Zinedine Zidane

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La Liga roundup: Barcelona fall to Levante; Real Madrid held to draw

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Barcelona’s collapse in Levante and Real Madrid draw at home highlight La Liga’s Saturday action.

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Levante 3-1 Barcelona

In seven minutes, Barcelona conceded three goals, all of which came in the second half and handed the league leaders a 3-1 loss against Levante.

The collapse was so palpable that manager Ernesto Valverde couldn’t avoid the fire. The 55-year-old was asked a handful of questions regarding his future with the club. As expected, he didn’t hesitate to defend his job security, stating that Saturday’s loss was like any other.

It wasn’t, though.

Very rare are the times that Barcelona blackouts for consecutive minutes in a game, which was certainly the case on Saturday.

Lionel Messi converted from 12 yards out in the 38th minute, putting the better team ahead minutes before the first half culminated. But just shortly after both sides settled for the final 45 minutes, Levante pounced on a halfhearted Barcelona.

The first, a composed, right-foot finish from Jose Campañi, opened the floodgates. Two minutes later, an old foe, ex-Real Madrid forward Borja Mayoral, put the home side ahead. Five minutes after the second fell, when an opportunistic Nemanja Radoja’s left-footed volley took a deflection from Sergio Busquets and into the back of the net.

With draws from Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, Barcelona remain atop of the league. But the pressure is on, and being tied with Real Madrid with 22 points after 11 games doesn’t help, that’s for sure.

The defending champions look to regain some confidence as they host Slavia Praha in Champions League play midweek, while Levante hope to carry their momentum to the Basque Country as they take on Athletic Bilbao.

Real Madrid 0-0 Real Betis

With the opportunity to surpass league leaders Barcelona, Real Madrid were held to a draw by Real Betis after several close calls (and some controversy).

A spectacular goal from Eden Hazard was called back by VAR. When Los Blancos turned to the officials for a suspicious handball from Zouhair Feddal, the appeal felt short.

Sergio Ramos, who ruled Saturday’s draw as “bittersweet,” had a clear shot on target, only for it to be blocked by Betis’ Joel Robles. More chances appeared for Zinedine Zidane, specifically Ferland Mendy in the dying minutes of the game. The Frenchman’s shot went just wide of Betis’ goal, however.

Tied with Barcelona and only a point ahead of archival Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid host Turkish giants Galatasaray midweek in Champions League competition. Betis, who are slowly but surely building back from a tough start, host Sevilla in the Seville derby.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Sevilla 1-1 Atletico Madrid

Espanyol 1-2 Valencia

Rumblings that Real Madrid has contact with Jose Mourinho

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Real Madrid sits second in the La Liga table and has only just lost its first league match of the season, but manager Zinedine Zidane is reportedly already on the hot seat.

With a loss to Mallorca this weekend adding to a pair of Champions League disappointments to start group stage play, Zidane’s status is in question. While there is nothing from the more concrete sources, Spanish tabloids have begun to whisper that the club has been in contact with former manager Jose Mourinho, as Florentino Perez has flirted multiple times with returning the Portuguese boss to the Spanish capital over the last 12 months.

El Churingito reports that with Zidane under pressure, Perez has reached out to Moruinho to judge his interest in the position. The two have a history, with Mourinho taking charge of the side from 2010-2013 before a mutual split after what Mourinho called “the worst [season] of my career.” The reports state that Mourinho has a great relationship with Perez which could convince him to return. Rumors of his return are not new, as two months ago another tabloid report claimed an eventual reunion was possible.

Mourinho has been out of the game since he left Manchester United in December, serving as a pundit in a number of different capacities. At Old Trafford, Mourinho was unable to help the Red Devils return to the glory days of Sir Alex Ferguson, plagued by negative tactics and inconsistent results.

This season, Madrid has fallen victim to poor defending and a lack of finishing. Luka Jovic has not enjoyed a flying start to his Madrid career, while Gareth Bale again has found himself injured. Raphael Varane was benched for the Mallorca match in favor of Eder Militao and Dani Carvajal was rested, but a seventh minute Lago Junior goal was enough to down the giants. Carvajal’s stand-in Alvaro Odriozola was sent off in the 74th minute, making things even more difficult. With the club failing to win either of its first two European matches against PSG and Club Brugge, the pressure has risen on Zidane despite his past successes with the club.

La Liga roundup: Real Madrid remain atop of La Liga (video)

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Real Madrid’s near-perfect victory over Granada highlights La Liga’s Saturday action.

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Real Madrid 4-2 Granada

Real Madrid’s 4-2 victory over a on-fire Granada had it all: a Karim Benzema goal, Eden Hazard‘s first La Liga goal, a Luka Modric rocket goal, a laudable response from the visitor’s, and a game-winning tap-in from James Rodriguez.

Surely, the result and now a clear lead in the league’s table is what Zinedine Zidane needs to continue carrying his campaign forward in the right direction. But that’s not only what the Frenchmen is getting.

As Saturday’s result showed, Real Madrid’s star-studded lineup, following an alarming start, is back on its two feet. Luka Modric – although it’s unlikely he’ll lift it again – is regaining the level that earned him the Ballon d’Or in 2018. Gareth Bale, who had his fair share of severe ups and downs with Zidane over the summer amid talks of a move to China, has regained his from – visible in his assist to Benzema two minutes into Saturday’s game.

Hazard, too, is showing signs of the assimilation process coming to an end. The Belgium scored his first La Liga goal, and offered a well-rounded performance to compliment such accomplishment. Off the bench, James continues to make the case that he won’t stop fighting for a starting spot anytime soon.

All in all, Real Madrid’s victory against a second-place Granda, who remain as the biggest surprise of the season, goes to show that the giant is awake and hungry.

Following international break, Zidane and company will travel to Mallorca, while Granada aims to get back into winning ways against Osasuna.

Valencia 2-1 Alaves 

Just days removed from being routed in at home in Champions League play, Valencia responded in valiant fashion.

 

Back at La Mestalla, Albert Celades and company put together their second consecutive win against a tough Alaves side.

Following an efficient counter-attack, Maxi Gomez broke deadlock with a calmly taken right-footed strike inside Alaves’ box 27 minutes in.

Nothing would separate either side for nearly 60 minutes, but then a foul on Daniel Parejo occurred inside the box. A penalty was award in favor of the home side. Of course, the captain capitalized from the spot, recording his fourth of the season.

Late in stoppage time, Alaves responded with one of their own. Former Arsenal man Lucas Perez pounced on a second chance  ball inside the box, but it was far from being enough to earn the visitors any points.

Unbeaten in their last four, Valencia move to the eighth spot ahead of their match against Atletico Madrid following international break. Alavaes, on the other hand, host Celta Vigo.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Osasuna 2-1 Villareal

Leganes 1-2 Levante

Zidane: ‘We have to remain calm’ about under-performing Hazard

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Eden Hazard‘s long journey to becoming a Real Madrid star is… still incomplete.

The longtime Chelsea playmaker, 28, is yet to find a goal or an assist while wearing the shirt of his new club, a run of 267 minutes without production.

[ MORE: Man Utd 1-1 Arsenal ]

It’s reasonable to think that will change on Tuesday with a UEFA Champions League visit from Club Brugge, as Real looks to shake the bad vibes from its tournament-opening 3-0 loss at injury-hit Paris Saint-Germain.

The advanced stats say Hazard has been below average not just to his standards, but period. Zinedine Zidane claims he is not worried about the Belgian.

From AS.com:

“I’m not going to give him any advice, or tell him how he should be. He’s a very important player for us and we want more from him but we have to remain calm. I’m not worried. He’ll succeed here because he’s a very good player and that isn’t going to change. If he shows it tomorrow then that’ll be great.”

For his part, Hazard says the slow start hasn’t been easy to handle, but his best form is coming.

“When I start to score and get some good performances, everything will be easier. I’m missing a goal or assist to start to turn things around,” he added.

It’s worth noting that Hazard’s Chelsea teams were mercurial, and Zidane is getting first-place results without the would-be Galactico contributing much. It could be a decent sign for Real, because the Premier League has seen the heights of Hazard at his best.

Gareth Bale admits he’s not happy at Real Madrid

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After nearly being sold to Chinese club Jiangsu Suning this summer before Real Madrid blocked the move at the last minute, Gareth Bale is playing again at the Spanish giants.

But that doesn’t mean he’s happy again. Far from it.

The 30-year-old admitted he’s excited to be a regular contributor again, but his mental state is still struggling.

“I’m very surprised because I think everyone knows where things were at in terms of me going,” Bale said about the transfer possibilities this summer, speaking to reporters while on duty with the Welsh national team. “In football anything is possible. It’s a crazy sport and it’s one of those things that happens that not many people can explain but one or two can.

“I wouldn’t say I’m playing happy but I’m playing now. I’m sure there’ll be plenty more turbulence. Internally we have spoken and things are what they are. I’m professional, I keep my head down.”

Real Madrid struggled last season en route to a third-place finish in La Liga and an exit from the Champions League in the Round of 16, and after a calf injury sidelined Bale for most of January, he returned to just a bench role for the remainder of the season. He admitted that was what drove him to seek an exit this past summer.

“I understand that I’m made more of a scapegoat than most, I take it with a pinch of salt even though maybe it’s not all fully fair,” Bale said. “Towards the end of last season was difficult, there is no denying that, not just for me but for the team. The situation has now changed, U-turned.”

This season, Bale has started all three of Real Madrid’s league matches thus far, scoring a brace in the recent 2-2 draw with Villareal. It’s more difficult to blame Bale for the early struggles this season given the defensive woes, with the club unable to keep a clean sheet through three matches.

Still, Bale stopped short of revealing any details of what happened this summer or the conversations he had with manager Zinedine Zidane, wanting to keep a professional relationship. “The things that happened will stay private with the club. If you want answers, maybe you need to ask Real Madrid. It’s between me and them, and we will have to come to some sort of conclusion. I know there was a lot of talk with everybody saying good, bad, whatever they wanted. I don’t listen to anyone because they don’t really know what they are on about. Most people don’t know and understand the situation. It didn’t impact on me too much. I had a great summer holiday and didn’t really think about it too much.”