Zinedine Zidane

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Zidane bristles when asked why he didn’t use Bale

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Zinedine Zidane bristled when asked why he did not use Gareth Bale on Sunday in what could’ve been the Welsh forward’s last home match for Real Madrid.

It’s worth noting that Real had just lost 2-0 to Real Betis at the Bernabeu, and Zidane couldn’t have been in a decent mood as the wayward side finished third on the table.

[ MORE: Kompany finds new/old club ]

The 29-year-old Bale did not play in Real’s final three matches of the season, was blanked in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals against Ajax, and has not scored since March. He finished the season with 14 goals and six assists in 42 appearances. From The Manchester Evening News:

“I have counted on other players in more in recent weeks, and if I had a fourth substitute today I would not have brought him on.

“I make these decisions when it is right to do so, and I must act in the best interests of the team at all times.”

Zidane would not commit to Bale being with Madrid for their preseason tour of the United States, saying “anything could happen” while insinuating that the player was part of Real’s past.

Real Madrid blanked at home to end season with whimper

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If you needed any convincing on the heart of Real Madrid, or at least the lack thereof, look no further than Sunday.

Usually giants of world football, Zinedine Zidane’s side was the second-best Real on the day in a 2-0 home loss to Real Betis.

[ MORE: Kompany signed, hired by Anderlecht ]

Former Madrid striker Jese Rodriguez scored, as did Loren Moron, as Betis and Madrid each took nine shots at the Bernabeu. For Jese, it was only his second goal of the season.

Betis will finish 10th in La Liga, while third-place Real Madrid will finish between 18 and 21 points behind league-winning Barcelona.

Zidane did not play Gareth Bale in what probably would have been his final appearance with Real. The club will look much different next season, as it did this year without Cristiano Ronaldo.

If combustible president Florentino Perez wasn’t going to spend big before Sunday — spoiler alert: he was — the home result served to pour gasoline on the fire underneath his chair.

Real is expected to bring Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Eintracht Frankfurt’s Luka Jovic to town this summer, and has been linked with approaches for Paul Pogba, Neymar, and

With Barcelona expected to land Antoine Griezmann, Perez’s men need to swing big. Barca beat Real 5-1 and 1-0 in league play, and dispatched Madrid in the Copa del Rey semifinals 4-1 on aggregate.

Zidane: Neymar, Hazard ‘compatible’ for Real Madrid

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Oh, Zizou, you rascal.

These comments will set the cat amongst the pigeons…

After Neymar stated in an interview that he would like to play with Eden Hazard and together they would “cause havoc” many believe that the duo could link up at Real Madrid this summer.

Asked about Neymar’s comments and if they could play together at Real, Zidane trod a fine line between backing up the comments and keeping his comments as general as he could.

“I think so. It is the same for many players because they know that this club is important,” Zidane said. “Many players, someday, want to play at this club. So it is normal. All the good players are compatible, always. They told me I would not be compatible with Youri Djorkaeff. Do you remember Djorkaeff? Absolute nonsense.”

Pushed further on what type of player he wants to add this summer as his second spell in charge of Real properly kicks off, Zidane wouldn’t name names.

“I am clear about what I want do and the profile of the players I want,” Zidane added. “I won’t be saying names but I have a clear idea of what I want to do and what I want to achieve.”

Pau Pogba, Kylian Mbappe, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane have all been linked with moves to Real this summer, and the profile of player they are able to attract hasn’t changed despite a struggle on the pitch this season for the squad of players who won the UEFA Champions League title in each of the past three seasons.

It is clear that this Real Madrid squad will be broken up this summer, but it is unclear how much money they have to spend on new players and where they want to strengthen. If the likes of Neymar and Hazard are to arrive, then it is likely Gareth Bale will be sold and it looks likely Zidane will retool his attack, one which hasn’t really looked the same since Cristiano Ronaldo left for Juventus last summer.

You could argue that in midfield they are ageing with Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, but their quality remains, and in defense a long-term replacement for Sergio Ramos is needed, while Thibaut Courtois could already be on borrowed time at Real with Keylor Navas performing well in recent weeks with Courtois out injured.

In truth, Zidane needs to do a lot of strengthening but it is clear with his profile and that of Real Madrid’s, he won’t have to do too much persuading to get players on board.

Valencia hands Madrid its first loss since Zidane’s return

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MADRID (AP) Valencia beat Real Madrid 2-1 in the Spanish league on Wednesday, handing Zinedine Zidane his first loss since returning as coach.

Goncalo Guedes and Ezequiel Garay scored in each half for Valencia at Mestalla Stadium, before Karim Benzema pulled one back for Madrid in second-half injury time.

[ MORE: Tottenham stadium a game changer ]

The result extended Valencia’s unbeaten streak to 12 league matches and moved the team to fifth place in the standings, one point behind Getafe in the final Champions League spot.

Valencia had a dismal start to the season but hasn’t lost in 17 consecutive matches in all competitions.

Madrid, now five points behind second-place Atletico Madrid, had beaten Celta Vigo and Huesca in its first two matches since re-hiring Zidane, who quit nine months ago after leading the club to three straight Champions League titles.

Atletico defeated Girona 2-0 at home on Tuesday to move within eight points of leader Barcelona, which scored a couple of late goals in a 4-4 draw at Villarreal. Barcelona hosts Atletico on Saturday.

Madrid controlled possession from the start but it was Valencia that threatened the most on counterattacks.

Guedes opened the scoring with a right-foot shot from inside the area in the 35th minute and Garay sealed the victory with a header in the 83rd for his second goal of the season, with the other coming in the team’s 1-1 home draw against Barcelona.

LATE TRIUMPH

Athletic Bilbao relinquished a two-goal lead but salvaged a 3-2 home victory with a penalty kick converted by Iker Muniain three minutes into injury time.

Levante evened the match with two second-half goals, including one in the 89th minute, but the hosts recovered after Muniain was fouled inside the area and scored from the spot.

It was the third win in a row for Athletic, which is eighth in the standings.

Levante, winless in six matches, stayed 15th.

OTHER RESULTS

Celta Vigo also relinquished a two-goal lead in its match at last-place Huesca, allowing the hosts to rally and take a 3-2 lead before netting an 81st-minute equalizer to salvage a point. A victory would have been enough to move Celta out of the relegation zone, but it ended one point from safety.

Second-to-last Rayo Vallecano, five points behind Celta and one point in front of Huesca, lost 2-1 at midtable Eibar.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Zidane praises Pogba with ‘not my player’ caveat

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Hide your dates, because Zinedine Zidane knows how to flirt.

The Real Madrid boss lavished praise on Manchester United’s Paul Pogba this week, matching the player’s earlier comments on the Spanish powers.

[ MORE: Celtic top Rangers ]

Zidane said that Pogba is a friend and that “few players” bring as much to a football match.

While we cannot confirm that he then began winking feverishly and point at the eye, this is what followed, via the BBC:

“But he is not my player, he is at Manchester,” Zidane said. “He has always said that, after Manchester, Madrid has always interested him. So when his experience at Manchester ends, why not come here to Madrid?”

Zidane may’ve said this with the winking while also texting his friend, “END YOUR ADVENTURE NOW, PAUL,” but we can neither confirm nor deny that detail of the story.