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REAL MADRID

James' Real Madrid renaissance

Having seemed certain to be sold this summer, James has impressed for Real Madrid and now has the chance to re-establish himself as a key man.

James Rodríguez's Real Madrid renaissance
SUSANA VERA REUTERS

James Rodríguez has, much like Gareth Bale, been a player re-born at Real Madrid so far this season. Having started against Real Valladolid in Madrid's first LaLiga home game of the season, James was in the line-up once more for Saturday's win over Levante at the Bernabéu - and was Los Blancos' stand-out performer, playing a part in the first two goals and laying on four further scoring chances.

From Bernabéu exit door to key midfield figure? 

Three months ago, Madrid were eager to offload James following his return from a two-year loan at Bayern Munich; now, Zinedine Zidane's scant resources in midfield have left the 28-year-old with a golden opportunity to re-establish himself as a key man at the club. As things stand, indeed, the absences of Fede Valverde, Luka Modric and Isco mean he is in line to keep his place in the team when Madrid begin their Champions League campaign at Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday.

Against Levante, James offered real cause for optimism that he can reproduce the form he showed under Carlo Ancelotti five years ago, in his first season at the Bernabéu. Operating as a number 10 in Madrid's 4-2-3-1, with Casemiro and Toni Kroos sitting behind him, he also dropped deeper to help shift the ball out to the right, in the process sparking the move that brought about Karim Benzema's opener. Minutes later, his pass then slipped the Frenchman in to double the hosts' lead.

Zidane pleased with James display against Levante

"He played well and looked comfortable," was Zidane's positive post-match assessment of James' contribution to the 3-2 victory. "He has no problem at all on the ball. Physically it was harder work for him because he's been injured. But he is very motivated. He has always had quality, that hasn't changed. Although he is not quite fully fit yet, he showed great character and determination. He was knackered at the end. I’m happy that he left it all out there on the pitch."

At the start of the summer, James seemed certain not to be at Madrid this term, with Napoli and Atlético Madrid leading the chase for his services. However, having already sold youth product Marcos Llorente to Atlético, Los Blancos were always reluctant to further bolster their city rivals. Napoli, meanwhile, came close to signing the star, but Partenopei president Aurelio de Laurentiis' unwillingness to buy him outright proved a crucial stumbling block towards a deal.

James remained unused by Zidane during pre-season, but as with Bale, the coach finally came to terms with the Colombian's presence in his 2019/20 squad. Given the vacant '16' shirt by the club, he had earned a place in the XI by the second week of the new league season. Despite then suffering a calf injury, the international break allowed him to recover, get himself fit, start once again - and shine. James is back.