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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Real Madrid move for Eduardo Camavinga would follow recent trend

The January transfer window has only just closed, but the football transfer rumour mill never stop churning out speculation. That has been proven over the past few weeks, with Hakim Ziyech completing a move to Chelsea, Manchester United believed to be monitoring Jadon Sancho and Liverpool weighing up an offer for Timo Werner. Real Madrid have also been the subject of much conjecture.

Most recently, the Santiago Bernabeu club have been linked with a move for Eduardo Camavinga, the 17-year-old who has made quite the impression for Rennes in Ligue 1 this season. Real Madrid have tracked the midfielder for some time, but Camavinga is playing at such a level, showing such promise, that almost every elite European side are sure to at least register their interest.

Camavinga would provide good cover for Casemiro, with the teenager playing in the same position as the Brazilian. While the Rennes man would surely receive some first team football at Real Madrid, his signing would be an investment in the future. As footballing teenagers go, there aren’t many better than Camavinga at this point in time.

His signing would follow a recent trend for Los Blancos. Renowned for targeting the very best in the transfer market, ‘Galacticos’ as they have been dubbed, Real Madrid have instead chased the best young talent in recent years. This isn’t to say that they no longer sign players in their peak – see Eden Hazard, for example – but Real Madrid are casting one eye to the future with their transfer policy.

They made just one signing in January, with Reinier Jesus making the move to the Spanish capital from Flamengo for £26 million. The teenage Brazilian won’t feature much between now and the end of the season, but he has been signed with the future in mind. He is seen as a playmaker in the mould of someone like Kaka.

Rodrygo also pitched up at Real Madrid last summer, joining Los Blancos for a deal worth around €45 million to sign the young winger. And then there was Vinicius Junior, who arrived in the Spanish capital for around the same fee 12 months previously. Real Madrid are building a team of promising young players they hope will sustain them for the next decade. Camavinga, if Real Madrid are indeed interested, would fit the bill.

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Is Lionel Messi’s career coming to an abrupt end at Barcelona?

It all started in December when Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde was sacked, seemingly the decision had fallen to Eric Abidal an ex Barcelona player and now part of the set up at the Catalan giants. The handling was pardon the pun ‘messy’ and it has led to one of the all time great players in football and Barcelona legend Lionel Messi speaking out about the decision.

Abidal has claimed that the players were not playing their best under Valverde (even though they were 1st in the league and had only lost one game at home in 18 months). He then reportedly blamed the players saying that they wanted Valverde out. That was the final straw and Messi snapped. The same Messi who doesn’t snap, who does diplomacy and to be frank it has surprised many in the game.

He wants Abidal to name names if it is true that some players within the squad wanted Valverde out. There has been an ongoing joke that Messi has run the club for the past decade, deciding which coach the club should hire and which players should come in. But it is clear that even if he did have an influence he didn’t here and it is also clear that he very much liked Valverde.

Since Valverde was sacked and replaced by Quique Setien there has clearly been a drop in performance from Barca who have narrowly won games against Granada 1-0 and Levante 2-1 and lost to Valencia. In midweek they were knocked out of the Copa del Rey at the quarter final stage to Athletic Bilbao. This was deemed a shock although it was softened slightly as Real Madrid stole the headlines by losing at home 4-3 to Real Sociedad.

Now Messi has spoken out the media believe that this could be the beginning of the end for his one time career at Barcelona. Could he really move in the summer? Or will this all blow over? Could Eric Abidal be replaced to ease tensions? Most think that this could be the likely outcome.

Of course Messi has been linked to Manchester City on the one basis that his former coach Pep Guardiola is there. But the fact is Guardiola may not be at the club for more than a few seasons, what would Messi do then? It would be a bold and exciting move though, but Guardiola himself quashed that idea and insisted that Messi belongs in Barcelona and should end his career there.

Surely this can die down and Barcelona can get on with winning trophies? Though there is a chance that they could end the season empty handed. The fall out of the Abidal-Messi argument comes on the eve of the knock out stages of the Champions League starting up again. Also since Valverde was sacked Barcelona have lost top spot to Real Madrid with Zinedine Zidane’s team going three points clear, and of course Barca are out of the Spanish cup.

Can Setien get back control and steer the ship or will he be made to jump? The circus sadly for Barcelona and their fans seems like it is just beginning.

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No circus at Real Madrid as Zidane is quietly getting the job done

There was much scepticism when Zinedine Zidane returned as coach of Real Madrid last summer after walking out of the club a year beforehand. But the Frenchman’s return is being justified by every passing week, and Real Madrid are top of La Liga.

Madrid have 49 points and it is only their fierce rival Barcelona who can stop their quest for a La Liga title, they currently have 46 points. In 3rd is Getafe with 39 points. It has been quite an achievement for Madrid under Zidane who have just come off of a great weekend as they beat their eternal rivals in the derby Atletico Madrid 1-0 keeping a clean sheet in the process. That score line summed up Madrid, no mad 4-3 wins and games filled with red cards, just a simple 1-0 will do the job.

That win ended Atletico’s title hopes too and Diego Simeone’s side now sit a huge 14 points behind their rivals.

Compared to other seasons Real are not scoring tons of goals, just 40 so far for them. True that is still the 2nd best in the league but is still 12 behind Barcelona and only one in front of Villarreal. But it is in defence where Real are really shining, conceding just 13 goals this season which is by far the best defensive record in the league. They allowed a great side like Atletico just 1 shot on target the whole game at the Bernabeu and at home that figure goes down to just 7 goals shipped.

Sergio Ramos has helped keep 11 clean sheets whilst Raphael Varane and Daniel Carvajal have kept 10. Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has easily been the best shot stopper in the league and whilst we associate Madrid with attack and goals the focus has clearly been on defence.

Only Karim Benzema has been scoring the goals for Real, he currently has 13 and the days of having a player scoring 40 or 50 goals a season in Cristiano Ronaldo has long gone. He will be for ever thanked at the club, but football is and always will be a team game and that is the mentality of the club under Zidane this season.

Incredibly Real have only won the league once in the past 7 years which last happened in 2017. Whilst Madrid will have a go on all fronts in the Champions League club president Florentino Perez would love to deliver the league and knock back Barcelona, it would mean a great deal to stop Barca winning their 3rd league title in a row.

As far as the Champions League goes, Madrid will face off against Manchester City in what should be a mouth watering 2 legged affair. It also brings back Pep Guardiola to the Bernabeu he whose blood bleeds the colours of Barcelona, just for some more added spice.

Can Madrid win their 2nd title in 8 years, they have given themselves every chance to do so, and for now it looks like Zidane has come back to save Madrid who were clearing in a chaotic mess a year ago.

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Madrid derby is Zinedine Zidane’s chance to expose gulf between rivals

Last season, Real Madrid spent the majority of the campaign looking upwards at rivals Atletico Madrid and Barcelona above them in the table. Now, though, the dynamic has changed and it’s the Santiago Bernabeu outfit setting the pace at the top of La Liga while Atleti in particular toil their way through the season.

Indeed, it’s been a tough few months for Atletico Madrid. For the first time in his managerial career at the club, Diego Simeone is under real pressure. Even in the context of a difficult campaign, last week was especially tough for Atleti as they exited the Copa del Rey to lower league opposition and were held at home to Leganes, dropping them out of La Liga’s top four.

Simeone insists that he will come up with answers, but he’s been saying that for weeks. Atletico Madrid’s season continues to get worse and worse as they struggle with questions of identity and philosophy. Real Madrid, on the other hand, are getting better with every match they play, growing more and more confident and building more and more momentum.

It’s not that Zinedine Zidane has got his side playing exceptional football. Real Madrid are still labouring through matches, but they are winning through muscle memory. Take their recent victory over Sevilla, for instance. Real Madrid were second best for much of the game and yet still managed to claim three points.

This weekend’s Madrid derby presents Real Madrid with a chance to expose the gulf between themselves and one of their closest rivals. Atletico Madrid are at a low ebb, while the Santiago Bernabeu outfit are rising, currently holding a three-point lead at the top of the Spanish top flight.

While Atleti have struggled for a true goalscorer to lead the line, Karim Benzema is enjoying the season of his life for Real Madrid. The Frenchman has become Los Blancos’ figurehead in the post-Cristiano Ronaldo age, matching Lionel Messi in the race for this season’s Pichichi award.

Atletico Madrid have also had trouble in midfield, with Koke and Saul Niguez not delivering in the way Simeone had hoped. On the flip side, Real Madrid have benefited from the emergence of Fede Valverde, with Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric all rejuvenated. Every way you look at it, this weekend is set up for Real Madrid to provide a statement on the football landscape in Spain’s capital city.

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Is Raul Gonzalez destined to be Real Madrid manager one day?

It had rumoured for years, so there was little surprise to the reports that surfaced on Saturday morning claiming Barcelona want Xavi Hernandez to be their next manager. The former midfielder is currently in Qatar as Al-Sadd head coach and has long been tipped as a future boss of the Catalan club. That future might now be a little closer with Ernesto Valverde under intense pressure after recent results.

Of course, Real Madrid have their own Xavi-type figure. Raul Gonzalez has long been talked about as a future manager of the Santiago Bernabeu outfit, currently in charge of the club’s Castilla team. He, like Xavi, seems destined to take the reins of the club they became a legend for as a player.

He might have to wait a bit longer to take to the touchline at the Santiago Bernabeu. Zinedine Zidane was under pressure earlier in the season, with a series of poor results and performances putting his job on the line, but he has since turned things around. Many now see Real Madrid as the frontrunners in this season’s La Liga title race, tied with Barcelona at the top of the table.

However, football fickle, especially in the Spanish capital where Real Madrid went through no fewer than three different managers last season. Zidane looks secure right now, but the Frenchman is only ever two or three bad results away from a crisis. Florentino Perez isn’t exactly known for patience.

Perez is also known to be a fan of Mauricio Pochettino. If Zidane is sacked at some point in the not so distant future, the former Tottenham manager is likely to be at the top of the shortlist. But Pochettino won’t be out of work for much longer. As Europe’s most sought after coach, he will surely have a job before the start of next season and it’s difficult to envisage things could unravel that quickly for Zidane at Real Madrid.

This could move Raul up the hypothetical shortlist. The former forward has impressed many with his start to managerial life at Castilla and could feasibly follow the precedent set by Zidane in making the jump from Real Madrid’s B team to coaching the senior team. Raul had a great football mind as a player and Real Madrid could soon count on him having the same as a manager.

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Spanish Supercopa presents Real Madrid with chance to put down symbolic marker

It feels somewhat peculiar that having just returned from Spain’s two-week winter break, with La Liga fixtures played last weekend, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Valencia are in Saudi Arabia of all places to contest the newly formatted Spanish Supercopa. What used to be the traditional curtain-raised to the Spanish Liga season is now a mid-season mini tournament played abroad.

The change in format and host has naturally caused controversy. Few within Spanish football are in favour of the move to Saudi Arabia in particular, both from a human rights point of view and a travelling perspective. Indeed, few have made the trip out from Spain with Atletico Madrid and Valencia in particular only selling a handful of tickets for their respective semi finals.

However, there is a certain symbolism at play here. The Spanish Supercopa might not be much more than just decoration for the trophy cabinet, but it could see one of Barcelona or Real Madrid put down a marker just weeks after a dull Clasico clash which couldn’t divide the two rivals. This could do more to set the tone of the title race.

Barcelona and Real Madrid have both suffered their problems this season. The two rivals have struggled for consistency, but the latter appear to have more momentum behind them at this moment. In terms of the league table, only goal difference is enough to put Barca ahead of Real Madrid right now.

Of course, the Catalans still have to get past Atletico Madrid on Thursday evening to set up a Clasico meeting with Real Madrid in this weekend’s final, but winning the Spanish Supercopa, even if they do so without beating their main title rivals, would be a real statement of intent from Zinedine Zidane and his players.

“We’re not coming here for a walk,” Zidane explained after of the convincing 3-1 semi final win over Valencia on Wednesday. “It’s the first edition in Saudi Arabia and the competition is a great hope. It’s an important competition and we want to give our all to play a good match tomorrow (Wednesday),” said Zidane. It’s a one-off match. It’s not like playing in La Liga. We’re both playing away and it’s just one match. Everything changes but our mentality, it doesn’t change.” He sounded like a man who recognises the value of winning this competition at this time.

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James Rodriguez’s return from injury could be timely for Real Madrid

Many at the Santiago Bernabeu had forgotten about James Rodriguez. It’s likely that a number of Real Madrid fans were unaware that the Colombian playmaker was still on the books of their club. But James returned to the Spanish capital over the summer and earned himself a place in Zinedine Zidane’s squad again.

James endured a difficult end to his two-year loan spell at Bayern Munich and so it was expected that Real Madrid would sell him to raise funds for another transfer, potentially a move for Paul Pogba. Now, though, Zidane might well be counting down the days until the Colombian returns from injury.

He contributed over the early part of the season, proving that he still has something to offer Real Madrid. James then suffered an injury and has been missed for the past two months as his team have gained some momentum, sitting just two points behind Barcelona at the top of La Liga.

With Real Madrid set to return from their winter break next week, James is expected to feature. He will almost certainly get some game minutes against Getafe before Real Madrid head off to Saudi Arabia to play in the expanded Spanish Supercopa. The Colombian will play a part.

“He’s in a process of recovery,” Zidane said in a recent interview when asked to assess James’ recovery. “He’s had a bad injury, but he’s working a lot and we want to get him back fit, this is clear.” It took some time for Zidane to settle on his midfield formula, but between Casemiro, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Fede Valverde he was found an effective unit.

Players like James, as well as Isco, will be key to getting Real Madrid through the whole season, though. The fixtures will come thick and fast after the winter break and Zidane will have to rotate his squad. James provides experience and the sort of creativity that will sustain the likes of Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard in the final third.

If Zidane can get something out of these fringe figures, Real Madrid might well boast the strongest squad in La Liga this season. That could be key in deciding who finishes top of La Liga. James might have been the forgotten man at the Santiago Bernabeu, but he has now become an important figure.

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Barcelona and Real Madrid game ends goalless but these two teams have pulled away in La Liga

True it was expected that this seasons tussle for the La Liga title would come down to Barcelona and Real Madrid and so it seems to have passed. The two teams played out a 0-0 draw in midweek and both are on 36 points. They have a 5 point advantage to 3rd place in the league standings.

The disappointment this season seems to lie with Atletico Madrid who under Diego Simeone have a fantastic team but the club have just been off the pace in the last few months and have just 29 points. Whilst it is realistically possible for them to bridge the gap to Madrid and Barca it does seem as if the club are playing more for Champions League glory after their disappointments in 2 finals this decade.

Back to El Clasico and this was the first match to end goalless since 2002. Then at a match which was also at the Nou Camp, Madrid player Luis Figo had a pigs head thrown at him- he had just switched from Barcelona. This match was a tense affair and Madrid at times probably deserved the win. Gareth Bale was harshly ruled off side as he thought he had put his team 1-0 up. Yes it was offside but when we are talking millimetres surely the player is not evidently cheating. If common sense can’t take hold hopefully UEFA and FIFA will bang their heads together and change the offside rule.

Madrid played well though and for long periods bossed the game away from home, this is something they have rarely done on their visits here. There was of course a lot of tension connected to this match with the political uprising suspending this match from a few weeks ago. Inevitably arrests were made outside the stadium and one could fathom that Barcelona’s players were not 100% focused on the game. Whilst the movement is of high importance and nobody is denying that it is unfortunate that it has overshadowed perhaps the biggest game in world football.

La Liga for the first time this season seems to be a two horse race and these great rivals will lock horns for much of the season it feels. Despite winning an incredible 3 Champions League trophies in a row Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane only won 1 league title in his first spell at Madrid. One wonders if that could play against him. There just feels like there is something missing at Madrid, perhaps another star dust player. The league will reveal itself soon enough. Gone are the days of Messi v Ronaldo now it is more like Messi v Hazard- who will come out on top?

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Barcelona slump presents Real Madrid with an opportunity

It’s been a peculiar start to the 2019/20 season in Spain. Before a ball was kicked, predictions were made of a tight title race at the top of La Liga that would take many twists and turns over the course of the campaign. That has so far materialised, but not in the way most expected.

Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid have all suffered faltering starts to the season. Diego Simeone, Ernesto Valverde and Zinedine Zidane have all come under pressure and have all fielded questions over their ailing teams. Just one point separates the three sides at the top of La Liga, but that is a picture of their struggles so far rather than their strength.

This week, the picture is bleakest for Barcelona. The Catalans looked to be finally hitting their stride with five consecutive victories and Lionel Messi finding something close to his best form again, but that rise has been stunted by a shock defeat to Levante at the weekend followed by an insipid 0-0 draw at home to Slavia Prague in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Atletico Madrid are also toiling, winning just two of their last six fixtures in all competitions. Meanwhile, Real Madrid might well be the team in the best shape at this moment. They suffered a shock loss to Real Mallorca before the last international break, but have responded with wins over Galatasaray and Leganes, although the weekend’s draw at home to Real Betis was below-par.

Barcelona’s slump presents Real Madrid with an opportunity to really kick-start their season. Injuries have eased for the capital club in recent weeks and Zidane is now able to pick something close to his full-strength team. Karim Benzema is in goalscoring form, while there are signs that Eden Hazard is starting to grow accustomed to his new surroundings.

Real Madrid take on Galatasaray at home in the Champions League on Wednesday. A win is required after a poor start to their European campaign, but there would be a larger significance to three points for Los Merengues. It would show that they are starting to build something. They might be a long way from being the finished product, the finished article, but there is at least some signs of progress. The same can’t be said for Atletico Madrid and Barcelona right now.

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