Zinedine Zidane urged Real Madrid fans to stay on side as he recognises the team are under more pressure this term because of last season's troubles.

Madrid played their first home match of the 2019-20 campaign on Saturday but were held to a shock 1-1 draw by Real Valladolid.

Karim Benzema scored what Madrid thought to be the winner in the 82nd minute, but Sergi Guardiola struck his second goal of the season even later to salvage a commendable point for the visitors.

Little has gone the way of Madrid – or Zidane – in recent months, with their close season marred by the ugly Gareth Bale transfer saga, poor friendly performances and uncertainty around some of the new signings.

Having finished last season 19 points adrift of Barcelona, Zidane knows the pressure has increased again this season and he is pleading for fans to lend their backing.

When asked if the team is under more scrutiny because of last term, Zidane said: "I noticed it at the Bernabeu - the crowd [feels the pressure] too.

"The fans also have to help us. There's no choice. I know it is difficult, but I'm asking because they have also taken advantage of our successes. We will try everything on our part."

Madrid are next in league action on September 1, when they travel to Villarreal.

Lionel Messi is once again absent from the Barcelona squad for Sunday's LaLiga clash with Real Betis.

Messi returned to training this week following a calf problem, with the 32-year-old missing Barca's entire programme of pre-season friendlies due to Copa America commitments and his injury.

Although he got several days of training under his belt and appeared to be in fine form in video footage that came out of the sessions, it was reported Messi felt "discomfort" on Friday.

Coach Ernesto Valverde also urged fans to be patient in his pre-match news conference a day later, adamant Messi will not be risked if he is anything other than 100 per cent ready to feature.

As such, Messi has been left out of the squad for the visit of Betis, who left Camp Nou with a stunning 4-3 win last season.

There is a place in the selection for Ansu Fati, a 16-year-old winger who impressed in the UEFA Youth League in 2018-19.

Barca will be aiming to bounce back from their 1-0 opening-day defeat at Athletic Bilbao.

 

Diego Simeone labelled former Atletico Madrid striker Fernando Torres as "an absolute legend of football" after the Spain great played the last game of his career on Friday.

Torres, 35, announced his decision to retire in June, targeting Sagan Tosu's clash with Vissel Kobe as the perfect match to finish with due to the presence of his former national team colleagues David Villa and Andres Iniesta.

Unfortunately for Torres, Tosu were on the end of a 6-1 hiding at home – Iniesta playing a key role, while the man of the moment failed to bring his career to a close with a goal.

Torres spent much of his career with Atletico, playing with and for Simeone at the club before moving to Japan in 2018.

And Simeone paid tribute to Torres in his news conference on Saturday.

"I think Fernando is very intelligent, an absolute legend of football, he has earned his place in football for his work, commitment and respect for others," Simeone said.

"He has always had a great respect, as a person and footballer. I imagine he will take his time to prepare and decide in the best way where he wants [his career to take him after retirement] and respond to that responsibility.

"Hopefully that's not in so many years, because then we could meet again."

Atletico began the new league season with a 1-0 win over Getafe last week, but Simeone remains frustrated that the campaign has started with the transfer window still open.

"It's an awkward situation for everyone, the players, coaches, clubs," Simeone added, with Atletico due to face Leganes on Sunday.

"I don't like the league starting before the transfer window closes. It would be better if we all knew who [players] we will have in the season. It would be healthier for everyone, but it's not up to me."

Karim Benzema is the first French player to score 150 goals in LaLiga.

Real Madrid were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Real Valladolid on Saturday, though Benzema was at least given a reason to crack a smile for his individual feat.

The former Lyon man netted a fine opener on the turn in the 82nd minute, finding the bottom-right corner from 18 yards.

However, it was ultimately not enough for the three points, as Sergi Guardiola converted just before the end to seal a shock draw for Valladolid.

Benzema has taken 10 years to reach the 150 milestone, but for a while it looked like he may never get near that number.

The striker's poor form in 2017-18 had his future at the club in doubt, but he bounced back last term with 21 goals in LaLiga, a figure he has only exceeded once in his career.

His effort on Saturday got him off the mark for the new season, making him only the seventh player to reach 150 goals for Madrid in Spain's top flight.

Real Madrid were held to a 1-1 draw by Real Valladolid in their first home game of the season on Saturday.

Karim Benzema's precise strike with eight minutes to play looked enough to earn Zinedine Zidane's side a second win from two LaLiga matches in 2019-20, only for Sergi Guardiola to level late on.

Madrid started their first home game of the season with none of their new signings in the first XI, as Zidane put faith in Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez and Isco despite weeks of speculation over their futures.

It was Bale who looked likeliest to break the deadlock in the first half, prodding a first-time effort just wide of the left-hand post and sending a header over the crossbar.

James also twice came close with a good strike and a header, but Valladolid goalkeeper Jordi Masip was left relatively untroubled despite Madrid's dominance.

Luka Jovic was sent on from the bench for his home debut and struck the crossbar with a header from Bale's cross - his first touch of the game.

Waldo Rubio was denied by Thibaut Courtois while Guardiola just failed to turn in a cross on the break, and Benzema's sharp turn and finish from 18 yards out - his 150th LaLiga goal - looked to have punished those misses.

That was until the 88th minute, when Guardiola raced into space behind Raphael Varane and prodded the ball through the legs of Courtois.


What does it mean? Madrid need Hazard fit - and soon

For all their dominance, Madrid found it very difficult to pick their way through the Valladolid lines and only managed four shots on target throughout, including Benzema's superb strike.

It was the kind of game where Eden Hazard's dribbling was needed to unlock the defence. Zidane will hope he is fit again quickly.

Kroos class not enough

Toni Kroos completed all 53 of his first-half passes and created a game-high five chances, but his meticulous use of the ball was not matched by those around him.

Vinicius ineffective

With Hazard unavailable, Zidane brought on Vinicius Junior to try to unbalance the Valladolid defence, but the Brazil winger offered little end product to some determined runs.

What's next?

Madrid head to Villarreal next Sunday, the day after Valladolid travel to Levante.

Real Madrid were held to a 1-1 draw by Real Valladolid in their first home game of the season on Saturday.

Karim Benzema's precise strike with eight minutes to play looked enough to earn Zinedine Zidane's side a second win from two LaLiga matches in 2019-20, only for Sergi Guardiola to level late on.

Madrid started their first home game of the season with none of their new signings in the first XI, as Zidane put faith in Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez and Isco despite weeks of speculation over their futures.

It was Bale who looked likeliest to break the deadlock in the first half, prodding a first-time effort just wide of the left-hand post and sending a header over the crossbar.

James also twice came close with a good strike and a header, but Valladolid goalkeeper Jordi Masip was left relatively untroubled despite Madrid's dominance.

Luka Jovic was sent on from the bench for his home debut and struck the crossbar with a header from Bale's cross - his first touch of the game.

Waldo Rubio was denied by Thibaut Courtois while Guardiola just failed to turn in a cross on the break, and Benzema's sharp turn and finish from 18 yards out looked to have punished those misses.

That was until the 88th minute, when Guardiola raced into space behind Raphael Varane and prodded the ball through the legs of Courtois.

 

Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde says Lionel Messi has to be 100 per cent fit if he is to feature against Real Betis on Sunday.

The 32-year-old missed the whole of Barca's pre-season programme with a calf injury and was not part of their squad for their opening LaLiga loss to Athletic Bilbao last weekend.

Messi – whose last competitive outing was for Argentina in the Copa America third-place play-off victory over Chile, a match in which he was controversially sent off – returned to training on Wednesday, but Valverde is unsure whether he will be fit for the visit of Betis.

Speaking at his pre-match media conference, Valverde said: "If he is not 100 per cent, he will not play."

If Messi does feature, he will likely line up alongside Antoine Griezmann in attack.

The €120million signing from Atletico Madrid struggled to make an impact in last weekend's disappointing defeat, with Luis Suarez's first-half injury leaving him isolated up front.

Valverde says he is improving all the time and expects the France forward to start firing soon if he is given the right service.

"He is better every day," the Barca boss said. "He has to participate a lot and last week he did not participate as we would have liked. 

"If he participates, he can be decisive, but we must help him."

Betis also opened their LaLiga campaign with a defeat last weekend – a 2-1 reverse to Real Valladolid – but Valverde is expecting a tough game at Camp Nou.

He added: "Betis are a team that have many options to allow them to be towards the top of the standings, but it is mandatory that we get all three points after losing last weekend."

James Rodriguez is set to start a Real Madrid match for the first time since May 2017 as Los Blancos welcome Real Valladolid in LaLiga.

Colombia international James spent the last two seasons out on loan with Bayern Munich, with his Madrid career seemingly over.

However, Bayern opted against triggering their purchase option and James has been integrated back into the Madrid squad with Zinedine Zidane's men having so far failed to offload him.

The playmaker slots into the midfield in place of Luka Modric after the Croatia international was sent off in Madrid's season opener last weekend – a 3-1 win at Celta Vigo.

James' last start for Madrid came in May 2017 and, having seemingly looked destined for the exit, he has a chance to prove himself once again to Zidane and his other detractors at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Gareth Bale found himself in a similar position to James during the close-season and came very close to joining Chinese side Jiangsu Suning, but that fell through and he is making his second successive LaLiga start.

The Wales winger could be in for a frosty reception from the notoriously vocal home support, however.

Madrid-owned Andriy Lunin is on the bench for visitors Valladolid.

Barcelona have a plan to land Neymar and the star forward's demands now appear to be known.

The Neymar saga is not yet over and it remains to be seen if the Brazil international will leave Paris Saint-Germain before the transfer window closes on September 2.

But Barcelona have a new plan to bring Neymar – who they sold to PSG for €222million two years ago – back to Camp Nou.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA HAVE NEYMAR PLAN AS STAR DEMANDS €35M PER SEASON

Barcelona have worked out a new formula to convince PSG to sell Neymar to them, according to Spanish newspaper Sport.

The LaLiga champions will offer cash and a player to the Ligue 1 giants this year and PSG can choose between either another player or more money in 2020, the report says.

Meanwhile, Neymar, 27, wants €35m net per season and a five-year deal, according to Spanish television show Jugones.

ROUND-UP

- Alexis Sanchez's possible move from Manchester United to Inter is developing slowly. The Serie A giants are confident of signing the attacker in the next few days amid talks about the division of Sanchez's wage, according to Italian journalist Fabrizio Romano.

- With Renato Sanches having left for Lille, Bayern Munich may be looking for a replacement. The Bundesliga champions remain interested in Espanyol midfielder Marc Roca, according to AS. However, Bayern want to pay €18m while the LaLiga side are hoping for Roca's release clause – €40m.

- Valencia are eyeing a move for Radamel Falcao after the Monaco striker ended talks with Galatasaray, reports AS. The Colombia international was heavily linked with a move to the Turkish giants, but Valencia may be looking for cover for Rodrigo, who could leave for Atletico Madrid.

- Also in Turkey, Rafinha is close to leaving Barcelona for Fenerbahce, according to O Jogo. Rafinha had been linked with a move to Valencia, but the 26-year-old could now be heading to Fenerbahce.

- Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting has had few chances since joining PSG in 2018, but the forward has no plans to leave, according to L'Equipe. Lecce had been linked with a move for the Cameroon international.

Zinedine Zidane is desperate to see the end of the transfer window after growing tired of the circus surrounding rumoured Real Madrid target Neymar.

LaLiga giants Madrid and fierce rivals Barcelona are believed to be battling for Neymar's signature as Paris Saint-Germain listen to offers for the Brazil international.

The 27-year-old was a topic of interest at Zidane's news conference on Friday, which occurred amid speculation in Spain that Keylor Navas could head in the opposite direction.

Head coach Zidane made clear his preference for Navas to remain in Madrid but was less forthcoming with his views on a potential deal for Neymar.

"I'm working with the players I have at my disposal and we have a game on Saturday," Zidane said ahead of the clash with Real Valladolid.

"Anything can happen until September 2, when the transfer window closes.

"Some might come, some might leave. I want September 2 to come as soon as possible so there will be no more questions.

"I am looking ahead to Saturday's game, that's what I'm concerned about right now."

Costa Rica international Navas watched from the bench as Madrid beat Celta Vigo 3-1 in their season opener last weekend but, despite PSG's apparent interest, the 32-year-old could well stay in the Spanish capital.

That is, at least, if head coach Zidane gets his way.

"Keylor is here with us and wants to be here with us," the Frenchman said.

"He has always been a great professional. We will have many games and I will count on him. Keylor is our player and an important player for us."

Zinedine Zidane wants Gareth Bale to repeat the performance he showed against Celta Vigo and prove he is good enough to stay at Real Madrid in the long term.

Head coach Zidane claimed in July it would be better for all concerned if Wales star Bale were to leave the club, but a move to Jiangsu Suning in the Chinese Super League collapsed.

With no other options for an exit materialising, Bale was a surprise starter in the LaLiga opener against Celta and responded with an excellent display, setting up Karim Benzema for the opening goal of the 3-1 victory.

Madrid boss Zidane confirmed after the game that Bale would be staying at the club, and he now wants the former Tottenham man to perform consistently to the standard he hit at Balaidos.

"It was a good game by Gareth," Zidane said on Friday ahead of Madrid's meeting with Real Valladolid. "He worked hard defensively. We want to continue playing this way.

"We need to improve to achieve good things this season. These are talented footballers who want to play, and I want all my players to play a part.

"What we want from the players is that they want to remain at the club, want to be here. A lot of things were said but now he wants to stay, we want him to play a part. He' s an important player, he's proven that in the past and he has to do that again, to show just how good he is."

Zidane has similarly challenged James Rodriguez to impress, the Colombia playmaker another to find himself surprisingly back in the Madrid first-team picture as prospective moves to Atletico Madrid and Napoli have failed to materialise.

"We're happy to have James back here at the club," Zidane said. "Let's see how things progress going forward. He's happy to be here. There are lots of games coming up and all the players are going to have a role to play."

When asked if James could replace the suspended Luka Modric against Valladolid, Zidane replied: "We'll see. We choose 11 and three players could come in. And we have 24."

Will they, or won't they?

Barcelona are trying to re-sign wantaway Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar before the transfer window closes on September 2.

LaLiga rivals Real Madrid are also interested, so this is set to go down to the wire.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA RENEWING NEYMAR EFFORTS

According to Sport, Barcelona are preparing a fresh offer to prise Neymar from Paris Saint-Germain.

Barcelona have already reportedly had an initial loan deal turned down by PSG, who are determined to recoup the world-record €222million fee they spent on Neymar in 2017.

Real Madrid, however, are still said to be determined to trump Barca to the signing of the Brazilian forward.

 

ROUND-UP

- Should Neymar be granted his wish to leave PSG, the Ligue 1 holders are reportedly considering a move for Juventus forward Paulo Dybala. That is according to Tuttosport, after Dybala had been linked to Manchester United and Tottenham prior to the Premier League's transfer window closing.

- Marca also reports goalkeeper Keylor Navas is close to leaving Real Madrid for PSG. Navas wants out after reportedly being told he will be Thibaut Courtois' understudy this season.

Manchester United will not make an offer for Fernando Llorente, according to the Daily Mail. Llorente is a free agent after leaving Tottenham and reports in Italy linked the Spaniard to Old Trafford following Romelu Lukaku's move to Inter. However, the Red Devils are reportedly not interested in the veteran.

Inter are close to signing full-back Cristiano Biraghi from Serie A rivals Fiorentina, reports Calciomercato. Biraghi was part of Inter's youth academy before moving on to the likes of Cittadella, Pescara and Fiorentina. Inter are said to be looking to include Dalbert in a swap deal for the Italy international.

Inter and United are continuing talks over Alexis Sanchez, claim Sky Sport Italia and Sportitalia. More discussions are reportedly planned, with United wanting Inter to cover more of the Chilean's salary during the proposed loan spell.

- According to The Telegraph, Leicester City midfielder Adrien Silva is poised to return to Monaco on loan. The Portugal international spent the second half of the 2018-19 season on loan at the Ligue 1 side. It comes after Sky Sport Italia reports AC Milan and Franck Kessie rejected Monaco's proposal for the midfielder.

Roma are weighing up a move for Atletico Madrid striker Nikola Kalinic, says Italian journalist Gianluca Di Marzio. After re-signing Edin Dzeko, Roma are reportedly considering Atletico fringe figure Kalinic if Patrik Schick and Gregoire Defrel leave.

Real Madrid have sent Takefusa Kubo on loan to Real Mallorca.

The 18-year-old, who was previously on Barcelona's books, will spend the 2019-20 LaLiga season at Iberostar Stadium.

Kubo joined Madrid in June but has not been deemed ready to join Zinedine Zidane's first-team squad.

The winger did, however, feature for Madrid during their pre-season tour of the United States and Germany.

Axel Witsel could have joined Real Madrid, Juventus, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain at various points in his career but feels vindicated in his decision to sign for Borussia Dortmund last year.

Witsel is in his second season at Dortmund, having joined the Bundesliga club from Chinese side Tianjin Quanjin on a four-year contract.

He narrowly missed out on the Bundesliga title in his debut campaign. However, Witsel believes he is at the right club after possible moves to other European heavyweights did not come to pass.

Speaking to Goal and DAZN, the former Zenit midfielder detailed how he missed out on joining Madrid from Benfica before electing to return to Zenit ahead of moving to Juve.

"I could have joined Real Madrid when Jose Mourinho was there," Witsel said. "But then Real signed Luka Modric, so a transfer to Madrid made no sense to me.

"Shortly before the end of the transfer period Zenit called. I had good discussions with the people responsible and finally agreed. I am an open person and was not afraid of Russia.

"My contract with Zenit expired and I wanted to move to Turin to Juventus. I had already passed the medical check and actually only had to sign the contract.

"I waited all day in the office and Zenit told me to come back. In retrospect, that was perhaps a twist of fate. Maybe it was just not the right time."

United and PSG were said to be in the running for his signature in 2018, but the prospect of regular first-team football convinced Witsel to choose Dortmund instead.

"First [Dortmund sporting director] Michael Zorc approached me, then [coach] Lucien Favre called me," Witsel added.

"I also had other offers, maybe I could have gone to Paris or Manchester, but I did not want to wait. And I had the feeling that I was the first choice for Dortmund. It is important to feel good when you go to a new club.

"So after the talks with Zorc, Favre and [CEO] Hans-Joachim Watzke, I decided to join BVB. Dortmund is a top club - and I really wanted to join a top European club.

"Maybe it was my last chance at 29 years old. It was the right decision."

Ryan Giggs is pleased Gareth Bale's Real Madrid future has for now been resolved but he still would have picked the forward for Wales had he moved to China.

Bale appeared to be on the brink of a switch to Chinese Super League club Jiangsu Suning amid an apparent breakdown in relations with Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane.

However, that prospective transfer fell through and Zidane has since indicated Bale will be staying at Madrid beyond the end of the transfer window.

Speaking after naming his squad for the Euro 2020 qualifier with Azerbaijan next month, Wales manager Giggs said: "I kept in touch with him [Bale] to see if he was all right.

"It was a strange situation but hopefully now it's sorted out - Gareth stays and plays games.

"It's obviously positive at the moment, I'm really pleased with the situation and looking forward to meeting up."

Asked what impact a move to China would have had on Bale's international career, Giggs replied: "It wouldn't have been ideal.

"It's a preference for your players to be in Europe with the travelling and the different calendars, but I'd still have picked him."

Former Manchester United star Giggs believes the Red Devils' Welsh winger Daniel James requires more protection from referees.

James was booked for simulation in United's 1-1 draw with Wolves, in which he was persistently fouled.

"You've seen he gets kicked a lot," Giggs added of James.

"Sometimes when you anticipate it, it can look live a dive. The speed he's going at it can look worse, but I'm not worried about that.

"He gets a lot of stick and referees need to protect him."

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