Carlo Ancelotti's return to Real Madrid feels like a homecoming for the Italian, who believes the extra six years of experience he has since his previous spell can only benefit the club.

The experienced Italian was a somewhat surprising choice by the Madrid hierarchy given his work at Everton was not exactly universally praised, with the Toffees finishing 10th in the Premier League in 2020-21.

He dramatically leapt to the front of the queue for the Madrid job despite Raul and Mauricio Pochettino appearing to be the most-likely options to replace Zinedine Zidane, who stepped down citing a lack of support from those in charge.

Ancelotti's hiring sees him return to the club that dismissed him back in 2015, though president Florentino Perez stressed at the time that their relationship was still strong on a personal level.

That has seemingly remained the case in the intervening years and Ancelotti is confident he is a wiser manager, having missed out on a LaLiga title during his previous two-year spell, though he did preside over Los Blancos’ 10th Champions League crown in 2014.

"I'm very happy to be back here," he told the club's official media channels. "I've got fantastic memories from my time here, we had a lot of success in the two years.

"It's very important because I'm coming back to my home. I'm really excited and I'm going to give all my energy to help Real Madrid get as high as possible.

"You have to try to improve every day. I've had positive experiences in Germany, Italy and England. Each experience makes you grow and I'm coming back with six more years of experience. I hope it'll be good for Real Madrid.

"I've got responsibility, hope and I'm going to work to the best of my ability. We know what Real Madrid's objectives are every year and we're going to try to meet them with all the experience and energy I can bring.

"I'm so happy to be back because I love this club. I'm very happy and it's hard to explain how I feel. Madrid is the most prestigious club in the world and a club where I really enjoyed the two years I was here. I've got unforgettable memories.

"I have to thank Everton, where I was very happy during the one-and-a-half years I was there. The atmosphere was positive and the people were hard-working.

"I'm back with more experience, I know Real Madrid very well, the squad and I've met some of the players in the past. We're going to do well."

There were periods during Zidane's two tenures where supporters voiced frustration at the style of play adopted by the Frenchman, with Madrid not always embracing the vibrant attacking football perhaps associated with the club in the past.

However, Ancelotti insists it is what he hopes to bring to the Santiago Bernabeu – indeed, his Madrid team led the way in LaLiga for goals scored in 2013-14 and 2014-15 – while he is also pledging to continue bringing through talented youngsters from the club's second team, Castilla.

"At this club we demand to play attacking, exciting, quality and intense football. It's the same way of playing and nothing has changed," he said.

"A coach alone can't win. The winning combination of coach, players and club is the way to succeed.

"I think experience is very important, but youth is also important because it brings a lot of energy and passion when doing things.

"When I was here the first time, four players came up from Castilla and this mix of youth and experience has brought us a lot of success in the past and also in the present."

Gareth Bale has backed Carlo Ancelotti to be "amazing" in his second spell in charge at Real Madrid, though the Wales international has reiterated he will not reveal his own future until after Euro 2020.

Ancelotti has returned to the Santiago Bernabeu to replace Zinedine Zidane, leaving Everton to undertake a second spell at a club where he previously spent two years in charge.

Bale was in the squad that won the Champions League under the Italian in 2014, scoring Madrid's second goal as they defeated Atletico Madrid 4-1 in the final to secure 'La Decima'.

However, the forward fell out of favour under Zidane and spent the 2020-21 season back on loan at Tottenham, scoring 16 goals in 34 appearances in all competitions.

It remains unclear if he has a future with Los Blancos, though, even with a familiar face now back in charge.

"He's returned to Real Madrid and he's a great guy," Bale said about Ancelotti in an interview with Sky Sports.

"We had a great time together at Real Madrid and I'm sure he's going to be amazing in charge there.

"I spoke to him when we played Everton at the start of the season, we hugged and had a little chat which was nice.

"But I'm still in the same boat and haven't thought about it too much. I'm concentrated on our preparation now and what's going to happen in the Euros. I'll sort the rest of it after."

Wales take on Albania in a friendly on Saturday before beginning their Euro 2020 campaign against Switzerland on June 16. They also have group games against Turkey and Italy, too.

After scoring twice on the final day of the Premier League season in a 4-2 win at Leicester City, Bale said he already knew what was in store for next season but did not want to cause "chaos" by making an announcement.

"It will have to happen after the Euros. I know what I'm doing but it'll just cause chaos if I say anything," he told Sky Sports after the game at the King Power Stadium.

Spurs are still looking to appoint a new head coach, with former Chelsea boss Antonio Conte - who left Inter after winning the Serie A title - strongly linked with the vacancy.

Lucas Vazquez has committed his future to Real Madrid, with the winger penning a three-year deal to remain at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Carlo Ancelotti was appointed as coach for a second stint in charge of Madrid earlier this week, and one of the first moves he reportedly signed off on was the new contract for Vazquez.

The 29-year-old Spain international, who plays predominantly on the wing but was also used as a full-back in 2020-21 by Zinedine Zidane before a knee injury ended his campaign, and his chances of making Luis Enrique's squad for Euro 2020.

Vazquez's deal had been due to expire at the end of June, but he has now agreed to remain with Los Blancos through to June 2024.

Having come through Madrid's academy, Vazquez did not feature under Ancelotti during the Italian's first spell in charge between 2013 and 2015, making his senior debut the following season.

He has made 240 appearances for Madrid in all competitions, scoring 26 times in total, and helping the club to two LaLiga titles and three successive Champions League triumphs.

Vazquez made 34 appearances in total for Madrid in 2020-21, scoring twice, providing seven assists and contributing to 22 victories.

Only Toni Kroos – from eight more games – created a greater number of chances (95) than Vazquez (72).

Vazquez's expected assists per 90 minutes was 0.27, the best in Madrid's squad, and on average he created 2.33 opportunities for every 90 minutes played.

The year-long delay to Euro 2020 has shifted the narrative for a host of stars, and meant the long wait for a return to the big stage has been extended for others.

Now, though, Europe's elite are set to battle it out as Portugal defend the title they won in France five years ago.

Some players enter the competition in great form and with little baggage, but for others this month-long tournament is a chance to make a big splash, or live up to long-held expectations.

Here, Stats Perform looks at two famous footballing nations, four big-name stars and a coach who bows out of his current job and may have designs on his next assignment.

Gareth Bale: Finished or a new beginning?

The wing wizard can do little wrong in the eyes of Wales and Tottenham supporters, and perhaps now there is a glimmer of hope for his Real Madrid career.

At the end of a season-long loan at Spurs, it seemed likely Bale would head back to Madrid and spend the final year of his contract largely on the sidelines. His future looked to be one of training, playing the odd Copa del Rey game and making fleeting LaLiga appearances, and spending his happiest hours on the region's best golf courses.

Now that Zinedine Zidane has moved on, that could change all of a sudden, and Bale has an immediate chance to make an impression on new Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti when he captains Wales at the Euros.

Bale joined Madrid in 2013, when Ancelotti was embarking on his first spell at the Santiago Bernabeu, but his career in Spain looked to have all but conked out 12 months ago.

The door certainly seems open for the 31-year-old to do just that as, in his presentation news conference at Madrid, Ancelotti said: "Gareth has not played much in the Premier League [in 2020-21], but he scored lots of goals, and was very effective in recent games when he had a chance to play.

"He is coming back, I know him very well, he will be motivated to play better and have a great season, no doubt."

At Spurs, he scored 16 goals across all competitions at an average of one every 104.44 minutes, and his match fitness appeared to be building up nicely when the season ended.

Bale exceeded his expected goals (xG) total of 11.07 quite handsomely, and for the first time since the 2015-16 season he scored more goals than he had big chances.

He had 15 such chances, defined by Opta as situations "where a player should reasonably be expected to score".

Bale is said by some observers to be considering retiring after Euro 2020, but that could be a waste of a still-luminous talent and Ancelotti is sure to be closely watching.

Eden Hazard: Brilliant Belgian has been a Real disappointment

So often sparkling for Belgium and Chelsea in the past, Hazard has left Madrid supporters wondering what has happened to that fizz since he landed in Spain.

He started just seven games in LaLiga in the season just ended, a string of muscle injuries and a spell out with COVID-19 ruining his campaign.

When fit enough to feature, the forward's numbers have been way down on those that he produced – to take a pertinent example – during Belgium's Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.

A fair way of assessing his figures is to look at how Hazard contributes for every 90 minutes he is involved with club and country, and the comparison between his displays in Belgium's run to reach this tournament and in 2020-21 at Madrid shows an alarming dip.

His chances created total per 90 minutes falls from 4.6 to 1.0, his number of touches of the ball slides from 95.1 to 73.8, and his dribbles attempted plummet from 7.4 with Belgium to 4.2 in Madrid's season.

His involvements in shot-ending sequences of play fall from 10.8 to 4.9 per 90 minutes, and analysis of goal-ending sequences shows his contribution drops from 1.9 with Belgium to 0.8 per 90 minutes with Madrid.

It bears remembering that Hazard has not had the run of games that would give him full match fitness. If Real Madrid fans want any succour, they can find it in his Belgium statistics and must hope the coming month sees the 30-year-old roll back his form a couple of years.

A fit and firing Hazard would be a huge asset to Ancelotti, who is expecting the former Chelsea star to have an impact next term.

"Hazard is a top player, he has had injury problems, and not shown his top potential yet here," Ancelotti said. "I believe he can do that next year, he wants to, is motivated."

 

Karim Benzema: Have France really missed him?

Nobody doubts Benzema's ability or his current form. Firing 23 goals for Real Madrid in LaLiga showed he is coming into Euro 2020 in great shape.

The thing is: few expected him to play any part in this tournament.

Off-field matters and an impending court case have seen Benzema frozen out by France, the 33-year-old sidelined from international duty since 2015 following allegations he had a part in a plot to blackmail former Les Bleus player Mathieu Valbuena.

Benzema strenuously denies any wrongdoing and for the duration of Euro 2020 he will aim to show what France have been missing in his absence. They managed to win the 2018 World Cup without him, and reach the final of Euro 2016, yet coach Didier Deschamps has decided his team need Benzema's presence for the coming month.

It could be a masterstroke or could go disastrously wrong, with France a national team who have combusted before during a big tournament.

Benzema last year made the snippy remark that Olivier Giroud was a go-kart and he, by contrast, was a Formula One car, but now they are rivals for selection.

Squad harmony is vital at any major championship, and Benzema's presence brings that little extra frisson. This gamble could go either way. Watching him and France will be fascinating.

Marcus Rashford: Making his pitch for a better England

Manchester United striker Rashford has been a pandemic social justice warrior, emerging as an inspirational figure as he battled for school children to avoid food poverty.

There is so much to admire about the 23-year-old Mancunian, who has also faced – and faced down – appalling racism on social media.

It would take a cold, cruel heart to begrudge Rashford a major moment on the pitch now, and that could come with England over the coming weeks.

On the international scene since just before Euro 2016, Rashford is now fixtures-and-fittings within the Three Lions set-up, but he has still yet to score at a World Cup or European Championship.

Before June's pre-Euros friendlies he had 40 caps and 11 goals and will want to improve his so-so goals-to-games ratio, which is partly explained by the fact only 20 of those caps came as a starter.

Golden Boot winner Harry Kane carried so much of the scoring burden for England at the last World Cup, and sometimes it takes two. Rashford scored three times in Euro 2020 qualifying and is coming off a 21-goal campaign with United, scoring on average once every 197.76 minutes.

The man who is effecting positive change in the way many live their lives, influencing politicians and shaping a better future for millions, could now do his country a massive favour on the football field.

 

Scotland: They're back, thanks to Mourinho's former right-hand man

Few in the Scotland team are long enough in the teeth to remember the last time the Tartan Army descended on a major tournament.

It was 1998, with the Scots giving Brazil a major test in the opening game at the Stade de France. A draw followed against Norway followed the 2-1 loss to the Selecao, before a dismal defeat to Morocco meant the campaign ended in crushing disappointment.

Hopes have flickered and foundered in the decades since, but Steve Clarke, once an assistant boss to Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, has led his team back to the big time.

With the likes of Andy Robertson, Scott McTominay and Che Adams, they possess Premier League quality, and two games Hampden promise to be nourishing for the soul.

Scotland is an expectant nation. That tends to end in intense disappointment at major tournaments, but optimism abounds as the games approach, the June 18 clash with England at Wembley ringed in the diary.

Italy: Blue skies again for Azzurri

It felt absurd that Italy should be absent from the 2018 World Cup, but they failed the meritocracy test of qualification when losing a play-off to Sweden.

That meant they were absent from football's great global gathering for the first time since 1958, and coach Gian Piero Ventura was swiftly given the heave-ho.

Enter Roberto Mancini, the former Inter and Manchester City boss who has led a scorching revival of the Azzurri, a team who won all 10 of their qualifiers and headed into June on a 26-game unbeaten run.

Wales, Turkey and Switzerland are the group-stage opposition for Italy, and the Turkey game in Istanbul gets the tournament underway.

They are a team perhaps without a superstar, but as Paolo Rossi and Toto Schillaci would attest, iconic Italian figures can emerge on the big stage.

Joachim Low: Hit for six, Germany go back to the future

After 15 years, Low will step down as Germany head coach following these finals. Many in Germany think he should have stepped aside already, but Low has powerful support within the DFB, the national federation.

A 6-0 defeat to Spain in the Nations League last November felt like an appalling nadir, with Germany outshot 23-2 in Seville and having just 30 per cent of possession.

Something had to change and it has, with Low summoning Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels out of the international exile he harshly imposed on the experienced pair over two years ago.

Low felt he could do without their talents but it proved a major misstep, and for Germany's sake they are back. What Low does next remains to be seen, but a strong Euro 2020 campaign with Germany would bolster his chances of landing any elite club job.

The 61-year-old was a World Cup winner seven years ago, but the most immediately telling part of his legacy will be written during this European summer.

Carlo Ancelotti wants to coach Sergio Ramos next season but the new Real Madrid boss acknowledged the veteran defender's future is still up in the air.

Ramos' contract expires in a matter of days and although the Spaniard has long been in talks over a new deal, no breakthrough appears imminent.

Although his 2020-21 campaign was hampered by injuries that ultimately cost him a place at Euro 2020 with Spain, the 35-year-old captain still proved his worth.

In LaLiga his tackle success rate (80 per cent) and number of tackles won per 90 minutes (0.85) was higher than any of his fellow Real centre-halves.

He was also dribbled past fewer times per 90 minutes (0.28) than Raphael Varane (0.3), Eder Militao (0.48) and Nacho (1.03).

While Ancelotti – who rejoined Madrid on Tuesday after leaving Premier League side Everton – is unsure where Ramos' future lies, he made it clear he wants to work again with a player he coached at the Santiago Bernabeu between 2013 and 2015.

"Sergio Ramos is a very important player for Real Madrid; he has been a very important player and we are going to talk to him," the Italian said at his media unveiling on Wednesday.

"I know he is talking to the club about the renewal but I have no details. We will talk about this in a few days."

Asked if he could imagine Madrid losing a player who has been at the club for 16 years, Ancelotti said: "What I know is that Real Madrid are going to fight for all competitions with the best possible squad.

"About Sergio Ramos, I just arrived and now I have to talk to the club about all this. This has been very fast. We started talking on Saturday and I still haven't had time to talk to the club.

"I really want to coach these players and Sergio Ramos is one of them. I have to plan the squad in the next few days because we haven't had time yet."

Another player Ancelotti hopes to work with next season is Gareth Bale.

The 31-year-old spent the 2020-21 campaign on loan to Premier League side Tottenham, finishing the season with 16 goals and three assists in 34 games across all competitions.

He averaged a goal every 84 minutes in the English top flight. For players with 10 or more goals, only Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in 1998-99 had a better minutes-per-goal ratio in a single season in the competition (one every 71 mins).

Bale also far exceeded his expected goals (xG) score of 11.07 and converted 11 of 15 goal opportunities defined by Opta as 'big chances' (73.3 per cent).

Speculation has surrounded Bale, who has previously suggested he would return to Madrid and fight for his place, but he said he would not reveal his plans until Wales' Euro 2020 campaign is over.

Ancelotti was appointed three months before Madrid signed Bale in 2013 and the 61-year-old expects him to be on board when the 2021-22 campaign gets under way.

"He has not played much. He has not had much time in the Premier but he has scored many goals," Ancelotti added.

"He has been very effective. He comes back, I know him very well. I think he has the motivation to try to play. Maybe he can have a great season."

Ancelotti could not deliver a LaLiga title during his previous two-year stint, but he helped Madrid win the Champions League in 2014 – the 10th time in their history they had become European club champions, famously recognised as 'La Decima'.

Madrid also landed the Copa del Rey in the same season and the Club World Cup in December 2014.

Since leaving the Santiago Bernabeu, Ancelotti has coached Bayern Munich, Napoli and Everton, joining the latter in December 2019.

For Carlo Ancelotti, the lure of Real Madrid proved too good to turn down. Again.

A first full season in charge at Everton had resulted in a 10th-place finish in the Premier League, though there was no sign of the Italian doing anything other than planning for the future at Goodison Park during the close-season.

Then, however, Zinedine Zidane left Madrid and everything changed. In a flash, Ancelotti is now back in the Spanish capital six years after Los Blancos said 'thanks, but no thanks', ending a first stint in charge that spanned two eventful years and included a historic Champions League triumph.

"What did Ancelotti do wrong? I don't know," club president Florentino Perez said when announcing Ancelotti's exit in 2015. The pair parted ways as work colleagues but the personal relationship remained intact, allowing them to come back together again.

Perez opted to dispense with Ancelotti despite him delivering 'La Decima', as well as the Copa del Rey and FIFA Club World Cup. He also boasted the best success rate of any head coach to be at Madrid for a minimum of 50 games at 74.8 per cent, winning 89 of his 119 games. That number eclipses Jose Mourinho (71.9 per cent) and comfortably Zidane, too (65.4 per cent).

However, there was no league title the first time around. Now the former Milan, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain boss gets another crack at conquering LaLiga, with Los Blancos aiming to knock noisy neighbours Atletico Madrid off their perch.

Attack the best form of defence

There will be some familiar faces in the dressing room to greet Ancelotti upon his return, but also some notable absentees from the squad he left behind.

Across his previous reign, Madrid averaged 2.7 goals per game. That number was aided by the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo, the club's all-time leading scorer now taking up residence in Turin.

In LaLiga, Ancelotti's side led the way in terms of goals, getting 104 in 2013-14 and then 118 in the following campaign, eight more than a Barcelona squad led by Luis Enrique that clinched a famous treble. His Madrid averaged 18.1 shots per game – the same number as Zidane's side during his first stint – with a conversion rate of 14.9 per cent.

The Frenchman's time between January 2016 and May 2018 sees similarities in terms of attacking numbers to the period under Ancelotti, the common denominator being they both had the irrepressible Ronaldo to call upon.

Zidane's comeback saw a different Madrid, one that attempted more passes – they averaged out at 596.5 per game, compared to 576 previously – but dipped in terms of attacking output, their goals-per-outing number dropping from 2.6 to 1.8.

There was an over-reliance on Karim Benzema in 2020-21, the French striker scoring 23 times in the league. No other Madrid squad member reached double figures, Casemiro next on six. Well, Gareth Bale did, though that was during a year on loan at Tottenham.

Ancelotti may struggle to match the offensive numbers of his previous version of Madrid, but he is acutely aware of what is expected from his team.

"The history of this club forces you to play well and have a spectacular game. I believe that football has changed in these years towards a more organisational approach, but the idea of ​​Real Madrid must remain the same," he told the media.

The same Ancelotti, only different

"This is not the same Carlo Ancelotti from six years ago. I have six more years of experience. Positive and negative. I was very happy at Everton and I have grown as a person and as a coach."

Those were the words of the man himself at a news conference on Wednesday which covered a number of topics, including Sergio Ramos' future, the potential arrivals of Kylian Mbappe and Ronaldo, plus the open letter released by the man he has now replaced.

Ancelotti's appointment at Everton was seen as a coup for the Merseyside club and while there were high points during his reign, including a long-awaited win at Anfield (one of 11 away victories in 2020-21), but inconsistent results at home sunk hopes of securing European football, with a resounding 5-0 defeat to Premier League champions Manchester City ultimately bookending the 61-year-old's tenure.

Still, Ancelotti averaged 1.53 points per game, better than any other previous Everton boss to have at least 10 games in charge, including David Moyes (1.50) and Ronald Koeman (1.47), who – if reports are to be believed – will be staying on at Barca, meaning the Toffees will have been coached by both men in charge for next season's Clasico contests.

However, it is Atleti who are the top team in Spain. Diego Simeone's side faltered with the line in sight, but still managed to finish first in a title race that had seemed set to be a procession at one stage during the campaign.

LaLiga is the solitary title in the top five European leagues to so far evade Ancelotti, who knows better than anyone that not even on-pitch success is always enough to keep you in one of the biggest jobs in football.

Speculation has swirled for months about the future of Lionel Messi following a season of change at Barcelona.

Barca have been busy already this off-season, signing Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia.

Compatriot Aguero had implored Messi to extend his Barcelona stay, which dates back to 2000, and it seems the striker may get his wish.

 

TOP STORY - MESSI RE-COMMITS TO CATALANS

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi is set to pen a new two-year contract with Barcelona, according to AS.

The Argentina forward has practically agreed to the deal, with only "structural details" to complete.

Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain have both shown interest in Messi but he looks set to commit until 2023.

 

ROUND-UP

- Everton are in the market for a new manager after Carlo Ancelotti's sudden departure and The Athletic reports they will consider Rangers boss and Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard. TalkSPORT claims ex-Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo is also on their radar.

- COPE claims that new Real Madrid boss Ancelotti will not push to recruit James Rodriguez from the Italian's former club Everton.

- The Sun reports that Arsenal are in pole position in the race to sign Raheem Sterling from Manchester City. 

- The Sun also claims any potential Sterling move to Arsenal may scupper Manchester City's plans to sign Tottenham's Harry Kane , as they want to use the winger in a swap deal given Spurs hefty asking price.

- Manchester United are keen on Sevilla defender Jules Kounde but Barcelona have joined the pursuit for his signature, claims Mundo Deportivo.

Carlo Ancelotti is the new head coach of Real Madrid after Florentino Perez attracted the Italian from Everton.

Ancelotti dramatically jumped to the front of the queue for the job when it had looked as though Raul and Mauricio Pochettino were the main contenders.

His appointment means a return to the club that sacked him six years ago, with Perez having been head of the board that reached that decision at the end of the 2014-15 season.

Perez said at the time he had a good personal relationship with Ancelotti, and that will have been a factor in bringing the veteran coach back to the Spanish capital.

Ancelotti could not deliver a LaLiga title during his previous two-year stint, but he helped Madrid win the Champions League in 2014 - the 10th time in their history they had become European club champions, famously recognised as 'La Decima'.

Madrid also landed the Copa del Rey in the same season and the Club World Cup in December 2014.

Since leaving the Santiago Bernabeu, Ancelotti has coached Bayern Munich, Napoli and Everton, joining the latter in December 2019.

Madrid confirmed his appointment on their official website, stating: "Carlo Ancelotti is Real Madrid's new manager. The 61-year-old Italian coach comes from Everton and returns to our club after making history in his first spell.

"He managed Real Madrid for two seasons, between 2013 and 2015, and became the coach of La Decima. With him at the helm, the team reigned again in Europe 12 years later after the unforgettable Lisbon final against Atletico."

Madrid relinquished the league title in the 2020-21 season as Atletico Madrid were crowned champions in Spain.

Under the guidance of Zinedine Zidane, they finished the campaign without a trophy, after an early Copa del Rey exit to minnows Alcoyano and a Champions League semi-final loss to Chelsea.

Zidane resigned last week, bringing an end to his second stint in charge, and now another coach gets a second opportunity at one of the most demanding jobs in football, where winning trophies is everything.

Ancelotti's Everton finished 10th in the 2020-21 Premier League season.

That position has been viewed as a failure in some quarters, given the investment in a world-renowned coach. Yet of all managers to have taken charge of at least 10 Premier League games with Everton, Ancelotti's average of 1.53 points per game is unsurpassed.

LaLiga is the only one of Europe's top five leagues that Ancelotti has not yet won, having triumphed in Serie A with Milan, in the Premier League with Chelsea, in Ligue 1 with Paris Saint-Germain and in Germany's Bundesliga with Bayern.

He has also won the Champions League three times in his coaching career – twice with Milan and once with Madrid – which is a record he shares with former Liverpool boss Bob Paisley and Zidane.

Carlo Ancelotti is back in charge of Real Madrid and has plenty on his plate after succeeding Zinedine Zidane.

The Italian called time on an 18-month stay at Everton in order to return to the club where he won the Champions League, Copa del Rey and Club World Cup in a spell between 2013 and 2015.

However, Ancelotti inherits a Real squad with plenty of question marks over it.

The Spanish giants have just endured their first trophyless season since 2009-10 and so there is plenty for the 61-year-old to consider as he starts his second stint.

Sergio Ramos' future

Ancelotti joins a Madrid side who are on the cusp of losing captain Sergio Ramos for nothing. The Spaniard has long been in talks over a new deal but, with his current contract days from expiry, no breakthrough seems imminent.

Although his last season was hampered by injury that has cost him a place at Euro 2020 with Spain, Ramos still proved his worth time and time again.

Looking at his performances in LaLiga, the 35-year-old posted better statistics in tackle success rate (80 per cent) and tackles won per 90 minutes (0.85) than any of his fellow Real centre-halves.

He was also dribbled past fewer times per 90 minutes (0.28) than Raphael Varane (0.3), Eder Militao (0.48) and Nacho (1.03).

These statistics could well be enough to convince Ancelotti to keep him around.

Does Hazard have a role?

With 21 appearances, four goals, and further injury issues all Eden Hazard has to show for last season, it has been suggested a departure could be the best outcome for all parties.

But Ancelotti will no doubt be tempted to try and get the best out of the Belgian as he looks to fix an attack that needs to offer a wider threat.

Karim Benzema remains from the Italian's first stint, but no other Madrid player got close to the French striker's 23 goals in LaLiga last term, with Casemiro (6), Marco Asensio and Luka Modric (both 5) next best.

Hazard could be key to bridging that gap if he can stay fit for long enough periods.

What next for returning loanees?

One man who could help on the goal front is Gareth Bale, who scored 11 times in 20 Premier League appearances for Tottenham during a season-long loan stay in 2020-21.

The Welshman first joined Real under Ancelotti in the summer of 2013 and could be more open to staying put with a manager who has faith in him after becoming frustrated under Zidane.

It remains to be seen what happens with Martin Odegaard, who will return from a loan spell at Arsenal where he impressed but perhaps not to the degree necessary to earn a starting place in Madrid.

The futures of Luka Jovic and Brahim Diaz are also uncertain as they return from Eintracht Frankfurt and Milan respectively.

One big sale?

With Real feeling the pinch of a season without supporters, it is likely that the new manager will have to generate his own funds in the transfer market.

And, with moving on fringe players likely to be tricky, the possibility of selling a more in-demand asset increases.

Raphael Varane is one possible contender as he heads into the final year of his contract amid reported interest from the likes of Manchester United.

The Frenchman established himself as a regular starter in Ancelotti's second season and has missed just 68 of the 266 league games played since that point.

Real conceded an average of 1.1 goal per game without Varane across the past seven seasons, and 0.9 in the fixtures in which he featured.

Interestingly, though, their win percentage rose to 73.5 per cent without him in the side from 66.2 per cent with - will these statistics inform the manager's decision?

One big signing?

Money may be tight at Real Madrid, but that won't stop them being linked to the biggest names in world football.

Kylian Mbappe is one of them, the Frenchman having enjoyed another remarkable season in which he scored more goals (21) and landed more shots on target (55) than anyone else in Ligue 1.

The 22-year-old also converted 60.5 per cent of his big chances - a rate that would help ease Real's problems with lack of goals outside of Benzema.

Still, it remains to be seen whether Ancelotti can pull together the funds to start off his reign with such a high-profile signing.

Carlo Ancelotti is the new head coach of Real Madrid after Florentino Perez attracted the Italian from Everton.

Ancelotti dramatically jumped to the front of the queue for the job when it had looked as though Raul and Mauricio Pochettino were the main contenders.

His appointment means a return to the club that sacked him six years ago, with Perez having been head of the board that reached that decision at the end of the 2014-15 season.

Perez said at the time he had a good personal relationship with Ancelotti, and that will have been a factor in bringing the veteran coach back to the Spanish capital.

Real Madrid know what Carlo Ancelotti can do.

The Italian led Los Blancos to Champions League glory in 2014.

Could a return to the Bernabeu be on the cards? 

 

TOP STORY – REAL MADRD EYE ANCELOTTI

Real Madrid have been in contact with Carlo Ancelotti to replace Zinedine Zidane, Calciomercato says. 

The Everton boss previously led Los Blancos from 2013-15, winning the Champions League title and Club World Cup in 2014. 

Cadena SER reports Florentino Perez has reached out to Ancelotti and Everton have begun to ponder replacements in the event that he leaves. 

Several other candidates have been linked to the opening at the Bernabeu, including Mauricio Pochettino, Antonio Conte, Raul and Xabi Alonso

 

ROUND-UP

Fikayo Tomori is set to stay with Milan on a five-year permanent deal, Fabrizio Romano reports. Chelsea will get €28million for the move. 

- Tottenham are plotting a move for Chelsea's Antonio Rudiger, the Mirror reports. 

- Everton want to bring Pedro back to the Premier League but have yet to make Roma an offer for the former Chelsea winger, Calciomercato says. 

- Saul Niguez wants to join Manchester United, with Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus also possibilities for the Atletico Madrid midfielder, the Mirror reports.

- Now free of his Juventus contract, Maurizio Sarri is favoured to take over at Lazio, Calciomercato reports. 

Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid have made official what has long been rumoured – they are parting ways, again.

The Frenchman’s future at the Santiago Bernabeu was a hot topic for weeks, at times overshadowing Madrid's attempts to retain their league crown.

In the end, despite Los Blancos producing an 18-game unbeaten run in LaLiga as they surged towards the finishing line, Atletico Madrid did just enough to keep their noses in front in a title race that went down to the wire.

The focus for Madrid now turns to finding a replacement: What about club legend Raul? Or could the suddenly available Antonio Conte be tempted by a project in Spain?

And what next for Zidane? As so often is the case with sequels, the second episode was not quite able to live up to the standards of the original production. Still, as Opta data shows, he leaves with an impressive coaching resume across his spells in charge in the Spanish capital.

Better than Beenhakker, behind Benitez

First, the basic numbers: Zidane had 263 games in charge in all competitions across his two tenures in Madrid, winning 65.4 per cent of them.

He achieved a points-per-game ratio of 2.17, which seems impressive, right? Well, perhaps surprisingly, that average sits behind both Rafael Benitez (2.21) and Manuel Pellegrini (2.35), two coaches who did not last anywhere near as long in the job.

Indeed, Pellegrini's time in charge spanned just 48 games, despite winning him 36 of them. In his solitary LaLiga campaign, Los Blancos collected 96 points – good enough for only second place, behind Pep Guardiola's Barcelona. Despite such an impressive points record, the Chilean made way as Jose Mourinho arrived from Inter.

Zidane also finished runner-up in the 2020-21 campaign, unable to quite close the gap on Atleti down the stretch.

In comparison to the notable head coaches who reached a century of matches, both Mourinho (2.31) and Carlo Ancelotti (2.36) exceeded Zidane in terms of points per game. Leo Beenhakker – who won three successive titles in the late 1980s – however, managed 2.11 during his reign.


The reunion and a second LaLiga title

Zidane's second spell lowered his overall points-per-game average, as he won 68 out of 114 matches upon his return. That is a notable drop-off when compared to his time between January 2016 and the end of the 2017-18 season, when he rattled along at 2.29 points per outing.

His win percentage in LaLiga in his initial spell was a mighty impressive 70.8, yet Madrid still only finished top of the table once in that time, crowned champions at the end of the 2016-17 season when collecting 93 points, enough to be above a Barca squad coached by Luis Enrique in the final table.

However, since Zidane sensationally agreed to replace Santiago Solari in March 2019, Madrid have the best record in LaLiga.

That 87-game span produced 188 points, three more than rivals Barcelona managed - though both won the same number of games (56) - and it puts Madrid 12 points ahead of newly crowned champions Atleti.

Having set a ridiculously high bar in his initial stint, Zidane has not been able to match his previous successes in the Champions League either.

Madrid were already out of the 2018-19 competition when he came back to the job, stunningly beaten 4-1 at home by Ajax in the second leg of a last-16 tie. They fell in the same round a year later to Manchester City and, while able to get past Atalanta and Liverpool in the knockout stages in 2021, a 3-1 aggregate semi-final loss to Chelsea ended hopes of further European glory.


Life with and without Ronaldo

It helped Zidane first time around that he had a star-studded squad at his disposal, most of whom were in their prime. Plenty were still around for a reunion when he took over again, though one notable departure had left a sizeable gap in the squad.

Just like his head coach, Cristiano Ronaldo decided the time was right to leave Madrid after they had been crowned Champions League winners for a third successive year in 2018. A move to Juventus broke up the formidable 'BBC' triumvirate, the forward having prospered when playing alongside Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema.

The Portuguese superstar departed as the club's all-time leading scorer, with 112 of his Madrid goals coming while working under Zidane. That is the same number as he managed when Ancelotti was at the helm, while four behind his career tally with Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.

However, Ronaldo's most successful player-coach alliance in terms of scoring output was with Mourinho, when he managed 168 working alongside his compatriot. 

Perhaps surprisingly, Zidane's Madrid were actually better without the five-time Ballon d'Or winner during his initial reign, at least in terms of average goals for and win percentage.

When Ronaldo was involved, the head coach won 68.4 per cent of matches, his team scoring at a rate of 2.6 goals per game. However, without him, those figures actually climbed to 74.3 per cent and 2.8 goals for. Addition by subtraction perhaps, but Madrid's loss was certainly a gain for Juve when the superstar decided he wanted a new challenge in Turin.

Zidane, too, will now contemplate what is next in his coaching career. Considering his ties to Madrid, the possibility of a third stint should not be ruled out.

It's always nice to start with a "thank you".

If you're in the business of picking out some of the most noteworthy and unusual statistics from a Premier League weekend, a goalkeeper scoring the winning goal in stoppage time for one of the most famous clubs in world football does much of the job for you.

Alisson, we salute you.

However, Jarrod Bowen might not be saluting David Moyes, while the current incumbents at Goodison Park have few reasons to be cheerful.

All you need is glove

There was no doubt over the moment of the weekend or, for that matter, the moment of Liverpool's lacklustre season in defence of their Premier League title.

Alisson trotting up from his own half to head home a stunning winner for the ages at West Brom is sure to be replayed countless times over the coming years.

Brazil's number one became the first goalkeeper in Liverpool's 129-year history to score a competitive goal for the club.

He is the sixth goalkeeper to score in the Premier League, joining Peter Schmeichel, Brad Friedel, Paul Robinson, Tim Howard and Asmir Begovic on an exclusive list.

Remarkably, Alisson is the first keeper in the competition to score with his head.

Jurgie time?

The identity of the goalscorer was absurd and, at 94:18, it was Liverpool's latest away winner since Christian Benteke struck against his current employers Crystal Palace in March 2016.

However, Liverpool have made last-gasp winners something of a forte in the Premier League, despite such acts typically being associated with their most bitter rivals.

The Reds have scored 38 winners in second-half stoppage time, 13 more than any other club. Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham all have 25.

This sense of a never-say-die attitude has found fresh impetus under Klopp. Since his appointment in October 2015, Liverpool have recovered 94 points from losing positions – more than any other Premier League club during this time.

Teenage kicking for Carlo

Another game involving a Merseyside club and another unlikely goalscorer, but it was tale of woe for the hosts at Goodison Park.

Relegated Sheffield United beat Everton 1-0 thanks to an early goal from debutant Daniel Jebbison. At 17 years and 309 days, Jebbison became the youngest player to score a match-winning goal since Federico Macheda (17 years and 232 days) did so for Manchester United against Sunderland in April 2009.

There are not too many home comforts for Toffees boss Carlo Ancelotti right now. Only Fulham (four) – who, like the Blades, will be playing Championship football next season – have claimed fewer than their six home points in 2021.

Nine home defeats overall is the joint-most Everton have suffered in a league campaign, alongside similarly slim returns in 1912-13, 1947-48, 1950-51 and 1993-94.

Bowen on the board

Jarrod Bowen has enjoyed a productive season at West Ham, scoring eight goals and laying on five assists for David Moyes' men.

The former Hull City favourite might argue he would have been even more use with a few more minutes on the field.

Before the late drama in Saturday's 1-1 draw against Brighton and Hove Albion, Bowen was substituted – the 23rd time this season he has been withdrawn during a match this term.

Aston Villa's Bertrand Traore didn't see the final whistle in the 3-2 weekend loss to Crystal Palace and has made way 22 times – the same amount as Tottenham midfielder Tanguy Ndombele.

Daniel Podence (19), Leandro Trossard (16), Alexandre Lacazette, Roberto Firmino and Miguel Almiron (15) are the other men in the division who must most dread the sight of the fourth official's board.

The uncertain future of Kylian Mbappe means Paris Saint-Germain's off-season plans remain unclear.

The big-spending French powerhouse could enter the market to make a splash if the superstar 22-year-old forward exits.

PSG are currently in a Ligue 1 title fight and fell in the Champions League semi-finals.

 

TOP STORY - PSG TO TURN TO BAYERN'S LEWANDOWSKI

L'Equipe claims that PSG have put Bayern Munich forward Robert Lewandowski firmly on their radar, should Kylian Mbappe leave.

Mbappe has been heavily linked with Real Madrid along with Liverpool and Manchester United.

L'Equipe reports that PSG will want to be proactive and land a major signing if Mbappe exits and the Bundesliga top scorer is top of their list, even if Bayern are determined to keep him.

Lewandowski is contracted with Bayern until 2023 although there have been some rumblings about entertaining a move elsewhere.

 

ROUND-UP

- Goal are reporting that Zinedine Zidane has informed his Real Madrid players that he will leave at the end of this season. The Sunday Mirror claims the club are already considering Everton's Carlo Ancelotti and ex-Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri as his replacement.

- Arsenal have joined Manchester City in the race to sign departing Southampton defender Ryan Bertrand reports the Mail on Sunday.

- West Ham are reportedly front of the queue to sign West Brom goalkeeper Sam Johnstone according to Football Insider.

- Bayern Munich are targeting Inter defender Achraf Hakimi according to Mundo Deportivo.

- Marca claims Real Madrid are interested in Rennes teenage midfielder Eduardo Camavinga.

Pep Guardiola thanked Jurgen Klopp for his Premier League title text message after Manchester City succeeded Liverpool as champions, saying the Reds boss has pushed him to a new level.

Klopp described rival Guardiola as "the best manager in the world" in a news conference on Wednesday, the day after City secured a third title in four seasons.

The text from Klopp to Guardiola was not the only one sent from Merseyside, with Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti also sending his congratulations. 

"I received a lot. He and Carlo Ancelotti have done it," said Guardiola.

"I appreciate it a lot from both of them. I could not answer messages, not yet, but I will do it today."

Speaking on Thursday, Guardiola offered a salute to the Liverpool and Everton bosses, both of whom have won Champions League and domestic titles in storied careers.

The rise of Klopp has forced Guardiola to pull out all the stops to deliver success both at City and previously at Bayern Munich, when Klopp's Borussia Dortmund were such a force.

"It was an inspiration for me. He has made me through his teams at Dortmund and Liverpool a better manager," Guardiola said.

"I would say thank you so much, I appreciate it a lot from him and Carlo."

Guardiola and City may have wrapped up the club's fifth title in 10 years, but they can still secure a host of achievements before turning their focus to the May 29 Champions League final against Chelsea.

They head to Newcastle United on Friday evening in the Premier League, and a win at St James' Park would be a 12th successive away victory for City. That would break the all-time record for the top four tiers in English football. Chelsea achieved 11 in a row in 2008 and City did so in 2017 before repeating that on their current unbroken streak of away-day successes.

City are also one short of matching the record for clean sheets achieved away from home across all competitions by a top-flight team in a single season. They have racked up 16 shut-outs so far, one short of the record jointly held by Liverpool (1975-76), Chelsea (2003-04) and Manchester United (2008-09).

Their away form has been something remarkable, with City undefeated in their most recent 22 games on the road.

That is already the longest such run by an English top-flight team, but City would also surpass the record for the top four tiers of the English game should they avoid defeat on Tyneside.

Notts County also went 22 games unbeaten away from home between February and December 2012 while in League One.

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