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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Casemiro is one of Zinedine Zidane’s favourites, but how healthy is that for Real Madrid?

With Real Madrid’s La Liga match against Leganes effectively decided in the first half, with the capital club 3-0 up at half time, Zinedine Zidane took the opportunity in the second half to rotate his team. Karim Benzema was given a rest, with Toni Kroos also withdrawn for the final half hour or so.

One player who stayed on the pitch was Casemiro. That shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise. He always stays on the pitch. In fact, the Brazilian has become such a favourite of Zidane’s he has become a punchline. Along with Lucas Vazquez, Casemiro is mocked for being the teacher’s pet.

“I am here to play,” Casemiro said after the comfortable win over Leganes, responding to a question about Zidane’s decision not to take off the Brazilian. “The coach knows the minutes I have to play; I’m resting more when the matches end. We have a coaching staff that knows the moments [where] I have to rest. I’m in really good form, I’m really enjoying it and I want to play all the time.”

It’s certainly true that Real Madrid look a more structured team with Casemiro at the base of their midfield. In recent weeks, the Brazilian has forged a strong understanding with Fede Valverde, the young Uruguayan who has made quite the impression over the early part of the season.

That has left just one position for Kroos and Luka Modric. In a way, it has helped Zidane that both players have suffered from injuries of late, but the pair are close to regaining full fitness and so the Real Madrid boss might have a tough decision to make. Whatever decision he comes to, you can bet that Casemiro won’t be the one to miss out.

Casemiro has been one of Zidane’s most reliable performers over his two spells as Real Madrid manager and so it’s only natural that the Frenchman continues to show faith in the 27-year-old. But it’s not probably not so healthy for a team like Real Madrid, a team that plays so many games in a season, to be so reliant on a single figure. In isolation, Zidane’s refusal to give Casemiro a rest against Leganes mattered little, but it said a lot about how he sees the fragility of his side.

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Vinicius Junior must be harnessed by Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid

Last season, he was pretty much the only reason to watch Real Madrid, at least for a period of the club’s 2018/19 campaign. Indeed, while the Santiago Bernabeu tried to quickly forget what happened last season, the emergence of Vinicius Junior was a bright point. It gave Real Madrid something to build on.

Vinicius almost single-handedly changed the tone around the Santiago Bernabeu after the sacking of Julen Lopetegui midway through the season. Until then, the teenage Brazilian had been kept at Castilla despite his obvious potential. It wasn’t until the appointment of Santiago Solari that Vinicius was unleashed and the impact he made was profound.

Since then, though, he has seemingly regressed. Injury ended Vinicius’ season early, but the Brazilian has struggled to pick up where he left off this season. Indeed, Zinedine Zidane has used the teenager sparingly. Vinicius has fallen down the pecking order even with Marco Asensio out injured for the long term and Gareth Bale still something of a scapegoat.

This was illustrated by the news that Vinicius has been left out of the matchday squad for Wednesday’s La Liga fixture against Leganes. As things stand, Zidane favours another teenage Brazilian, Rodrygo, with Lucas Vazquez, Isco and Luka Jovic also injured in the squad.

Vinicius has been a target for more criticism than most over the early part of Real Madrid’s season. Fans and pundits were afforded a glimpse of what the Brazilian can bring last season and they want more. But it is up to Zidane and Real Madrid to harness and protect the youngster.

Such was the impact made by Vinicius last season it’s easy to forget that he is still only 19-years-old. He still has a lot of growing to do, both as a person and a player. Sometimes, it seems that the teenager is trying to do too much and in this labouring he is losing the spontaneity that made him so potent before the summer.

Therefore it’s probably for the best that Zidane takes him out of the firing line for the time being. Real Madrid have the players to cope without him. The likes of Bale, Karim Benzema and Hazard can carry them in the final third. Vinicius remains a shimmering prospect for the future, but those around him must consider what is best for him in the present.

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Isco and James have been given a second chance at Real Madrid

Not so long ago, Isco and James Rodriguez seemed to be on their way out of the Santiago Bernabeu. The former found himself a peripheral figure while the latter was on loan at Bayern Munich with the Bavarians widely expected to make the deal for the Colombian playmaker permanent. Now, however, Real Madrid need the pair again.

Injuries to Toni Kroos and Luka Modric suffered over the international break have stretched the Real Madrid squad, particularly in the midfield. That has opened the door for Isco and James to make themselves key members of Zinedine Zidane’s team again. The Frenchman needs them to help fill the gaps starting with this weekend’s La Liga fixture away to Real Mallorca.

The pair will hope to evoke the spirit of the 2016/17 season when they both played an important role in leading Real Madrid to a Champions League and La Liga double. Many believe that only one of Isco or James can play in the same team. However, back then there was a place for both. They thrived and Real Madrid thrived on the back of that as a result.

Isco scored 11 times and contributed nine assists in all competitions over the course of the season while James found the back of the net 11 times and contributed 12 assists. At a time when the role of the playmaker is changing, these two were perhaps the purest manifestation of the position in the European game.

Real Madrid have struggled to find their groove over the early part of the season. A large part of the problem has been in their failure to strike the right balance in the final third of the pitch. In Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard they boast three of the most potent attackers in La Liga, but at times their supply line has been lacking. That certainly hasn’t helped Hazard find his feet in his new surroundings.

This is where Isco and James could make a real difference. Both players thrive on confidence and with injury ruling out Kroos and Modric for the time being this is an opportunity for them to find some heading into the winter months. Zidane won’t have welcomed these injuries to two key figures, but it could prove to be something of a watershed moment in their season.

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Not for the first time, injuries are a concern for Real Madrid

Zinedine Zidane must rue the international break every time it comes around, every time his Real Madrid players jet around the world turning out for their countries. Almost invariably, a number of them return to the Santiago Bernabeu with some sort of injury or know. This week has been no different.

The international week has hit Real Madrid hard. Zidane’s side trained together on Thursday, but Raphael Varane and Thibaut Courtois both missed the session. Gareth Bale was also missing with the Welshman already ruled out of Real Madrid’s away trip to face Real Mallorca this weekend.

It was also reported that Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal also trained away from the main group after picking up knocks while Fede Valverde also worked on his own. Add these injuries to the ones already keeping Marco Asensio, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Nacho and Lucas Vazquez out of action and Zidane has something of a crisis on his hands.

Real Madrid’s season has been a paradox to this point. They currently sit top of La Liga, but that’s only as a result of the faltering performances of their rivals. Zidane’s side have been the best of a bad bunch, with Atletico Madrid and Barcelona both struggling for consistency over the early part of the campaign.

A series of poor performances have resulted in speculation around Zidane’s job security. A number of in-the-know journalists and media members believe Jose Mourinho has been lined up as the Frenchman’s replacement for whenever club president Florentino Perez decides to pull the trigger.

It’s with this foot on his throat that Zidane needs to instil consistency in his team over the next few weeks up until the next international break and up until Christmas after that. That will be much tougher with the number of injuries now being absorbed by Real Madrid. Zidane will have to come up with a number of solutions.

Real Madrid will be favourites for the away game at Real Mallorca this weekend. That was meant to be their warm-up for the first Clasico of the season, although that fixture is now in doubt following Barcelona’s statement on the arrests over the Catalan independence movement.

Nonetheless, this next stretch of fixtures will be crucial in determining the success or failure of Real Madrid’s season. Injuries, among other things, have held them back, but there’s no time to feel sorry for oneself. Zidane must find a way to make do with the squad he has.

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Brahim Diaz is back from injury and Real Madrid might need him immediately

Within just a few months of arriving at the Santiago Bernabeu, Brahim Diaz had played as many games for Real Madrid as he had in three years for Manchester City. The 20-year-old midfielder isn’t a Galactico and wasn’t given the usual ticker-tape reception upon his arrival in the Spanish capital. Signed for just €17 million in January, Brahim was meant to be one for the future, but he made an immediate impression.

The midfielder missed the vast majority of Real Madrid’s pre-season with a persistent hamstring injury and then suffered an abdominal strain just as he was getting close to a return in late August. Finally, however, it seems that Brahim will be an option for Zinedine Zidane again. The Frenchman might need him immediately.

Real Madrid’s midfield has been difficult to work out over the early part of the season. Their season as a whole to this point has defied deciphering. Zidane finds himself under intense pressure. It seems that just one more adverse result will be enough to force Florentino Perez to pull the trigger with Jose Mourinho reportedly waiting in the wings to take over at any time.

Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric have all played well at points, but they have also suffered almighty dips in form. Fede Valverde has forced his way into the first team fold. The young Uruguayan has publicly made the point that he deserves even more game time, but he is the only player Zidane can bring into his midfield to freshen things up and rotate.

This is where Brahim might come in from this weekend. The 20-year-old caught the eye in the final games of last season, finding the net and notching an assist in the five starting appearances he made in La Liga. His drive and energy through the centre of the pitch could certainly be of use to Real Madrid at this moment. It could give the likes of Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard the supply line they need.

Brahim certainly isn’t the sole solution to Real Madrid’s problems. Despite the good first impression he made over the second half of last season, the 20-year-old is still one for the future, but he could help ease the logjam that has developed in Zidane’s midfield. He could bring something different.

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