30 People Arrested During Catalan Protests

People wave Spanish flags and a giant banner reading “Today as yesterday, Catalans and Spaniards” during a demonstration for the unity of Spain marking the Spanish National Day in Barcelona on October 12, 2019. LLUIS GENE / AFP

 

Police in Spain said Wednesday they arrested 30 people overnight across Catalonia for their roles in clashes with police during protests over the jailing of nine separatist leader over a failed 2017 independence bid.

Pro-independence groups staged sit-ins outside Spanish government offices in a number of Catalan cities late Tuesday, with around 40,000 people taking part in Barcelona and 9,000 in the separatist stronghold of Girona, according to municipal and regional police.

The protests ended in clashes with police in many cities.

In Barcelona, police charged hundreds of masked demonstrators who threw projectiles at officers and set garbage containers and cardboard boxes on fire.

Catalonia’s regional police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, said 14 people were arrested in the port of Tarragona, six in Barcelona and ten others in other Catalan cities for disobeying authority and causing a disturbance.

Monday’s ruling unleashed a wave of protests, with Catalan separatists enraged by the Supreme Court’s decision to hand heavy prison sentences of between nine and 13 years to leaders convicted of sedition over the 2017 separatist push.

That culminated in a banned independence referendum and short-lived declaration of independence in October of the same year.

Smugglers Save Police Officers As High Speed Chase Goes Wrong

This handout picture released by the Spanish Guardia Civil on October 4, 2019 shows a police high-speed chase with drug-smugglers, off the coast of Mijas, Malaga, southern Spain.

 

Three Spanish police officers who were thrown into the sea when their boat crashed early Friday during a high-speed chase were pulled to safety by the drug-smugglers they were chasing, police said.

The unexpected rescue happened after a police vessel began pursuing a speedboat “with four people on board that was suspected of transporting drugs” in waters off the southern coast of Spain, a police statement said.

During the chase, the two vessels collided, causing three police officers to fall into the sea as their boat “span out of control”.

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Using a megaphone, a police helicopter that was hovering overhead called on those on board the speedboat to help and they pulled the three agents to safety unharmed.

The gesture did not spare them, however, when police found three tonnes of hashish in the water nearby.

“They were arrested for drug trafficking,” a police statement said, indicating that more than 80 bundles of hash had been recovered from the sea.

Benzema Ensures Madrid Bounce Back With Impressive Win Over Sevilla

Real Madrid’s French coach Zinedine Zidane (R) congratulates Real Madrid’s French forward Karim Benzema for his goal during the Spanish league football match between Sevilla FC and Real Madrid CF at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium in Seville on September 22, 2019. CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP

 

 

Real Madrid eased the pressure on Zinedine Zidane and delivered a resounding response to their loss to Paris Saint-Germain by winning 1-0 away at high-flying Sevilla in La Liga on Sunday.

Karim Benzema headed in the decisive goal at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan to secure an impressive victory against a Sevilla side that were unbeaten and hoping to return to the top of the table.

Instead, it is Madrid that go level on points with Athletic Bilbao in first place after a controlled and determined performance that was by some distance their best since Zidane’s return as coach in March.

“We have had a quite difficult time but the players reacted,” Zidane said.

His position had come under scrutiny after Madrid’s woeful 3-0 defeat by PSG in the Champions League on Wednesday, a result that continued their bumpy start to the season, following a turbulent summer in the transfer market.

But this win should do wonders for belief and leaves Barcelona as Spain’s chief club in crisis, with Ernesto Valverde under pressure after they were beaten 2-0 by Granada on Saturday. Madrid are now four points clear of the Catalans after five games played.

“I am very happy as people have been questioning us a lot,” said Zidane. “But we don’t think much about that. We played 90 minutes at a very high level in a difficult stadium. We must congratulate all the players.”

Not for the first time this season, Zidane singled out Gareth Bale for praise. “Today hard work was the key,” he said. “The effort made by James, Gareth, all of them.”

Sevilla’s newly-installed coach Julen Lopetegui was sacked by Madrid 11 months ago, 139 days after taking the job that cost him the chance to lead Spain at the World Cup.

He insisted on Saturday there was no desire for revenge but it is hard to imagine victory would not have brought a little extra satisfaction.

Zidane was asked about his own future as well, several times, and while he maintained he still feels the full backing of the club, there was a warning too. If support dwindles, he said, “then it would probably be best to leave”.

Lopetegui booked

But for all the problems — a dreadful pre-season, signings and sales missed, poor performances against Real Valladolid, Villarreal, Levante and PSG — Madrid now sit second, buoyed by a display that may yet prove a springboard for games to come.

A frantic opening half an hour made for an engrossing contest but there were few chances, as Lopetegui earned himself a booking for beckoning Gareth Bale to be shown a yellow card.

Real Madrid probably just shaded the first period and had its two best chances as Eden Hazard was slipped in by Benzema, only to be denied by Tomas Vaclik on the angle, before Dani Carvajal was sent clear by James Rodriguez but this time Vaclik’s right foot blocked the defender’s finish.

There was little in it, as Bale’s excellent cross almost found James at the back post shortly after half-time while Luuk de Jong went close with a header, prompting Carvajal to hack the ball clear at the far post.

Still, Madrid looked more likely and so it proved as Raphael Varane won back possession high up, allowing Bale to thread Carvajal in behind. He dug out a cross, which Benzema met brilliantly, rising high to head home his fifth goal of the season.

Sevilla might have equalised but De Jong headed wide under pressure from Carvajal and then Javier Hernandez did score, in the 87th minute, poking in at the near post, only for the assistant to raise his flag.

Bale could have made it two late on but hit the side-netting from an acute angle. One was enough.

Barcelona Starlet Fati Granted Spanish Citizenship

 

 

Barcelona’s 16-year-old starlet Ansu Fati was granted Spanish citizenship on Friday, a government spokeswoman said, meaning he will be able to represent Spain at international level.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s cabinet approved a request made by the justice minister to give the Guinea-Bissau-born forward Spanish citizenship during its weekly meeting, the spokeswoman said.

Fati was just seven years old when he moved in 2009 to Spain from the impoverished west African nation with his family and his startling talent meant he was invited to join Barcelona’s prestigious youth academy La Masia aged 10.

The player qualified for citizenship because he had completed the required 10 years of residency in Spain.

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In August, Fati became the youngest player to score for Barcelona in La Liga and on Tuesday, the club’s youngest player to play in the Champions League.

Spain’s national coach Robert Moreno described Fati’s full debut for Barcelona last weekend as “mind-blowing” after he scored one goal and set up another in a 5-2 win over Valencia.

His first major tournament for Spain could come at the Under-17 World Cup in Brazil, which begins on October 26 and ends on November 17.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said Friday it would be a “setback” for Barca if Fati goes to the tournament, when he could miss seven games for his club.

“We will wait for him to be called up first,” said Valverde. “But it would be a setback because he is a player that is contributing a lot to us at the moment.”

Asked if he would try to persuade Fati to remain with Barcelona, Valverde said: “I don’t think he will ask me for advice about it and I don’t like giving advice very much because in football the things you know are learned by experience. Everyone has to make their own decisions.”

Griezmann Nets Brace As Barca Put Five Past Betis

 

Antoine Griezmann proved Barcelona can win without Lionel Messi and do without Neymar too after he scored twice in a 5-2 demolition of Real Betis on Sunday.

Griezmann tossed confetti into the air as he celebrated his second at Camp Nou, where he was the star performer, if only for a night in the absence of Messi, who is still short of fitness.

A brilliant Barcelona performance delivered a resounding response to the doubts from their defeat to Athletic Bilbao last weekend, among them a reliance on Messi, the need for Neymar and the future of Ernesto Valverde as coach.

But as Carles Perez, Jordi Alba and Arturo Vidal made it three, four and five, the gloom was forgotten, along with Nabil Fekir’s opener in the 15th minute, that had Betis level at half-time.

Loren Moron slammed a stunning strike into the top corner for Betis late on but by then the game was up as Barca ensured no more ground was lost on Atletico Madrid, who beat Leganes 1-0 earlier on Sunday, or Real Madrid, who were held to a 1-1 draw on Saturday by Real Valladolid.

Barcelona will hope to have Messi back for the trip to Osasuna next weekend but with Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele both out for longer, Griezmann’s statement display was timely.

This was his first goal at Camp Nou in 14 appearances, five of them for Real Sociedad and eight for Atletico, and his overall performance was of someone ready to lead, rather than serve merely as a foil for Messi.

Suarez and Messi were in the crowd, who enjoyed a goal from the 21-year-old Perez, making his first start, and a substitute appearance from Anssumane Fati, who at 16 became the second youngest player ever to play for Barcelona in La Liga.

Sergio Busquets was at fault for Betis’ opener as he gave the ball away, allowing Fekir to drive into the corner.

But Barca looked dangerous and were undeterred, even if Gerard Pique, on his 500th appearance for the club, was lucky to escape only with a yellow card when he fouled Loren as the last man.

Rafinha missed an excellent chance to equalise before Griezmann took over, volleying in on the stretch four minutes before half-time, past the weak hand of Dani Martin.

If Griezmann’s first owed something to the goalkeeper, his second was unstoppable. He collected the ball 25 yards out and used Sidnei as a marker to bend his shot around and into the far corner.

Griezmann ran to the corner where confetti was poured into his hands. He tossed it into the air above his head.

Barca were relentless as Perez drove into the bottom corner and Alba made it four, latching onto a superb Busquets pass inside the full-back.

There was still time for two scintillating strikes, the first from Vidal, who was slid in by Griezmann, and the second by Loren, who was given too much space. It was no more than a consolation.

Barcelona stay behind Atletico, who maintained their perfect start with another 1-0 victory, this time over Leganes as Vitolo came off the bench to score a second-half winner at Butarque.

After beating Getafe last weekend by the same scoreline, Atletico have begun the season in familiar fashion, with efficiency trumping invention despite an ambitious set of summer signings.

Joao Felix, Atletico’s 126 million-euro ($140 million) buy from Benfica and much-hailed replacement for Griezmann, was quiet again but again delivered the match’s most memorable moment.

The 19-year-old’s perfectly-timed pass provided the assist for Vitolo while Felix had been picked out by Kieran Trippier, who was faultless on his second Atletico start.

Seven Dead In Mid-Air Collision In Mallorca

 

Seven people including two children were killed in a mid-air collision between a helicopter and a light aircraft over Spain’s Mallorca island on Sunday, authorities said.

The two aircraft crashed over the central town of Inca at 1:35 pm (1135 GMT), the regional Balearic Islands government said on its Twitter account.

Everyone aboard the two aircraft — two on the plane and five on the helicopter — perished in the crash, a police spokesman said.

A couple and their two children were aboard the helicopter along with the pilot, the spokesman told AFP.

The helicopter was registered in Germany, “which doesn’t necessarily mean the occupants were of this nationality,” he said, stressing that an investigation into the victims’ nationalities was still under way.

Police said the two aircraft crashed into a field.

Mallorca and the other Balearic Islands are popular with both Spanish and foreign tourists, especially in the summer season.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez expressed condolences to the victims’ families, and said in a tweet that he was “following the news from… Mallorca with concern.”

Barcelona And Bayern Confirm Coutinho Loan Move

 

Barcelona have an “agreement in principle” to send Philippe Coutinho on loan to Bayern Munich, both clubs confirmed Friday.

Coutinho was left out of the squad for Barca’s La Liga opener against Athletic Bilbao on Friday, with club director Guillermo Amor confirming the Brazilian is close to joining Bayern.

“We can confirm that there is an agreement in principle for the loan of Coutinho to Bayern and we just have to finalise the deal,” Amor told Movistar, ahead of the game at San Mames.

Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic also confirmed the loan deal later on Friday.

READ ALSO: Athletic Bilbao Defeat Barcelona 1-0

“I can confirm that we were in Barcelona and have agreed terms with the player and his agent,” Salihamidzic told broadcaster ZDF following Bayern’s own league opener, a 2-2 draw with Hertha Berlin.

“We have a good relationship with Barcelona. We are still missing a few details such as the signature and the medical, but we are happy to have got a player like him.”

Coutinho joined Barcelona from Liverpool in January 2018 for an initial 120 million euros ($133 million), plus another 40 million euros in potential add-ons.

But despite huge excitement around Coutinho’s arrival, he has struggled to find his place at Camp Nou.

Initially tried in midfield, Coutinho was pushed into the front three by Ernesto Valverde last season in a bid to help him rediscover his best form.

Yet the 27-year-old was too often a bystander in games and some suggested his style and positioning clashed with Lionel Messi.

Gerard Pique was asked earlier this month about the possibility of Coutinho leaving. “I want him (Coutinho) to stay,” Pique said. “But at the end of the day it’s what he wants and I want him to be happy.”

At Bayern, the Brazilian will provide welcome reinforcement in attack following the departure of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery at the end of last season.

Coutinho’s departure to Bayern could also have implications for Barcelona’s hopes of re-signing Neymar from Paris Saint-Germain.

Barca have already spent around 250 million euros this summer and it had been suggested PSG were keen for Coutinho to be included in any bid.

“There is a lot of talk about Neymar at the moment,” Amor added. “He is in the newspapers every day and I don’t think we should get into it now.

“Anything can happen while the market is still open but for now there is nothing and Neymar is a PSG player.”

Athletic Bilbao Defeat Barcelona 1-0

 

Barcelona made a nightmare start to the defence of their La Liga title on Friday by losing Luis Suarez to injury and then losing 1-0 to Athletic Bilbao, after a sensational late volley from substitute Aritz Aduriz.

Suarez hobbled off in the 37th minute with what looked like a calf injury before Aduriz came on in the 88th, the 38-year-old striker who has announced he will retire at the end of the season.

This was a spectacular start to the finale as Aduriz threw himself into the air and acrobatically volleyed past Marc-Andre ter Stegen to send San Mames wild on La Liga’s opening night.

Atletico Humble Real Madrid 7-3 In Friendly

Atletico Madrid’s Saul Niguez (4thR) brawls with players from Real Madrid during the 2019 International Champions Cup football match between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid at the Metlife Stadium Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey on July 26, 2019. /AFP

 

Diego Costa scored four goals as Atletico Madrid embarrassed La Liga rivals Real Madrid 7-3 Friday in a pre-season friendly at MetLife Stadium.

Costa had a hat-trick by halftime and added one more goal before he was sent off in the 63rd, when both teams were reduced to 10 men after a testy shoving match.

“We started the game very poorly. In a top-level match such as this, we had a very bad start, Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. “The players are well aware and they’re disappointed.

“We don’t need to dwell on it, this is a pre-season game. They were better in every respect and that’s all there is to it.”

The first meeting outside of Europe between the Madrid rivals proved a dismal night for Zidane’s Real Madrid, who saw Serbian starlet Luka Jovic hobble off after an awkward collision with Atletico keeper Jan Oblak in the 24th minute.

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Zidane can only hope the news on his injury will be better than that on Marco Asensio, who could miss most if not all of the La Liga season after rupturing a knee ligament against Arsenal on Tuesday.

Portuguese 19-year-old Joao Felix, signed from Benfica this month for 126 million euros ($142 million), scored his first goal for Atletico, and helped set up two more.

Angel Correa also scored for Atletico, who had run the score to 5-0 at halftime and 6-0 before Real Madrid got one on the scoreboard before a packed house at the East Rutherford, New Jersey, home of the NFL’s New York Jets and New York Giants.

Costa set the tone in the first minute. Put through in the area by Felix he fired across his body to make it 1-0.

Felix struck in the eighth, slotting home a ball that was cut back to him by Saul Niguez.

Real Madrid keeper Thibaut Courtois could only watch Correa’s 19th-minute blast into the bottom left corner.

Costa bagged his second to make it 4-0 in the 28th, Saul winning the ball after a poor pass from Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos and sending a pass for Costa.

Costa made it 5-0 on the stroke of halftime, converting from the penalty spot after he was brought down in the area by Isco.

Atletico’s lead swelled to 6-0 in the 51st minute when Costa teamed with Felix for his fourth of the night, Felix slotting a pass through Real Madrid’s defence for Costa to arc over Keylor Navas.

Eden Hazard helped Real Madrid pull back a goal in the 59th with a cross that Nacho bundled over the line.

Minutes later Daniel Carvajal’s late challenge on Thomas Lemar saw tempers flare, with both Costa and Carvajal sent off.

Undeterred, Atletico grabbed their seventh goal in the 70th thanks’ to a superb solo run by Vitolo, who seized the ball from two defenders and beat two more to score.

Karim Benzema converted an 85th-minute penalty and Javi Hernandez scored in the 89th to trim the deficit, but there was little for Real Madrid to be proud of.

“I’m not concerned, but I’m hurt. You don’t play to lose. But we can’t be looking backwards, it was a bad game and now we have to focus on what went wrong so we can try and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said Zidane.

Welsh star Gareth Bale — reportedly on the verge of a lucrative move to Chinese Super League outfit Jiangsu Suning — was sent on with less than half an hour remaining but couldn’t provide a spark.

‘I Was Thinking Too Much,’ Says Osaka After Madrid Exit

Japan’s Naomi Osaka returns the ball to Belarus’ Aliaksandra Sasnovich during their WTA Madrid Open round of 16 tennis match at the Caja Magica in Madrid on May 8, 2019.
Pierre-Philippe MARCOU / AFP

 

 

Naomi Osaka admitted she “was thinking about too many things” in her 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 Madrid Open quarter-final loss to Belinda Bencic on Thursday.

World number one Osaka has claimed the last two majors at the US and Australian Opens and will be looking for a third in succession when she travels to Paris for the French Open later this month.

However, she admitted that knowing her top WTA ranking could possibly be in danger after failing to reach the Madrid semi-finals might have played on her mind mid-match on Thursday.

“I was just thinking about too many things. I wanted to win this match so much because she’d beaten me before — I didn’t want to lose twice in a row,” said the 21-year-old.

“People have been telling me if I get to the semis here, I can stay number one.

“I wanted to do that but I was thinking about it while I was playing, which wasn’t necessarily a good thing.”

The Japanese star, who will lose the top ranking if Simona Halep takes the Madrid title, will now head to Rome next week for the final tune-up prior to the May 26 start of Roland Garros.

“I’m really happy as my serve was my biggest concern coming in,” she said after losing for the second time in two months to Switzerland’s Bencic who also triumphed in Indian Wells.

“I wanted to play this tournament and I’m going to play Rome, too.

“There’s a lot of happy things to take from this because I lost in the first round last year so anything is an improvement, honestly.”

Bencic, a former top 10 player before injury struck several seasons ago, is now back in the top 20 and determined to lift her standing further.

“Of course I’m very happy,” the number 18 said. “I’m in the semi-finals, I beat the world number one and I turned the match around.”

She will have a chance to go further on Friday as she plays two-time tournament winner Halep, who booked her last-four-spot with a 7-5, 7-5 win against Australian Ashleigh Barty.

Bencic defeated former number one Halep on her way to the Dubai hardcourt trophy in February.

“It’s always long rallies with her. I don’t think that’s going to change,” said Bencic.

“But this is a different surface (than Dubai), a different city, different conditions.

“I’ll just have to try to play the same as I always do and focus on my game, focus on myself.”

‘I Am Responsible,’ Zidane Apologises After Madrid Loss

Real Madrid’s French coach Zinedine Zidane attends the Spanish League football match between Rayo Vallecano and Real Madrid at the Vallecas Stadium in the Madrid district of Puente de Vallecas on April 28, 2019. Benjamin CREMEL / AFP

 

Zinedine Zidane apologised and said he wished Real Madrid’s miserable season would end now after they were beaten by 19th-placed Rayo Vallecano on Sunday.

Madrid’s response to Barcelona winning the title on Saturday night was to slip to a 1-0 defeat at Vallecas and fall 18 points behind La Liga’s newly-crowned champions.

Zidane took over knowing Madrid’s title challenge was all-but extinguished but the difference on Barca then was 12 points while catching Atletico Madrid, now nine ahead seemed achievable.

Adri Embarba’s penalty, given after consultation with VAR, was enough for Rayo, who move to within six points of survival, with three games left to play.

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“Today we did nothing,” Zidane said. “From minute one until the end, at all levels. Sometimes you cannot score but today we did not even create chances, did not play at all.

“We must be very angry. I am angry because the image we gave off today was bad. I am responsible for this as well, not just the players. But we have to apologise for our performance today, all of us.”

The gap widens between them and Barcelona, whose players had been dancing on the pitch at Camp Nou the night before and posing for photos with their children after wrapping up a fourth La Liga title in five years.

Asked if he would like the season to end now, Zidane said: “Yes, but we have to play these three games and do something different. We cannot end like this.

“It is about me as well, today what I did in the shape of the team, it didn’t work at all. We must respect football and what this club represents.”

Not since March 31 has anyone except Karim Benzema, out with a hamstring injury, scored for Madrid, who created precious few chances against a Rayo side that have conceded 62 goals this term. No side in the division has shipped more.

Zidane said last week that the league would be the club’s first priority from August but, even with new signings and fresh motivation, it could prove difficult to flick the switch. Madrid’s winning habit has long been lost.

Rayo’s last victory over Real at Vallecas was in 1997, by the same scoreline, and this time they were without their top scorer too, Raul de Tomas, who is on loan from Madrid and ineligible to face his parent club.

Zidane handed Gareth Bale another chance but he struggled to impress while Thibaut Courtois made his first start under the Frenchman, in ahead of Keylor Navas.

Rayo won their penalty in the 23rd minute as referee Pablo Gonzalez took advice from VAR before judging Jesus Vallejo to have hauled down Javi Guerra in the box. Embarba made no mistake.

Madrid wanted their own spot-kick when Mariano Diaz took a tumble from a corner but Gonzalez was unmoved, and the second half was surprisingly comfortable for Rayo.

Bale’s free-kick was palmed away by Garcia while Zidane threw on Brahim Diaz, Lucas Vazquez and Isco in search of some inspiration. It never came.

Top-four race stays wide open 

Beneath Madrid, La Liga’s last Champions League spot remains up for grabs after Valencia, Sevilla and Getafe all endured surprise defeats earlier on Sunday.

Valencia lost 1-0 at home to Eibar while Sevilla were beaten by the same scoreline away to struggling Girona, whose victory could prove crucial in their fight against relegation.

Both slips gave Getafe the opportunity to pull clear in the three-way race for fourth but they stumbled too, edged out 2-1 away to Real Sociedad.

Getafe stay ahead of Sevilla only on head-to-head, with Valencia three points behind and perhaps looking to the Europa League as their best hope of Champions League football next season.

AFP

Madrid Failure Puts Solari Under Fire And Faith In Youth To The Test

Real Madrid’s Argentinian coach Santiago Solari GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

 

Santiago Solari said he would not give up as coach of Real Madrid but the decision will probably not be his to make.

Zinedine Zidane earned the right to decide himself and chose to leave last summer.

“It would have been difficult for me to win again next year,” Zidane said in May.

“There have been good times but also difficult times. I do not forget that. I want to end with Real Madrid when everything is going well.”

Ten months on, Zidane’s exit speech feels like a warning.

Madrid’s season is up in smoke after seven days in which they were eliminated from the Copa del Rey, deemed irrelevant in La Liga and humiliated in the Champions League.

“I did not come to the club in such a difficult time to give up,” said Solari, after a 4-1 defeat to Ajax on Wednesday sent his side out in the last 16.

READ ALSO: Ajax Knock Shambolic Real Madrid Out Of Champions League

In the league and cup, they were proven to be clearly worse than Barcelona, their greatest rivals, and in Europe, inferior to Ajax, the club that are supposed to supply the elite not outplay them in their own back yard.

Three defeats, all of them in their own stadium, the last in the competition Madrid had begun to feel was their own after three consecutive triumphs and four in five years.

“Here lies a team that made history,” read the front page of Marca on Wednesday. “End of an era,” said Diario Sport. “The disaster is huge,” wrote Mundo Deportivo.

Solari had overseen a period of progress since taking over from Julen Lopetegui in November but the decline has been quick and familiar. Early improvement gave way to a lack of goals, which slowly sapped belief. Mediocre opponents took advantage and better ones ran riot.

‘Bigger problems to fix’

The club’s president Florentino Perez must now decide if Solari is worth keeping until the summer, although it is hard to see what would be gained by sacking him when there is nothing left to be gained from the season.

A new coach, with the same squad, would only surrender the feeling of freshness while for Perez, there might also be merit in waiting until June when more candidates could become available.

Yet he must be aware now of what Zidane was indicating, the sense that there are bigger problems to fix than the coach.

A Marca poll on Tuesday night asked fans who they thought was to blame, with 79 per cent answering either ‘everyone’ or ‘the board’ and only 7 per cent picking ‘Solari and Lopetegui’.

After years of under-investment, Madrid’s spine is creaking. Luka Modric is 33, Sergio Ramos 32, Toni Kroos 29 and Karim Benzema 31. Age is one thing but motivation is another. Success is hard to replicate.

Cristiano Ronaldo sought a new challenge with Juventus but was not replaced, either by a single star or two or three impact players that could collectively help bridge the gap. Mariano Diaz, signed last minute from Lyon, was not even on the bench on Wednesday.

Instead of marquee arrivals, the last of whom was James Rodriguez in 2014, Perez has shifted focus towards youth, with the likes of Vinicius Junior, Alvaro Odriozola, Sergio Reguilon, Dani Ceballos and Marcos Llorente all showing varying degrees of promise. Vinicius has been a revelation.

The problem is not that those players have failed to deliver but that perhaps they need a blend of experience to help bring them through. A summer spending spree might be tempting but could also undo all the good work done with a talented group.

If Solari cannot make a convincing enough case – and it is difficult to see how he can – in the 12 league games left, the choice of his successor will be revealing as to whether Perez’s faith in youth remains intact.

Madrid faces a trip to Real Valladolid on Sunday and all that is left is to overtake Atletico Madrid, who are five points ahead and reduce a 12-point gap on Barcelona, who are closing in on a seventh league title in 10 seasons. For all Madrid’s success in Europe, that domestic drought speaks volumes.

“We have a young team with room for improvement,” Dani Carvajal said. “It is clear the season is over but we will keep working in the league because that’s what we have to do, we have to be professional. That’s just how it is.”

AFP