Five Candidates To Replace Solskjaer As Manager Of Man Utd

Manchester United’s Norwegian manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gestures on the touchline during the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on October 24, 2021. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) /

 

Manchester United’s historic 5-0 thrashing at the hands of fierce rivals Liverpool has left manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer clinging to his job despite signing a new three-year deal just three months ago.

Solskjaer has failed to win a trophy in nearly three years in charge at Old Trafford and tangible signs of progress after finishing second in the Premier League last season have been blown away amid a run of five defeats in their last nine games.

United are already eight points off the pace at the top of the table and there is a growing consensus that they need a coach to match the calibre of Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp, Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola and Chelsea’s Champions League winner Thomas Tuchel.

Solskjaer has led United to two consecutive top-four finishes for the first time since Alex Ferguson’s retirement as manager in 2013, but his time looks to be running out.

AFP Sport looks at five of the candidates to replace the 48-year-old if and when he is shown the door at Old Trafford.

Antonio Conte

A proven title winner, Conte turned a Chelsea side that had finished 10th the previous season into Premier League winners in his debut campaign in England in 2016/17.

The Italian is without a club having left Inter Milan in May after ending their 11-year wait to win Serie A.

Conte appears a perfect fit to solve United’s defensive woes that have blighted their season. Solskjaer’s men have kept one clean sheet in 21 games and shipped 11 goals in a week against Leicester, Atalanta and Liverpool.

However, Conte’s fiery temperament and tendency to fall out with his superiors could count against him.

“He’s not a fit for United,” said former United captain Gary Neville on Sunday.

Zinedine Zidane

Expectations were high for United to challenge for major trophies this season after the signings of serial winners Cristiano Ronaldo and Raphael Varane, along with £73 million ($100 million) winger Jadon Sancho.

Three of Ronaldo and Varane’s Champions League titles came under Zidane at Real Madrid and the Frenchman is also a free agent having ended his second spell with the Spanish giants in May.

Zidane proved himself a master of moulding a star-studded squad into a team at Madrid, where he also won two La Liga titles.

That is exactly what United need and his global profile fits the brand-building exercise the English giants have gone down in recent years, at times to the detriment of a well-functioning team on the field.

Brendan Rodgers

The outstanding option on the domestic market for United is Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers.

The Northern Irishman’s past as a Liverpool manager may rule him out for many United fans, but he has rebuilt his reputation since a rollercoaster three years at Anfield between 2012 and 2015.

Rodgers proved himself capable of handling the demands of winning every week in three years at Celtic, where he won a clean sweep of seven domestic trophies before returning to the Premier League with Leicester.

The Foxes have narrowly missed out on the Champions League for the past two seasons to Chelsea despite far inferior resources and beat the European champions to win the FA Cup for the first time in the club’s history last season.

Erik Ten Hag

The Dutchman is responsible for arguably the form team in Europe right now with Ajax cruising towards the last 16 of the Champions League and another Eredivisie title after thrashing PSV Eindhoven 5-0 on Sunday.

Ten Haag was linked with a number of top jobs after leading the four-time European champions to the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time since 1997 two years ago.

But unlike many of his players from that run, he is yet to be poached by one of Europe’s top clubs.

The former Bayern Munich youth team coach would fit the attacking style demanded of a United manager, as exhibited by a 4-0 thrashing of Borussia Dortmund last week.

Luis Enrique

The Spain coach is another with plenty of experience in getting the best out of a collection of talented individuals.

He won the treble in his first season at Barcelona and added another La Liga title with a front three of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.

Fluent in English, Luis Enrique has never hidden his desire to one day coach in the Premier League

His success with Spain this year at Euro 2020 and the Nations League finals shows he is also capable of producing an exciting side without the same quality of stars he had on offer at the Camp Nou.

‘I Don’t Know What Will Happen’: Zidane Casts Doubt Over Madrid Future

FILE: 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 hinted on Saturday he could leave as coach of Real Madrid at the end of the season, saying he believes “there comes a time when it’s the moment to change”. 

Zidane’s contract expires in 2022 but he has repeatedly refused to confirm he will still be at the club next season.

The Frenchman has a history of surprises after resigning as coach unexpectedly in 2018 before making a shock return a year later.

As a player, he initially announced his retirement from international football in 2004 before coming back for the 2006 World Cup, after which he retired for good.

“You talk about me leaving in 2006 and 2018 and it’s like you think I leave because I’m shirking responsibility or that I quit when things get tough,” said Zidane in a press conference.

“It’s not, the only thing about me is that what I do, I do to the end, and then there comes a time when it’s the moment to change. For everyone, not just for me. For the club, for the good of the club, for the people.

“I don’t leave because it’s easy. It’s not like I turn away and don’t look back. No, there are moments when you have to be there and there are moments when that’s it, it’s finished, it’s time to change. But for the good of everyone, not just for me.”

Zidane spoke warmly about his players, describing his relationship with them as one of “total respect” while adding their time together is “something that will be there forever”.

When it was put to him that it felt like he was saying goodbye, Zidane said: “I can only say the same thing. I don’t know what will happen. I’m here now, yes, and tomorrow we are going to play. Then we will have one match left.

“The rest, I don’t know what will happen. This is Real Madrid. I don’t know if it’s a strength but I am always about the day to day. It’s always been like this.”

Real Madrid play away at Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, knowing anything but a victory at San Mames will mean Atletico Madrid win the title if they beat Osasuna at the Wanda Metropolitano.

They sit two points behind Atletico Madrid in La Liga, with two games left to play.

“We have to look at what we can control,” said Zidane. “The important thing is to keep winning ourselves.”

Toni Kroos is the latest player to join Madrid’s lengthy list of absentees, with the German midfielder self-isolating after coming into contact with someone that tested positive for Covid-19.

Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Ferland Mendy, Dani Carvajal and Lucas Vazquez are all injured.

Zidane: ‘I’m Not A Terrible Coach, I’m Not The Best Either’

Real Madrid’s French coach Zinedine Zidane looks on from the side-lines during the UEFA Champions League quarter final second leg football match between Liverpool and Real Madrid at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on April 14, 2021. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP)

 

 

Zinedine Zidane defended himself on Saturday against accusations he is a lucky coach but again refused to commit to staying at Real Madrid next season. 

An impressive week has put Madrid in sight of winning both La Liga and the Champions League, after they beat Barcelona in the Clasico last weekend before knocking out Liverpool on Wednesday.

Despite sitting one point behind Atletico Madrid, Zidane’s team are now favourites to defend the title they claimed last term in the Frenchman’s first full season back in charge.

 

Real Madrid’s French defender Ferland Mendy (L) talks to Real Madrid’s French coach Zinedine Zidane during the “El Clasico” Spanish League football match between Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona at the Alfredo di Stefano stadium in Valdebebas, on the outskirts of Madrid on April 10, 2021. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

 

It would add to the 11 major trophies Zidane has already won across his two spells as Real Madrid coach, which includes two league titles and three consecutive successes in the Champions League.

Asked if it annoys him when he is called lucky, Zidane said: “I am lucky, it’s true, lucky to be here and to coach this great club. Am I a terrible coach? I don’t think I am terrible, I don’t believe that.

“I’m not the best either, sure, but I enjoy what I’m doing.”

Zidane’s contract at Real Madrid runs until the summer of 2022 but doubts remain about whether he will continue beyond the current season.

He resigned unexpectedly in 2018 after winning the Champions League and has been linked with taking charge of the French national team and Juventus, where he spent five years as a player.

“I don’t think about the future,” said Zidane. “I don’t know what will happen, you can have a five-year contract and leave tomorrow or the opposite. I’m happy and thinking about tomorrow’s game.”

 

Liverpool’s German manager Jurgen Klopp (L) and Real Madrid’s French coach Zinedine Zidane gesture at the final whistle during the UEFA Champions League quarter final second leg football match between Liverpool and Real Madrid at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on April 14, 2021. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP)

 

Real Madrid play away at struggling Getafe on Sunday and Zidane has been able to name only 13 outfield players in the squad for the match.

Madrid announced on Saturday that Ferland Mendy has a calf problem while neither Eden Hazard nor Dani Carvajal were deemed ready after recently recovering from injury.

Zidane has only four fit defenders, with Sergio Ramos out injured, Raphael Varane unavailable after testing positive for Covid-19 and Nacho Fernandez suspended. Casemiro is also banned after being sent off against Barcelona.

Zidane Self-Isolating After COVID-19 Contact

Zidane Downplays Reported Madrid's Move For Pogba
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 tested negative for Covid-19 Thursday morning but is self-isolating as a precaution after contact with someone who is confirmed to have the virus, a source at Real Madrid told AFP.

The Frenchman is now awaiting a result from the more accurate PCR test with the hopes of overseeing Real’s game at Osasuna on Saturday.

 

AFP

Zidane Hails Benzema As Best Ever French Centre-Forward

Real Madrid’s French forward Karim Benzema (R) celebrates with Real Madrid’s French coach Zinedine Zidane after scoring a goal during the Spanish league football match between Real Madrid CF and Athletic Club Bilbao at the Alfredo di Stefano stadium in Madrid on December 15, 2020. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP).

 

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane hailed Karim Benzema as the best centre-forward in French history after his match-winning double against Athletic Bilbao put them joint top of La Liga on Tuesday.

Bilbao’s Ander Capa had cancelled out Toni Kroos’s thumping strike before Benzema, 32, struck twice late on, heading home a cross with 16 minutes remaining and finishing clinically in stoppage time from Luka Modric’s pass.

Afterwards Zidane had no hesitation in declaring Benzema as France’s best ever centre-forward, putting him at the top of a list that includes Thierry Henry, Kylian Mbappe, Jean-Pierre Papin and Just Fontaine.

“For me, he’s the best — it’s very clear,” said Zidane, the French midfield legend who won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 with Les Bleus.

“He’s proved it — he’s played at Real Madrid for a very long time, he has more than 500 appearances, all his goals… his record, all he’s accomplished here speaks for itself,” Zidane added.

Benzema arrived at Real Madrid from Lyon in 2009, but was long overshadowed by Cristiano Ronaldo until the five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s move to Juventus in 2018.

READ ALSO: WHO Urges Use Of Masks During Christmas Celebration

On Saturday, Benzema’s 529th match for Real, he broke Roberto Carlos’s record for the most appearances by a non-Spanish player. Benzema is also their top scorer this season.

“He’s a more mature player these days,” said Zidane. “But he’s always shown that he’s not a pure nine, he doesn’t only think about scoring.

“That’s why I like him so much, I love him, he’s not only thinking about goals. He gets involved in the game, if he needs to pass to a teammate he’ll do it.”

Third-placed Madrid gained their fourth straight win in all competitions and are equal on 26 points with Real Sociedad, who face troubled Barcelona at the Camp Nou on Wednesday, and city rivals Atletico Madrid.

Barca are nine points back but play one of their two games in hand in the hope of giving some momentum to what has been a miserable season so far.

 

Zidane Makes Four Changes At Half-Time As Out-Of-Sorts Real Madrid Lose To Cadiz

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 made four substitutions at half-time on Saturday but could not spark Real Madrid into life as his team slipped to a 1-0 defeat by newly-promoted Cadiz in La Liga.

Sergio Ramos was the only enforced change at the Alfredo di Stefano Stadium as Madrid’s captain spent the second half in the stands with ice strapped around his left knee.

Madrid said the injury was not serious but it puts in doubt Ramos’ involvement in their first Champions League game against Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday, as well as the Clasico three days later.

If Barcelona’s players were watching, they might well feel this Madrid are there for the taking when they meet at Camp Nou next weekend.

A prolonged absence for Ramos would cap a deflating night for the reignings Spanish champions, whose dreary display certainly hands an early boost to their title rivals.

Atletico Madrid had earlier beaten Celta Vigo 2-0, with Luis Suarez opening the scoring at Balaidos, while Barca were about to face Getafe.

This is Cadiz’s first season in the top flight in 14 years and their first victory over Real Madrid in 29, yet they could have won by more.

Their reward is second place in the table, denied a place at the top by their opponents only on goal difference.

Isco, Luka Modric and Lucas Vazquez were the other three players to be hauled off by Zidane, who was reacting to an abject display from his side in the first half.

Eder Militao, Casemiro, Fede Valverde and Marco Asensio came on while a surprised-looking Toni Kroos also departed in the second period, replaced by Luka Jovic.

But Madrid’s performance hardly improved and by the end they had managed just two shots on target.

Cadiz could have been three up in the first quarter of an hour as Ramos prevented Alvaro Negredo’s finish from rolling in before Negredo created the opener.

His cushioned header put through Anthony Lozano, who skipped beyond Madrid’s sleepy defence and poked over the onrushing Thibaut Courtois.

Madrid might have equalised in the second half as Vinicius Junior headed wide of an open goal and Karim Benzema rattled the crossbar with a long-range shot.

But Cadiz were not overly troubled.

Earlier, Suarez partnered Diego Costa for the first time and scored as Atletico Madrid beat struggling Celta Vigo 2-0.

But the Suarez-Costa combination came to an early end as Costa was forced off injured in the second half.

– ‘Try to adapt’ -Sitting in the stands, Costa was seen with his face in his hands and he was also hobbling after the final whistle.

He is now likely to miss Atletico’s Champions League opener at Bayern Munich on Wednesday.

Atletico climb to fourth, two points behind Real Madrid and one ahead of Barcelona, after the win. Celta, meanwhile, have managed only one win from their first six games and sit 13th.

This was a much-needed victory for Atletico after back-to-back goalless draws had dampened enthusiasm following their 6-1 opening win against Granada.

Suarez made his debut that day, coming off the bench to score twice when Granada were already down and out, but his early strike shaped this game against Celta, until Yannick Carrasco headed in a second in injury-time.

Diego Simeone had kept Suarez and Costa apart by using one to substitute the other in each of Atletico’s first three matches but he paired them together from the start at Balaidos, with Joao Felix on the bench.

Costa predicted last month they would be handful together, saying “it will be good, one bites, the other one kicks.”

There were flickers of chemistry, with Suarez missing a chance for a second from the Costa pass that caused him to feel pain in his lower leg.

“He’s important because of his career and what he has done at Atleti,” said Suarez. “We try to adapt to each other despite never having played together before.”

Felix also impressed when he came on and will provide a more creative, if less combative, foil for Suarez in Costa’s absence.

After replacing the injured Costa after half-time, it was Felix’s curling shot that hit the bar, allowing Carrasco to nod in the rebound.

Suarez had earlier put Atletico in front in the sixth minute, sweeping in after 20-year-old left-back Manu Sanchez picked him out with a clever pull-back.

There was also a debut for Lucas Torreira, the Uruguayan signed on loan from Arsenal, who was energetic and tidy in central midfield, despite feeling some cramp late on.

Bale Left Out By Zidane For Man City Test

Gareth Bale, Zinedine Zidane

 

 

Gareth Bale has been left out of Real Madrid’s squad for their Champions League last 16-second leg against Manchester City on Friday.

Zinedine Zidane named 24 players on Wednesday for the trip to Manchester, where Madrid are aiming to overturn a 2-1 first-leg defeat to reach the quarter-finals.

Sergio Ramos will travel with the squad, Madrid confirmed, despite being suspended for the fixture.

Bale, 31, was not on the list, adding another low-point to a turbulent season for the Welshman, who has hardly featured for Madrid this year.

Despite Madrid storming to the La Liga title, Bale made only two appearances during the 11 games after La Liga resumed, one of them from the start.

He was pictured standing away from the team’s celebrations with Zidane after their league success was confirmed and had caused a stir by pretending to be asleep during Madrid’s game against Alaves.

Zidane’s decision to omit Bale completely from the squad to face City is another clear indication the Frenchman would prefer to be rid of Bale and his 18-million euro salary this summer.

But interested clubs are likely to be put off by the finances involved while Bale and his representatives insist he is happy to see out his Madrid contract, which expires in 2022.

Ramos will travel with the squad to England, despite being banned for the match after he was sent off towards the end of the first leg.

UEFA protocol will allow Madrid’s captain to enter the stadium and be in the dressing room with the players, but he cannot sit on the bench.

Ramos will also have to be tested along with the rest of the squad.

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 Defends Bale After Latest Injury Set-Back

 

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane defended Gareth Bale on Saturday after the Welshman picking up another injury and also said Eden Hazard is close to a return. 

Bale will miss Madrid’s La Liga game against Real Valladolid on Sunday after he sprained his ankle during Madrid’s Copa del Rey win over Unionistas de Salamanca on Wednesday. Bale had opened the scoring in a 3-1 victory.

It is his third injury this season. Bale spent just over a month out before Christmas with calf and thigh problems.

He missed Real Madrid’s Spanish Super Cup triumph in Saudi Arabia through illness earlier this month and the game against Unionistas was his first match back.

“When he is available, which is the most important thing, he is fine,” Zidane said in a press conference on Saturday.

“The pity is that the other day he hurt his ankle and he is now unavailable.

“He is as unhappy about it as anyone, he would like to be with us, to train and play, but it’s a small thing. I hope to see him back with us on Monday.”

Bale’s relationship with Zidane has been tense in the past and he came close to leaving Real Madrid last summer, before a move to China fell through.

The 30-year-old is not expected to be sold mid-season but a departure could suit everyone in the summer.

Asked if he was tired of defending Bale, Zidane said: “The other day he scored. I will always defend my players. They are my players, they train every day, they fight for each other.

“There is a good dynamic, all the players are desperate to wear the badge of Real Madrid. They all have their own history but I don’t see that as a bad thing. It is true Gareth has had some injuries and you can’t do anything about that.

“You can think what you want but when I am with him, what he wants is to be available, to be with the team.”

Bale’s recovery could coincide with a return for Hazard, who has also endured an injury-interrupted season since his move from Chelsea last summer.

The Belgian sustained a fracture in his foot in November but has begun light training, meaning he could feature in the derby against Atletico Madrid on February 1.

“I cannot say when he will be back but he has started to touch the ball again,” Zidane said. “His progress is good, he no longer feels pain. Starting Monday, he will start working individually with more ballwork.”

Hazard missed almost a month at the start of the season with a hamstring strain before injuring his foot on November 26 against Paris Saint-Germain.

Real Madrid are unbeaten in 18 games and sit second in La Liga, behind Barcelona on goal difference.

ta/pb

Zidane Confirms Bale’s Fitness For Copa Del Rey

 

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has said Gareth Bale is fit and ready to play against Unionistas de Salamanca on Wednesday in the Copa del Rey. 

Bale was left out of the squad for Madrid’s win over Sevilla on Saturday and Zidane said after the match he had picked up a knock.

The Welshman trained with his teammates last week, after also missing the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia through illness.

It means Bale has not played for Real Madrid since January 4, when he started their 3-0 win away Getafe. He has not scored for his club since September 1.

Asked why Bale and James Rodriguez, who has hardly featured in the last two months, have “disappeared”, Zidane said: “They haven’t disappeared. They were both injured the other day. They are both ready to play.”

Real Madrid play in the last 32 of the Copa del Rey against Unionistas de Salamanca, the fan-owned club launched in 2013 after UD Salamanca went out of business.

Unionistas, who now play in Spain’s third tier, have faced problems preparing for the tie given their stadium at Las Pistas del Helmantico can hold 3,000 spectators, with only one stand and insufficient lighting.

The pitch is surrounded by an athletics track.

“All the players have started playing on pitches like this, me as well,” said Zidane, when it was suggested the pitch could cause Real Madrid problems.

“We are prepared both mentally and in a sporting sense as well because we know where we are going to play and we know what to expect.

“Perhaps it was 10 or 15 years ago but we have all played on pitches like this, in difficult situations. It will not be a problem for us.”

Zidane is likely to rest key players, with a trip to Real Valladolid to come in La Liga on Sunday and the Madrid derby against Atletico scheduled for the following weekend.

AFP

‘Guardiola Best Coach In The World’

Manchester City’s Spanish manager Pep Guardiola takes his seat for the English League Cup quarter-final football match between Oxford United and Manchester City at the Kassam Stadium in Oxford, west of London, on December 18, 2019. OLLY GREENWOOD / AFP

 

Zinedine Zidane insisted Saturday his key aim this season was to win La Liga with Real Madrid, but admitted they faced a thrilling challenge trying to outwit Pep Guardiola and Manchester City, who they meet in the last 16 of the Champions League.

Zidane, who has won three Champions Leagues as a coach compared to Guardiola’s two, described the Catalan as “the best coach in the world”.

The two sides meet in Madrid on February 26 before heading to Manchester for the second leg on March 17.

“It’ll be fabulous to play against him (Guardiola),” said Zidane, speaking ahead of Real’s game against Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, their final Liga match ahead of the winter break.

“I respected him as a player and now as a coach. He’s the top coach in the world and has proved it throughout his career.”

READ ALSO: Zidane Dismisses Speculation Over Bale’s Future At Real Madrid

Guardiola coached Barcelona to the 2009 and 2011 Champions League titles. He went on to win plaudits at Bayern Munich and City with domestic championships but has failed to land a third Champions League title.

“So it’ll be a pleasure for me and a pleasure for all of us to come up against him and his team,” said Zidane.

Real are currently level with Barcelona on 36 points on top of la Liga after their 0-0 draw on Wednesday. Athletic Bilbao are seventh, nine points behind.

“Bilbao is another rival and a different proposition. We will play them with all our energy, it’s the last game of the year.

“The league is our priority and we will fight for it all the way,” he said.

 

AFP

Real Madrid Not Thinking About Clasico, Says Zidane

Real Madrid’s French coach Zinedine Zidane looks on before the UEFA Champions League Group A football match between Club Brugge and Real Madrid CF at the Jan Breydel Stadium in Bruges on December 11, 2019. JOHN THYS / AFP

 

Zinedine Zidane has brushed off suggestions Real Madrid could be distracted by the upcoming Clasico when they play in-form Valencia in La Liga on Sunday.

Madrid face a difficult game at Mestalla, just three days before taking on Barcelona at Camp Nou in a match that could decide who goes top of the table.

But Zidane’s team cannot afford to underestimate Valencia, who have registered three consecutive victories, including one away at Ajax on Tuesday that secured qualification for the Champions League last 16 as group winners.

Valencia sit eighth, while Barcelona and Madrid are level on points in first and second respectively.

Asked about the Clasico, Zidane said in a press conference on Saturday: “I’m not thinking about that at all and I include everyone who works here at the club in that.

“Our only concern is tomorrow’s game. The rest may be close but at the same time it’s far away. Tomorrow’s game has all my energy and about Wednesday, I’m not interested.”

After Barcelona, Real Madrid play at home to Athletic Bilbao, to complete a tough week before La Liga’s Christmas break.

Zidane admits it will be “difficult not to rotate” in the three fixtures and it remains to be seen whether Gareth Bale is given some minutes against Valencia, after he was left on the bench against Club Brugge on Wednesday.

Bale has just recovered from a thigh injury sustained earlier this month. “The other day Gareth didn’t play but he is here and I am counting on him,” Zidane said. “The important thing is he is available and ready.”

Zidane also has a dilemna over whether to select Casemiro against Valencia, given the Brazilian will be suspended for the game against Barca if he picks up a yellow card.

Madrid are short of other options in defensive midfield.

“I have to pick a starting line-up thinking only about tomorrow’s game – if I think about Wednesday, that would be a mistake,” said Zidane.

“I always talk with the players because I’m interested in the feelings they all have. And with Casemiro, it’s the same. We know his importance and what he gives to the team.”

Ferland Mendy is banned against Valencia and Marcelo is out with a calf injury, meaning Nacho Fernandez or Eder Militao are likely to fill in at left-back.

James Rodriguez trained alone on Saturday as he continues his recovery from a knee problem and will not be ready this weekend. Eden Hazard (ankle), Lucas Vazquez (toe) and Marco Asensio (cruciate ligament) are all out.

AFP