Forgotten men Bale, James and Isco step up even though Real Madrid are held to 1-1 draw

Matt Jones 24/08/2019
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Isco bristled with confidence against Valladolid.

Real Valladolid snatched a late point at the Santiago Bernabeu as the name of an old ghost returned to haunt Real Madrid in a 1-1 draw for Zinedine Zidane’s men.

Los Blancos suffered at the hands of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona during his four-year reign from 2008-12 and it was Sergi Guardiola who popped up minutes from time to earn the visitors a point after Karim Benzema had given the hosts an 82nd minute lead they barely deserved.

Here we rate the Real players.

REAL MADRID

Thibaut Courtois 6: Hardly troubled, called into action seriously in 75th minute when he beat away a drive from range. Unlucky as Guardiola’s shot snuck under him.

Dani Carvajal 6: Typically supported Real’s attacks down the right superbly. Skied one attempt when he got round the back of Valladolid and connected with Marcelo’s cross. Four key passes was joint second best.

Raphael Varane 6: Struggled to deal with Enes Unal’s clever movement and physicality and was at fault for equaliser as he failed to pick up Guardiola’s run. Greatest contribution was in attack, swinging in cross from which Benzema broke the deadlock.

Sergio Ramos 5: Fairly quiet afternoon for the veteran skipper, save for the normal histrionics. Led side with three interceptions. Was far from his best or worst.

Marcelo 5: You’re never going to get a defensive masterclass out of the marauding left-back, but veteran remains a potent attacking weapon in Real’s arsenal.

James Rodriguez 6: Bright before being withdrawn. Nodded a free header wide of goal though before curling Benzema’s lay-off just wide.

Casemiro 5: One thundering early challenge was typical of the midfield muscle man. Mopped up ahead of back four, led Real with four tackles.

Toni Kroos 6: Metronomic German received and distributed possession with minimum fuss. Five key passes led Real.

Gareth Bale 7: Lively, poking one effort just side but should have done better when he failed to connect with an early lofted pass yards out. Headed Marcelo cross inches wide.

Karim Benzema 7: Linked play, or tried to, neatly. Saw little sight of goal until he arrowed in a precise finish for the opening goal. Expert finish.

Isco 7: Another seemingly playing for his Bernabeu future. Yet cool and cutting, the playmaker operated as if the ball was attached to his foot. Jointly led Real with four key passes.

SUBS

Vinicius Junior 4: Flamboyant talent with a fabulous future ahead of him but endured a frustrating afternoon off the bench. Should have seen yellow for blatant dive.

Luka Jovic 6: Almost a dream entry for the Serb who rose to glance Bale’s cross just wide seconds after coming on.

Lucas Vazquez N/A: Thrown on at the death with no hope of making an impact.

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Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane and Romelu Lukaku among most overrated players

Alex Rea 21/08/2019
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Raphael Varane

Opinions in football are like strikes at goal: some are dead on, others are well wide of the mark.

By their very nature, there’s rarely any middle ground, it’s one or the other and personal bias can often drive which side of the divide people fall on.

Which bring us to today’s potentially divisive offering.

We’ve picked out five players who for a variety of reasons can be considered overrated. Now, this is not say they are not fundamentally good players, but there is some aspect related to each of the individuals which placed them in this category.

Transfer fees, media focus and fan idolisation are some of the factors considered when equated to what’s produced on the pitch.

After looking at underrated stars, here are five of the most overrated players in football right now.

RAPHAEL VARANE | REAL MADRID & FRANCE 

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If Raphael Varane ever saw this list, he would likely respond by pointing out his overflowing trophy cabinet.

Fair enough, the Real Madrid and France centre-back has indeed won 16 major trophies, which includes four Champions League successes, two La Liga crowns and of course a World Cup.

He might also point to his seminal work during France’s glorious triumph, which is also fair.

Varane is still overrated, though. Why? The 26-year-old is widely considered in the same tier as Virgil van Dijk and Kalidou Koulibaly, but he’s not even Real Madrid’s best centre-back.

Yes, Varane is an athletic phenom, blessed with searing pace, height and power, however, he was gifted brawn, not brain.

Varane consistently makes mistakes, both for club and country, with last season littered by mindless errors both with and without the ball.

He lacks the leadership qualities to carry a defence and were it not for Sergio Ramos alongside, his poor reading of the game would be found out more often.

MAURO ICARDI | INTER MILAN 

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Mauro Icardi could be the last living centre-forward on the planet and no club would touch him.

Obviously this has more to do with his wife/agent blurting out sensitive details about the Inter team on national TV every weekend, but irrespective of all the corrosive noise off the pitch, on it, the reality of Icardi is a far cry from the myth.

The Argentine has in the past been linked with Real Madrid and Juventus, and although his goalscoring record holds firm, aside from his predatory instincts, Icardi is pretty limited.

Modern centre-forwards have been rewired to perform multiple roles. Applauding a striker for just scoring goals is like celebrating a goalkeeper who is a ‘good shot-stopper’ – it’s something so necessary for the position it’s expected.

Yes, Icardi is lethal in front of goal, but his overall contribution and effort is largely really poor. Besides, his record is coated by penalties anyway.

According to Whoscored.com, Icardi has never reached 20 goals in a season from open play with 21 per cent of his total league tally for Inter arriving from the penalty spot.

ROMELU LUKAKU | INTER MILAN & BELGIUM 

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Romelu Lukaku’s feet are magnetic, only to the effect of repelling the ball away whenever it’s in his field like twin poles.

Even if the ball was made of a heavy metal, he’d still struggle to bring it under control. That might sound harsh, but the Belgian’s career is awash with examples of brutal first and even second touches.

Granted, once he’s firmly in possession, Lukaku can be absolutely savage in front of goal and his record speaks for itself with 113 Premier League strikes at just 26-years old.

But guaranteed goals do not necessarily equate to guaranteed acclaim. Indeed, the striker may have bloated his goal tally, but while at Manchester United the same can be said of his stomach.

His ballooning physique led to a sluggish and slow response on the pitch, so while he’s capable of brilliant moments, Lukaku is equally incredibly clumsy.

Yet despite all these drawbacks, he still cost Inter €80 million this summer.

DELE ALLI | TOTTENHAM & ENGLAND 

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Over hyping young homegrown players with technical ability is as much apart of the English culture as a cup of tea.

Dele Alli is a prime example. The 23-year-old has the talent to break into the very top tier of attacking midfielders, but to some, he’s already there.

While he is tactically intelligent, postionally flexible and does operate well within Tottenham’s system, it’s almost to Alli’s detriment that he’s good in several positions, as opposed to brilliant in one.

Alli has been deployed deep in midfield, as a No10 and wide in attack as he largely serves the team rather than the other way around.

So far in his career, he’s not been the player to build a side around, rather a component part, albeit a skillful and provoking element.

Again, it must be reiterated to say Alli’s overrated is not to say that he’s not supremely gifted. But considering Mauricio Pochettino described him last year as the world’s best young player, that assessment feels grossly exaggerated.

Ultimately, his career hasn’t kicked on the way it should have, though there is still plenty of time.

JAMES RODRIGUEZ | REAL MADRID & COLOMBIA 

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James Rodriguez is a peculiar case. To some the Colombian is criminally underrated, to others he’s enormously overrated.

There’s no real neutral ground and there isn’t here either.

The massive transfer fee is tied to the explanation because Rodriguez set Real Madrid back €75m in 2014, becoming then the fourth most expensive player ever.

But the World Cup half a decade ago remains the brightest billboard of his talent.

At Los Blancos, Rodriguez lurched from main maestro to the invisible man. His maddening inconsistency saw him spend most of his 20s on the bench with barely 30 appearances across his last two seasons before moving to Bayern Munich on loan.

There’s a mitigating factor in the death of pure No10s, which did kill his impact as more mobile and athletic playmakers were preferred to his aesthetic skillset.

However, he made just 13 league starts for Bayern last season and the Bundesliga giants passed on their option to buy.

The 28-year-old is back at Madrid and unwanted by Zinedine Zidane, but the most damning statistic for a player so widely acclaimed is that Rodriguez has started 20 or more league games once since leaving Monaco.

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Zinedine Zidane opens up on Gareth Bale performance and Real Madrid future

Tom Allnutt 18/08/2019
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Gareth Bale

Zinedine Zidane indicated Gareth Bale will stay at Real Madrid after the Welshman led the way in a 3-1 victory over Celta Vigo on Saturday.

Bale was back in the team and back in form at Balaidos, with Zidane’s eagerness to sell him this summer perhaps fresh in his mind as he teed up Karim Benzema’s opening goal.

After the match, Zidane said he believes Bale will now stay, with the Spanish transfer window closing on September 2.

“We have spoken about it two or three times before, that he is going stay,” Zidane said. “All the players we have now we are thinking will be here for the season.”

Celta saw a potential equaliser chalked off before half-time and Luka Modric was sent off 11 minutes after, only for a stunning 30-yard shot from Toni Kroos to put Madrid back in control.

By the time Lucas Vazquez added a delicious third, at the end of a silky passing move, it was possible to wonder where this Madrid have been for the last 12 months, particularly as this starting line-up included not a single summer signing.

“I am a satisfied customer,” said Zidane. “We played a complete match from the beginning. Not many teams will come here and win like this.”

Zidane had wanted Paul Pogba but it was Casemiro, Modric and Kroos in midfield, the same trio he picked for the Champions League final in 2018.

There was also Marcelo, arguably Madrid’s worst performer last term, and Bale.

Only last month Zidane said it would be “best for everyone” if Bale were sold but a move to China fell through and, remarkably, the 30-year-old now looks likely to be reintegrated.

“I salute the effort of all the players, the defensive work of Gareth and Vinicius (Junior) was very important,” added Zidane.

Eden Hazard, who injured his thigh in training on Friday, will certainly start when he is fit again and there will be much tougher opponents than Celta, who finished 17th last season and were dead and buried before Iker Losada delivered a late consolation.

But, after a poor pre-season, Zidane needed a positive opening and this one was made all the sweeter by Barcelona’s defeat by Athletic Bilbao on Friday night.

Celta spent much of the match feeling aggrieved, no more so than after Benzema scored after just 12 minutes.

The home team claimed a foul by Casemiro in the build up but Bale still had a lot to do, his dart one way and then the other freeing space for a drive towards the near post, where Benzema reacted fastest.

Early on, Bale was everywhere, blocking a cross in his own penalty area before being unleashed on the break, his rasping shot pushed away by Ruben Blanco.

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Celta also had their moments. Gabriel Fernandez’s lunge was just short at the back post. Brais Mendez tapped in after the impressive Denis Suarez robbed Alvaro Odriozola but Iago Aspas had strayed offside.

Benzema and Aspas both spurned chances soon after the restart before Modric was sent off for an innocuous late challenge on the heel of Suarez. Referee Javier Estrada consulted VAR and was left in no doubt.

Nestor Aruajo headed the ball straight at Thibaut Courtois but just as Madrid seemed about to give way, Kroos produced his thunderbolt from 30 yards, the ball cannoning down off the crossbar and in.

That knocked the stuffing out of Celta, who fell three down when a brilliant team move, involving Isco, Benzema and Marcelo, found Vazquez free at the back post.

Bale had been replaced by Isco, exchanging a hand slap with Zidane as he went, before Losada prodded home in injury-time.

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