden Hazard who has been linked to Madrid for over a year. It would actually feel like a shock if this deal was to fall through- but it could given that Zidane is back at the club. If he’s not an admirer then Hazard won’t be coming. Still the Chelsea player could add a lot of pace and depth to the team and would be a great buy for them, and Chelsea could do with the transfer fee.