Zinedine Zidane's return as Real Madrid coach less than a year after quitting was nothing short of "heroic", according to club great Jorge Valdano.

The former France international left the club shortly after guiding them to a third successive Champions League title last May, with Cristiano Ronaldo subsequently following him out of the door at the end of an era.

Things did not go to plan under Zidane's successor Julen Lopetegui, who lasted until October, and his replacement Santiago Solari was dismissed in March following Champions League elimination to Ajax.

Zidane's return did not produce a huge improvement, as Madrid still only finished third in LaLiga and 19 points adrift of champions Barcelona.

But coming back in president Florentino Perez's hour of need should – Valdano believes – earn him two statues and the right to build the squad he wants for next season.

"Zidane's return was, for me, almost an heroic act," Valdano told ESPN. "He knew it was risky, but he did it.

"The president, and the club, must be very grateful. He should have a statue here at the Santiago Bernabeu, and another in Florentino's garden.

"Just from his presence, the season ended much more peacefully than it could have. When there is no sporting director, it is the coach who must make the decisions.

"The risk he took would be in exchange for having the power to design the squad for next season.

"Things are different now from his first spell in charge, when he had clear leaders – Sergio Ramos for spirit, Luka Modric for football, Cristiano Ronaldo being decisive, and all at the height of their careers.

"Now Zidane must put together something new, with new players coming in. We don't know how they will adapt to a new city and the unique nature of this club.

"That will test him, but if anyone has won the confidence of the club, it is Zidane."

Paul Pogba, Eden Hazard, Kylian Mbappe and Luka Jovic are just some of the stars linked with moves to Madrid over the coming months, with many fans and commentators of the belief the squad needs serious refreshment.

Valdano is convinced Pogba would play a more central and constructive role at Madrid than at Manchester United, but the Argentine also feels the midfielder would need to be just one of five or six signings.

He added: "Pogba scores goals. He does not have so much influence in the construction of the play at Manchester United.

"But if Zidane is thinking of him for Real Madrid, for sure he would have a conducting role in the team.

"I have no idea what Zidane is thinking, but it is true that the team needs a big shake-up, they must move in the market in a much more decisive way than in recent seasons.

"There is a need for five or six really well-chosen players. You must choose very well, both the players to come in, and those who will leave."

Paul Pogba and Eden Hazard joining Real Madrid is possible because great players are always welcome at the club, says Raphael Varane.

Madrid have been linked with big-money moves for the Manchester United midfielder and Chelsea winger as Zinedine Zidane looks to rebuild the squad following a disappointing 2018-19 season.

Pogba has struggled to stamp his mark on United since returning in 2016 for a then world-record £89million, while Hazard appears set to leave Stamford Bridge with just one year remaining on his contract.

Varane, who has vowed to remain with the club next term despite links to the likes of United and Juventus, believes players of such calibre will always have a place at the Santiago Bernabeu.

"I can't say what I talk to [Pogba] about, but any great player has a place at Madrid and he is one," Varane told Marca.

"In Madrid there is a lot of competition. It is a possibility, there is a lot of noise around and we will see in August where he is."

On Hazard, he added: "I've known him since I started at Lens. He is a top player and it's like I said to explain the case with Pogba, he could also play at Madrid.

"He is in the best moment of his career with the age and quality he has. When we [France] faced [Belgium] in the World Cup semi-finals we knew we had to have a special plan to stop him."

Madrid have long been expected to sign a new striker to replace Karim Benzema, but the former Lyon man hit 30 goals in all competitions this season – his best since the 2011-12 campaign.

"To play for Madrid for 10 years and also being the number nine you have to be very good and have a huge mental strength. He is very talented and has reached a moment of fulfilment," said Varane.

"He knows himself very well, he knows what he has to do to be at his best level and he has had a very good season.

"It may be the best of his career, and it is true that I have seen him very comfortable in his role as leader of the attack. I am very happy for him."

France head coach Didier Deschamps is happy to give Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba his opinion on their futures but has warned them to be sure they make the right choice for their careers.

Atletico Madrid striker Griezmann confirmed last week that he intends to leave the Wanda Metropolitano at the end of the season, despite only agreeing a new five-year contract last year.

Pogba, meanwhile, has been heavily linked with a move to LaLiga giants Real Madrid after a largely difficult season with Manchester United.

Deschamps – who has named both players in his squad for a friendly against Bolivia and subsequent Euro 2020 qualifiers against Turkey and Andorra next month – will give them his view but is keen for them not to come to regret their decisions.

"Players are making choices, I'm not there to advise them," he told a media conference.

"I'm here to give them my opinion, but it's about them. It depends on their career, people and family.

"Most of them ask for my opinion. They can use it or not; it's not my choice.

"What matters is that when they decide something important, they think it is the correct choice. But sometimes you think, 'yes it's a good choice to join that club' and then it's not. It's easy to say after the fact. It goes well or badly."

Despite criticism of Pogba's form towards the end of the campaign, he ended 2018-19 with 13 Premier League goals and a further nine assists – more than any of his United team-mates managed – and earned a place in the PFA Team of the Year.

Deschamps believes people are too quick to find faults in the 26-year-old's game and says he brings a lot more than just goals.

"I hope you're watching all his games in the Premier League," he added. "We see Paul when he scores and gives assists, but Paul is not just about that. With us, he scores fewer goals, but he was and still is very important.

"A season lasts 10 months and players can't be at their peak all the time. With France, he knows I'm asking him different things because we have a team, and he's doing it very well."

Toni Kroos does not believe he will have any problems keeping his place at Real Madrid even if Paul Pogba arrives at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Despite being linked with a move away from the club, Kroos signed a contract extension with Madrid until 2023 on Monday.

After finishing 19 points adrift of Barcelona in LaLiga and failing to win another trophy following their FIFA Club World Cup triumph in December, Zinedine Zidane is expected to overhaul the Madrid squad.

Manchester United midfielder Pogba has long since been viewed as a likely target for Madrid and has made no secret of his admiration for Los Blancos.

Madrid are also expected to make a push to sign Eden Hazard, while Kylian Mbappe's comments that he wants more responsibility either at Paris Saint-Germain or "elsewhere" have fuelled talk of a move for the World Cup winner.

Asked about what impact Pogba's potential arrival could have on his place in the Madrid engine room, Kroos told a media conference: "That doesn't change anything for me.

"I've fought for my place, played well, I don't think I'll have any problems to play.

"I don't know who's going to go, I don't know who's going to come. I've spoken to the manager, I know what his idea is. I'm going to be important, I can't say anything else.

"I don't know how many changes there are going to be. I've never had any doubts about my future. I want to be here always, and I've always said that."

On the subject of the speculation surrounding Mbappe, Kroos said: "I like Mbappe as a player but that question's not for me really. I can't buy him, I've got a good contract but I can't buy him. That's a question for the club."

Kroos has previously expressed a desire to end his career at Madrid and that seemingly remains his ambition, the Germany midfielder confident he can still produce his best for the length of his new contract.

"Many times, after the game against Ajax for example, I admitted that I wasn't at my level, I've got no problem to say that," said Kroos.

"I really want to improve how I played but before I played four years consistently well, this year I played worse than the four years before that's true. I'm still the same player, 29 years of age, and I still have three or four years at the top level I'm sure.

"The idea is to practically finish my career here, at age 38 I don't think I'll still be playing. The idea is this will be my last long contract here."

Real Madrid seem certain to spend heavily to boost Zinedine Zidane's squad and try to close the growing gap to LaLiga rivals Barcelona.

Zidane has indicated he will not be afraid to overhaul an ageing team that ended the campaign third, 19 points behind Barca, after a 2-0 home loss to Real Betis on Sunday.

Gareth Bale was an unused substitute against Betis, with his future seemingly certain to be away from the Santiago Bernabeu, while goalkeeper Keylor Navas is also expected to leave.

But how could Madrid's squad look ahead of the 2019-20 season? Omnisport takes a look at the likely arrivals and departures for Los Blancos.

IN: Eder Militao, Luka Jovic, Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba, Neymar, Eden Hazard?

Madrid have already sealed a deal for Porto centre-back Militao, boosting an increasingly leaky defence that shipped 46 league goals last term. Reports in Germany have claimed Jovic will soon follow, with the Serbia striker - previously linked with Barcelona - set to leave Eintracht Frankfurt despite only completing his permanent transfer from Benfica earlier this year.

Former coach Fabio Capello has said Madrid have €500million to spend, so Zidane can afford to be ambitious with his targets. Pogba has long been linked with the club and despite being Manchester United's top goalscorer in the Premier League this term, he could be allowed to leave.

Mbappe would be a classic Madrid 'Galactico' signing and he signalled he would be open to leaving Paris Saint-Germain when he collected both the Ligue 1 Best Player and Best Young Player of the Year prizes at the National Union of Professional Footballers' awards on Sunday. Mbappe would likely cost a world-record fee, with Neymar another top-tier player potentially on the move.

The former Barca attacker has reportedly failed to settle in the French capital and he could be Madrid's next superstar after last year's surprise sale of Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus, but Madrid's long-term interest in Eden Hazard - who has a year left on his Chelsea contract - may scupper a potential deal for the Brazil star.

Even with a vast amount of cash to splash, it is hard to see Madrid bringing in four new attackers in Hazard, Jovic, Mbappe and Neymar, while PSG - regardless of doubts over their financial situation - would surely not allow both of their forwards to leave in the same transfer window.


OUT: Gareth Bale, Keylor Navas, Isco, Marcelo, Raphael Varane, Luka Modric?

The level of spending at Madrid during the close-season will partly depend on who they can sell, with Bale a prime candidate to be moved on. Zidane's lack of trust in the Wales forward is no secret, even though Bale scored twice in last year's Champions League final defeat of Liverpool in Kiev. Bale cost what was then a world record £85m when he joined from Tottenham but his huge wages, coupled with a short list of potential suitors, could be a problem. Reports in Spain have indicated Bale is willing to see out the remaining three years of his contract.

Another key member of the Madrid team that won three Champions League titles in a row in Zidane's first spell, goalkeeper Navas is expected to be sold after last year's arrival of Thibaut Courtois, with the current boss said to be keen to make son Luca his number two option with the gloves.

Isco seemed certain to depart when he was out of favour before Santiago Solari's sacking, while Marcelo could also be allowed to leave due to the breakthrough season enjoyed by left-back Sergio Reguilon. But Toni Kroos is staying put after signing a new four-year deal with the club. PSG were linked with a treble swoop for Kroos, Isco and Bale, so the latter two players could be used as potential makeweights in a deal for either Mbappe or Neymar.

At the back, Zidane has said Raphael Varane will stay but with Juventus reported to be interested in the World Cup winner, a big offer could tempt Madrid to sell. Ballon d'Or winner Luka Modric, meanwhile, was previously linked with Inter and had a poor second half of the season.

 

@realmadrid #TeamVarane pic.twitter.com/YiwSQlq8tp

— Raphaël Varane (@raphaelvarane) May 17, 2019

POTENTIAL MADRID XI FOR 2019-20

Thibaut Courtois; Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Eder Militao, Marcelo; Toni Kroos, Casemiro, Paul Pogba; Kylian Mbappe, Luka Jovic, Eden Hazard.

Mauro Icardi and Paul Pogba would make ideal transfer targets for Juventus, according to former midfielder Claudio Marchisio, who has "never understood" why his old team-mate left the club.

Pogba spent four years in Turin after leaving Manchester United, before he returned in a then-world record £89.1million transfer in 2016.

The France star has been tipped to leave Old Trafford after this season, though, with Juve and Real Madrid said to be firm favourites to sign a player who has been criticised for inconsistency during his time in England.

Marchisio, who made nine Russian Premier League appearances for Zenit in 2018-19 in an injury-plagued first season after leaving Juve, wants to see Pogba back in black and white.

"Looking at Juventus' team, I think it lacks a player that can help the team offensively and Pogba would be the ideal player for that," Marchisio told Tuttosport.

"I never understood his decision to return to Manchester; he had already been there.

"If he wanted to improve, it would have made so much sense for him to move to Spain."

Marchisio also called for the Old Lady to swoop for Inter striker Mauro Icardi, claiming an all-Argentine strike force would be "perfect" for Massimiliano Allegri's side.

Icardi's wife and agent Wanda Nara added weight to reports the Nerazzurri star could be on his way to the Allianz Stadium to join compatriot Dybala when she confirmed offers from "the best teams" have come in for him.

Marchisio said he remains in close contact with Dybala and recommended Icardi as a perfect foil for the 25-year-old Juve forward.

"I often talk to Dybala, we are close friends," he said. "He knows that he didn't perform well this season, but that can happen to any great player.

"He is determined to bounce back, and I hope they find a way to play him alongside [Cristiano] Ronaldo, because he is insanely talented."

Marchisio compared 26-year-old Icardi to former Juve striker David Trezeguet, adding: "He needs his team-mates to play his style, but of course he is an amazing player.

"An attacking duo featuring Icardi and Dybala would be perfect, also considering the age of the two."

Paul Pogba will leave Manchester United ahead of the 2019-20 campaign, according to his former team-mate Patrice Evra.

The France international has endured a largely difficult campaign at Old Trafford, initially thriving under Jose Mourinho's successor Ole Gunnar Solskjaer before his form tailed off dramatically towards the end of the season.

He was also involved in a verbal spat with a handful of United fans following their 2-0 home loss to relegated Cardiff City on Sunday.

Despite the criticism, Pogba ended 2018-19 with 13 Premier League goals and a further nine assists – more than any of his United team-mates managed – and earned a place in the PFA Team of the Year.

Evra – who played with Pogba at United, Juventus and in the French national side – says incidents like the one with United fans are "killing" him and that he expects him to move on in the coming months.

"I don't want to blame all the players because I think that some players are here [at United] and they themselves don't even know why they are here," he told Sky Sports.

"I think [Pogba] will leave because you need to feel the love when you play somewhere, you need to be committed. If Paul decides to stay another year and then leave, or stay another few years, maybe the fans will love him because he is committed.

"It's not like I am protecting Paul but when there are incidents like with the fans, they are killing Paul."

Alexis Sanchez is another player expected to depart United after a torrid season, which saw him score just twice in 27 appearances across all competitions.

The Chile international was linked with a move to Manchester City before ultimately arriving at Old Trafford in January 2018, with Evra suggesting his move to the red side of city was motivated by money.

"Some players only come for the money, I am not afraid to say that," Evra added.

"I have nothing against him, but Sanchez, when I saw the deal, that's when I thought the Manchester United history just went down.

"He had Manchester City, they were offering less money but he was going to play better football than United – I'm sorry about that, but City play better football and [Pep] Guardiola will improve him.

"So I want to know what is the real reason for choosing United? Don't tell me he loved Manchester United when he was a kid.

"It's either the money or he wanted to be the number one, take the number seven shirt and be the star."

Paul Pogba needed a year to recover from winning the 2018 World Cup but will bounce back for Manchester United next season, according to Youri Djorkaeff.

The France international has endured a largely difficult campaign at Old Trafford, initially thriving under Jose Mourinho's successor Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but ending the season in poor form.

He was involved in a confrontation with some United fans on Sunday as players walked around the pitch following their final-day 2-0 home loss to relegated Cardiff City.

Despite the criticism, Pogba ended 2018-19 with 13 Premier League goals and a further nine assists – more than any of his United team-mates managed – and earned a place in the PFA Team of the Year.

And Djorkaeff, who was part of the France team that won the 1998 World Cup on home soil, thinks Pogba's up-and-down season was to be expected.

Speaking courtesy of the UEFA Europa League Trophy Tour – Driven by Kia, he told Omnisport. "When you win a World Cup, the following year is usually difficult for everyone, not only Pogba.

"For any world champion, the impact is such that you need a year [to get over it]. Next year, Pogba should reach an even better level.

"He will be able to show his qualities better than he could with Mourinho in Manchester."

Pogba has been linked with a move away from United, with Real Madrid reportedly his preferred destination if he leaves.

Joining the LaLiga giants would allow Pogba to team up with compatriot Zinedine Zidane, a former international team-mate of Djorkaeff.

Zidane's March return to Madrid has been underwhelming, his side suffering two defeats in their past three league matches as their season peters out.

Djorkaeff feels the challenge facing Zidane will be to shape the Madrid squad in his image, with Gareth Bale seemingly among those who are surplus to requirements after being left out of their two most recent matchday squads.

"We were expecting him everywhere. He was linked to many clubs," Djorkaeff said of Zidane. "What's interesting is the way he came back.

"Real Madrid are at the end of a cycle, got knocked out in the last 16 of the Champions League and the following week the president [Florentino Perez] decided to change the head coach for someone who knows them well.

"That's a strong message that the Real Madrid president sent to the fans and the socios [members]. It says: 'We'll get the best back, even if he previously left, we'll do whatever it takes to have him back and start the conquest again'.

"Don't forget that they won three Champions Leagues in a row. It was a first. I think that the main change for Zidane is that he's going to build a team.

"The first time, he joined an incredible team, with great players. He's going to build a new team now that I hope will start a new cycle."

Zinedine Zidane confirmed he has held talks with Gareth Bale over his Real Madrid future, but is refusing to be drawn into a public war of words with the forward's agent Jonathan Barnett.

Bale was left out of Madrid's squad for last weekend's 3-2 win against Villarreal, amid growing speculation that he could be on his way out of the Santiago Bernabeu at the end of the season.

But the 29-year-old's agent revealed in an interview earlier this week that his client wants to stay in the Spanish capital and is happy to see out the remaining three years of his contract, even if he is not part of his manager's plans.

Zidane refused to comment during Saturday's news conference, although he did indicate that conversations have taken place with the player.

"No, I don't want to answer. I'm the coach of Real Madrid and [Barnett] does his job," he said. 

"I have to think about the game, playing well, that's what worries me. I won't tell you anything about [the conversation]. Private conversations are private. 

"It's what I have to do with all of the players, but it stays internal. With the players I talk about other things, not just their futures." 

Bale is one of several first-team players facing an uncertain future at Madrid, with Zidane expected to be heavily backed to freshen up his stale squad ahead of next season.

And the Frenchman, who returned for a second spell in charge two months ago, is looking forward to a brighter future for the Spanish giants following a disappointing campaign this time around.

"Is it exciting? Yes, and for me more than anyone. I have to tell people as the coach that we will always think about doing things well," he said. 

"We've won a lot and that will continue. The history of this club will always keep growing. As a coach I say that next year we will have hope to win many things, we will give our all in our work, win because of that work; you have to work a lot and well.

"We will do all we can because the fans are proud of their team." 

Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba has been repeatedly linked with a switch to the Bernabeu in recent months, but Zidane once more refused to be drawn on the possibility of a big-money move.

"It's not just me that likes him, everyone likes good players," Zidane said. "He's a Manchester United player and I won't talk to you about opposition players."

Luke Shaw claimed Manchester United's Players' Player of the Year award and the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year gong.

United left-back Shaw scooped both trophies at the club's end-of-season awards ceremony on Thursday as star team-mate Paul Pogba missed out.

In a difficult season for United – who are set to finish sixth in the Premier League and miss out on Champions League qualification – Shaw stood out among his peers and fans at Old Trafford.

Shaw has made 40 appearances in all competitions heading into Sunday's season finale against Cardiff City – the 23-year-old edging Victor Lindelof and Pogba to the Matt Busby honour, as voted by supporters.

"It's obviously nice for me, but I'd rather win no [individual] trophies and have a better season as a team," Shaw said. "We need to move on and focus now on next season and what’s to come.

"Ole has done an amazing job and of course we've had ups and downs but he's obviously looking forward to getting us back in pre-season and getting his proper work done for next season. We're all looking forward to starting fresh next season with him as the manager."

Shaw, who signed a new contract in October, is the first Englishman since Wayne Rooney in 2010 to win the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award.

Mino Raiola has confirmed he will appeal the ban handed to him by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC).

Agent Raiola, who represents the likes of Paul Pogba, Matthijs de Ligt, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, was given a three-month suspension on Wednesday, though the FIGC did not provide any specific reasoning.

And Raiola has now responded to the FIGC's decision, reassuring his clients that business will carry on as usual during the transfer window.

In a statement released on his official Twitter page, Raiola wrote: "This 'Italian Ban' is not a surprise, unfortunately.

"My personal concern is that it has been a sentence dominated by a political willing, without taking into the right consideration the reason of law.

"It is a sentence based on false grounds and lies. Law and justice, however, must prevail in any civil and correct system and I hope my name will be restored in the next chapter of this story.

"I guess the FIGC has not forgiven my criticism of the role it's played in the disastrous state of Italian football, as well as its role in the problems of racism. My opinions certainly influenced this decision.

"I will seek justice against this injustice and freedom of speech in every legal court possible to me as my main task is in the interest of Italian football.

"I will proudly conduct this fight in order to obtain what it is in conformity with law. This discussion is contained to the Italian territory and has no repercussions on the players I represent."

De Ligt is one of Raiola's high-profile clients likely to be on the move in the close season, with Barcelona favourites to land the Ajax captain.

Super agent Mino Raiola has been handed a three-month ban by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC).

Raiola represents some of the leading players in the game, including Manchester United star Paul Pogba, Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti, AC Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, Ajax captain Matthijs de Ligt and LA Galaxy striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

However, he was suspended for three months by the FIGC's Sports Procurators Commission on Wednesday, albeit no reasons were specified in a brief statement from the governing body.

His cousin, Vincenzo Raiola, was banned for two months.

One of Mino Raiola's main clients, Pogba, has been linked with a move away from Old Trafford, with Real Madrid reported as potential suitors.

Paul Pogba has had a tough year according to his brother Florentin, who said that "things are going to happen" regarding the Manchester United midfielder's future amid reports he could join Real Madrid.

While United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is convinced the France international will remain at Old Trafford next season, Florentin Pogba was far less certain about his younger sibling's fate.

The Atlanta United defender was asked about his previous comments, in which he said his brother would only leave United for rivals City, Barcelona or Real Madrid, and whether that was still the case.

"I don't know what'll happen," he told AS. "We'll see.

"Things are going to happen. Summer's coming. We'll see if he stays, if he goes."

A run of four defeats and a draw in their last seven Premier League matches has tarnished United's hopes of qualifying for next season's Champions League, and Florentin Pogba indicated he felt that missing out on Europe's top competition could have a bearing on his brother's future.

"At the moment [all I want] is for my brother to be happy," he said. "To be playing like he knows how to and that's it."

Asked whether the World Cup winner had endured a difficult year at Old Trafford, he added: "Yes, but in my opinion he's done a good job and we can see Manchester are going to have it tough to qualify for the Champions League.

"We'll see how it turns out."

Zinedine Zidane is adopting a patient approach to the transfer market, even as Paul Pogba continues to be linked with Real Madrid.

After a disappointing season in which Madrid have only won the Club World Cup, they are expected to be extremely active in the upcoming window - with Pogba and Eden Hazard at the forefront of speculation.

Zidane has acknowledged his appreciation of Manchester United midfielder Pogba in the past and the name was again put to him ahead of the LaLiga clash with Villarreal.

However, the Madrid coach would not be drawn on the possibility of a big-money move.

"Pogba is a good player, a player I know, but that's it," Zidane told a news conference. "I'm not going to get into these things, this nonsense.

"If you ask me about Pogba, I'll tell you he's a Manchester United player. He's very good but he's a Manchester United player.

"When the season is over, we'll see what transfers there will be."

Zidane was not able to assure supporters that business will be swift in the coming months, suggesting Madrid will be willing to wait to get the right players.

"I do not know if it will be possible," he said. "You know how things are. We have to take one step at a time. Things are done quietly.

"Players will play games with their national team and then we will have time to prepare for the season until August 31 and anything can happen. We will see."

Reported Real Madrid target Paul Pogba would add vital goals but little else to the LaLiga giants, according to former coach Jorge Valdano.

Madrid are preparing for a big transfer window after a disappointing season that has seen three coaches in the Santiago Bernabeu hot seat and silverware only in the Club World Cup.

World Cup winner Pogba is one possible option for Zinedine Zidane's men, with speculation mounting around an exit from Manchester United, who have also endured a tumultuous campaign.

Giving his take on a move for Pogba, Valdano suggested the France international might not be the answer to all of Madrid's midfield problems, yet his goals would be welcomed.

Pogba has 13 Premier League goals for United this term.

"I don't think Pogba would add much to Madrid's game but he'd bring goals," Valdano told Onda Cero. "On his own, Pogba is scoring more goals that the entire Real Madrid midfield."

The latest Madrid setback came on Sunday in a defeat at Rayo Vallecano, with Valdano dismayed by the displays from many stars. Only top-scorer Karim Benzema escaped criticism.

Valdano said: "There were a lot of players in the Real Madrid starting XI who are not up to the rhythm the competition demands. The team has no backbone.

"Real Madrid looked like a team of individuals. They play for themselves - not each other - and once they reach the final third of the pitch, if Benzema's not there, the move falls apart."

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