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Spanish La Liga

La Liga Matchday 28 – Crunch clashes don’t disappoint as Karim Benzema leads the way for Real Madrid

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With one of the toughest trips of the season, Real Madrid headed to San Mames knowing they would be up against the second best home record in La Liga behind their own as they faced Athletic Bilbao. Fortunately for Zinedine Zidane, Karim Benzema and Casemiro was on form as the holding midfielder played in Cristiano Ronaldo to cross for the Frenchman to open the scoring. Ernesto Valverde and his team wouldn’t give up though and Inaki Williams beat Marcelo to cross for Raul Garcia who nodded back to the path of Aritz Aduriz to level the scores. Real would emerge with the three points, though, as the Brazilian linchpin turned goalscorer, pouncing at a corner only three minutes after Aduriz’s equaliser.

That certainly put the pressure on Barcelona as they welcomed Valencia, who have enjoyed some good results at the Camp Nou in recent years. Voro’s side did little make life easy for Luis Enrique’s team, with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala the hero scoring from a corner. However, he soon turned to villain after Luis Suarez leveled the scores with a composed effort, and Mangala then pushed him down in the box to receive a red card and concede a penalty, which Lionel Messi dutifully stepped up to dispatch coolly. It was another loanee, this time Barcelona’s own, that ensured that the lead was short lived, with Munir firing into the far corner almost directly from kick-off to ensure the sides went in level at half-time. Messi didn’t let that last long, though, splitting the Valencia defence early in the second half to give his side the lead again, with former Valencia man Andre Gomes adding a fourth in the final minute of the game.

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Sevilla capped off a dreadful week by seeing their title hopes all but ended as they fell to defeat in their final trip to the Vicente Calderon as Atletico Madrid revived hopes of a top three finish. Jorge Sampaoli’s side are seemingly in freefall and even Joaquin Correa’s late consolation effort did little to comfort the Argentinean. Atleti looked comfortable both on and off the ball after breaking the deadlock with a Diego Godin header. A tight affair was opened up when Antoine Griezmann smashed home a superb free-kick from distance, with Koke adding a third only 15 minutes later to reduce the gap between the two sides to just two points.

That result was of even greater importance for Diego Simeone and co. given the results of the chasing pack. Friday night saw Las Palmas, still reeling from the news that Quique Setien will leave the club at the end of the season, produce a most un-Las Palmas like performance to see off Villarreal. Kevin-Prince Boateng opened the scoring in the 10th minute but the Canary Island outfit held firm with their best defensive performance of the season to ensure that the Yellow Submarine would end the weekend seven points behind fourth place.

That gave a fresh opportunity to Real Sociedad as they too apply the pressure. A superb run of form put them into contention, but Alaves made it two defeats in a row in two Basque derbies in a row for Eusebio’s team, following on from their home defeat to Athletic Bilbao last weekend. Deyverson’s strike gave the Copa del Rey finalists the lead just before half-time and Esteban Granero did little to help his team’s efforts to get back into the game by seeing yellow twice in just seven minutes.

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At the bottom end, Sporting Gijon secured a crucial win to keep their faint hopes of survival alive with a win over Granada. The two sides are both battling relegation but Sverrir Ingason’s goal for the away side spurred Sporting into life. The introduction of Lacina Traore propelled his side to score three goals in seven minutes, turning the game on its head before Traore missed a penalty which would have rounded off a complete display.

In another crucial six-pointer at the bottom, Leganes held Malaga to a 0-0 draw as neither side wanted to risk defeat, happy to take a five or six point gap on the relegation zone. In a dull encounter, both sides remained solid defensively. So too did Deportivo A Coruna in a Galician derby as they sought to climb clear of danger against Celta Vigo, but Iago Aspas scored the decisive goal to earn an away victory. That means that Depor will join Malaga in being just six points from safety. On the other hand, Osasuna seem more doomed than ever as they faced yet another defeat, this time to Real Betis.

Here are this weekend’s results in full:

Las Palmas 1-0 Villarreal

Eibar 1-1 Espanyol

Athletic Bilbao 1-2 Real Madrid

Alaves 1-0 Real Sociedad

Real Betis 2-0 Osasuna

Leganes 0-0 Malaga

Atletico Madrid 3-1 Sevilla

Sporting Gijon 3-1 Granada

Deportivo A Coruna 0-1 Celta de Vigo

Barcelona 4-2 Valencia

Featured Image: All rights reserved by Real Madrid.

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

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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Champions League

Three talking points as Tottenham Hotspur put Real Madrid to the sword at Wembley

Rob Meech

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Dele Alli scored twice as Tottenham Hotspur clinched a famous triumph over Real Madrid to book their place in the last 16 of the Champions League.

On a magical night at Wembley Stadium, Spurs outplayed the reigning European champions and fully deserved to inflict Real’s first group stage defeat in five years.

Alli struck either side of half-time before Christian Eriksen added gloss to the victory. Cristiano Ronaldo fired home late on, but it was scant consolation for the off-colour visitors.

Not many pundits had given Tottenham a hope of emerging from a group that also contained Borussia Dortmund, but Mauricio Pochettino’s side may well now qualify as winners.

Here are three talking points from an unforgettable evening in North London…

Rampant Spurs send shockwaves across Europe

Tottenham had performed admirably at the Bernabeu a fortnight ago to hold Real to a draw, which kept them in contention to qualify from Group H.

However, this result, on a night that will live long in the memory for all who were present, was on another level. It wasn’t just the scoreline, but the manner of the performance that will excite all those connected with Tottenham Hotspur.

Yes, they caught Real at a good time, but it is not often you can say that Madrid were completely outclassed.

Spurs’ English contingent, including Alli, Harry Kane, Kieran Trippier and Harry Winks, all turned in assured displays that will have delighted the onlooking Gareth Southgate.

Tottenham are a force to be reckoned with in the Champions League and, after this stunning win, they will be feared by the European heavyweights.

Dele Alli proves form is temporary, class is permanent

The England midfielder has not been at his best so far this season, but his brace against a team of Real’s calibre underlined his class.

When Tottenham needed a big performance, Alli delivered.

His first was a goal made in England, as his predatory instinct enabled him to get on the end of a teasing cross by Trippier, who had been released by Winks.

Alli doubled Spurs’ lead when his 20-yard strike nestled in the bottom corner after taking a deflection off Sergio Ramos.

The former MK Dons midfielder should have sealed his hat-trick late in the game when he headed wide, but he was much more like his old self.

Chants of “We’ve got Alli, Dele Alli, I just don’t think you understand” reverberated around Wembley as the Spurs supporters voiced their appreciation.

Is pressure mounting on Zinedine Zidane?

It seems outrageous to suggest that, just five months after lifting the Champions League trophy, Zinedine Zidane’s position is under threat.

However, such are the standards at Madrid that he must be starting to fear for his future at the club where he commands legendary status.

In all probability, Real will still qualify for the knockout stages – and who would bet against them retaining the title? – but their performance against Spurs was so disjointed and defensively inept that it will have left the powers-that-be scratching their heads.

The margin of victory did not flatter Tottenham, who threatened to run riot in the second half as the visitors searched fruitlessly for a way back into the game.

Zidane’s troops are also well off the pace in La Liga, where they lie eight points behind leaders Barcelona after 10 games.

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