Real Madrid things learned as Benzema's form does little quell Icardi rumours

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Real Madrid required a late goal from substitute Gareth Bale on Wednesday to see off Al Jazira and make the Club World Cup’s final with a tight 2-1 triumph.

There were heroes all over the pitch on home soil for the Pride of Abu Dhabi, Brazilian forward Romarinho opening the scoring just before the break.

A number of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) decisions and the woodwork strived to deny the UEFA Champions League winners, who required efforts from Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale to advance from a memorable match.

Here, we dissect the winners and losers from Zayed Sport City

BALE’S BRILLIANCE HAS BEEN MISSED

What a luxury for Zidane to be able to turn to Bale.

The Wales superstar’s first touch was decisive, earning a hard-fought 2-1 win. Another calf injury suffered at the end of last month in the Copa del Rey against minnows Fuenlabrada had recently denied Los Blancos of such an influence.

If, and it is a big one, Bale can carry this momentum forward, it adds intrigue. Ronaldo and Benzema have only six La Liga goals between them this season, while the emerging Marco Asensio has scored just once in his last eight appearances.

Bale is a potentially potent addition to this mix.

Gareth Bale scoring his winner against Al Jazira

Gareth Bale scoring his winner against Al Jazira

KARIM’S FORM IS A CAR CRASH

A change of competition and – supposedly – weaker opposition did nothing to cure the Frenchman’s ails.

VAR, the woodwork and some comical finishing ensured Benzema remains on just five goals in 18 poor performances in 2017/18. His struggles even saw him roundly booed by the partisan crowd in Abu Dhabi.

Head coach Zinedine Zidane remained steadfast in his support, post-match. Yet rumours about Internazionale’s Mauro Icardi still flicker, while the summer sale of Alvaro Morata to Chelsea still seems an issue.

Goals against Gremio on Saturday must follow.

Real Madrid frontman Karim Benzema

Real Madrid frontman Karim Benzema

TEN CATE’S PLACE AS JAZIRA’S GREATES COACH IS ASSURED

Running the superstars of Madrid this close was a triumph for everyone associated with Jazira – but especially their leader, Henk ten Cate.

It is staggering to think how far he has led a club which is always so close to self-destruction. Somehow relegation threatened upon arrival in December 2015 despite a huge summer spend in Abel Braga’s miserable return, he would lead the Pride of Abu Dhabi to an epic penalty-shootout win against Al Ain in the President’s Cup.

Better would follow in a record-breaking charge to the Arabian Gulf League title – for just the second time in history – in 2016/17. Issues on and off the field have stained their defence, yet he was able to rouse a team devastated by injury to push the aristocratic Madrid all the way.

What a swansong to the ex-Barcelona and Chelsea assistant career.

Al-Jazira players celebrate with Henk ten Cate after victory over Urawa Red Diamonds

Al-Jazira players celebrate with Henk ten Cate after victory over Urawa Red Diamonds

MABKHOUT FLUFFS LINES ON BIGGEST STAGE

There was one note of caution to emerge from this match, however harsh.

Striker Ali Mabkhout has so long been the hero for Jazira, his solitary effort sending them through at the weekend against Urawa Red Diamonds and his record-breaking 33 goals helping secure last term’s top-flight title.

Yet, one negative emerged from this tie. Racing through on goal, he dallied for too long and Morocco midfielder Mbark Boussoufa ran offside to deny a potentially-decisive 2-0 lead.

Similar clutch moments have recently been missed on UAE duty, notably the terminal 1-1 draw at Thailand in World Cup 2018 qualifying.

For this usually nerveless finisher, an improvement – however demanding – is required.

Ali Mabkhout is a picture of focus against Madrid

Ali Mabkhout is a picture of focus against Madrid

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Man City things learned as Silva at his best is like watching death by a feather

Alex Rea 14/12/2017
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Manchester City set a new Premier League record of 15 consecutive wins with a 4-0 victory at bottom club Swansea.

City came into the contest averaging three goals per game and made sure that record was matched inside 52 minutes with a David Silva double and Kevin De Bruyne’s free-kick.

Sergio Aguero claimed the fourth five minutes from time with his 10th league goal of the season – one more than Swansea have managed.

Here, we look at three things learned from south Wales.

AGUERO IS BACK

At the start of the season it was either Sergio Aguero or Gabriel Jesus.

Then as a pair, they threatened to tear up the Premier League scoring 16 goals in the opening 13 games between them.

But the dynamic changed again as the two slumped to six goals in 10 games and neither was used as the spearhead with Raheem Sterling deployed as a false nine in the Manchester Derby.

Just as question marks around their form arose, though, Aguero took the opportunity to prove he’s back to his best.

While Jesus was unused substitute, the Argentine staked a claimed for a regular starting berth with a superb display against Swansea.

He threatened to score from the fifth minute and his goal, City’s fourth, was an archetypal Aguero finish.

City’s record scorer picked the ball up deep in Swansea territory, drove at the defence and shimmied his way into the box before drilling home.

It was an unerring finish, one that had been coming all game as he moved to double figures in the league this season.

Sergio Aguero celebrates after scoring City's fourth

Sergio Aguero celebrates after scoring City’s fourth

SILVA SERVICE

Swansea are bottom of the league for a reason but take that context out of the frame and Silva produced one of the finest midfield performances you will ever see.

Guardiola is blessed with glorious options in the middle but you will struggle to name a better duo than Kevin De Bruyne and Silva.

The Spaniard in particular is conducting proceedings on another level right now.

He’s scored four goals in three games and his manipulation of the space in midfield left as Swansea were pulled all over the pitch by City full-backs swarming into the middle was simply majestic.

It was like death by a feather watching Silva twist, turn and tyrannize.

A no-look pass followed by a delightful dink over the keeper for his second was sublime.

It’s not just what he gives City going forward which impresses most, though. Indeed, Silva’s work on the other side of the ball, to poke and prod it away from the opposition is a seriously underrated quality of Silva’s and that marriage of cunning and craft is why he’s one of the best in the Premier League right now.

His combination play with Raheem Sterling hallmarked this game and the pair are playing their best football under Guardiola – Silva now involved in 13 Premier League goals in 17 games this season (five goals, eight assists) which is already more than his total last season.

That’s what you call Silva service.

David Silva (C) lifts the ball over Lukasz Fabianski for his second

David Silva (C) lifts the ball over Lukasz Fabianski for his second

CITY MIGHT BE UNSTOPPABLE

City have scored 52 goals in the Premier League season, surpassing more than 12 Premier League side’s totals for last term.

They are on the title march and it seems no one can stop them.

With 15 straight wins for a new Premier League record, talk now turns to whether an invincible season can be achieved and on the basis of their first 17 games it’s up for serious consideration.

They are that good. Journalists in the Swansea press room talked about the blaring music from the away dressing room but nothing is creating more noise than what Guardiola’s side produce on the pitch.

They are stylishly dominant, lulling teams into a false sense of security with metronome passing before springing to life with a viciousness.

Even if sides are able to break their back line, Ederson is proving a world-class stopper with his stunning save past the hour a testament to his quality.

It’s genuinely hard to pick out a weaknesses and even injuries wouldn’t be enough to derail them such is the absurd strength in depth.

Who can stop them? At this point, no one.

Pep Guardiola celebrates with his players after full time

Pep Guardiola celebrates with his players after full time

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Proud Henk ten Cate says Al Jazira 'put UAE on the map'

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Al Jazira did their manager proud despite losing to Real Madrid.

Beaming with pride after pushing UEFA Champions League holders Real Madrid so hard, Al Jazira boss Henk ten Cate declared his charges had “put the UAE on the map” after this slender Club World Cup defeat.

The Arabian Gulf League leaders led for 53 inspirational minutes at Zayed Sports City after Brazilian forward Romarinho struck just before the break. Their astounding and utterly unexpected semi-final advantage could even have been doubled moments into the second half, only for the Video Assistant Referee – who had earlier denied the visiting superstars, Casemiro’s header being called off – to rule out Morocco midfielder Mbark Boussoufa’s effort for offside.

With a sense of inevitability, goals would follow from Portugal icon Cristiano Ronaldo and substitute Gareth Bale. Yet, the ex-Barcelona assistant could only beam when quizzed about a tie where Jazira went toe-to-toe with European football’s greatest side and did not blink.

“In football, a lot is possible,” Ten Cate said. “But miracles only happen once in a hundred years.

“I am really pleased with the performance of my team. Of course, they had to defend and there was space to attack.

“The difference was too big, but I can only be so proud of my team and the time we stayed in the game.

“Of course, we needed some luck and our goalkeeper [Khaseif] was so brilliant in the first half. I’m so sorry he got injured.

“This is what you need on rare occasions you get to play on a stage like this.

“Our tactics worked excellently. We had three or four really good chances.

“We knew they’d be open and I said before, we had two strikers who can score a goal [Romarinho and Ali Mabkhout].

“You looked in disbelief when we scored the second goal [through Boussoufa]. Time is going against you then.

“I am very proud of my team. We did an amazing job, a small club like we are.

“We put the UAE on the map. I think this is something special.”

VAR had a huge influence on proceedings, with much debate and delay especially being seen with Madrid’s disallowed goal, with confusion over whether Casemiro had pushed his defender, before the referee ultimately decided Karim Benzema was offside in the buildup.

Croatia midfielder Luka Modric admitted the system still left him “a little bit confused”.

He said: “Some of the people didn’t like what I said, but for me, I am a little bit confused. In some aspects, it can help this technology – the VAR.

“But today for example, you have to ask about the goal from Casemiro. They say it was offside as Karim interrupted one of the players but for me, it was not the case.

“I don’t really want to go into details and these polemics, because things happen as they happen.”

Madrid’s reward for victory is a place in Saturday’s final against Brazil’s Gremio at ZSC. Jazira will battle for third spot with Mexico’s Pachuca, earlier in the day.

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