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.

How well do you know European Football? Want to challenge the best Spanish Fantasy Managers? Play www.liga-fantasy.com now.

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.

How well do you know European Football? Want to challenge the best Spanish Fantasy Managers? Play www.liga-fantasy.com now.

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.

How well do you know European Football? Want to challenge the best Spanish Fantasy Managers? Play www.liga-fantasy.com now.

Eden Hazard already has doubters to prove wrong at Real Madrid

He was Real Madrid’s marquee summer signing. Eden Hazard had been trailed by the Spanish giants for a number of years and this summer they finally got their man, paying Chelsea around £100 million to sign the Belgian. He was, in the eyes of many, the natural successor to Cristiano Ronaldo who left the Santiago Bernabeu one year previously.

On his day, Hazard is indeed one of the best players in world football. He demonstrated this over ____ years at Chelsea. It was little surprise that Real Madrid prioritised his signing. Hazard has the sort of X factor that players need to succeed in the Spanish capital.

He hasn’t shown that so far, though. The 2019/20 season has yet to start in Spain, but Hazard is already finding that he has more than a few doubters to prove wrong. Pre-season has been difficult for Real Madrid and the Belgian has become the embodiment of these struggles.

For starters, questions have been asked about Hazard’s weight since he returned from his off-season break. The Belgian has always been a little stocky, but it’s true that over pre-season he looked a little heavier than usual. Whether this was enough to compromise his performances on the pitch is another matter, but it has provided critics with ammunition.

There are also questions over where the former Chelsea man will fit into Zinedine Zidane’s team. Vinicius Junior broke through last season and looked to have nailed down a place as a regular starter for Real Madrid. But surely there’s no place for both the Brazilian teenager and Hazard in the same side given that they play off the same wing?

What’s more, Hazard has picked up a hamstring injury that will rule him out of action for the first few weeks of the new season. With Marco Asensio already on the sidelines, set to miss the whole season with a torn ACL, this leaves Zidane somewhat short on attacking options following a summer when close to £300 million was largely spent on attackers.

It already feels like Real Madrid’s season is spiralling out of control and they haven’t even played a competitive game yet. Defeat to Celta Vigo this weekend would see the pressure heaped on Zidane and Hazard could also find himself a target. Some believe his lack of professionalism is a problem.

The Belgian will likely come good in Spain. It’s far too early to make any firm judgements, but Hazard already has his doubters and such is the nature of the football scene in the Spanish capital it will take a lot to silence them.

How well do you know European Football? Want to challenge the best Spanish Fantasy Managers? Play www.liga-fantasy.com now.

The clock is already ticking on Zinedine Zidane Real Madrid

It wasn’t entirely certain who would walk through the door and into the Santiago Bernabeu press room. The Madrid press had been assembled for the presentation of a new Real Madrid manager, with Jose Mourinho presumed to be Florentino Perez’s first choice the week before. There had been suggestions that Zinedine Zidane would return, but few in that room that day would have put their house on it.

Of course, the Frenchman did indeed return to the Santiago Bernabeu, taking over less than a season after he’d quit at the end of the 2017/18 season. Real Madrid needed Zidane having gone through two managers since his departure. Their season was all but over and so the former Ballon d’Or winner was given the freedom he wanted in the first place to rebuild the side.

That rebuild happened over the summer with around £300 million spent on the squad. Eden Hazard was the marquee addition, the natural successor to Cristiano Ronaldo who should have arrived at the Santiago Bernabeu a year prior, but there were also big money moves for Luka Jovic, Eder Militao, Rodrygo, Ferland Mendy.

Despite all this, though, the early signs of Zidane’s rebuild have not been all that positive. Pre-season is only pre-season, but the temperature of Real Madrid’s preparations for the new campaign have been cold. The vibe has not been good and there is a sense that the clock might already be ticking on Zidane.

Before wins over Fenerbahce and Red Bull Salzburg, Real Madrid had lost all four of their pre-season games played over the summer, with the most damaging lost coming against rivals Atletico Madrid in New Jersey, where they shipped no fewer than seven goals.

Of course, this sort of thing can happen in pre-season, but Zidane is still struggling to impose an identity on his team. They have looked exceptionally open and vulnerable to opposition attacks all through pre-season, lacking in shape at the back and energy through the middle of the pitch. It’s a concerning combination from a Madridista perspective.

Real Madrid won’t hesitate in sacking Zidane should it come to that point this season. They were one result away from doing this just months before the Frenchman claimed a third successive Champions League title – indeed, it’s an open secret Zidane would have been dismissed had Real Madrid fallen to Paris Saint-Germain in the round of 16.

Just because Zidane was called upon as the saviour doesn’t mean that he will continue to be seen that way. Public image is very fluid at the Santiago Bernabeu (just as Gareth Bale) and Zidane’s will be tested over the coming weeks and months after a difficult summer.

How well do you know European Football? Want to challenge the best Spanish Fantasy Managers? Play www.liga-fantasy.com now.

Pressure on Zinedine Zidane at its greatest to beat Barcelona

zidane-real-madrid(1)

Zinedine Zidane the magic man is back at Real Madrid and this coming season all of the pressure will be on the Frenchman to deliver the title and usurp Barcelona who have been completely dominant.

When Zidane came back to Real in March the club hardly exploded and indeed didn’t really improve under him but at the end of the day he was brought back earlier to just stabilise the ship. Zidane will know as will the fans that the real business with the club will commence when the league season kicks off in August. And you can forget about the Champions League. Whilst they will fight to be champions of Europe once again the priority will be about winning La Liga. Incredibly Madrid have only won 1 La Liga title in the past 7 years.

Madrid have spent big and the purchase of Eden Hazard from Chelsea is their star signing. He is the one that is supposed to bring the balance back to the team. But Hazard as great as he is, can go missing in games. It will be Zidane’s task to guide the Belgian through the season where consistency becomes key to success.

Paul Pogba has been hinted at but he will have to fall into place and one wonders if his signing will be good for such a sensitive player. Even Ronaldo got booed at the Bernabeu.

The truth is that Zidane is about to undergo the biggest challenge of his career. Not only does he have to perform well on his return, and remember they say never go back to your old clubs. But he has to stop Barcelona from winning the league which is easier said than done. And of course Barca will not be the only threat to Madrid this season with their city rivals Atletico Madrid making huge progress and buying Joao Felix who is supposed to be the next big player. They will be in with a shout for the league too.

Zidane will need to find a good balance with his team and they will have to attack and be much more aggressive this season with the ball. One finds that Madrid just aren’t quite there and need a striker that can get them 30 goals a season. Is it simple that the club still haven’t recovered from losing Ronaldo? Benzema is good but he isn’t Ronaldo.

Maybe just maybe Zidane will give another chance to Gareth Bale who in truth has done little wrong. Zidane simply has the greatest season challenge of his career to date.

 

 

Does Neymar’s injury prove that friendlies are pointless matches?

nr(1)

Neymar, Brazil’s gold dust will miss this summers Copa America which is being held in his native Brazil because of ankle ligament damage and it is a massive blow for the player and his country.

The frustrating situation is that one of the best attacking players in the world will miss a major competition in his home country because of an injury sustained not in a Champions League final or a league title run in, but because he played in a money spinning friendly against Qatar, in a match that meant nothing, save to please some sponsors.

It is a desperate situation in modern day football how many games players have to play every year, some play as much as 70 when you take in internationals, and for the most part if you are playing for nothing, what is the point in playing? Of course it comes down to money and contracts, which is evidently ruining the game.

Now Neymar cannot play in what will be one of the biggest tournaments for Brazil in their home country. The last time they had this opportunity was in 2014 in the World Cup. Though for the semi-finals they missed Neymar through injury yet again.

But this injury feels different as it was obtained in a meaningless friendly. If we go back a few years the same situation happened to Zinedine Zidane. Picture the scene, France came to the 2002 World Cup as the champions and Zidane was now a Real Madrid player, he was rightly seen as the best player on the planet. But alas we were robbed of his talent when he was injured in a nothing game, a warm up for the World Cup. He missed the bulk of group games, and was rushed back for the final by which time they were virtually out and he was rusty, the champions were knocked out at the group stage that year.

It may seem harsh on neutral fans especially who want to watch their heroes but one wonders if friendly matches should only be played by up and coming players and not recognised ones such as the Zidane’s and Neymar’s of this world. What difference would it have made if Neymar had played against Qatar? From his ability/fitness point of view the answer is none, again it comes down to bums on seats and money, but it’s incredibly unfortunate that the Copa America will now be robbed of Neymar’s skills and inevitable goals.

 

Eden Hazard can put Real Madrid back on the map after £88m deal is completed

Hazard_REAL_MADRID(1)

Football’s worst kept transfer secret saga has finally been completed and Eden Hazard has joined Real Madrid from Chelsea in an £88m deal.

That deal could rise to £130m after add ons and Madrid will be relived to have got their man, a player that they had originally targeted at the beginning of the decade. In fact it was Zinedine Zidane still youth coach at Madrid that asked the then Madrid manager Jose Mourinho to go for Hazard, alas Mourinho didn’t but Madrid usually get what they want in the end.

After a frustrating season at the Bernabeu the fans will be happy with the clubs first major summer transfer and Hazard should be able to fill the missing magic at the club. He is the ultimate play maker and surely will only improve with the club the longer he stays. Hazard and Madrid seem like the perfect fit and Hazard’s objective apart from scoring goals and setting them up will be to deliver Madrid only their 3rd La Liga title in the past 9 seasons.

Hazard is obviously looking forward to a new chapter in his life and was respectful also to the Chelsea fans and his club, he had this to say: “I hope you understand I had to pursue my next chapter, just as each and every one of you should when you have the chance to pursue your dreams. Leaving Chelsea is the biggest and toughest decision in my career to date. Now it’s in the open I would like to put on record one thing was always clear to me, I have loved every moment at Chelsea and not once did I ever consider, nor would I have left for any other Club.

Hazard went on to say: “Even when we were not playing well, I tried to do my best and this has been thanks to your amazing support. Chelsea and especially Chelsea fans will always be special to me and next season I will look for your results first. I hope that we are drawn against each other in the Champions League next season and every season so we can meet again. I must thank the owner Mr Abramovich and his board for helping me realise not one, but two dreams, my first in becoming a Chelsea player and today my second, becoming a player at Real Madrid.”

It will be interesting to see how Hazard will develop within the team and it is sure that Luka Modric will be some kind of mentor to the player. At the same time Hazard has years of experience and make no mistake Zidane will make it clear to the team that Hazard is the big fish, he is the stardust and in that Real Madrid’s set up will be formed around the Belgian player.

El Clasico the match Madrid play against Barcelona just got that much more interesting as Real Madrid clearly mean business once again after a chaotic season.

If you enjoy Spanish football, then invite your friends and challenge them at www.fantasy-liga.com now!!

Top La Liga Strikers in 2018/19: Karim Benzema

bez(1)

Real Madrid had a season to forget after Zinedine Zidane parted ways with the club last summer, only to come back in March. And Cristiano Ronaldo finally waved goodbye and joined Juventus in Serie A. Madrid went on to win nothing this season but one bright spark was French forward Karim Benzema who at 31 scored 21 goals and assisted in 6 other goals. In short he was Madrid’s best player this season.

In the Fantasy football rankings for strikers in La Liga Benzema finished 2nd only to Lionel Messi although still finished a cool 75 points behind the Argentinian. He started 35 games for Madrid and his disciplinary record was superb receiving only 1 yellow card all season. Overall if we take into account all of the major leagues his striker rank would be 8th, and that isn’t bad for a player who would have cost you 10m to be in your team.

What was incredible about Benzema’s total score and finishing 2nd in the La Liga rankings was that he started the season very poorly where he earned just 17 points from his first 11 games. Indeed it seemed that the former Lyon player was overpriced, but it was at that point where his quality came through and his fortunes changed.

His two best games this past season were against Athletic Bilbao when he scored a hat-trick and earned 14 points and his outstanding display against Rayo Valladolid when he scored 2 goals and then assisted in another in Madrid’s 4-1 win. His last game ended in a 2-0 defeat against Real Betis thus earning no points.

But this season was a massive improvement from Benzema, who earned more points than he has in the last 2 seasons combined. In 2016/17 he got 54 points and last season just 40.

And of course Benzema broke a near 60 year record with Madrid this season. In April Benzema scored all of the last 8 goals that Madrid had netted in La Liga breaking a record set by the great Ferenc Puskas in the 1961/62 season when he netted the last 7.

Speculation is rife that Benzema has played his last season for the club after spending 10 years with Los Blancos. Despite his personal successful season Zidane may feel that after 10 years Benzema should call time on his Madrid career and play elsewhere and let’s face it Benzema could still command a big club if he was to leave Madrid. If this is to be his last season with the club he has scored 222 goals from 465 appearances and been incredibly consistent in a period for the club where he won 17 trophies including 4 Champions Leagues.

If you enjoy Spanish football, then invite your friends and challenge them at www.fantasy-liga.com now!!

Zinedine Zidane showed a lack of class not playing Gareth Bale in final Real Madrid game

bale(1)

Is it simply a clash of styles that Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane and Gareth Bale have never got on? At the weekend in the final La Liga game of the season and what appears to be Bale’s final game for the club, Zidane did not start the Welshman, and then didn’t even bring him on as Real Madrid lost at home to Real Betis 2-0.

It was an act of cold power from the French legend and a final reminder that Zidane never really cared for Bale. The same Bale who scored countless goals for the club including single handily beating Liverpool in the last seasons Champions League final that saw an incredible bicycle kick. Even then Zidane did not start Bale and it is evident that the game changed the moment he came on.

It’s a shame that the relationship between the two has had to end like this, but it’s even a greater loss that Bale did not start the game and then get substituted late on and get one final proper applause from the home crowd. Please let’s not forget Bale’s six seasons at the club which included 102 goals and 13 trophies, 4 of those Champions League titles.

Zidane mind numbingly played it down, but we’ve been here before with Madrid and their politics and it is blindingly obvious that Bale has played his last game with the club.

It is how business seems to be done at Real Madrid and at the same time Zidane might be right to want Bale out of the club if they need to go forward. Bale in that sense is a reminder of a team from a few years ago and not now. At the same time Bale does have a contract for another 3 years and a huge salary reported to be 14m a season, so selling Bale might be harder than the club think.

At 29 Madrid will be hoping to get the 100m money back that they spent on the player when they signed him from Tottenham at the start of the 2013/14 season. While Bale still has the quality and still has at least 4-5 seasons at the top of his game he is one for picking up injuries and Madrid not always playing him this season has meant that he hasn’t been in the shop window so to speak. Plus it doesn’t help that this is unquestionably the clubs worst season in a decade.

Bale doesn’t have to walk, his contract is legit, but the most likely outcome will be a loan or swap deal and money perhaps to a club like PSG who would be able to afford hi wages, we will wait and see. But Zidane created his own faux pas at the weekend and really should have allowed Bale to say goodbye properly.