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

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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FootballIndex Futures

Real Madrid are interested in Manchester City’s Spanish midfielder Brahim Diaz, 19. (Marca)

Real Madrid are interested in Manchester City’sSpanish midfielder Brahim Diaz, 19. (Marca)

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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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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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Talk Sport

Transfer gossip: Real Madrid, Tottenham Hotspur, Barcelona and Manchester City eyeing January transfer for Ajax superstar Frenkie De Jong

Frankie De Jong could be set for a January move from Ajax, with Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur circling.

The 21-year-old is one of the hottest properties in world football after a series of sterling performances in the Eredivisie.

De Jong is a full Netherlands international, despite his tender years


According to the Daily Star, City are considering smashing their current transfer record to get De Jong. However, they are one of a number of clubs who have been keeping close tabs on his situation.

It was initially thought Ajax would not consider selling until the end of the season.

But now Voetbal International has claimed De Jong has not yet ruled out a January departure.

It appears that much will depend on how far Ajax go in the Champions League.

The Dutch club are currently top of Group E, level on points with Bayern Munich, with three games left to play and look on course to progress to the next stage.

However, should they fail to make it into the knock-out stages it has been suggested that De Jong may consider his options.

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Talk Sport

‘Mauricio Pochettino is the right fit for Real Madrid, but club president wants Jose Mourinho’, claims Ramon Calderon on talkSPORT

Mauricio Pochettino would be the perfect fit as Real Madrid’s next manager, but club president Florentino Perez would prefer Jose Mourinho to return and take over at the Bernabeu.

That’s the verdict of former Real chief Ramon Calderon, who joined talkSPORT on Tuesday to give an interesting take on the club’s hunt for their new head coach, with Antonio Conte and Roberto Martinez also linked.

He also claims the Spanish giants have been in contract with Mourinho about a possible return ‘over the last few years’.

Real Madrid are without a manager following the decision to sack Julen Lopetegui on Monday after just four and half months – 14 matches – in charge.

Los Blancos’ form has been wretched under the former Spain boss – winning just one game from their last seven in all competitions.

Real Madrid suffered an humiliating defeat to Barcelona on Sunday

The European champions are five league games without a victory, leaving them ninth in LaLiga, and Sunday’s 5-1 El Clasico defeat to Barcelona was the final nail on Lopetegui’s coffin – but Calderon believes the club were ‘unwise’ to axe the boss so soon into his reign.

Real’s biggest problem has not been their manager, Calderon says, but their decision to allow Cristiano Ronaldo to leave and their failure to replace him.

A host of top bosses have been linked with the job but, as Calderon points out, the majority of them are currently under contract with other clubs.

Recent reports claim Pochettino is Real Madrid’s top choice for the now-vacant role and are hoping to appoint the Argentine by the end of November, with Castilla boss Santiago Solari taking over as interim coach.

But Calderon believes Perez is still a big fan of Mourinho and would ideally want the Portuguese to come back for a second spell in charge.

Asked if Pochettino would be a good fit for the Bernabeu job, he told the Alan Brazil Sports Breakfast: “For sure, he’s proving that at Tottenham, but he has a contract in force at Tottenham and I think he’s willing to stay there.

Pochettino is likely to stay at Tottenham, believes Calderon

“He is one of those coaches any big team would like to have on their side.

“[But] I’m sure the president is thinking of Mourinho, he is always the coach he would like to have at Real, but he’s with Man United now.

“Mourinho is the only coach Perez has respected up to now. He gave him all the power for the first time in his life, which was very unusual.

“It’s true that he’s been in touch with Jose in the last few years trying to bring him here again, but being with Man United I think now it’s not possible.

“If he leaves Manchester United I’m sure he’ll be here again.”

Mourinho has been frustrated at Man United this season – could he be tempted back to Real Madrid?

Former Chelsea boss Conte and Belgian national coach Martinez have also been linked with the role, although Calderon believes the Real Madrid will struggle to appoint a top boss this time around due to their interfering president, Perez.

He claims the chief has already put a number of high profile managers off the job as he refuses to relinquish his influence over team decisions and signings.

“It’s difficult to find a coach of the right level for Real Madrid because there are no top level coaches on the market,” the 67-year-old told talkSPORT.

“The only one is Conte and he’s asked for a longer term of three years and to have his hands free with signings, but that’s not something the president is willing to give him.

“I think Roberto Martinez would be a good one but he’s under contract with the Belgian team.

Roberto Martinez and Antonio Conte are also said to be in the running

“Lopetegui should have thought why Zidane left and why up to five important coaches decided not to come – they know the president is going to interfere too much with the decisions of the line-ups and the signings, and that’s going to be a problem to find a new coach.”

On Lopetegui’s sacking and the problems Real Madrid are facing this season – despite boasting eight Ballon d’Or nominees in their squad – Calderon added: “I think the decision to sack Lopetegui after only two months of the competition was very unwise.

“It’s true the 5-1 defeat to Barcelona was very tough for the fans, but I think it would have been wiser to keep the coach for a few matches more to see what happens.

“The main problem has been letting Ronaldo go, he was giving us 50 goals a season and we haven’t signed another one to replace him, that’s been the real trouble.”

Listen back to talkSPORT’s interview with Ramon Calderon IN FULL above!

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Real Madrid want Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino as their new manager by the end of next month. The Spanish giants sacked Julen Lopetegui after just four and a half months in charge on Monday. (Sun)

Real Madrid want Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino as their new manager by the end of next month. The Spanish giants sacked Julen Lopetegui after just four and a half months in charge on Monday. (Sun)

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Chelsea’s Croatia international midfielder Mateo Kovacic, 24, on loan from Real Madrid, says it’s “too early” to talk about a permanent move beyond this season, but says he is very happy with life in London. (Evening Standard)

Chelsea’s Croatia international midfielder Mateo Kovacic, 24, on loan from Real Madrid, says it’s “too early” to talk about a permanent move beyond this season, but says he is very happy with life in London. (Evening Standard)

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