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La Liga Matchday 2: Real Madrid slip up early on as surprise leader emerges

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La Liga

Whilst the likes of FC Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid are not a surprise in the top six of La Liga, few expected Real Sociedad to be leading the table, with minnows Leganes and newly promoted Levante completing the top six. A number of impressive results saw the likes of Girona and Athletic Bilbao also remain unbeaten, whilst there are early reasons to be concerned for Celta Vigo, Malaga and Villarreal fans as they join Alaves and Las Palmas in still looking for a point after two games.

Game of the weekend – Real Madrid 2-2 Valencia

Real Madrid rarely drop points at home, and with the imperious form that they have been in of late, few expected them to do so on their home debut of the 2017/18 season. Without the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos and the injured Raphael Varane, Valencia took a brave point.

Marco Asensio’s brace rescued the home side, who had surrendered their lead. Fellow youngster Carlos Soler leveled for Valencia only eight minutes after Asensio gave Real Madrid the lead, with debutant Geoffrey Kondogbia taking the reigns for the visitors with a smart finish. Fortunately for Zinedine Zidane, Asensio proved the saviour with a late free-kick.

Moment of the weekend – Xabi Prieto scoring Real Sociedad’s second goal against Villarreal

A season ticket holder at Real Sociedad since the age of five, captain Xabi Prieto has never played for another club and made his 500th appearance for the San Sebastian club on Friday night against Villarreal. He got on the scoresheet too to cap off a dream night for the midfielder.

Pouncing on a loose ball after the Yellow Submarine failed to clear from a corner, Prieto fired into the corner of the net sparking wild, passionate and emotional celebrations.

Goal of the weekend – Koke (Atletico Madrid’s fourth goal against Las Palmas)

Atletico Madrid were rampant in their win over UD Las Palmas on the Canary Islands on Saturday, and Koke had already notched one superb strike from the edge of the area. The second was even more impressive, as he reacted when Yannick Ferreira Carrasco’s dribble was ended and the ball bounced up in the box.

Only about eight yards out, the Spaniard produced a dramatic overhead kick which ended up in the back of the net as no-one else on the field reacted quick enough to prevent the ball from looping beyond Leandro Chichizola. You can watch the Spaniard’s impressive strike here.

Controversy of the weekend – Marcelo’s injury time “dive” against Valencia

With Valencia having pinned Real Madrid to a surprise draw at the Bernabeu on their return to their Madrid home, Zinedine Zidane’s side were bombing forward in the final moments. Marcelo was one of those, and in the second minute of injury time he went over in the penalty area.

Whilst most angles suggested it was a clear dive from the left-back, one did seem to show that there was contact. No penalty was awarded but there were whistles around the stadium as fans desperately appealed. In truth, even if there was contact, the Brazilian certainly made the most of it.

Player of the week – Marco Asensio (Real Madrid)

Narrowly ahead of Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, both players rescued their sides. Asensio produced two fine finishes, and in the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo he stepped up to fill in the roll of the superstar who led the attack for Real Madrid.

Asensio caused problems from start to finish and Valencia did not quite know how to handle the youngster. Racing forwards to pounce on a loose ball, his finish from distance left Neto with no chance and his free-kick from similar range with only eight minutes left on the clock earned his side a point late on.

Team of the week

 Three players in the team of the week recorded braces, including Koke, Lionel Messi and Marco Asensio. Kepa was in inspired form to deny Eibar for Athletic Bilbao, whilst a number of defenders produced top class displays with Pedro Alcala on the scoresheet for Girona and Matteo Mantovani also scoring for Leganes as both sides won by a goal to nil.

Sam is a Southend United fan and student based in the South-West. He has previously worked for various publications, including FourFourTwo magazine and ITV. Sam also has an extensive knowledge of Spanish football and has previously lived and worked in Spain. Find Sam on Twitter at @samleveridge.

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Real Madrid

Real Madrid 7-1 Deportivo La Coruña: Five talking points from Bernabéu

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Photo: Reuters

In Sunday’s post-match press conference, Zinedine Zidane said: “What changed today is the result, that we scored the chances we made, nothing else.” However, there is always a tale to tell, especially when it comes to Real Madrid and this week’s 7-1 thrashing of Deportivo de La Coruña was no different.

Cristiano Ronaldo made the headlines after taking a boot to the head when scoring a very valiant header, but it was Gareth Bale who got the standing ovation and was the reason behind a pervading brisk smile among the crowd.

He has played a significant part in the games in which he has appeared as a substitute this season and he was arguably the best attacking player Real had on the field last week against Villarreal.

After suffering from numerous injuries, the Welshman has managed to put his time on the sidelines behind him. He is currently the top scorer of the team with seven goals, despite missing out a handful of games.

With the league, all but theoretically over for Real Madrid, the hefty 7-1 win was important in many ways.

Real’s slump has put them 19 points behind arch-rivals, Barcelona, and they are currently sitting fourth on the table. The win, dare we say resurrection, over Deportivo La Coruna could mean a turnaround for Real Madrid.

Here are the five talking points of the tie…

Gareth Bale – the long-awaited return of the Welshmen

Real Madrid have had their fair share of creating chances in matches, half or full – they squandered them all. The quality of the chances was missing and misguided crosses were thrown to yield no results. Bale has brought the finishing-touch back to the team and his ability to run past defenders, creating space for an extra touch, has helped his side in scoring.

Bale, for the first goal against Deportivo, chested down the ball, took a touch and curled it around the defender past the goalkeeper – a famed finish he has personified over the years. He dominated the flank and his understanding with Dani Carvajal and Luka Modric was transparent. Meanwhile, his second reminded the hosts how they have missed him in the air.

For a team like Madrid, with players like Ronaldo, Ramos, Casemiro, Varane, and Benzema, scoring headers should be a norm. Although the case in the past, this term they have failed to replicate the same dominance in the air and the Welshman has reminded the crowd what he is capable of in this respect.

Squad rotation

Squad rotation has played a massive role in Real’s recent triumphs and Zidane deserves credit for this. However, this season, the quality from the bench is not there. The contribution from the substitutes is lacking and their inefficiency to provide something concrete has let the team down.

Zidane stuck to his usual principles by putting out a B-team against Leganes for the club’s Copa del Ray clash, resting his star players.

Perhaps for the first time in the season, the squad looked fresher and near 100% if not fully fit.

This victory was a hard-earned one – Marco Asensio’s beautiful finish averted the eyes from an awful performance, but they managed to get the result.

That allowed the ageing squad members to take a breather and the performance against Deportivo was the subsequent result.

Lucas Vasquez and Mateo Kovacic were substituted and since contributed to the win, with the former providing an assist and the latter holding up the ball masterfully during the counter-attack, finished by Modric a few seconds later.

A comeback for BBC

The decision to switch back to 4-3-3, with no Isco on the field, asserted the fact that Real is a better side with a front three, instead of a no. 10 behind two strikers. Due to various injuries, it had been more 270 days since the famous trio were in action and it is clear that Madrid have dearly missed them.

Borja Mayoral started up front against Deportivo, only to be substituted by Karim Benzema, who has recently recovered from the injury. 4-3-3 resolved the issues Real were facing with a 4-4-2 diamond. The overlapping runs were seamless and during the transition, it was easy to defend. What that means for the future Isco is a separate debate.

The midfield three

It has been quite a while since fans have seen the midfield trio of Luka Modric, Casemiro, and Toni Kroos in full swing. As glamorous as it was, the link-up play had become damaged and Casemiro’s defensive cover was not proving up to par.

Against Deportivo, however, they were back to their brilliant best.

Casemiro bossed the game, winning seven balls, while weighing with a 92.3% pass success percentage and a brilliant lofted cross that was buried into the net by Ronaldo. He has been labeled as Claude Makélélé of Zidane’s Madrid – rightfully so, as well.

The link-up play between Kroos and Modric was also improved. The former didn’t suffer defensively, like he has done in his recent outings and his confidence seemed restored. Meanwhile, the latter scored a screamer, while proving his understanding with Bale is far greater than that with either Lucas Vasquez or Marco Asensio.

Lackadaisical defending

The big guns fired for Real Madrid, as Bale and Ronaldo both scored braces on Sunday, but the fact is that victory came against a struggling team – although Real needed a win like this to make a statement and build some momentum before the Paris Saint Germain showdown on Valentine’s day (you can predict this result with M88 betting in China).

In hindsight, the defensive frailties are still there to solve. Raphael Varane is solid, almost, and the Frenchman is having a great season. A downside to his game is his partnership with virtually anyone but Sergio Ramos – who is out due to injury.

In Ramos’ absence, Nacho Fernandez comes in. As good as they both have been individually, the understanding is not there – at least not yet.

Marcelo has improved his attacking play. He is great going forward but the concern is still there when it comes to tracking back, especially when the likes Neymar and Kyliann Mbappe will be running the show down the flanks.

Against Deportivo, Dani Carvajal had a solid game after some time and Nacho was undoubtedly the best defender of the night – scoring two goals and cleared one off the line with a brilliant sliding tackle.

A win like this could definitely boost the morale of a team which has been underperforming quite significantly. However, Real should not get too complacent with the victory as the tougher fixtures lie ahead.

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Real Madrid

Why Zinedine Zidane is still the right man for Real Madrid

Mudassir Mustafa

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Photo: Reuters

If Real Madrid was to be added to the dictionary, the meaning would be something like this: “A football team with a lustrous history established in 1992, based in Madrid, Spain.” However, if that dictionary has to be football explicit, per se, the meanings would be somewhat different.

The definition of Real Madrid is, as spoken by many, to give it all until the end – to never back down from the challenge and success knows no limits. Hence the narrative was established “Hasta El final, Vamos Real” which, when translated, means ‘Until the End, Go Real.’

Speaking of limits and success, Real Madrid – both the club and the fans, is a very different breed, a one of a kind, a forerunner in almost everything in footballing world – records, accolades, stats, best coaches, best players, best stadium, best training facilities, so on and so forth.

But success comes at a certain price. It was the start of the European cup that put Madrid on the globe; at the time when the internet was a scarce entity. Real could sign big players and they ruled Europe for years.

As the story goes on, Real Madrid becomes synonymous with big-money signings (Proyecto Los Galácticos) and sacking managers at will.

The world got the wind of this Real Madrid in late 90’s. Real lifted the UCL (their seventh) in ’98 and then again in ’00 – and again in ’02.

The appointment of Vicente del Bosque was in many ways the best decision taken by Real Madrid in their recent history. His stint started way back in ’94 but was never given the full authority – Benito Floro, Jorge Valdano, Arsenio Iglesias and then John Toshack had their time in the famous white house.

But, as recurring as this statement has become, their stint lacked success. For Real Madrid, winning everything one year and failing to replicate the same form in the next, doesn’t quantify the success.

Del Bosque was modern-day Carlo Ancelotti of Real Madrid, so to speak.

They resemble in many ways; calm, poised, composed, tactically sound, and modest. The Spaniard ushered Real to its finest era in modern history – only Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano’s Madrid have enjoyed more success by then.

Del Bosque lifted two Uefa Champions League in 2000 and 2002, La Liga in 2001 and 2003 and numerous other cups. These numbers are better than most coaches’ entire career, but for Real Madrid merely winning a league doesn’t count as a success.

Del Bosque was sacked and so were the hopes of Madridistas who thought Real might be becoming Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United under him.

47, the hitman number, then becomes the latest to fall under the umbrella of Real Madrid’s notorious synonyms. Four years and seven coaches without a single major trophy.

Revulsions were revved, stars with stellar egos took hold of the dressing room, managers deserted, and fans were all but not sated. In the competition personified by Real Madrid, they failed to make it to the last-eight for years to come. Until Jose Mourinho was appointed.

Though Real didn’t win a Champions League under his reign either, they did make it to the semis in all four years of his tenure.

History has an awkward way of repeating itself. And in 2014, it did when Carlo Ancelotti was named the manager of the club. Real won their long-awaited La Decima with a victory over city rivals Atletico Madrid.

Despite winning a Champions League trophy for the first time in 12 years, the following year Real fell short to Juventus in semis and were knocked out of the competition. And so, ended the Ancelloti era.

Players loved him, liked him, he won over the Bernabeu, many tears were shed reminiscent of when Fernando Redondo was sold, but that is Real Madrid – the perfect definition of ‘No Untouchables.’

The appointment of Rafael Benítez was short lived. He was never an upgrade on Carlo Ancelloti – tactically, mentally or in managing squad’s ego, a factor that has found its true meaning in Real’s dressing room over the years.

After being labeled as defensive-minded coach, and failing to win matches in a steamrolling fashion, he found himself standing at the wrong end of the Valdebebas.

In comes, Zinedine Zidane, the bald Frenchman who knows it all. He was there when Madrid sacked Del Bosque and he was there when they failed to win a major trophy for years.

He was the product of Los Galacticos himself, and after retirement, he has served in the office as Sporting Director.

If there was any guy best suited for the job, it was him. To put the cherry on the cake, his relation with President Florentino Perez is near perfect.

What Zidane did in his first year in charge, was unexpected and anticipated by no one. He surpassed and surprised everyone – pundits, writers, columnists, fans, managers, players, even someone hard-to-please socios.

Mentioning the trophy haul and the records fall under his feet, is a no-brainer here. But, the start to this season was underwhelming.

19 points short of Barcelona – they are closer to the relegation zone than to the top. Only twice there has been a gap this big in the history of the club.

This is the worst start to a league campaign in almost a decade.

Having said that, Zidane is still the right man for the job. He still has the fans, players, and management behind him; all of which are a necessary ingredient to cook something special.

Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, the behemoth of a stadium in all its glory, has seen it all. Megastars, massive failures, huge celebrations and tearing nights.

As flawed and frenetic tactics Zidane has, his achievements are a little too much to ignore. One reason for not sacking him immediately could be the lack of availability of less popular figure.

Guti and Solari are not ready – while the former may ever be but the latter has shown no signs to be considered a reliable option.

Joachim Löw and Mauricio Pochettino are both linked but none is ready to take the job right away.

 

Real Madrid’s squad is in a dire need of shake up. Ageing and underperforming players are pulling the team in the opposite direction – too complacent to perform at the highest order.

The squad needs a refresh and that should be done regardless of its effects; unsettling the nerves of already established stars.

To complete the transition from already established players to world-class youngsters, Real needs someone who understands club inside out and there is no one else better than Zidane for that job.

However, Zidane knows he is walking on the wedge and he needs to find the solution sooner than later.

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Barcelona

Who are the five most valuable players under the age of 21?

Jake Jackman

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The CIES Football Observatory have produced a list of the 100 most valuable players under the age of 21 and it makes for interesting reading, with three Premier League players in the top five.

CIES are a research group based within the International Centre for Sports Studies. It was created in 2005 and has looks to specialise in the statistical analysis of football, which is a growing field within the sport.

A lot of their studies are based in the financial side of the game and given the continued increase of transfer fees, they produce a lot of information that is of interest to clubs.

This particular study focuses on the top five leagues and it won’t come as a surprise that the Premier League features heavily.

Here are the five most valuable under-21 players according to the CIES study:

5 – Marcus Rashford (€116.7 million)

Amid all the spending that Manchester United have done in recent seasons, the value of producing your own players through your academy continues to be shown in the Manchester United squad. It is important to their supporters to have homegrown players and Marcus Rashford is one of the best that they have produced in recent seasons. According to CIES, he is already worth more than £100 million and it is remarkable to think that he may not have been given a chance if it wasn’t for injuries to Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial.

It has been a good start to the season for Marcus Rashford as he continues to get significant minutes, despite the arrival of Romelu Lukaku. Across the Premier League and Champions League, he has contributed six goals and four assists. His goal involvement is one every 113.8 minutes. Considering he has been used in various positions and not played every week, this is impressive. United need to continue showing faith in him. If they do, the sky is the limit.

4 – Ousmane Dembele (€120.4 million)

The French winger made headlines during the summer, as he was selected to be the replacement for Neymar at Barcelona. There is a lot of pressure on the 20-year-old to live up to his price tag, which was £135.5 million. There were clauses included in the deal, but the overall value is more than the £120.4 million that he has been estimated at by CIES. However, there were circumstances driving that. Namely, the desperate position of Barcelona.

Last season, he was one of the best players in the Bundesliga as he contributed eight goals and 18 assists across the two major competitions. His goal involvement was one every 108.2 minutes, which underlines why Barcelona were keen to buy him this season. An injury has hindered him at the beginning of his La Liga career, but he remains one of the most exciting young players in the game.

3 – Leroy Sane (€124.5 million)

The £37 million that Manchester City paid for the German international is looking more and more like a bargain with every passing day. CIES value the winger at €124.5 million and that underlines the improvement he has made under Pep Guardiola. He is now one of the most devastating attackers in the Premier Leaguer and it will be fascinating to see how much further he can go, as he is only 21.

His record in the Premier League this season has been remarkable and he is well on his way to contributing at least ten goals and ten assists. Sane is already on six goals and six assists, with a goal involvement every 78.75 minutes. The quality of the team helps him, but his own performances have contributed significantly to the success of City.

2 – Dele Alli (€180.2 million)

It has been a difficult start to the new season for Dele Alli, but he remains one of the most exciting players in the world. In the list of these five players, the England international is the most attainable for the biggest clubs in Europe, as Tottenham have the lowest chance of winning major trophies. It will take a huge fee to secure the midfielder and the valuation of €180.2 million from CIES is around the fee that Spurs would expect.

Since joining Tottenham as a teenager, he has been a revelation and scored 28 goals during his first two Premier League seasons. This season has been harder as he has only three goals in 15 matches, but he was always going to go through a drop-off in form at some point. The test will be how he recovers. The next few months will show us how far Alli can go in the game.

1- Kylian Mbappe (€182.8 million)

The valuation from CIES is fractionally higher than the reported fee that PSG will pay for the teenager next summer when his transfer is made permanent. He was a revelation last season and played a major role in Monaco winning Ligue 1 and reaching the Champions League semi-finals. PSG have made the move to sign him and he could become the best player in the world at the club if he is managed correctly.

This season hasn’t been as eye-catching as his debut season in senior football, but he has been very impressive still, especially when his age is taken into consideration. He has contributed nine goals and seven assists across the two major competitions, with a goal involvement of 86.5 minutes. This is incredible, but there have been some critics as he isn’t as noticeable playing alongside Edinson Cavani and Neymar. He is clearly the best young player in the world and this list from CIES reflects that.

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