Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane refuses to comment on potential bid for Paul Pogba

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Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane admits he admires Paul Pogba but refused to comment on a potential transfer bid for the Manchester United midfielder.

Pogba’s Old Trafford future appears increasingly uncertain and he has been repeatedly linked with a big-money summer switch to the Bernabeu.

Zidane has a major rebuilding job on his hands in the Spanish capital at the end of a torrid campaign in which the club have sacked two managers and currently sit 18 points adrift of champions Barcelona.

But the Frenchman, who was reappointed eight weeks ago after leaving last summer, would not be drawn on speculation linking him with a move for compatriot Pogba.

“I said that he’s a good player, but you could ask me about another player and I’d tell you the same thing,” said Zidane, according to Real‘s website.

“I said that he’s a good player and also that I know him. I’m not going to say any more because if things work out well, you’re excused, but if you say something daft…

“Pogba is a Manchester United player, he’s a very good one but he plays for Manchester United.

“We’ll see at the end of the season who goes and who stays. I didn’t say anything about us signing Pogba. I’m not going to say anything until things are done”.

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Real are destined to finish third in La Liga behind bitter foes Barca and city rivals Atletico Madrid, while their hopes of a fourth successive Champions League title were ended by Ajax a week before Zidane’s return.

Los Blancos have three fixtures remaining, starting with Sunday’s visit of Villarreal.

Zidane, whose team have taken just two points from their last four away games, is keen to return home and has urged his players to restore the pride of the Real fans as a difficult campaign draws to a close.

“We want to continue our winning run at the Bernabeu. We’ve got the chance to do just that and to show everyone that we’re keen to end the season strongly and put in good performances,” said Zidane.

“We enjoy playing at the Bernabeu and we’re going to try and make sure that the fans are proud of all of the players.

“We’ve had our struggles, the season has been a tough one and they’re aware of the fact. But we want to, at the very least, put in a good performance tomorrow.”

Zidane, who will once again be without injured trio Karim Benzema, Sergio Ramos and Alvaro Odriozola this weekend, has been in contact with former Real team-mate Iker Casillas.

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Goalkeeper Casillas, now playing for Porto, was taken to hospital this week after suffering a heart attack.

“The first thing I want to do is to send my support to Iker on the club’s behalf,” said Zidane.

“I sent him a message yesterday and he’s in good spirits and is doing better. We send him all of our strength.

“He has to be relaxed, recover properly and focus on resting. He looks to be in good spirits.”

Villarreal, in 14th place, can banish any lingering relegation fears in Madrid.

Head coach Javi Calleja told his club’s website: “Winning there would be ideal, especially so we would have a pay-off for all the hard work we’ve put in so we could confirm staying up.

“They’re one of the best teams in the world with players who’ve won everything and we know how difficult getting a positive result would be.

“It will be complicated, but we trust ourselves to play well to get the three points.”

Striker Carlos Bacca is an injury doubt for the visitors, while Toko Ekambi is suspended.

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Zidane may need to make tough calls on Real Madrid veterans as Modric and company flop against Rayo Vallecano

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Modric is one of several Madrid players whose futures are increasingly uncertain.

Real Madrid were stunned by La Liga‘s bottom side Rayo Vallecano on Sunday, losing to an Adrian Embarba penalty in their first defeat to their Madrid neighbours in 22 years.

It was the latest humiliation in a season full of them, as Madrid produced an abject display against a side that had lost 5-0 to Sevilla in midweek.

Here’s a look at the talking points as Zinedine Zidane ponders the ramifications of another shocking result.

ZIDANE NEEDS TO TAKE CALL ON MODRIC AND OTHER KEY PLAYERS

It’s hard to believe Luka Modric was voted the best player in the world less than a year ago. He looks a shadow of that player at the moment, and has done for the better part of this season. Modric gave the ball away seven times within the first half an hour, and never got better.

Either the fatigue of a season that saw him help Madrid win the Champions League and then a summer where he spearheaded Croatia’s unlikely run to the World Cup final, coupled with a short preseason, has led to Modric never finding his rhythm this season, or this is one of the more stunning declines in recent memory.

Modric isn’t the only culprit – Toni Kroos looks some ways short of his best, as do Raphael Varane and Gareth Bale. Zidane has to decide if some key players simply need rejuvenation, or to be moved on.

GRAND NIGHT FOR VALLECANO AMID RELEGATION SCRAP

Even after Sunday’s result Rayo are almost certainly heading down – they’re six points from safety with just three games to play. But though that’s a grim reality, on Sunday they’ll be singing and dancing in the streets of Vallecas for quite a while. This may not be a vintage Real Madrid but it’s not often that Rayo beat their storied neighbours.

And it’s not just that they won. They were genuinely the better side. Paco Jemez’s side had more shots and shots on target, and went nearly toe-to-toe with Madrid on possession – it ended 50.5% to 49.5% in Los Blancos’ favour.

There is glory in the classic backs-to-the-wall job as well, but Rayo outplayed the team that has won the last three Champions League titles.

If one of Madrid’s so-called lesser clubs are indeed going down, they’re heading there after one of the most famous nights in the club’s history.

MARIANO FAILS TO MAKE HIS CASE

What did Zidane learn about Mariano Diaz on Sunday?

Making his first start under the Frenchman, the successor to Cristiano Ronaldo’s No7 shirt put in a spirited display as lead striker Karim Benzema was given a rest.

There was plenty of passion and commitment, and a few moments of quality – the lobbed finish he produced in the first half was brilliant, though delivered from a clearly offside position and thus rightly chalked off. He also should have had an assist, teeing up an unmarked Bale in the box only for the Welshman to squander the opportunity.

But that was about it. The striker showed plenty of heart, but nothing to convince Zidane that he deserves a run in the side ahead of a summer in which a striker will be prioritised in the transfer window.

Mariano is, remember, the only striker Madrid bought last summer after losing Ronaldo to Juventus. It was meant to be a feted return for a talented player who had left Los Blancos for Lyon, starred, and was deemed ready for the step up. At the moment that judgment looks flawed.

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Luka Modric delivers another dud as Real Madrid slump to shock defeat against Rayo Vallecano

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Luka Modric looked short of his best.

Real Madrid slumped to a shock defeat against neighbours Rayo Vallecano as a first-half penalty from Adrian Embarba secured a famous victory from a side barely hanging on to a place in La Liga.

Rayo entered the game as the league’s bottom-placed team, but at times it was hard to see which side was in the top four and which team was battling against relegation as Madrid struggled to get anything going.

Here’s a look at how Zinedine Zidane’s players rated.

STARTING XI

Thibaut Courtois 7 – Made one excellent save, minutes after being beaten by Embarba’s penalty. The only Madrid player completely immune from criticism on Sunday.

Dani Carvajal 7 – A typically combative display, and at times he looked to lead Madrid forward purely by willpower. It wasn’t enough.

Raphael Varane 7 – Struggled at times against Rayo’s energetic front line, but couldn’t be faulted for the hosts’ goal and handled every other test during the game.

Jesus Vallejo 6 – Was victim of perhaps a harsh penalty call determined by VAR, but it could have been avoided with better defending.

Marcelo 6 – Not the best game from the Brazilian, who was suspect defensively and didn’t add enough in attack. Could easily have seen a second yellow late in the game.

Dani Ceballos 6 – Might consider it harsh that he, and not Modric or Kroos, was the first man taken off. Recycled possession well in midfield.

Toni Kroos 5 – More is expected of the German, who, facing one of the league’s worst defences, failed to help his side unlock the back-line and make Madrid’s possession count.

Luka Modric 4 – This is currently the reigning best player in the world. Modric didn’t play like it on Sunday, losing possession in an uncharacteristically sloppy display and having little impact going forward.

Marcos Llorente 6 – Like Ceballos, looked better than his senior and more celebrated colleagues in midfield.

Mariano Diaz 6 – A spirited performance, but one higher on effort than on quality. If this, his first start under Zidane, was an audition then it simply wasn’t enough.

Gareth Bale 5 – The Welshman looked Madrid’s most threatening player – but that was the bare minimum. In a rejigged lineup the responsibility was on Bale to be a game-changer, and he failed.

SUBSTITUTES

Brahim Diaz 6 – Came on to provide more attacking thrust for Madrid, but had little impact on the ball.

Isco 6 – Would have been entitled to wonder why he didn’t start, or come on as Zidane’s first substitute. A 15-minute cameo wasn’t enough to salvage this game for Madrid.

Lucas Vazquez N/A – Touched the ball three times after coming on, so he barely had the chance to do anything as Madrid chased a goal.

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