Football Index

Copa Del Rey El Clasico

 

When asked on the streets in the build-up to the second El Clasico of the season, Real Madrid fans would insist on live television that they would rather play a Barcelona side armed with a fit Lionel Messi. While putting on a brave face and showing no weakness is often the way to go when speaking about rivals, Los Blancos would be in a far less precarious situation if Ernesto Valverde deems the Argentine as not yet ready to start at Camp Nou on Wednesday evening.

Barcelona have won the last four domestic cups in a row, not once requiring a victory in the final against Real Madrid. After a disappointing recent trophy haul in terms of league titles and Copa del Rey silverware, Florentino Perez’s hiring of Julen Lopetegui at the outset of the campaign perhaps told a tale of a president that was looking to turn an increasingly young and Spanish squad into a force that played in such a way that victory in Europe under the lights would not be the only way that they would conquer titles.

As it turned out, Lopetegui’s final game in charge would be October’s 4-1 El Clasico defeat, where patience ran out as a Messi-less Barça romped their way to three points in LaLiga and an embarrassing scoreline. Since then, plenty has changed for the better at Real Madrid. Santiago Solari has inspired further confidence from his group, who arrive far healthier than when they were put to the sword at Camp Nou, without instilling a particular philosophy of play or strong identity.

Los Blancos have clambered up to third place, within eight points of league leaders Barcelona, but know that they will have a far better chance of success in cup competitions. While Valverde’s side will be confident of another La Liga title and a better run in the Champions League this time around, there is definitely the sense that Real Madrid have far more to lose in the Copa del Rey’s semi-final stages. Without Cristiano Ronaldo (£9.09), another consecutive European title looks far less likely, meaning the Copa del Rey could be the only way to salvage a disappointing season.

Sergio Reguilon (£1.41) has solved Solari’s issues at left back for the time being, with the academy product deemed to be far more reliable on the defensive side of things in comparison to Marcelo (£1.82). Karim Benzema (£2.26) has been performing at a very high level in recent weeks to give Real Madrid a focal point to link up with and play around. Vinicius Jr (£11.27) is quickly becoming the man to fill the Ronaldo-shaped hole on Solari’s left flank, despite being a mere teenager. Only Isco (£4.70) and Marcelo have seen their stock fall in recent months.

Given that Messi (£15.75) will not be at 100 per cent on Wednesday evening, and also that Valencia managed to scrape a 2-2 draw at Camp Nou at the weekend, now is the best opportunity for Solari’s side to put down a yardstick with regarding to just how much progress they have made since late October. Fail to put in a good performance over two legs or suffer another embarrassing scoreline on the road and it does little to suggest that Florentino Perez won’t be tempted to make further alterations once the summer rolls around.

Barcelona can trot out at Camp Nou safe in the knowledge that they still have the opportunity to lift three trophies, but Real Madrid do enjoy taking teams back to Estadio Santiago Bernabeu for the second leg. Avoid a heavy defeat and there is every possibility of a turnaround. Marco Asensio (£4.40) and Gareth Bale (£6.13) are back fit and ready to contribute, while Los Blancos as a whole have recorded wins in their last five outings.

Heading into potentially one of their biggest games of the season, Real Madrid could hardly wish to be in better shape given their start to the campaign and their lack of transfer activity in January. Solari’s younger players will be keen to show that they have a long-term future at the club and the right mentality to succeed, while those who played a big role under Lopetegui will want to right the wrongs of their 4-1 defeat last year. Solari himself will be targeting buying himself further time at the helm.

Real Madrid are still waiting for a new figure to step up to the plate definitively and prove that they can help to shoulder the huge responsibilities of scoring when it really matters which Ronaldo left behind last summer. Benzema, Vinicius and Bale, the newly nicknamed BBV, hold the key to doing so. A positive first-leg result would have exciting short-term consequences, of course, but a negative one could put the preparatory wheels in motion for a busy summer.

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Football Index

La Liga Youngsters (Part II)

Testament to the amount of promising young talent in Spain, at a time where the gap between European football and relegation is so delicate and slim in LaLiga, there are plenty of youngsters who have already been able to cut their teeth in one of the most competitive divisions on the continent.

Igor Zubeldia

Igor Zubeldia (£0.82) has been involved with the Spanish Under-21 side, despite playing in a position in central midfield which is packed full of talent in all age groups. The same age as the well-known Mikel Oyarzabal (£1.79), Zubeldia flies a little lower on the radar, no doubt due to the role that he has played for Real Sociedad over the last couple of campaigns.

Most adept in a deep-lying position in midfield, providing the balance required for three teammates to support lone striker Willian Jose, Zubeldia has also had the occasional job of filling in as an auxiliary defender too. The 21-year-old is mature, determined and has an excellent mentality, as well as having the technical ability and composure to get his foot on the ball in busy games.

 

Cucho Hernandez

On loan from Premier League outfit Watford, Cucho Hernandez (£1.64) has been a key man for Huesca since arriving at the club at the start of last season in Segunda. His goals helped the club to their first promotion to LaLiga, and his role in the squad hasn’t diminished since extending his stay for another season.

Popping up with three goals so far in LaLiga, a modest total, Cucho is digging in and relishing the chance to learn at the highest level possible. His Colombia debut at the tail end of last year shows that the 19-year-old is being watched closely by his country, and his movement, speed, and instinct in front of goal make him an interesting player to watch mature as the months roll by. He compares himself to Sergio Aguero, and you can see certain similarities between their styles.

Ferran Torres

A goal and an assist in the Copa del Rey recently was the welcome boost that Ferran Torres (£2.55) needed during what has been a difficult campaign for the 18-year-old. After making his debut in the cup against Real Zaragoza last season, the teenager has been kept around Marcelino’s first-team group, which has seen the Spaniard make two starts and nine appearances from the bench in LaLiga since the summer.

A traditional winger who is direct, skilful and pacy, Ferran is taking positive steps forward in a demanding environment at a very young age. The youngster has netted five goals in nine competitive games with Spain’s under-19 side, and should only continue to improve over the coming years. A loan deal might be needed to get him the exposure he deserves, but Ferran’s potential is plain for all to see.

Samu Chukwueze

Villarreal may be having a torrid season, where they currently face the very real threat of relegation, but Samu Chukwueze (£3.36) has been an utter revelation. Joining the club in the summer of 2017 for 500,000 euros from Diamond Academy in Nigeria, the 19-year-old had previously picked up experience in Villarreal’s B team and continued to build upon the reputation he’d planted back at home, where even Arsenal had been sniffing around him.

Starting nine of his 10 league games so far this campaign, Chukwueze has become indispensable for the Yellow Submarine at a time where things look bleak. His impact from the right-hand side has been terrific, causing problems as both a wide man or part of a front two, with his dribbling ability, decision making and cutting edge standing out. His five goals and an assist in first-team action make him one of the division’s stand-out young talents in 2019.

Vinicius Jr

Many expected Gareth Bale (£6.11) to step up after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo (£9.62) from Real Madrid during the summer, but 18-year-old Vinicius Jr (£8.90) has been the player to make the biggest statement in that regard since the appointment of Santiago Solari. The teenager hasn’t had any major injury issues to count against him, and has grabbed his chances with both hands while Marco Asensio (£4.53) and Bale have been sidelined and Isco (£4.73) marginalised.

The Brazilian starlet has goals to his name in the league, Copa del Rey, Champions League and Club World Cup, but the telling factor regarding his potential is how his teammates treat him. Vinicius is a regularly used outlet for Los Blancos, stepping up to the plate out on the left wing and trying to make things happen in the final third in games where they have really struggled to create. His acceleration, agility and dribbling make him a threat in and around the box, and his influence should only grow as the season progresses.

 
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Football Index

La Liga Youngsters

The new year is well upon us and there is plenty of football to be played between now and 2020. La Liga is full of talent and a regular hunting ground for European giants and Premier League outfits, meaning that inevitably there are some young talents that have the potential to make a splash and crank their asking price up considerably over the next 11 months.

Marc Cucurella 

Signed as a back-up to first-choice left back Jose Angel, 20-year-old Marc Cucurella (£1.31) has snatched his opportunity to impress while on loan at Eibar with both hands. With a future fee in the deal enabling the Basque club to pick up the Barcelona-owned for just a few million euros in the summer, after which the Blaugrana will likely retain a buy-back option, he has a busy 2019 ahead of him.

Enjoying his football on the left-hand side of Jose Mendilibar’s energetic midfield four, Cucurella’s solid delivery with his left foot and attention to detail with his positioning has allowed the youngster to slot into one of the best-operating units in La Liga seamlessly.

Peru Nolaskoain

Though his minutes have waned in the last few months, Peru Nolaskoain (£1.16) is still a talent that Athletic should be grateful to own. Initially, under Eduardo Berizzo at the start of the season, the 20-year-old had opportunities at centre back due to injury problems for Inigo Martinez and the unavailability of Yeray Alvarez (£0.69), but Gaizka Garitano hasn’t been able to afford Nolaskoain the same chances.

Capable of playing at centre back, where he has already impressed in the Spanish top flight, the home-grown talent is more natural in the middle of midfield, a position which certainly is far from settled for Athletic aside from the inclusion of key man Dani Garcia at its base. Comfortable on the ball but with a decent frame and a good command of the air, Nolaskoain is a versatile option and should be a useful squad player – not to mention a decent upgrade on Mikel San Jose.

Diego Lainez

At the age of just 18, Diego Lainez (£2.89) is already turning heads. Heading to Spain with the unhelpful tag of ‘the Mexican Messi’, the teenager has already been showing at Club America that there is plenty of reason to get excited. Technically excellent, exciting and capable of offering some guile and cutting edge in a Real Betis side that has lacked goals this season, his purchase is a smart one.

Able to settle in to a club which has a very positive atmosphere in the dressing room, as well as a coach in Quique Setien who has no hesitation in giving young players opportunities, 2019 is a year where Lainez can make a huge statement upon his arrival in Europe. Alongside international captain Andres Guardado (£0.81), there is arguably no better place for him to grow.

Fran Beltran

It is easy to forget that Fran Beltran (£1.44) is just 19 years of age. Having played a key role in Rayo Vallecano’s promotion to La Liga last season, taking the reins in central midfield and proving to be a key influence in the dressing room despite his tender years, the Spaniard’s 8-million-euro move to Celta Vigo in the summer was one of the best-value deals of the year.

Capable of sitting deep in midfield to help his team build out from the back, possessing the confidence and vision to help progress the ball into the midfield third, Beltran has the quality and opportunity for Celta to give him the minutes required to become a Champions League level midfielder. Miguel Cardoso is looking unlikely to see the season out as La Celeste boss, which would be just desserts after trying to use Beltran as a number 10 – once the Portuguese coach realises this error or gets the sack, the teenager should be back in a prime situation for development.

Carles Alena

Despite only making five league appearances for Ernesto Valverde’s side, Carles Alena (£2.63) has had more of an opportunity to show what he can do in cup and European action, where he has settled in and looked very accomplished. In an era where Arthur (£2.52) and Frenkie De Jong (£4.32) are set to be praised for years to come for their non-organic Barça DNA, Alena has the awareness and positional play required to slot into any Barcelona midfield that he may be asked to.

Even when featuring on the left-hand side of the attack recently, Alena has slotted in well, aware of the duties of those operating around him and therefore capable of contributing to a well-oiled unit. His end product will never be as prolific as his years playing in the lower tiers with the club’s B team, but he is more than capable of being a useful squad player for the coming years.

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Football Index

La Liga Impressive Players

 

Half of the current La Liga campaign has already passed us by, allowing for plenty of players to put a considerable amount of building blocks down towards a terrific season. Football Index is about seeking out value and the potential for growth in players, and just six months may separate some of the players listed below from a move to a bigger club.

Fernando Calero

Two years ago, Fernando Calero (£0.85) was yet to make his first appearance in professional football. Fast forward to the present and the 23-year-old has a Segunda campaign under his belt, as well as his experience in the Primera in 2018/19.

Intelligent and composed, Calero rarely puts a foot wrong and is a key man in the heart of the Real Valladolid defence. Tough in the tackle but also good in the air, the Spaniard has formed a formidable centre-back partnership with Kiko Olivas and plays with a calm that suggests he would be comfortable at a higher level.

Pedro Porro

An unknown quantity ahead of this season, Pedro Porro (£1.19) has made one of Girona’s most impressive players of yesteryear forgettable. Pablo Maffeo (£0.83) was a key presence down their right flank, taking the headlines for a man marking job on Lionel Messi (£16.06) last season, but his absence has not been felt whatsoever.

The 19-year-old has slotted into Eusebio’s side seamlessly at right wing back, offering a solid defensive presence, as well as the pace and positivity required to get up in support of counter-attacks on the overlap. Armed with a useful right foot to deliver with and great athleticism and acceleration, the teenager looks to be the perfect modern wing back.

Iñaki Williams

It may have taken 770 days for Iñaki Williams (£1.63) to find the back of the net at home, previously doing so in December 2016, but his brace at San Mames against Sevilla recently showed progress. Williams has scored seven times in LaLiga during a difficult campaign for Athletic, one in which they have plumbed the depths of the division and looked short on ideas in front of goal.

Under new boss Gaizka Garitano, the 24-year-old has looked sharp and has used his acceleration to good effect in behind opposing defences, enjoying his role at the point of the attack a lot more than he did under Eduardo Berizzo’s reign. Athletic need a goalscorer and Iñaki is stepping up at a key point of his career.

Maxi Gómez

At just 22 years of age, there is a lot of time for Maxi Gomez (£2.90) to keep improving. If he continues to do so at the rate that he has since joining Celta Vigo in the summer of 2017, however, Uruguay could have an incredible player to try and cushion the blow of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani’s retirement. Netting nine goals and providing five assists in La Liga, he continues to impress in Spain.

Initially rough around the edges and no stranger to a yellow card, Maxi has since matured and improved his all-round game. Capable of holding the ball up and linking play in deeper areas, as well as providing a robust focal point at the head of the attack, the Celta forward is no longer a mere finisher. In a better side that has a more settled style, ammunition would be more regular for the Uruguayan, whose potential ceiling looks to be very high indeed.

Pablo Sarabia

One of the main reasons behind Pablo Machin’s early success as Sevilla coach comes down to the form of Pablo Sarabia (£2.22). Still somehow outside of Luis Enrique’s Spain plans, the ex-Getafe wide man has continued to refine his game and impress further season upon season. Scoring 15 times and provided eight assists in all competitions in 2018/19, Sarabia is posting up elite numbers.

Capable of providing the game-defining moments required to break down a stubborn defence or to turn a mediocre performance into a narrow victory, Sarabia’s utility is another big plus point. Comfortable playing in behind a striker or out wide, the Spaniard is very dangerous when cutting infield from the right-hand side. Neat on the ball, with an excellent eye for a final ball, the 26-year-old would be a bargain signing for a European giant.

Alex Moreno

Rayo Vallecano’s resurgence in recent weeks has been in large part down to their system. Opting to go with three centre backs to shore things up at the back, a huge onus has been placed on their wing backs to try and create numerical advantages in forward areas on the break. Alex Moreno (£0.63) is a key contributor, with his tireless running down the left-hand side

Chipping in with a couple of assists in the league, Alex Moreno’s driving force is key to how Rayo get themselves up the field to link up with star striker Raul De Tomas (£1.21). Not only that, but the 25-year-old has the engine to retreat back into his own half and diligently do the defensive side of things too. With wing backs popular in Spain at present, a move up the food chain would be very likely should Rayo suffer relegation.

Oscar Rodriguez

Leganes were extremely busy in the summer transfer window, adding countless attacking players to a group that really struggled to put teams to the sword under Asier Garitano in seasons gone by. One of the deals that may have gone under the radar at first was a loan move for Real Madrid’s Oscar Rodriguez (£1.18), a 20-year-old attacking midfielder with no previous experience at the top level.

Skip forward a few months and Oscar has played his way into an undroppable position. Now a key operator in linking Leganes’ midfield to their striking partnership, capable of both carrying the ball upfield and playing splitting passes, his adjustment to LaLiga football has been very impressive indeed. Real Madrid may be able to cash in on his success some the summer, or look to rotate the youngster into their youthful plans.

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Football Index

Vinicius Vindicating The Hype

 

July 2018 and a barely 18-year-old Vinicius Junior had just signed for Real Madrid for an astronomical fee reported to be worth in excess of £50million. Madrid had long been kicking themselves for missing out on Neymar (£19.06) who instead opted to join Barcelona back in 2013 and now 5 years later, they finally looked to have outdone their fierce Spanish rivals in winning Vinicius Junior’s signature. The Brazilian wonderkid had been regarded as a very raw talent, with an exception ceiling of potential. He had already impressed for the Brazil under 17 side (with a phenomenal record of 17 goals in 19 games) but, his first-team action at Flamengo was still limited when Madrid made the decision to cough up the big bucks to get their man.

Since signing for Madrid in the summer, it has taken time for Vinicius to establish himself and, under previous coach Julien Lopetegui, he found his playing time limited to the Madrid second tier Castilla side. Despite a great goal record for Castilla, Vinicius found it difficult to gain any real first-team experience during the early period of the season.

However, since Santiago Solari has taken the helm over in Madrid, it’s been nothing but an upward curve for Vincius both on the pitch and on Football Index. Vinicius has grabbed the bull by the horns and he is very quickly becoming the talk of the town at the Spanish capital. The Brazilian followed up his stellar performance during the 3-0 win over Leganes with another great display last night against Real Betis. During the match, his explosive pace and energy proved to be a vital asset in guiding Madrid to a late 2-1 victory and although he didn’t get on the scoresheet, his ability to wreak havoc in the opposition defence is becoming a more and more regular occurrence.

Vinicius’ performances haven’t gone unnoticed on the Index and his graph over the last month is a thing of true beauty. Having been available for as low as £5.60 barely a week ago, Vinicius has now been subject to an increase of £2.67 in just one week. Not only is Vinicius performing well on the pitch, but from a Media point of view, he could prove to be an even more valuable asset. It does seem that the Brazilian has a somewhat questionable disciplinary record, having already picked up a red card for diving in a Castilla match. His penchant for controversy flared up again last night, as an argument between Vinicius and Betis defender Marc Bartra (£2.39) was caught on camera.

He has only been in Europe for barely half a season, but already the early signs for Vinicius are very promising. Considering he seems to be growing in confidence as each game goes by, coupled with a tendency to attract attention for the wrong reasons, it’s no surprise to have seen his price skyrocket recently. Young talents are always being hyped up by the media, but every now and then a talent comes along that makes you sit up and take notice and when it comes to Vinicius Junior, it really does look like we had all better start believing the hype.

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Football Index

Real Madrid’s Current Problems

 

Progress after the departure of Zinedine Zidane was always going to be tough for Real Madrid. Although the Frenchman didn’t rely on tactical intricacies or a pioneering philosophy to win trophies in the Spanish capital, his presence and command of a difficult dressing room has been tough to replace.

Julen Lopetegui was appointed in the summer, an experienced coach within Spain’s youth ranks, with the aim being a tactical revolution for a young squad. Club president Florentino Perez had sourced a range of home-grown talents to be placed at Lopetegui’s disposal, but the ex-Porto boss was not afforded the time to put the building blocks in place.

His sacking after an embarrassing performance in El Clasico led to the promotion of Santiago Solari from within the club’s own set-up. Despite getting a positive reaction at first, merely through allowing Real Madrid’s players to enjoy themselves and trust in their own ability as they had done under Zidane, it hasn’t taken long for Los Blancos to plateau once more. Though there is a wide range of issues, three stand out above all else after the club’s most recent disastrous performance.

Reliance on Vinicius Jr (£6.82)

What became painfully obviously during Real Madrid’s recent 2-0 defeat at the hands of Real Sociedad, was that one of the world’s biggest clubs was relying on the talents of an 18-year-old. Not a teenager who had proven himself a match winner in the past, nor one with solid foundations at Real Madrid, but one who has been juggled between first and B team this campaign.

Vinicius is incredibly talented, but should not be asked to shoulder such a large burden so early in his career in Spain. In a squad that boasts Karim Benzema, Isco, Lucas Vazquez and Dani Ceballos as midfield or forward presences, the young Brazilian needn’t be the only player to look dangerous in the final third as he was last weekend.

The signing of Brahim Diaz from Manchester City will offer another fit and confident option to Solari’s creative arsenal, but with Marco Asensio and Gareth Bale struggling due to injury, Real Madrid are looking light in wide areas. Vinicius can beat players in one-on-one situations and was a menace when cutting inside against Real Sociedad – but his introduction to the first-team picture should not have to be so demanding.

Lacking striking competition

Scoring seven goals in his opening 18 league appearances, Karim Benzema (£2.11) has already bettered his LaLiga tally of five during 2017/18. Seven goals for a team that has title ambitions in the post-Cristiano Ronaldo era, however, is nowhere even close to being good enough.

Benzema helped to bring the best out of those around him in campaigns gone by, combining well with the likes of Ronaldo, Bale, Lucas Vazquez and Asensio, but when the collective is underperforming, it is rare that the Frenchman can grab the game by the scruff of the neck and turn it around with a game-defining moment.

Mariano Diaz was brought in as a second-choice striker in the summer, but has made just five league appearances due to injuries or technical decisions, while 21-year-old Cristo Gonzalez is expected to get some chances after working with Solari in the club’s B team. Frankly, there is nowhere near enough firepower to bridge the gap post-Ronaldo.

Fragility at left back

Marcelo is one of Real Madrid’s most creative outlets, all the way from left back. Last season saw the Brazilian produced six assists in LaLiga, as well as four in the Champions League, while 2016/17 witnessed Marcelo chip in with ten in the league alone. When Los Blancos are confident and playing on the front foot, there is scarcely a more dangerous left back in world football.

As it stands, the 30-year-old is a defensive liability. There have always been huge question marks about his defensive ability, but those criticism were easily overlooked due to the fact that his contributions in the final third were so profound. Yet to produce an assist this term, in no small part down to the fact that if the collective aren’t performing well he rarely has the chance to add the quality required to break a resilient opponent which is sitting deep, Marcelo is a luxury that Solari currently can’t afford.

Sergio Reguilon replaced Marcelo as a like-for-like change in a game in which Real Madrid were trailing against Real Sociedad. So often under Zidane, the Brazilian would pop up with a goal or a piece of skill to help unlock a sturdy door. As it stands, the left back is devoid of confidence and lacking any kind of presence on front foot – making his deficiencies on the back foot plainly obvious for a critical world to see. Young and inexperienced Reguilon may be the short-term solution until the squad get back on their feet.

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Football Index

La Liga Golden Boot Dark Horses

As La Liga’s big three struggle to get consistent results in the early months of the campaign, the window of opportunity has never been wider for both clubs and individuals to catch the eye in the absence of dominating performances from the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez are the favourites to take the top-flight’s golden boot award this season, but plenty of other forwards have got off to promising starts in Spain.

Cristhian Stuani (Girona, £1.51) – 11 goals

The current leader of the pack when it comes to goalscoring in La Liga, Stuani has kicked on massively since joining Girona at the start of last season. The Uruguay international has scored around half of his club’s top-flight goals since their promotion, netting 32 times and putting himself in the same kind of bracket as Messi and Suarez. Deadly in the air, blessed with the physical prowess to put himself about and make himself a nuisance for opposing central defenders, Stuani is the main man and focal point in a team that are flying high.

 

Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo, £2.37) – 10 goals

A man with an eye for the spectacular, rather than tucking away easier opportunities, Iago Aspas has been one of Galicia’s most dangerous strikers for a number of years. Putting away ten goals in 14 games, the Spain international ensures that a leaky Celta Vigo defence doesn’t get in the way of keeping things competitive. New boss Miguel Cardoso is not short of attacking talent, with plenty of direct options in wide areas and technically gifted midfielders that should provide plenty of ammunition across the league campaign.

Borja Iglesias (Espanyol, £1.58) – 8 goals

Despite only spending a few months at Espanyol, Borja Iglesias is already getting close to etching his name in the club’s history books. His goal against Girona recently was his fifth consecutive goalscoring league game, putting him level with club legend Raul Tamudo. Physical, intelligent and hard working, Rubi has a perfect target man with composure and a poacher’s instinct. He’s earned his side five points on his own, as a direct result of his goals, too.

Andre Silva (Sevilla, £2.67) – 8 goals

A hat-trick on his La Liga debut was a good way to start, and the signs have looked promising for Andre Silva ever since. Offering the perfect blend of attributes for Pablo Machin’s system at Sevilla, the Portuguese can hold the ball up, as well as offer a threat in behind or in the air. The club’s sporting director has already confirmed that they will be making his loan move permanent after a dream start in Andalusia.

Roger Marti (Levante, £1.21) – 8 goals

When Levante made their return to LaLiga, Roger was a huge helping hand in their promotion campaign from Segunda with 22 goals. After having the vast majority of last season snatched from him due to a serious injury, it was only in the season half of the campaign that the 27-year-old began to be reintroduced. This time around, he had a full pre-season of preparation and has been able to hit the ground running. Roger has the nose to sniff out half-chances in the penalty area.

Maxi Gomez (Celta Vigo £2.62) – 7 goals 

One of LaLiga’s revelations last season, Maxi Gomez is showing no signs of slowing down. Fresh off the back of a World Cup experience with Uruguay, the 22-year-old has returned to domestic action with seven goals in 12 appearances – making just ten starts. Celta are under new leadership in Miguel Cardoso, with the Portuguese coach looking to put more emphasis on direct, attacking play, and that should suit Maxi perfectly. Great in the air and a natural finisher in the penalty area, he has all of the attributes to become a top striker in Europe.

Wissam Ben Yedder (Sevilla, £2.16) – 7 goals

Last season was one of frustration for Wissam Ben Yedder, as three different coaches failed to put him at the forefront of their plans at Sevilla. Gradually, Pablo Machin has began to use the Frenchman as a perfect partner for Andre Silva in his front two. Full of energy and with an understanding of what the club means to its fanbase, Ben Yedder is a tireless runner but also has the technical ability and low centre of gravity to make himself a nuisance on the ball, playing himself into consistent first-team contention.

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Football Index

The Surprise Leaders Of La Liga: Sevilla

With just 13 games played, Pablo Machin’s Sevilla sit loud and proud at the top of La Liga although even their most ardent fans would probably admit that it is probably more by luck than judgment; more by accident than design.

Just six points separate the top seven clubs as everybody seems to be taking points off everyone. Could Sevilla conceivably maintain their challenge all the way to only its second-ever La Liga title? (The last one was in the 1945-46 season).

Probably not but it has certainly been a topsy-turvy season that has seen shocks aplenty – Real Madrid thumped 3-0 at Eibar and the then top placed Barcelona going down to the then bottom place Leganes, to name but two – so just about anything looks like it could be possible.

But what is most interesting is how Sevilla managed to get themselves into this position.

While they are certainly the form side having lost just once in nine games with a return of 22 points from a possible 27, it was changes forced upon them by injury that precipitated the upturn in their fortunes.

That, and the fact that Pablo Machin is holding a number of trump cards in his hand.

Machin has always favoured playing three at the back plus the use of two defensive midfielders. Unfortunately injuries suffered by the two men specifically picked for that job (Ibrahim Amadou and Maxime Gonalons) meant he had to improvise. When he placed Ever Banega in that position he will have been more than pleasantly surprised to see the midfielder take to the task like the proverbial duck to water.

If Machin has one quality it is his ability to adapt and his decision to opt for one holding midfielder instead of two and play a second forward (Ben Yedder) up front came after a 2-0 home defeat by Getafe. He felt the players were demanding it, he realised changes were needed. So far it has proved to be his ‘eureka’ moment.

No player in La Liga has won the ball back more often than Banega this season and the balance is further established with Franco Vazquez playing to his left and Pablo Sarabia to his right, two players that up to then had been considered to be far more attack-minded than their new roles demanded.

But somehow this shake it and see combination has brought home the ‘jamon’ and Machin has also been helped by some seriously impressive form from some of his other players, at both ends of the pitch.

In the Czech, Tomas Vaclik, Machin has probably got the, currently, most impressive goalkeeper in La Liga while up front Andre Silva, currently on loan from AC Milan but whom Sevilla want to buy, is having the season of his life. He has been aided and abetted by Wissam Ben Yedder who Machim orignally wanted to sell, but who has also subsequently shown everyone just effective he can be.

Jesus Navas, back in his beloved hometown since August last year, is enjoying a real swansong of a season and is crossing the ball as well, if not better, than he ever did in his heyday.

But much will now depend on what business Sevilla can do in the upcoming winter window because they will almost certainly need to strengthen in depth if they hope to strive for La Liga glory.

The reason for that is clear to see. With Amadou still in the process of getting to match fitness and Gonalons out of the picture, when Machin has attempted to re-cycle the side as he did when he played Roque Mesa in the defensive midfield role, what you got was a weaker looking Sevilla although a great goalkeeper and two in-form strikers have been able to mask the problem.

He will, therefore, be looking to add another holding midfielder and another striker to take the pressure off Andre Silva and Ben Yedder. They do have the Dutchman, Quincy Promes, and Muriel, although neither has made too much of an impact since they arrived at the club.

And it is also perhaps worth pointing out that it will cost them a cool €35m should they decide – which they surely will –  to sign Silva on a permanent basis when his loan spell ends, more than €15m more than they have ever spent on one player (Luis Muriel) in the club’s history.

Whoever they buy will have to hit the floor running because Machin will know better than anyone that he will need reinforcements if he is to keep up the momentum and level of competitiveness that will help them to mount a serious challenge for the title.

Win it or not they certainly look like a very good bet indeed for a top-four finish and aided by a good wind and similar strokes of good fortune such as those already enjoyed, who knows what might pan out at the end of what is proving to be a wonderful and intriguing season.

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Talk Sport

Arsene Wenger EXCLUSIVE: Former Arsenal manager rules himself out of Real Madrid job

Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has ruled himself out of taking over at Real Madrid, saying he is not planning to return to football until next year.

The Frenchman has been just one of the top bosses linked with the role since the Spanish giants sacked Julen Lopetegui on Monday following their humiliating 5-1 Clasico defeat to Barcelona.

Tottenham’s Maurico Pochettino and former Chelsea boss Antonio Conte have been the two managers most strongly linked with the role, although it is now claimed Conte is out of the running.

Roberto Martinez is another candidate, while Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has also been linked with a shock move back to the Bernabeu.

Wenger has been tentatively linked with the role, having yet to make his return to management since leaving Arsenal at the end of last season after 22 years in charge.

Wenger says farewell to fans in his last game in charge of Arsenal last season
 

But the 69-year-old has ruled himself out of the Los Blancos role, telling talkSPORT he is not looking to take another job until after the New Year.

Speaking at the launch of former Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein’s ‘Twinning Project’ initiative at Wembley Stadium on Wednesday, Wenger said: “Look, I am not the Real Madrid manager, I am here today to support David Dein.

“Overall I don’t know what I will do next year, but I will be back in football and back in sport.

“I have huge experience and a huge desire to share what I know about the game and what is important in the game with people who need it.

“Where? I don’t know, but only in the New Year.”

Listen to Arsene Wenger’s response to links with the Real Madrid job above

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FootballIndex Futures

Wales winger Gareth Bale, 29, was top of a poll of Real Madrid fans about who the team’s worst performing player has been this season. (Marca)

Wales winger Gareth Bale, 29, was top of a poll of Real Madrid fans about who the team’s worst performing player has been this season. (Marca)

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