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Real Madrid

Casemiro – the lynchpin to Zinedine Zidane’s success at Real Madrid



Real Madrid tend not to have unsung heroes. A team full of superstars, as if Cristiano Ronaldo does not attract enough plaudits, the rest of the squad have the likes of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, Sergio Ramos and Toni Kroos to contend with for attention. That suits Casemiro. Barely known by many outside of Spain, the holding midfielder may not have captured the imagination of headline writers quite as much as some his illustrious teammates this season, but few have been as influential in their run to the top of La Liga as the Brazilian.

Likened to the famous Claude Makelele, and the closest that Los Blancos have had to a replacement since the Frenchman’s departure for Chelsea, the 24-year-old has developed a reputation as one of the best all round holding midfielders in the game. Making breaking up play look easy, he also boasts an impressive range of passing and has been known to pop up with the occasional belter from distance to find the back of the net, as he did against Napoli in midweek Champions League action only this week.

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Previously exiled from the club, Casemiro joined the club initially on loan in January 2013 from Sao Paulo, and then spent the 2014/2015 season on loan at Porto as he got his first experience of first team football on a regular basis in Europe, having made just 26 appearances across his first 18 months at the Bernabeu. In Portugal, he managed 41 in one season as he impressed, scoring four and registering three assists but being lauded for his impact defensively as he broke up play. Back in Madrid for the 2015/2016 season, it was unclear if he was to be sold or retained, but Rafa Benitez used him frequently, giving him a future at the club, and one that was consolidated by Zinedine Zidane since he took charge of the side.

Now back in the frame for Brazil too, his rise is clear for all to see. Having made his debut in 2011 at just 19-years-old, and with a flurry of substitute appearances in 2012, 2014 and 2015, he is now considered one of the first choices for his country for the first time in his career as he looks to make the holding midfield role his own. Having only failed to start two games when fit this season, bizarrely both against Espanyol, it is clear to see the importance of Casemiro for both club and country.

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Whilst the attacking stars are the ones who may sell the most shirts in Madrid, few would question the importance of Casemiro to Real Madrid’s success over the past year. His role, which came as a surprise to many, in starting at the Camp Nou last season against a Barcelona side who had gone nearly 40 games unbeaten, was pivotal and not just a tactical masterstroke by Zidane, but a wonderful display by the midfielder.

When a player can make shackling the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar look easy, it is no wonder that Casemiro has become such a key figure. With the club on course for the La Liga title and still in the fight to defend their Champions League victory from last season, Casemiro could well be on the way to becoming one of the club’s most important additions in many years.

Featured Image: All rights reserved by Thuy Tran Thanh.

Sam is a football journalist focusing on English football at all levels and Spanish football. He also writes for Spain's biggest daily sports newspaper, MARCA, as well as The Boot Room. Find Sam on Twitter at @samleveridge.

Real Madrid

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



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



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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Champions League

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

Rob Meech



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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