Benzema deserves a Ballon d’Or, L’Equipe says

Real Madrid have managed to close the season by lifting the LaLiga title, an achievement that would not have been possible without Karim Benzema, who has been the stand-out performer in Zinedine Zidane’s side this season.

Along with Sergio Ramos, Benzema has been one of the leaders on the pitch that has helped guide Madrid to a 33rd LaLiga title, featuring in 37 of Madrid’s 38 league games. And his performances have not gone unnoticed in his native France, where the Lyon-born forward has not been the most popular character since his ostracism from the national team in 2015.

As it has been doing regularly over the past month, L’Equipe has once again put the spotlight on Benzema, dedicating its front page to the exiled Frenchman.

According to the Paris-based sports daily, the 32-year-old has been the “flavour of Madrid, (and) of the year”, going as far as to identify him as a worthy winner of the Ballon d’Or.

Benzema outshines Griezmann and Mbappé

“A more complete player than Robert Lewandowski, who scores more, [Benzema] shone as Antoine Griezmann experienced a troubled season at FC Barcelona. While Kylian Mbappé and Wissam Ben Yedder were halted with the cancellation of Ligue 1, he has been the most consistent of all French forwards this season,” writes L’Equipe journalist Anthony Clement.

“The recognition will not come from France’s Ballon d’Or, which has been cancelled this year, but straight from the pitch. This is the most important thing for someone who embodies such a beautiful idea of the game,” concludes the article.

Benzema deserving of Ballon d’Or – Florentino Pérez

L’Equipe are not the first to link Benzema with this year’s cancelled Ballon d’Or. Madrid president, Florentino Pérez, had already claimed that the Frenchman would be a deserving winner of football’s highest individual accolade before the cancellation of this year’s gala was announced by organisers, media outlet France Football.

“France Football will not award a Ballon d’Or this year, a trophy that Karim Benzema could certainly have claimed, since he was so decisive with Real Madrid,” says L’Equipe on its cover.

At 32 years old, Benzema scored 21 goals and provided 8 assists in 37 LaLiga games this season and will look to add to his four-goal Champions League tally when Madrid face Manchester City in the second leg of the quarter final tie at the Etihad on August 8, where Los Blancos need to turnover a 2-1 defeat from the first meeting at the Bernabéu.

Zidane’s birthday wish to James changes nothing

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane sent a warm birthday message to James Rodriguez by insisting the Colombian could play a part in the side’s future – but then left him out of his latest squad.

James, who signed amid Galactico fanfare six years ago, has become almost a forgotten man with the Spanish giants, playing only a minor role in this season’s LaLiga title chase.

His 78-minute run-out against Real Sociedad in June was a first LaLiga appearance for James since October, and he has not played since.

There are reports Madrid consider James superfluous to their needs and will look to sell him at the end of this campaign, with Manchester United among the clubs linked with him.

Zidane struck a different tone in his news conference ahead of Monday’s match against Granada, even wishing James well on the attacking midfielder’s birthday.

However, by later leaving James out of his 23-man squad for the Granada trip, the head coach’s actions perhaps proved more telling than his words.

“He is important, and he is ours,” Zidane told reporters.

“He is 29 years old today and I congratulate him. It is true some play more and others less, but I will not look down on any player.

“Everyone brings something to the team. I can count on all of those I have.”

James has just a year left on his Madrid contract and his influence has greatly diminished.

Before this season, he spent two years on loan at Bayern Munich, winning a pair of Bundesliga titles but not doing enough to secure a permanent transfer.

Signed from Monaco by Madrid in 2014 after a stellar World Cup, James was initially given the coveted number 10 shirt but now wears number 16, with his eight league appearances this season amounting to just 419 minutes on the pitch.

Back in May there were strong rumours that Atlético Madrid were keen to land James, but the deal eventually fell through, despite the player and Atleti both reportedly being keen.

Aguero to miss CL match against Real Madrid

Manchester City will be without forward Sergio Agüero when they welcome Real Madrid to the Etihad next month to resolve their Champions League Last 16 tie.

Agüero, who underwent surgery last month to repair torn meniscus in his left knee, will not recover in time for the return leg in Manchester on Friday 7 August.

City go into the game with a 1-2 lead from the first leg back in February before football was put on hold by the coronavirus crisis.

“No advantage for City,” says Guardiola

Agüero’s absence was confirmed this afternoon by City manager Pep Guardiola, who also gave his reaction to this afternoon’s Champions League quarter final draw in Nyon.

Guardiola rejected the idea that his side set out as favourites to advance, telling reporters, “We played the first leg in Madrid and we will play the return at home, it’s a normal situation and it won’t put us at an advantage. Ties are always decided over two legs, home and away. If we start thinking about the next round now, then the kings of the competition (Real Madrid) will kick us out”.

Di Maria’s wife breaks the silence on his mega move to Manchester United

Angel Di Maria’s wife, Jorgelina Cardoso, has recalled that there were voices in Spain that labelled her husband as mercenaries following his departure from Real Madrid in 2014.

Cardoso admitted that Manchester United made an offer that the Argentine winger could not turn down.

Jorgelina Cardoso and Angel di Maria 2

“Angel played in what is, for me, the best team in the world,” Di Maria’s wife said.

“We were perfect; the weather was perfect and the food fantastic.

“One day Angel came and told me, ‘An offer came in from Manchester’.

“I said no bloody way and warned him he was going alone.

“He replied, ‘Yes, we are going’.

Angel di Maria

“There was a lot of money and the Spanish came out to call us mercenaries.

“And yes, we were.

“If you work in a company and the competition comes to tell you that they pay double, you will go running.”

Real Madrid interim coach already at work

Real Madrid fitness coach Gregory Dupont has been preparing Zinedine Zidane’s players for a return to training on May 11.

Dupont divided the squad into three groups and oversaw two sessions through video calls.

The Real Madrid players will undergo coronavirus tests, starting from Wednesday, ahead of the return to training on Monday, following two months of confinement.

Dupont has urged the players to strictly follow his guidelines so that they can ease their way back into the return to training and avoid setbacks.

As seen in a video posted on social media by Eder Militao, a simulation of kicking a ball was part of the workout.

Meanwhile, both Eden Hazard and Marco Asensio are already in the final stage of their respective recoveries from injury.

However, the main question is when the players will arrive at the competitive level they had reached before football was brought to a halt.

How much will it cost Real Madrid to sign Neymar?

Neymar is still on Florentino Perez’s wish list at Real Madrid.

That information came from football agent Wagner Ribeiro, who was involved in transfers for Neymar, Kaka and Robinho, when he spoke to ESPN’s ‘Canal do Nicola’.

Ribeiro worked alongside Neymar in his early years and helped with his move to FC Barcelona.

“We received offers from all over the world,” Ribeiro said of Neymar’s time at Santos.

“We received an official offer from Chelsea when we were in New York, the day Neymar made his debut for Brazil in 2010. We studied the offer but didn’t decide anything. On that occasion, like in many others, we passed it onto Neymar and his father to decide.”

“Later they were offers from Bayern Munich, Juventus – and we even had a meeting in Turin. Real Madrid called me on a number of occasions because Florentino dreamed about signing Neymar.

“I was with him [Florentino] last year, in May, in his office, and he told me then he still dreamed about signing Neymar.”

Ribeiro also revealed that PSG have put a price on Neymar’s head. “It will cost you €164m to sign Neymar today. That price didn’t exist a year ago.” Although the agent admits there won’t be many deals above €50m due to the current coronavirus outbreak.

“He’s a lot better than Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. I’ve never seen Neymar play badly. He always made the difference at Santos, despite getting kicked, as he either scored or assisted. We saw that at both Barcelona and PSG.”

Ribeiro said the right environment was crucial to Neymar at this point in his career. “Barcelona is top of the pile. His best friends are there but he’s also happy at PSG. A footballer must be professional. It’s important he’s in the right atmosphere because money isn’t an issue for him. He wants to be the best player in the world, despite still being quite young.”

Rumour has it: Harry Kane will likely move to Real Madrid

Speculation over Harry Kane’s departure from Tottenham has intensified in the British press.

The latest reports claim that Spurs coach, Jose Mourinho, has asked club chairman Daniel Levy not to sell Kane to another Premier League team, which would rule out Manchester United, who have been heavily linked with the England international for quite some time.

If Levy were to fulfil Mourinho’s reported wishes, that would push the English striker towards PSG or Real Madrid, the only two European clubs with the financial muscle to undertake such an operation, which would likely exceed 200 million euros.

However, for the moment, Real Madrid is not considering signing the Spurs striker, although nothing can be ruled in a transfer market that can take many twists and turns due to the current coronavirus crisis and the uncertainty it has created.

While Kane would come at a high price, he makes up for it in the fact that he is still just 26 years old and guarantees goals: 25, 41 and 24 in the last three seasons. But the player’s personality is the major deterrent for Madrid bosses, who are more swayed toward the profile of Erling Haaland.

“I’ll always love Spurs but I’ve always said if I don’t feel we’re progressing as a team or going in the right direction, I’m not someone to stay there for the sake of it,” Kane said at the end of March.

“I’m ambitious, I want to improve and become one of the top, top players. It depends on what happens as a team and how we progress.”

If Kane moves on, as he has himself suggested with his latest declarations, then PSG could prove to be a more likely option than Madrid. The Parisian club is going to wave goodbye to veteran centre forward Edinson Cavani in the summer, while loanee Mauro Icardi is also set to return to Inter Milan after one year in the French capital – which would leave a space for Kane.

Another factor in any decision to sign Kane, of course, will be whether PSG president, Nasser Al-Khelaifi, expects to lose Kylian Mbappé in 2021, something which remains unknown at this point.

Ronaldo not interested in joining Los Blancos

The financial implications of the coronavirus crisis in Italy have led to talk of a Juventus exit for Cristiano Ronaldo.

Real Madrid, naturally, have been linked with re-signing the Portuguese forward, but the club aren’t thinking about a potential return for one of their biggest former stars.

The relationship between Cristiano, Real Madrid and Florentino Perez is still a close one, with the player being invited back to the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu to watch the Clasico in March, but there’s never been any thought of a return.

Cristiano hasn’t particularly kept many close ties with his former teammates, especially after his comments about Luka Modric winning the Ballon d’Or in 2018. Only Marcelo is still close to him.

After all, Cristiano left Los Blancos for Juventus in search of new challenges.

On top of this, after all the contract disputes with Real Madrid, Juventus have given the 35-year-old exactly what he wants, in terms of both salary and contract length.

Los Blancos were never prepared to pay the 31 million euros per year that he earns in Turin and they’re not considering it now.

Even though the team has suffered from his exit, Real Madrid have viewed his 112 million euro sale as good business.

Despite returning to the Bernabeu for the Clasico, it was only a flying visit, as Cristiano is only thinking about winning trophies with Juve.

Is Pochettino eyeing Real Madrid job?

It’s always seemed likely that Mauricio Pochettino and Real Madrid‘s paths would cross at some point.

The Argentine coach has a good reputation among the club’s fans and has made no secret of his admiration of Los Blancos.

With Jose Mourinho out of the picture – in Pochettino’s former office at Tottenham Hotspur no less – the former Espanyol boss is favourite to take over at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, should Real Madrid ever decide to change coach.

Like for everyone else involved in the sport, the suspension of football has halted Pochettino’s plans for the future. He’s been without a job since being sacked by Spurs in November 2019, just months after taking them to a historic Champions League final.

Manchester United are one of the clubs to have been linked with Pochettino, while he’s also been mentioned when Zinedine Zidane has struggled in Madrid.

There was a chance for Pochettino to take the Real Madrid reigns in the summer of 2018, following Zidane’s resignation.

However, Daniel Levy’s refusal to negotiate the departure of his coach, who had recently penned a new contract, put a stop to that.

Zidane: Real Madrid are still disappointed

Zinedine Zidane judged Real Madrid’s performance on Sunday against Real Betis as “the worst game of the season” his team have played.

“We had an awful game from start to finish, it was hard for us, we lost a lot of balls,” said Zidane.

“We can’t be happy, although it’s not an attitude problem, I have no explanation of what happened.”

Zidane said that his players “tried, but nothing came off” and took the blame himself. “We lacked a bit of everything,” he said.

“We can move forward. Today is a pity, but there are 11 games to go and we’ll fight to the end for La Liga. We didn’t play a game to win and I’m responsible. I always defend my players, if I have to tell them something I’ll do it behind closed doors.”

Juventus want Zinedine Zidane in Italy, not Pep Guardiola

Juventus are thinking about their coach for next season.

Per the Daily Mail, Andrea Agnelli is hoping to appoint Zinedine Zidane to lead their next project after Maurizio Sarri.

Zinedine Zidane and Pep Guardiola 1

For a while they have been looking at Pep Guardiola but it seems he does not want to abandon his team despite their UCL punishment, so the Juve chief has had to go back to the market.

Zidane could be convinced to leave Madrid and join another of his former sides, where he would reencounter Cristiano Ronaldo, who played under his leadership at Madrid in his first spell.

Why Barcelona must win Real Sociedad

Barcelona must pick themselves up after Clasico disappointment.

The LaLiga champions host Real Sociedad on Saturday at Camp Nou, with Madrid not playing until Sunday night, at Real Betis.

Barcelona vs Real Sociedad

Real Sociedad and Barca are two sides that play attractive football – and Messi has not been able to score against an Imanol Alguacil side.

Martin Braithwaite may get his first chance to start after two bright cameos. That could mean a classic 4-3-3. The former Leganes striker doesn’t lack confidence.

Arthur will not be playing after picking up an ankle problem and Barca could opt for Ivan Rakitic in his place.

If Barca win they will go back top of the league before Madrid play at the Benito Villamarin. That would put pressure on Zinedine Zidane’s side as the run-in starts, with 12 games to go and no clear favourite.

Real Madrid will miss Rodrygo in Clasico

Real Madrid’s appeal against Rodrygo Goes’ red card has been turned down, ruling the Brazilian attacker out of Sunday’s visit from Barcelona.

Rodygo will not be available for the Clasico after getting sent off for Real Madrid Castilla last weekend. He was booked twice in the reserve team game.

Madrid appealed the dismissal but, on Wednesday, the Competition Committee rejected their argument and confirmed that his one-game ban would stand.

Therefore, he cannot play for any Madrid team this weekend: not the first team against Barça nor for Castilla in their third division game.

He will have to wait until, at least, March 8 to feature for the first team again when Zinedine Zidane’s side travel to Real Betis in La Liga.

However, given recent events and the fact he played for Castilla last weekend, it’s not out of the question that he continues with Raul’s team after he serves his ban.

Rodrygo has gone from being a regular in Madrid’s squad to playing more of a bit part. He’s played just 14 minutes for the first team in February (against Real Sociedad in the Copa del Rey). He has not been called up for a single league game this month.

Férland Mendy’s awesome performance at Real Madrid should motivate Marcelo

With Férland Mendy, Real Madrid have let in just 8 goals in 19 games (0.42 goals per game). With Marcelo, the team has conceded 15 goals in 15 games.

One of Zinedine Zidane’s first requests to rebuild the squad on his return was the signing of a left-back. The Madrid coach could see that Marcelo needed something to motivate him and get him back to his best.

Marcelo had been in decline since the departure of Zidane and also his close friend CristianoLopetegui and Solari managed to mask the left-back’s drop in form by bringing in Castilla player Sergio Reguilón, who made 22 appearances with the first team, 14 of them in LaLiga either as an alternative to Marcelo or covering for the Brazilian when he was out injured.

Zidane’s return changed the situation completely. Regui went out on loan to Sevilla to gain experience and Férland Mendy was signed from Olympique Lyon in June last year – specifically to compete with Marcelo for the left-back position.

Férland Mendy and Marcelo 2

After overcoming a series of niggling muscular injuries which kept him out of the team at the start of the season, little by little Mendy is making the left-back slot his own. Zidane has used him whenever the team has faced right wingers who have blistering pace – such as Villarreal’s Samuel Chukwueze  or Sevilla’s Jesús Navas. With the French full-back, Madrid have conceded just eight goals in 19 games (in all competitions), which is an average of 0.42 goals per game.

With Marcelo however, the average more than doubles – he has played 15 games so far this season, in which the team has conceded 15 goals… The Brazilian has also had three spells in the sickbay this season for various muscular injuries which has been an additional  handicap.

It’s the same story in one-on-one battles with opposing players – Mendy comes out on top an average of 60.56%, while Marcelo averages 52.17%. As a unit, Madrid’s four-man back four of CarvajalVaraneRamos and Mendy have played a total of nine games – from which the team has own six and drawn three; that defence has kept a clean sheet in six games (66.66%) while the team has scored 17 goals.

Férland Mendy

With Marcelo in Mendy‘s place in the same defence, Madrid have played three games with two wins and a draw, scoring nine goals (an average of three per game) and let in three (an average of a goal per game).

It was Mendy who sent over a cross for Benzema’s winner in the derby against Atlético and he followed that up with a solid defensive display in Saturday’s game against Osasuna.

For ZidaneMendy‘s arrival has been a blessing. He only had positive things to say about the young defender in his press conference ahead of the derby: “He’s settled in really well. He’s someone who wants to learn and improve. He is a very competitive player, who enjoys battles with rival forwards and he has the hunger to win. He wants to show that the club made the right decision in signing him,” Zizou said, before adding that there is some room for improvement: “He needs to continue improving his Spanish…” With Marcelo not getting any younger, at least Madrid have a reliable alternative in Mendy…

Gareth Bale no longer a favorite at Real Madrid

Gareth Bale has become such a peripheral figure at Real Madrid at this point that he is even being left out of squad for the biggest games of the season.

The Welshman has once again been excluded from Zinedine Zidane’s list, this time for Saturday’s crunch derby with Atlético Madrid.

Bale was always a regular fixture for the big games against  Barcelona, Atlético and in the Champions League. But even that now seems a thing of the past for him.

During this busy January period for Madrid, which has seen them play two Super Cup games in Saudi Arabia, two Copa del Rey and three LaLiga fixtures, Bale has only featured for 142 minutes. Fifty two of those minutes came against Unionists in the last-16 of the Copa, where the Welshman scored for the first time since September 1 (a goal that his teammates celebrated more than he did).

The official excuse for this loss of prominence was first the chest infection he come down with just before the team departed for Saudi Arabia, and then the sprained ankle he suffered in Salamanca – more firewood for his extensive injury record.

When the team returned from Saudi Arabia, Bale trained normally, but was then left out of the squad by Zidane for Sevilla. Last Friday, it was more of the same. Madrid’s number 11 trained with the rest of the squad with no problems but still found himself excluded from Zidane’s 19-man list, meaning the Welshman’s omission is more down to a technical decision than a fitness issue.

The French coach has continued to back Bale in public. “Gareth is one of ours and I will always defend my players,” he stated before traveling to Zaragoza last week. But the truth is that nowadays Zidane feels comfortable dispensing of Bale completely, even when the job at hand is to attack a defence like Atlético.