Can Real Retain the Champions League?

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Cristiano Ronaldo tras el gol” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Jan S0L0

 

Real Madrid have surprisingly failed to dominate in their Champions League group, leaving Borussia Dortmund with the chance to progress into the latter stages of the tournament as group winners. Los Blancos’ shock 3-3 draw against Legia has left them trailing the German side by 2 points going into the crunch clash between the two heavyweights. Anything other than a win for Zinedine Zidane’s men would allow Thomas Tuchel’s exciting unit to top the charts and possibly face a kinder fixture in the first knockout round. Can the reigning champions battle through and fight to retain their title?

Repercussions of a Second-placed Finish

Real Madrid are still well-favoured to battle through to the latter stages of the competition whether they top Group F or not, because of their prowess in the tournament and the players they have at their disposal. Some have even argued that finishing top of the group this year may not be as imperative as it has tended to be in the past.

Research from oddschecker found that since 2003/04, teams that have qualified top of their groups have had a better ratio of progressing past the last 16. Arsenal are a prime case study of a side that tends to end their group in second and then fail to win their first knockout fixture –  The Gunners haven’t reached the quarterfinals since 2009/10. Arsene Wenger has been incredibly unlucky in recent years and has faced Barcelona and Bayern Munich twice apiece straight after the group stage, along with AC Milan and Monaco.

Real have the muscle to brush aside most opponents in Europe, but a draw against one of the other big guns would prove a sterner test.  Bayern have failed to win their group, and Porto are the other huge club to have fallen short of first place, meaning that if Real do come second they will not be drawn against one of these two powerhouses. They would also avoid Manchester City and possibly Arsenal. On the other side of the coin, a second place finish could mean that Zidane’s men would have to face Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Napoli or Paris Saint-Germain, with Leicester City and Monaco looking to be the kinder fixtures.

Regardless of whether Real finish their group in first or second, if they want to lift the trophy for a second successive year they will have to defeat some of these formidable opponents at some stage in the tournament. Therefore it shouldn’t really be cause for concern among fans if Los Blancos fail to leapfrog Dortmund.

Local Rivals Flying High

There is a strong chance that Real could once again face their fierce rivals Atletico in this year’s tournament. Diego Simeone’s men have crushed the opposition in Group D, and qualified as out-and-out winners. The Argentine has once again proven his tactical astuteness and tightened the defence, and Los Rojiblancos only conceded 1 goal after 5 games. Atletico have never won the Champions League but have come close under Simeone. They made the finals in 2013-14 and 2015-16, but were defeated by Real on both occasions.

Real’s dominance over Atletico in the pinnacle European tournament has stoked the flames of animosity between the two sides. Los Colchoneros have upset the La Liga hierarchy in recent years, and managed to pip both Barcelona and Real to the title in 2013-14. Aside from that win and the Spanish Supercup, The Galacticos have always had the upper hand in the capital. If Real end up second in their group and draw Atletico in the round of 16, it may give Simeone’s men the chance to gain the advantage.

It is fair to say that Real have a greater wealth of big-game experience which is why they have emerged victorious in both finals between the two teams. Zidane is likely to feel more worried at the prospect of facing Simeone over two legs where the Argentine has the opportunity to put in one of his famous resolute defensive displays and look to snatch a goal on the counterattack. Real thrashed Atletico 3-0 at the Vincente Calderon Stadium earlier in November, but Simeone is likely to learn from his mistakes in that early season La Liga fixture.

Zidane Desperate to Join the Elite

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Z5-zidane-Aix-en-Provence-1” (CC BY 2.0) by voyages provence

 

There is no doubt that Zidane was one of the best players in the world and a Real Madrid legend on the pitch. Now the 44-year-old seeks to join the elite managers in football and follow a similar path to Pep Guardiola at Barcelona.

When Guardiola was chosen as Barca boss in 2008 it was met with a similar scepticism as Zidane’s appointment last year. Both men were club heroes from their playing days but neither had fashioned a name for themselves in football management before taking up the position at their former clubs. Guardiola and Zidane quickly went on to silence doubters as the two former midfield icons both claimed the Champions League in their first seasons in charge of their respective clubs.

Zidane will be desperate to emulate or even outdo Guardiola’s ascension to the top in the world of football management. The Catalan won the Champions League for the second time in 2010-11 but failed to win two European trophies on the bounce. Zidane has the opportunity to beat the Manchester City boss in this respect.

In claiming the European Holy Grail for a second time, the Frenchman has the chance to join a highly exclusive club. Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Vincente Del Bosque, and Carlo Ancelotti are the only managers to have won Europe’s top tournament twice, with the Italian winning it three times.

Unstoppable Ronaldo

If Zidane wants to join this group of world-class managers then now might be the best chance he ever gets. The Real boss has a fully fit and functioning Cristiano Ronaldo at his disposal, a player who is flying high in all competitions this season and is seemingly destined to pick up his fourth Ballon d’Or in January.

The Euro 2016 winner scored a whopping 16 goals in last season’s campaign and was way ahead of Robert Lewandoski (9) and Luis Suarez (8). In fact, the Portuguese sharpshooter has won the golden boot in the competition for the last four seasons running. Ronaldo doesn’t look like hanging up his scoring boots anytime soon either, and bagged 2 goals and 4 assists after five group games in the current Champions League campaign.

Although Zidane and Real Madrid have started a little slower than usual this year, they still have what it takes to push forward in this competition until the bitter end – and make history. No matter how they finish the group or who they draw in the next round, Los Blancos have the muscle to go all the way again.

06

12 2016
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Can Real Madrid win the La Liga title next season?

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Santiago-Bernabeu1” (CC BY 2.0) by  Ungry Young Man 

Last season, Zinedine Zidane masterminded Real Madrid to a record eleventh European Cup triumph as they emerged victorious on penalties against city rivals Atletico. But now Los Blancos will turn their attention to the upcoming La Liga campaign as they look to break Barcelona’s grip on the Spanish title. Luis Enrique’s men have finished top of the tree in six of the last eight years but Zidane’s Real could pip Barca to the crown next season if they can maintain momentum throughout the summer.

Real will be looking to build on their recent Champions League success and Zidane will be quietly confident ahead of what could be a very positive year for his Madrid side. At the time of writing, Betway Bookmakers are offering 5/4 on Zidane’s men to win a 33rd league title next season – an achievement that would see Los Blancos extend their record as Spain’s most successful club. If nothing else, Real have the potential to challenge on multiple fronts in the 2016-17 campaign and it is certainly an exciting time to be a Madrid supporter.

The Spanish giants have been very quiet in the transfer window so far but it is only a matter of time before Florentino Perez and Zinedine Zidane start making moves. Los Blancos still haven’t given up on signing Juventus midfielder and Manchester United target Paul Pogba and the Frenchman would be the perfect addition to Real’s squad. The youngster is widely regarded as one of Europe’s top prospects and Madrid should do everything in their power to convince Pogba to move to the Bernabeu before the transfer window slams shut.

If Real manage to sign Pogba, they suddenly become favourites for the La Liga title – that’s how good the Frenchman is. Zidane’s side are still capable of winning the league without him but the Juve man would give them a completely new dimension in midfield. Just imagine Pogba lining up next to Luca Modric and Toni Kroos in midfield? It’s almost unfair. Real’s aspirations don’t lie purely on whether they sign the dominant Juventus star or not but he certainly couldn’t hinder their chances of pipping Barcelona to the crown.

Reports in the media suggest that Real have pulled out of the race to sign Pogba but you can never be too sure with Perez – he’s a wily old fox. Having said that, Real’s current crop of midfielders are competent footballers and they are all capable of playing a crucial role for Madrid as they hunt yet another major crown. There are plenty of emerging stars coming through the ranks and Zidane may look to trust his younger players – especially as he trained with a handful of them during his tenure with the Real Madrid B team.

But Zidane’s men cannot afford to slack in the Champions League. Madrid have an obvious affinity with the European Cup and their supporters view this competition above all others. Whilst it would be nice to finally get their hands back on the La Liga title and end Barcelona’s era of dominance, defending the Champions League crown has to remain the number one priority next season. The board and club hierarchy may think differently but for Real Madrid’s fans and entire ethos, European success is absolutely vital.

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El Real Madrid gana la Undécima Champio” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by  El Coleccionista de Instantes 

The La Liga title is within touching distance and Real are well set to challenge Barcelona once again but Los Blancos should be wary of slipping up in the Champions League. After all, a 12th European Cup triumph would almost certainly keep Madrid at the summit of world football…

19

07 2016
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'They told me I would die' – Cicinho reveals battle with alcoholism

The Brazilian was frank about his previous problems with addiction during an interview, stating that he almost lost his life after a heavy drinking session before recovering

Former Real Madrid full-back Cicinho has revealed how he was warned he was putting his life in danger due to excessive drinking.

The 36-year-old, who most recently played for Turkish club Sivasspor, was part of Madrid’s LaLiga title-winning side of 2006-07 before he joined Roma, but his career tailed off after an initially promising spell in the Italian capital.

Unsuccessful loan deals with Sao Paulo and Villarreal followed before he spent a year back in Brazil with Sport Recife, prior to his move to Turkey.

The defender has now described the extent of his problems with alcohol, telling ESPN Brasil: “I’m a guy who can’t sit and have one or two glasses. I have to drink until I fall over.


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“They said to me: ‘if you keep going with this life, you will die’. And I had an encounter with Jesus after 18 caipirinhas and 14 ‘long necks’ [of beer].”

Cicinho, who won the Confederations Cup with Brazil in 2005, went on to criticise the attitude of players within the national team following their disappointing performance at the Copa America Centenario, where they were knocked out in the group stage with just one win from three games.

“These days, we’re all concerned with selfies, with hair and all these things,” he said.

“There’s style all right, but the Brazilian team needs more attitude. You see players asking not to play in the Copa America. That shouldn’t be!”

19

07 2016
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Cristiano Ronaldo vows to come back stronger after knee injury

The Blancos forward was forced off during the first half of the Euro 2016 final which ultimately went in his team’s favour, and insisted his recovery was going well

Real Madrid and Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo has vowed to return bigger and better for the 2016-17 season after suffering a knee injury at the European Championships earlier in July.

A tearful Ronaldo was carried from the field after sustaining a knee problem in the first half of Portugal’s Euro 2016 triumph over host nation France in Paris.

Ronaldo suffered the injury following a crunching tackle from Dimitri Payet, with reports claiming the 31-year-old could miss Madrid’s start to the LaLiga season.

But Madrid’s all-time leading goalscorer took to Instagram to insist he is on the comeback trail.

 

 

A video posted by Cristiano Ronaldo (@cristiano) on

“Hi everyone! I just wanted to thank all my fans,” Ronaldo said in the video, having been seen on holiday with his left knee in a brace.

“I wanted to tell them that all is well and that I will come back much stronger.

“Thank you, long live Portugal!”

Ronaldo and a robust Payet collided early at the Stade de France, with the former’s knee bearing the brunt of the force.

After limping off the field, the three-time Ballon d’Or winner tried to continue playing but he was unsuccessful, though Portugal still managed to go on and win thanks to substitute Eder’s 109th-minute strike.

19

07 2016
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Madrid squad size makes James situation complicated – Zidane

The former Porto and Monaco playmaker has been rumoured to be leaving the Santiago Bernabeu, and his boss cannot guarantee he will take a first XI role next season

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane says the size of his squad makes the subject of James Rodriguez’s future “complicated”.

Rodriguez has been linked with a move away from the Santiago Bernabeu in recent weeks, even reportedly attracting the interest of ambitious Premier League outfit West Ham.

Zidane appears reluctant to allow the Colombia international to leave but concedes he may not be able to offer him regular first-team football.

“The idea with James is the same as with everyone else – he’s a Real Madrid player,” said Zidane.

“I’m not going to tell you that James is a starter. He’s an important player. We’ll see what happens this year, I have a big squad and it’s complicated.”

Madrid bolstered their attacking ranks by re-signing Alvaro Morata from Juventus last month, but Zidane was just as cautious about talking up the returning striker’s role in the team.


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“He [Morata] is one more player in the team,” he added. “He knows what Madrid is and we’re happy to see Alvaro with us.

“We’re going to have a much bigger squad and everyone will be important. He’ll be one more.”

Discussing Jese Rodriguez’s first-team prospects, Zidane explained: “Last year he [Jese] didn’t have many minutes.

“I like him, I like him a lot as a player. He can have minutes here, he knows his quality.”

Madrid begin their LaLiga season at Real Sociedad on August 21.

18

07 2016
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