Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : January 5th 2016 Contents A36
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Tuesday, January 5, 2016
MADRID---Real Madrid has fired
coach Rafa Benitez after only seven
months and replaced him with former
player Zinedine Zidane.
Club president Florentino Perez
announced the decision at the Santiago
Bernabeu stadium yesterday, a day after
Madrid s 2-2 draw at Valencia deepened
a crisis that started with an embarrassing
4-0 home loss to rival Barcelona in
Madrid won seven of nine matches
since that demoralizing defeat but fans
continued to demand the departure of
Benitez, whose Liverpool side won the
Champions League in 2005.
Real Madrid is third in the Spanish
league, four points behind leader Atletico
Madrid and two behind Barcelona,
which has a game in hand.
France soccer great Zidane, who was
Carlo Ancelotti s assistant in 2014 when
Real Madrid won the Champions
League, has been coaching Madrid s "B
team in the third division.
Zidane was at the Bernabeu with his
wife and four kids.
"I m more emotional now than when
I signed as a player," said Zidane, who
ended his career at Real Madrid in 2006.
It will be the first major coaching job
for the former playmaker, whose career
was marked by greatness on the field
but also by his head-butting of an Italian
defender in the 2006 World Cup final.
"He is clearly conscious of how tough
this job is," Perez said. "Zidane doesn t
know the word impossible."
Zidane leaves Real Madrid Castilla in
second place in the third division, with
37 points from 19 games.
Perez had supported Benitez since the
Barcelona loss, saying the Spaniard "was
the solution, not the problem," to
Madrid s crisis. But fans kept showing
their discontentment even in an 8-0
win over Malmo in the Champions
League and a 10-2 rout of Rayo Valle-
cano in the Spanish league. They also
were not happy with the team s embar-
rassing elimination from the Copa del
Rey for using an ineligible player.
Zidane s name was mentioned by
Spanish media every time Real Madrid
struggled. The 43-year-old former play-
maker kept dismissing the possibility
of taking over Benitez, but always made
it clear that his ultimate goal was to
coach the main team. Perez recently
praised Zidane and said that naturally
he would become Madrid s coach one
There had been speculation about
former Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho
taking over at Madrid, but Perez said
the Portuguese coach s return wasn t
in the team s plans for now.
Madrid s next match is at Granada
on Sunday in the 22nd round of the
MANCHESTER---Think of Stoke
City over the last past decade, and
what immediately springs to mind
is a physical, powerful team,
route-one football and Rory
Delap s long throw.
That s all been consigned to the
past during a season in which the
transformation of Stoke s playing
approach rivals Leicester s rise and
Chelsea s decline as the story of
the 2015-16 campaign in English
After dismantling the two Man-
chester giants at home and Everton
away in impressive Premier League
victories in December, Stoke was
tagged with a nickname few can
ever have imagined the team get-
ting --- "Stokelona," in reference to
Spain s Barcelona.
Stoke has a long way to go to
match the level of the current Euro-
pean champions but, in relative
terms, there s a comparison to be
And it makes the central English
team a genuine contender when
the League Cup semifinals begin
this week with the first-leg match-
es: Stoke vs Liverpool today, and
Everton vs Manchester City tomor-
The reshaping of once-unfash-
ionable Stoke under manager Mark
Hughes, who had a spell at
Barcelona during his playing career,
has seen former Barca players Bojan
Krkic, Ibrahim Afellay and Marc
Muniesa join the club since 2014,
bringing a new mentality to the
The style of play has changed,
too, from a long-ball game to an
emphasis on passing and posses-
Then there s the creation and
blossoming of a lively front three
comprising Bojan, another diminu-
tive attacker in record-signing
Xherdan Shaqiri and one-time
enfant terrible Marko Arnautovic---
Stoke s answer to the Lionel Messi-
Neymar-Luis Suarez triumvirate.
The change has been startling.
Man City and Man United were
blown away when they visited
Stoke last month, with their 2-0
losses potentially being much heav-
ier. Stoke then went to Everton and
won 4-3 in a devastating display
of attacking football.
"Compliments are fine and we
take them," Hughes has said of the
"Stokelona" tag, "but probably
doesn t sit too comfortably with
us at the moment because we usu-
ally slip under the radar and others
get the plaudits.
"If the profile of what we are
doing is raised, it s what we have
to deal with."
Stoke, which won the League
Cup in 1972, is up against a Liv-
erpool team that has won the com-
petition a record eight times.
Here s a look at both semi-
Stoke vs Liverpool
Liverpool s form continues to oscil-
late under recently hired manager
Juergen Klopp, as shown by a 2-0
loss at West Ham that came on the
back of solid victories over Leicester
Klopp s biggest concern is getting
the best out of expensive offseason
signing Christian Benteke, a big striker
with limited movement who struggles
at times to fit into the high-energy
style favoured by Klopp.
Injuries to Divock Origi and Daniel
Sturridge have allowed Benteke an
extended run in the team, although
Sturridge could be available against
Stoke. Sturridge scored twice in Liv-
erpool s 6-1 demolition of Southamp-
ton in the quarterfinals.
Stoke s American defender, Geoff
Cameron, is available for the match
after a successful appeal against his
sending off in a Premier League game
against West Bromwich Albion on
Everton vs Manchester City
City is still involved in four com-
petitions this season, with manager
Manuel Pellegrini seemingly making
the League Cup one of his priorities
judging by the strong teams he has
fielded in earlier rounds.
After a busy festive schedule of
Premier League matches, Pellegrini
may rotate and has more options to
do so compared to his Everton coun-
terpart, Roberto Martinez. The likes
of Jesus Navas, Wilfried Bony and
Fabian Delph could therefore get starts
for City, which won the League Cup
for the third time in 2014.
Everton picked up only one point
from its last three games in the Pre-
mier League and relies on the goals
of striker Romelu Lukaku, the league s
top scorer with 15.
City won 2-0 at Goodison Park in
August. The teams also play in the
league this month, meaning they ll
be facing each other three times over
the next three weeks.
ROME---Juventus will want to pick
up right where it left off when Serie
A resumes this week following the
Having started the season by win-
ning only three of its opening ten
matches, the four-time defending
champion then put together seven
consecutive victories to surge up the
After struggling to overcome the
departures of Andrea Pirlo, Arturo
Vidal and Carlos Tevez, Juventus is
now firmly in the hands of preseason
signings Paulo Dybala, Mario
Mandzukic and Sami Khedira.
"Our most dangerous opponent is
Juventus," fullback Patrice Evra said,
recounting how the club held a full-
squad meeting following its last loss
--- 1-0 at Sassuolo on October 28. "It
was a psychological problem. Some-
thing wasn t working."
Entering tomorrow s home match
against last-place Hellas Verona,
Juventus is in fourth place, three points
behind leader Inter Milan and two
points behind Fiorentina and Napoli.
Inter, which was beaten 2-1 by Lazio
in its last match before the break,
resumes at Empoli. Fiorentina visits
Palermo and Napoli hosts Torino.
Fifth-place Roma, which is one
point behind Juventus, travels to Chie-
The 18th round opens today with
Genoa vs. Sampdoria in a derby.
Tomorrow s other matches are:
Udinese vs Atalanta; AC Milan vs
Bologna; Lazio vs Carpi; and Sassuolo
Here are a few things to know about
the Italian league entering this week s
ETERNAL EVRA: At 34, Patrice
Evra isn t ready to slow down yet.
The France international has been
dividing playing time at fullback for
Juventus with the Brazilian Alex San-
dro, who is ten years his junior.
Evra has made 14 appearances and
Sandro eight so far.
"He s improved a lot but I like play-
ing every match," Evra said. "As I used
to tell (former Manchester United
manager Alex) Ferguson, I ll rest when
my career is finished. "
BALOTELLI S BACK: Mario
Balotelli is preparing to return from
a pelvis injury that has kept him out
The AC Milan striker was operated
on in November and will need a strong
second half of the season to be called
up to Italy s squad for the European
Zidane replaces Benitez at Real Madrid
In this May 24, 2014 file photo, former player and current Real Madrid B team coach Zinedine Zidane lifts the
Champion League trophy, at the end of the Champions League final soccer match between Atletico Madrid
and Real Madrid in Lisbon, Portugal. Real Madrid's President Florentino Perez announced yesterday that
current coach Rafael Benitez has been fired and Zidane will take over. Benitez, hired seven months ago, has
been under pressure since a demoralising 4-0 home loss to Barcelona in November. AP PHOTO
'Stokelona' eyes another upset in League Cup
Juve looks to pick up where it left off
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