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


ESPN FC’s Craig Burley has his say as to who should become Real Madrid’s next Galactico signings.
Are Real Madrid preparing to swap managers? Gab Marcotti and Sid Lowe weigh in on the reports linking Antonio Conte to the Bernabeu.

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.


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.


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.


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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Barcelona’s Luis Suarez available but face injuries on defence ahead of tough stretch


ESPN FC’s Ale Moreno and Ross Dyer make their picks for the weekend’s key La Liga fixtures.
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Lionel Messi visits the SJD Pediatric Cancer Center and greets the children at a charity event in Barcelona.

BARCELONA — Luis Suarez and Sergi Roberto are fit for Barcelona’s triple-header against Sevilla, Inter Milan and Real Madrid this week but they still have problems in the middle of defence.

Samuel Umtiti remains sidelined for the foreseeable future with a knee problem, while Thomas Vermaelen will miss the next six weeks with a hamstring injury picked up on international duty with Belgium.

That leaves coach Ernesto Valverde with Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet as his only fit centre-backs as Barca prepare for the biggest week of their season so far.

Following four winless games in La Liga, which has seen them relinquish top spot, they return to action on Saturday at home to league leaders Sevilla. Inter are then due at Camp Nou on Wednesday ahead of next Sunday’s Clasico.

“I think Sergi [Roberto] and Suarez will both be available this weekend,” Valverde said in a news conference on Friday.

“But [Umtiti] is still in a recovery process. He needs training to strengthen the muscle, so he has fewer problems [in the future]. We hope he’s back with us soon, but I can’t say when because I am not a doctor.”

Suarez and Roberto have benefitted from the international break. The former didn’t join up with the Uruguay squad, instead staying in Barcelona to work on a knee injury, while the latter returned to training this week from a back problem.

Pique is also free of international duty since retiring in the summer but he has put in more air miles than any other player during the last week. The defender travelled to China to watch the Shanghai Masters and then to Madrid to launch his new revamped version of tennis’ Davis Cup.

His journeys come at a time when Barca are struggling in defence — they have conceded nine goals in eight league games — and have provoked complaints in the local media over his commitment to the club’s cause.

“The issue with Pique, the journeys and all that, it doesn’t worry me,” Valverde said. “The only thing that irritates me about him is that he had a brilliant idea [the Davis Cup] and it didn’t occur to me. That’ s the only thing, other than that, there’s no problem with him. He’s 100 percent.”

With only Pique and Lenglet available in the middle of defence, Valverde has been forced to look for reinforcements elsewhere. He says B team players Chumi and Oriol Busquets are options, while Sergio Busquets could also play there in an emergency.

Valverde also said he has spoken with Arturo Vidal after the player took to social media to express his dissatisfaction at a lack of minutes since joining from Bayern Munich in the summer.

“The idea is to solve any problems we have inside the dressing room, not outside, and we will keep things that way,” the coach said. “But, yes, I have spoken with Arturo Vidal, of course, but I won’t detail about what. We try to deal with things this way so there’s not so much drama generated, as there has been in the last few weeks.”


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Real Madrid boss Julen Lopetegui dodges questions regarding future


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ESPN FC’s Steve Nicol sifts through the latest rumours involving Antonio Conte, Neymar, Olivier Giroud and more.
ESPN FC’s fantasy expert Mark Donaldson shares his tips for this weekend’s La Liga matches, including choosing Real Madrid’s Luka Modric who has a tasty match up with Levante.
ESPN FC’s Ale Moreno and Ross Dyer make their picks for the weekend’s key La Liga fixtures.
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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Transfer Rater Neymar to Barcelona Marcus Rashford to Juventus


Things change in the blink of an eye in football. The Football Whispers Index takes the latest transfer rumours and gives them a score out of five; the higher the score, the more realistic and reliable the Whisper.

Here are today’s top five emerging whispers. And keep an eye on Transfer Talk for all the latest gossip.

Alberto Moreno to Arsenal

The Liverpool left-back has indicated that he is not going to sign a new deal at the club and will leave when his contract expires at the end of the season. This has alerted a number of sides including Arsenal, according to the Mirror, who also report that Moreno has turned down extensions to his current deal in search of first-team football. Unai Emery has previously worked with Moreno at Sevilla, and is looking for options at left-back having used 32-year-old Nacho Monreal in the position so far this season.

Oleksandr Zinchenko to Betis

The 21-year-old Ukraine international is another player in search of first-team football having struggled to break into the Manchester City side on a regular basis. Spanish outlet AS are reporting that the versatile youngster is a target for La Liga side Real Betis, who are in the market for a left back. Though Zinchenko would consider himself a midfielder, he impressed at full back for Pep Guardiola’s side and this could give him more first-team football in the long run.

Marcus Rashford to Juventus

Juventus sent their scouts to the UEFA Nations League clash between Spain and England, with Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford the focus of their attention. Reports in Italy by Tuttosport state the Italian champions are looking to take advantage of the 20-year-old’s unhappiness at his hometown club, and will look to make a move for the forward, whose contract has less than two years to run.

Neymar to Barcelona

Rumours of Neymar’s possible return to Barcelona have been given extra weight following new details that have emerged in the Spanish media. Reports on radio station Cadena Ser suggest the player has an agreement with Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi that will allow him to leave at the end of the season. The deal could see the Brazilian return to the Catalan club for a similar fee that saw him leave for the French capital in 2017.

Franco Vazquez to West Ham United

Manuel Pellegrini’s side will target a forward in the January transfer window, with Sevilla’s Franco Vazquez at the top of their list. Local Seville-based outlet Estadio Deportivo believe that the Argentine could favour a move to east London due to his friendship with one of West Ham’s assistant coaches, Enzo Maresca, who played alongside Vazquez at Palermo. The 29-year-old attacking midfielder has a release clause of around £35 million, but the Premier League club will try to negotiate a lower fee ahead of a possible January move.


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Barcelona’s Arturo Vidal to pay 800,000 euros after nightclub dispute


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Barcelona midfielder Arturo Vidal has been given an €800,000 penalty order by a Munich court after being charged with aggravated battery following a dispute at a disco last year.

Last year, former Bayern Munich player Vidal was part of a group that allegedly attacked another guest with a bottle of vodka at Crown’s Club in September.

Vidal and his half-brother Sandrino, who was also part of the group, did not appear before the district court on Wednesday, with Vidal playing in Chile’s friendly against Mexico.

At the court on Wednesday, Vidal’s lawyer said he could not appear before the court “for job-related reasons.”

Both were given penalty orders but will be able to appeal within the next two weeks. If they choose not to appeal the penalty orders will be final, but if they do so the trial will continue.

The 31-year-old was hit with 80 daily rates of income, which the court set at €10,000 after deducting alimony for his family.

The court refrained from issuing an arrest warrant, calling that “out of proportion.”


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


ESPN FC’s La Liga correspondent Sid Lowe digs deeper into what’s plaguing Real Madrid and Barcelona during their respective winless streaks.
La Liga president Javier Tebas says that La Liga games in the USA will only benefit MLS.

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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Lionel Messi dazzled by champion pizza tosser during international break


When it comes to eating copious amounts of pizza prepared by one of the world’s best dough tossers, Lionel Messi knows carbs don’t count when they’re consumed on holiday.

Messi, whose weakness for the dish has been well-documented, spent time during his Argentina sabbatical by receiving a first-hand demonstration from chef Fabian Martin — twice crowned in Naples as the world pizza champion and apparently a member of, yes, the Pizza Hall of Fame.

The Barcelona star, along with his wife, Antonella Roccuzzo, and children, visited Martin’s restaurant, in the town of Puigcerda in northern Girona, Spain, to witness the legend in action.

“How lucky to have the best footballer in history in the house,” Martin wrote on Instagram. “Many thanks to Lionel Messi, an extraordinary footballer but a better person.”

And it was Martin who, in turn, paid tribute to his customer, ending his whirling dazzle of spins and gyrations with a lovely scorpion kick of the dough that left Messi in awe.

As Messi undoubtedly knows, there’s nothing more special than making a bit of magic with your feet.


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Barcelona won’t sign Matthijs De Ligt in January – Ajax sporting director Marc Overmars


Sebi Salazar and Kasey Keller answer your tweets about Maradona’s harsh words towards Lionel Messi, Germany’s struggles and much more.

Ajax sporting director Marc Overmars has dashed Barcelona’s hopes of signing Matthijs de Ligt in January, saying there is no chance the defender will leave in the winter window.

Sources have told ESPN FC that De Ligt and Ajax teammate Frenkie de Jong are being monitored by the La Liga champions.

Barca failed with two bids for De Jong, who had been their primary summer target of the two, but early-season problems in defence have forced them to rethink their strategy.

El Mundo Deportivo and Diario Sport reported this week that the club would move for De Ligt, but Overmars said the player, watched by Barca’s Ramon Planes as Netherlands beat Germany 3-0 on Saturday, will not go.

“The chances of De Ligt leaving Ajax in January are zero percent,” he told LaRoma24.

However, he left the door open to a summer transfer, saying “it’s a possibility” when asked whether the centre-back could leave at the end of the season.

De Ligt, 19, has been on Barcelona’s radar for a while, but his performance in the Champions League draw at Bayern Munich, watched by sporting director Eric Abidal, accelerated their interest.

Ernesto Valverde’s side have struggled at the back, conceding nine goals in their first eight league games — the same number they conceded in their opening 20 fixtures last season.

There are also concerns over Samuel Umtiti’s fitness, with the club refusing to put a timeframe on his knee injury amid reports he may need to undergo surgery that would rule him out until the New Year.

Thomas Vermaelen is due back in Barcelona on Monday for tests on a hamstring injury, with sources suggesting he could be out for up to a month.

That leaves Valverde with Gerard Pique and summer signing Clement Lenglet as his only fit centre-backs.


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Portuguese newspaper defends Cristiano Ronaldo Real Madrid settlement allegation


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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Transfer Rater Lucas Hernandez to Manchester United Piotr Zielinski to Liverpool


Things change in the blink of an eye in football. The Football Whispers Index takes the latest transfer rumours and gives them a score out of five; the higher the score, the more realistic and reliable the Whisper.

Here are today’s top five emerging whispers. And keep an eye on Transfer Talk for all the latest gossip.

Lucas Hernandez to Manchester United

The World Cup winning defender says he’s happy at Atletico Madrid, with whom he signed a new six-year contract in June, yet he remains a target of several of Europe’s top clubs, including United. Hernandez’s deal raised his buyout clause to €80m but, as Marca report, that hasn’t put potential suitors United, Manchester City and Real Madrid off. “I hope to stay at Atletico for a long time,” Hernandez told RMC. “But hey, you know that football moves very fast and if an offer came up that was too good to refuse… “

Nicolas Pepe to Bayern Munich

Finding long-term alternatives to ageing wingers Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben form a significant part of Bayern’s transfer strategy and Lille forward Pepe has emerged as a serious target. The Ivory Coast international has reportedly been discussed by the Bayern board after a stunning start to the season in which he has struck six goals with four assists in nine Ligue 1 games. Bild have detailed that the Barcelona target forms part of an eight-man shortlist drawn up by the Bavarian giants ahead of next summer.

Eric Bailly to Tottenham

After Spurs decided against making any new signings in the summer, Mauricio Pochettino is determined to reinforce his squad in the new year and, according to The Express, the Manchester United defender is a priority target. Bailly has made just five appearances this season for United and was subbed off after just 18 minutes in the Red Devils’ clash against Newcastle United last weekend.

Piotr Zielinski to Liverpool

Napoli are locked in contract talks with midfielder Zielinski but their desire to increase his release clause from €65m to €130m has been deemed excessive by the Poland international’s representatives. Calciomercato claim, as a result, Liverpool and Juventus may consider bidding for the 23-year-old who arrived from Empoli in 2016. Zielinski’s stock in Serie A is high while he would also bring some much-needed creativity to the Liverpool midfield.

Nathan Ake to Tottenham

Another reported name on Spurs’ centre-back shortlist is Bournemouth star Ake, who has played a key role in the Cherries’ fine start to the campaign. The Sun claim the 23-year-old is valued at £40m and is considered a potential long-term replacement for Jan Vertonghen. The report also details how Tottenham are planning a summer clear-out with Michael Vorm, Moussa Dembele and Victor Wanyama likely to leave.


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Arturo Vidal disrespected Barcelona teammates over angry social media post – chief


The ESPN FC crew answer your tweets on Kylian Mbappe’s links to Real Madrid, Philippe Countinho’s woes at the Camp Nou and much more.

Arturo Vidal’s disgruntled social media posts showed a lack of respect towards his Barcelona teammates, the Catalan club’s general manager has told Mundo Deportivo. 

Vidal posted an angry face emoji on his Instagram story following Barca’s Champions League win over Tottenham last Wednesday, when he only came on for the final few minutes.

The Chile international then sparked a fresh controversy after Sunday’s draw at Valencia, when he was an unused substitute, after posting and then deleting a message which said: “Don’t fight with those who are like Judas, they will hang themselves.”

Pep Segura says the posts did more damage to Vidal than to anyone else but backed the midfielder to make amends for his mistake.

“Arturo Vidal’s messages have a double meaning,” Segura said. “You can look at them positively because they demonstrate that he’s a guy who wants to get integrated quickly and help the team. He feels frustrated personally that he’s not playing more minutes.

“The negative is we feel he has to work hard and be aware that he’s part of a great team, with great players. He has to have respect for his teammates, for the dressing room, the coach and the club.

“We understand that he’s aware that those tweets did more damage to himself than anyone else. I think he will make up for it.”

Asked if he has discussed the matter with Vidal, Segura added: “We always speak with all the players and these issues are dealt with day-to-day.”

Vidal, 31, joined Barca from Bayern Munich in the summer for €20 million but has made just two starts for his new club so far — and he was withdrawn before the hour mark on both occasions.

He has made another seven appearances off the bench but in total he has played just 176 minutes of club football so far this season, although he has denied a lack of regular action was behind his social media outburst.

“I think people took [my social media messages] in the wrong way,” he said from Chile’s camp in Miami earlier this week. 

“[The message about Judas] had nothing to do with anything sport-related and I deleted it to stop people from speculating.

“There are personal things and jokes which you can put on social media and people take the wrong way. I changed it but it had nothing to do with Barcelona or with anyone in particular. When I have to say something I say it to someone’s face.

“When I have a problem or I am mad about something, I go straight to the coach and speak directly to him. You can have various reasons for posting these things on social networks.”


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Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone travels to Argentina to be with sick father


Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone
Diego Simeone was an Argentina international in his playing days.

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone travelled back to Argentina this week to be with his family after his father fell ill and is undergoing treatment.

Simeone, who is missing a UEFA coaches get-together in Madrid, thanked the staff at the hospital in Argentina where his father is being treated.

“I’d like to thank on behalf of my family and myself the Sanatorio de la Trinidad Palermo for the attention and quality with which they always treat us, especially Dr. Roberto Martingano, Dra. Silvina Serra and Dr. Alejandro Palacios,” Simeone tweeted from Buenos Aires.

The Atletico coach is expected to return to Spain next week. The club’s next match is again Villarreal on Oct. 20, having won five of their last six games.


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Barcelona supporting nun trolls Real Madrid over recent scoring drought


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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Shaka Hislop recaps Real Madrid’s third defeat in four games but thinks it’s not a crisis just yet at the Bernabeu.

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


The ESPN FC crew answer your tweets on Kylian Mbappe’s links to Real Madrid, Philippe Countinho’s woes at the Camp Nou and much more.
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.
ESPN FC’s La Liga correspondent Sid Lowe digs deeper into what’s plaguing Real Madrid and Barcelona during their respective winless streaks.
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.

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


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.
Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri says Cristiano Ronaldo is ready to play, despite allegations of rape against him.
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


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








Game Details






Game Details






Game Details



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


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.
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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.
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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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