Karim Benzema Is Thriving in Post-Lockdown La Liga

Karim Benzema, Casemiro
Karim Benzema has been in brilliant form since La Liga’s return in June | David Ramos/Getty Images

‘That’s football.’

After a typically Gallic shrug, that was what Karim Benzema offered as an explanation for his audacious – deep breath – no-look, backheel, nutmeg assist as Real Madrid limped to a 1-0 win at Espanyol.

In an otherwise unremarkable contest, Benzema’s spark of ingenuity lit up a rather lacklustre performance from the visitors.

As the Espanyol team breathed a collective sigh of relief having made it into the 45th-minute unscathed and with one or two questions asked of Madrid, Benzema delivered a fatal blow to the team propping up the La Liga table.

Bernardo looked to have shepherded the Frenchman towards the byline, with his back to play, only for Benzema to stab it through the defender’s open legs into the path of a grateful Casemiro, who snaffled up the chance.

Immediately, eyes across the continent sought out the similarly ridiculous backheel assist Guti delivered ten years ago, although that time Benzema was on the receiving end of the genius. Fittingly, Guti gave his seal of approval via Twitter shortly after the full-time whistle.

Real Madrid may not have blown away relegation-bound Espanyol, but that victory was enough for Los Blancos clad in mint green to open up a two-point gap at the summit of La Liga.

After Celta Vigo’s second half heroics ensured that Barcelona’s woes on the road continued, the title race that seemed so tight going into the suspension of play, has swung in favour of the team from the capital.

Since La Liga’s return in June, Real Madrid are the only side to have won each of their five post-lockdown matches thanks in no small part to the talismanic figure of Benzema. The 32-year-old has scored three goals in the five games since the restart, climbing above the legendary figure of Ferenc Puskás in Madrid’s all-time scoring charts in spectacular fashion.

Yet, 2020 hadn’t exactly been littered with stunning volleys and bamboozling backheels for Benzema before football’s enforced hiatus.

After an individually successful campaign in Real Madrid’s first post-Cristiano Ronaldo term last year, Benzema picked up from where he left off in 2019/20. By mid-December, Real’s number nine had scored 12 goals in 15 La Liga games along with five assists – only Lionel Messi could narrowly better this contribution. In fact, Benzema’s form was so good that a return from national team exile was seriously suggested – only for the French FA to swiftly dismiss that possibility.

But after a disappointing goalless clásico, Benzema found the net just twice more until the coronavirus pandemic halted football for three months. With his – and Real Madrid’s – nadir coming in the 2-1 Champions League defeat to Manchester City at the Santiago Bernabéu.

Karim Benzema, Gabriel JesusKarim Benzema, Gabriel Jesus
Benzema struggled to influence the game when Manchester City visited the Spanish capital | DeFodi Images/Getty Images

Despite playing the entire 90 minutes, Benzema mustered a single shot and had the fewest touches of any player who started the match – even Aymeric Laporte, who hobbled off after half an hour, had more of a feel of the ball than the Madrid forward.

Yet, since the restart he has been reinvigorated, looking sharp and clinical as everyone else shakes off the rust accumulated from an absence of competitive action.

Real’s manager Zinedine Zidane, no stranger to a touch of brilliance during his own days in a Madrid shirt, admitted after the Espanyol game that he has come to expect this standard from his compatriot.

Zidane went on to deliver an interesting take on the performance of footballers in their more senior years, declaring: “A player always improves and every year players get better and that’s exactly what’s happening to him. He’s at a very good age, up to 32-33 years old, if you look after yourself like he does, these are the best years for a footballer. He can still play a lot because he takes care of himself.”

FBL-ESP-LIGA-REAL MADRID-VALENCIAFBL-ESP-LIGA-REAL MADRID-VALENCIA
Zidane has played Benzema in more games than any other Real Madrid player this season | JAVIER SORIANO/Getty Images

The idea of an outfield player reaching their peak in their early 30s is not an altogether common one, but the Real Madrid hierarchy will be desperately hoping it applies to their latest galáctico, Eden Hazard. The 29-year-old has endured a debut campaign plagued by injury but when he has made it onto the field, he and Benzema have shown glimpses of a glorious partnership.

Hazard is at his impudent best when he has a skilful focal point to bounce one-touch passes off. At Chelsea he declared Olivier Giroud as ‘the best target man in the world’ and, according to Benzema himself, Hazard’s Real Madrid colleague is a Formula 1 car to the Chelsea man’s go-kart.

As the La Liga season hurtles towards its conclusion, Benzema has hit a rich vein of form at the perfect time to nudge Real Madrid ahead of their bitter title rivals. And according to Zidane, the Frenchman is set to get even better. A dangerous prospect for the unguarded legs of opposition defenders.

Let’

90min’s Definitive European Power Rankings: Week 27 – Grace & Frankie Special

Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane
Liverpool won their first Premier League title this past week | Pool/Getty Images

Following a week in which:

– Liverpool WON their first league title in three decades.

– Bayern Munich WON their first league title in 12 months.

– Arsenal WON their first game of football in a lifetime.

We, with a martini glass in one hand and an edible in the other, rank the current 15 best teams in Europe using quotes from Netflix OG classic ‘Grace and Frankie’.

Now Im Ready Lily Tomlin GIF by Grace and Frankie - Find & Share on GIPHY
Borussia Dortmund v TSG 1899 Hoffenheim - BundesligaBorussia Dortmund v TSG 1899 Hoffenheim - Bundesliga
BVB were thumped in their final game of the season | Martin Rose/Getty Images

“I played by all the rules! Why didn’t you tell me there weren’t any rules, it’s not fair!”

Life isn’t fair if you’re a Borussia Dortmund fan.

Your club has done everything by the book. It’s developed wonderkids, it’s made clever signings within a tight budget, it’s released cool hipster kits, and it’s even played expansive, attacking football.

And yet, BVB still are a million miles away from challenging Bayern Munich atop of the Bundesliga.

It’s not fair!

FBL-ENG-PR-CHELSEA-MAN CITYFBL-ENG-PR-CHELSEA-MAN CITY
Man City suffered a costly defeat at Stamford Bridge | PAUL CHILDS/Getty Images

“Your struggle is an inspiration to all of us. Here are your Gucci loafers.”

Poor little Manchester City.

On Wednesday night, the plucky little Citizens heartbreakingly slipped to a defeat a Stamford Bridge which saw them relinquish Premier League crown.

Wee critters.

So how will they bounce back from such a cruel fate? Well probably by signing £500m worth of new players.

Gerard MorenoGerard Moreno
Moreno scored a wonderful goal on Sunday | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

“You know, at my age I only have one speed: breakneck. Of course I don’t call it that, because it is a very real fear.”

Santi Cazorla only knows one speed at this point of his career: breakankle.

Of course he doesn’t call it that, because that is a very real fear, but the little Spanish midfielder’s sheer willingness to say ‘f–k it’ (two Grace and Frankie quotes in one entry, what a time to be alive) and try whatever idea – no matter how audacious – that pops into his head, is commendable.

This past weekend he did exactly that, by catching the whole Valencia defence off guard with a wonderfully weighted first-time volleyed pass to Gerard Moreno – who thankfully then smashed the ball into the top corner.

Saul NiguezSaul Niguez
Atleti have been in good form since the restart | DeFodi Images/Getty Images

“We are both formidable people who detest children.”

Atletico Madrid have been pretty formidable opponents since La Liga’s restart. Diego Simeone’s side made it four wins out of the last five in the league at the weekend with a 2-1 win over Alaves.

Yes, they scored more than one goal in a game; the second time they achieved that feat since the restart. Scary stuff.

Antonio ConteAntonio Conte
It’s been a stressful week for Conte | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

“This is not the energy I wanted to start my vision quest with.”

Inter, this the not the energy your fans wanted to start your hunt for the Scudetto with.

Not at all.

Instead of kickstarting their post-COVID title challenge with three wins over three teams that they really should be beating, Inter could only muster two very very hard fought wins and a draw. And that draw, bah gawd, that 3-3 draw at home to Sassuolo – a team coming off the back of a thumping at the hands of Atalanta – would’ve felt like a defeat.

Harry KaneHarry Kane
Kane scored a goal for Spurs | Julian Finney/Getty Images

“When you left, I thought my life was over. I can’t sleep in that big f—ing bed without him. But I did it. And now I love having that bed to myself, it’s fantastic, I sleep in a giant X! You know what this means? Im okay, and I’m going to be okay. Ta-da, congratulate me.”

When Mauricio Pochettino left, we thought Tottenham’s time as a top side was over. They couldn’t win a game without him. But then they did. And now, with Harry Kane and co. back fully fit, things are going rather well. They snatched and entertaining draw with Man Utd and then a comfortable win over West Ham! You know what that means? They’re okay, and they’re going to be okay.

Ta-da, congratulate them.

Adama TraoreAdama Traore
Traore has been on form in recent weeks | Sam Bagnall – AMA/Getty Images

“Sweet, muscular Jesus!”

Sweet, muscular Adama Traore!

The guy is unbelievable. As athletically gifted as anyone in the sport, and as talented on the ball as anyone in the Premier League, Traore has been the literal driving force behind Wolves’ exceptional recent form.

If they can keep hold of him they may, someday, be as good as my FM20 Wolves team – which recently won the league and cup double.

Jonas HofmannJonas Hofmann
Gladbach will be in the Champions League next season | Lars Baron/Getty Images

“I love spinning your bonkers ideas into gold.”

Marco Rose’s tactical setup is a bit bonkers, but it’s been turned into gold at Borussia Monchengladbach this season.

Against all odds, Gladbach have counter-attacked their way to Champions League qualification.

Gonzalo HiguainGonzalo Higuain
Higuain was back in the Juve team | Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

“I struggle to believe you.”

On paper, the 4-0 win over Lecce is quite an impressive one. You may say it’s a return to form.

On paper.

But (big, fat, stinking football cliche incoming) football isn’t played on paper.

If you watched Juve’s win over Lecce, you probably still have reservations over Maurizio Sarri’s side and know full well that, while they’re four points clear at the top of the table, it’s still all to play for in Serie A.

Odion IghaloOdion Ighalo
Ighalo was on target for Man Utd at the weekend | Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

“Everybody needs to toughen up and get me resurrected before I really lose my s–t!”

Are Man Utd back?

Nearrrrlllllyyyyyy.

If they win the FA Cup and sneak into the top four, they will definitely will be, if they don’t then their fans will definitely lose their s–t.

Ross Barkley, Tammy AbrahamRoss Barkley, Tammy Abraham
Chelsea beat Man City and Leicester in the space of a week | Pool/Getty Images

“I am young. My joints are supple.”

Ok, this Chelsea team is a lot better than we thought.

It’s so good in fact, that it’s already won a Premier League title…not for themselves…but still…it counts.

Benzema has been outstanding in recent weeksBenzema has been outstanding in recent weeks
Benzema has been outstanding in recent weeks | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

 “I don’t need anybody but me to tell me that I’m an artist.”

Karim Benzema doesn’t need anybody to tell him that he’s currently the best player in the world, but we at DEPR are going to tell him he is anyways.

Benzema, mate, you’re the best player in the world at the moment. Keep up the good work buddy.

Luis MurielLuis Muriel
Luis Muriel was the star of the show for Atalanta at the weekend | Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

“I’m just like you but with a better personality.”

Here’s some stats to sink your teeth into:

– Atalanta have scored 10 goals in their three games since the restart.
– They’ve scored 24 more goals than Juventus in Serie A this season.
– They’ve scored 3+ goals in 17 different games this season.
– They’ve won five games by a five-goal margin in 2019/20.

Atalanta are a lot like your favourite football but with a much, much, much better frontline.

Manuel NeuerManuel Neuer
Bayern won the league…again | Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

“I mean, there’s something to be said for being part of a tradition that’s been going on for thousands of years.”

Bayern Munich lifting the Meisterschale at the end of the Bundesliga season is basically tradition at this point.

They’ve won it in each of the last eight seasons, and it’ll take some semblance of a miracle for them not to do it again next year.

FBL-ENG-PR-LIVERPOOL-CRYSTAL PALACEFBL-ENG-PR-LIVERPOOL-CRYSTAL PALACE
Liverpool thumped Palace in midweek | PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

“Can we wrap this up? I want to go clubbing.”

Winning your first league title in 30 years AND moving to the top of 90min’s Definitive European Power Rankings in the space of a week?! Surely it doesn’t get any better than that.

Liverpool fans, it’s time to celebrate – IT’S TIME TO GO CLUBBING.

But in a responsible, socially distanced way.

Let’

Zinedine Zidane Reacts to Ridiculous Karim Benzema Backheel Assist

Karim Benzema
Karim Benzema pulled out a stunning backheel assist in Real Madrid’s win over Espanyol | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Who’d have thought that being out of Cristiano Ronaldo’s shadow would be so fun?

Real Madrid hitman Karim Benzema is loving every second of being his side’s talisman, after taking some time to grow into it last season. He has already bagged 22 goals in all competitions and added his tenth assist of the season with a sumptuous backheel pass for Casemiro against Espanyol.

Seriously, just look at that.

Channelling his inner Guti, Benzema barely even had the ball under control but still managed to flick the ball backwards, through the legs of a defender and perfectly into the path of the onrushing Casemiro to give the Brazilian a tap-in.

After his ludicrous volley against Valencia, the spectacular is becoming somewhat normal for Benzema, and manager Zinedine Zidane confessed (via the club’s official website) that he isn’t even surprised by the Frenchman’s heroics these days.

“Benzema is an impressive player and he proves it in every game,” the boss said. “He’s been here for 11 years and we all enjoy his quality.

“A player always improves and every year players get better and that’s exactly what’s happening to him. He’s at a very good age, up to 32-33 years old, if you look after yourself like he does, these are the best years for a footballer. He can still play a lot because he takes care of himself.

“I’m not surprised by what Karim does. He’s a quality player, he’s doing well and we’re enjoying his football. How long can he go on? I don’t know, he’ll decide that.”

The assist fired Real to a 1-0 win which gave Los Blancos a two-point lead at the top of the La Liga table. Some poor recent form has seen Barcelona drop behind, and their recent 2-2 draw with struggling Celta Vigo has given Real a major advantage in the title race.

Next up for Real is the visit of Getafe, in what has the potential to be a tricky affair. Six games stand between Zidane and yet another league title, and with Benzema defying all known logic to win games, Real will be confident of getting over the finish line first.

For more from ​Tom Gott, follow him on ​Twitter!

Let’

The Evolution of the Attacking Midfield Role

Dutch Eredivisie - FC Den Haag v Ajax
Ajax’s Johan Cruyff was the original No.10 | VI-Images/Getty Images

Vague, grey and undefinable, no position in the history of football has gone through as many identity shifts as the enigmatic No.10.

It’s a tactical anomaly, a liquid role in a sport historically rooted in tactical structure, changing its form like a chameleon depending on the needs of the game at the time. Compare Johan Cruyff or Diego Maradona with Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard and you’ll find few similarities, except that, at one point, all have defined what it means to be an attacking midfielder.

The common thread is one of creativity. Whether it be dropping into the hole to drag central defenders out of space or rampaging into the box with a late run to attack a cross, the function of the attacking midfielder has always been to make things happen in front of goal by whatever means necessary.

Steven GerrardSteven Gerrard
Steven Gerrard was one of England’s greatest attacking midfielders | Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Anyone lucky enough to watch Ajax, Barcelona or the Netherlands over the 1960s and 70s might point out that Cruyff was usually charged with leading the line, but while that might logically rule him out of contention as one of the great pioneering No.10s, it’s possible that the modern attacking midfielder would not exist without Cruyff first changing what it means to be a forward.

So revolutionary was Rinus Michels’ deployment of Cruyff as a forward who freely roamed the pitch, dropping into midfield or drifting wide depending solely on where he could get on the ball, that it instigated a tactical revolution that reached every corner of the game. As Ajax adapted their game to Cruyff, creating a fluid approach to football that saw every player but the goalkeeper move between positions, Total Football was born, and Catennacio – the predominant Italian system of the time – was a thing of the past.

With Cruyff, coaches began to see the benefits of deploying a player between midfield and attack. The options it provided in possession were endless, and the great teams of the years ahead were often defined by the players fielded ‘in the hole.’

Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Juventus all famously won European cups featuring wildly different iterations of the No.10; Liverpool’s Kevin Keegan was practically a second striker while Michel Platini of Juve and Ruud Gullit of Milan took far more nuanced approaches, but it was clear that the day of sweeper-oriented three-defender formations, and the traditional 4-4-2, were fading.

The teams who still played without any connecting player between midfield and attack, such as the previously dominant Inter and Real Madrid, embarked on long periods without substantial European glory, and it wouldn’t be until the rise of the modern 10 that they would return to their respective pedestals.

After the turn of the century, the attacking midfielder began to become more and more clearly outlined within tactical systems. 4-4-2 gave way to 4-2-3-1, a system built, for the first time on paper, around the technically proficient nucleus of midfield.

Now that the attacking midfielder was a role in itself rather than a central midfielder with instructions to attack or a striker tasked with dropping deep, it had an identity, and it became fashionable. Mesut Ozil of Real and Wesley Sneijder of Inter were suddenly the sexiest players in football,

Sneijder, in particular, was Cruyff re-defined, as the intrinsic Dutch association with the role continued into a new age. Possessing all the same subtlety, intelligence and creativity, he was deployed by José Mourinho behind Diego Milito and Samuel Eto’o to monstrous success as Inter reclaimed their crown as Europe’s dominant team. Over in the Premier League, meanwhile, Liverpool and Chelsea had crafted quintessentially English takes on the role, as Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard offered a more direct, physically imposing threat between the lines.

Now the role of the 10 was labelled, however, it became the thing to stop. The conundrum of how to protect defences against the creative geniuses who were taking over modern football was mulled over by the great footballing minds, and it was Pep Guardiola – setting up Barcelona with a contemporary take on Cruyff’s Total Football – who cracked it.

Josep GuardiolaJosep Guardiola
Guardiola’s Barcelona were one of the first teams to adapt to the rising tide of 10s | David Ramos/Getty Images

The solution was simple. Guardiola’s attacking midfielder dropped into a flat midfield three, which allowed one player to drop into the space usually earmarked for the likes of Sneijder and Ozil. This, when executed, nullified the threat, while leaving the defensive midfielder with four options – his midfield team-mates and his two central defenders – immediately open to him upon winning the ball.

The responsibilities previously attributed to the 10 in this system were shared. Andres Iniesta and Xavi were freed up to provide creativity high up the pitch, while Lionel Messi, in a circle back to the role Cruyff made famous, took on the function of a false 9, dropping into midfield to create the same logistical problems once tasked to your traditional attacking midfielder.

This was a system which twice got the better of Sir Alex Ferguson in Champions League finals, and resulted in the gradual phasing out of the clearly defined No.10 we see happening today.

In the history of football, dominance has always belonged to the team who can most creatively utilise the attacking midfielder. We’re seeing that even today, with Liverpool’s hybrid enigma Roberto Firmino the most effective modern example, but it’s a role which, by its nature, is constantly changing with the times.

For more from Robbie Copeland, follow him on Twitter!

Let’

Espanyol 0-1 Real Madrid: Casemiro Helps Los Blancos Establish Two-Point Lead in La Liga Title Race

Casemiro converted Karim Benzema's delicious backheel
Casemiro converted Karim Benzema’s delicious backheel | David Ramos/Getty Images

Real Madrid established a two-point lead over Barcelona in the La Liga title race by beating Espanyol on Sunday night, thanks to Casemiro’s composed finish.

Los Blancos were largely dominant in terms of possession and shots taken but left it until the 45th minute to take the lead, with midfielder Casemiro latching onto Karim Benzema’s brilliant backheel to fire the visitors in front.

Real were previously only ahead of Barcelona by virtue of their better head to head record, but La Blaugrana’s slip up on Saturday at Celta Vigo handed the Madrid side the chance to turn their lead into a more solid one.

The victory was Real’s 104th against Espanyol – they are the only club to have beaten a team 100 times in Spain’s top flight. The result means the Catalonian side remain rooted at the bottom of La Liga, ten points adrift of 17th-placed Celta Vigo with just six games remaining.

Zinedine Zidane made changes from the starting XI that beat Mallorca 2-0 in his side’s last outing, with Casemiro returning in midfield, while Gareth Bale dropped to the bench. Karim Benzema was joined up front by Eden Hazard and Isco on the flanks.

Zinedine ZidaneZinedine Zidane
Zinedine Zidane watching on in Barcelona | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Espanyol went close to opening the scoring early on as Raul de Tomas saw his effort blocked, before Casemiro took a shot from his own half, causing Diego Lopez to scamper back towards his own goal to keep it out.

The win means Real’s perfect post-lockdown record remains in tact, having previously beaten Eibar, Valencia, Real Sociedad and Mallorca.

Real are next in action on Thursday, when they host Getafe. They’ll be watching on keenly on Tuesday, however, hoping their city rivals Atletico can puncture Barça’s title charge at Wanda Metropolitano.

For more from Jude Summerfield, follow him on Twitter!

Let’

Zinedine Zidane Reveals When He Could Stop Coaching

Zinedine Zidane
Zinedine Zidane has opened up about the pressure management brings | Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane has warned that he does not envisage his future in management lasting for 20 more years.

The 1998 Ballon d’Or winner returned for his second spell as manager of Real Madrid in March 2019 after leading the club he once played for to three consecutive Champions League titles.

Zidane’s side are locked in a tight La Liga title race with perennial rivals Barcelona this season. However, in a press conference ahead of Real Madrid’s clash with Espanyol on Sunday, Zidane revealed the toll management has taken on him already after less than five years as a first-team coach.

Zinedine ZidaneZinedine Zidane
Zidane spent a season and a half as manager of Real Madrid’s B team before taking the top job in January 2016 | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

The legendary Frenchman explained, as quoted by Marca: “I was a better footballer than a coach. But there were better ones, although I’m happy with what I did, but with me it’s going to be like that.

“I’m not going to coach for 20 years; I don’t know how many [I will coach for]. I don’t plan anything, what encourages me is the day to day. Then I’ll do other things. In my head I’ve always been a footballer; I played 18 or 19 years and when they asked me if I was going to coach I said no. In the end I was, but it wears you down.

“I’m lucky to be able to be at this club and coach here, although I don’t like the word luck very much because in life you have to believe and enjoy yourself, until when I don’t care.

“But as far as players are concerned, I am lucky to be able to coach the best, because I am at the best club in the world. I am enjoying the matches and even more in the training sessions, because there it’s the best.”

However, Zidane did add that he remains happy in his current role.

Zinedine ZidaneZinedine Zidane
Zidane is closing in on his second La Liga title as manager of Real Madrid | Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

“No one should interpret what I say.

“The reality is that I’m at the best team in the world and I’m fine. I’m in it every day. Here, when I lose a game I am criticised, and that does not change anything. Now we’re winning, but we haven’t achieved anything. I tell the players to keep going, because it’s going to make a difference. We only focus on what we can control.

“My future is the least of my worries here.”

Zidane’s Los Blancos side can go two points clear at the top of La Liga if they beat Espanyol on Sunday night, following Barcelona’s 2-2 draw at Celta Vigo on Saturday.

Let’

Ajax Manager Confirms ‘Agreements’ Have Been Reached With Star Trio Over Transfers

Donny Van De Beek, Nicolas Tagliafico
Van de Beek could be on his way out of Ajax this summer | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Ajax manager Erik ten Hag has confirmed star players Donny van de Beek, Andre Onana and Nicolas Tagliafico could all leave the club in the next transfer window.

The youthful Champions League semi-finalist side of 2018/19 has already been split up following the departures of Matthijs de Ligt to Juventus, Frenkie de Jong to Barcelona and Hakim Ziyech to Chelsea, and a number of their remaining players have been linked with future exits.

Ten Hag has accepted Andre Onana could also depart this summerTen Hag has accepted Andre Onana could also depart this summer
Ten Hag has accepted Andre Onana could also depart this summer | ANP Sport/Getty Images

Speaking to Het Parool, the Ajax coach confessed that although the current financial crisis puts big departures in doubt this summer, he accepts the club may have no option but to sell if the right price is put forward.

He said: “The transfer market will start in August – the top leagues are now being played out, so the money flows are maintained.

“The market value of players will be slightly depressed, but not much. Based on their performance and ambition, a number of our players also want to make the move abroad.

Tagliafico is one of the most in demand left backs in Europe Tagliafico is one of the most in demand left backs in Europe
Tagliafico is one of the most in demand left backs in Europe | ANP Sport/Getty Images

“Agreements have been made with Andre Onana, Donny van de Beek and Nicolas Tagliafico, but it remains to be seen whether the market is indeed breaking loose. For Onana and Van de Beek, another year of Ajax could certainly be an option, for Tagliafico it is slightly different because of his age.”

Tagliafico, 27, has been linked with a move to Leicester in recent weeks as a possible replacement for Ben Chilwell, the number one target for Frank Lampard’s Chelsea. However, Stamford Bridge remains a heavily touted destination for the Argentina international.

Chelsea could swoop for Chilwell if Leicester can sign Tagliafico as a replacementChelsea could swoop for Chilwell if Leicester can sign Tagliafico as a replacement
Chelsea could swoop for Chilwell if Leicester can sign Tagliafico as a replacement | Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images

Playmaker Van de Beek has been linked with a move to Real Madrid for some time, but in recent weeks it has been reported that he would prefer a move to Manchester United, where game time would be more of a guarantee.

Stopper Onana has also been heavily linked with Chelsea as well as Barcelona and Paris Saint Germain this season.

Let’

The Best Future Destinations for Wolves Star Adama Traoré – Ranked

Adama Traore
Traoré has recorded four goals and nine assists in the Premier League this season | Marc Atkins/Getty Images

While all the talk has been about Liverpool’s capture of their first Premier League trophy, the real highlight of the league’s resumption has been the impressive form of Adama Traoré.

Who could have known that the man who could hardly cross a ball at both Aston Villa and Middlesbrough would emerge as the most frightening talent in English football?

The Wolverhampton Wanderers starlet has finally added some end product to his explosive speed and – alongside Raul Jiménez – has formed one of the most dynamic attacks in Europe.

Yet, like Jiménez, with great form comes great possibility, as every top club in Europe turns their attention to the former Barcelona youth product. Although a move this summer appears unlikely in a COVID-19 impacted window, it does not mean a move in the future is out the question.

Where does he fit in best, though? Here’s a breakdown.

Adama Traore, Jefferson Lerma, Adam SmithAdama Traore, Jefferson Lerma, Adam Smith
Traoré was in sensational form against Bournemouth on Wednesday | Marc Atkins/Getty Images

They may be no Barcelona, nor a Manchester City, but could the wide-man be best served staying where he is?

Under Nuno Espírito Santo, Wolves have become a real threat to the so-called ‘Big Six’, with Champions League qualification a real possibility this season – particularly if City’s European ban is upheld.

The 24-year-old is afforded almost a free role in Santo’s side, and can also drop in at right-wing back when required. It is his partnership with his Mexican team mate that is most impressive, and one that could really topple the dominance of England’s elite.

That being said, if Jiménez is tempted to a move away it may make Traoré follow suit, despite the ambitious project unfurling at Molineux.

Gareth BaleGareth Bale
The future of Gareth Bale continues to look uncertain | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

A former Barca man at Real Madrid, surely not?

Well it certainly wouldn’t be the first time, while Traoré himself has already admitted he would be tempted by the prospect.

With the turbulent relationship between Madrid and Gareth Bale continuing to rumble on, a potential exit for the Welshman may offer a space on the right wing.

Since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure the club have been looking for a genuine star – with Eden Hazard only just starting to hit form – and Traoré’s attributes could be a really hit with the Bernabeu faithful.

What may hold this move back is the abundance of attacking options already in the Spanish capital.

If the Spaniard is looking for any club to guarantee silverware, then it would appear that Liverpool is the best destination.

Jurgen Klopp’s side are the newly crowned league champions, and look set for a continued future of success.

While their forward line is already exceptional, there is perhaps a need to sign another attacking alternative who can play anywhere in attack – a trait Traoré would clearly offer.

However, Traoré needs game time, and unless one of the Reds famed front three leaves, maybe it’s best he looks elsewhere.

Maurizio SarriMaurizio Sarri
Maurizio Sarri looks set to guide Juventus to another Serie A title. | Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

Speaking of guaranteed trophies, Piemonte Calcio – sorry, Juventus – are within touching distance of a ninth successive Serie A title.

Yet, for all their dominance, it appears that their forward line needs a new spark; a fact heightened by Cristiano Ronaldo’s lukewarm showings since the restart.

With wide man Douglas Costa struggling for form and injuries, Traoré could be the man to fill the starting berth on the right flank. Just imagine the Wolves man tearing down the wing and floating a ball on to the head of Ronaldo…

It does not need a genius to see that Manchester United need – and want – a new right-sided player.

The club are desperate for the signature of Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho for next season, but he’ll be costing a heck of a lot of money.

While you’d still fancy United to land Sancho, if for whatever reason they fail in their pursuit – Traoré is looking like a quality alternative.

Friendly - "Napoli v FC Barcelona"Friendly - "Napoli v FC Barcelona"
Traoré made just two senior appearances for Barcelona | VI-Images/Getty Images

Right okay, they do already have Lionel Messi, but Traoré would no doubt be able to fit on the left, or even through the middle if required.

With Ousmane Dembélé nowhere to be seen and Antoine Griezmann making a poor start to his Barça career, the club are in dire need of some attacking reinforcement – and who better than someone who already knows the club.

The Catalan giants may not have the funds as readily available as some of their competitors, but Traoré would be worth every penny, particularly as they begin to plan for a post-Messi world.

Pep GuardiolaPep Guardiola
Pep Guardiola will be seeking revenge next season after conceding the title | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The thought of Traoré lining up in Manchester City’s front three really is a mouthwatering prospect.

They may already have Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez, but are set to lose Leroy Sane to Bayern Munich at some point. Despite suggestions they might not look to sign a replacement for the German, it’d be a heck of a move from City if they did follow up on recent interest in Traoré.

City are in need of a slight rebuild in certain areas, and making a move here would be a big statement.

Let’

Espanyol vs Real Madrid Preview: How to Watch on TV, Live Stream, Kick Off Time & Team News

Karim Benzema
Real Madrid clinched a 2-0 victory over Espanyol in the reverse fixture | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Real Madrid travel to Catalonia on Sunday evening to face Espanyol, as their hunt for a first La Liga title since 2016/17 continues.

Los Blancos have been in fine form since the restart, with Zinedine Zidane’s men claiming a fourth win in a row with a Sergio Ramos inspired victory over Mallorca on Wednesday.

As for the league’s bottom side Espanyol, they are quickly running out of games to save themselves from relegation.

The Barcelona-based side have lost their last two fixtures – most recently a 1-0 defeat to Real Betis – while they have only one five matches all season.

When Is Kick Off? Sunday 28 June
What Time Is Kick Off? 21:00 (BST)
Where Is It Played? RCDE Stadium
TV Channel/Live Stream? La Liga TV

The away side may look to make changes for their clash with the league’s bottom club, with the likes of Marco Asensio perhaps in line for a starting berth. Zidane will be without long-term absentees Nacho, Luka Jovic and Lucas Vazquez, while midfield star Luka Modric will miss the match through suspension.

Marc BartraMarc Bartra
Espanyol were on the wrong end of a 1-0 scoreline last time out | Fran Santiago/Getty Images

As for the home side, Espanyol will be without defender Sebastian Corchia through injury, yet should be able to welcome back Bernardo Espinosa, Leandro Cabrera and main man Raul de Tomas – who will be keen to face up against his former club.

Espanyol: D Lopez; J Lopez, Espinosa, Cabrera, Vila; Melendo, D Lopez, Roca, Darder; Wu Lei; de Tomas.

Real Madrid: Courtois; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Valverde, Kroos, Casemiro; Asensio, Hazard, Benzema.

Since the restart of the league, Espanyol have won just once in four matches – after they defeated Alaves on 13 June. The relegation threatened side have seemingly picked up where they left off before the league suspension, which has left them eight points adrift from safety at the foot of the table – and also out of the Europa League following a defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers.

As for Madrid, their four wins in a row have seen them rise to the top of the league table, with challengers Barcelona hoping to return to the summit when they face Celta Vigo on Saturday. The club’s pre-lockdown form had seen them lose to both Real Betis and Manchester City, yet they did manage to claim a major foothold in the title race with a 2-0 El Clasico victory.

Here’s a look at the last five matches for both sides:

Espanyol

Real Betis 1-0 Espanyol (25/6)
Espanyol 1-3 Levante (20/6)
Getafe 0-0 Espanyol (16/6)
Espanyol 2-0 Alaves (13/6)
Osasuna 1-0 Espanyol (8/3)

Real Madrid

Real Madrid 2-0 Real Mallorca (24/6)
Real Sociedad 1-2 Real Madrid (21/6)
Real Madrid 3-0 Valencia (18/6)
Real Madrid 3-1 Eibar (14/6)
Real Betis 2-1 Real Madrid (8/3)

While everyone loves to see an underdog victory, it does seem highly unlikely in this top versus bottom clash.

The away side look relentless in their pursuit of the title, while the home side are clinging on by their fingernails to top-flight football.

Sergio RamosSergio Ramos
Sergio Ramos is now the highest scoring defender in La Liga history | Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Although Madrid may look to make some changes ahead of a busy run-in, their exceptionally talented squad should prove too much for the hosts.

Prediction: Espanyol 1-4 Real Madrid

Let’

Achraf Hakimi ‘Agrees Terms’ With Inter Ahead of £36m Move

Achraf Hakimi
Achraf Hakimi has agreed personal terms with Inter | TF-Images/Getty Images

Real Madrid right-back Achraf Hakimi appears to be closing in on a switch to Inter, after reports in Italy claimed that he’s agreed personal terms with Antonio Conte’s side.

The 21-year-old has enjoyed two outstanding years out on loan with Borussia Dortmund but faces an uncertain future upon his return to the Santiago Bernabéu – as Real still have Dani Carvajal on their books.

Achraf HakimiAchraf Hakimi
Hakimi has spent the last two years on loan with Borussia Dortmund | Lars Baron/Getty Images

With Real choosing to delay their squad rebuild for at least one year as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, Hakimi was expected to find a new club instead of sitting on the bench for Zinedine Zidane’s side, and Gianluca Di Marzio says he has done exactly that by agreeing a move to Inter.

I Nerazzurri are looking to bolster the right side of their defence, with neither the ageing Antonio Candreva, the versatile Ashley Young or the on-loan Victor Moses seen as viable long-term options.

A £36m deal is understood to have been agreed between Inter and Real, and Hakimi has already given his approval to the move.

The report also notes that Bayern Munich and Manchester City were both keen on Hakimi, while Dortmund had expressed an interest in bringing the Moroccan international back permanently, but Hakimi has settled on Inter.

Conte’s 3-5-2 system calls for all-action wing-backs, and Hakimi is exactly that. He has racked up nine goals and ten assists in all competitions this season, playing in a similar wing-back role on both the right and left side of the pitch.

SCC Napoli v InternazionaleSCC Napoli v Internazionale
Inter have struck a £36m deal to land Hakimi | BSR Agency/Getty Images

Dortmund have already found their replacement for Hakimi, having agreed a deal to sign Belgian Thomas Meunier once his contract with Paris Saint-Germain comes to an end this summer.

As for Real, Carvajal will retain his spot in the starting lineup for the foreseeable future, with Éder Militão and the returning Álvaro Odriozola likely to give Zidane more options for the position.

For more from ​Tom Gott, follow him on ​Twitter!

Let’