Chelsea deserved it – Zidane returns Madrid's focus to LaLiga scrap

By Sports Desk May 05, 2021

A gripping LaLiga title race should be all Real Madrid need to pick themselves up from their Champions League semi-final loss to Chelsea, according to Zinedine Zidane.

Madrid head coach Zidane conceded his team were beaten by the better side after goals from Timo Werner and Mason Mount gave Chelsea a 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge, sending them through 3-1 on aggregate to an all-English final against Manchester City at the end of this month.

Los Blancos looked a shadow of the side that won three consecutive European crowns under Zidane between 2016-2018, but the France great insisted he was proud of his players' endeavours on Wednesday.

Now they face up to a LaLiga battle, where they are level on points with Barcelona and two points behind leaders Atletico Madrid with four games remaining. Barca and Atleti face one another this weekend.

"We have spoken on this many times this season. It has been a year with many injuries, ups and downs, and that’s what we have dealt this year," Zidane told a post-match news conference midweek.

"Despite it all, we have done good things in this Champions League in order to reach this stage.

"I think we deserved it and we were only one step from the final, but we have to congratulate this team [Chelsea], who has been better tonight.

"It doesn't change anything. I am very pleased and very proud and now it is the time to rest and be focused on the last four games in LaLiga."

Captain Sergio Ramos and Ferland Mendy were passed fit to start for Madrid and struggled to find top gear, although Zidane insisted he had no regrets over the selections.

"If my players have played it's because they were ready for the 90 minutes," he said.

"Ramos and Mendy were ready to play, that's why I put them on. It was a semi-final and they were ready."

Another man recently back to fitness, Eden Hazard, lasted 89 minutes but had minimal impact against his former club.

After the match, images of Hazard congratulating his old Chelsea team-mates played very badly in Madrid, but Zidane urged patience with the €100million forward.

"Eden needs to play regularly and get his confidence back," he added. "And you get that slowly and playing games.

"So, we need to get back Eden and it will be possible playing games."

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  • Man Utd's transfer budget not impacted by debt – Glazer Man Utd's transfer budget not impacted by debt – Glazer

    Manchester United executive co-chairman Joel Glazer insisted the level of debt at Old Trafford has not impacted the Premier League giants in the transfer market.

    The Glazer family have been scrutinised since taking over United in 2005, with the Red Devils saddled in huge debt ever since, though the criticism came to a head following the club's decision to sign up for the doomed European Super League in April.

    United fans have continued to call for further transfer funding amid the club's trophy drought – dating back to 2017, while they have not won the Premier League since 2013, and investment to renovate Old Trafford.

    After finishing second to neighbours Manchester City in 2020-21, United have been linked with Borussia Dortmund pair Jadon Sancho and Erling Haaland, Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane and Tottenham star Harry Kane among other rumoured targets.

    Under-fire Glazer attended his first fans' forum earlier in June and addressed a number of concerns, including the debt and dividend payments.

    "I know this is a subject that a lot of people have a lot of different views on, but when we take things and look at things as a whole, we think that Manchester United is a very well-run club," Glazer said in quotes released on Monday.

    "We're able to spend with the top clubs throughout Europe, whether it's wages or transfer fees, we've been able to keep our ticket prices low, we've not increased them in over 10 years.

    "We're able to pay a dividend but it's a modest proportion of our five to six hundred million pounds of revenue; it's less than three per cent of that.

    "It has never stood in the way of us pursuing players or transfers on the pitch. We may have walked away from transfers at times because the other side wanted an outlandish number. And while it's easy to pay it that one time, it does have consequences.

    "You do it once and the next person expects it, and then the next person expects it. And that's not good, ultimately, for the club. So, we think that we're able to accomplish all these things and still have a very, very successful club and invest, and do everything that's necessary for a club of our stature."

    Glazer added: "I know this is clearly another area that has got a lot of discussion and debate over the years. We think we have a very comfortable position when it comes to this. We have debt, but a lot of other clubs do have debt as well.

    "We pay a very low interest rate, mostly fixed interest debt. So, if interest rates went up it would not affect us, but we had made progress in reducing our debt over the last several years.

    "The net debt was meaningfully reduced a couple years ago. Unfortunately, the pandemic hit and we have had to use a lot of our cash reserves because we didn't have any supporters in the stands, we didn't have the matchday revenue, and that has affected us, like it's affected all the clubs throughout Europe. The difference is we've been able to keep investing. We're strong."

    He added: "We're going to keep investing on the pitch, which we did last year, and we plan on doing it meaningfully this year. So, we feel that we're in a good spot.

    "There's always headline numbers [for the debt], and then there's the real costs on an annual basis and, again, it's never affected our ability to operate in the transfer market or do anything else with regard to the club."

  • Magical Messi served Chile pain again as Martinez misfires Magical Messi served Chile pain again as Martinez misfires

    It was a modest record for a player as magnificent as Lionel Messi: three games, two final defeats, one red card, no goals.

    But the Barcelona great's Copa America performances against Chile prior to Monday's curtain-raising clash were not entirely out of keeping with the rest of his Argentina career.

    There have been moments of magic, of course, but just 15 goals across 46 Copa America and World Cup appearances ahead of this game. Meanwhile, not since 2007-08 has Messi fallen short of averaging a goal every two games for Barca, let alone one every three.

    Even Messi himself could not reasonably argue his international displays have come close to the standard set at club level.

    And while World Cup failures will always remain at the forefront of any such discussion – his achievements in contrast to Diego Maradona's one-man show in 1986 – the Copa America has provided its fair share of pain.

    The final defeats to Chile in 2015 and 2016 were among three for Messi and four for Argentina since their 14th and most recent title in 1993.

    Those two in consecutive years both came courtesy of penalty shoot-outs. Messi scored his spot-kick in the first match but missed the following year, setting his side on their way to another sore setback.

    It was fitting then, it seemed, that this latest campaign – surely one of Messi's last – would start against Chile and initially start in much more encouraging fashion.

    Neymar had set the standard against Venezuela the previous day.

    In front of empty, hushed stands that make it impossible to ignore the influence of politics in football – a popular topic of debate in 2021 – the pace was ponderous until the world's most expensive footballer got to work.

    Neymar scored one and created another in a 3-0 Brazil win. Along with five shots, he created seven chances – the most of any Selecao player in a Copa America match since his debut.

    It took 33 minutes, in which the absence of an atmosphere again jarred, but Messi rose to that challenge when presented with a free-kick in a central position, dipped over the wall and beyond the grasp of Claudio Bravo.

    That was one of seven Messi shots and he played four key passes, too. On paper, this ranked alongside Neymar's efforts.

    By full-time, though, it was a frustratingly familiar tale, as the supporting cast proved unable to suitably assist their superstar.

    Messi's excellence has excused a whole generation of Argentina internationals, absolved of blame because their great number 10 should have been able to win major tournaments alone.

    Too many hugely talented players have misfired on the big stage; Lionel Scaloni sent out some past and present examples.

    Lautaro Martinez is supposed to be the face of a young, new team. He had 11 goals in 23 prior internationals and should have added to that tally more than once in Rio de Janeiro.

    The Inter forward failed to hit the target with any of his three attempts and optimistically appealed for a foul following two of them when he inexplicably missed from point-blank range.

    And Martinez's frustration unfortunately came to the fore after 62 minutes when he lunged into an awful challenge on Charles Aranguiz under the nose of the referee and escaped with a booking.

    The 23-year-old's evening might have ended early with a red card. Instead, it was cut short by the introduction of Sergio Aguero.

    Chile had equalised five minutes prior to Martinez's moment of madness, one of a series of rash attempted tackles punished as a VAR review found Nicolas Tagliafico had made contact with Arturo Vidal in the area.

    Vidal took the penalty and Emiliano Martinez turned it onto the crossbar, but Eduardo Vargas was on hand to nod in his 13th Copa America goal – staying three clear of Messi and climbing into the top 10 all-time.

    Aguero followed Angel Di Maria onto the pitch as Argentina sought a response. Both players were not so long ago out of the picture under Scaloni, having previously been part of the Messi-led team that repeatedly came up short.

    In each Chile final, Di Maria started. Aguero was introduced from the bench in one and in the XI for the other.

    As on those occasions, there were no heroics from either on Monday. Di Maria, now 33, had two shots but neither troubled Bravo. Aguero, also 33, was caught offside once.

    Messi will be the story if Argentina do not deliver silverware in the coming weeks, just as he will be should they finally get over the hump.

    But the same problems persist. When Messi's free-kick set the stage, it was Martinez who could not step up, underwhelming again like too many past Argentina attackers.

    If this is to be the tournament in which Messi reaches his promised land, he is going to need some help.

  • Tarkovic praises defence after Slovakia 'neutralise' Lewandowski in shock win Tarkovic praises defence after Slovakia 'neutralise' Lewandowski in shock win

    Stefan Tarkovic praised his Slovakia side for their efforts in "neutralising" Robert Lewandowski during a shock 2-1 Euro 2020 win over Poland.

    Slovakia claimed only their second European Championship victory as an independent nation thanks to Milan Skriniar's 69th-minute winner in St Petersburg on Monday.

    An own goal from Wojciech Szczesny, which followed great work from Robert Mak, gave Slovakia a first-half lead that was cancelled out 32 seconds into the second half by Karol Linetty.

    But Grzegorz Krychowiak's red card turned the game back in Slovakia's favour and Skriniar's third goal in his last four games for Slovakia secured the three points.

    Key to Slovakia's success was Lewandowski's lack of influence. He had the fewest touches of any Poland outfield player in the first half (22) and finished with 39. None of his five shots hit the target, meaning he has still not scored in a major tournament since Euro 2016.

    Asked about how they shut down a striker who broke Gerd Muller's Bundesliga record with 41 goals in the 2020-21 season, Tarkovic told a media conference: "I think the whole team played very well, we prepared for Poland's attack very responsibly and of course Lewandowski plays a decisive role in the final third. 

    "Skriniar did not personally mark Lewandowski, but the duels with him and other players such as Peter Pekarik and Lubomir Satka, I'm really happy they managed to neutralise such a great player as Lewandowski.

    "After this win, there will be even more pressure to make it from the group. For me it wasn't really about the result, it was about showing what we are capable of. We will enjoy this win but tomorrow we are starting to prepare for Sweden.

    "This means a lot for me, I think it means a lot for all the people that have prepared together with us, the coaching staff, everyone around the team. 

    "We spent three weeks together and we had time to focus on the things we wanted to concentrate on. There are still two difficult games for us but what's really good is that the co-operation is working and the players want to show the country of Slovakia and the fans that they want to fight for Slovakia."

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