When we look ahead to the Olympics, we usually think about track & field sports, swimming, cycling, maybe even wrestling and boxing.

Given it dominates so much of the sporting agenda for the rest of the year, football may not be among those sports we initially associate with the Olympics, but it has offered numerous stars the opportunity to show their talents to a global audience and to potentially take home a coveted medal.

Of course, the Olympic football tournament is geared more towards lesser-established players, given the age-restriction rules in place.

While teams are usually allowed no more than three players over the age of 23, that age limit has been increased to 24 so not to penalise those around the cut-off who may well have missed out as a result of the 12-month delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Superstars such as Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi may be missing, but there are still plenty of familiar faces. Barcelona's Pedri will be involved after starring for Spain at Euro 2020; Brazil great Dani Alves is joined by Arsenal and Everton forwards Gabriel Martinelli and Richarlison; and dynamic Milan midfielder Franck Kessie will be the Ivory Coast's go-to man.

But there are plenty of other relatively unheralded talents ready to make you sit up and take note. Below, Stats Perform takes a look at 10 of them.

Facundo Medina, 22, centre-back – Argentina

It's fair to say Lens defender Medina has enjoyed a rapid rise to prominence. The French side brought him in from Club Atletico Talleres just last July and he's already being mentioned as a potential target for clubs like Manchester United.

While he may not be the most physically imposing central defender, he's a good technician, which is demonstrated by his ease on the ball – only three Ligue 1 centre-backs (more than 1,000 minutes played) embarked on more ball carries per 90 minutes (20) than Medina, while his average of 56 successful passes per game was more than any of his team-mates.

Bryan Gil, 20, winger – Spain

La Roja's squad is packed with familiar names – as many as six were at Euro 2020, and that doesn't include the likes of Marco Asensio, Carlos Soler and Dani Ceballos. But of the players with less global recognition, old-fashioned left-winger Bryan is arguably the most exciting.

He just completed a very encouraging loan spell away from Sevilla with Eibar, where his direct and brave style of play was frequently on display, with only Lionel Messi, Javi Galan and Yannick Carrasco attempting more dribbles than him (132). In January he became only the second player born this century to score a LaLiga brace, and he won his first senior Spain caps this year.

 

Diego Lainez, 21, winger – Mexico

It feels like Lainez has been tipped for a big future for a long time now – after all, he first burst on to the scene with Club America four years ago. Two-and-a-half years into his time in LaLiga with Real Betis, he's yet to really establish himself with only 13 of his 48 league appearances coming as a starter. He's still not scored a goal.

But there's no doubting he's a talent. In 2020-21, he attempted a dribble every 17 minutes, which was a record among Betis players and ahead of even Nabil Fekir (21 mins). Lainez is an entertainer and clearly gifted, but perhaps lacking consistency in his end product. Who knows, as one of the more talented players in the Mexico squad, being seen as a go-to player may aid his quest for maturity.

Teji Savanier, 29, central midfielder – France

Savanier is the odd one out in this list, given he's the only one who actually counts towards an over-age quota, though it could be argued that it's to players like him that playing at the Olympics may matter the most. Savanier's never even played for France's youth teams, let alone the senior side, and he only made his top-flight bow as recently as 2018, but he's one of those central midfielders that's a joy to watch with his wonderful ability on the ball.

He has completed 58.4 per cent of his 279 dribbles in Ligue 1 since July 2018, which is bettered by only three players (more than 150 attempts) in the same period. For greater context, Neymar's completion rate in that time is 52.5 per cent. Savanier should also provide France with a threat at set-pieces, as only Benjamin Bourigeaud created more chances (40) from such situations than the Montpellier star (37) in 2020-21.

 

Thiago Almada, 20, attacking midfielder – Argentina

La Albiceleste's squad boasts numerous talented young attacking players – Ezequiel Barco, Pedro de la Vega, Ezequiel Ponce, but Almada's arguably rated highest of the lot.

A diminutive attacking midfielder from Carlos Tevez's old neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, Fuerte Apache, Almada is skilful, explosive and creative. Among players born this century, Almada boasts the best chances created per game frequency (two) in the Copa Libertadores (at least two games played) this season, as well as being the youngest player to have netted at least twice in the competition in 2021.

Claudinho, 24, forward – Brazil

All roads point to Europe for Claudinho, who looks poised to be the first major export of Red Bull Bragantino, the energy drink giant's Brazilian club. While no move has been confirmed yet, it seems only a matter of time before RB Leipzig look to bring him over to Germany.

 

After all, he was the joint-top scorer in the 2020 Brasileirao (18 goals), with his finishing abilities highlighted by the fact a league-high seven of those were scored from outside the box. Claudinho also created 25 more chances than anyone else in the division, and scooped both the Young Player of the Year and MVP awards.

 

Nathanael Mbuku, 19, winger – France

He may not necessarily be a starter for Les Bleus, given they've plenty of attacking talent in the squad, but at the very least left-winger Mbuku could be an interesting option from the bench. Reims are reported to already value him at €15million, and he has previous when it comes to excelling in national team colours – he netted five goals in six games as France finished third at the 2019 Under-17 World Cup.

Mbuku enjoyed a smattering of Ligue 1 appearances that season, though it was in 2020-21 that he truly established himself, making 28 starts – that was tied with Eduardo Camavinga for the most by a player born in 2002 or after. He caught the eye with his ability to beat a man, completing a highly respectable 58.1 per cent of his 74 dribbles last term, a completion rate bettered by only 10 players who attempted at least 70.

Felix Uduokhai, 23, centre-back – Germany

Wolfsburg plucked Uduokhai from 1860 Munich in 2017 with much expected of him. He fell well out of favour in his second season before moving on loan to Augsburg, who triggered their purchase option on him last year. Since moving to Bavaria, he's hardly looked back.

He earned his first senior call-up to the Germany team in November and now there is chatter that some of the Bundesliga's biggest clubs are circling for him again. Whoever gets Uduokhai will land an imposing centre-back whose 102 aerial wins was the fourth-highest in the league last term, while only Amos Pieper (160) bettered his 157 clearances.

 

Brenno, 22, goalkeeper – Brazil

For years, goalkeeper was considered the only position where Brazil struggled to develop world-class players, though Alisson and Ederson have firmly disproved that notion and Brenno could be another to keep an eye on.

In the 2021 Brasileirao, Brenno is averaging the fourth-most amount of saves per 90 minutes (3.5) among those to have played at least four times, and is reportedly interesting Portuguese clubs. A solid showing in Japan might see a potential transfer sped up.

Amad Diallo, 19, winger – Ivory Coast

Manchester United fans will be eager to get a good look at Amad during the Olympics, given they only got glimpses of him in 2020-21 after joining from Atalanta. Amid those eight appearances, he certainly showed flashes of his exciting ability and silky footwork, but they will hope to see some performances of a little more substance.

As much as anything, it could be an opportunity for Amad to earn himself a loan move or prove to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer he's worth keeping around. Jadon Sancho's arrival will likely further impact his exposure to first-team football, but impressing in Japan might encourage his manager to use him as a regular back up to the England international, with Mason Greenwood moved into a central position.

Ronald Koeman believes his first campaign in charge of Barcelona can be considered a positive one and is confident he will still be in charge next season.

Barca beat Eibar 1-0 in their final LaLiga game of the campaign on Saturday to finish third, five points behind Real Madrid and seven adrift of champions Atletico Madrid.

The Catalans also exited the Champions League to Paris Saint-Germain at the last-16 stage, as well as losing to Athletic Bilbao in January's Supercopa de Espana.

Koeman's side did exact revenge by beating Athletic in last month's Copa del Rey final, though, and the Dutchman feels that trophy has salvaged this season.

"We have won many points in the league since the start of 2021 and won the cup in a brilliant way," Koeman said after the late win at Ipurua.

"We were unable to take advantage at the top of the table when we could have and we must learn from that.

"If you'd told me in August we'd win a trophy and be fighting for LaLiga with two or three games to go, I would sign for it. 

"Hopes were too high during the season – that's how I see it. That's why I think it's not a bad season, far from it. 

"It is not the best possible season, but you can't ask for a double every year, or from a team that is still forming."

The 79 points collected by Koeman is the fewest of any Barcelona boss in their first 38 league games since Frank Rijkaard (72) in 2003-04.

This is the first season Barca have finished outside the top two since 2007-08 and the only time they have gone successive seasons without finishing top since between 2006 and 2008.

But Koeman, who hinted at a lack of support from those above him at his pre-match news conference, insists he is still at the start of a long-term process in Catalonia despite reports suggesting he will be replaced in the close season.

"I don't think this is my last game," he said. "I have a contract and, I don't know... you talk a lot about it, but I'm calm. If the club want to change something, they must talk to me.

"From the moment I arrived, the only signing made was [Sergino] Dest, on the last day of the window. The squad is not at the level we want to have at Barca.

"Many at the club agree with this. We are trying to improve the squad. There are older players, with all due respect, who can still give a lot.

"The younger players need to gain experience and will become better. You cannot change the squad in one season alone."

While Barca were battling to a 1-0 win at already-relegated Eibar on Saturday, Atletico picked up the win they needed against Real Valladolid to pip Real Madrid to the title.

Atleti have led the way at the summit for 30 matchdays and Koeman says his side can have no complaints about missing out on top spot.

"Atletico deserved to win the championship," Koeman said. "They have been leaders for a while and have a very well-made squad.

"In general, they were a little better than Real Madrid and Barcelona. Congratulations to them, and nothing more."

Barca were heading for a goalless draw with Eibar before Antoine Griezmann fired in an impressive acrobatic winner nine minutes from time.

He has been directly involved in 25 goals across all competitions in 2021 – 15 goals and 10 assists – which is behind only team-mate Messi (37) and Villarreal's Gerard Moreno (30) among LaLiga players.

And like his head coach, Griezmann hopes Barca can strengthen their squad during the close season.

"We are hurting after missing out on the title. We have failed in some important games and have to rest and see where we can improve for next year," he told Movistar.

"I will continue working like I have for the last two years, and the president will make his moves."

Antoine Griezmann scored an acrobatic late winner to salvage Barcelona a 1-0 win at bottom side Eibar in their final game of the LaLiga season.

Barca were unable to catch Real Madrid or Atletico Madrid in the top two positions on Saturday following a three-game winless run that has increased the pressure on Ronald Koeman.

Without rested skipper Lionel Messi for their final-day trip to Ipurua, the Catalans badly struggled for creativity against their relegated opponents.

However, Griezmann acrobatically fired in nine minutes from time to earn a barely deserved win for Barca that made certain of third place ahead of Sevilla's meeting with Deportivo Alaves on Sunday.

 

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman does not know if he will still be in charge of the club for next season.

The Catalan giants head into Saturday's final LaLiga match of 2020-21 against Eibar knowing they cannot finish any higher than third place.

After a mixed start to the season, a 19-match unbeaten run in the top flight propelled Barca back into title contention as leaders Atletico Madrid began to falter.

However, Koeman has overseen just three wins from their past eight league games, meaning they are five points behind Real Madrid and seven adrift of Atleti heading into matchday 38.

Barca's recent league form, coupled with their Champions League last-16 exit to Paris Saint-Germain, has left Koeman facing serious questions over his future despite winning the Copa del Rey in April.

President Joan Laporta has reportedly decided to appoint a new coach for next season after becoming frustrated with the way Barca allowed their promising title challenge to collapse in recent weeks.

Koeman expects to speak with Laporta after the game at Ipurua but, although he wants to stay on at Camp Nou, he knows matters are largely out of his hands.

"I don't know if I will continue," he said on Friday. "I haven't spoken with the president. We've agreed to do so after the end of the season. 

"We'll see. I want to stay and complete my contract. Things have to change. The president has the last word.

"I don't know exactly what's going to happen. I will speak with the president. I love the club a lot and if the club thinks I'm not the one to lead the team, they say so.

"I give my opinion and that's it. Until I talk with [Laporta], I can't answer more.

"It's the last month. You have to respect the coach and the players more. I understand they're bothered because in the last few days they haven't deserved the treatment the press has given them."

Koeman went on to suggest he has not felt as though he has had the full backing of the club during a recent run of one win in five games, which culminated in a shock 2-1 home defeat to Celta Vigo that killed Barca's remaining title hopes.

"In the final part of the season, I haven't felt [that support] because we haven't spoken about the future. I understand where I am, at a club like this," he said.

"Despite the changes we're making, I've always stood up. I've been the only spokesman on the club's behalf in many moments and that should be recognised. If, in the end, we think we need a new coach or new players, perfect, but you have to communicate."

Europe's top five leagues all conclude this week and there are still plenty of matters to be resolved – not least who will be crowned champions in Spain and France.

Every division has something riding on the final days of the season, whether it be top spot, European qualification, or relegation.

Ahead of what is set to be a dramatic conclusion to the Premier League, LaLiga, Ligue 1, Serie A and the Bundesliga campaigns, we look at the state of play in each league.

 

PREMIER LEAGUE

Manchester City wrapped up the Premier League title with three games to spare, making them the first team in the competition's history to win the title despite being as low as eighth on Christmas Day.

All three relegation places were also decided with three games remaining – a Premier League record – with Fulham joining Sheffield United and West Brom in dropping down a division.

That leaves just the European spots to fight for, and it is shaping up to be an entertaining end to the English top-flight season in that regard. Manchester United are guaranteed a top-four finish, but five other teams – Leicester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and West Ham – are in the mix for the two other Champions League berths with two rounds of games to go.

There is also the small matter of the Europa League places for the teams finishing in fifth and sixth, as well as a spot in the inaugural Europa Conference League, which goes to the team in seventh, meaning everyone from 10th-placed Leeds United to Leicester in third have something to play for. That includes Arsenal, who have not missed out on European football of some sort in 25 years.

LALIGA 

The Spanish title race appeared to take a dramatic twist on Sunday as Real Madrid leapfrogged Atletico Madrid at the summit for around 20 minutes. However, Atleti scored two late goals to beat Osasuna, meaning they are two points ahead of their city rivals heading into the final round of games.

Atleti, who have led the way at the top for 29 matchdays, now need to match Madrid's result against Villarreal when they travel to relegation-threatened Real Valladolid on the final day of the season. It is worth noting that Los Blancos have the superior head-to-head record, so a draw would not be enough for Atleti if Madrid win.

Barcelona are officially out of the title race, meanwhile, but they are assured of a top-four finish along with Sevilla. Real Sociedad and Real Betis occupy the Europa League spots, while Villarreal are in a Europa Conference League berth, though just one point separates the three teams so that could all yet change.

To complicate matters, Villarreal could still qualify for the Champions League by winning the Europa League final against Manchester United.

At the bottom end of the division, Eibar are already relegated and they will be joined by two of Valladolid, Elche or Huesca. Valladolid must beat Atletico in their final game to have a chance of staying up, while the onus is on Elche to better Huesca's result as they are level on points but have an inferior head-to-head record.

LIGUE 1

The Ligue 1 title battle is also going right down to the wire in a three-way dogfight. After a thrilling race that has lasted the course of the season, underdogs Lille lead heavyweights Paris Saint-Germain by one point with one matchday left.

Monaco have won seven of their previous eight games and are three points off leaders Lille, though they require both Les Dogues and PSG to slip up on the final day, as well as beating Lens. Should it come down to goal difference, PSG hold a big lead over their two title rivals.

Incredibly, PSG are still not yet technically assured of a Champions League place as Lyon in fourth are only three points worse off, although it would take a defeat for the reigning champions and victory for Lyon, plus a goal swing of 16, for them to miss out.

Monaco's opponents Lens, incidentally, also have plenty to play for at the weekend as they are sixth – enough for Europa Conference League qualification – but can still be caught by Rennes in seventh, while they could yet overtake Marseille in fifth if results go their way.

At the opposite end of the table, there may only be one spot left to be settled in the bottom three – Dijon and Nimes are both already down – but six teams are still very much in danger of the drop. Nantes occupy the relegation play-off spot, with Lorient, Brest and Strasbourg just a point better off, and Bordeaux and Reims only two points clear.

SERIE A

With Inter being crowned Scudetto winners for the first time in 11 years at the start of the month, the biggest storyline in Serie A regards Juventus' top-four fate. The dethroned champions, who had finished top nine years running before this season, are currently down in fifth.

Juve are one point behind Napoli and Milan in the two spots directly above them, while Atalanta are three points better off in second and have the better head-to-head record against the Bianconeri.

Andrea Pirlo's side are therefore in need of favours on the final day in what is poised to be a nail-biting finale in terms of those Champions League places. Lazio will finish sixth, so they are assured of Europa League football next term, while Roma hold a two-point advantage over Sassuolo in the Europa Conference League position.

Parma and Crotone are both down already and one of Benevento or Torino will join them, the latter currently three points outside of the relegation zone and with a game in hand to play on Benevento.

BUNDESLIGA

RB Leipzig provided Bayern Munich with some stern competition for a while, but the Bavarian giants' quality eventually told and they are Bundesliga champions for a ninth year running.

It's not only the title race that's done and dusted in Germany, in fact, as RB Leipzig are certain of second place, and both Borussia Dortmund and Wolfsburg will join them in the Champions League next season.

Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayer Leverkusen, meanwhile, will finish in fifth and sixth respectively regardless of events later this week.

However, Union Berlin have work to do if they are to finish seventh for a place in the Europa Conference League play-offs as Borussia Monchengladbach are a point further back, while Stuttgart and Freiburg are two behind with a game to go.

Seven-time German champions Schalke will be competing in the second tier of German football next season, but Cologne and Werder Bremen are hanging on in there, sitting two and one point behind Arminia Bielefeld respectively in 15th place.

Diego Simeone is confident Atletico Madrid officials will do what is best for the club amid talk of a new European Super League.

Reports emerged on Sunday claiming that 12 clubs – including LaLiga leaders Atleti – will compete in the new competition, a rival to the UEFA Champions League. 

Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Milan and Inter are said to be the other sides involved, though the proposal reportedly includes an expansion option to 16 or 18 teams.

UEFA responded strongly, insisting it will do everything in its power to block the plans, including banning the 12 clubs from their own competitions, while there has also been a suggestion that players involved may not be allowed to represent their countries on the international stage.

Speaking after his side's 5-0 thumping of rock-bottom Eibar on Sunday, Simeone said he had no doubts any decision made by Atleti would have the club's best interests at heart.

"We are prepared to train the clubs," he told a media conference. "Our club will make the best decision for our future.

"I am a coach and I am prepared to train wherever they tell me. I have no doubt that the club will decide what is best for us."

Atleti tightened their grip at the LaLiga summit with a clinical win over Eibar, who did not register a single shot.

Angel Correa put Atleti 2-0 up at the interval – his first brace in 273 games across all competitions for the club – before Yannick Carrasco added a third shortly after the interval.

Marcos Llorente then added a double of his own to wrap up all three points in style, the Spaniard's first helping him reach 10 LaLiga goals in a season for the first time in his career.

It marked just Atleti's fifth win in their past 12 LaLiga matches, but they still have a slender advantage over neighbours Real Madrid and Barcelona as they bid to win a first title since the 2013-14 season.

Atleti did not have a shot on goal until the 34th minute and Simeone was pleased with his side's renewed dynamism after the interval.

"Goals always generate enthusiasm and energy," he added. "The second half was not the same as the first; we were much more dynamic, precise, with more movements. Energy and winning always gives you strength.

"The most important thing is to be able to win. It is what gives you peace of mind for the next day."

Correa has now been involved in 17 goals this season across all competitions (six goals, 11 assists) – just one behind his best ever return for Atleti in a single season (18 in 2016-17 and 2017-18).

Simeone was pleased with the Argentina international's contribution after a season which has seen him feature in every LaLiga game.

"We have been working together for many years," Simeone said. "We understand when to talk and when to leave the footballer alone and the numbers speak for themselves in the confidence we have in him; he is the only one who has participated in all the games of the season."

Atletico Madrid tightened their grip at the LaLiga summit after cruising to a 5-0 win over rock-bottom Eibar at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Los Colchoneros' bid for a first top-flight title since the 2013-14 season had faltered in recent weeks, but just a second win in six games keeps them a step ahead of neighbours Real Madrid. This result meant Real stood four points behind Atletico heading into a clash with Getafe later on Sunday.

Diego Simeone's home side were poor for much of the first half, yet Angel Correa struck twice shortly before the interval to give them a healthy lead.

Yannick Carrasco and Marcos Llorente added gloss to the scoreline in the second half as Atleti extended their unbeaten home run over Eibar to seven matches.

Despite a dismal start, which did not herald a shot until the 34th minute, Atleti went in at the break two goals to the good.

Correa opened the scoring in the 42nd minute, prodding in at the back post after Hector Herrera headed on Kieran Trippier's corner.

The man who made the breakthrough grabbed a second goal just two minutes later, superbly turning Anaitz Arbilla after collecting Carrasco's pass before slotting past Marko Dmitrovic from close range for his sixth goal of the season.

The hosts extended their advantage four minutes after the restart, Carrasco latching onto Saul Niguez's long ball over the top, rounding Dmitrovic and rolling into an empty net.

Correa turned provider for Atleti's fourth in the 53rd minute, his low pull-back into the middle of the penalty expertly dispatched by Llorente into Dmitrovic's bottom-right corner.

Llorente scored his 11th LaLiga goal of the season in the 68th minute, controlling Carrasco's pass before firing a half-volley past a hopelessly exposed Dmitrovic as Atleti sealed all three points in style.

Zinedine Zidane is waiting to learn if Eden Hazard will be fit to return for Real Madrid against Liverpool on Tuesday.

Madrid face a huge week in their season with the home leg of their Champions League quarter-final before a Clasico with Barcelona in LaLiga.

But head coach Zidane is hoping his side will receive a boost ahead of the first meeting with the Reds.

Hazard returned from injury shortly before the international break but then missed the European tie against Atalanta with a damaged hip flexor and was unable to go away with Belgium.

Red Devils boss Roberto Martinez could not even guarantee the €100million winger would make Euro 2020, although he was "very positive".

Hazard might be back in action as soon as Tuesday, with Madrid also looking to again bring Federico Valverde into the fold.

"Hopefully we can get Valverde and Hazard back," Zidane said on Saturday. "We will see tomorrow and the day after.

"Today it was not possible but I hope that on Tuesday they can be with us."

Hazard scored six goals against Liverpool in 16 games while with Chelsea.

But he has made just 36 appearances and 29 starts for Madrid since his signing in June 2019, scoring only four times and providing five assists from 38 chances created.

Hazard certainly was not missed as Los Blancos swept aside Eibar 2-0 at a stormy Estadio Alfredo di Stefano.

Marco Asensio and Karim Benzema scored in either half, while the Spain forward also hit the crossbar, opposing goalkeeper Marko Dmitrovic made six saves and three of Madrid's four offsides saw goals disallowed.

"The first half, in general, was complete, with good feelings," Zidane said. "It's what I told the players.

"Then, with the storm, there were 20 difficult minutes to start the second.

"We have to recover well because we have a week with important games in the Champions League and the league. They will be entertaining.

"We must continue like this. There was a difficult moment in the season and now we have to take advantage of the current one, which is good."

Ahead of league leaders Atletico Madrid and fellow challengers Barca playing this weekend, Madrid moved up to second, three points off the summit.

That promising position means Zidane will prioritise neither domestic action nor their European exploits.

"We do not look at that," he said. "We are in the day-to-day. We are thinking about today's game, which we did very well.

"We are not going to think about one competition or the other; we are alive in both. Now you have to enjoy the moment. We have done nothing - we have to continue."

Thibaut Courtois, required to make four saves against Eibar but only really tested by an awkward Lucas Vazquez backpass, added: "We've fought all season to get to April, where everything is played for.

"Winning today put pressure on Atletico and Barcelona.

"In April, everything is played for and everything is decided; hopefully we will keep winning."

Marco Asensio emphasised the importance of Real Madrid's 2-0 win over Eibar ahead of mammoth matches against Liverpool and Barcelona.

Madrid had 21 shots at Estadio Alfredo di Stefano but had been frustrated prior to the breakthrough strike from Asensio four minutes before half-time, with Eibar goalkeeper Marko Dmitrovic in inspired form.

Dmitrovic finished with six saves, while three of Madrid's four offsides saw goals ruled out, yet Karim Benzema secured the points with a second-half header that extended his scoring streak to seven straight games.

Benzema has plundered nine goals in that time, while he has nine against Eibar in his LaLiga career - the most of any Madrid player.

Asensio is enjoying his own fine run, netting in three consecutive matches for Madrid for the first time, and now has his sights set on more important fixtures to come.

Liverpool visit in the Champions League on Tuesday before Madrid welcome rivals Barca next Saturday.

"I work for that [to score]," Asensio told Movistar. "In the end, it's about waiting for the moment and taking advantage of it.

"I'm happy for the goals, for the team and now comes the most important moment of the season.

"There are unfortunately a lot of injuries this season, but I think we all have to contribute and that's why we're a team."

Victory took Madrid up to second, at least until Barca play Real Valladolid on Monday.

Asensio said: "We knew we had to win to get good feelings and we took the three points, which is the most important thing.

"We have played a good match, creating chances, and in the end we have won well.

"Now we face a very important week with the match against Liverpool and then Barca to come. We have to live up to it as the Madrid we are."

Real Madrid closed to within three points of LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid with a 2-0 win over Eibar at the start of a huge week at home and abroad.

Struggling Eibar were the first of three visitors to Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano in succession, with games against Liverpool and Barcelona set to go a long way to deciding Madrid's season.

Los Blancos were not tested on Saturday, though, frustrated only by offside calls and their own finishing either side of Marco Asensio's 41st-minute strike before Karim Benzema made sure 17 minutes from time.

Although Atleti and Barca – now third behind Zinedine Zidane's side – are both still to play this weekend, Madrid's title rivals will do well to find opponents as accommodating as Eibar.

An awful blind pass from Alejandro Pozo sent Benzema clear three minutes in, but the striker delayed before shooting and allowed Marko Dmitrovic to make a brilliant right-handed save.

Benzema was quickly denied again, this time by the offside flag after nodding in Marcelo's cross at the far post.

Asensio saw a wonderful free-kick bounce away off the crossbar and then joined Benzema in having a breakthrough goal struck off, his exquisite flick nutmegging Dmitrovic but drawing the attention of the VAR – again for offside.

Fortune soon found Asensio's favour, however, as he charged onto Casemiro's pass and slipped while shooting, only for his effort to clip his standing foot and beat Dmitrovic.

A second-half storm briefly threatened to derail Madrid, notably when Lucas Vazquez's backpass picked up pace on a slick pitch and required a desperate lunge from Thibaut Courtois to divert it to safety.

But after falling foul of the flag for a third time – Casemiro disappointed by team-mates standing in Dmitrovic's line of sight – Benzema wrapped up the result with a downwards header from substitute Vinicius Junior's fine centre.

What does it mean? First hurdle cleared with minimum of fuss

The weather was Madrid's most dangerous opponent against relegation-threatened Eibar. The same will not apply when Liverpool and Barca make the trip to Valdebebas.

Injured captain Sergio Ramos will be far more of a miss in those matches, but it was still important for Zidane – unbeaten against Eibar in 10 LaLiga meetings – to get three points on the board at the start of a monumental month.

Timely reminder of Marcelo's talents

This was just a ninth league outing of the season for Marcelo, who lined up on the wing with the security of fellow left-back Ferland Mendy behind him. It was a role that suited him well and no doubt gave Zidane pause for thought ahead of a big Champions League tie.

Given the license to attack without worrying about protecting a defence missing Ramos, Marcelo was a constant threat. Only the offside flag meant his final-third contributions – one blocked shot, one successful cross and no chances created – were relatively modest.

Benzema belatedly breaks through

Madrid's number nine was LaLiga's Player of the Month for March with five goals in three games, but he initially appeared to have left his fine form on the other side of the international break.

Benzema's third-minute chance really should have brought the opener, while mistimed headers followed either side of his disallowed effort. Finally, he found his range with the fourth of five attempts before being substituted with 10 minutes to go ahead of a season-defining stretch.

What's next?

Madrid have three days to prepare for the visit of Liverpool, while Eibar do not play again until next Saturday, at home to Levante.

Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane is tired of discussing a possible move for Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland and says he is only thinking about the players in his squad.

Madrid are one of a number of elite clubs to have been linked with the Norway international following a goal-laden 15 months at Dortmund, where he has scored 49 goals in the same number of appearances.

Talk of a transfer to the Santiago Bernabeu at the end of the season intensified on Thursday as Haaland's agent Mino Raiola and father Alf-Inge were spotted in the Spanish capital, hours after footage emerged of the pair in Barcelona.

It was reported that Raiola and Alf-Inge were on their way to hold talks with Los Blancos president Florentino Perez over a deal for Haaland, whose reported €75million release clause is not said to come into effect until 2022.

However, Zidane was unwilling to discuss Madrid's apparent interest in the 20-year-old at Friday's news conference previewing a game against Eibar.

"I'm going to be very clear here. I'm very tired of saying the same thing over and over again," he said. "Everything that happens outside of my power, I'm not going to say it's good or bad. 

"I'm not going to give an opinion on this. What matters to me is my players and tomorrow's game. I'm getting tired of saying this, but if you and your colleagues keep asking this about other players, I'm going to keep saying the same thing. 

"I say all of this because, in the end, it's true; my job, my work is what I do with my players, how I work with my players in the day by day, and focusing on every game that comes in our path. Apart from all of that, I don't know.

"I only think about tomorrow's game. After that... again, you ask this and I say the same thing. We just focus on tomorrow."

Haaland has 21 goals in as many Bundesliga games this term, adding another 10 from six matches in the Champions League, a competition in which he tops the scoring charts.

The January 2020 signing from Salzburg netted twice in BVB's most recent outing, a 2-2 draw at Cologne, to take him to 14 away goals in the German top flight in 2020-21.

That is more than Werder Bremen (13), Hertha Berlin (13), Mainz (11), Arminia Bielefeld (10) and Schalke (eight) have scored as a team at home this season.

Asked for his opinion on Perez meeting with potential transfer targets, Zidane said: "Everyone can do what they want here. I don't have any feelings about this. 

"They can do whatever is at their convenience. I repeat again: my job is preparing my players, my staff around me here, everyone at this club around me, for this game, and that is all."

Zidane will be looking to maintain his unbeaten LaLiga record against Eibar on Saturday, winning eight and drawing one of their previous meetings.

Zinedine Zidane insists "no one has the blame" for Sergio Ramos returning from Spain duty with a calf injury that has "hurt" Real Madrid for a key stretch of the season.

Ramos returned from a knee issue ahead of the international break and scored for Madrid as they knocked Atalanta out of the Champions League.

However, he then played just 50 minutes across two appearances for Spain in World Cup qualifying and complained of a calf problem after a short cameo at home to Kosovo.

Madrid have not confirmed the anticipated length of Ramos' lay-off, but a return in time to face Liverpool in the Champions League quarter-finals and Barcelona in LaLiga appears unlikely.

Los Blancos host Liverpool on April 6, with a second leg eight days later sandwiching a critical home Clasico.

Given Ramos has appeared just 20 times for Madrid in all competitions this season, questions might be asked of his involvement for Spain.

But Zidane told a news conference on Friday: "No one has the blame here - not Spain, not Real Madrid. This is just football.

"Unfortunately, these things happen; it's happened before, not just to us but to a lot of other teams as well.

"It's true that, this part of football, we don't like it, of course, but these things happen. We have to accept this, but no one is to blame here.

"What we want for Sergio is that he recovers as quickly as possible. We know the player and captain he is. We know that he always wants to be available and playing.

"This has hurt us a little bit and we hope he recovers quickly."

Ramos' absence for the two legs against Liverpool would appear particularly costly as Madrid have lost seven of the 10 Champions League games he has missed since the end of the 2017-18, the season in which they were last crowned European champions and talisman Cristiano Ronaldo departed.

The centre-back has made 14 European appearances in that time and contributed to 10 wins, losing only once, while Los Blancos concede only 0.9 goals per game with him in the side - down from 1.9 without him.

But Zidane was not looking as far ahead as an intriguing last-eight tie, as Madrid first face Eibar on Saturday, playing before Atletico Madrid and Barca and able to cut the gap at the top to three points.

"You talk about Liverpool and Barcelona - we have a game tomorrow to play," Zidane said.

"We want Sergio back, we want him to be with us at all times, but right now we just focus on tomorrow's game.

"This is going to mark the path for the rest of the season. We just focus on tomorrow and that's it. Tomorrow at 4.15 [CET], we have a game and we have to all be ready, all of us."

Ramos is not Madrid's only injury absentee, either, with Eden Hazard prevented from going away with Belgium and Toni Kroos returning ealry from Germany duty.

Kroos has been a key man this season, playing 35 games and providing nine assists from 83 chances created, and he is "doing better", Zidane said.

The coach added Madrid are "not going to be silly" with the midfielder but he trained on Friday.

Hazard, on the other hand, has repeatedly suffered with fitness issues, restricted to only nine starts in 2020-21 and having a meagre four goal involvements.

"Once again, we don't have a plan with Eden," Zidane said. "It's a day-to-day thing, like everything.

"We're not going to force anything because the most important thing is that he's well, that he's recovered. For us, it's bit by bit.

"I'm not going to tell you we'll re-evaluate in a week, a few days, nothing. If it's in a few days, that's good for us; 10 days, okay. We're just going to take it day by day.

"He is with the team now and that's what we want. When he plays, we'll see."

Even in these extraordinary times, Barcelona letting Luis Suarez go to Atletico Madrid is starting to look like the oddest decision of the season.

Suarez's double over Eibar on Thursday secured a 2-1 victory for the league leaders, who are seven points clear at the top with a game in hand over champions Real Madrid in second.

The Uruguay star, who has netted six in his past six league games for Atleti, is joint-top of the division's scoring charts alongside former team-mate Lionel Messi.

It seems increasingly likely that Suarez, and certainly Atletico, will be at the top of the tree come the end of 2020-21.

With the majority of sides having now played half of their matches, the Stats Perform AI team have run the numbers to simulate how the rest of the LaLiga campaign will play out – and it's good news for Diego Simeone.

 

The data model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team's attacking and defensive quality.

Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly.

All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model – with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.

 

ATLETICO WIN AT A CANTER

Atletico have been given a 75.1 per cent chance of winning LaLiga, according to the model.

Simeone's men are predicted to finish on 86 points, nine clear of the rest of the field. They are given just a 17.8 per cent chance of coming second and dropping outside the top four is considered practically impossible.

Barcelona and reigning champions Real Madrid are predicted to end with 77 points apiece, with just a 12.4 per cent chance each of pipping Atleti to the title. Madrid have a 41 per cent chance of finishing second, slightly above Barca's 39.4, having beaten Ronald Koeman's side 3-1 in the first Clasico of the season at Camp Nou last October.

Those two are, at least, very likely to end up in a Champions League place. They are expected to be joined there by Sevilla, who have a 47.8 per cent chance of finishing fourth on 65 points, just three above Villarreal and six clear of Real Sociedad. The remaining European spot is predicted to be a close battle between Granada, Getafe and Real Betis, with Diego Martinez's men odds on to snatch it.

Valencia fans might be enduring a difficult time (again), and our sim has Los Che missing out on European football once more, if only by four points. That said, they still have a 3.6 per cent chance of a Europa League spot, which is better odds than those given to Supercopa de Espana winners Athletic Bilbao.

 

WOE FOR HUESCA

At the other end of a relatively tight table, in which just 11 points will separate seventh from 16th, it looks like Huesca are in for a tough run-in. They are given a 59.7 per cent chance of finishing bottom of the pile and just a 5.1 per cent shot at avoiding relegation, having won only once so far this term.

Osasuna are predicted to end up just four points above them, with the bottom three likely to be completed by Deportivo Alaves, although Elche will also be right in the mix. In fact, with those two tipped to finish level on 39 points, survival could come down to their head-to-head record, making their showdown on May 11 potentially decisive. Elche have the advantage there, having won the reverse game 2-0 away from home.

Real Valladolid are expected to have just enough to stay out of trouble, although they have scant room for manoeuvre, with our predictor giving them an equal 15.1 per cent chance of finishing 17th and 18th.

Eibar and Cadiz are looking likely to stay safe; indeed, Jose Luis Mendilibar's men, along with Celta Vigo and Athletic, are given a 0.1 per cent chance of gatecrashing the top four. They might well have boosted those odds this week were it not for that pesky Suarez.

Luis Suarez was hailed as "amazing" by Diego Simeone after firing Atletico Madrid seven points clear at the top of LaLiga.

A late penalty was Suarez's second strike of the game and secured a 2-1 win over Eibar on Thursday night, taking the striker's haul to 11 goals in 14 league games.

Such has been the Uruguayan's impact since arriving from Barcelona, it even sparked a post-match question to Simeone as to whether he might be the coach's best signing.

In a little over nine years in charge of Atletico, Simeone has brought a host of notable players to the club, with Jan Oblak and Antoine Griezmann among them.

Simeone recognises Suarez's impact, but he was reluctant to compare the signings he has made during his reign.

"I don't stop in mid-season to think about such an argument," Simeone said. "He is amazing and we are very happy that he is with us.

"He is a great player with great characteristics. He knew how to play the game and gave us an important victory with a great defensive effort from the team."

The handsome lead that Atletico now hold over second-placed Real Madrid makes them favourites to land a first LaLiga title since 2013-14. They even have a game in hand.

But rather than take glee from toiling rivals Real Madrid exiting the Copa del Rey to third-tier minnows Alcoyano on Wednesday night, Simeone said such a result served as a reminder there are no certainties in football.

"It makes us pay attention and understand that football is more complex every day," Simeone said.

"Barca also won [against Cornella] in extra time ... Bayern [Munich] also lost in their cup, football is not simple.

"The opposition compete, they do it well and it makes us always be alert. Football is wonderful because it always gives you the chance to win."

Suarez, who sits third on Barcelona's list of all-time leading scorers, was a remarkable close-season acquisition by Atletico.

He has now scored 12 times in LaLiga against Eibar, more than he has managed against any other team.

The one-time Ajax and Liverpool frontman has looked sharp for his new team and puts his success down to the warm reception he was given, having at one stage appeared reluctant to leave Barcelona.

"I'm very happy. The team has been very welcoming," Suarez said. "They make me feel at home. I try to help the team the best I can, but we are all doing it too.

"We are showing everyone that we want to fight for important things.

"We need to keep working. We need to keep fighting for all the goals we set at the beginning of the season."


After Falcao and Griezmann, Suarez becomes new Atletico goal hero

It will be how well he sustains his early form that dictates how Suarez is eventually remembered at Atletico, but there can be no denying he has made a spectacular start.

He is averaging one goal every 92.18 minutes in LaLiga and has a 25.58 per cent shot conversion rate in the competition.

No player with more than one league goal during the Simeone era has a better average minute-per-goal record than Suarez, although Radamel Falcao comes close, with his 43 LaLiga goals under the Argentinian coach coming at one every 109.58 minutes.

Of all the players with more Atletico goals than Suarez in Simeone's time as coach, only Kevin Gameiro (27.14 per cent) has a better shot conversion percentage.

Suarez has so far had 13 goalscoring opportunities defined by Opta as 'big chances' and has gobbled up eight of those for an immensely healthy 61.54 per cent strike rate, better than any Atletico player with 10 goals or more in Simeone's time.

Griezmann remains Atletico's LaLiga leading scorer during Simeone's tenure, with 94 goals from 180 games, snaffling 53.04 per cent of his 115 big chances with an overall shot conversion rate of 21.22 per cent.

Only across one season of his Barcelona career did Suarez score at a faster rate in LaLiga than he has to date for Atletico.

In the 2015-16 campaign he plundered 40 goals from 35 games at a clip of one every 78.75 minutes on the pitch.

He eclipsed Lionel Messi in the scoring stakes that season as Barcelona edged out Madrid and Atletico in a three-team title battle.

This term, Suarez, who turns 34 on Sunday, is threatening to barge the Clasico giants out of contention and help Atletico make it a one-horse race.

 

Luis Suarez was the hero as LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid overcame Eibar 2-1 thanks to the Uruguay striker's late penalty.

Suarez had struck his 10th league goal of the season in the 40th minute of Thursday's contest, restoring parity after Eibar had taken an early lead through an unlikely source.

With Yannick Carrasco penalised for bundling into Yoshinori Muto, it was Eibar goalkeeper Marko Dmitrovic who confidently converted the resultant spot-kick.

Yet Dmitrovic could not save a penalty at the other end, Suarez chipping home to secure a somewhat undeserved victory after he was felled needlessly by Anaitz Arbilla.

For a player who had never previously scored a senior goal, Dmitrovic showed little hesitation in grabbing the ball after Carrasco was adjudged to have fouled Muto.

His confidence was not misplaced, the goalkeeper calmly sending counterpart Jan Oblak the wrong way with a cool left-footed finish.

Dmitrovic was almost embarrassed 11 minutes later when he struggled to collect a looping ball on his line, though Stefan Savic's foul spared his blushes, before Angel Correa hit the crossbar with a wicked volley.

Yet Atleti did hit back before the break, Suarez thumping in from a tight angle following Sergio Alvarez's mistake to bring up his 11th LaLiga goal against Eibar.

Diego Simeone made a double change at half-time – Joao Felix and Lucas Torreira introduced – though Kike Garcia might have restored Eibar's lead if not for Oblak's brave lunge.

Atleti finally gained a foothold after Pedro Bigas headed over from close range, though it looked like Dmitrovic's save from Joao Felix would be enough to earn Eibar a point.

It was not to be, however, with Arbilla's clumsy tackle on Suarez handing the former Barcelona star a chance to wrap up the win – an opportunity he took in typically composed fashion.

 

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