Vinicius Junior lauded Eden Hazard and said it was easy to play alongside the attacker in Real Madrid's 2-0 LaLiga win over Real Mallorca.

A fine finish from Vinicius and Sergio Ramos' brilliant second-half free-kick saw Madrid climb back above rivals Barcelona and to the top of the LaLiga table.

Vinicius was happy with his performance and also talked up his combination with Hazard, with the pair starting together in Madrid.

"I am very happy with today's match. We have worked a lot at home to get to our best version," the forward said, via the club's website.

"As for me, I think I'm the same as before the break, but it's true that I worked a lot at home to be physically well.

"This is like a World Cup with few games and we have to be focused from the beginning. I always try to improve in all aspects. The coaching staff always helps me a lot to improve and I want to continue evolving at Real Madrid.

"Hazard is easy to play [with] because he is a great player and today was the first time that [Zinedine] Zidane has brought us together. It went very well."

Madrid extended their winning streak to four since returning from the coronavirus-enforced break, staying on track to win the LaLiga title.

Vinicius said it was important for the whole squad to be ready when called upon by head coach Zidane.

"We are all ready to enter the field when Zidane decides and we will do our best. We have the best players on the field," he said.

"We are going to do our best to win the remaining seven finals. We have won four and we are going for the league."

Madrid continue their campaign with a trip to Espanyol on Sunday.

Sergio Ramos says people "shouldn't be imagining things" when it comes to Real Madrid benefitting from decisions in an apparent riposte towards Gerard Pique and Barcelona.

Zinedine Zidane's side moved back to the top of LaLiga by virtue of their superior head-to-head record on Wednesday with a 2-0 win over Real Mallorca, thanks to goals from Ramos and Vinicius Junior.

Madrid reclaimed top spot after LaLiga's return this month due to Barcelona's 0-0 draw with Sevilla last Friday, after which Pique suggested it would be hard to stop Los Blancos winning the title because VAR and referee decisions too often go their way.

Ramos, though, thinks such arguments are only being made now that Madrid have the edge in the title race.

"There's a lot of noise in the media because we're leaders again," he told Movistar. "They didn't talk so much before. They talk about VAR, but I don't think anyone has an advantage over the season.

"We don't pay attention to this noise. I don't think they [the referees] take any predetermined decisions. It seems like we should be thanking the refs for being leaders! People shouldn't be imagining things.

"We've been working hard and since the lockdown, we've been united, and we deserve to be where we are."

Ramos became the top-scoring defender in LaLiga history against Real Sociedad last week and his goal on Wednesday, his 69th in the top flight, made him the first defender to reach eight in a single season since Ezequiel Garay 13 years ago.

However, the Madrid captain remains far more concerned with team performances and admitted they felt tired as the Mallorca match went on.

"I've always said this is a team game at the end of the day," he said. "The personal side makes you feel proud and motivates you but it's secondary. The most important thing is the consistency of the team. It's a job well done and three more points.

"The team was tired, we felt that. Obviously, we don't have long to recover between games, and we have to continue improving. We all know what our objective is but there are plenty of things we can improve.

"Our play stagnated a little at times, but I think we can generally improve in all aspects. We could have put the game to bed earlier and taken more chances, played with the ball in their half. That's what we want to do: we want to dominate more."

Luka Romero became the youngest player to ever feature in a LaLiga match after coming on as a substitute for Real Mallorca against Real Madrid.

Romero, aged 15 years and 219 days, came on from the bench in the 83rd minute of Mallorca's 2-0 defeat in the Spanish capital on Wednesday.

The teenager – who replaced midfielder Iddrisu Baba for the closing stages – broke the record previously held by Francisco Bao Rodriguez, known as Sanson, who made his league debut for Celta Vigo aged 15 years and 255 days in 1939.

Though goals from Vinicius Junior and Sergio Ramos were ultimately enough to secure a comfortable victory for Madrid, it is sure to have been a day to remember for Romero, who had two touches of the ball, won one foul and completed the only pass he attempted.

Real Madrid returned to the top of LaLiga thanks to a 2-0 defeat of Real Mallorca at the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium on Wednesday.

Barca's 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao 24 hours earlier had put the pressure back on Zinedine Zidane's men, but Vinicius' goal after 19 minutes steadied any nerves within the home side.

Mallorca, who sit third from bottom of the table, gave a spirited account of themselves but rarely looked likely to claim a share of the spoils despite Madrid having made four changes from the 2-1 win at Real Sociedad on Sunday.

Zidane elected to start Vinicius, Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale in support of Karim Benzema but it was captain Sergio Ramos who made the win safe with an exceptional free-kick early in the second half.

Vinicius might have been a surprise starter but he justified Zidane's call 19 minutes in, steering a finish high past Manolo Reina after a clever reverse pass from Luka Modric.

The Brazilian hit the bar with a lob from a Karim Benzema throughball four minutes later, but it was Mallorca who threatened more as the half went on, even though Thibaut Courtois' goal was largely well protected.

Madrid took control with a second goal 10 minutes into the second half, Ramos curling a fine free-kick into the top-left corner from just outside the penalty area.

Mallorca did not lose heart at least and threatened through Madrid loanee Takefusa Kubo, who saw a shot hit the side-netting after one impressive run through the box.

The visitors remain three points from safety and at serious risk of relegation, but they did at least make a moment of LaLiga history when Luka Romero came off the bench to become the youngest player ever to play in the competition at the age of 15 years and 219 days.

 

What does it mean? Zidane's side taking shape for double charge

Madrid are back on top of the table above Barcelona on their head-to-head record and appear to be in good shape after the lockdown.

Zidane changed the system and personnel but was still rewarded with a strong performance. That sort of adaptability bodes well for their title challenge, and the return of the Champions League in August.

Vinicius on a mission

Having gone through a difficult spell this season, Vinicius looks determined to become a mainstay in Zidane's plans.

He scored one good goal, almost got a second and pressed across the front in the second half to keep the Mallorca defence worried.

No lucky break for Bale

Bale got out of Vincius' way to let his team-mate open the scoring and it was his most useful contribution of the game.

It was more a disinterested performance than a poor one, but certainly was not one to make his coach think he merits a regular place in the first XI.

What's next?

Madrid head to Espanyol on Sunday, with Mallorca facing Athletic Bilbao at San Mames a day earlier.

Arthur is reportedly nearing a move from Barcelona to Juventus.

The LaLiga and Serie A giants have been linked with numerous deals heading into the close season, including Arthur making the switch to Turin.

And it seems that is getting closer to reality.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA, JUVENTUS AGREE ARTHUR FEE

Juventus have agreed an €80million fee with Barcelona to sign Arthur, according to Sky Sports.

However, the Italian champions must still convince the Brazil international midfielder.

The clubs reportedly want to complete a deal for the 23-year-old before the end of the month.

ROUND-UP

- David Luiz is set to stay at Arsenal. The Mirror reports the defender has agreed to a one-year extension with the Premier League club.

- He may be staying at Chelsea until the end of the season, but Pedro reportedly knows his future. Mundo Deportivo reports the Spanish attacker will join Roma after ending his stay at Stamford Bridge.

- Leicester City may be close to strengthening their midfield. Sport says the Premier League side are in advanced negotiations with Real Betis to sign Portugal international William Carvalho.

- With Bernd Leno injured, Arsenal may be looking for a goalkeeper. The Mirror reports they have made an enquiry about Barcelona goalkeeper Neto, who joined the LaLiga side from Valencia last year.

- Staying at the Emirates Stadium and ESPN says Arsenal are set to agree an extension to Cedric Soares' loan from Southampton and want to sign the defender permanently in the close season.

Barcelona coach Quique Setien admitted Arthur could be affected by rumours linking him with a move to Juventus.

Sky Sports reported on Tuesday that Juve had agreed an €80million deal with Barca, but must still convince the midfielder to join.

Arthur was substituted early in the second half as Barcelona edged Athletic Bilbao 1-0 in LaLiga.

Setien said the speculation surrounding the midfielder's future could be impacting the Brazil international's performances.

"If this is the case I'm sure it's affecting him, yes," he told a news conference.

"I'm very happy with what he's doing, he's an important player for us and we'll try to get the best out of him.

"Given how things are we need all of our players and we'll try and isolate ourselves from this situation and the media who are reporting on and talking about these rumours.

"We need him to be focused. It's true it is a difficult situation but we have to overcome it somehow."

Arthur has made 27 appearances this season for Barcelona, who moved three points clear of rivals Real Madrid atop the table.

Ivan Rakitic said he was "annoyed" it took him so long to open his goalscoring account this season after helping Barcelona beat Athletic Bilbao on Tuesday.

The midfielder's 71st-minute winner helped Barca return to the top of the LaLiga table, sitting three points clear of rivals Real Madrid.

It was Rakitic's first goal of the campaign and the Croatian admitted to being frustrated by that record.

"We struggled a lot to get into the game, it wasn't easy, but I was very happy to score my first goal of the season," he said, via Marca.

"I want to dedicate my goal to my wife and my daughters who have put up with me so much in the last few months.

"It's very strange that I've taken so long to score. I'm annoyed with myself, although I'm happy to have helped the team."

Barcelona have collected 10 points from four games since returning from the coronavirus-enforced break, and they are yet to concede a goal.

Rakitic acknowledged his side, who visit Celta Vigo on Saturday, had again been pushed.

"It's very difficult to win LaLiga, that's why we say it's the best league in the world," he said.

"There are very even and tough games."

Quique Setien praised Ivan Rakitic after the midfielder scored the winner in Barcelona's 1-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao on Tuesday. 

Rakitic netted in the 71st minute to lift Barca back to the top of the table, three points clear of rivals Real Madrid. 

The Croatian's future has been talked about in recent months but Barcelona coach Setien hailed his impact after the midfielder came off the bench in the second half. 

"He came in in the second half for the Busi [Sergio Busquets] card. He has done it frankly well," he told Movistar. 

"He understands football very well. He has placed himself well, has stolen balls and has joined a definitive action. 

"I am very happy for him." 

Since returning from the coronavirus-enforced break, Barca have collected 10 points from four games and are yet to concede a goal. 

Setien was happier with his side's second-half display, praising substitutes Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig for their performances. 

"In the first half we were not precise with the ball. We had losses, it was difficult for us to recover the ball after loss," he said. 

"I have seen the second half calmer. The entrance of Ansu and Riqui has given us dynamism … they have given us a longer possession. 

"I am happy with the second half. And the first half we can improve." 

Barcelona's busy run of fixtures continues with a trip to Celta Vigo on Saturday.

Ivan Rakitic came to Barcelona's rescue as the substitute fired Quique Setien's side to a 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao. 

All eyes were on Lionel Messi, chasing his 700th career goal, but he had to settle for an assist to Rakitic's 71st-minute strike that lifted Barcelona back above Real Madrid. 

Amid Messi's pursuit of a slice of history, a drought had looked to be undermining Barcelona's LaLiga title bid until the late twist. 

After a goalless draw at Sevilla on Friday, Barcelona were far from their best again. 

The biggest impact Messi made until his assist for the goal was arguably the one he left on Yeray Alvarez's ankle in what was perhaps generously considered an innocent collision. 

He threatened to steal the headlines in the closing minutes when he darted in from the right flank, the ball on his left foot, and took aim for the far corner. 

It is a goal that Messi has scored so many times in his career, but this time the fierce shot flew wide of the left upright. Ansu Fati, meanwhile, hit the right post from close range in stoppage time. 

The chances were not all Barcelona's though, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen almost caught out in the opening moments of the game when Unai Lopez's snappy cross from a short corner on the left nearly arrowed into the far corner. 

Ter Stegen just got there in time, but the goalkeeper was struggling midway through the first half when Alvarez connected with Lopez's teasing free-kick. Ter Stegen and Barca were thankful the defender sent his header over the bar. 

After the break, Messi teed up Antoine Griezmann with a clever pass, but the French forward could not apply a suitable finish. 

Eventually the breakthrough came as Messi teased the ball through for the charging Rakitic to slam beyond Unai Simon. 

Luis Suarez suddenly looked energised and saw a thumping shot deflect over for a corner. The ineffective Griezmann had already made way, his drought now up to seven league games. 

Then came the moment when Messi should have completed another century of goals, but the landmark will have to wait. 

 

 

Diego Simeone hopes Marcos Llorente can continue to maintain the same high standards after once again playing a starring role for Atletico Madrid on Tuesday. 

Llorente was signed from rivals Real Madrid as a holding midfielder but has adapted to a more advanced role in the second half of the 2019-20 season. 

The 25-year-old scored twice in a stunning Champions League win at Liverpool and has been brilliant since LaLiga returned to action amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Indeed, Llorente created Atleti's winner - an own goal - as they defeated Levante 1-0 on the road, their third straight success since the resumed to leave his side in third spot. 

Simeone believes Llorente is gaining the rewards for his hard work, having stuck with the team through a tough first half of the campaign. 

"The facts speak for themselves," Simeone said. "It is not necessary to praise [Llorente] when you can watch his movement, attitude, pressure and see what is happening to him. 

"Hopefully he can maintain this consistency, because he worked a lot. He suffered a lot because he played little since he arrived. 

"After seeing how he worked in training, we tried to put him further on from the Liverpool game and we found a different characteristic from those of [forwards Angel] Correa, Joao [Felix], [Diego] Costa and [Alvaro] Morata. 

"He gives us a more important footballer in the team." 

With the media's focus trained on Llorente, Simeone added: "He created this situation after so much effort. 

"He was always training well, without protesting or having a bad attitude after being left out a lot of times. In the end, the people who work are always rewarded." 

Meanwhile, victory against Levante brought up a special milestone for Simeone, his 194th LaLiga victory as Atleti coach tying the late Luis Aragones' club record. 

Simeone said: "At no time did I plan to compete with Luis. I know, with the relationship that I had with him, that he will be happy from where he is watching. I have no doubt that he will be enjoying it. 

"It is always important to win. In the last five games, we played four away and we won three and we drew one. We are changing that situation that was costing us so much." 

Atletico Madrid again etched Diego Simeone's name into their record books as they defeated Levante on Tuesday.

A vital victory in the chase for Champions League qualification represented a landmark for iconic head coach Simeone in LaLiga.

The 1-0 win - secured thanks to an early own goal - was Simeone's 194th in the league as Atleti boss, matching Luis Aragones' record haul.

After three consecutive triumphs following the resumption of football in Spain, the 2013-14 title-winning coach reached the total in his 319th LaLiga match.

Aragones - the club's record goalscorer as a player - had four stints as Atleti coach, winning LaLiga in 1976-77, but required 407 games to tally 194 top-flight wins.

Simeone will have the opportunity to claim top spot outright when his side host Deportivo Alaves on Saturday.

Barcelona gave Lionel Messi an experienced supporting cast as the Argentinian chased his 700th career goal in Tuesday night's Camp Nou clash with Athletic Bilbao.

Antoine Griezmann returned to the starting line-up after being a substitute in the draw at Sevilla on Friday, teaming up with Messi and Luis Suarez in a strong-looking front three.

Griezmann was bidding to halt a barren scoring run, having not netted in his last six LaLiga appearances.

Ivan Rakitic and Martin Braithwaite dropped to the bench, as Quique Setien promoted Arthur to his midfield.

The game came amid reports in Spain that Barcelona have agreed terms of a possible sale of Arthur to Juventus.

Barcelona are said to want Juve's Miralem Pjanic to take the place of Arthur in their squad; however, Arthur reportedly wants to continue with the Catalans.

Messi began the game on 699 career goals and came into Tuesday's game having scored 10 times and claimed four assists in his last 11 LaLiga home games against Athletic.

Atletico Madrid took another significant step towards Champions League qualification with a 1-0 victory at Levante.

Diego Simeone's Atleti were sixth in LaLiga just a week ago but have since won three on the bounce without conceding to steal a march on their rivals and go third.

Marcos Llorente - this season's Champions League hero in the last 16 against Liverpool - was the star of the show on Tuesday, providing both style and substance as he had a hand in an early Bruno Gonzalez own goal.

Atleti were dominant throughout but failed to build on that opener - kept at bay by an all-action display from Levante goalkeeper Aitor Fernandez - in a deserved yet ultimately slightly nervy away success.

Swiftly stamping his mark on the match, Llorente had tested Aitor inside 30 seconds and soon forged the breakthrough with a sublime piece of close control.

The midfielder took a powerful 15th-minute pass in his stride as he turned into the area and then squared as Aitor advanced, forcing Ruben Vezo to clumsily turn the ball towards his own goal, although Bruno contributed an unwitting final touch.

Aitor did his utmost to keep the scoring down as he parried shots from Yannick Carrasco and Thomas Partey either side of the goal, while both Diego Costa and Llorente were wasteful from promising positions.

The Levante goalkeeper smartly saved again from Carrasco before the interval, which failed to disrupt the visitors' momentum as only an offside flag denied Thomas a fierce second.

Aitor bailed out Jose Campana after his error presented an opportunity to fellow substitute Joao Felix, who later blazed over when Levante again failed to clear their lines, a miss that maintained the home side's interest in the closing stages despite their failure to test Jan Oblak.


What does it mean? Atleti back on track

After spending big ahead of this season, it was crucial Atletico secured Champions League qualification - regardless of the success or otherwise of their ongoing European campaign. Their status in next season's competition looked in some doubt as the season restarted, but Simeone and his side have enjoyed an excellent week.

Llorente loving new role

Signed from rivals Real Madrid as a holding midfielder, Llorente is now making his name in an advanced role. The 25-year-old turned in another impressive performance here. Indeed, rather than Joao Felix or Alvaro Morata, it is Llorente who looks best suited to partnering Costa in attack at present.

Forward fails to fire

Supposedly a more natural attacking option, Joao Felix is struggling to follow Llorente in improving as his first Atleti season wears on. After scoring twice against Osasuna, the Portuguese struggled at home to Real Valladolid and then, as a substitute here, failed to impress again. One poor miss stood out after replacing Llorente.

What's next?

Atletico face another side stuck in mid-table with little to play for next: Deportivo Alaves visit the capital on Saturday. Meanwhile, Levante are at home again against Real Betis the following day.

Zinedine Zidane has "no doubts" Eden Hazard and Vinicius Junior can feature in the same Real Madrid team.

Los Blancos' coach acknowledged the duo could be regarded as being in competition for a similar role, but is confident both can be accommodated.

Hazard was an unused substitute in Sunday's 2-1 win over Real Sociedad and it remains to be seen if he will play against Real Mallorca on Wednesday.

Vinicius, meanwhile, impressed throughout the whole match and Zidane expects big things of the teenager.

On the subject of the Brazilian being in the same XI as Hazard, he said: "I don't see it as impossible, not that, but we try to make the player as comfortable as possible.

"His position is Eden's, but it doesn't mean anything. I like to put the players in their place, but in a match they can play together. I have no doubts about that.

"He [Vinicius] is 19 years old, he must learn many things safely, tactically, et cetera, but he's a boy who wants to work and that's what he's doing.

"He did great the other day, not just offensively. The good thing is that we have a very good player for the present and the future of Real Madrid."

Victory at the weekend put Real Madrid top of LaLiga, courtesy of a superior head-to-head record against Barcelona.

However, Zidane's side may soon be playing catch-up, with Barca in action on Tuesday against Athletic Bilbao at Camp Nou.

Zinedine Zidane has claimed Real Madrid will accept the congested fixture list for what it is, despite the club complaining to LaLiga.

Los Blancos issued a complaint to LaLiga on Monday after the schedule for matchdays 33 and 34 of the season left them with less than 72 hours between fixtures against Getafe and Athletic Bilbao.

Madrid felt this left them at a disadvantage compared to title rivals Barcelona, who were given five days of rest between games against Atletico Madrid and Villarreal.

However, it has since emerged that Madrid will have accumulated more rest – approximately 26 hours in total – than Barca until matchday 35, and asked if he felt the club's complaints to LaLiga were fair, Zidane insisted he is fully focused on preparing his side for the fixture list as it stands.

"Everyone does their job here, I do my thing. I have my opinion, one day are the schedules, another the referees, there is always something," Zidane, who turned 48 on Tuesday, told a news conference ahead of Madrid's clash with Real Mallorca.

"My job is already quite complicated, my concern is [Wednesday's] game, it is a final, there are eight games to go and it is very important. It is what interests me. 

"The calendar is what it is, what we have to do as a team is to only think about resting. The games are what they are, eleven games in a short time and we have to take care of these details."

"I don't know, there are many people, Madrid is an important club that is talked about every day," Zidane answered when asked if there could potentially be a campaign against Madrid.

"Everyone can comment, in the end, it's not about that. I don't get into whether it's right or wrong. Each person does his job, it is a difficult task. 

"I only think about preparing the games well. That is what interests us, nothing else."

Madrid survived a fightback from Real Sociedad – with some good fortune courtesy of VAR – to move top of LaLiga on Sunday, courtesy of a 2-1 win at Anoeta. 

Eden Hazard was an unused substitute in the Basque Country, while Sergio Ramos also went off with an apparent knee injury, with Zidane waiting on the availability of both players for Wednesday's clash.

"We will see tomorrow, there are many games in a few days and the recovery is important," he said.

"We will see, it is day to day. We have not done many things today, we will see [on Wednesday]."

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