Varane 3/10, Ramos 4/10 as Real defence struggles

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Another embarrassment for Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui as his team went 2-0 down and broke the record for their longest run without a goal (481 minutes) in their entire 116 year existence before Marcelo’s late consolation.

Madrid could claim some bad luck: two VAR decisions went against them, they hit the woodwork three times and had a late possible equaliser ruled out for offside. But this was a shambles of a performance, and president Florentino Perez could pull the trigger on Lopetegui even before next Sunday’s Clasico at the Camp Nou.

Positives

There were glimpses during the second half comeback that at least showed Madrid do have lots of very good players, with Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale looking quality at times. But everybody already knew that.

Negatives

Where do you start? Madrid looked short on ideas, inspiration and energy during a first half in which Levante were tactically and physically far superior. While the historic run without a goal understandably draws the headlines, Madrid’s biggest problems start in defence and midfield where their big name players either do not understand or do not want to do what Lopetegui is asking of them.

Manager rating out of 10

2 — Just like most of the decisions Lopetegui has made since taking over last summer, the team selection backfired awfully. He looked a slightly bedraggled figure as he shook his arms and shouted on the sidelines.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Thibaut Courtois, 5 — Not directly at fault for any of the goals, but showed uncertainty every time a ball was played between him and the defensive line. His settling into the team is clearly not being helped by the general unsteadiness everywhere else.

RB Alvaro Odriozola, 6 — The €30 million right-back was promising in attack in just his third start for Madrid, while understandably a bit shaky in defence. Very unlucky to be the player taken off at half-time to allow Bale on.

CB Raphael Varane, 3 — Completely misjudged a straightforward long ball to allow Jose Luis Morales in for Levante’s opening goal, then his silly handball was spotted by referee and Roger Marti netted the penalty to make it 2-0. All inside the first 13 minutes. The rest of the game was not as calamitous, but it would have been hard to match.

CB Sergio Ramos, 4 — A 400th La Liga game for Madrid was among his worst. He was regularly given the run-around by Levante’s captain Morales and put in no bursts forward either. One of the many senior players who does not appear focused on his job at the moment.

LB Marcelo, 7 — Returning from a calf injury, Marcelo showed how badly he has been missed. He regularly got forward dangerously down the left, and ended the historic run without a goal with a well taken right foot effort from near the penalty spot.

CM Casemiro, 5 — A 100th La Liga game for the Brazilian was one to forget as he was unable to stop Levante regularly counter-attacking through the middle of the pitch. Hit the crossbar with a header at a corner at 2-0 but had little impact.

CM Luka Modric, 6 — The World Cup’s best player has still not got his season properly started, regularly misplacing even simple passes in his own half. Made an effort to turn things around by getting into shooting positions around the box, but didn’t trouble Levante goalkeeper Oier Olazabal.

CM Isco, 4 — Looked very rusty after a month out due to an appendix operation, although one clever disguised pass set up a half-chance for Modric just after half-time. No surprise to see him taken off on the hour mark.

RW Lucas Vazquez, 4 — Missed three clear chances when playing on the right wing in the first half, then contributed little when dropped to right-back after the break.

LW Marco Asensio, 5 — Clearly lacking in confidence at the moment, with just one goal in 12 club games this season. Almost got one back in the first half when forcing the ball over the line from a corner when Madrid were 2-0 down, only for VAR to correctly spot and give offside. He was taken off on the hour mark.

ST Mariano Diaz, 6 — A first ever La Liga start for the 25-year-old, who was eager to make something happen but unable to do so. Hit the woodwork with a flying header in the first half and did find net late on, but the flag was correctly up.

Substitutes

LW Gareth Bale, 6 — Acclaimed as a potential saviour as he came off bench at the break, Bale looked well below 100 percent after recent injury troubles. Had a number of half-chances as he forced Oier into flying save from free kick, and had a minor role in Marcelo’s first goal back. But was still not great.

ST Karim Benzema, 7 — Entered on the hour mark and immediately gave the team an extra level of class. He set up Marcelo for his goal, then shuddered a post soon afterwards with a 20 yard curler. Appeared troubled by a groin problem late on, adding to Madrid’s troubles.

CM Dani Ceballos, 6 — Surprisingly sent on ahead of Toni Kroos, he helped keep the ball flowing towards Levante’s goal during the late pressure.



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Real Madrid boss Julen Lopetegui dodges questions regarding future

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Manu Garcia struck true and left no time for an answer, as Alavés knocked off Real Madrid at a rowdy Mendizorrotza Stadium.

Real Madrid boss Julen Lopetegui has dodged questions over whether he feels supported by the board — leaving the impression that he is aware his job is on the line ahead of next weekend’s La Liga Clasico at Barcelona.

The European champions are without a win or a goal in their last four matches, and there was intense speculation over Lopetegui’s future during the international break.

Lopetegui was asked on four separate occasions at a news conference on Friday whether he had received any private assurances from above that his job was safe.

“I am absolutely relaxed and just focused on my work,” Lopetegui said. “We are just really looking forward to tomorrow’s game. This season is only beginning, nobody knows yet what will happen. We have to show on the pitch what we can do, obviously with some things we can improve.”

Ahead of next weekend’s trip to the Camp Nou, Madrid face Levante at home in La Liga on Saturday before hosting Viktoria Plzen at the Bernabeu in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Lopetegui accepted that the demands for success at Madrid are “maximum” but pointed out that all teams go through dips in form over a season, and there was still more than enough time for he and his side to come through this one and challenge for all major trophies this season.

“I am feeling fine, this is Real Madrid and the demands are maximum,” he said. “There are three points in play tomorrow, which could bring us top of the table, and we must focus on that. We do not focus on outside things, as that will not help us to defeat Levante. There are ups and downs in a season, but we have the ambition and motivation and we must keep on working and keep believing.”

Lopetegui was evasive when asked whether any or all of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema or Isco would return from injury for Saturday’s game, using the fact that the news conference was taking place before Friday’s training session to avoid giving exact fitness updates.

“Some players have had more time to recover and fortunately we have not had any new injuries [during the international break],” he said. “We have more options now. We will see from training, must wait [on Bale] to see how it goes, and make our decision for tomorrow. We are optimistic.”

A local reporter tried to interrupt Lopetegui to clarify a question asked about Toni Kroos saying on international duty with Germany that he was “not a Casemiro.”

“I understood what you were asking,” Lopetegui said. “That Kroos is not Casemiro is obvious, just as Casemiro is not Kroos. They are different players, but Kroos has played many times in this [holding] position, and done marvellously.”

Lopetegui was calmer when asked about Bale’s injury situation — with the Wales international having joined up with his national squad last week but returned to the Bernabeu without playing a game due to an as yet not officially confirmed muscle complaint.

“Gareth has been very responsible,” Lopetegui said. “He did not play with his national team when maybe he could have forced things. So he has a chance to recover and come back tomorrow.”

Lopetegui said that he is unlikely to bring in reinforcements in the winter transfer window.

“The solution is within the players I have,” he said. “I have full confidence in my squad, all the players. I am sure we will play a great season — each competition is still to be decided, there is a long way to go yet. Each season has ups and downs, but I am sure we will arrive strong at the end.

“At the moment we are just focused on tomorrow’s game – against a tough opponent who have won their last two games – not looking any further. There are three points in play, which could bring us top of the table, and we must focus on that. We do not focus on outside things, as that will not help us to defeat Levante.”



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Real Madrid write to Spanish FA, formally object to Girona-Barcelona game in U.S.

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Real Madrid have written a letter to the Spanish football federation (RFEF) expressing their opposition to La Liga’s plans to stage a game between Girona and Barcelona in the United States in January.

The game, which would take place in suburban Miami, would be the first regular-season game held overseas as part of a 15-year marketing agreement struck between La Liga and Relevent Sports with the aim of promoting the league in North America.

The RFEF and the Spanish players’ union oppose the plan to move the game, scheduled for Girona’s Estadi Montilivi on Jan. 26, to Hard Rock Stadium. FIFA president Gianni Infantino has also said he does not support the idea.

“First of all, we would like to declare that Real Madrid were never informed that La Liga had requested to play the game, nor of the intention to make the request, and we were never asked our opinion on it,” Madrid wrote in the letter, which was signed by Jose Angel Sanchez, the club’s general director.

“Nor, obviously, did La Liga obtain Real Madrid’s agreement, despite the fact that this game affects a competition in which we participate.”

A spokesman for La Liga told Reuters on Wednesday that no club would be forced to play in the United States and that the decision to do so is voluntary.

The RFEF has told the league it cannot approve the proposal, which also requires support from UEFA, CONCACAF and U.S. Soccer, until it receives more information.

Madrid president Florentino Perez has also spoken out against it, and coach Julen Lopetegui has said “every [La Liga] team should play at every ground.”

Madrid addressed the same concerns in the letter, which was first published by Cadena Ser and also included a list of objections to La Liga’s current marketing strategy and television broadcasts in the U.S.

“We cannot forget that the national league is a competition in which 20 teams participate, not two, and that it is fundamental that every team plays each other twice, home and away and at each stadium, as that guarantees the integrity and the equality of the competition,” the club wrote.

“As a consequence, Real Madrid expresses its opposition to the request made to play the game at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami as it affects the integrity and equality of the competition.”

La Liga president Javier Tebas told Reuters earlier this month there were many things that could threaten the integrity of a competition but the Miami game was not one of them.

“In a World Cup, a team playing a … semifinal on Tuesday has a greater advantage in the final than the team playing on Wednesday,” Tebas said.

“Teams have also played at other stadiums while their grounds are being renovated or in order to generate more revenue. If we really believe in this sporting puritanism, then we would need to make many changes in football.”

Information from Reuters was used in this report.



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Real Madrid ban Vinicius Jr. from joining Brazil U20s for South American tournament

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Real Madrid will not allow Vinicius Jr. to join Brazil’s under-20 side for the South American Youth Championship in Chile in January and February, according to U20s coach Carlos Amadeu.

The tournament does not fit into a FIFA international window and thus clubs are not forced to free players for their national teams.

“Real Madrid has already made it very clear to us that the players that are part of the squad will not be released for the South American tournament but they will be for the [FIFA U-20] World Cup,” Amadeu told Globo Esporte. “That’s the stance.”

Vinicius, 18, joined up with Brazil’s U20 team last week and started but did not score in their two friendly draws against Chile.

He is hopeful Madrid will reconsider their decision and allow him to return to compete in the tournament.

“We all know it’s very difficult, right, because it is not a FIFA date, and the club is not obliged to release [players],” Vinicius said. “But we are trying not only for myself but for all the players to play the South American [tournament] and play for the national team.”

Four teams will qualify for the FIFA U-20 World Cup, which starts in May and will be held in Poland, from the South American Youth Championship.

Vinicius joined Madrid this summer after the club agreed a €45 million transfer from Flamengo in May 2017.

He made four first-team appearances in preseason but has made just two league appearances for Madrid, both as a substitute, and has spent time playing for Real Madrid Castilla, the club’s reserve side.



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Real Madrid’s Luka Modric: Cristiano Ronaldo Zinedine Zidane exits ‘surprising’

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Luka Modric has told France Football he and his Real Madrid teammates did not expect Cristiano Ronaldo or Zinedine Zidane to leave the club last summer.

Ronaldo ended a nine-year association with the European champions by joining Juventus while Zidane stepped down from his role as coach after masterminding a third successive UEFA Champions League triumph — and Modric said the two pieces of news came as a shock to the Madrid dressing room.

“I didn’t expect it for either of them [to leave],” Modric told France Football. “I didn’t think Zidane was going to leave, same thing for Ronaldo.

“Actually, when the rumour about Cristiano came out, we made bets between us in the dressing room and we were convinced that he would stay in the end. But everyone makes their own choices in life.”

Modric has just started his seventh season in the Spanish capital following his 2012 switch from Tottenham Hotspur.

The 33-year-old will be hard pushed to emulate the success of his past 12 months in which he played a central role in Madrid’s 13th continental crown before underpinning his country’s run to the FIFA World Cup final and winning the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player.

After picking up FIFA’s The Best award last month, he is now among the frontrunners to end the decade-long stranglehold Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have had on the Ballon d’Or when the winner is revealed in December. But the 33-year-old is refusing to let himself get carried away.

“Truth be told, I don’t like that way of talking and saying: ‘Yes, it’s me who deserves the Ballon d’Or’,” he said. “The important thing for me is to be on the pitch as I have been for months now.

“This year, 2018, has undoubtedly been the best of my career and my only objective is to keep going on this path, on this trajectory. You’re not going to get me to say: ‘It’s me who should win it.’ That is up to the experts who vote. It’s in their hands.”

While Modric is many people’s favourite to win the Ballon d’Or, another nominee, Kylian Mbappe, is the overwhelming pick to claim the inaugural Kopa Trophy awarded to the planet’s best Under-21 player.

Despite having witnessed the 19-year-old French forward end his World Cup dreams in Russia last summer as he helped Les Bleus to a 4-2 victory in the final, Modric remains a fan of the Paris Saint-Germain forward.

“Mbappe is an extraordinary talent, a magnificent promise for the future,” Modric said. “But someone who is already at a great level.

“He’s really very special. I remember my international teammate, Danijel Subasic, said to me one day: ‘There’s a young player at Monaco, you’ll see, he’s incredible, and one day he’ll be one of the best in the world.’

“He was talking to me about Mbappe before he was known about. I’m sure Kylian is going to keep improving.”



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Portuguese newspaper defends Cristiano Ronaldo Real Madrid settlement allegation

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Sam Borden details the accusations faced by Cristiano Ronaldo and discusses what might happen next with regard to the investigation.

Portuguese newspaper Correio da Manha is standing by the information it published this week claiming that Real Madrid put pressure on Cristiano Ronaldo to reach an out-of-court financial settlement with Kathryn Mayorga after an alleged sexual assault in Las Vegas in 2009.

Real Madrid announced on Thursday they were taking legal action against the Portuguese daily for publishing “categorically false information” and stated: “The club has absolutely no knowledge of any of the information that the newspaper published.”

Carlos Rodrigues, the paper’s executive director, has said its staff will continue to cover the story and stand by what it has written.

“The CM headline news that also featured on CM TV was properly verified by the newsroom [editorial staff],” Rodrigues told CM TV.

“We naturally maintain, line by line, what was published. I personally find it very strange Real Madrid’s reaction but we will respond to all the forums for which we are quoted. To our readers and viewers, I assure them that we will continue to investigate this case, independently of attempts to apply pressure whichever country it comes from.”

Mayorga has accused Ronaldo of raping her in his hotel room on June 13, 2009. An out-of-court settlement followed in January 2010.

Ronaldo was in the process of joining Real Madrid from Manchester United, with his then-world-record transfer of £80 million announced on June 11. The Portugal international was unveiled as a Real Madrid player on July 6 and remained with the Spanish giants until this summer, when the 33-year-old joined Italian champions Juventus in a €100m move.

Ronaldo’s Las Vegas-based attorney, Peter S. Christiansen, released a statement on Wednesday saying his client “vehemently denied all of the allegations” made in a lawsuit filed by Mayorga’s lawyers last month, and insisted the encounter in June 2009 between the two was “consensual in nature.”



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Real Madrid fans may turn on Karim Benzema by Florentino Perez has share of blame for slump

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ESPN FC’s La Liga correspondent Sid Lowe digs deeper into what’s plaguing Real Madrid and Barcelona during their respective winless streaks.
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Three minutes isn’t a very long time in football, as Karim Benzema can attest. That was how long it took during a home game last season for the Bernabeu to leap on the Frenchman’s back, his heavy touch eliciting a cacophony of jeers from the stands. For Benzema it was nothing new; it’s been the soundtrack to his Real Madrid career.

In Spanish football’s most exacting arena, the Madrid No. 9 has never won the crowd despite posting a higher goals-per-game ratio than Raul. The shirt weighs heavily on Benzema, who has admitted he should score more. But since his arrival at the Bernabeu in 2009, that has not been his primary task. Few attacking partnerships since the turn of the century have been as productive as the Benzema-Cristiano Ronaldo tandem, but while the Portuguese has reaped the records and the awards, the other has gone largely unnoticed.

Benzema is not, as his first manager at Real, Manuel Pellegrini, noted, a goal scorer: “He is a mixture of a creative player and one who operates on the edge of the area.” Or a No. 9 1/2, which is the number it has often been suggested Benzema should wear for those unsure of his job description.

Replacing Ronaldo’s strike rate is a thankless task and one that was earmarked for Gareth Bale. But it was Benzema who came out of the blocks firing, netting four in three games as Real strolled to wins over Getafe, Girona and Leganes. The weight of responsibility then took its toll, Benzema’s number proving a psychological millstone around his neck. Six games passed without a shot on target as Real slumped to a nadir not witnessed since before he was born.

The apple of Florentino Perez’s eye, Benzema did not help his case when he said: “If I’m starting, there’s no reason to go anywhere else.”

Madrid fans disagree. A recent poll by sports daily AS landed overwhelmingly in favour of striker Mariano being handed the reins. Another asking if Perez should reach for his cheque book in January to sign Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, rather than waiting until next summer, was backed by 85 percent of respondents. The Real honcho is under pressure to take the hit sooner rather than later.

Perez may be bulletproof but he cannot avoid a level of responsibility for Real’s current plight; Benzema hasn’t faced serious competition since the departure of Gonzalo Higuain in 2013. El Pipita has gone on to hit 115 goals in Serie A while Benzema has managed 76 as Real’s starting striker, the high-water mark coming in 2015-16 when he knocked in a career-high 24 in the league.

Since then Benzema has scored 20 Liga goals. He managed just five domestically last season, and while his record in Europe is often overlooked — a double against Bayern in the semifinal return leg and the opener in the final proving vital to Real’s third consecutive Champions League triumph last season — the consensus is that he is not the answer to redressing a total of two Liga titles in 10 years.

Real Madrid No. 9 Karim Benzema has struggled in the wake of Cristiano Ronaldo's departure.
Karim Benzema has never truly won over Real Madrid fans despite his role their Champions League dominance.

The fault does not lie with Benzema: Perez’s refusal to stump up in the market while he eyes his name adorning the remodelled Bernabeu is a key factor. The squad has been left to stagnate, cut-price solutions to a €117 million question left terminally unanswered. Benzema was half of a double act; he cannot be expected to carry the can alone.

Real’s rot seeps further than a dilapidated stadium. Atletico have neatly made the step towards modernity while Perez continues to flounder as though the recession never happened. “We’ll wait until he costs €60m,” is a quote that should come back to bite the de facto life president with his club knee-deep in Kaka.

Madrid fans, stumping up their fees every year, are left questioning why their scouting department failed to pick up on players like Krzysztof Piatek or Timo Werner, instead indulging buy-back policies that consistently fail to bear fruit.

Benzema is likely to miss Real’s next two games against Levante and Plzen, scarcely the toughest opponents fate could have provided. If Mariano is not afforded the chance to answer a question nobody seems willing to ask, El Presi should duck. Both are home games, and the Bernabeu will not be in charitable mood.

Hazard is being pushed by the pro-Madrid media as a January signing, but Chelsea will not be easily persuaded to part with their star player, although as Alvaro Morata noted: “If Madrid come in for him, there would be nothing blocking him.” Perez has done too little for far too long, and somebody is going to pay the price.

Negative results against modest opposition will certainly be the curtain call for Julen Lopetegui if the Clasico goes Barcelona’s way. Failure to address the cracks covered by Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane over the past three seasons will have Madrid fans rightly calling for Perez’s head as well.

This time, as when he stepped down in 2006, Perez has no case for the defence. For his part, Benzema has until January to prove that his president’s unwavering faith is better-placed than his shooting.



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Barcelona supporting nun trolls Real Madrid over recent scoring drought

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ESPN FC’s La Liga correspondent Sid Lowe digs deeper into what’s plaguing Real Madrid and Barcelona during their respective winless streaks.
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Real Madrid have been trolled over their scoring drought … by a Barcelona-supporting celebrity nun.

Los Blancos have endured a difficult past month under new boss Julen Lopetegui. As well as failing to win any of their past four matches, they have failed to even register a goal in those encounters, with their last strike coming on Sept. 22.

Rival fans are enjoying the plight of a team which has been crowned champions of Europe for the past three seasons.

And among those is Sister Lucia Caram, born in a Argentina but a resident of the Catalan city of Manresa, who couldn’t resist a joke of her own on Twitter.

“Hi, can anyone who understands mobile phones help me?” she wrote. “Ten days ago I activated mobile notifications for Real Madrid goals but nothing, it doesn’t work.”



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Toni Kroos on Real Madrid crisis: It’s a challenge to turn things around

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Toni Kroos is “not worried” about Real Madrid’s recent bad run of results that has seen them lose three of their last four games and fail to score in over 500 minutes.

That form has led to question marks about coach Julen Lopetegui, who took over from Zinedine Zidane in the summer, but Kroos said he is convinced the European champions will get out of the crisis.

“It’s a challenge to turn things around,” Kroos said at a news conference in Berlin. “We have shown at Real that we can do it. There have always been phases like that. I am not worried.”

Lopetegui has deployed Kroos in a more defensive midfield role, and although he claimed that he “likes” to play there, he is happy to play in a more attacking role for Germany.

“I am not a Casemiro,” Kroos said. “And [for Germany] Josh [Kimmich] played really good twice. That’s a good model for the future, one I could get used to.”

Meanwhile, former Germany captain Michael Ballack told DW Sports that he’s “surprised that [Low] kept his job” after the country’s worst World Cup performance in 80 years.

“For a long time he worked with the team and sometimes you should say that things don’t work anymore when you’re so long with a certain team,” he said.

But Kroos rejected Ballack’s criticism and insisted he is able to lead Germany forward.

“There will always be different opinions,” Kroos said. “Some might argue you should retire after a big success and others that the best time is after a big defeat. New stimuli can come from the same coach if he questions himself. Low did that. I am convinced that we can turn the corner.”

With a smile, Kroos added: “Michael Ballack is of the opinion there should have been a change and maybe he wanted to take over.”



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Real Madrid sue Portuguese newspaper over Cristiano Ronaldo rape allegations

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Gab Marcotti reacts to the statement released by Juventus via Twitter in response to the sexual assault allegations levelled against Cristiano Ronaldo.
Sam Borden details the accusations faced by Cristiano Ronaldo and discusses what might happen next with regard to the investigation.
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The lawyer of Ronaldo’s accuser gives an update on why the case against the footballer has been reopened.

Real Madrid on Thursday said they are taking legal action against Correio da Manha after the newspaper in Portugal published a story alleging that the Spanish club told Cristiano Ronaldo to pay off Kathryn Mayorga after he allegedly raped her in Las Vegas in 2009.

The Portuguese daily, citing unnamed sources, reported that Real Madrid, whom Ronaldo was in the process of joining from Manchester United in June 2009, put pressure on their star forward to reach the out-of-court financial settlement agreed with Mayorga the following January.

“Real Madrid C. F. can today announce that the club has taken legal action against the Portuguese newspaper Correio da Manha for publishing categorically false information in an effort to seriously damage the image of this club,” Real Madrid said.

“Real Madrid has absolutely no knowledge of any of the information that the newspaper published with regard to the player Cristiano Ronaldo, and therefore the club was unable to take action on a matter of which it had no knowledge. Real Madrid has demanded total rectification of the situation from the aforementioned newspaper.”

On Wednesday, Ronaldo’s Las Vegas-based attorney said his client “vehemently denies all of the allegations” made in a lawsuit filed by Mayorga’s lawyers last month, and he described the incident in June 2009 as “consensual in nature.”

Mayorga has accused Ronaldo of raping her in his hotel room on June 13, 2009. The out-of-court settlement followed in January 2010.

Ronaldo joined Madrid from Manchester United in a world-record transfer during summer 2009, with the Old Trafford outfit accepting Real’s £80 million bid on June 11, and his presentation at the Bernabeu as a new Los Blancos player taking place on July 6. Ronaldo, now 33, played for Real Madrid until this summer, when he joined Serie A club Juventus.

Also on Thursday, Mayorga’s lawyers responded to Ronaldo’s attorneys, calling on them to back up their claims that settlement documents that were leaked to the European media are false.

Anything that proves that documents were altered, fabricated or inaccurate also “should be immediately turned over to the appropriate law enforcement agencies,” attorneys Leslie Stovall and Larissa Drohobyczer said in a statement emailed to media in the U.S. and abroad.

“Disputes regarding the accuracy of documents are generally questions of fact to be decided by the jury,” they said.

A day earlier, Ronaldo’s attorney, Peter S. Christiansen, had issued a statement denying wrongdoing by Ronaldo, branding documents that led to last year’s media reports about the rape claim “complete fabrications.” The documents became public because they were stolen by a hacker in Europe and put up for sale, Christiansen said.

Stovall and Drohobyczer said Christiansen acknowledged that documents upon which the allegations are based “were obtained from Cristiano Ronaldo or individuals acting on his behalf.” Drohobyczer declined, via text message, to provide additional comment.

The statement was issued in Las Vegas several hours after the German magazine which first published the rape allegation against Ronaldo said that it stood by its story.

“We have no reason to believe that those documents are not authentic,” Der Spiegel spokesman Michael Grabowski said. “We have meticulously fact-checked our information and had it legally reviewed.”

In a separate email on Thursday, Mayorga’s attorneys listed 18 U.S. and European agencies ranging from Interpol to Scotland Yard, the FBI and U.S. state attorneys general that they said they asked to investigate whether Ronaldo and anyone associated with him violated laws based on information contained in the documents.

It was not immediately clear if investigators in Portugal, Spain, England, Italy, Ireland and the U.S. states of Nevada and California were acting on that request.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.



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Eden Hazard to Real Madrid: ‘Nothing blocking’ Chelsea star from move – Alvaro Morata

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The guys react to Eden Hazard’s comments about playing for Real Madrid and wonder if Chelsea should begin to make preparations for his departure.
Paul Mariner rates the sensibility of the latest transfer links, including potential comings and goings at Chelsea and Manchester United.

Alvaro Morata has said Eden Hazard will not force an exit from Chelsea but would be happy to move to Real Madrid if both clubs come to an agreement.

Hazard said this week it remained his “dream” to play for Madrid and he wanted to “make it happen,” but made it clear he did not want to damage his relationship with Chelsea.

Speculation that Madrid president Florentino Perez will move for Hazard followed, with 85 percent of fans polled by AS wanting a deal done in the January window.

Marca’s front page on Wednesday morning claimed a transfer next summer was the most likely option when Hazard’s price would be lower due to having 12 months left on his contract, and Morata confirmed that is a possibility.

“If [Hazard] has spoken so clearly, it’s because that is the situation,” Morata told Cuatro when asked from Spain camp about Hazard’s comments.

“It is not that he wants to leave Chelsea, but if Madrid come in for him, there would be nothing blocking him. It is not like other cases where players force an exit, he has a contract with the club.

“It should be a good deal for Chelsea.”

Hazard, 27, has long been linked with a move to the Bernabeu, and was keen to work under childhood hero and former Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane.

El Pais reported that Zidane’s resignation at the end of last season was directly linked to club chief Perez going back on a previous plan for the summer window which involved selling Bale and bringing Hazard to the Bernabeu.

Zidane’s replacement Julen Lopetegui is already under pressure after four defeats in his first 11 games in charge. Madrid have gone almost seven hours with scoring, losing three of their last four games.

But Morata said he felt sure the team would come through a difficult period.

“There is no season where Madrid do not go through difficult moments,” said Morata, who joined Chelsea from Real Madrid in 2017.

“When [Benzema] starts to score goals, Mariano [Diaz], Bale, Marco [Asensio] — they will score many.

“The ball does not want to go in sometimes. But all who are now wanting to see Madrid lose will be sorry by the end of the season.”



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Extra Time: Mbappe and Real Madrid; Coutinho struggling at Barcelona

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Real Madrid monitor Raheem Sterling contract talks at Manchester City – sources

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In spite of speculation that Real Madrid are interested in the talented winger, Craig Burley doesn’t think Raheem Sterling is quite at the level of a Galactico.
The FC crew question Pep Guardiola’s decision to pick Riyad Mahrez to take a penalty against Liverpool following his less-than-impressive track record.
The guys respond to your tweets about the surprising results of Europe’s giants, Mahrez’s penalty miss, managers on the hot seat and Dejan Lovren.
Stewart Robson details exactly how Liverpool were unable to play their normal game against Premier League champions Manchester City.

Real Madrid are monitoring Raheem Sterling’s situation at Manchester City as the England forward’s contract runs down, sources have told ESPN FC.

The 23-year-old is in the final two years of his contract with no sign of a new deal being agreed as yet. Sterling has also claimed he would be open to a move abroad at some point in his career.

“Definitely, it would be nice to play abroad. It would be a great experience. Spain’s attractive. Anywhere the weather is nice really,” Sterling said in December 2017. 

However, ESPN FC has been told there is a willingness from both the club and the player for a new long-term contract at the Etihad as Madrid keep an eye on the situation.

While Madrid have yet to formally approach City, they are watching developments and there is a danger Sterling’s value will diminish when he enters the final 18 months of his contract after the January transfer window closes.

Sterling signed a five-year deal following his £49 million move from Liverpool in July 2015 and has made 150 appearances for the club, winning the Premier League title last season. 

City have agreed extensions with Kevin De Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus, Ederson and Sergio Aguero over the past 12 months.

Pep Guardiola signed his own three-year contract extension in May and has made it clear he wants Sterling to remain at the club.

“We are delighted with him and would like Raheem to stay,” Guardiola said in August. 

“We’ll do our effort to make him feel we count on him. And we count on him. We arrived after a difficult season [two years ago] and I told him I want to help him and would like him to be happy.

“In the end, the agents may not have agreements and that may not happen. But he knows and his agent knows we like him and want him a lot.”



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Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema sidelined with hamstring injury

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Shaka Hislop recaps Real Madrid’s third defeat in four games but thinks it’s not a crisis just yet at the Bernabeu.
Manu Garcia struck true and left no time for an answer, as Alavés knocked off Real Madrid at a rowdy Mendizorrotza Stadium.
Julen Lopetegui is well aware of the pressure he faces being manager of Real Madrid, who’ve struggled for goals in their last three matches.

Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema has suffered a hamstring injury which Spanish media have reported could keep the Frenchman out of action for two weeks.

“Following tests carried out today on our player Karim Benzema by the Real Madrid medical team, he has been diagnosed with an injury to his right hamstring,” the European champions said in a statement without giving a timeframe for his return.

He was injured early in the second half of Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Alaves in which Real conceded a late goal.

Benzema joins Marcelo, Isco and Dani Carvajal on the sidelines at the Santiago Bernabeu, with Real having gone four games without scoring in all competitions, but he should return before the Clasico against Barcelona on Oct. 28.

The 30-year-old has netted five goals this season but has failed to score in his last seven appearances.



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Ballon d’Or award nominees: Cristiano Ronaldo Harry Kane Eden Hazard on list

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The numbers behind Real Madrid’s current goal drought are more shocking than meets the eye.
Real Madrid head coach Julen Lopetegui prefers to talk about his whole team after their win over Roma.
With a goal for Real Madrid in every competitive game, the FC crew examine what’s led to Gareth Bale’s sublime start to the season.

Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo has been named among 30 nominees for the men’s Ballon d’Or trophy awarded by France Football magazine.

The Portugal captain has won the award for the past two years and five times in all, a record he shares with Argentina’s Lionel Messi who is also on the list announced on Monday.

European champions Real Madrid dominate the nominees with eight players, including Croatia midfielder Luka Modric and Wales forward Gareth Bale.

Modric won the Golden Ball as the best player at this year’s World Cup in Russia, where Croatia finished runners-up, and last month claimed FIFA’s The Best men’s player award, given to the world’s top player.

Bale scored twice in the Champions League final win over Liverpool.

France World Cup winners Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe, Raphael Varane, one of the Real Madrid contingent, and captain Hugo Lloris have also been nominated.

A panel of journalists select the winner of the Ballon d’Or, which was first established in 1956 and will this year feature a women’s award for the first time, to be decided from a shortlist of 15 players.

The award merged with FIFA’s World Player of the Year prize from 2010-15 to create the FIFA Ballon d’Or, but returned to France Football in 2016 while FIFA established The Best awards.

The magazine also unveiled the 10-man shortlist for the Kopa Award, given to the best under-21 player in the world.

Ronaldo and Messi will be among the panelists deciding the winner.

Kylian Mbappe leads the names after a successful year with PSG and France, while Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold is also nominated.

United States and Borussia Dortmund winger Christian Pulisic is on the list, as well as AC Milan duo Patrick Cutrone and Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Lyon’s Houssem Aouar, Groningen’s Ritsu Doan, Red Bull Salzburg’s Amadou Haidara, Roma’s Justin Kluivert, and Santos’ Rodrygo complete the list.

FIFA’s The Best winner Marta, United States’ Megan Rapinoe and Australia’s Sam Kerr are are among the names on the inaugural Women’s Ballon d’Or shortlist.

UEFA Women’s Player of the Year Pernille Harder and U.S. international Lindsey Horan are both nominated, as well as England duo Lucy Bronze and Fran Kirby.

Lyon’s Ada Hegerberg, Amandine Henry, Saki Kumagai, Dzsenifer Marozsan, Amel Majri and Wendy Renard are all nominated.

Canada’s Christine Sinclair and Netherlands’ Lieke Martens also received nominations.

The winners of the prestigious men’s and women’s awards will be announced at a ceremony in Paris on Dec. 3.

2018 Men’s Ballon d’Or nominees:

Sergio Aguero (Manchester City and Argentina)

Alisson (Roma/Liverpool and Brazil)

Gareth Bale (Real Madrid and Wales)

Karim Benzema (Real Madrid and France)

Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain and Uruguay)

Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea/Real Madrid and Belgium)

Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid/Juventus and Portugal)

Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City and Belgium)

Roberto Firmino (Liverpool and Brazil)

Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid and Uruguay)

Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid and France)

Eden Hazard (Chelsea and Belgium)

Isco (Real Madrid and Spain)

Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur and England)

N’Golo Kante (Chelsea and France)

Hugo Lloris (Tottenham and France)

Mario Mandzukic  (Juventus and Croatia)

Sadio Mane (Liverpool and Senegal)

Marcelo (Real Madrid and Brazil)

Kylian Mbappe (PSG and France)

Lionel Messi (Barcelona and Argentina)

Luka Modric (Real Madrid and Croatia)

Neymar (PSG and Brazil)

Jan Oblak (Atletico Madrid and Slovenia)

Paul Pogba (Manchester United and France)

Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona and Croatia)

Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid and Spain)

Mohamed Salah (Liverpool and Egypt)

Luis Suarez (Barcelona and Uruguay)

Raphaël Varane (Real Madrid and France)

2018 Kopa Award nominees:

Houssem Aouar (Lyon and France)

Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool and England)

Patrick Cutrone (AC Milan and Italy)

Ritsu Doan (Groningen and Japan)

Gianluigi Donnarumma (AC Milan and Italy)

Amadou Haidara (Red Bull Salzburg and Mali)

Justin Kluivert (Ajax/AS Roma and Netherlands)

Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain and France)

Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund and United States)

Rodrygo (Santos and Brazil)

2018 Women’s Ballon d’Or nominees:

Lucy Bronze (Lyon and England)

Pernille Harder (Wolfsburg and Denmark)

Ada Hegerberg (Lyon and Norway)

Amandine Henry (Lyon and France)

Lindsay Horan (Portland Thorns and United States)

Sam Kerr (Chicago Red Stars and Australia)

Fran Kirby (Chelsea and England)

Saki Kumagai (Lyon and Japan)

Dzsenifer Marozsan (Lyon and Germany)

Amel Majri (Lyon and France)

Marta (Orlando Pride and Brazil)

Lieke Martens (Barcelona and Netherlands)

Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign and United States)

Wendie Renard (Lyon and France)

Christine Sinclair (Portland Thorns and Canada)

Reuters was used in this report.



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Ballon d’Or award nominees: Cristiano Ronaldo Kevin De Bruyne on list

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The numbers behind Real Madrid’s current goal drought are more shocking than meets the eye.
Real Madrid head coach Julen Lopetegui prefers to talk about his whole team after their win over Roma.
With a goal for Real Madrid in every competitive game, the FC crew examine what’s led to Gareth Bale’s sublime start to the season.

Cristiano Ronaldo leads the second set of Men’s Ballon d’Or nominations as France Football release their list of 30 at staggered intervals throughout the day.

The Juventus forward helped Real Madrid to a third successive Champions League title in May, scoring 44 goals in 44 games in all competitions in his final season at the club.

The individual honour, which is European football’s oldest having been awarded every year since 1956, has been won by either Ronaldo or Lionel Messi for the past 10 years — with each winning a record five.

Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne is also among the nominees after winning the Premier League, Carabao Cup and Community Shield, while also playing a major role in helping Belgium finish third at the World Cup.

Fellow Belgium international Thibaut Courtois is also on the list despite a shaky start to life at Real Madrid, while Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino receives a nomination after their run to the Champions League final.

Uruguay captain Diego Godin completes the second set of nominations after winning the Europa League with Atletico Madrid.

Sergio Aguero was the first nominee on Monday morning after scoring 26 goals in 33 games in 2018 for club and country as Manchester City won three trophies.

He was followed by Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson, who made a then-world record transfer to the club after helping Roma to the Champions League semifinals.

Then came Gareth Bale, who scored twice in the Champions League final — along with Real Madrid teammate and fellow scorer, Karim Benzema.

Paris Saint-German forward Edinson Cavani — who came 11th in last year’s poll — completed the quintet.

This award runs alongside FIFA’s The Best, which was won by Luka Modric in September.

2018 Ballon d’Or nominees:

Sergio Aguero (Manchester City and Argentina)

Alisson (Roma/Liverpool and Brazil)

Gareth Bale (Real Madrid and Wales)

Karim Benzema (Real Madrid and France)

Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain and Uruguay)

Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea/Real Madrid and Belgium)

Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid/Juventus and Portugal)

Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City and Belgium)

Roberto Firmino (Liverpool and Brazil)

Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid and Uruguay)

Information from ESPN FC’s Ian Holyman was used in this article.



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Real Madrid’s Julen Lopetegui not thinking of sack after poor run of results

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Manu Garcia struck true and left no time for an answer, as Alavés knocked off Real Madrid at a rowdy Mendizorrotza Stadium.

Julen Lopetegui said he knows he is vulnerable but is not thinking about being sacked after Real Madrid were beaten 1-0 at Alaves on Saturday, bringing their run without a win — or even a goal — to four matches.

Madrid had five shots on goal in the first nine minutes, but the fast start fizzled out and before half-time, they had gone a full six hours without finding the net in any competition.

Lopetegui replaced Karim Benzema with Mariano Diaz at half-time, with Gareth Bale then limping off and teenager Vinicius Jr. entering, but Alaves goalkeeper Fernando Pacheco was never seriously troubled.

The final action was a 95th-minute corner, missed by Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, leading to substitute Manu Garcia heading the winner from close range.

The last time Madrid went four games without scoring was in April 1985, when coach Amancio Ortega was immediately fired, but Lopetegui said it was much too early in the season for any such drastic action.

“Coaches are always exposed, but we are not thinking about [the sack],” Lopetegui said in a news conference. “The dynamic is negative. Things are not going as we wanted. We are disappointed, of course. We wanted to win. We know how the life of a coach is, and even more at Real Madrid.

“The coach is always responsible, ahead of the players, no doubt about that. But we are still in October and at worst three points off the top. We now have time to get some very important players back.”

Lopetegui’s team captain Sergio Ramos had the back of his manager after the game, saying it would be “crazy” to consider letting the first-year coach go so early in the campaign.

Ramos said: “There are other people to make those decisions, its not part of the player’s role. For a squad, it is never good to change coach. It is not in our hands. It would be crazy, the team is fighting for the top spots. We must keep our feet on the ground, be more calm, and try and turns things around.

“Everyone will have their own opinion. There are times when a change has been better, and others not, you never know. It is very soon to talk about changing coach. It is not up to the players, others have to take that decision.”

Lopetegui said Madrid’s issues in front of goal had not been helped by both Benzema and Bale, who again asked to come off with an abductor problem, injured — especially with full-backs Marcelo and Dani Carvajal and playmaker Isco also sidelined.

“We have had injuries again — with Karim and Gareth — that conditioned the game a lot,” Lopetegui said. “Negative things are coming together for us. We have the break now and can recuperate and recover and try to get back those feelings we had at the start of the season — of being a team, playing good football, being solid.”

Lopetegui said his side’s recent issues in front of goal — in defeats to Sevilla and CSKA Moscow, as well as a goalless draw with Atletico Madrid — had weighed on their minds when an initial good start did not bring a reward.

“The players went out with a very good attitude,” Lopetegui said. “We started the game well, attacking, making chances. Not scoring hurt us, and the dynamic changed, then the injuries and maybe recent games weighed on the team’s mentality.

“The defeat is an excessive punishment, but football is like that. We must try to lift ourselves up. [We’ll] get players back. We have had a lot of misfortune these two weeks. It can happen in football.

“We must get our freshness and energy back. This run we are on is not normal. Goals will come. We will win again.”



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La Liga Predictor: Barca & Real battling at the top

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Fantasy FC: To Messi or not to Messi?

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Real Madrid’s goal drought a cause for concern

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