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Last-gasp Mane goal gives Liverpool derby win
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Last-gasp Mane goal gives Liverpool derby win

Liverpool climbed into second place in the Premier League by beating Everton 1-0 in the Merseyside derby after Sadio Mane scored four minutes into stoppage time at Goodison Park on Monday.

The result pushed Juergen Klopp's side within six points of leaders Chelsea who won 1-0 at Crystal Palace on Saturday.

In a match with few chances, Everton lost goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg to injury after an hour and understudy Joel Robles made a fine, diving save from Roberto Firmino with 10 minutes to go.

Stekelenburg also denied Firmino in the 50th minute as Liverpool dominated. Everton have now gone 12 derbies without a win, and 20 with only one.

The year Real Madrid became a football team again

When Real Madrid flew into Japan last week they were greeted by hundreds, possibly thousands, of fans at Tokyo's Haneda International Airport. Usually reserved for pop stars and Hollywood A-listers, this is the kind of reception the Galacticos have become accustomed to. Real Madrid, after all, have always transcended football.

But by winning the Club World Cup Real Madrid put the finishing touches on 12 months that completely overhauled the club's identity. Under Zinedine Zidane they lost just twice, with their last defeat coming against Wolfsburg in last season's Champions League quarter-finals. Since then Real Madrid have gone unbeaten.

For so long the epitome of footballing volatility, the capital club have found a certain consistency that they have yet to be shaken from. But Real Madrid's on the field success under Zidane has been the result of a more holistic, comprehensive transformation. 2016 was the year Real Madrid became a football team again.

Of course, Real Madrid are still a global brand, arguably the biggest club in the world, attracting fans from every corner of the globe, but the past year has seen them refocus their efforts on the footballing side of things. They remain in the business of selling shirts and shifting merchandise, but that is no longer the tail that wags the dog. The dog has taken back control.

For the first time in eight years, there was no Galactico delivered to the front door of the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in the summer transfer window, with Real Madrid instead choosing to make use of what they already had. Alvaro Morata returned from Juventus, but that too was a shrewd move, with his cut price 30 million euro buy-back clause activated.

It was a ballsy move given Real Madrid's looming transfer ban, but Zidane has subsequently established a route between the club's youth ranks and the senior team, with Lucas Vazquez, Mariano Diaz, Nacho Fernandez and Marco Asensio all treading a path that not so long ago didn't exist. He might not be Real Madrid's Pep Guardiola, as so many tried to suggest he would be, but Zidane has made more progress in joining the dots of Real Madrid's entire set-up than anyone before him.

That in turn has given Real Madrid a sense of self again. That is something they have lacked for the best part of a decade, especially when placed alongside Barcelona, who boast perhaps the strongest sense of self in all of European football. Whether he has imposed one of his own or simply restored one that had been lost over time, Zidane has given Real Madrid an identity once more.

From a coaching perspective, Zidane has similarly made a profound impact. He is a manager who manages his team, and Real Madrid haven't had one of those for a long, long time, perhaps since the days of Fabio Capello. Cristiano Ronaldo has been substituted a number of times this season, something that would have been simply unthinkable in seasons gone by. Vazquez was preferred to Karim Benzema for last month's win over Atletico Madrid. The untouchables are no longer undroppable.

There is a culture of competitiveness within the Real Madrid squad again, with nobody assured of their place. Take James Rodriguez, for instance, who has had to make do with the odd fleeting cameo from the bench or Copa del Rey appearance against lower league opposition. Isco, too, has had to prove his worth, only recently forcing his way back into the fold.

All this has contributed to the shimmering success Real Madrid have enjoyed over the past 12 months. Zidane has more than proved himself as capable of managing such a super-club. In hindsight, it's now obvious that with his stature and reputation in the game and among the Bernabeu faithful, he was the only one who could turn Real Madrid into a football team again.

Their clinching of the Club World Cup on Sunday for the second time in three years provided the perfect image of their global domination, lifting a trophy that officially crowned them as world champions in front of a crowd predominantly made up of Asian supporters. A truly worldwide triumph for a truly worldwide club.

But the extra-time win over Kashima Antlers in fact underlined how Real Madrid have placed a renewed emphasis on the fundamentals. They might not have given up on the frenzied airport receptions or all the rest that comes with being one of the biggest football clubs in the world, but 2016 saw Real Madrid finally shift the peripherals to the periphery.

James Rodriguez to abandon exit plan

Despite already agreeing to wait until the summer to touch upon the possibility of leaving Real Madrid, James Rodriguez has reversed his decision and is seeking a January departure from Los Blancos

The club's hierarchy were not impressed with statements Rodriguez gave in the wake of Los Blancos' 4-2 win over Kashima Antlers, when he admitted to being frustrated at his lack of playing time and revealed he would consider a January transfer.

Both Rodriguez himself and his agent Jorge Mendes had spoken in recent weeks about the interest in the player's signature and following the meeting, the Colombian was set to remain beyond the winter transfer window.

The mantra discussed then was to work hard, put in the extra effort, and make the most of any opportunities coming his way. However, that has since changed with MARCA learning that Mendes himself is surprised at Rodriguez's reversal in mindset.

In fact, he had arrived in Japan for the Club World Cup in high spirits after featuring against Borussia Dortmund and Deportivo but his substation against Club America and lack of playing time in the final led Rodriguez to question his future in the Spanish capital.

For their part, Real Madrid's intention is also to keep the player at the club for the remainder of the season, with their options to be revisited next summer.

Messi and Suarez end 2016 sharing the Pichichi

Having sat out the past two rounds of league action, Cristiano Ronaldo has been left trailing in the Pichichi race, with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez finishing joint-top of the LaLiga goalscoring charts as 2016 comes to a close.

The Argentine scored a brace against Osasuna and another against Espanyol on Sunday night to move onto 12 goals for the season, while his Uruguayan strike partner netted twice in the Catalan derby and also scored the week before in Pamplona to join him at the top.

Interestingly, the pair have both reached a dozen goals while playing very different roles in the Barcelona's front three.

Messi has primarily been responsible for launching attacks, but his natural instincts have also helped him to finish off 12 of them himself, while he has scored a total of 51 goals for the Blaugrana in 2016.

Suarez, on the other hand, has been playing as a more traditional goalscorer, one who has consistently demonstrated good finishing - as he did in his first against Espanyol - and good instincts - as he did in his second.

After being rested against Deportivo La Coruna last weekend and with Real Madrid's match against Valencia postponed due to the Club World Cup, Ronaldo will finish the year with 10 league goals to his name.

With nine goals each, Celta Vigo's Iago Aspas and Real Sociedad's Willian Jose have also climbed up the Pichichi rankings and sit just three strikes behind the leaders as LaLiga settles down for a three-week winter break.

Griezmann beats Pogba and Benzema to French Player of the Year

Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann has been crowned as the best French footballer of the year.

The 25-year-old succeeds Paris Saint-Germain's Blaise Matuidi in winning the award and is the 59th recipient of the honour, which is voted for by a jury mostly composed of past winners.

Griezmann was a runner-up in both the Champions League and Euro 2016 but was top scorer and crowned best player at the latter tournament, which helped him to a third placed finish in the battle for the Ballon d'Or.

Beating the likes of Paul Pogba and Karim Benzema to the France Football award, the former Real Sociedad joins illustrious names such as Michel Platini, Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry and Franck Ribery in picking up the gong.
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