Zinedine Zidane called for improvements in Real Madrid's finishing after his side needed a late Nacho goal to clinch a 1-0 victory over Real Valladolid at Estadio Jose Zorrilla on Sunday.

Nacho connected with a Toni Kroos cross to head Madrid in front after 78 minutes of a tightly contested match to earn Zidane's men a win that moved them three points clear at the top of LaLiga.

Zidane praised his defence after Valladolid failed to register a shot on target but said more creativity is required to ensure struggling opponents are beaten more convincingly.

"Defensively, what we are doing, we are doing well. It is our strength," Zidane told reporters. 

"We defend all and when we lose the ball we recover it very high, and if we keep it we have a good chance of scoring.

"Nacho scored and that is part of football. We know that we can improve in this aspect.

"Nacho is a professional. When he has to compete he does well. I'm glad for his goal; he doesn't usually score them but from time-to-time we can also create chances for defenders."

Zidane refused to be drawn on his side's title chances despite opening up a gap over rivals Barcelona, who lost 2-0 to Valencia on Saturday.

Madrid have been beaten only once in the league this season but with 17 games remaining, including the visit of Barcelona on March 1, Zidane predicted a tough road ahead.

"For us, nothing changes," said Zidane. "We are happy with the victory, the work done having fought until the end, but nothing changes. There are 17 games left and we will continue fighting until the end.

"I don't want to talk about being champions because there is still a lot left to play.

"It changes nothing to be leaders, they are three important points but nothing more.

"There are a lot of league games left and it will be difficult for all teams, including us."

Madrid's next game is at home to city rivals Atletico Madrid on Saturday.

 

Real Madrid moved three points clear at the top of LaLiga after Nacho scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Real Valladolid at Estadio Jose Zorrilla.

With title rivals Barcelona slipping to a 2-0 defeat to Valencia on Saturday, Zidane's men earned a hard-fought victory over a Valladolid side that came into the game unbeaten in three league matches.

Chances were few and far between at either end and the points looked likely to be shared after Karim Benzema missed from point-blank range with only Valladolid goalkeeper Jordi Masip to beat.

But Nacho arrived in the box to head home with 12 minutes left and put his side in the driving seat at a crucial stage in the title race.

Sergio Ramos is in line to make his return from injury after being included in the Real Madrid squad to face Real Valladolid on Sunday.

Madrid captain Ramos has been out of action since injuring his ankle in the penalty shoot-out victory over Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana final two weeks ago.

The 33-year-old was back in training on Thursday and completed a full session on Friday to earn a spot in Zinedine Zidane's 19-man group for Sunday's LaLiga outing.

Gareth Bale was not included due to an ankle problem, while Brahim Diaz – who impressed in the 3-1 win over Unionistas de Salamanca in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday – Vinicius Junior and Mariano Diaz were left out.

Following Barcelona's 2-0 loss at Valencia on Saturday, Madrid will go top of LaLiga if they get a point at Estadio Jose Zorilla.

Zinedine Zidane insists Gareth Bale is not a trouble-causer at Real Madrid, with the coach adamant he will always back his players.

Bale has become a target of vitriol from Madrid's fans and sections of the Spanish media in recent seasons, with the Wales forward – who has also struggled with injuries – having often fallen down the pecking order.

The 30-year-old also incurred the wrath of the local press and Los Blancos support when he celebrated with a flag bearing the message "WALES. GOLF. MADRID... IN THAT ORDER" following Wales' qualification for Euro 2020.

Having scored in Madrid's 3-1 Copa del Rey win over Unionistas de Salamanca on Wednesday, Bale will not be available for Sunday's LaLiga encounter with Real Vallodolid due to an ankle injury.

But, when asked why he has defended the player in the past, Zidane stated he has no issues with Bale, who has scored just three goals this season.

"I always defend my players. It's not that I need to. They train every day, they work hard and want to defend the Real Madrid badge," Zidane told a news conference.

"So I don't share the same opinion. It's true he's had a few injuries but you can't do anything when a player is injured.

"Hopefully he can string together more games, a few training sessions, get minutes under his belt and get back into playing and training at the same pace as his team-mates.

"When he is fit we want him to come back and be in good shape. It is a shame. He is not happy because he wants to be training with the side."

Zidane also refuted the suggestion Bale had exaggerated his injury as to not play against Vallodolid.

"I am always worried when a player is injured, it's something I don't like to see," Zidane said.

"I have 25 players here and it is tough to me because I have to pick a side, but I don't want players injured. Gareth's injury isn't serious, a slight sprain and he'll be back soon.

"You're entitled to think what you want, but when I am with the player, I have spoken to him and he wants to be with the team and wants to play, but the other day he suffered a slight injury."

Another Madrid player who is recovering from injury is Eden Hazard, who has returned to individual training. However, Zidane was unable to confirm if the Belgium international would be fit to feature against Atletico Madrid on February 1.

"I can't confirm a comeback date as he has just started training with the ball. There is very little or no pain there now," Zidane said.

"He will no doubt improve and hopefully be back with the team soon. It is excellent for the player to be able to train with the team, it's good for his morale and confidence, but I can't confirm a date."

Real Madrid have loaned Hugo Vallejo to Deportivo La Coruna, two days after signing the teenage winger from Malaga.

The 19-year-old is believed to have officialy joined Madrid on Thursday and has been sent straight out to Segunda Division side Deportivo for the remainder of the season.

Deportivo announced the news on their official website and confirmed Vallejo, used five times by fellow second-tier side Malaga this term, is in contention for their trip to Albacete on Sunday.

Fernando Vazquez's side have struggled this season and are down in 20th place, but they have strengthened their squad with five new signings in January.

Real Madrid must again overcome lower-league opposition in the Copa del Rey last 16, while holders Valencia go to giant-killers Cultural Leonesa.

Zinedine Zidane's Madrid survived a scare against Unionistas de Salamanca in the previous round, and they will this time visit Real Zaragoza, who are fourth in LaLiga 2.

Barcelona were also tested by minnows in the previous round, scraping past Ibiza, but they have the benefit of a home fixture as they bid to reach the quarter-finals.

With LaLiga sides kept apart where possible, the Blaugrana were selected in one of just two ties solely involving top-tier teams.

They will face Leganes at Camp Nou while the majority of their LaLiga rivals are away from home.

Segunda B side Cultural defeated Atletico Madrid in extra-time on Thursday, and their reward is a meeting with Valencia, who beat Barca in last season's final.

Badajoz, the only other third-tier side remaining in the competition, also have LaLiga opposition in the form of Granada.

The second all-LaLiga tie saw Real Sociedad drawn at home to Osasuna.


Copa del Rey last-16 draw in full:

Badajoz v Granada
Cultural Leonesa v Valencia
Tenerife v Athletic Bilbao
Real Zaragoza v Real Madrid
Mirandes v Sevilla
Rayo Vallecano v Villarreal
Barcelona v Leganes
Real Sociedad v Osasuna

Eden Hazard has returned to training after a lengthy injury lay-off, while Real Madrid have also been able to welcome Sergio Ramos back into the fold.

Hazard signed from Chelsea in June but missed a chunk earlier in the season due to a hamstring injury and has been out of action since November with an ankle issue.

The forward has been restricted to just 13 appearances across all competitions for Los Blancos, scoring one goal.

However, Hazard is now edging closer to making his comeback after returning to Madrid training on Thursday, running on the grass as well as performing exercises with the ball, according to the club's official website.

It seems unlikely that Hazard will be fit to feature against Real Valladolid on Sunday, though Madrid will be hopeful of having the Belgium international back by the time Atletico Madrid visit Santiago Bernabeu on February 1.

Madrid were also boosted by the return of captain Ramos, who has not played since injuring his ankle in the Supercopa de Espana final, in which he scored the winning penalty against Atleti, though the defender did not work with the ball during Thursday's session.

France will target Zinedine Zidane to replace Didier Deschamps when the World Cup-winning coach departs, FFF president Noel Le Graet revealed.

Real Madrid head coach Zidane has been linked with the France post previously, but he returned to the Santiago Bernabeu last year.

Meanwhile, Deschamps, in charge of the national team since 2012, last month signed a contract extension to stay in his role through to the 2022 World Cup.

The France boss has championed his former team-mate as a future coach of Les Bleus, though, and chief Le Graet is also keen.

"The day Didier decides to leave or his contract is not renewed, if Zidane is available at that time, he will be the man for the job," Le Graet told Canal+.

That opportunity could come as soon as 2022, as Deschamps' position beyond the Qatar World Cup is uncertain.

"There is Qatar," Le Graet said. "Didier will be there and then, maybe afterwards, I don't know."

Deschamps and Zidane won the 1998 World Cup together as players, before the former Juventus coach led his country to a second success two years ago in Russia.

Zidane won three consecutive Champions League titles in his first stint as Madrid coach, later returning when the LaLiga giants were struggling last year.

Have Tottenham finally found an alternative to Harry Kane?

According to reports, Spurs are in talks to sign Real Sociedad's Willian Jose with just over a week to go until the transfer window closes.

But it could take in excess of £50million to finally end their search for a second out-and-out striker.

 

TOP STORY – SPURS TO DIG DEEP FOR SOCIEDAD STRIKER

Krzysztof Piatek, Islam Slimani and Fernando Llorente have all been linked but Tottenham have now set their sights on 28-year-old Willian Jose, reports the Guardian.

The Brazilian was left out of his side's Copa del Rey clash with Espanyol on Wednesday and could now be headed for north London.

Talks are underway, the Guardian states, although Spurs could be forced to contemplate meeting Willian Jose's €70million (£59m) release clause as Sociedad seek adequate compensation.

The one-time Real Madrid man has scored eight LaLiga goals this term after reaching double figures in each of the previous three seasons.

 

ROUND-UP

- Dani Ceballos has asked Real Madrid to terminate his Arsenal loan and find him a move elsewhere, according to Spanish radio station Cadena SER.

- The Gunners are set to suffer another blow as Ligue 1 outfit Lyon prepare to confirm the €25million signing of rumoured Atletico Madrid target Bruno Guimaraes, reports L'Equipe.

- Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich will allow Philippe Coutinho to return to Barcelona at the end of his loan spell if, as desired, the Bundesliga giants land Leroy Sane and Bayer Leverkusen's Kai Havertz, reports Bild.

- After sealing a deal for Reinier Jesus, Madrid could return to raid Flamengo for 19-year-old forward Lincoln, says Mundo Deportivo.

- Leicester City plan to bolster their Champions League ambitions by splashing £15million on Southampton centre-back Jannik Vestergaard, according to The Sun.

- Serie A side Milan have submitted an 18-month loan offer for Manchester City-linked Florentino Luis, claims CalcioMercato. The 20-year-old defensive midfielder plays for Benfica.

Real Madrid defender Nacho Fernandez said the LaLiga giants must take notice of Kylian Mbappe's hints amid links to the Santiago Bernabeu. 

Speculation over Paris Saint-Germain star Mbappe continues to make headlines as Zinedine Zidane's Madrid reportedly eye the France international.

Zidane has made no secret of his admiration for Mbappe, who dismissed talk over PSG contract negotiations earlier this month, while the 21-year-old revealed the Madrid boss was his idol growing up.

Nacho was asked about Mbappe following Madrid's 3-1 Copa del Rey win over Unionistas de Salamanca on Wednesday.

"If he's sending us signs, we have to be alert to receiving them," Nacho told reporters.

After scoring 33 Ligue 1 goals last season, Mbappe has 13 for defending champions PSG this term.

Mbappe has 21 goals across all competitions for Thomas Tuchel's PSG, who are preparing for the Champions League last 16 against Borussia Dortmund.

Gareth Bale will be monitored after suffering a minor ankle twist on his impressive return to Real Madrid's starting side, head coach Zidane Zidane confirmed on Wednesday.

Bale scored the opener in a 3-1 Copa del Rey win over Unionistas de Salamanca but was unable to continue beyond the 53rd minute midweek.

Wales star Bale, who has battled injury and illness this season, was making his first appearance since the LaLiga victory against Getafe on January 4.

"He's twisted his ankle a bit," Zidane said. "I don't think it's much but, as always, we'll see tomorrow. He couldn't go on."

Bale's forced withdrawal appeared to unsettle Madrid, who conceded a stunning equaliser four minutes later as Alvaro Romero surged forward and fired past goalkeeper Alphonse Areola.

Juan Gongora's own goal after the hour and a late Brahim Diaz strike saved Zidane's men from an upset and extended their winning streak to five games in all competitions.

The Los Blancos boss insisted he was satisfied despite flirting with a premature exit against the third-tier minnows.

"It was a tough night at a tough place to come and play," he said.

"We struggled with moving the ball and we didn't see much great football, but that was down to the pitch, not more than that.

"We're pleased because in the end we're going through to the last-16 and that's what we came to achieve."

Madrid - level on points with leaders and defending champions Barcelona - visit Real Valladolid in LaLiga on Sunday.

Alvaro Romero scored one of the solo goals of the season against Real Madrid, and little Unionistas de Salamanca were in dreamland on the hour mark of this Copa del Rey culture clash.

Madrid, thanks to Gareth Bale, a Juan Gongora own goal and Brahim Diaz's late individual effort, eventually won 3-1 at the tiny Las Pistas stadium, where 4,000 supporters of a club that has only existed since 2013 saw their side go head to head with the 13-time European champions.

Yet Romero's stunning effort after 57 minutes will live far longer in the memory than the goals that won the day for Madrid.

The substitute had been on the field barely a minute when he ran from just inside Madrid's half to the edge of the penalty area before curling a fine left-footed finish out of the reach of Alphonse Areola.

That brought Unionistas level, following Bale's first-half effort, but parity was all too brief, with the 62nd-minute own goal and Diaz's neat stoppage-time finish deciding the day, the Segunda B minnows just edged out by their millionaire visitors.

FIFA has revealed a record amount was spent on transfers in 2019, with deals for Eden Hazard, Antoine Griezmann and Joao Felix topping the bill.

A report issued by world football's governing body on Wednesday revealed $7.35billion (£5.6billion) was spent by clubs in the transfer market in 2019, an increase of 5.8 per cent on the previous year.

The study also confirmed that English clubs spent the most, though the total figure of $1.52billion (£1.14billion) was a 22.1 per cent decrease from 2018.

Joao Felix's €126million transfer from Benfica to Atletico Madrid – who sold Antoine Griezmann to Barcelona for €120m – was the biggest deal of 2019, while Hazard left Chelsea for Real Madrid in a deal reportedly worth €100m.

Harry Maguire became the world's most expensive defender with a reported £80m switch from Leicester City to Manchester United, while Ajax sold young stars Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong to Juventus and Barcelona respectively for an initial €75m each.

There was also a rise of 16.3 per cent in spending in the women's game, with over 800 transfers made in total.

Virgil van Dijk, Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland are the headline inclusions in FIFA Ultimate Team's latest Team of the Week, which contains a plethora of superstars.

Liverpool defender Van Dijk played a vital role as Liverpool beat bitter rivals Manchester United 2-0 on Sunday, scoring the opening goal and producing a generally commanding display at centre-back.

Paris Saint-Germain talent Mbappe leads the line following his brace against former employers Monaco in last week's 4-1 win, taking his Ligue 1 goal tally to 13 for the season.

The Frenchman is joined in attack by Haaland, who enjoyed a stunning debut for Borussia Dortmund.

Haaland came on in the 56th minute with Dortmund 3-1 down, but he went on to score a hat-trick and inspire a turnaround which saw Lucien Favre's side win 5-3 at Augsburg.

That trio are by no means the only big-name players with new in-form cards set to be available – below, we have the full squad.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

GK: Nick Pope (Burnley) – 82

RB: Damian Suarez (Getafe) – 82

CB: Dayot Upamecano (RB Leipzig) – 81

CB: Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) – 92

CM: Lucas Leiva (Lazio) – 86

CM: Casemiro (Real Madrid) – 88

CDM: Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich) – 88

CM: Sergio Canales (Real Betis) – 87

ST: Raul Jimenez (Wolves) – 85

ST: Kylian Mbappe (PSG) – 92

ST: Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund) – 86

SUBSTITUTES

GK: Matheus (Sporting Braga) – 81

CB: Ciaran Clark (Newcastle United) – 81

RM: Edin Visca (Istanbul Basaksehir) – 86

CAM: Hans Vanaken (Club Brugge) – 83

LM: Ante Rebic (Milan) – 83

ST: Michael Gregoritsch (Schalke) – 82

ST: Jhon Cordoba (Cologne) – 81

RESERVES

CB: Esteban Burgos (Eibar) – 78

RM: Chiedozie Ogbene (Rotherham United) – 72

ST: Alexander Sorloth (Trabzonspor) – 79

ST: Ante Budimir (Real Mallorca) – 79

ST: Ernesto Torregrossa (Brescia) – 78

Gareth Bale's agent described suggestions he is to leave Real Madrid on loan as "ridiculous" and assured he will see out the remainder of his contract at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Having made just nine LaLiga starts for Madrid this season, Bale has been the subject of speculation linking him with a move back to the Premier League with Tottenham or Manchester United.

Barnett did not rule out the possibility of the Wales international leaving Madrid but emphatically dismissed the suggestion of a loan exit.

"At the moment he is going to be playing football this evening for Real Madrid and he has got two and a half years left on his contract," Barnett told Sky Sports ahead of Zinedine Zidane's side taking on Unionistas de Salamanca in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday.

"He is fine, he will be there and everything will be fine.

"He is one of the best players on earth. Why would one of the best players on earth go on loan? That's ridiculous.

"That's what I have always said. I have never deviated. Things can change but loans are ridiculous and there are not many clubs that can afford him anyway."

Bale was on the verge of a move to Chinese Super League side Jiangsu Suning before the start of this season, but a reportedly difficult relationship with Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane seems to have settled down.

Since he joined Madrid from Tottenham for €100million in 2013, Bale has won one LaLiga title and one Copa del Rey to go with his four Champions League winners' medals.

Barnett backed him to add to his collection of silverware before his time at the club comes to an end.

"He is happy and hopefully he will win a couple of more things with Real Madrid," he said.

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