Zinedine Zidane raised the issue of Karim Benzema's continued absence from the France team again on Friday ahead of Real Madrid's trip to Eibar.

Benzema has been one of Europe's outstanding strikers during a 10-year Madrid career, yet he has not represented his country since 2015.

The Madrid frontman has not featured at international level since he was allegedly involved in a plot to blackmail his then-France team-mate Mathieu Valbuena.

Zidane claims Benzema still wants to represent France, though, and believes his player to be "the best" and worthy of a call-up.

"He's always wanted to play for the French side," Zidane told a news conference. "To be honest, I don't know exactly what's going on.

"But from a football point of view, he's the best. I think he should definitely have a place in the French national team. It's beyond my role here, but he should definitely be called up."

Benzema scored his 50th Champions League goal for Madrid in midweek, surpassing the legendary Alfredo Di Stefano on the club's all-time list in the process.

Antoine Griezmann must learn to play to Barcelona's strengths if his Camp Nou career is to take off, according to head coach Ernesto Valverde.

The France international joined Barca from Atletico Madrid for €120million in July but has failed to find his best form in Catalonia.

He has been used predominantly in a wide role and has scored just four goals in 14 matches in all competitions, firing blanks in his last four outings.

Having spent five seasons playing a different type of football under Diego Simeone at Atletico, Griezmann has been told by Valverde to adapt his style of play.

"A lot is said about his situation, but I think it's a lot simpler than it seems," he said at Friday's news conference. "He is used to a different type of football. 

"I played against Simeone teams lots - his players drop back quickly. As soon as they lose the ball, they run back. 

"Players like Koke and Saul [Niguez], [Diego] Costa and [Alvaro] Morata. That's the way Atletico play, a side that likes to get back and fill space. At Barcelona, we play a short passing game. 

"It's a case of looking for players and seeing space. Antoine is generous in that way - in fact we ask that of him, to lose his marker and create space. 

"When you go forward you must come back but I think he needs to mature into the way we play. Likewise, our players need to get used to the things Antoine does. 

"It's not been easy in his first year, but once players start to gel it rolls a lot more smoothly."

Griezmann has played a full part in Barcelona's last two matches, the LaLiga champions following up a 3-1 league loss to Levante with a goalless home draw against Slavia Prague in the Champions League.

The 28-year-old was not alone in being criticised for his display against Slavia, with Ousmane Dembele also failing to impress prior to being replaced by teenage forward Ansu Fati.

"Tuesday's game was difficult. Ousmane could have done more in the first half but did better after half-time. I still see Ansu as a better option off the bench given his age," Valverde added.

Jordi Alba suffered a relapse of a previous hamstring injury against Slavia, potentially opening the door for Junior Firpo to start for the first time since September when Celta Vigo travel to Camp Nou on Saturday.

"This could be a game for him to have a chance," Valverde said. "We are happy with him. He is a good player and will do good things for us."

Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde insists he is not worried about his future at the club.

A 3-1 LaLiga defeat at Levante last Saturday was followed by a 0-0 draw with Slavia Prague at Camp Nou in the Champions League, in which home fans made their frustrations clear with whistles from the stands.

Barca sit top of LaLiga after 11 matches but criticism is nonetheless mounting on Valverde, who appeared close to the sack at the end of last season but was given support by president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

Valverde says he still feels he has the backing of the board and that he is not concerned about his position, especially since Barca had previously been on a seven-game winning run in all competitions.

"I'm not worried about my future," he told reporters on Friday. "The other day I had dinner [with Bartomeu]. I feel supported and respected.

"Whether you understand [the criticism] or not, it's how it is. I don't have much to say.

"If we'd scored a goal [against Slavia], everyone would be more calm. It's how it is. You have to accept things as they come.

"A week ago, we were on the highway, we had seven wins in a row. Now, we'll see."

Barca host Celta Vigo on Saturday in their final match before the international break.

Oscar Garcia's side are on a poor run of their own, having lost five of their past six league games, with just two goals scored in that run.

Despite a relative lack of preparation time for the match at Camp Nou, Valverde is determined to get his team back to winning ways.

"We need a win," Valverde admits. "We lost a game in six minutes [at Levante]. We need to get back on the path of taking three points because we need them and because we know what it means for this team to lose.

"We're motivated and we know how difficult a game it will be.

"We prepared for Slavia in two training sessions because we didn't have any more. It's normally like that for the whole season. There are two game days, four to prepare for the games – that seems normal to me."

Spain head coach Robert Moreno says there is no reason why Barcelona youngster Ansu Fati could not be in the squad for Euro 2020.

The 17-year-old, born in Guinea-Bissau but a resident of Spain since the age of six, has been a revelation at Camp Nou this season during an inconsistent first half of the season from Ernesto Valverde's side.

Fati was cleared to play for his adopted country in October and was named in the Under-21 squad for this month's qualifying matches for the Euro Under-21 finals in 2021.

Moreno admits he will keep an eye on the winger's progress with a view to including him for the senior tournament next year, for which Spain have already qualified.

"Ansu Fati is in the preliminary list and so there is no reason why he can't be with us at Euro 2020. He ticks all the boxes," Moreno told reporters in Madrid.

Spain's latest squad for their final Euro 2020 qualifiers against Malta and Romania includes Dinamo Zagreb winger Dani Olmo, who has impressed in the Champions League this season.

"Dani Olmo enjoyed a great tournament with the Under-21s [at this year's European Championship] and he's doing well for his club in the Champions League. We're very happy to be able to give him this opportunity," said Moreno.

Moreno also suggested there could be a place in future squads for Valencia centre-back Gabriel Paulista, who has not played for Brazil and is now obtaining a Spanish passport.

"Gabriel Paulista is processing his passport but right now he cannot be called up," he said. "When he gets his Spanish passport, we'll see.

"There are a lot of very good players but only 23 are able to make the squad. Out of a list of 45 players, we end up selecting the 23 who we think will do the best."

Moreno took charge after Luis Enrique stepped down in June for family reasons.

The 42-year-old wants to remain at the helm as far as the 2022 World Cup, but he says there are no plans for talks over a new deal.

"I haven't been offered the chance to renew and nor am I expecting it to happen in the near future," he said. "If you were to ask me how long do I expect to be in the job - I would like to still be here for the Euros and the World Cup - so at least for one whole period. But that will depend on the results, that's how it is for all coaches."

Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane hopes to have Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez fit and available after the international break.

Muscle problems will keep both players out of Saturday's LaLiga game against Eibar despite them being called up to their respective national teams.

Wales winger Bale has not played a minute since a Euro 2020 qualifier close to a month ago, while midfielder James has missed Madrid's past three matches.

The pair have started individual fitness programmes but will not be considered for selection until they are able to complete full training sessions alongside the rest of the first team.

"They haven't been fit enough to play," Zidane said at Friday's pre-match news conference.

"If they're going to go [away on international duty], they're going to go. They've got five or six days to see if they're fit enough to play for their country. They're not fit enough to play on Saturday.

"They haven't trained with the team. They've been training a little but not at the same pace as their team-mates. If players aren't training with their team-mates they can't play.

"They're not injured right now."

Bale's injury occurred in the same international fixture that left Croatia midfielder Luka Modric with bruising to his right quadriceps.

The 34-year-old subsequently sat out two club games, leaving Zidane wary of a repeat as his squad prepares to disassemble.

"Hopefully nothing happens, but it could. It's true in the last call-ups the players got injured," he said.

"Hopefully the players get away with the national teams, they play, and there are no injuries, and everyone comes back fit and available."

Amid the probe over why Bale and James have been absent, Zidane was asked to clarify his recent claim that Kylian Mbappe harbours a "dream" of playing for Madrid.

The Los Blancos boss said that he was simply repeating the Paris Saint-Germain star's own acknowledged ambition.

The comment riled PSG sporting director Leonardo, who called for an end to transfer speculation surrounding Mbappe.

Zidane said: "He's within his rights to have his opinion and when I get asked a question I will also say what I believe.

"All I said was what [the player] said, that Mbappe's dream is to one day wear the Real Madrid shirt. There's not really much to it to be honest."

Rodrygo Goes is making waves at Real Madrid but could have been shining at Liverpool were it not for his former Santos coach Elano.

Madrid paid out a reported €45million to seal Rodrygo's signature in June 2018, by which time he had only made 13 appearances in the Campeonato Brasileiro, though he remained at Santos for another year.

The 18-year-old has made a quick impact at the Santiago Bernabeu, with his hat-trick in the 6-0 Champions League thrashing of Galatasaray on Wednesday moving him onto five goals in six appearances for Los Blancos.

Premier League giants Liverpool held an interest in Rodrygo before Madrid made a formal approach, but Elano felt their bid was insufficient.

"There was a time when there was very strong interest from Liverpool for him to leave when he was still in the youth team," Elano told ESPN.com.br.

"The values were very low, but they wanted to go. Real's offer afterwards was around €30million more.

"I had a conversation with the staff and said the boy was worth the risk and we should promote him because I wanted to work with him. Thank God everything worked out.

"He already had good decision-making at the professional level at you age. Different players have it early on. When they can control it, they get better and better.

"Despite his young age, he has already formed a maturity and game personality. He has technical ability and very precise control of his movements. It did not take long for him to adapt to the senior level. It was very fast.

"I believe so much in his personality and his football. He still has room to grow."

Bayern Munich have removed another name from their list of potential replacements for Niko Kovac.

Arsene Wenger reportedly contacted the managerless German giants to personally express his interest in becoming head coach but will not considered for the role.

Now back to winning ways, Bayern could even delay the naming of a new boss until the end of the season.

 

LEAD STORY – BAYERN DELIVER BAD NEWS FOR WENGER

Arsene Wenger's hopes of coaching Bayern Munich have been dashed, according to Sport Bild.

A new report from the German publication claims the Bundesliga champions, while respectful of Wenger's work at Arsenal, are not considering him for the job, despite his attempts to convince chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.

Interim boss Hansi Flick, who steered a wounded side to a 2-0 win over Olympiacos in the Champions League, could now remain in charge until the end of the season, when it will become easier to approach either Erik ten Hag or Thomas Tuchel.

 

ROUND-UP

- Kai Havertz's future is becoming a matter of intense speculation. SPORT say Barcelona have strengthened their interest in the Bayer Leverkusen midfielder and sent scouts to watch him in the midweek Champions League win over Atletico Madrid. Havertz was linked with an £80million move to Manchester United earlier in the week.

- Havertz is not the only player on Barcelona's radar. Spanish television programme El Chiringuito believes the LaLiga's champions are interested in signing Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

- Arsenal, meanwhile, are preparing to part with Granit Xhaka in January after stripping him of the captaincy. The Mirror claims the former Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder could be shipped back to Germany in the next transfer window.

- Manchester United have added Spain international Jose Gaya and his Valencia team-mates Ferran Torres and Carlos Soler to their list of transfer targets, reports Medios Deportivos. 

- There is good news for United's rivals Manchester City, who could welcome Leroy Sane back into the first-team fold in February, according to The Sun. Sane suffered a serious knee injury in the Community Shield in August.

Valencia have confirmed general director Mateu Alemany is to leave the club following a meeting with club owner Peter Lim in Singapore.

Alemany and the club agreed to terminate his contract last week and he has now said goodbye to Lim ahead of his formal departure.

"Valencia wish to publicly express gratitude to Mateu Alemany for his enormous dedication, effort and achievements throughout his time at the entity, and wish him all the best in his professional career," the club said in a statement.

While the news has not come as a surprise, it raises further questions of Lim's management of Valencia after a turbulent few months.

Marcelino's two-year reign as head coach was controversially ended by Lim in September, with the tactician claiming he was sacked for winning the Copa del Rey last season instead of focusing on securing a top-four finish, which they also achieved.

Several Valencia players were outraged at the decision and the squad refused to take part in post-match media duties after the 5-2 defeat by Barcelona in new coach Albert Celades' first game in charge.

Alemany was reported to have been Marcelino's main backer among the club's hierarchy, having hired him in 2017 and then supported him when under pressure last season.

The decision to dismiss Marcelino appeared to leave Alemany's position looking untenable, particularly given suggestions in local media that he was not consulted about the hiring of Celades.

Valencia, who have won only four of 12 LaLiga matches this season, sit 13th in the table.

Kylian Mbappe continues to be linked with a move away from Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool are seemingly well in the race.

Mbappe, 20, has starred for PSG since arriving in 2017, but is reportedly a target for LaLiga giants Real Madrid.

However, Champions League winners Liverpool could also make a move for the France international forward.

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL INTERESTED IN MBAPPE

Liverpool are set to battle Real Madrid for Mbappe, according to El Desmarque.

The report says the Premier League leaders have the funds to sign Mbappe after a quiet transfer window ahead of the 2019-20 season.

Mbappe remains the main target for Madrid despite being contracted at PSG until 2022.

 

ROUND-UP

- Bayern Munich are looking for a coach to replace Niko Kovac and Arsene Wenger may, or may not, be a target. Bild reports the Bundesliga giants have spoken to the former Arsenal manager, while The Athletic says Bayern do not want Wenger.

- There could also be a coaching change coming at Barcelona. LaLiga's champions look set to part ways with Ernesto Valverde at the end of the season, with Marca reporting Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman is the top target to take over at Camp Nou.

- Back at Anfield and Liverpool could be lining up a move for Genk midfielder Sander Berge. Norwegian newspaper VG claims Jurgen Klopp told Berge he was a "very interesting player" after Liverpool's 2-1 Champions League win over Genk on Tuesday.

- Napoli are well off the pace in Serie A and it could see Carlo Ancelotti make a January exit. FOX Sports reports Boca Juniors are interested in the Italian tactician.

- Chelsea look set to make changes to their squad in January. The Premier League side are open to listening to offers for Olivier Giroud and Pedro in early 2020, according to The Telegraph.

- Amid a lack of playing time, Nemanja Matic is considering a Manchester United exit in January, according to the Manchester Evening News. Matic has made just two Premier League starts for United this season.

Romelu Lukaku's two-goal showing for Inter at Bologna has earned him a place in the FUT Team of the Week, though Timo Werner's inclusion is arguably the most deserved of this week's selection.

Werner lit up the Bundesliga at the weekend with a hat-trick and a treble of assists in RB Leipzig's 8-0 demolition of Mainz, having a hand in all but two of Leipzig's goals in a remarkable win.

The Germany international became only the second player to be involved in six goals in a single Bundesliga match since detailed Opta data collection began in 2004-05 – the first being Claudio Pizarro with four goals and two assists in May 2013.

He is partnered in attack by Lukaku after his goals secured 2-1 comeback win on the road, while a forward-thinking back three includes Juventus star Matthijs de Ligt and Manchester City full-back Kyle Walker.

Below, we examine the entire squad that is set to be up for grabs online.

FUT Team of the Week

GK: Yann Sommer (Borussia Monchengladbach) – 86

RB: Kyle Walker (Manchester City) – 86

CB: Matthijs de Ligt (Piemonte Calcio/Juventus) – 86

LB: Alex Grimaldo (Benfica) – 85

LM: Filip Kostic (Eintracht Frankfurt) – 84

CAM: Iker Muniain (Athletic Bilbao) – 84

CM: Luis Alberto (Lazio) – 86

LM: Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Dortmund) – 84

CAM: Hakim Ziyech (Ajax) – 86

ST: Timo Werner (RB Leipzig) – 85

ST: Romelu Lukaku (Inter) – 86

SUBSTITUTES

GK: Walter Benitez (Nice) – 83

CB: Chris Smalling (Roma) – 83

LB: Frank Fabra (Boca Juniors/Buenos Aires) – 82

RM: Fabian Orellana (Eibar) – 82

CAM: Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle Sounders) – 82

ST: Tammy Abraham (Chelsea) – 84

ST: Joao Pedro (Cagliari) – 81

RESERVES

CB: Harry Ashcroft (Finn Harps) – 69

ST: Camillo Ciano (Frosinone) – 80

CM: John Lundstram (Sheffield United) – 76

ST: Mohamed Buya Turay (Djurgardens) – 77

ST: Rushian Hepburn-Murphy (Tranmere Rovers) – 71

Paul Pogba is injured, Juan Mata is on the fringes and Manchester United are in desperate need of creativity.

Kai Havertz, the talented Bayer Leverkusen midfielder, might hold the answer.

According to a new report, the Germany international could soon be the subject of a massive transfer bid from Old Trafford.

 

TOP STORY – HAVERTZ HEADED TO MANCHESTER?

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has made 20-year-old Kai Havertz his top transfer target, says the Daily Star.

But the report suggests Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward is willing to wait until the end of the season before making an £80million offer.

Havertz, who has been linked with Bayern Munich, is one of the most admired young midfielders in Europe.

He scored 17 Bundesliga goals last season and has notched twice in nine appearances this term.

 

ROUND-UP

- Marca claim Barcelona have joined the race for sought-after Salzburg striker Erling Haaland. The teenage sensation scored his seventh Champions League goal in Tuesday's draw at Napoli and has reportedly attracted interest from Barca's LaLiga rivals Real Madrid, among others.

- Barcelona do have at least one exciting prospect dreaming of joining them. Highly rated Ajax defender Sergino Dest told Bleacher Report his "biggest goal" is to play for the Blaugrana, while the United States international also has his eye on a stint in the Premier League.

- Trouble is brewing in Naples. Gazzetta dello Sport suggest Napoli head coach Carlo Ancelotti and his players are in rebellion against president Aurelio De Laurentiis, who ordered the team to enter a training retreat amid a poor run of results. Ancelotti did not appear for the customary post-match news conference following the 1-1 draw with Salzburg at Stadio San Paolo.

- Another successful Italian coach, Massimiliano Allegri, should reject any approach from managerless Bayern Munich and instead focus on becoming the next Manchester United boss. That is the view of Fabio Capello, who told Radio Anch'io Sport his compatriot would be the "best choice" for the Red Devils.

- Back to the Premier League and England, where Granit Xhaka is dealing with the fallout from being stripped of the Arsenal captaincy. The Daily Mirror report the Gunners could now look to offload the midfielder in January, given his fractured relationship with the club's fans.

Barcelona have confirmed Jordi Alba suffered a reoccurrence of a hamstring injury during the Champions League clash with Slavia Prague.

Alba went off at half-time in the 0-0 draw at Camp Nou on Tuesday, with Sergi Roberto replacing the full-back for the second half.

Spain international Alba was sidelined for several weeks with a hamstring injury earlier on in the campaign, and Barca have revealed the 30-year-old has suffered a reoccurrence of the same problem.

Barca, who confirmed the news on their official Twitter channel, offered no timescale on Alba's return.

"Tests performed have shown that Alba has had a relapse of the injury to his left biceps femoris [hamstring]. He is out and his recovery will determine his availability," the club's tweet read.

Barca's draw left Ernesto Valverde's side without a win in their last two matches, and they look set to be without Alba for Saturday's LaLiga match against struggling Celta Vigo.

Rising Bayer Leverkusen star Kai Havertz says he could consider moving away from the Bundesliga, despite admitting "you can't go wrong" with Bayern Munich.

The 20-year-old has been linked with a host of top clubs in Europe, including Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

The Germany international is also a reported target for Bayern, with Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Voller claiming in August that the Bundesliga champions had made enquiries.

Havertz is prepared to keep his options open when it comes to his future, suggesting Bayern or a foreign club could be equally appealing.

"They're probably the biggest club in Germany and there are many players that were very successful at a young age that went there," he told Marca when asked about Bayern's apparent interest. "Therefore, I get linked with Bayern, but we'll see what happens.

"There are players that want to stay close to their family and others say, 'I want to live in another country'. There's something clear: if you want to be a star in Germany, you can't go wrong with Bayern.

"I think I've picked up enough international experience at Leverkusen. I know the rhythm of these international matches and I'm confident that I can go abroad at any moment and play at clubs outside of Germany. For the moment, I want to have a good season. Afterwards, we'll see."

Havertz believes his style of play as an attacking midfielder would make him a suitable signing for Barca, whose former captain happens to be his favourite Spanish player.

When it was suggested his style suits Barca, he replied: "Yes, because Barcelona have a lot of the ball, but there are lots of teams that do that these days, not only Barcelona.

"Real Madrid, for example, are a team that have a lot of possession, although they've been a bit less efficient than Barcelona in recent years.

"There are many players that inspired me like Kaka, [Zinedine] Zidane, Ronaldinho... they've always been my idols. Between the Spanish players, my favourite is Andres Iniesta. He's outstanding on the ball. Unique. I like him the most."

Zinedine Zidane is well aware Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe's "dream" is to play for Real Madrid.

Mbappe scored 33 goals in 29 Ligue 1 appearances for PSG in 2018-19 but stated during the close season he was open to "a new project".

Former Monaco vice-president Vadim Vasilyev this week claimed the World Cup-winning attacker told him he moved to the French capital in 2017 because it was "too early" for him to make the switch to the Santiago Bernabeu.

Asked if he thinks Mbappe will play for Madrid in the future, Zidane told a news conference: "I don't know, it's the player who decides.

"At the moment he plays for Paris Saint-Germain, we'll see in the future if that changes. I know he always said his dream is to play for Real Madrid."

Madrid will meet PSG in their penultimate Champions League Group A game on November 26, but Thomas Tuchel's side could be out of reach in top spot by that point if they beat Club Brugge and Los Blancos draw with Galatasaray on Wednesday.

"We're always happy to play at home but there's a responsibility as well because it's a Champions League match and we want to play a good game and for that we have to be well prepared," Zidane said of Gala's impending visit.

"We always go into these games with the same idea, the same attitude. We're in good shape, we know what we have to do and I'm not too worried whether it's like a final or not.

"I think you just have to think about going out and playing a good game, hope the fans are with you and go out and try to win the game and hope everyone plays well.

"We always need the fans with us and I think they always are with us. They want to see their team play well and win and that's what we need, we need the fans to help us and be with us in the difficult moments of a match, that's what it's about.

"The other day [a 0-0 draw at home to Real Betis in LaLiga on Saturday] it was difficult for us to get a goal but we need the fans with us and the players need the fans with us."

Almeria have appointed Real Madrid great Guti as head coach, the Segunda club confirmed on Monday.

Spanish second-tier side Almeria announced Guti's arrival in a series of tweets after the departure of Pedro Emanuel.

It is Guti's first senior coaching role, having previously coached Madrid's youth team and served as an assistant at Turkish giants Besiktas.

Guti joins Almeria, who are second in the Segunda table but 10 points adrift of leaders Cadiz after 14 rounds in the race for LaLiga promotion.

Almeria – who last featured in LaLiga in 2014-15 – have only lost twice this season and are five games unbeaten.

The 43-year-old Guti's first match in charge will be against fifth-placed Real Zaragoza on Sunday.

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