Real Madrid are reportedly resigned to selling James Rodriguez for a cut-price fee this summer, opening the door to Arsenal, Everton, Manchester United and Wolves to make their moves.
Rodriguez has made just one league appearance since October for Los Blancos after struggling to overcome an injury-ravaged start to the season. His start against Real Sociedad last month was his sole post-lockdown appearance, and he has been left out of the four matches since, with Madrid locking down top spot in La Liga without him.
The Colombian was close to joining Atlético Madrid in the summer but a move failed to come to fruition, and he has now entered the final year of his contract – meaning this summer will be Real’s last chance to earn a fee for the player who turns 29 next week.
Conveniently enough, according to Marca, there is a queue forming for his signature. The story goes that, in recognition of how difficult it will be to sell him, Real have virtually halved their asking price since last summer, and will now accept something in the region of €20-25m for his services.
Madrid see that as a ‘giveaway’ for a player of his abilities, but their hand has been forced, and a quartet of Premier League clubs are touted to take advantage.
Marca lead with Everton, whose manager Carlo Ancelotti attempted to take him to Napoli last summer, saying they are his ‘maximum supporter.’
Not far behind, however, it’s reported that Arsenal, United and Wolves will all consider offers at such a reduced asking price, all clubs well aware that Madrid see no future for the player.
Atletico are mentioned as another potential option, but it’s believed that Zinedine Zidane’s side would prefer not to sell to their city rivals.
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Real Madrid extended their lead at the top of La Liga to seven points on Sunday afternoon with a 1-0 win over Athletic Club in Bilbao.
An entertaining opening period saw the hosts impress. They were able to disrupt the visitors’ build-up high up the pitch, and also ensured Real struggled to penetrate when they fell into their settled shape. Iñaki s, meanwhile, provided a serious threat in transition but was unable to make the most of several swift breaks.
Nevertheless, the chance of the half fell to Zinedine Zidane’s side as Karim Benzema glanced his point-blank header wide in stoppage time after some tremendous wing play from Marco Asensio – starting his first La Liga game in 14 months – to fashion the opening.
Chances were few and far between at the start the second period, before Los Blancos started to get a foothold in proceedings just after the hour mark. Their upturn in performance saw them rewarded with a penalty after Dani Garcia trod on the foot of a determined Marcelo before the Brazilian could latch on to Asensio’s pass, allowing Sergio Ramos to score his tenth (!) league goal of the season from the spot.
Athletic offered little going forward after going behind, as Real’s imperious backline shut them out at relative ease in the 20 minutes that remained following the opener to hold on to a huge 1-0 victory.
Starting XI: Simon (6); Capa (6), Yeray (6), Martinez (9), Yuri (5); Lopez (7), D. Garcia (6); Muniain (7), R. Garcia (7), Cordoba (5); s (5).
This, simply put, was a gargantuan victory for Real Madrid, and the sort of win we’ve grown accustomed to seeing following the restart.
They just get it done.
While it was VAR at Anoeta, Benzema’s genius at Espanyol and Dani Carvajal’s industry against Getafe, on this occasion it was the determination of Marcelo to win Real a penalty which ultimately proved the difference between the two sides.
Athletic made it tough for the visitors throughout as they defended the box expertly, were compact in their 4-2-3-1 and offered an obvious threat on the counter with the craftiness of Iker Muniain and pace of s.
Zidane’s men defended soundly as usual though, and although they looked devoid of ideas going forward in the first half, a more structured and energetic showing in the second ensured they earned the one moment they needed to secure victory.
The imperious form of Raphael Varane and Ramos this term has meant Eder Militao has struggled for minutes in his debut season at Madrid, with the majority of his game time coming in a full-back role this term.
Varane’s neck injury, however, offered Militao the chance to shine in Bilbao and the former Porto man couldn’t have done much more to impress Zidane.
When Athletic found their chief transitional threat s in behind, Militao was the man to sweep things up, utilising his speed and nous in one-on-one situations to shut out the jet-heeled Spaniard.
He showed his composure in possession in the first phase although he didn’t offer much progression, while also displaying his dominant aerial ability throughout. Overall, it was the sort of showing that would suggest Militao could be the man to partner Varane in a post-Ramos world.
Real Madrid are back in action on Friday night as they host Deportivo Alaves amid their title charge, before visiting Granada the following Monday.
Athletic, meanwhile, take on Sevilla in Bilbao on Thursday night ahead of their trip to Levante next weekend.
Real Madrid have shown that they really mean business since play got back underway.
Indeed, Los Blancos have wasted no time in getting into their stride since the restart, winning all six games. Zinedine Zidane’s men have bagged 12 goals during this time, while they have conceded just the twice. In fact, they have kept clean sheets in their last three matches.
Even in games when Real haven’t exactly looked at their best since the resumption of play, such as last time out against Getafe, they have found a way to win.
That is what championship-winning teams do.
But Los Blancos’ next clash will be another fierce test of their title credentials as they travel to take on Athletic Club on Sunday. Not only have Athletic proven to be a very tough opponent, especially at home, Zinedine Zidane will be without two key players.
Raphael Varane and Eden Hazard will both miss Sunday’s game due to injury. Varane was forced off with a head injury during Los Blancos’ last game against Getafe, with Eder Militao coming on to replace him. Hazard, meanwhile, was thought to have been rested for the clash with Getafe, after being left out of the squad altogether, but Zidane recently explained that the Belgium international has been suffering with various niggling injuries.
The winger will not be available for selection against Athletic Club, but Zidane has admitted that he hopes to have him back before the end of the season.
Indeed, since play got back underway, Hazard has looked much more like his former self, contributing two assists in his four appearances. Overall, he has looked sharp, using his dazzling feet and skill to skip away from defenders and cause danger.
As for Varane, his importance to the Real Madrid team cannot be understated. The World Cup winner remains a criminally underrated footballer, with his composure, speed and ability to read the game allowing him to constantly sniff out danger. Varane has formed a stellar partnership at the back with Sergio Ramos, providing the foundations from which Zidane has been able to build upon.
As a result, the loss of both players will come as a major blow to Zidane – but it provides an opportunity for other squad members to step up and play a key role in taking another step towards the league title.
Militao will come into the side at the back to partner Ramos, and he will have a point to prove. The Brazilian replaced Varane after he came off in the last game and while he initially looked calm and composed, he struggled in the latter stages of the game.
It will be up to Ramos and those around Militao to provide him with the confidence he needs to settle and perform his duties to the best of his ability. Picking up all three points against Athletic Club will be crucial, but Real have shown time and time again this season that it is their defensive solidity which has provided them with the right platform they need to go on and claim all three points.
In attack, Isco and Vinicius Junior struggled to get involved against Getafe, despite the fact the hosts dominated possession. Los Blancos were missing Hazard’s ability to create a yard of space for himself and either supply a fellow forward or go for goal himself – but Real found a way to win.
It, of course, isn’t ideal for Zidane, but all title-winning teams are required to use their squad depth throughout a season. And the Frenchman will be looking to the likes of Rodrygo, Isco and Vinicius to step up and deliver in what is expected to be a very tough game against Athletic Club.
This is a team who have beaten Barcelona at home this season, while they have also held Atletico Madrid at their ground. They come into the game in good form as well and will be looking to pick up a positive result as they look to finish the 2019/20 season strongly.
But Real Madrid have more than enough quality to pick up all three points. In the latest – and perhaps the fiercest – test of their title credentials, Zidane’s men will have to handle the pressure, the opposition as well as the loss of two star players, if they wish to move seven points clear at the top ahead of Barcelona’s match.
Real Madrid have hardly put a foot wrong since play got back underway in La Liga.
Los Blancos have not dropped any points since the restart, and this has seen them replace rivals Barcelona at the top of the table – where they now sit four points clear. They also come into Sunday’s clash with Athletic Club having managed to keep clean sheets in each of their last three games.
The importance of Sunday’s game to Real’s season cannot be understated, with Zinedine Zidane’s men having the opportunity to move seven points clear at the top before Barcelona play later on Sunday.
We at 90min take a look at who should start for Los Blancos…
Thibaut Courtois (GK) – Thibaut Courtois is enjoying a very impressive 2019/20 campaign, having already managed to keep 16 league clean sheets – three of which have come in his side’s last three games. Marshalling his backline while also producing flying saves to deny opponents, Courtois has once again entered the discussion of who is the best goalkeeper in the world.
Dani Carvajal (RB) – Dani Carvajal is undoubtedly Real’s first choice right-back, and his work rate will be crucial to his side against Athletic. Zidane will be looking to Carvajal to keep Athletic’s forwards quiet, while also getting forward to support the attack and provide the width.
Eder Militao (CB) – With Raphael Varane ruled out of Sunday’s game after suffering an injury in Real’s last game, Zidane will turn to Eder Militao. It will be a chance for the Brazilian defender to prove his worth and show that he has what it takes to be a starting defender for Real Madrid in the years to come.
Sergio Ramos (CB) – Love him or hate him, Sergio Ramos is continuing to perform at the highest level. The captain leads by example, both in attack and defence, with his winner from the penalty spot against Getafe his 11th goal of the season. Ramos will be hoping to lead his side to another three points as they look to take another step closer to the league title.
Ferland Mendy (LB) – Ferland Mendy has often been selected by Zidane in the ‘bigger’ matches, with the left-back deemed to be more defensively resolute than Marcelo.
Casemiro (CDM) – Casemiro remains one of the most underrated footballers in world football, but his importance to this Real side cannot be ignored. The Brazilian does the so-called dirty work in the team, but his game involves so much more than just breaking up play, as he links play expertly as well. A vital member of this Real team.
Toni Kroos (CM) – Toni Kroos has played the full 90 minutes in all but one of his side’s six games since play got back underway, and we can expect to see the German start again on Sunday. His vision and stunning range of passing make him a key creator for Real, and Zidane will be looking to him to dictate the game once again.
Fede Valverde (CM) – Energy, hunger and desire, while also being equally capable defensively as he is offensively, Fede Valverde has a very bright career ahead of him. The midfielder is expected to come in for Luka Modric as Zidane looks to add greater solidity and energy in the centre of the park.
Isco (RW) – Isco really struggled to get into the game against Getafe before being taken off just after the hour mark. But, with Valverde in midfield, he is expected to retain his place on the right wing as Zidane will be looking to him to act as the link between the midfield and the attack, picking up pockets of space to create danger.
Rodrygo (LW) – Vinicius Junior was the man chosen to replace Eden Hazard in the starting lineup last time out, but he wasn’t able to impact the game as much as he would have liked. Instead, Rodrygo will be given his chance from the start this time around. Zidane has praised his development and growth, while his eye for goal further makes him a nightmare to play against.
Karim Benzema (ST) – Karim Benzema is enjoying a fine season, with 22 goals and ten assists to his name so far in 2019/20. The striker’s finishing has been ruthless, but it is his hold up play and work rate which continue to be overlooked and under-appreciated by so many. A world class centre-forward.
Real Madrid travel to take on Athletic Club on Sunday looking to increase their lead to seven points at the top of La Liga, ahead of Barcelona’s clash with Villarreal.
Zinedine Zidane couldn’t have hoped for a better start since play resumed, with his men picking up wins in each of their six games since the restart. This fine form has seen Los Blancos climb above rivals Barcelona to the top of the table, where they now sit four points clear.
Athletic Club, meanwhile, come into the game in good form, having won their last two games. They currently find themselves sat in eighth place in the table, just four points behind sixth-placed Getafe.
Here’s 90min‘s preview of Sunday’s game…
When Is Kick Off? Sunday 5 July What Time Is Kick Off? 13:00 (BST) Where Is it Played? San Mamés Stadium TV Channel/Live Stream? LaLigaTV (UK), FuboTV (US) Referee? José Luis González González
Athletic Club come into Sunday’s clash with a nearly fully fit squad. Bernat is out due to a hip injury, but other than that, the hosts will be at full strength and there aren’t expected to be many surprises to their starting lineup.
Real Madrid will be without defender Raphael Varane after he was forced off against Getafe last time out with a head injury, boss Zidane has confirmed. As a result, Eder Militao will come into the side to replace him.
Eden Hazard missed Real’s last game, and Zidane has confirmed that he has been struggling with little niggles. While refusing to be drawn into going into too much detail, he did explain that he hopes to see him again before the end of the season.
Luka Jovic, meanwhile, also returned to the bench last time out after overcoming his injury struggles. Elsewhere, Fede Valverde may well come back into the team against Athletic.
Athletic Club come into the game in good form, having won their last two league matches – against Valencia and Mallorca. In fact, since the restart, they have lost just one of their games, a narrow 1-0 defeat to Barcelona.
Most recently, they were impressive as they overcame Valencia 2-0 away from home, with Raul Garcia grabbing both goals. As a result, confidence will be high in the Athletic squad and they will be hoping to continue their good form with a positive result against the league leaders.
Real, however, will not be an easy team to beat as they come into the game in very good form. They are yet to drop points since the restart, while they have also kept clean sheets in their last three games.
Last time out, Zidane’s men picked up a 1-0 win over Getafe to move four points clear at the top of La Liga, with Sergio Ramos’ penalty proving the difference. With Los Blancos playing before Barcelona on Sunday, Zidane will be desperate to see his side pick up all three points in order to move seven points clear at the top – for the time being anyway.
Here’s how both sides have performed in their last five games.
Valencia 0-2 Athletic Club (01/07) Athletic Club 3-1 Mallorca (27/06) Barcelona 1-0 Athletic Club (23/06) Athletic Club 1-0 Real Betis (20/06) Eibar 2-2 Athletic Club (17/06)
Real Madrid 1-0 Getafe (02/07) Espanyol 0-1 Real Madrid (28/06) Real Madrid 2-0 Real Mallorca (24/06) Real Sociedad 1-2 Real Madrid (21/06) Real Madrid 3-0 Valencia (18/06)
On paper, it would appear as though Real Madrid will go on and claim all three points, despite Athletic’s recent displays.
And while we expect this to be the case, it will be a very tough contest for Zidane’s men. The Frenchman will be keen to stress the importance of picking up a win, not just because it will take them another step closer towards the title in terms of points, but also psychologically – with Barça playing later in the day.
Athletic are a tough opponent, especially at home, but expect Real to once again produce the required quality to just edge past their opponents.