Real Madrid Striker, Mariano Tests Positive For COVID-19

Real Madrid players during a training session. Credit: @realmadriden

 

Real Madrid forward Mariano has tested positive for coronavirus, the La Liga champions announced on Tuesday.

“After the COVID-19 tests carried out yesterday on our first team footballers by the Real Madrid Medical Services, our player Mariano, tested positive,” Real said in a statement.

“The player is in perfect health and is complying with the protocol of isolation at home.”

Mariano did not join the Real squad as players returned from a post-season break to start training for their Champions League last 16 showdowns at Manchester City on August 7. The 26-year-old has not appeared in that competition this season.

The Dominican international, who returned to Real in 2018 after a successful season at Lyon, played little in the recently finished La Liga season due to competition for places and injuries.

He made only five substitute appearances as Real won their 34th Spanish title, scoring once, an added time goal against Barcelona.

AFP

Real Madrid Draw Relegates Leganes And Messi Claims Golden Boot

 

Newly-crowned La Liga champions Real Madrid dropped points for the first time since the season’s restart on Sunday in a dramatic 2-2 draw that was not enough to save Leganes from relegation.

Leganes, who needed to beat Madrid and hope Celta Vigo failed to win against bottom club Espanyol, almost pulled off a miraculous escape but could not find a winner at the Butarque.

The draw means a rotated Madrid side surrendered the perfect record of 11 victories out of 11 since Spanish football came back from its coronavirus-enforced suspension while Karim Benzema fell short of Lionel Messi in the battle for the golden boot.

Gareth Bale was left out of Madrid’s squad completely for what might have been his last La Liga fixture for the club. Zinedine Zidane said afterwards it was a “technical decision”.

Messi had earlier scored twice in a 5-0 win over Alaves, enough for him to claim a record seventh ‘Pichichi Trophy’ and to give Barcelona a boost ahead of the return leg of their last 16 Champions League tie against Napoli next month.

The double took Messi’s league tally to 25 goals for the season and put him four clear of Benzema, who endured a quiet night against Leganes, with Sergio Ramos and Marco Asensio on target.

The odds were always against Leganes but a miracle looked possible when Roger Assale equalised with 12 minutes left to find a winner.

But chances were missed and a penalty appeal was turned down, meaning they join Real Mallorca and Espanyol in Segunda next season.

“The lads are broken,” said Leganes coach Javier Aguirre. “We had it within our grasp.”

Real Sociedad and Granada, meanwhile, took the last two Europa League spots, with Getafe and Valencia missing out. Villarreal had already secured fifth place.

Granada thrashed Athletic Bilbao 4-0 and qualification caps an incredible season for the club, who were only promoted from Segunda last term.

“Our aim was to stay up so to finish in the Europa League is a dream for us,” said Granada striker Roberto Soldado.

Real Sociedad snuck into sixth place after Adnan Januzaj’s 87th-minute goal clinched a 1-1 draw away at Atletico Madrid.

Barca believe in Euro glory

Messi finishes as La Liga’s top scorer for a record seventh time, pulling clear of Telmo Zarra’s six while playing for Athletic Bilbao in the forties and fifties.

“I’m never that bothered about the individual prizes and I would have preferred it to have come with a league title like before,” added Messi.

Setien said on Saturday he still believes Barcelona, at their best, can win the Champions League next month.

And a sparkling attacking display certainly gave a glimpse of what is possible, even if Napoli in the last 16, and potentially Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals, will offer a completely different test.

There could be fitness concerns for Setien too ahead of the second leg against Napoli. Clement Lenglet hobbled off with what looked like a groin problem, with Antoine Griezmann and Samuel Umtiti already out injured.

But Setien has increasingly been putting his faith in youth and the 20-year-old Puig impressed again in midfield while 21-year-old Ronald Araujo gave a composed, albeit largely unchallenged, performance in defence.

The 17-year-old Ansu Fati opened the scoring at the near post before Puig teed up Messi to stride through and finish.

Luis Suarez capped a superb move by heading in his 17th league goal after Jordi Alba had volleyed Messi’s pass across, with another Puig through ball allowing Nelson Semedo to lash in a fourth.

Messi had the last word with a smart finish on the half-volley.

Madrid looked to have the game won when Asensio finished off Isco’s pass but Leganes pulled level as Assale nipped in to set up a dramatic last 10 minutes.

With Celta still being held, they only needed a goal to survive and Javier Aviles might have got it only to miskick at the back post and then failed to connect from a corner.

Replays showed Luka Jovic touched the cross with his hand but referee Guillermo Cuadra was not convinced and even goalkeeper Pichu Cuellar going up for a 94th-minute corner could not give Leganes the goal they needed.

Barcelona Congratulate Real Madrid For Winning 2019/2020 La Liga Crown

Real Madrid’s players celebrate winning La Liga title after the Spanish League football match between against Villarreal CF at the Alfredo di Stefano stadium in Valdebebas, on the outskirts of Madrid, on July 16, 2020. GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

 

 

Barcelona have congratulated Real Madrid for winning the 2019/2020 La Liga title on Thursday after they (Real Madrid) beat Villarreal.

French forward Karim Benzema netted a brace to hand Zinedine Zidane’s men a 2-1 win over the Yellow Submarines.

Barcelona took to their Twitter handle to congratulate them for securing their 34th domestic crown.

“Congratulations to Real Madrid on winning the 2019/20 La Liga title,” the club tweeted on their handle.

Benzema’s double included a second-half penalty at the empty Alfredo di Stefano Stadium as Madrid moved seven points clear to end Barcelona’s two-year hold on the trophy.

Barca had to prevail against Osasuna at home and hope Madrid slipped up but their fading challenge ended with a 2-1 defeat at Camp Nou, despite a brilliant Lionel Messi free-kick.

It means Madrid claim their third La Liga title in 12 years, after a relentless run of form since Spanish football resumed on June 11 following the coronavirus pandemic.

Zinedine Zidane’s side have won 10 games out 10 since the restart. They have conceded four goals in that time and never been behind in a match.

“For me, this is one of the best days in my professional career,” said Zidane. “After lockdown and everything, it’s astonishing.”

 

zidane
Real Madrid’s player toss Real Madrid’s French coach Zinedine Zidane after winning the Liga title after the Spanish League football match between Real Madrid CF and Villarreal CF at the Alfredo di Stefano stadium in Valdebebas, on the outskirts of Madrid, on July 16, 2020. GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

 

Asked if it trumps the Champions League titles Madrid won in his first spell as manager, Zidane said: “This is better than anything. It takes a tremendous effort to win La Liga. After 38 matches, you have more points than anyone else. It’s bloody fantastic.”

Madrid have also been awarded five penalties during the run-in, some of them controversially, and this one caused a stir too as Sergio Ramos tried to roll the ball to Benzema, who finished, but had entered the area too early.

Much to Villarreal’s irritation, Madrid were allowed to retake and this time Benzema made no mistake before Vicente Iborra headed in what proved a late consolation.

“It’s a prize for all the work we’ve done, this is the reward,” said Ramos. “We have one more match and we want to win 11 out of 11.”

benzema
Real Madrid players celebrating a goal in the La Liga game with Villarreal on 16th July, 2020. Photo: [email protected] Madrid CF

Real Madrid Win 34th La Liga Title

Real Madrid’s players celebrate winning La Liga title after the Spanish League football match between against Villarreal CF at the Alfredo di Stefano stadium in Valdebebas, on the outskirts of Madrid, on July 16, 2020. GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

 

Real Madrid were crowned La Liga champions for the 34th time on Thursday after Karim Benzema scored twice in a 2-1 victory over Villarreal which clinched the title with one game to spare.

Benzema’s double included a second-half penalty at the empty Alfredo di Stefano Stadium as Madrid moved seven points clear to end Barcelona’s two-year hold on the trophy.

Barca had to prevail against Osasuna at home and hope Madrid slipped up but their fading challenge ended with a 2-1 defeat at Camp Nou, despite a brilliant Lionel Messi free-kick.

It means Madrid claim their third La Liga title in 12 years, after a relentless run of form since Spanish football resumed on June 11 following the coronavirus pandemic.

Zinedine Zidane’s side have won 10 games out 10 since the restart. They have conceded four goals in that time and never been behind in a match.

“For me, this is one of the best days in my professional career,” said Zidane. “After lockdown and everything, it’s astonishing.”

Asked if it trumps the Champions League titles Madrid won in his first spell as manager, Zidane said: “This is better than anything. It takes a tremendous effort to win La Liga. After 38 matches, you have more points than anyone else. It’s bloody fantastic.”

Madrid have also been awarded five penalties during the run-in, some of them controversially, and this one caused a stir too as Sergio Ramos tried to roll the ball to Benzema, who finished, but had entered the area too early.

Much to Villarreal’s irritation, Madrid were allowed to retake and this time Benzema made no mistake before Vicente Iborra headed in what proved a late consolation.

“It’s a prize for all the work we’ve done, this is the reward,” said Ramos. “We have one more match and we want to win 11 out of 11.”

 

– Setien under pressure at Barca –

After three months away, Barcelona had returned sitting top of the table but draws with Sevilla, struggling Celta Vigo and Atletico Madrid allowed Madrid to take charge.

Barca were also in first place when they sacked Ernesto Valverde in January and while the club’s problems go deeper than their coach, Quique Setien’s position will come under scrutiny.

“Things have to change,” said Messi. “Everyone here in the club will be feeling very angry about what has happened this season and that’s normal. The players feel like that too.”

Messi added: “We have to be self-critical, starting with the players, but across the whole club.”

benzema
Real Madrid players celebrating a goal in the La Liga game with Villarreal on 16th July, 2020. Photo: [email protected] Madrid CF

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu said this week that Setien will remain in charge for next month’s Champions League tie against Napoli but the coach’s decision to leave Luis Suarez out of the starting line-up for a second consecutive game will raise questions.

Yet few could argue Madrid deserve the title and it was fitting that Benzema delivered it, his double taking his tally for the season to 26 in all competitions.

His first came after 28 minutes when Casemiro stole possession in midfield and freed Luka Modric. He slid through Benzema, who fired through the legs of Sergio Asenjo.

Ramos had scored five goals himself since the restart and could have had a sixth after he was tripped by the dangling leg of Sofian Chakla.

But his ploy to tee up Benzema backfired when his teammate encroached too early. Benzema converted the re-take.

Iborra headed in Mario Gaspar’s cross to set up a nervy finish but Barcelona were still being held by Osasuna.

Messi’s curling free-kick into the top corner had cancelled out Osasuna’s opener from Jose Arnaiz, once of Barca B.

But Osasuna had a final trick up their sleeve as Roberto Torres finished at the back post to wrap up Barca’s miserable night at the end of a turbulent season.

Real Mallorca’s hopes of survival are over after they lost 2-1 at home to Granada but Alaves guaranteed their safety by winning at Real Betis.

With Espanyol already down, the final relegation spot will be between Celta Vigo, who lost 3-2 to Levante, and Leganes, who beat Athletic Bilbao 2-0.

Leganes are a point behind and play on Sunday at home to Real Madrid while Celta visit Espanyol.

AFP

Real Madrid Now One Win Away From La Liga Title After Beating Granada

real-madrid
Granada’s Spanish defender Quini Marin (L) reacts during the Spanish league football match Granada FC vs Real Madrid CF at Nuevo Los Carmenes stadium in Granada on July 13, 2020.
JORGE GUERRERO / AFP

 

Real Madrid are one victory away from clinching the La Liga title after they held off a second-half comeback from Granada on Monday to win 2-1 and move four points clear of Barcelona.

With two games left, Madrid will be crowned champions if they beat Villarreal at home on Thursday regardless of how Barca fare at the Camp Nou against Osasuna.

But they were made to sweat by a Granada team that are gunning for Europe and have been arguably the division’s surprise of the season after being promoted from second tier only last year.

Ferland Mendy and Karim Benzema looked to have set Madrid on course for a comfortable win at Los Carmenes but Granada were transformed after the break and Darwin Machis’ 50th-minute strike gave them hope.

An increasingly nervy Madrid were clinging on by the end and needed Sergio Ramos to clear one shot off the line as Zinedine Zidane’s side dug in for a ninth consecutive victory.

modric
Real Madrid’s Croatian midfielder Luka Modric (L) vies with Granada’s Venezuelan midfielder Yangel Herrera during the Spanish league football match Granada FC vs Real Madrid CF at Nuevo Los Carmenes stadium in Granada on July 13, 2020. JORGE GUERRERO / AFP

 

When the final whistle blew, Zidane roared with relief and Ramos clenched his fists after coming through their toughest test since the restart.

“We can’t relax, we’re a bit closer but we have to carry on,” said Ramos afterwards.

“We let our guard down here a bit on the second half. We won the first half and lost the second and maybe that’s a warning for us. We have to make sure we don’t repeat that mistake.”

Madrid could win a third La Liga title in eight years at the Alfredo di Stefano Stadium on Thursday night. “It would mean a lot,” said Ramos.

“It’s the prize for consistency over the whole year. Maybe we had a period of reflection during the suspension and we came back and reacted. We’re in the race and hopefully on Thursday we can celebrate.”

If Madrid slip up against Villarreal, they will still have a second chance on Sunday when they finish away at Leganes while Barcelona visit Alaves.

Machis’ goal was the first Madrid have conceded in six matches but few would have seen it coming after the first half.

Madrid scored twice in six minutes, with both goals coming from breaks down their left.

Mendy had space in front of him and kept going, accelerating between Victor Diaz and Dimitri Foulquier before firing high and into the roof of the net from an acute angle.

The second goal came down the same side, Isco’s backheel allowing Luka Modric to switch left to Benzema, who this time cut inside Diaz and shot into the far corner.

Madrid cruised through the rest of the half, pushing the ball around at will, but comfort perhaps created complacency and Granada improved after the break.

Machis pulled a goal back, striking through the legs of Courtois after Casemiro was robbed in midfield and Madrid were rattled as Granada dictated more and more of the ball.

A scramble in Madrid’s six-yard box saw several players hacking at the ball in panic and Courtois was twice required to make smart saves late on.

The closest Granada came was when the ball fell to Ramon Azeez at the back post and he fired towards the near post with Courtois stranded. Ramos was there on the line.

AFP

Real Madrid’s Marcelo Set To Miss Rest Of League Season Due To Injury

Real Madrid’s Brazilian defender Marcelo (C) is helped to leave the pitch after resulting injured during the UEFA Champions League group G football match between Real Madrid CF and FC Viktoria Plzen at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on October 23, 2018. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

Real Madrid defender Marcelo is expected to miss the rest of the La Liga season after the club confirmed on Friday he has an adductor injury. 

Tests showed Marcelo has a problem in his left adductor muscle and while Madrid have not given a recovery time, the Brazilian looks set to play no further part in the run-in.

Madrid’s last league game will be away at Leganes on July 19.

Ferland Mendy is Marcelo’s likely replacement, the Frenchman who has enjoyed an impressive opening year in Spain.

Marcelo will be hoping to regain fitness in time for Madrid’s Champions League last 16 second leg away at Manchester City on August 7. City won the first leg 2-1.

 

AFP

Ramos Scores 22nd Consecutive Penalty As Madrid Beat Bilbao

ramos
Real Madrid’s Spanish defender Sergio Ramos celebrates after scoring a goal during the Spanish League football match between Athletic Club Bilbao and Real Madrid at the San Mames stadium in Bilbao on July 5, 2020. ANDER GILLENEA / AFP

 

Sergio Ramos scored his 22nd consecutive penalty on Sunday as Real Madrid held on for another 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao to inch closer to winning La Liga. 

Ramos’ fifth goal in seven games since the restart gives Madrid a seven-point lead over Barcelona, who play later on Sunday at in-form Villarreal.

Anything but a victory for Barca would probably leave them too much to do with four games remaining, especially as Madrid own the superior record head-to-head.

This was Madrid’s toughest fixture left and they might have been content even with a point against a robust, well-organised Bilbao side.

But after edging out Getafe on Thursday, through a Ramos spot-kick, Madrid repeated the trick at San Mames, their captain’s nerve from the spot combining with a gutsy display to grind out a pivotal win.

Ramos was perhaps fortunate not to concede a penalty himself when, off the ball, he seemed to slip and tread on the foot of Raul Garcia, but Madrid escaped.

Instead, the defender’s 10th goal of the season, the best tally of his career, gave Madrid their third 1-0 win in a row, as well as a fourth consecutive clean sheet.

“It’s a massive win,” said Ramos. “We knew today was going to be one of the biggest games that we have left. It’s always a difficult game away at Bilbao and we saw it like that. We’re happy with another crucial three points that put more pressure on Barcelona.”

Ramos said he is always confident on penalties.

“In those moments of doubt that’s when I feel most comfortable. I wanted to take the responsibility,” he said. “But if I wanted individual recognition I would play tennis.”

Bilbao’s Iker Munain said Madrid had again been lucky with decisions.

“We’re not going to win it thanks to the referees,” said Ramos. “People have to look at themselves and be critical of their own performances. Based on the points, it seems we’re doing well at the moment.”

Madrid were without key players, with Raphael Varane nursing a neck injury and Eden Hazard out with pain in his ankle.

Eder Militao replaced Varane while Marco Asensio made his first start in 14 months up front.

There were chances at both ends in the first half and Bilbao had the best of them. Williams twice went close but was denied by a block by Marcelo and then a superb tackle by Militao while Raul Garcia’s header was pushed out by Thibaut Courtois.

Karim Benzema would have had a tap-in had Dani Carvajal executed a cushioned pass across the box but his touch was too high.

Asensio’s free-kick had created the chance and he swung in two more brilliant crosses before half-time, only for Rodrygo and Benzema to miss with their heads.

The second half was tighter as both teams slowed in the heat and a more cautious contest seemed to suit Madrid, whose moment came in the 73rd minute.

Marcelo was rewarded for a lung-busting run into the box, where he reached the ball just ahead of Dani Garcia, who twisted his body into the left-back and bundled him over.

Referee Jose Gonzalez consulted VAR and awarded the penalty, which Ramos whipped into the bottom corner.

Bilbao looked tired and never really threatened an equaliser but could have been gifted one had Ramos been penalised for the clumsy collision with Raul Garcia. Ramos survived and Madrid held on.

 

 

French Prosecutors Want Benzema To Stand Trial Over Sex Tape

Benzema's Blackmail Case Heads For Possible Final Hearing
File: Real Madrid’s French forward Karim Benzema gestures during the Spanish league footbal match between Malaga CF and Real Madrid CF at La Rosaleda stadium in Malaga on April 15, 2018.JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

French prosecutors on Thursday asked for ex-national team star and Real Madrid footballer Karim Benzema to face trial on charges of involvement in an alleged attempt to blackmail fellow player Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape almost five years ago.

Prosecutors in Versailles outside Paris told AFP they want Benzema tried on charges of complicity in attempted blackmail over the incident in 2015. If convicted, he could face a five-year prison sentence.

Benzema’s lawyer, Sylvain Cormier, said he was “not at all surprised” by the request. “These are false and unjustified charges,” he added. “It’s in line with what the prosecution has been doing in this case from the start.”

READ ALSO: Leicester Need To ‘Reset Mentally’ To Qualify For Champions League – Rodgers

Four others should also face trial, they said, but not former Liverpool and French international Djibril Cisse who had previously been implicated in the probe.

It is now up to the court to decide if a trial should take place and fix a date for the process to begin.

Benzema, 32, is suspected of encouraging his former teammate in the France team Valbuena to pay blackmailers who threatened to make the intimate video public.

According to the prosecution, Benzema evoked the existence of the video to Valbuena while the French team was preparing in October 2015 for a friendly match against Armenia in Nice.

Benzema contends all that took place was a simple and friendly conversation to warn his international team-mate that such a tape existed.

Valbuena, however, alleges that there was the implication he had to pay to keep it out of the public sphere.

Benzema was indicted and briefly detained in November 2015 just before France was the next year to host the Euro 2016 football championship.

He has never since added to his 81 appearances for France and insists he is innocent. Valbuena, who played 52 times for the national side, has also never since played for France.

Cisse had been the first to inform Valbuena that the video existed but insists he was simply warning the footballer.

Benzema is the second highest scorer in La Liga this season for a Real side that is chasing just a second Spanish title in eight years.

However, French football federation president Noel Le Graet has said on a number of occasions that Benzema’s international career was effectively over.

After being left out of the France squad for Euro 2016, Benzema accused the national coach Didier Deschamps of bowing “to pressure from a racist part of France”.

But Deschamps has said that not selecting Benzema was better for the “balance” and “harmony” of his squad.

“As long as Didier Deschamps is coach, I have no chance of getting back into the France team,” Benzema said in 2017.

 

Benzema Shines As Madrid Beat Espanyol To Tighten Grip On La Liga Title

Real Madrid's French forward Karim Benzema eyes on the ball prior to shooting and scoring his second goal during the Spanish league football match between Real Madrid CF and Valencia CF at the Alfredo di Stefano stadium in Valdebebas, on the outskirts of Madrid, on June 18, 2020. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP
Real Madrid’s French forward Karim Benzema eyes on the ball prior to shooting and scoring his second goal during the Spanish league football match between Real Madrid CF and Valencia CF at the Alfredo di Stefano stadium in Valdebebas, on the outskirts of Madrid, on June 18, 2020.
JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

Karim Benzema delivered another moment of magic on Sunday as Real Madrid took a two-point lead over Barcelona at the top of La Liga by beating bottom club Espanyol. 

Benzema’s volley against Valencia could be goal of the season and he might now have a claim to best assist too after his brilliant backheel teed up Casemiro to finish for a crucial 1-0 win.

Madrid’s advantage in the table, coming after Barca’s draw away at Celta Vigo on Saturday, is their biggest since February and puts them within sight of their second league title in eight years.

“It’s a very important win,” said Benzema. “I can’t say we don’t look at Barcelona, of course we do. But we’re focused on our own league. There are not many games left and every game now is a final.”

Zinedine Zidane said Eden Hazard took a knock to his ankle.

“He took a big hit but it’s just a knock I think,” said Zidane.

By the time his side play at home to Getafe on Thursday they might even have the chance to move further clear, if in-form Atletico Madrid avoid defeat on Tuesday at Camp Nou.

Barcelona certainly have the harder run-in, with a resurgent Villarreal side to follow Atletico and then local rivals Espanyol, who have shown they might yet finish strong after a determined performance under new coach Franciso Rufete.

Rufete, who was previously the club’s sporting director, is Espanyol’s fourth coach of the season after the sacking of Abelardo Fernandez on Saturday.

His task is now to make up a nine-point gap between his team in 20th and Celta in 17th.

They were undone by a piece of instinctive brilliance from Benzema, who has been the catalyst for Madrid sealing five wins out of five since La Liga restarted on June 11.

Sensational assists

Benzema’s backheel came on an afternoon of sensational assists after Villarreal’s Santi Cazorla earlier set up Gerard Moreno with an incredible, cushioned touch in their 2-0 win over Valencia.

“I have to give huge credit to Karim,” said Casemiro. “It was an incredible assist. We’re used to how good he is, I know the quality he possesses so I was expecting something. He heard me asking for it and he played it in a brilliant way.”

Madrid, though, were scruffy and ponderous at the RCDE Stadium, this perhaps their least impressive win over the last three weeks.

But solidity and steel ensured they came through unscathed and it was no surprise that defensive midfielder Casemiro, arguably the team’s best player this term, was named man of the match.

Espanyol were far from outplayed and might have been ahead if they had capitalised on a series of forays down Madrid’s left in the first half.

With Marcelo repeatedly caught up field, Wu Lei was able to sprint clear and his early pull-back was met by Sergi Darder at the back post, only for his shot to be blocked by Dani Carvajal.

Madrid were sloppy but created chances. Sergio Ramos headed over Casemiro’s smashed effort across goal.

A scrap in the penalty area ended with Diego Lopez palming over a half-volley from the quiet Eden Hazard.

Espanyol were hanging on for half-time and they were caught out by Benzema.

Ramos flicked on Marcelo’s crossfield pass and Benzema, moving away from goal, backheeled off the bounce through the legs of Bernardo Espinosa for the arriving Casemiro to finish.

Wu had another chance early in the second half but scuffed his shot and both teams seemed content to let the score lie until the latter stages, when Espanyol began to take more risks.

Their best chance came in the 87th minute when a free-kick evaded the entire Madrid defence but Leandro Cabrera was just short at the back post. Marcelo almost deflected into his own net for the last action before the whistle blew.

Earlier, Villarreal continued their surge towards Champions League qualification with a victory over Valencia, inspired by Cazorla.

The 35-year-old found himself under a 60-yard punt from his goalkeeper before cushioning the ball out of the air perfectly for Gerard Moreno to volley in.

Paco Alcacer also scored against his former club as Villarreal moved just three points behind fourth-placed Sevilla.

 

AFP

Ramos Injured But Madrid Go Top After Edging Out Real Sociedad

Real Madrid’s Spanish defender Sergio Ramos celebrates after scoring during the Spanish League football match between Real Sociedad and Real Madrid at the Reale Arena-Anoeta Stadium in San Sebastian on June 21, 2020. ANDER GILLENEA / AFP

 

 

Real Madrid knocked Barcelona off the top of La Liga by beating Real Sociedad 2-1 on Sunday as Sergio Ramos rolled in another penalty before being forced off due to injury.

Karim Benzema continued his excellent form by adding a second at Anoeta and while Mikel Merino gave Real Sociedad hope with seven minutes left, Madrid held on to go above Barca on head-to-head.

Ramos scored his 20th consecutive spot-kick to become La Liga’s highest-ever scoring defender on 68 goals, overtaking Ronald Koeman on the all-time list.

But Ramos limped off 10 minutes later with what looked like a knee injury, which will be a huge concern for Madrid if the problem proves serious. He was seen sitting with an ice-pack on his left knee in the stands.

Madrid also benefitted from two tight decisions after Adnan Januzaj drove in an equaliser for Real Sociedad, only to have it ruled out before Benzema doubled the lead and was ajudged not to have controlled with his arm.

Both calls were close and the fact they fell for Madrid will not have gone unnoticed in Barcelona. “From what we’ve seen it will be very difficult for Real Madrid to drop points,” said Barca defender Gerard Pique on Friday.

Yet it was Barca’s failure to score away at Sevilla that presented the opportunity to Madrid, whose victory in one of their toughest fixtures left has shifted the title race back in their favour.

Their defence, which boasts the club’s best record at this stage in 32 years, has been key, which means Ramos’ swift return will be crucial if his team want to hold on to first place.

Casemiro is already suspended after picking up a yellow card although Real Mallorca at home on Wednesday is the kind of fixture Madrid should be able to survive, even without Ramos and their only defensive midfielder.

Ramos’ 68 goals include 66 for Madrid and two for Sevilla while Sunday’s penalty was his seventh of this season, equalling his best haul for a single league campaign in his career.

If Ramos has to sit out, Zinedine Zidane will at least hope to have Eden Hazard fresh for Mallorca after the Belgian was named on the bench, perhaps rested or given extra time to recover from a kick to his ankle against Valencia last week.

Gareth Bale was also among the substitutes not to be brought on, this Bale’s sixth consecutive game out of the starting line-up.

Even James Rodriguez was handed a rare outing, suggesting Bale has fallen even further down Zidane’s pecking order.

The first half was open but without many clear-cut chances. The lively Vinicius Junior had the best opening early on after a pull-back from Fede Valverde but prodded wide.

Yet Vinicius was causing Andoni Gorosabel problems with his pace and it was the Brazilian who won the penalty, after nipping inside a defender before his right foot was caught by Diego Llorente.

Ramos made no mistake but seemed to take a bang on his left knee shortly after and despite limping on for several minutes, was eventually replaced by Eder Militao.

His removal coincided with a surge from Real Sociedad, who equalised when Januzaj drove into the corner only for Merino to be ruled offside, seen to be close enough to Courtois to be interfering with the goalkeeper’s line of sight.

Real Sociedad’s sense of frustration was compounded when Benzema made it two.

Referee Javier Estrada again consulted VAR but this time allowed the goal to stand, believing Benzema to have controlled with his shoulder before firing in.

Merino set up a nervy finish with a thundering shot in off the crossbar but Madrid held on for an important win.

Four Things From The Return Of La Liga

La-Liga-Logo
File: La Liga logo

 

La Liga is back after a three-month coronavirus shutdown with games behind closed doors, and with Lionel Messi looking different but playing like he always does.

AFP Sport picks out some of the standout images of the return of top-flight football in Spain:

– Messi back with new look –

More than three months had passed since Messi’s last appearance on a football field. The six-time Ballon d’Or winner will be 33 in little over a week, but while he approaches veteran status, his post-lockdown look is more of a reminder of the young Messi.

The hair is longer and swept over to one side. Most strikingly the beard has gone, leaving the Argentine looking fresh-faced.

La Liga’s leading scorer looked sharp with the ball at his feet too, and scored the final goal of a 4-0 win away in Mallorca — after earlier strikes by Arturo Vidal, Martin Braithwaite and Jordi Alba — as Barcelona moved five points clear of title tivals Real Madrid, who play on Sunday.

– Virus victims remembered –

La Liga’s return is a boost for a football-mad country that has been ravaged by the coronavirus, with more than 27,000 officially recorded deaths making it one of the worst-hit nations worldwide in the pandemic.

READ ALSO: Messi Caps Barcelona Win Over Mallorca On La Liga Return

Like other sports competitions getting going again, strict health protocols mean games in Spain are being played behind closed doors, ensuring unusual atmospheres at matches that would otherwise go ahead in front of large crowds like the derby between Valencia and Levante.

At Mestalla, as elsewhere, a minute’s silence was held before kick-off to remember those victims of Covid-19.

– The new matchday experience –

Without access to stadiums, supporters are still coming together to watch games. However, only a limited number of Barcelona fans could access this supporters’ club in the Catalan capital to watch their team’s game against Mallorca.

Spaced out to respect social distancing measures, and wearing face masks, they took in Barca’s win which allowed the defending champions to extend their lead at the top of the table.

Without fans inside grounds, broadcasters have instead been projecting virtual crowds taken from the computer game FIFA onto seats, and adding crowd chants.

– Suarez boon for Barca –

Barcelona’s first game since March also saw Luis Suarez make his first appearance since early January after injury.

The Uruguayan underwent surgery on a knee problem that at one point threatened to rule him out of the rest of the season, but the coronavirus shutdown has allowed him to come back in time to play a potentially key role in the title run-in.

Suarez replaced Antoine Griezmann in the second half of Barca’s game at Mallorca. He didn’t find the net, but will have a big part to play in the weeks to come, with 10 games left for Quique Setien’s team as they try to fend off Real Madrid’s challenge.

AFP

Zidane Tells Real Madrid To Adopt World Cup Mentality For La Liga Finish

Real Madrid’s French coach Zinedine Zidane looks on before during the Spanish league football match Real Valladolid FC against Real Madrid CF at the Jose Zorilla stadium in Valladolid on January 26, 2020.
CESAR MANSO / AFP

 

Zinedine Zidane wants Real Madrid to treat their remaining 11 games in La Liga like a World Cup as they aim to overhaul Barcelona to win their second league title in eight years. 

Real sit two points behind Barca and return after three months away against Eibar on Sunday, when they will play in their new training ground home at the Alfredo di Stefano Stadium.

La Liga is due to finish on July 19, meaning there will be fixtures every day while clubs will be in action almost every three days for five and a half weeks.

Asked if felt like the start of a World Cup, Zidane said on Saturday: “I like the comparison, I buy into it. My players know what it’s like to play in the final stages of a World Cup or European Championship.

“The important thing is the preparation and I think we have prepared very, very well. Our first match starts tomorrow and we will give everything. I have faith what we have done with the players and now we have to show it on the field.”

La Liga matches are being played behind closed doors because of the coronavirus pandemic, although league president Javier Tebas has said stadiums could be allowed to be 10 to 15 per cent full before the end of the season.

“I don’t like playing without fans, that’s my opinion,” Zidane said. “But as always, we have to adapt. This is the situation. There is a government with people who do their work and we have to do ours.”

Real are playing at the Alfredo di Stefano Stadium to allow renovation work to continue at the Santiago Bernabeu this summer.

The capacity is only 6,000 which would mean far fewer fans could attend if the ban is relaxed.

“My players want to play in front of an audience and right now, there isn’t one,” Zidane said. “But if those in charge say we can, well then we’ll see. I have been a player and I prefer to play with fans. But it is not an excuse, we are going to play well.”

Eden Hazard has been included in the squad to face Eibar after he was able to use the break to recover from a foot injury and Marco Asensio is also available again after rupturing his cruciate ligaments last year.

But Zidane said striker Luka Jovic could miss the run-in after injuring his foot at home and Lucas Vazquez is also out.

-AFP