Zinedine Zidane has sympathy with sacked Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde but does not expect Real Madrid's Clasico rivals to be any less of a threat under Quique Setien.

Barca opted to part ways with Valverde after their Supercopa de Espana semi-final exit at the hands of Atletico Madrid, despite winning LaLiga in each of the former Athletic Bilbao coach's two full seasons at the helm.

This time around the Blaugrana are level on points at the summit with Madrid, who claimed Supercopa glory with a penalty shoot-out triumph against Atleti.

"I'm sorry for him, first of all. That's all I can really say," Madrid manager Zidane told a news conference.

"It's not a great situation but he's a coach who's always shown that he's very good. I've got a great deal of admiration for him

"Each club and each situation is different. Each coach knows what they’re doing and where they're at. They know what the situation is at a big club.

"If we lose two games I'm going to get criticised as well. That happened not too long ago. I know where I am and what the situation is.

"We can’t always play well and win, so it is difficult. But what we try to do is give 100 per cent. It's the same for the coach at Barcelona, we all try and do our best and then you people can go off and talk about whatever you want.

"Things are never going to change, but I'm sorry about Valverde losing his job."

Setien does not have a major honour to his name in his coaching career but there is excitement over how his all-action, high-pressing style will work at Camp Nou.

"I expect them to be the same as always. Barcelona will always compete with all the coaches they have. Nothing is going to change," Zidane said.

"They’re going to do their work and we're going to do ours. Things will always be the same. We’ll always have the same rivalry."

Madrid welcome Sevilla and Julen Lopetegui to the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday, somewhat fittingly at a time when a high-profile sacking is dominating the news agenda.

Lopetegui did not last until November in the 2018-19 season after he succeeded Zidane at the end of the Frenchman's first spell as Los Blancos' boss.

"I don’t have to give any explanations about any of that," Zidane shot back when asked why he and Lopetegui had vastly different records with largely the same squad.

"You have to live every different situation, do what you do.

"He did what he wanted to do here. He's a good coach, he's always proven that – both before and after Real Madrid

"But I've got nothing to say about his period here at Real Madrid. What I can say is he's a good coach. He's proven that again this season."

Quique Setien's first LaLiga Clasico as Barcelona boss has been handed a Sunday evening slot on March 1.

The visit to Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu stadium could be a pivotal moment in the race for the LaLiga title, and the kick-off at 21:00 local time should allow both sides to recover from midweek efforts in the Champions League.

Barcelona have an away clash against Napoli on Tuesday, February 25, and Madrid are at home to Manchester City the following night.

LaLiga president Javier Tebas made the Clasico announcement at an event in London on Wednesday, with the match timing picked to ensure maximum global exposure on television.

Barcelona lead the way in LaLiga, but they are only ahead of Madrid on goal difference, with both sides sitting on 40 points from 19 matches.

Tebas said: "It will be 8pm UK time and I think there aren't any other matches at this time so it will be a great slot. We want to be as visible as possible and we are getting there."

The season's first Clasico at Camp Nou was postponed from October because of concerns about civil unrest, stemming from pro-independence activists protesting against the jailing of nine Catalan politicians.

It eventually went ahead on December 18 and finished in a 0-0 draw.

The sacking of Ernesto Valverde and appointment of Setien - a former Atletico Madrid player - as his successor at Barcelona on Monday means there will be a different face in the opposite dugout to Zinedine Zidane for the second clash of Spain's biggest clubs in the 2019-20 campaign.

Real Madrid youngster Andriy Lunin has completed a loan move to Segunda strugglers Real Oviedo after his temporary stay at Real Valladolid was cut short.

The Ukraine international, 20, moves to Oviedo until the end of the season and will compete with 34-year-old Nereo Champagne and former Real Madrid Castilla goalkeeper Alfonso Herrero for a starting role between the posts.

It had been hoped Lunin would be exposed to regular first-team football with La Pucela this term, but he has been unable to dislodge Jordi Masip in goal – the Barcelona product playing all 19 of Valladolid's LaLiga matches this term.

Lunin's time at the Nuevo Jose Zorrilla looked set to come to an end when Jose Antonio Caro's loan at Ponferradina was concluded on Sunday.

Valladolid is the second successive club with whom Lunin has struggled to make an impact, having played only five league matches with Leganes last season.

A reported €8.5million signing from Zorya Luhansk in July 2018, Lunin will finally hope to prove his talents in Spain during the second half of the season, with Oviedo languishing just a point above the relegation zone having conceded the second-highest number of goals in the division.

Lionel Messi believes the "special duel" between him and Cristiano Ronaldo when the pair were on opposite sides of the Clasico rivalry will leave a lasting impression.

The Barcelona superstar went head-to-head with Ronaldo for almost a decade in LaLiga, where the two scored at an astonishing rate and practically assumed shared custody of the Ballon d'Or.

Debate rages over who the world's best player is, but a shortlist of two is almost universally accepted – it is either Messi or Ronaldo.

The Portugal forward has since departed for Juventus, but Messi ​– who won a record sixth Ballon d'Or in December – has fond memories of their long-running Spanish saga.

"The matches against Real always mean a lot, but when Cristiano was there they became much more special," said Messi.

"But it's a time that has passed now, that we have experienced. Now, we have to look ahead to the future.

"It was a special duel and it will remain [in people's minds] forever, because it lasted for many years and it is not easy to maintain such levels for a long time. 

"Plus, the teams we played in were also very demanding, both Real Madrid and Barca, the two best teams in the world.

"The sporting duel between us was very nice on a personal level and I think people had fun too, whether they were fans of Madrid or Barca, or even only football fans in general."

Barca this week appointed a new head coach, with Quique Setien replacing Ernesto Valverde, despite the club sitting joint-top of the table with Madrid.

The last Clasico clash ended 0-0 at Camp Nou in December, with Barca set to head to the Santiago Bernabeu in March.

 

Christian Eriksen appears set to get his move away from Tottenham.

Out of contract at the end of the season, Eriksen has been keen to test himself elsewhere after moving to Spurs in 2013.

Inter look poised to bring the Denmark playmaker to Milan…

 

TOP STORY – INTER IN NEGOTIATIONS WITH SPURS OVER ERIKSEN

Inter have offered €10million (£8.5m) plus bonuses to Tottenham after agreeing personal terms with Spurs star Eriksen, claims Sky Sport Italia.

With Inter head coach Antonio Conte keen for midfield reinforcements and soon-to-be free agent Eriksen eyeing a new club, a transfer is reportedly on the horizon.

However, The Mirror reports that Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain are ready to rival Inter for Eriksen.

 

ROUND-UP

- According to Sky Sports Germany, Paul Pogba is likely to leave Manchester United at the end of the season. Recovering from ankle surgery, Pogba continues to be linked with LaLiga giants Real Madrid and former club Juventus.

Manchester City will reject any bids for centre-back John Stones as Premier League rivals Arsenal circle, says the Daily Mail.

- Corriere dello Sport reports Matteo Politano and Leonardo Spinazzola are set to swap clubs. Inter winger Politano will join Roma, while full-back Spinazzola will move to the Nerazzurri.

- According to Gianluca Di Marzio and Tuttomercatoweb, PSV are prepared to pay €6m for Milan full-back Ricardo Rodriguez.

- Globoesporte says LaLiga champions Barcelona are close to signing Palmeiras midfielder Matheus Fernandes.

Quique Setien's first Barcelona away game will take place on the party island of Ibiza.

Setien, who on Monday agreed to be Ernesto Valverde's successor at Camp Nou on a deal until 2022, will take his new team to the Balearic Island in the last 32 of the Copa del Rey.

The game, which will take place next midweek, will follow Setien's first game in charge, at home to Granada on Sunday.

Real Madrid were paired with Segunda B Group 2 strugglers Unionistas Salamanca while city rivals Atletico will visit Cultural Leonesa.

Defending champions Valencia, the final team in pot one, face a potential banana skin when they go to Segunda B Group 2 table-toppers UD Logrones.

Barcelona top the Deloitte Money League for the first time after also becoming the only club to break the €800million mark for revenue. 

The Camp Nou club generated €840.8m during the 2018-19 season, seeing them topple bitter rivals Real Madrid at the top of Deloitte's table.

Barca finished ahead of Madrid by some distance, with Los Blancos bringing in €757.3m across the course of the campaign, though that was enough to keep them second and in front of Manchester United.

The Red Devils may have underwhelmed on the pitch in recent seasons, but they remain a major financial power, with revenues reaching €711.5m.

United are one of eight Premier League clubs in the top 20, with Manchester City (fifth), Liverpool (seventh), Tottenham (eighth), Chelsea (ninth), Arsenal (11th), West Ham (18th) and Everton (19th) joining them.

However, United could potentially slip next year due to a lack of Champions League action this term, with Bayern Munich (€660.1m) and Paris Saint-Germain (€635.9m) the biggest threats to knocking them out of the top three.

Deloitte also understand United are at risk of losing their status as the Premier League's highest revenue-generating club for the first time next year, with City and Liverpool very much on the rise.

Napoli and Lyon are the only new entrants to the top 20.

Given he delivered back-to-back LaLiga titles and left Barcelona still at the summit, Ernesto Valverde's departure appears perplexing on the surface.

There has been no great decline to speak of, no obvious player revolt and no boardroom bickering.

Why then have the Blaugrana opted to part ways with their head coach and replace him with Quique Setien, a man who could only lead Real Betis to a 10th-place finish last term?

We have taken a look at the five games which might have ultimately resulted in Valverde's exit.

Roma 3-0 Barcelona. Champions League quarter-final second leg. April 10, 2018.

After being beaten in both legs of the Supercopa de Espana by Real Madrid to begin his reign, things picked up for Valverde, who enjoyed a 36-match unbeaten run at the beginning of the 2017-18 LaLiga campaign.

However, two and a half weeks before that title triumph was sealed, Barcelona were stunned in Europe.

Valverde's side were in control of the tie having beaten the Serie A side 4-1 at home, but Roma became only the third side in Champions League history to overturn a first-leg deficit of three goals or more.

Greek defender Kostas Manolas scored the crucial third goal eight minutes from time as Roma went through on away goals and Valverde suffered his first, but not last, European humiliation.

Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona. Champions League semi-final second leg. May 7, 2019.

Fast forward a year and a case of deja vu, with Barca sitting pretty on a 3-0 first-leg lead in their last-four tie against Liverpool.

The Reds were without Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino for the return fixture at Anfield, where Divock Origi's early goal only gave them a sliver of hope.

Yet Barca looked shell-shocked as Georginio Wijnaldum's double was followed up by another Origi strike, Liverpool incredibly progressing to a final they would win.

Described in the Spanish press as a "debacle", "tragedy" and "historic failure", the writing seemed to be on the wall for Valverde from that point.

Barcelona 1-2 Valencia. Copa del Rey final. May 25, 2019. 

Not even a second LaLiga title could silence Valverde's doubters, who had more ammo when his team lost to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final.

Valverde had hoped a victory would ease the pain of the Liverpool loss but Barca were stunned again, Kevin Gameiro and Rodrigo putting Valencia 2-0 ahead before Lionel Messi pulled one back.

Rather than wield the axe, though, club president Josep Maria Bartomeu absolved Valverde of blame for the result.

 

Espanyol 2-2 Barcelona. LaLiga. January 4, 2020.

Away defeats to Athletic Bilbao, Granada and Levante would have looked costlier had the champions' nearest rivals Real Madrid not stumbled along themselves in the first half of this season.

Both teams' struggles were evident in a 0-0 Clasico draw at Camp Nou in December, but it was Barcelona's first result back after the mid-season break that would have set more alarm bells ringing.

Derby rivals Espanyol were bottom of the table and had not beaten Barca in LaLiga since 2009 but Frenkie de Jong was sent off as the strugglers claimed a 2-2 draw.

Barcelona 2-3 Atletico Madrid. Supercopa de Espana semi-final. January 9, 2020.

Five days later and it got even worse for Valverde and Barcelona.

Leading 2-1 in Saudi Arabia with nine minutes to go, the Blaugrana collapsed again late on, with Alvaro Morata and Angel Correa sending Atletico through to a final against their cross-city rivals Madrid.

It meant Barcelona had won just one of their previous five games, a sour note to end on for Valverde.

Zinedine Zidane said winning nine trophies in nine finals is what Real Madrid are about after the Spanish giants reigned supreme in the Supercopa de Espana decider.

After a scoreless 90 minutes and extra time, Madrid overcame city rivals Atletico Madrid 4-1 in a penalty shoot-out in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Sunday.

Madrid captain Sergio Ramos tucked home the winning penalty as Zidane preserved his perfect record in finals as head coach of the LaLiga powerhouse with nine from nine.

"In the end, we're all together and we prepared the matches well," said Zidane, who has won LaLiga, three Champions Leagues, two UEFA Super Cups and as many FIFA Club World Cup and Supercopa titles across two stints in Madrid.

"I don't know why we've won nine out of nine. It's because that's what this club is like. It hasn't been easy, we've been patient, calm.

"At half-time, we didn't know how to get closer to goal, but we had patience. We believed until the end, like always.

"Winning a trophy is never easy and even less so against Atletico. Both teams had chances.

"We're still in lots of competitions. We have to be happy, but there's still lots to come. We have to keep working.

"We'll rest a bit and play again, as we can't think about dropping [our level].

"Now, we're going to enjoy ourselves, but there's still a long way to go in LaLiga Santander, the Champions League and the Copa del Rey."

The final went to penalties after Madrid midfielder Federico Valverde was sent off for hacking down Alvaro Morata and denying a goalscoring opportunity.

The match-saving tactical foul thwarted Atletico and eventually ensured Madrid triumphed as Valverde was named man of the match.

"He was given man of the match and I'm happy for him because he did a great job," Zidane said. "I'm sure that he wants to share it with his team-mates.

"He did what he had to do, he made a crude foul but he did it well. And in the end, the important thing is that he's apologised to Alvaro."

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez described head coach Zinedine Zidane as a "blessing from heaven" after his latest final triumph.

Zidane has won each of his finals as Madrid coach, taking his tally of successes to nine with a tense victory against Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana on Sunday.

Madrid won 4-1 on penalties after a goalless draw, scraping to a shoot-out after Federico Valverde was sent off for a cynical foul on a goalbound Alvaro Morata late in extra time.

This was the first title of Zidane's second stint as Madrid boss - the first returning three straight Champions League wins - but Perez is confident the Frenchman is ready to deliver further success.

"[Zidane] has plenty of trophies and we're very happy for him," Perez said, as reported by Marca. "I hope that he wins more trophies.

"Zidane has a loving relationship with Real Madrid. He decided to rest for a year and now he's returned with renewed energy. Zidane is a blessing from heaven."

Perez felt the triumph at the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah was particularly impressive given the absence of a number of key men, including Eden Hazard, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale.

"We came here without some great players like Hazard, Benzema and Bale," he said. "Zidane has been able to put together a team and we won the trophy.

"I think that we're on the path to finding ourselves again after a little dip. New people have come in who have given the team intensity and we're on a good path."

But Perez reserved some praise for goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who saved from Thomas Partey in the shoot-out.

"We brought [Courtois] here because we believe that he's the best goalkeeper in the world, and he has been," Perez said. "He was one of the key players in the victory."

Federico Valverde was named the MVP of the Supercopa de Espana final despite a cynical extra-time red card that prompted the Real Madrid midfielder to apologise to Alvaro Morata.

Ten-man Madrid beat city rivals Atletico Madrid on penalties after a goalless draw in Saudi Arabia.

But former Madrid star Morata might have proven the hero for Atleti in the 115th minute had Valverde not taken drastic action, chopping down the striker from behind as he bore down on goal.

Atleti reacted furiously to the challenge, and their mood was not improved when Thibaut Courtois made a crucial save from Thomas Partey in the shoot-out.

Madrid won 4-1 and Valverde was then pronounced the man of the match. Facing the media due to the award, he offered an apology.

"I apologise to Alvaro Morata," he said. "I know it's not good what I did, but I didn't have any other option."

Valverde has consistently impressed this season and added of a breakout campaign: "I'm very happy. It's something you train for, you work for, you fight for, to have good results.

"Things are working out well. I'm getting minutes on the pitch, playing, the team is winning. It's fantastic. I'm enjoying every minute of my life, an amazing time.

"As well as winning titles with the team, I am also going to become a father. So many positive things are happening and I'm trying my best to enjoy them."

Diego Simeone was proud of Atletico Madrid's performance in defeat to city rivals Real Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana final as he suggested Federico Valverde only earned the MVP award for his crucial red card.

Atletico lost 4-1 in a shoot-out on Sunday but had a huge chance to settle the decider with five minutes of extra time remaining following a goalless 90 minutes in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Alvaro Morata raced through on goal, only for Madrid midfielder Valverde to charge back to cynically hack down the striker, receiving his marching orders but preventing what appeared a certain goal just outside the area.

Valverde was named man of the match at King Abdullah Sport City Stadium, leaving head coach Simeone frustrated, even if he recognised the 21-year-old Uruguayan had little option but to commit the foul.

"The MVP award for Fede Valverde was for the red card because he won the game," Simeone said.

"The most important play of the game was this action of Valverde. That play deprived us of a chance to score a goal that would probably decide the game.

"It was the most important play and I told him not to worry, that anyone would do the same in that position. I would do it."

After beating Barcelona 3-2 in the semi-finals earlier in the week, Simeone saw plenty of positives to take from the revamped four-team tournament.

"I am proud to know that we competed," he told Movistar. "In the space of three or four days, we faced two of the best teams in the world, along with Manchester City, Juventus, Liverpool.

"And we competed well. That is what generates enthusiasm to continue working. I am proud of the team for their competitiveness. If we follow the team plan, we are competitive."

Thibaut Courtois revealed a late review of Atletico Madrid's penalties helped him step up for Real Madrid in their Supercopa de Espana victory on Sunday.

Madrid claimed the trophy for an 11th time thanks to a 4-1 penalty shootout win after the derby clash finished locked at 0-0 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Saul Niguez hit the post for Atletico in the shootout before Courtois denied Thomas Partey, continuing his improved form for the LaLiga giants.

Courtois said he was always confident of saving Thomas' penalty, while he was happy with another clean sheet.

"I reviewed the penalties on the bench," the goalkeeper said, via AS.

"Saul surprised me a little, but Thomas I knew clearly. He shot it very hard and very strong.

"I am very happy for another zero goals conceded and with good stops. This is very important."

Madrid were reduced to 10 men late in extra time when Federico Valverde cynically brought down Alvaro Morata, who was through on goal.

Courtois praised his team, who host Sevilla in LaLiga on Saturday, for making the most of Valverde's tackle.

"We are very happy. It was a hard-fought match against Atletico. Their style of play is waiting for an error from the other team," he said.

"They could have taken advantage of that a few times. I managed to save some, Fede stopped one.

"I think I could stop Alvaro by coming out, but he got away and Fede made the tackle. We took advantage of that well and we were the more confident team in the penalty shootout."

Ninety minutes was not enough to separate Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana final on Sunday.

Madrid emerged victorious in a penalty shoot-out in Jeddah after extra time finished with the two sides still locked at 0-0.

It marked the fifth straight time a single-game final between the city rivals has gone to the additional 30 minutes.

Here we look back at an incredible run of all-Madrid marathons.

 

2013 Copa del Rey final: Real Madrid 1-2 Atletico Madrid

The third trophy won by Diego Simeone with Atletico, the Rojiblancos beat their rivals in their own backyard in a dramatic final at the Santiago Bernabeu that saw then Madrid boss Jose Mourinho, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gabi sent off.

Ronaldo had put Madrid ahead by converting Mesut Ozil's corner in the 14th minute, but Diego Costa equalised after being played in by Radamel Falcao and Miranda's near-post header sealed a famous triumph for Atletico.

2014 Champions League final: Real Madrid 4-1 Atletico Madrid

Having beaten Barcelona and Madrid to a shock LaLiga title, Atletico appeared poised to deny Los Blancos 'La Decima' after Diego Godin opened the scoring in Lisbon. However, Sergio Ramos' superb 93rd-minute header forced extra time, and goals from Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Ronaldo secured European glory for Carlo Ancelotti's men.

2016 Champions League final: Real Madrid 1-1 Atletico Madrid (5-3 pens)

More heartbreak on European football's grandest stage for Atletico as Madrid again denied them a first Champions League crown. Ramos bundled home the opener for Madrid but, after Antoine Griezmann struck the crossbar from the spot, Yannick Carrasco fired in from Juanfran's cross to level. However, Juanfran hit the post in the only miss of the shoot-out, Ronaldo confidently converting the winning penalty and giving Madrid their 11th European title and first of three in a row under Zinedine Zidane.

2018 UEFA Super Cup: Real Madrid 2-4 Atletico Madrid

Atletico laid down an early marker ahead of the 2018-19 season in a hugely entertaining Super Cup. Costa opened the scoring with a ferocious finish from a tight angle in the first minute in Tallinn and equalised after Karim Benzema's header and a Ramos penalty turned the contest on its head.

Saul Niguez's stunning volley gave Atletico a 3-2 lead in extra time and Koke added a fourth to seal victory, though it proved a false dawn as they finished 11 points behind Barcelona in LaLiga and went out in the last 16 of the Champions League. For Madrid, it was the start of a dismal season in which Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari endured disappointing tenures before Zidane was brought back.

2020 Supercopa de Espana: Real Madrid 0-0 Atletico Madrid (4-1 pens)

The final of the first four-team Supercopa in Saudi Arabia provided a disappointing spectacle, as Madrid and Atletico meandered to a goalless draw light on incident in normal time. There was a tempestuous end to extra time as Madrid midfielder Federico Valverde was sent off and, for Atletico, a disappointingly familiar finale as Ramos slotted home the decisive spot-kick.

It was a game that illustrated just how evenly matched the neighbours are, with Atletico going into the second half of the LaLiga season aiming to eradicate their five-point deficit to Madrid and leaders Barca.

Real Madrid won their 11th Supercopa de Espana title as Sergio Ramos tucked home the winning spot-kick to see off city rivals Atletico Madrid 4-1 in a penalty shootout after a dismal goalless draw.

With Atleti having failed to convert their opening two penalties, Madrid captain Ramos proved their nemesis again when he sent Jan Oblak the wrong way.

Federico Valverde and Alvaro Morata - against his former club - spurned the best opportunities of a dour 90 minutes at King Abdullah Sports City stadium on Sunday, though the quality did improve in extra-time.

However, a string of excellent saves from both goalkeepers, either side of Valverde's late red card, forced penalties, with Saul Niguez and Thomas Partey missing from the spot.

Ramos thkept his composure to take the title back to Santiago Bernabeu after Dani Carvajal, Rodrygo and Luka Modric also hit the target from 12 yards.

 

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