Casemiro has crowned team-mates Luka Modric and Toni Kroos as "possibly the best two midfielders in the world".

Madrid ran out 2-0 winners over Eintracht Frankfurt in the Super Cup on Wednesday, thanks to goals from David Alaba and Karim Benzema.

Carlo Ancelotti stuck with the same line-up that had started against Liverpool in May's Champions League final, and midfield trio Casemiro, Kroos and Modric turned in a supreme display.

Modric, the 2018 Ballon d'Or winner, completed 53 of 57 passes (93 per cent) and laid on two chances for team-mates in Helsinki, while Kroos enjoyed 120 touches, completed 97 passes and gained possession nine times.

Only UEFA's man of the match Casemiro (10) bettered that latter figure, and the Brazil international also went close to a spectacular goal when he rattled the crossbar from long range on his weaker left foot – that shot was teed up by Modric.

The trio's performances led Carlo Ancelotti to highlight Madrid's experience as a crucial factor in their victory after full-time, and Casemiro knows he is playing with two of the best in the business.

"We know each other just by looking at one another," he told a post-match news conference.

"I've got an easy job, we're talking about Kroos and Modric who are possibly the best two midfielders in the world. 

"There are things in football that cannot be explained, some things just happen in football. I hope we'll continue to be together for a long time to come."

 

While Madrid's thrilling 2021-22 Champions League triumph saw several energetic cameos by young midfielder Eduardo Camavinga, the 14-time European champions have further bolstered that area of the pitch with the recent acquisition of Aurelien Tchouameni from Monaco.

Casemiro welcomes the competition provided by the 22-year-old's arrival and has high hopes for the France international.

"It hasn't annoyed me, everyone knows about my character and loyalty for this club, I'll be working in the same way," Casemiro said.

"You only see the 90 minutes but I'll keep making sacrifices, including on the pitch and in training.

"I think Tchouameni is a top player, this club speaks for itself – everybody gives their all. All I can say to him is keep doing what he's doing, keep showing in training and do it out on the pitch."

Real Madrid have not, yet, rounded off their pre-season. Carlo Ancelotti's team do not start their LaLiga campaign until Sunday, when they take on Almeria.

Yet at the Helsinki Olympic Stadium, the Champions League holders picked up where they left off just over two months ago – with European glory.

A 14th European crown came their way in Paris back in May, when Vinicius Junior's goal – combined with Thibaut Courtois' heroics – saw off Liverpool.

And on a comfortable summer's night in Finland on Wednesday, Madrid's assortment of superstars claimed the club's fifth Super Cup with a 2-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt, as Ancelotti's decision to stick with the team that won at the Stade de France was repaid in full. 

Eintracht, who defeated Rangers to win the Europa League last term, performed admirably, but shorn of Juventus-bound talisman Filip Kostic, the Bundesliga side could not cope with the power and quality at Madrid's disposal.

Not that it would have definitely been any different with Kostic in the team, as this was a game won mostly in midfield, that is where Madrid exerted their dominance. Though on the occasions when Eintracht did threaten, particularly in the opening 30 minutes when Courtois made two impressive stops, it would be easy to imagine Kostic, who crafted 420 chances, provided 56 assists and scored 30 goals across 167 appearances for the club after joining from Hamburg in 2018, would have helped their cause.

In a pre-match news conference on Tuesday, Luka Modric – 37 next month – was asked if he planned on asking Ancelotti to manage his minutes with the mid-season World Cup in mind. 

"I speak to the coach every day, but not about that. The coach knows I like playing and I feel better when I play," Modric replied. "I'm feeling good, available to the team to give my all to help the team in every way. The World Cup doesn't change anything for me."

Karim Benzema, who scored Los Blancos' second to become Madrid's outright second leading goalscorer after Cristiano Ronaldo, added: "Age does not come into it."

Benzema's statement rang true. Madrid's starting midfield three of Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro had a combined age of 98, yet surely covered every blade of grass between them, both on and off the ball.

Having spent much of the opening stages looking to drop into space and ping searching diagonals out to Vinicius Junior, who along with Federico Valverde and Eder Militao adds the effervescence of youth to the starting XI, Modric grew into the game as it wore on, finding the pockets of space only he can.

 

The Croatian's mercurial talents were on full show early in the second half, after David Alaba had put Madrid ahead – his tap-in having been teed up by a combination of Benzema and Casemiro. 

In the space of five minutes, Modric linked up exquisitely with Benzema to find Ferland Mendy and create a chance for Vinicius Junior to test Kevin Trapp, who was well beaten from the next opportunity Modric teed up – Casemiro rattling the crossbar from the edge of the box.

Modric's race was run after Benzema made it 2-0 with his 324th Madrid goal (only Cristiano Ronaldo has scored more), and the playmaker headed for the bench having completed 53 of 57 passes (93 per cent), with two of those leading directly to opportunities, though those statistics do not tell the whole story. He was simply spellbinding at times, deft flicks and quick feet toying with Frankfurt's hopes and dreams.

And what of Casemiro? His tally of nine tackles led the game, with a sliding challenge on Jesper Lindstrom in the 51st minute a highlight.

Kroos, as Kroos does, went about his business efficiently, without breaking stride. He strolled off with five minutes remaining, making way for big-money signing Aurelien Tchouameni having had 120 touches, completed 97 passes and gained possession nine times, second only to UEFA's man of the match Casemiro (10).

 

Ancelotti, who has now won the Super Cup a record four times after previous success with Madrid (2014) and Milan (2003, 2007), was able to change things up late on, with Antonio Rudiger joining Tchouameni for a competitive debut, but 34-year-old Benzema who lasted the duration.

Benzema's goal came from a familiar source. Vinicius found space down the left channel, drilled in a cross and his partner in crime was there to finish it off. The Brazil forward has now assisted Madrid's number nine 16 times. 

It was he, as Madrid's new club captain following Marcelo's departure, who lifted the trophy. If this evidence, with a team still rounding off their preparations, is anything to go by, it will not be the last piece of silverware he lifts this season.

Real Madrid playmaker Luka Modric does not think it will be crucial for Carlo Ancelotti to manage his minutes this season, despite the upcoming World Cup.

The 2022 edition of FIFA's showpiece tournament takes place in Qatar across November and December, with Modric's Croatia having qualified.

Croatia reached the final of the 2018 tournament in Russia, with Modric starring. He subsequently won the Ballon d'Or, and is the only player not named Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi to scoop that award since 2007, when Kaka took it.

While Ivan Rakitic, the other mainstay of Croatia's midfield over the past decade, and Mario Mandzukic - who led the line in 2018 - have retired from international football (and in the latter's case, from playing altogether), Modric is set to lead his country once again.

Modric will be 37 by the time the World Cup rolls around, with Croatia drawn against Belgium, Canada and Morocco in Group F, but ahead of Wednesday's Super Cup clash with Eintracht Frankfurt, explained that he has not felt the need to talk to Ancelotti about managing how much he plays this campaign.

He told a news conference in Helsinki: "Not at all, I don't see it being different, as I've always said, age doesn't matter. What matters is what you show on the pitch, you don't need to look at your age.

"I speak to the coach every day, but not about that. The coach knows I like playing and I feel better when I play.

"I'm feeling good, available to the team to give my all to help the team in every way. The World Cup doesn't change anything for me, I just have to be ready, train well and be at the coach's disposal."

 

Perhaps to prove a point, Modric, who will have additional competition from new arrival Aurelien Tchouameni this season, was leading the press in a training game between two 11s made up of Madrid's superstar-littered squad at the Olympic Stadium after the media duties had been fulfilled.

Modric, as well as Karim Benzema, was also asked how Madrid could improve on last season, when they won a LaLiga and Champions League double.

"To be at this level you have to work hard and be committed on and off the pitch, that's what we're doing," he added. 

"We have a very good group of players here, we are ready for a good season, we are going to give everything as we do every year."

The equally evergreen Benzema, citing his coach, said: "I think we all agree, if that's what Carlo said!

"Age doesn't come into it, it's true that we're no longer young but we're all working hard, on and off the pitch, resting well between and are able to keep going and performing at a high standard. We have a good squad here, better than last year. We're going to compete for everything."

Robert Lewandowski made his debut for Barcelona as they defeated Real Madrid 1-0 in their pre-season friendly in Las Vegas on Saturday.

The 33-year-old had to share the spotlight with Raphinha however, with the latter's lone goal ultimately proving the difference in the 27th minute.

With Xavi also able to take his place on the touchlines after he was allowed entry into the United States, the Blaugrana started close to what could be considered a full-strength starting XI, with Andreas Christensen starting ahead of Gerard Pique.

Carlo Ancelotti kept a number of starters on the bench to begin the match, with the trio of Luka Modric, Casemiro and Toni Kroos eased in along with Ferland Mendy, while Aurelien Tchouameni and Eduardo Camavinga were paired in midfield to start.

Raphinha scored what would be the winning goal midway through the first half in what was an ultimately timid affair, firing home from the top of the penalty area after a quick regain of possession up the pitch for Barcelona.

Modric, Kroos and Casemiro were introduced while the likes of Pedri and Sergio Busquets came off in the second half, creating the aura of a sparring match, and Barcelona held out despite chances to Ousmane Dembele.

Luka Modric believes that Kylian Mbappe could still move to Real Madrid in the future despite snubbing the Champions League winners to remain at Paris Saint-Germain.

Mbappe was widely expected to move to the Santiago Bernabeu, with his contract at PSG having been set to expire, but instead he elected to pen a new deal to extend his stay in Paris through to 2025.

That led to an angry reaction from Madrid fans, and even LaLiga president Javier Tebas, who expressed his frustration by declaring the decision an "insult to football" as he launched a complaint to UEFA.

However, Modric has stated that Mbappe should not be crucified for staying in France and believes the door remains open for the 23-year-old to head to Madrid in the coming years.

"Mbappe decided as he decided, that is his right and now he lives with that decision. It goes on," Modric told Sportske.

"We all thought he would come to us, it didn't happen and – now what? Well, we're not going to crucify the man.

"Mbappe is a great player, but as I always repeat, in any context, no player is more important than the club. Real is the greatest, above every player and it will always be like that.

"Who knows what can happen tomorrow, let alone in three or four years in football? Only time will tell."

Mbappe's snub did not affect the end to the season for Madrid, who having wrapped up another LaLiga title, went on to defeat Liverpool 1-0 in the Champions League final, which was held in Paris.

Antonio Rudiger described the prospect of playing under Carlo Ancelotti as an "honour" after leaving Chelsea to join Real Madrid on a free transfer, as he targeted winning another Champions League title.

Rudiger signed a four-year contract with Madrid earlier this month, with his and Aurelien Tchouameni's arrivals at the Santiago Bernabeu already making for a significant transfer window.

He joins a side which has just won La Liga and the Champions League – the latter for a record-extending 14th time, while boss Ancelotti became the first coach to be crowned European champion on four occasions with last month's final win over Liverpool. 

Rudiger, who was instrumental as Chelsea won European football's premier competition in 2021, believes working under the Italian can help him reach those heights once more.

"It's an honour to play for Carlo Ancelotti," he told the club's website. "I'm convinced I can still learn a lot from him, and I hope he can help me win another Champions League here.

"The manager has played a big part in this [transfer]. After I spoke to him, I was convinced I wanted to join Real Madrid. But in general, everything this club represents is evident.

"I've always said that the Champions League is Real Madrid's competition, because that's where you see the club's real side.

"I'm very grateful to be here. It's like I'm dreaming, but this is real, and I feel immense pleasure to be here. I've never seen anything like this before."

Rudiger, who has won 53 caps for Germany, also revealed it was not international team-mate Toni Kroos that advised him to move to the Santiago Bernabeu, but Chelsea midfielder Mateo Kovacic, who made 109 appearances during a four-year spell with the Spanish giants. 

"I haven't spoken to Kroos too much about Real Madrid, I've spoken to Mateo Kovacic and he's told me a lot of things," Rudiger added. "He talked a lot about [Madrid and Croatia's Luka] Modric.

"He told me: 'You go there and enjoy it, it's a great move for you'. I've never heard a bad word about Real Madrid."

Rudiger has also been in touch with another former Blancos star since making the move to Spain, namely Brazil's legendary 2002 World Cup hero Ronaldo Nazario.

"Ronaldo played in the 2002 final against Germany sporting a very distinctive haircut," the defender recalled. "When we were kids playing football in the street, Ronaldo was our idol.

"When I signed, I spoke to him on a video call. I was excited and very nervous at the same time!"

Former Bayern Munich striker Ivica Olic has labelled Luka Modric as "one of a kind" and believes he still has a few more years left at the top level.

The Real Madrid midfielder has spent 16 years within Croatia's international fold, accumulating over 150 caps for the 2018 World Cup runners-up.

Modric, 36, is in the twilight years of an illustrious career but shows no signs of stopping – and the recent Champions League victory with Madrid was his fifth time lifting the trophy.

While there might soon be a changing of the guard in Madrid's midfield, with the signing of Aurelien Tchouameni from Monaco and Eduardo Camavinga already excelling in the squad, the picture is different in the national side.

Croatia's all-time most capped player will remain a key part of the squad heading into the 2022 World Cup and, while it may prove to be his last international tournament, Croatia assistant coach Olic believes Modric will not hang up his boots completely.

"I think Luka still only thinks about games and about playing football. He just still has that will," he told Stats Perform.

"When I look at his philosophy, how much he's working on himself, I think he's going to play for a few more years. 

"After that, if he wants to stay in football, wants to be a coach, then he will definitely devote himself to it and be successful at it."

 

Modric recently stated he remembers every one of his international appearances, and Olic feels he still has plenty to teach the younger players within the squad.

"He recently played his 150th game for the national team. After that game he said he remembered every single one of those 150 games, both the first one, which he played a long time ago, and the most recent one, a few days ago," he added.

"He's still full of vigour, full of will and he couldn't wait to join the national team after a long and difficult season.

"He showed what a captain, what a great player and what a great person he is. He arrived on the first day and is training and playing. He's one of a kind, definitely, regardless of his age.

"He trains and works as if he were 25 years old. I would be happy if he could play more games for us and stay healthy because he means a lot to the team. 

"The younger players still have a lot to learn from him and he's just a phenomenon."

Olic also believes Modric is still "irreplaceable" at Madrid, highlighted by a stunning assist against Chelsea in the quarter-finals.

"The whole world still admires him. He still amazes us with some moves, like recently when they played in the Champions League. Then he played a pass of over 20 or 25 meters with the outside of his foot," he said.

"Everyone has talked about it. No matter where I was, people only talked about it. So, he's still playing at the best level and he's still majestic and unique.

"He's irreplaceable for us and for Real Madrid. The fact that they offered him a new contract shows how much they value him."

Didier Deschamps has told his France players to "clear their heads" after Les Bleus' dreadful Nations League title defence was ended by Croatia.

Luka Modric's fifth-minute penalty at the Stade de France earned Zlatko Dalic's side a 1-0 win on Monday, with Croatia gaining a measure of revenge for their 2018 World Cup final defeat.

The loss means France can no longer finish top of Group A1, and as such prevents them from qualifying for the Nations League finals and retaining their crown.

France are not in action again now until September, when their objective will be avoiding a humiliating relegation from the Nations League's top tier.

They certainly have work to do on that front as they sit bottom of the group after four games, having only mustered two draws and a couple of defeats this month.

Deschamps seemed to blame fatigue for France's struggles but also accepted the players of most other teams will have been in a comparable condition physically.

Speaking to TF1 at full-time, Deschamps said: "This month of June was very difficult in terms of results.

"We didn't have enough energy and strength against teams that had more than us. We weren't successful either. It was above all the freshness that was not there.

"There are always lessons to be learned with these results. Each match is rich in lessons.

"The succession of matches was very hard, we lost players from one match to another. No doubt that others nations were affected [by fatigue].

"[The players] will have to clear their heads and go back to their club and start again for this new season."

The defeat represented the first match since November 2020 in which France failed to score (23 games).

France can no longer successfully defend their Nations League crown after Monday's 1-0 home defeat to Croatia left the finals beyond their reach.

Didier Deschamps' side had flattered to deceive in their first three matches this month, losing once and drawing the other two, and they were no better against a stubborn Croatia at the Stade de France.

They proved to be their own worst enemy with a needless early penalty concession that Luka Modric took full advantage of five minutes in.

The hosts' performance was full of bluster but lacked subtlety, with clear-cut chances difficult to come by on another disappointing day for the reigning world champions.

Ibrahima Konate was the guilty party for the penalty as the Liverpool defender clumsily tripped Ante Budimir and, after a long VAR review, Modric just about squeezed his kick past Mike Maignan.

The game became frantic as Les Bleus desperately searched for a leveller, but Ivica Ivusic was not forced into a meaningful save until early in the second half when substitute Aurelien Tchouameni shot straight at the goalkeeper.

It was a sign of renewed purpose, however, and Kylian Mbappe saw a 30-yard strike go agonisingly wide a few moments later.

Yet, Croatia ended up creating the better chances in the closing stages, with Lovro Majer and Nikola Vlasic forcing saves from Maignan as the visitors gained a measure of revenge for their 2018 World Cup final loss.

Luka Modric has agreed to extend his trophy-laden Real Madrid stay to over a decade by signing a one-year contract extension.

The European and LaLiga champions on Wednesday confirmed that Modric will remain at the Santiago Bernabeu for another season.

Modric joined Los Blancos from Tottenham in August 2012 and has made over 400 appearances for the club.

The 36-year-old midfielder pulled the strings as Carlo Ancelotti's side completed a Champions League and LaLiga double in a glorious 2021-22 season.

Modric has won the Champions League five times, three LaLiga titles, lifted the Club World Cup on four occasions and the Copa del Rey once during his long spell in the Spanish capital.

The Croatia captain also has three European Super Cup winners' medals and has celebrated Supercopa de Espana success four times.

Modric, who won his 150th cap for his country in a 1-1 Nations League draw with France on Monday, will go in search of more honours next season after putting pen to paper on a new deal.

Luka Modric was relieved his 150th cap was not marked with a loss against a familiar foe, following Croatia's 1-1 draw with France in Split on Monday.

The home side equalised in the 83rd minute via Andrej Kramaric, who sent Mike Maignan the wrong way from the penalty spot, following Adrien Rabiot's goal in transition in the 52nd.

Following a disappointing second-half in their opening Nations League defeat to Austria, Croatia finished the stronger of the two teams following the introductions of Nikola Vlasic and Luka Sucic.

With the Vatreni having never beaten France at senior international level, including World Cup final and semi-final defeats, Modric was thankful his side could salvage a draw.

"Irrespective of the result, thank God we didn't lose," Modric said after the game. "But we can be content with the performance we displayed. We played well, compactly, bravely and that's what we were after.

"I think the players who came in gave us a new energy. They gave us a freshness and aggression, and in the end we scored, we can be pleased as a result. And if we scored with [Ante] Budimir's chance in the first half, the match might have gone in a different direction.

"Then again, we showed we can hold our own against France, for whoever you put in that team, they're always going to be competent, with enough players for three teams."

Playing in his native Dalmatia, Modric became the first player to ever receive 150 caps for Croatia on Monday, following their readmission as a nation by FIFA in 1992.

Also receiving a gift from the France team pre-match to mark the occasion, the 36-year-old was dignified in response.

"This is a phenomenal feeling," he said post-match. "I'm happy and proud that I was able to reach this achievement with Croatia. I really didn't expect this, but there you go, I'm very proud and happy to have done so.

"Thanks to the crowd for their reception. It's enough to make your hairs stand up. Thanks to them for that, and to the French and Deschamps for their gift. I didn't expect that either but it was a beautiful gesture from them."

Real Madrid have to demonstrate that they are "the best team in the world" when they take on Manchester City for a place in the Champions League final, so says Luka Modric.

The meeting between the sides in Manchester last week was only the second semi-final first leg in Champions League history to see seven goals scored, after Liverpool beat Roma 5-2 in 2017-18.

Premier League leaders City hold a slender, 4-3 advantage heading to the Santiago Bernabeu and have progressed in nine of the previous 10 Champions League two-legged knockout ties when they have won the first leg.

Madrid have been eliminated in all five previous semi-finals in the competition when they have lost the first leg, but Los Blancos have progressed from two of their last three knockout ties when losing the first leg, including their remarkable comeback against Paris Saint-Germain in March.

Modric played a key role in that victory and in their quarter-final revival against Chelsea, and the mercurial 36-year-old was in bullish mood in Tuesday's pre-match news conference.

"The atmosphere in the locker room is very good. We are really looking forward to it. We know what we have to do, it is the most important game of the season," said Modric, who celebrated winning a third LaLiga title of his career on Saturday when Madrid beat Espanyol to clinch their 35th domestic crown.

"We are very confident that we will come back. We know that in the first leg we did not play our best game, but we still scored three goals. We have to do better, and I am sure of it."

 

Modric believes that Madrid's prestigious history can play its part in pushing Carlo Ancelotti's team on to reaching the final for the first time since 2018.

He said: "What do we have? Quality, a lot of character. The history of this club also plays a part. The club, which is the one with the most titles in the Champions League [13].

"All this influences a lot. We never give up. The club has taught us this since we got here. We have to show that we are Real Madrid, the best team in the world."

Modric played a pivotal role in Madrid winning three successive Champions League titles between 2015-16 and 2017-18, while he also helped win 'La Decima' during Ancelotti's first spell in 2013-14.

"I'm sure it's important. It's nice to remember that we've already won four Champions Leagues, some with a chance of reaching our fifth final," Modric said when asked if that experience was crucial against City, who have only reached one final, losing last season to Chelsea, before scoffing at the suggestion Madrid had been lucky in the past.

"To be here and win this many Champions Leagues, it's not just luck. It makes us laugh a little, although everyone can say what they want.

"We are focused on what we do and we don't care what they say outside. To get to this point year after year, beating great rivals and winning titles, you have to have more than luck: character, personality, faith. This is what makes us win."

Despite wrapping up their 35th LaLiga title and retaining a chance of winning the Champions League this term, Real Madrid find themselves at something of a crossroads.

The individual brilliance of Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior may have fired Los Blancos to a dominant triumph in LaLiga, but attention will soon turn to Madrid's attempts to defend the title for the first time since 2007-08.

With the potential arrival of a true global superstar and one of the Premier League's best defenders, as well as the matter of refreshing a brilliant but ageing midfield, it promises to be an interesting few months at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Here, Stats Perform analyses what Carlo Ancelotti's men could do to fend off the potential challenge of an improved Barcelona next season.

 

The Mbappe conundrum: How would the superstar fit in?

For months, if not years, Real Madrid's plans for 2022 seem to have revolved around one name: Kylian Mbappe.

While recent reports have suggested the 23-year-old could yet remain at the Parc des Princes, a move for the talismanic attacker – who will be a free agent in June – cannot yet be ruled out.

Having scored 35 goals and provided 19 assists in 43 appearances in all competitions for Paris Saint-Germain, Mbappe would clearly be an asset to any team in European football, but the question remains as to how Mbappe will complement another free-scoring Frenchman in the Spanish capital.

Benzema has become just the fifth Madrid player in history to score 40+ goals in a single season for the club (after Cristiano Ronaldo, Ferenc Puskas, Alfredo Di Stefano and Hugo Sanchez), and is being touted for the Ballon d'Or after driving Madrid's Champions League run. Benzema has scored 14 goals in 10 European appearances this term, averaging a goal every 65.1 minutes in a stunning campaign.

Mbappe and Benzema are no strangers to playing together, but the PSG forward failed to score and only provided one assist when doing so during France's disappointing Euro 2020 campaign. The Madrid man, meanwhile, finished just one goal short of the golden boot after netting four times.

Matters are complicated further when taking into account the form of Vinicius, who has formed a lethal partnership with Benzema this season, registering 33 goal involvements of his own in all competitions (18 goals, 15 assists), and Mbappe's preference to play from the left could infringe on Vinicius. 

However, Mbappe's development into a more well-rounded attacking talent should ensure he at least provides a threat, whichever flank he starts from. 

As well as improving on his 11 assists from last season, Mbappe has completed more dribbles (138) at a higher success rate (50.74 per cent) than Vinicius this term (130, 41.4 per cent), and could join him in playing a more creative role supporting Benzema.

Upgrading in defence: The arrival of Antonio Rudiger

Having announced his intention to leave Chelsea at the end of his contract, Antonio Rudiger is another player strongly linked with a move to the Bernabeu ahead of next season.

The German defender has been one of the Blues' outstanding players under Thomas Tuchel, starring in their Champions League triumph last year and enjoying another fine campaign this season.

Rudiger has been a key component in the Premier League's third-best defence this season, with Chelsea keeping 15 clean sheets and conceding just 28 goals despite falling out of title contention after a promising start.

The 29-year-old appears to be an upgrade on Madrid's current defensive options after last year's departures of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, offering more physicality than David Alaba and greater defensive steel than Eder Militao, a partnership that was frequently exposed by Manchester City recently.

Rudiger would also offer a threat at the other end of the pitch, with his three league goals this season bettered by just one other Premier League centre-back (Jan Bednarek, four), and his ability to step out of defence was on display when he scored a 39-yard stunner against Brentford in early April – Chelsea's longest-range Premier League goal since January 2007

However, Rudiger has been accustomed to playing in a back three at Chelsea and would be most likely to play as a right-sided centre-back in a back four for Madrid, unless Ancelotti opts to shift Alaba to left-back.

Rudiger would likely have to curb his attacking enthusiasm if paired with the naturally forward-thinking Alaba, but he appears a smart choice to further solidify a defence that has been the second-strongest in LaLiga this term (only Sevilla have conceded fewer goals).

The case for Camavinga: Time to look to the future?

The midfield trio of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric will go down in Madrid history: they started together in three consecutive Champions League final wins between 2016 and 2018, with the Croatian also starring in 2014's victory.

Nobody can question their quality or longevity. All three have made at least 35 starts this season, while Modric in particular has produced several sumptuous contributions in big games that have helped him to an assist haul of nine, six more than any other Madrid midfielder.

 

However, given they occasionally appear to lack a certain dynamism when out of possession, could Madrid benefit from some extra mobility in the engine room?

The signing of Eduardo Camavinga, who has made 35 appearances this term, was clearly made with such a move in mind, but the French youngster has only started 14 times in all competitions and would benefit from more playing time next season as he looks to improve his all-round game.

However, neither Camavinga nor Federico Valverde possess the kind of metronomic abilities of Modric or Kroos, and the younger pair also average fewer passes into the final third per 90 minutes than their more experienced peers (6.25 and 6.1, respectively).

As such, with the rumoured arrivals of Mbappe and Rudiger involving no transfer fees, Madrid could yet benefit from dipping into the market to acquire another young, progressive midfielder in a move that might also help to prolong the excellence of Modric and Kroos.

After a third successive Champions League title, Cristiano Ronaldo's departure for Juventus was meant to signal the end for a team that had scaled the heights of European football.

The annus horribilis of the 2018-19 season seemed to reaffirm such sentiment, but with Real Madrid now claiming a second LaLiga title and sitting another hair's breadth from the Champions League final since that departure, it seems even more irrational in hindsight.

How have Madrid been able to sustain their level among the best in European football and keep fighting for silverware on multiple fronts despite such a seemingly transformative absence? How have they won this season's LaLiga title with such ease?

Despite a severely weakened Barcelona and a supposed closing of the gap to the rest, Madrid can still reach 90 points this season.

 

In reality, their three successive Champions League triumphs during Zinedine Zidane's first spell in charge were largely due to the ideal balance of their midfield, comprising of Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Luka Modric.

To use but one example, bring into perspective how could they nullify Liverpool's ability to press in both the 2017-18 final and then again in the 2020-21 quarter-final over two legs, with Zidane in charge for a second time.

It bears repeating. Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp – a great pressing team that squeezes the opposition into submission, consistently forces errors and is tactically transforming football before our eyes – were eventually rendered inert on multiple occasions.

At Madrid's core though, the collective did and continues to flourish via the creative and incorporative link between Modric and Karim Benzema, both with and without the ball. In a burgeoning era of automation and systems, they are the system.

 

The thing that maximises the duo's technical proficiency is their ability to improvise and embrace risk in the exploitation of space. If automation was football's equivalent to the legend of developing a pen in space, the link between Modric and Benzema is the comparative pencil – just as effective, far more practical.

Granted, that reliance on them creates volatility. When the two are on the pitch, they give Los Blancos a distinct flexibility. When they're not together, the collective is without a reference point and their relationship between defence and attack is compromised – as it was in their thumping in El Clasico in March or even going back to the 2016-17 season and their Copa del Rey elimination in the quarter-final over two legs to Celta Vigo.

 

Viewing Madrid through this prism makes a lot of other aspects relating to them clearer – the ability to feasibly play Lucas Vazquez at right-back in Dani Carvajal's absence, the varying shifts in form from the likes of Vinicius Junior and Kroos this season, or the differing fates of Eduardo Camavinga and Martin Odegaard upon attempting to integrate them into the midfield.

On that latter point, within this context, Camavinga earning more scope at Kroos' expense instead of Modric does not become much of a surprise – because while Benzema has elite comparisons in the form of Robert Lewandowski and Harry Kane in terms of profile, Modric has always been one of a kind.

Midfielders as complete as Modric, possessing the effortless ability to blur the line between the elegant and the practical, simply did not exist before him – at least as a deep-lying player and not deployed higher up the pitch.

At the incomprehensible age of 36, the Croatia international is still unique, still elite. Ahead of Saturday's match, he led Madrid's midfielders in all competitions this season for chances created in open play per 90 minutes (1.1), expected assists (0.17) and trailed only Camavinga (1.5) for dribbles completed (1.4).

Only Kroos (12.5) bettered Modric (9.5) for passes into the final third per 90 in all competitions, but the German's passing represents an increasingly singular role in Madrid's midfield. He is a world-class distributor, but it is maximised as a result of the spaces that Benzema and Modric create.

No player is more relevant in this regard, however, than Vinicius. His own progression has also accelerated upon that basis. Benzema and Modric's ability to collapse opposition defences leaves the opposition full-back on Vinicius' side isolated, and the 21-year-old can be destructive when he has momentum to dribble.

This all matters because it creates a cumulative impact on how Madrid score their goals. In all competitions ahead of Saturday's game, Vinicius topped the team for dribbles completed per 90 (3.0), chances created from open play (2.3) and expected assists (0.23). 

This goes some way to explaining Benzema's dramatic increase in rate of goal scoring, especially comparing 25 goals in 29 league appearances heading into the weekend to his tally of five LaLiga goals in 2017-18.

Much like Modric, 34-year-old Benzema has the capacity to be flexible as that central striker, and to do what the game requires of him in any given moment. 

 

The reference point Benzema and Modric provide has been the primary dynamic in this season's title win – Carlo Ancelotti's first LaLiga success. They can win games in an instant but collectively, the consequent ability to manage games and keep applying pressure from either winning or losing positions, on the back of both territorial and positional superiority, has been critical.

Ultimately, intelligent footballers gravitate towards one another and it is one of most profound and beautiful aspects of the sport. While Madrid will eventually go on without Benzema and Modric, their interaction and how it has built a worthy title winner this season has only underlined that.

Erik ten Hag appears as though he will have a huge say over his own Manchester United transfer targets.

The Dutchman has inked a three-year deal at Old Trafford, with the option for a further year.

Ten Hag will officially take over on July 1, with Ralf Rangnick remaining in interim charge.

A face familiar to the Premier League could now be headed to Old Trafford with Ten Hag from Ajax…


TOP STORY - TEN HAG TO BRING HALLER TO UNITED

Manchester United may make a move for Ajax striker Sebastien Haller in the off-season according to The Sun.

Haller currently plays under ten Hag, who will take over at United at the end of the campaign.

The Ivory Coast striker, who spent two years with West Ham United, has netted 33 goals in all competitions for Ajax this term.

 

ROUND-UP

- Barcelona are optimistic that they can land Bayern Munich forward Robert Lewandowski in the off-season, reports Sport. Lewandowski is contracted with Bayern until 2023.

- Liverpool have contacted 22-year-old Monaco midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni about a move to England, claims Foot Mercato.

- Nicolo Schira claims that Inter are not interested in signing Bosnian midfielder Miralem Pjanic, contrary to reports. Pjanic is currently on loan at Besiktas from Barcelona.

- David de Gea and Manchester United are ready to enter into talks on a contract extension reports 90min.

- Fabrizio Romano claims that Luka Modric will ink a new deal with Real Madrid running until 2023.

Page 3 of 6
© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.