Real Madrid extended their unbeaten run to nine games in all competitions with a straightforward 2-0 win over struggling Espanyol on Saturday.

Raphael Varane opened his season account and sent Los Blancos on their way to a fourth consecutive LaLiga victory with a left-footed finish in the 37th minute.

Karim Benzema made the points safe when he swept home Federico Valverde's pass 11 minutes from full-time, making Ferland Mendy's late sending off for a needless second booking the only blight on an otherwise unfussy showing.

Madrid's win momentarily edges them three points ahead of title rivals Barcelona, who host Mallorca later on Saturday.

Vinicius Junior started for the first time since October and registered two attempts on target inside the opening 30 minutes.

Thibaut Courtois clawed away Esteban Granero's header between those chances before Varane made the breakthrough.

The defender stayed forward following a corner and finished with impressive poise after Benzema created space through neat footwork.

Vinicius escaped a potential second yellow for an ungainly collision with David Lopez, then forced goalkeeper Diego Lopez into a near-post save.

Espanyol's number one prevented Benzema from doubling the margin when the French striker broke through on goal after the interval.

Benzema squandered another good chance to put the result beyond doubt 20 minutes from full-time, turning wide from Rodrygo's cut-back.

But the 31-year-old was not to be denied, his unerring low finish after Valverde's fine build-play ensuring the late loss of Mendy for a silly foul on Victor Gomez counted for little.
 

What does it mean? Madrid building towards El Clasico

The rescheduled first Clasico of the season is fast approaching and Madrid look set to take a good deal of confidence to Camp Nou on December 18.

Zinedine Zidane's men have two games to negotiate before that big test but the head coach will be pleased with how his side has moved on from a middling start to the season.


Vinicius excites in Madrid sunshine

Vinicius has struggled for minutes this season but here it was simple to see why Zidane has ruled out a loan move.

The winger was vibrant and incisive on the left flank, with a sense of over-eagerness perhaps the only area for improvement.


Marching orders for Mendy

The absence of Marcelo due to a calf strain offered an opportunity to France defender Mendy and he had been perfectly serviceable for over 80 minutes.

That will have made it all the more frustrating for Zidane when his second-choice left-back left a foot in on Victor Gomez for the second time in the space of 20 second-half minutes, earning him a red card and forcing him out of the next match against Valencia.


What's next?

Madrid conclude their Champions League group stage commitments with a midweek trip to Club Brugge, then visit Valencia on Sunday.

Espanyol have a Europa League game at home to CSKA Moscow before next weekend's date with Real Betis.

Zinedine Zidane named Gareth Bale in Real Madrid's starting XI and left Thibaut Courtois on the bench for Saturday's meeting with Deportivo Alaves.

Madrid had the chance to go top of LaLiga, at least temporarily, with a point and four changes were made to the team that conceded two late goals in a 2-2 Champions League draw against Paris Saint-Germain in midweek.

Eden Hazard's absence as the result of an ankle injury gave Wales international Bale the chance to start at club level for the first time since October 5.

The 30-year-old winger angered Los Blancos supporters last week when he posed in front of a flag that read: "WALES. GOLF. MADRID. IN THAT ORDER".

Eder Militao took the place of Raphael Varane, who reportedly suffered a knock against PSG, while loanee Alphonse Areola got the nod in goal as head coach Zidane shuffled his pack for a third game in seven days.

Luka Modric came into midfield for Fede Valverde, who joined Vinicius Junior on the bench.

Zidane declared the little-used Brazilian attacker would not be sent out on loan in January, but it remained to be seen if he would get an opportunity to impress against the competition's 13th-placed team.

Vinicius Junior will not be leaving Real Madrid in the January transfer window, head coach Zinedine Zidane insists.

The Brazil winger has not started a Madrid match since October 19 and has scored just once in 11 appearances in all competitions this season.

The future of the 19-year-old has been placed in doubt, with some reports suggesting he could leave on loan at the turn of the year in order to find regular first-team football.

Zidane, though, has no desire to let Vinicius leave and has backed him to prove his worth to Madrid.

"Vinicius isn't going to go. He's going to continue here," Zidane told reporters on Friday.

"It's not his moment right now, but it will be.

"I have 26 players and I have to leave some out of the squad. It's not his moment, as I've said, but he has to be ready for when it is.

"What changed is that there's [Eden] Hazard and there's Rodrygo [Goes]. He's training well but now there are other important players and I have to choose."

With Hazard having suffered an ankle injury in the Champions League draw with Paris Saint-Germain, Vinicius could get a chance to impress in Saturday's LaLiga game against Deportivo Alaves.

Zidane hopes to have Hazard available for next week's meeting with Espanyol, although he remains uncertain over his return.

"It's nothing serious but there's no concrete recovery plan. We'll see if he can be ready for next week," he said of the Belgium star.

"I can't say if he'll be ready for the Clasico [on December 18]. Everything depends on how [the injury] evolves, on the day-to-day."

Zidane also offered sympathy to Unai Emery, who was sacked by Arsenal on Friday after a run of just one win in nine matches.

"I'm very sorry. I don't like it when coaches get sacked and Emery is a great coach," he said of the former Sevilla boss.

"I'm sure he'll be coaching a team again very quickly."

Gareth Bale has been included in Real Madrid's squad for their LaLiga encounter with Real Sociedad despite the controversy caused by his celebrations after Wales' successful Euro 2020 qualification.

Wales booked their place at next year's finals with a 2-0 win over Hungary in Cardiff on Tuesday.

Bale, who has not played for Madrid since October 5, featured from the start for Ryan Giggs' side and was pictured after the match singing and dancing behind a banner that read: 'WALES. GOLF. MADRID…IN THAT ORDER'.

The slogan originates from a chant by Wales supporters that pokes fun at perceptions among the Spanish media, who have accused Bale of bumping Madrid down his list of priorities and spending too much time on the golf course.

Those celebrations drew further criticism from sections of the Madrid press and Los Blancos' fanbase, but Zidane – whose relationship with Bale has reportedly been a troubled one – claimed on Friday that the issue had been overblown.

Zidane has now included Bale in his squad for Saturday's clash with Sociedad, who would move above Madrid with a win at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Bale's inclusion comes at the expense of Vinicius Junior, with the teenage winger missing out on the 19-man selection.

Vinicius has made eight appearances in LaLiga this term, though only four of those have been starts.

Lionel Messi is seemingly in no rush to extend his Barcelona contract.

Messi's future is regularly talked about after it was revealed earlier this year the superstar can leave the LaLiga giants for free at the end of any season.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner is contracted at Barcelona until 2021, though it remains to be seen if he wants to stay on beyond his current deal.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI IN NO RUSH OVER BARCELONA CONTRACT

Messi has no intention of discussing a contract extension at Barcelona until next season, according to Marca.

The 32-year-old plans to be at the club next season, the report says, but will not open talks regarding a new deal.

Messi has been at Barcelona during his entire professional career, winning 10 LaLiga titles and four Champions Leagues among numerous other trophies.

ROUND-UP

- Paris Saint-Germain are looking to the future. Sport reports the Ligue 1 giants are seriously considering a move for Real Madrid forward Vinicius Junior. Kylian Mbappe and Neymar have been linked with moves away from PSG and the 19-year-old could help the French club going forward.

- Manchester City and Real Madrid could be set for a transfer battle. The clubs are interested in Real Sociedad and Spain forward Mikel Oyarzabal, according to CalcioMercato. The 22-year-old has scored 29 LaLiga goals since the start of 2017-18.

- Unai Emery has some time. The Sun reports the under-fire Arsenal head coach will be given until 2020 to turn the club's form around. It also reports Manchester City would allow assistant Mikel Arteta – an ex-Arsenal midfielder – to head to Emirates Stadium, should his former club want to appoint the Spaniard.

- Liverpool could strengthen in January. TalkSPORT reports the Premier League leaders are in advanced talks with Bournemouth over a deal to sign winger Ryan Fraser, who is out of contract at the end of the season. Bournemouth may want Harry Wilson – who is on loan from Liverpool – as part of a deal.

- Struggling in ninth in Serie A, Fiorentina may be ready to move on from Vincenzo Montella. The club are ready to make an approach for former Inter coach Luciano Spalletti, according to Firenze Viola.

Teenage Real Madrid forward Rodrygo Goes has been included in Brazil's squad for the first time ahead of next month's friendlies with Argentina and South Korea.

The 18-year-old made his first competitive start for Madrid in Tuesday's 1-0 Champions League win against Galatasaray, having also made a couple of substitute appearances in LaLiga this season.

Rodrygo is joined in Tite's 23-man squad by fellow newcomer Douglas Luiz, who has performed well in the Premier League since joining Aston Villa from Manchester City in July.

There is no place for fellow Madrid players Vinicius Junior and Marcelo, while injured Paris Saint-Germain forward Neymar also misses out, but Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson returns to the squad after recovering from a calf injury.

Brazil take on South American rivals Argentina in Saudi Arabia in three weeks and then travel to Abu Dhabi for a friendly with South Korea.

The Copa America holders enter the match without a win in their past four outings - all friendlies - and Tite is looking for an improvement as preparations continue for next year's World Cup qualifiers.

"I was not satisfied with our performances and results," he said at a news conference on Friday.

"But we have played in three competitive competitions. In the first, we formatted the team. The second, we reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup. In the Copa America, we won the title.

"Now we are at a new stage of the preparations, preparing for the qualifiers."

Brazil squad in full:

Alisson (Liverpool), Daniel Fuzato (Roma), Ederson (Manchester City); Alex Sandro (Juventus), Danilo (Juventus), Eder Militao (Real Madrid), Emerson (Real Betis), Felipe (Atletico Madrid), Marquinhos (Paris Saint-Germain), Renan Lodi (Atletico Madrid), Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain); Arthur (Barcelona), Casemiro (Real Madrid), Douglas Luiz (Aston Villa), Fabinho (Liverpool), Lucas Paqueta (AC Milan), Philippe Coutinho (Bayern Munich); David Neres (Ajax), Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City), Richarlison (Everton), Roberto Firmino (Liverpool), Rodrygo (Real Madrid), Willian (Chelsea).

Matthijs de Ligt could become the first player to secure the Golden Boy award twice after he was included on a 20-man shortlist for this year's prize.

The honour, established by Italian newspaper Tuttosport and awarded to the best player under the age of 21 in a European top-tier league, lists Lionel Messi, Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe among its former winners.

De Ligt claimed it in 2018 when on the books of Ajax and is among the nominees for 2019 after continuing to impress with Juventus. He was the first defender to win it.

Manchester City star Phil Foden is also in contention, alongside emerging Barcelona talent Ansu Fati, despite both having been afforded minimal game time.

More established youngsters such as Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho, AC Milan's Gianluigi Donnarumma and Bayer Leverkusen's Kai Havertz are also on the list.

The winner is determined by an international online vote and will be announced in Turin on December 16. 

Full list of Golden Boy nominees: 

Gianluigi Donnarumma (AC Milan), Matthijs de Ligt (Juventus), Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich), Ansu Fati (Barcelona), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Matteo Guendouzi (Arsenal), Erling Braut Haaland (Salzburg), Kai Havertz (Bayer Leverkusen), Joao Felix (Atletico Madrid), Dejan Joveljic (Eintracht Frankfurt), Moise Kean (Everton), Lee Kang-in (Valencia), Donyell Malen (PSV), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Andriy Lunin  (Real Valladolid), Rodrygo (Real Madrid), Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund), Ferran Torres (Valencia), Vinicius Junior (Real Madrid), Nicolo Zaniolo (Roma)

Rodrygo Goes dismissed comparisons to Ronaldo after marking his Real Madrid debut with a goal against Osasuna on Wednesday.

Rodrygo, 18, became Madrid's quickest debut goalscorer in LaLiga since Brazil great Ronaldo, coming off the bench to seal a 2-0 victory.

The teenager needed just 93 seconds to score, while Ronaldo took 62 for his strike against Deportivo Alaves in 2002.

But Rodrygo had no interest in being compared to Ronaldo, who is regarded as one of the greatest strikers of all-time.

"I don't want any comparisons with Ronaldo being made because he's one of the game's all-time best and one of my country's best," he told reporters.

"As for the goal… I controlled it well and knew that from there on in things would work out. I have to always show that I'm capable of playing here."

Rodrygo's goal sealed Madrid's win after a 20-yard stunner from Vinicius Junior had put them ahead at the Santiago Bernabeu.

After a goal on debut, Rodrygo said it was a dream come true, while also praising coach Zinedine Zidane.

"The gaffer knows what he's doing and he's been talking to me every day to tell me to keep working hard," the former Santos forward said.

"I'm at Real Madrid and I don't care whether I play for Castilla, under Raul, or for the first team. Madrid are always going to have great players, so all of this prestige is to be expected.

"I'm so happy. Zidane transmits a real calmness and a lot of trust and I think that's why things went so well.

"I'm speechless, I've been dreaming of this moment since I joined Real Madrid and running out at the Bernabeu with the fans chanting my name… I'm so happy."

Meanwhile, Vinicius was also delighted to get on the scoresheet, netting for Madrid for the first time since February.

"The players know that I was trying hard and there's nothing better than getting back amongst the goals before a derby," he said, via the club's website. "It's an honour to speak with Roberto Carlos and I'm happy because he congratulated me. I'm very happy to score again at the Bernabeu.

"I'm excited because since my injury it's been difficult, I was finding it hard playing again and I wasn't doing well in games. I wasn't as happy as last season and it's a massive weight off my shoulders. I'm very happy when I'm scoring goals."

A point clear atop the LaLiga table, Madrid face Atletico in the derby on Saturday.

Zinedine Zidane was happy for Rodrygo Goes and Vinicius Junior after the teenagers helped Real Madrid to a 2-0 win over Osasuna on Wednesday.

Vinicius, 19, opened the scoring with a 20-yard stunner before Rodrygo, 18, marked his debut by netting after coming off the bench in the LaLiga victory.

Zidane praised the duo for their impact as Madrid moved a point clear atop the LaLiga table.

"I'm glad for them. Many times we forget that they are 18 years old [sic]," the Madrid coach told a news conference, via AS.

"We have seen the emotion they had of scoring in the [Santiago] Bernabeu. I like Rodrygo's goal."

Vinicius' goal was his first for Madrid since February as he made the most of his third LaLiga start of the season.

Zidane said the goal was important for the Brazilian, while he also praised 21-year-old Uruguayan midfielder Federico Valverde.

"I always try to give them confidence because they are very young boys," he said. "We are here for everyone to improve and I'm happy for him [Vinicius] because he needed this goal.

"We will continue now and try to rest well thinking we have a game on Saturday. It has been a good game in everything.

"Fede Valverde has played a great game and I'm glad because he is very young and has an extraordinary future."

Madrid, who face Atletico in the derby on Saturday, have won back-to-back games since their Champions League loss to Paris Saint-Germain last week.

Asked if Madrid had returned, Zidane said: "We are working and believe in what we do.

"Today, we are happy."

Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo Goes can become key players at Real Madrid, according to Lucas Vazquez.

Madrid went top of LaLiga after the Brazilian teenagers scored in a 2-0 victory over Osasuna at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday.

Vinicius curled a fine strike home with the aid of a deflection to end a barren run that stretched back to February, and he went off for Rodrygo to make his first appearance since arriving from Santos in the 71st minute.

Rodrygo took just 93 seconds to open his account for Madrid – the quickest goal for the club by a player making their LaLiga debut since Brazil icon Ronaldo in 2002.

Vazquez has no doubt the pair will go on to become integral members of the team.

"We are very happy for the two signings made by the club," Vazquez told Movistar.

"They will calmly evolve and improve. They have the attributes to be two stars."

On Vinicius' goal, he added: "We are very happy for him. He is an incredible guy who works really hard.

"Today he helped the team with the goal and we are happy."

Zinedine Zidane made eight changes from the team that beat Sevilla 1-0 at the weekend, with Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard among those rested.

"The coach has done the same thing [rotated the line-up] throughout his career, with all the members of the squad. This year will be the same," said Vazquez.

"We are happy with the philosophy and I am happy to take advantage of those minutes. I think the victories come from the humility of the group."

Madrid are back in action against local rivals Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday.

Vinicius Junior and debutant Rodrygo Goes earned a much-changed Real Madrid an uninspiring 2-0 win over Osasuna at the Santiago Bernabeu that sent them top of LaLiga.

Brazilian teenager Vinicius was clearly emotional after finding the net for the first time since February, though a deflection helped his effort beat Ruben Martinez in the 36th minute.

Luka Jovic had what would have been a maiden Madrid goal ruled out by VAR in the second half, but Rodrygo marked his first appearance since arriving from Santos in the close season by opening his account within two minutes of replacing Vinicius.

The victory should ease the pressure on Zinedine Zidane, but Saturday's clash with Atletico Madrid – one point behind Los Blancos in second – will be the real litmus test for the security of his position.

Zidane made eight changes to the team that beat Sevilla 1-0 at the weekend and Sergio Ramos, Casemiro and Toni Kroos were the only players retained.

Madrid took 18 minutes to come to life, with Alvaro Odriozola surging down the right and sending in a low cross that Ruben was fortunate to stop Raul Navas turning into his own net. The rebound fell kindly to Jovic, but the striker blazed over from six yards.

Kroos sent a blistering effort flashing past the post before Vinicius broke the deadlock when his shot from the edge of the box took a touch off Navas and sailed into the top-right corner, the Brazilian almost reduced to tears.

Jovic was unable to punish a defensive lapse from Osasuna within five minutes of the restart and he had a goal correctly disallowed for offside upon review before the hour mark.

Vinicius made way for 18-year-old Brazilian Rodrygo and in the 72nd minute he jinked in from the left, beat Lillo and curled a great finish into the bottom-right corner to consign Osasuna to their first defeat of the season.

 

What does it mean? Zidane keeps stars fresh

By resting his first choice attacking trio of Eden Hazard, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale, Zidane will be feeling positive ahead of the trip to the Wanda Metropolitano.

Thibaut Courtois, Raphael Varane and Dani Carvajal were unused substitutes, while James Rodriguez only played eight minutes off the bench.

Rodrygo makes instant impact

Rodrygo was expected to split his time between the first team and Castilla this season, but Zidane may be keen to keep him around after a stellar cameo sealed victory for Madrid.

Jovic fails to step up

With Benzema having scored five goals in his past five LaLiga appearances, chances for Jovic to lead the Madrid attack are going to be limited for the foreseeable future. The Serbian was unable to take the chances that came his way and can expect a swift return to the bench.

What's next?

Zidane's side meet Atletico in El Derbi on Saturday and Osasuna travel to Levante the following day.

Eden Hazard has been named in a Real Madrid matchday squad for the first time since joining from Chelsea as Levante visit the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday.

The Belgium international signed in a deal that could reportedly cost €140 million, but a thigh injury suffered in August proved an early disruption for the winger.

Coach Zinedine Zidane has stressed the need to go easy on Hazard following the injury, particularly as they head into a period that will see them play seven matches in 21 days.

But Hazard has been deemed fit enough to at least feature from the bench, as he takes a place among the substitutes against Levante.

Madrid have been particularly unlucky with injuries in recent months, leaving them with only three senior midfielders to play on Saturday; Toni Kroos, Casemiro and James Rodriguez, all of whom start.

New signing Alphonse Areola is on the bench following his arrival from Paris Saint-Germain, while 18-year-old Brazilian Rodrygo Goes is also among the substitutes for the first time in LaLiga.

Gareth Bale is missing through suspension after being sent off in the 2-2 draw with Villarreal before the international break.

Zinedine Zidane has opposed Gareth Bale's view of being made a scapegoat at Real Madrid while praising the winger's "amazing" ability.

Wales international Bale almost moved to Chinese side Jiangsu Suning during the transfer window after being told he was free to leave Madrid.

Los Blancos boss Zidane made the decision following months of speculation over their seemingly fractured relationship but the Madrid board blocked his departure at the last minute.

Bale, while on international duty last week, claimed to have been "made more of a scapegoat than most" for the team's shortcomings, a belief not shared by his head coach.

"No, I think we're all guilty if things go wrong or if things go right," Zidane said.

"It's up to us, all of us, we're all in the same boat. We want to change things when things don't go right. We're thinking as a team mentality."

Initially on the outer during the pre-season tour to the United States, Bale has since returned to the first-team fold.

The 30-year-old started each of three club's three LaLiga games before the international break, scoring twice.

"I've always said he's got amazing quality, Gareth Bale," Zidane said.

"He's a great player. What happened in the summer, everyone knew the situation. Now he's here, I'm happy, he's happy, everyone is happy, the fans as well.

"Now we have to move forward."

Bale's reinstatement to the starting XI has partly reduced the opportunities for Vinicius Junior, who has been restricted to one start and a pair of cameo appearances this term.

Zidane, though, is adamant chances will come for the young forward.

"I completely trust Vinicius, I can guarantee that," the Frenchman said.

"I'm his coach. I've got 23, 24 players to choose from but Vinicius is just 19, he's playing for Real Madrid.

"It's like everything, things take time. He's in a process to improve, like all players are. Perhaps at times he won't play because someone else will come in.

"Then you go and get your headlines, you say 'he doesn't want to pick Vinicius' but that's not the point. He will play."

Casemiro has told Real Madrid team-mate Vinicius Junior to start thinking about the Ballon d'Or and other major prizes after making his Brazil debut.

Vinicius made his first appearance for the Selecao in Tuesday's underwhelming 1-0 defeat to Peru, Brazil's first loss since last year's World Cup.

The 19-year-old has started 10 LaLiga matches across the past two seasons, too, and Casemiro believes he needs to be aiming high.

"Vinicius has a very good head and, in the past year, he has surprised many people with the football he played," the midfielder told reporters.

"It is not normal for a 19-year-old boy to do what he did with the Real Madrid shirt. I told him the other day that this year is a year that he has to start thinking big.

"I repeat: what he did last year was not normal. He surprised everyone and showed that he is ready to be a starter at Real Madrid.

"When you are a starting Real Madrid player, you have to think big. Think of the Ballon d'Or, FIFA's World XI. He is a great player and he has already proven it.

"Of course, he is very young, you cannot put too much pressure and weight on his back. But I think he has to start thinking big.

"It is very important for us that he is here with the national team, but we have to be calm; two years ago he was playing in the Flamengo youth team."

Brazil coach Tite rued not giving Vinicius Junior his international debut in Friday's friendly against Colombia, owing the decision to Neymar displaying "perfect" body language upon his return.

Real Madrid talent Vinicius has long been tipped to make the breakthrough at senior level for Brazil, having sparkled in his fledgling career with Flamengo and then last season in Spain.

Injury denied him a first cap in March after he was called up for matches against Panama and Czech Republic, while he failed to make the cut for Tite's Copa America squad.

Tite planned to let the 19-year-old feature as Brazil drew 2-2 with Carlos Queiroz's Colombia, but instead opted to keep Neymar – playing his first match for club or country in three months – on the pitch in an attempt to maximise the Paris Saint-Germain star's fitness.

"Vinicius was ready to enter," Tite told reporters. "The idea was to for him to come on, but circumstances change.

"He will have his chance. Of course, he will be used as a left winger. Playing in the national team is already complicated, the yellow shirt weighs on anyone.

"So, in the case of Vinicius, I will put him in his natural position, where he is accustomed and feels comfortable.

"The plan was not that Neymar played 90 minutes, he came from more than three months without playing, and I was about to take him off three times during the second half, but he was improving technically and physically as the minutes passed.

"I was talking with Dr. Rodrigo Lasmar and our physio during the match and we decided to leave him on the pitch.

"I don't think he expected me to play him for 90 minutes, I saw him look at the bench a couple of times, but his body language was perfect, he was not tired and there was no point in taking him out.

"The level of the game was so high and I saw the team at such a good pace that I didn't want to make any more changes."

Neymar scored Brazil's second goal, after a Luis Muriel brace had cancelled out Casemiro's headed opener.

Brazil are next in action against Peru on Wednesday.

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