Espanyol have completed the signing of Raul de Tomas from Benfica for an initial fee of €20million.

The 25-year-old has signed a six-and-a-half-year deal to become the first arrival since head coach Abelardo took charge last month.

The deal also includes €2m in add-ons and Benfica will retain a 20 per cent sell-on clause for the forward.

The fee smashes the club's previous transfer record of €10.5m, which they paid to sign Matias Vargas from Velez Sarsfield last July.

De Tomas, who progressed through the Real Madrid youth system, enjoyed productive loan spells with Real Valladolid and Rayo Vallecano before joining Benfica on a five-year deal in July.

However, he managed only seven appearances in Portugal's top flight and did not score a single goal.

Espanyol were reportedly keen to sign him last year as a replacement for Borja Iglesias, who joined Real Betis in a €28m deal.

Sevilla were also said to be interested in bringing him back to Spain this month after allowing Munas Dabbur to sign for Hoffenheim.

De Tomas, who scored 14 goals in 33 appearances for Rayo in LaLiga last season, will be tasked with finding the goals to help drag Espanyol out of the relegation zone.

Espanyol have scored just 14 goals in 19 league games this season, two of which came in the 2-2 draw with city rivals Barcelona last Saturday.

Abelardo's side are bottom of LaLiga on 11 points, four adrift of safety, having won just twice all season in the top flight.

Ernesto Valverde said Frenkie de Jong's sending-off hurt Barcelona at a crucial moment in their 2-2 derby draw with Espanyol and noted his side's difficulties in killing off games.

The Blaugrana came from a goal down at RCDE Stadium to lead 2-1 thanks to goals from Luis Suarez and Arturo Vidal but De Jong was shown a second yellow card 15 minutes from time.

It was the midfielder's first career red card in league football and preceded an Espanyol fightback in which Wu Lei scored a deserved equaliser to earn LaLiga's bottom club a share of the points.

Valverde, whose side have won just one of their past four top-flight matches, called for his side to battle for victories.

"We have to fight in every match," Valverde told reporters.

"We started badly, we managed to come back but unfortunately we went down to 10. They pressed and equalised.

"Frenkie's dismissal did us a lot of damage. We were unable to score a third. This is football.

"It was a very competitive game, a derby with a lot of tension and emotion. If you're winning and the opponent equalises, you leave with the impression of having lost two points."

Barca have made a habit of coming from behind in recent away games, doing so in their 2-1 victory at Leganes and their 2-2 draw at Real Sociedad.

Valverde acknowledged his players are capable of digging their way out of difficult situations but thinks they have struggled to go for the jugular when it matters.

"In a lot of games, we cash in first," he said.

"We managed to take the lead in four away games, whereas in other games we managed to come from behind.

"We have a reaction capacity, but we are not always able to kill the match. The sending-off affected the match."

Barcelona failed to regain their two-point lead at the top of LaLiga after Wu Lei scored a late equaliser for Espanyol in a 2-2 derby draw that saw Frenkie de Jong sent off for the visitors.

The champions fell behind 23 minutes into a contest they dominated but in which their best football was rarely in evidence against the division's bottom club.

Thankfully for Ernesto Valverde, Luis Suarez was at his lethal best, instinctively making it 1-1 shortly before he brilliantly teed up Arturo Vidal for Barcelona's second.

But after De Jong was shown a second yellow card, Espanyol ramped up the pressure and Wu clinched a precious point for LaLiga's bottom club as he became the first Chinese player to score against Barca in a competitive game.

The result leaves the champions level on points with Real Madrid at the top of the table at the midway point of the season.

Barcelona will be without Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Arthur and Ousmane Dembele for Saturday's LaLiga derby with Espanyol.

All three players have been left out of the 18-man squad for the clash with Abelardo's side.

Head coach Ernesto Valverde confirmed earlier on Friday that goalkeeper Ter Stegen would be unavailable due to a knee tendon injury that also makes him a doubt for the Supercopa de Espana in Saudi Arabia.

Midfielder Arthur is expected to be out for three weeks with a groin problem, while forward Dembele has not yet recovered from his latest thigh muscle injury.

There is also no room in the squad for defender Jean-Clair Todibo, who has been linked with moves to Milan and Everton this month.

The good news for Barca is that Ansu Fati has been given the all-clear to travel, while Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Arturo Vidal - who only trained for the first time since the holidays on Thursday - are included.

Barca head into 2020 with a two-point lead at the top of LaLiga.

LaLiga's bottom side Espanyol have appointed Abelardo as their third head coach of the campaign on a contract until the end of the season.

The former Sporting Gijon and Deportivo Alaves boss replaces Pablo Machin, who was dismissed after Sunday's 2-0 defeat at fellow strugglers Leganes.

Machin lasted just 15 games in charge of Espanyol after taking over from David Gallego in October, although he did lead them into the last 32 of the Europa League, where they will face Premier League side Wolves.

Espanyol, who have taken 10 points from 18 LaLiga games this season, confirmed Abelardo's appointment on Friday, with Tomas Hervas and Inaki Tejada arriving as part of his backroom staff.

Abelardo had been out of working since leaving Alaves in May and will take charge of his first training session with Espanyol on Monday.

Their first match after the mid-season break will be the derby with Barcelona on January 4.

Espanyol have sacked head coach Pablo Machin in the wake of Sunday's LaLiga defeat to fellow strugglers Leganes.

A comfortable 2-0 loss at Butarque left Espanyol bottom of the table, five points adrift of safety approaching the midway point of the season.

In a statement released on Monday, the club said: "Espanyol reports that Pablo Machin has been relieved of his responsibilities as head coach of the men's first team.

"The club has made the decision as a result of the first team's sporting performance and with the clear intention of changing the team's situation in LaLiga."

"Coaches Jordi Guerrero, Jordi Balcells and Carles Martinez have also left.

"Espanyol thanks Pablo Machin and his technical staff for their application during these months of work and wishes them every personal and professional success."

Machin was appointed in October to replace David Gallego but managed just one win in 10 league games, although he did lead them to the last 32 of the Europa League, where they will face Premier League side Wolves.

Their first match of the new year will be the derby with Barcelona on January 4.

The full draw for the Europa League's round of 32 is: 

Wolves v Espanyol

Sporting CP v Istanbul Basaksehir

Getafe v Ajax

Bayer Leverkusen v Porto

Copenhagen v Celtic

APOEL v Basel

Cluj v Sevilla

Olympiacos v Arsenal

AZ v LASK Linz

Club Brugge v Manchester United

Ludogorets v Inter

Eintracht Frankfurt v Salzburg

Shakhtar Donetsk v Benfica

Wolfsburg v Malmo

Roma v Gent

Rangers v Braga

The first legs will take place on Thursday 20 February, with the return fixtures scheduled for a week later.

Club chiefs will return to Nyon for the last-16 draw on February 28.

Zinedine Zidane admitted Real Madrid lacked fluency in their 2-0 win over Espanyol and said the team "can do much better", yet he still had saw positives at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Goals from Zidane's French compatriots Raphael Varane and Karim Benzema saw off the lowly visitors from Barcelona.

There were promising performances from the likes of striker Vinicius Junior and midfielder Federico Valverde, two youngsters of whom much is expected in the coming years.

But it was largely an underwhelming display by a team that ultimately ground down their opponents, Madrid's pedigree telling in the end despite Ferland Mendy's late red card.

"Today, we have to be happy because we continue on a good run," Zidane said afterwards.

"Of course, we can do much better, but we played a very serious game, respecting the opposition, and that is the most important thing."

Zidane said that 19th-placed Espanyol "do not deserve to be where they are in the table", and he acknowledged: "I think we controlled our own game, even though we were missing a bit of fluidity.

"Despite this, I'm happy because we scored two goals and didn't concede."

He added that he continues to feel pride at coaching Madrid in his second spell in the post, saying: "I am fortunate to be here with them.

"It is they who are fighting on the pitch and we have a very good squad. There is still a lot of work and let's not forget where we came from."

After winning three Champions League titles in his first spell as head coach, Zidane is jostling for more silverware this season, and his side are battling Barcelona for LaLiga supremacy, inching ahead of their great rivals at least for a few hours with their latest victory.

Asked about Valverde's lively display, Zidane said of the 21-year-old Uruguayan: "Fede has a place for many years here because he is demonstrating what he has, he is an important player, like everyone else.

"He is very young; when he plays, he doesn't have any trouble with the ball and without the ball. And when he plays, he does well."

Zidane also highlighted his other options in midfield, including Luka Modric, who came off the bench late on, and Isco, who was not used.

Modric, who was celebrating his new status as a Ballon d'Or winner this time last year, still has a major role to play for Madrid, as Zidane stressed: "He knows that occasionally he'll miss a game. But physically he can hold up very well."

In attack, Madrid continue to rely on the goals of Benzema, but they have a major talent in 19-year-old Brazilian Vinicius Junior.

His pace and dribbling caused Espanyol problems at times, and Zidane is sure the goals, in short supply for now, will come.

"The important thing is his work. What he has done, he has done well, both in attack and in defence," Zidane said. "I don't ask anyone for goals. That is a consequence of what the team does."

Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane praised the patience of his team-mates after Saturday's 2-0 win over Espanyol.

Madrid nudged clear of LaLiga title rivals Barcelona with a comfortable home victory thanks to goals from Varane and fellow Frenchman Karim Benzema.

Zinedine Zidane's side secured the points despite being reduced to 10 men in the 82nd minute after Ferland Mendy was sent off.

"It was a closely contested match against a rival that ran a lot and pressed us," Varane told Real Madrid TV.

"We had to be strong and solid at the back in order not to concede and be patient in front of goal. It was a good game from the team.

"After the second yellow card for Mendy we handled the remaining time well. We have kept a clean sheet and that is very good.

"We are playing with more confidence, at a good physical level and with a good team dynamic.

"We must continue because we have some tough games to end the year and we will give it our all."

Madrid midfielder Federico Valverde believes Madrid have been ruthless at taking their chances in recent matches.

"We are seizing the moment and enjoying playing together," he added. "Feeling the support of the fans helps us to move forward.

“The coach asks us to go for goal and get players into the area. I try to do that and as a team we did it well." 

Saturday lunchtime, and the Gran Via and Plaza Mayor are teeming with Christmas shoppers in Madrid.

Cyclists, too, are out in force, gathering for a peaceful protest ride to make the case for leaving the car at home.

This is day one of a UN climate change convention being hosted by Spain's capital, and it is hard not to be conflicted by the collision of consumerism and conservationism.

We are living through times where we want to give, give, give to afford loved ones brief relief from cataclysmic reality, but at the same time we are warned the shop-around-the-clock culture is killing the planet.

At the nearby Santiago Bernabeu stadium, Real Madrid are wearing their mint-green third kit for a home league fixture against Espanyol.

The gesture is one of solidarity with the environmental campaigners - eco warriors, one and all, particularly when a global audience can snag a rare glimpse of a shirt that retails around the £90 mark.

At the same time, Real Madrid are wondering what their hipster manager, Zinedine Zidane, might deserve in his stocking this year.

Has he been a good boy? Does he deserve Paul Pogba? Kylian Mbappe? Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang?

Another pair of his beloved skinny jeans simply will not cut it this year.

Zidane, in middle age, still has the chutzpah and the physique to pull off a fashion statement, even if his band of footballers rarely catch the eye in such a manner.

A year ago he was enjoying a break from football, having grown tired of Real Madrid life. He and wife Veronique paid a trip to the Great Wall of China, and days later Zidane enjoyed dinner out with his fellow France 98 World Cup winners.

Retirement - for that is how it seemed - looked to be suiting the artisan footballer of his generation. A commercial deal here or there kept the money rolling in, and yet nine months after waving goodbye to the Bernabeu, Zidane was drawn back.

Saturday's 2-0 victory over lowly opposition was more pallid than it sounds, yet for several hours at least it lifted Madrid to the LaLiga summit. They and Barcelona are again duking it out for domestic silverware, and Madrid's saving grace is that their great rivals have also been shadows of their old selves at times this term.

The Clasico on Wednesday week - December 18 - might struggle to live up to that billing.

In this post-Cristiano Ronaldo era, Madrid all too often look bereft of the identity their great rivals still possess thanks to the ever-imperious Lionel Messi.

Neither Gareth Bale nor Eden Hazard, both temporarily absent through injury, has risen to the challenge of becoming Madrid's totemic personality, despite both being sufficiently gifted to step into the role. Newcomer Hazard deserves time to make his presence felt, but Bale's continuing presence - and the golf narrative - is helping nobody.

Bale is said by his agent to be "not ecstatic" to be at Madrid, and you wonder whether Zidane might soon feel similarly about his own second reign. The reliance on Karim Benzema, scorer of the second goal against Espanyol, is now all too obvious. This team look ripe to be picked off by stronger opposition, as Paris Saint-Germain have shown in the Champions League.

Marca reported on Saturday that Madrid must find 200 million euros to satisfy financial fair play bean-counters; presumably, in the absence of any more training grounds to sell, that means players will have to move on before others come in during January.

So recycling, fittingly enough, could be the salvation of this most functional of Real Madrid teams. The time is approaching for Zidane, the king of the first Galacticos era, to bring style and verve back to the Bernabeu.

That, or get on his bike.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does it mean? Madrid building towards El Clasico

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

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


Vinicius excites in Madrid sunshine

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

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


Marching orders for Mendy

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

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


What's next?

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

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

AC Milan are desperate to add some firepower, but the Serie A side may not be opting for Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Ibrahimovic, 38, has been linked with a return to San Siro as the superstar prepares to leave LA Galaxy at the end of his contract.

However, Milan are considering their options.

 

TOP STORY – MILAN LOOK ELSEWHERE AMID IBRAHIMOVIC LINKS

AC Milan are eyeing Napoli star Dries Mertens and Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic, according to Tuttosport.

Stefano Pioli's men are struggling in 14th in Serie A, having scored just 11 goals in 12 league games.

Krzysztof Piatek is Milan's leading goalscorer in the league, but he has managed just three in 12.

The report says Ibrahimovic remains an option in the background.

ROUND-UP

- Juventus stars are expecting an apology from Cristiano Ronaldo after his outburst on Sunday, according to Gazzetta dello Sport. Ronaldo reportedly left the stadium after being substituted in the second half of Juve's 1-0 win over Milan.

- Expect movement at Barcelona in January. Sport reports the LaLiga champions could sell Ivan Rakitic, Carles Alena and Moussa Wague without making any additions. Meanwhile, ESPN FC says Barcelona consider €100million too high a price to pay for Salzburg star Erling Haaland.

- Dani Olmo is still attracting interest from Europe's biggest clubs. CalcioMercato reports the Spanish attacker is ready to leave Dinamo Zagreb, who want €40m amid interest from Manchester City, AC Milan and Roma.

- Amid a lack of playing time at Real Madrid, Brahim Diaz and Mariano have been offered to Espanyol, according to Sport. Brahim has played just 18 LaLiga minutes this season, while Mariano is yet to feature in 2019-20.

- Andrea Belotti is set to re-sign with Torino. The striker – who has scored seven goals in 12 Serie A games this season – will get higher wages and a release clause of €100m, which will apply only for foreign clubs, according to CalcioMercato.

- Inter want to make as many as three signings in January, according to Tuttosport. Second in the Serie A table, one of those additions is set to depend on how much Inter bring in from the sale of Gabriel Barbosa – the forward is on loan at Flamengo.

Alvaro Morata suggested Atletico Madrid pay no attention to criticism after he fired the capital club to a vital win at home to Espanyol.

Atleti were winless in three in all competitions and four points off the pace in LaLiga coming into Sunday's fixture, with leaders Barcelona and second-placed Real Madrid each winning a day earlier.

Diego Simeone's men fell a goal behind to Sergi Darder's clinical strike, before Morata came to the fore, creating Angel Correa's equaliser and then scoring himself.

Koke made sure of the points in stoppage time to send Atleti into the international break on a high after a mixed start to the season.

Even as the team have toiled, though, losing to Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League in midweek, Morata insists their attitude cannot be questioned and the squad are united in ignoring external analysis.

"We are always motivated," he said, having scored in a sixth straight game in all competitions. "It may be that sometimes we do well and sometimes we do not. We always go out to win - and today, we have done it.

"Inside the team, we are a compact group and we are not affected by what is said about us. If we do what we have to do, we will go far this season."

Morata added he felt Atleti had been unfortunate in previous matches not to win and so had no qualms about collecting three points from an unconvincing display against struggling Espanyol.

"The important thing is that we win," he said. "I always say it.

"In the end, it is about being all together, in moments like the other day [in Leverkusen] or in Seville [last week's 1-1 draw with Sevilla], matches in which I think we deserved more.

"But today we have won and added three important points to move up the table.

Morata's contributions turned the match on its head after a tough start in which Atleti looked uncharacteristically shaky at the back, not aided by the unorthodox presence of Saul Niguez at left-back.

Renan Lodi, talked up by his coach on Saturday, was left on the bench, and Simeone explained: "I wanted to have more strength and to have a replacement for Lodi, who had been playing many games and needed a break."

Alvaro Morata scored for the sixth match running as Atletico Madrid returned to winning ways, beating Espanyol 3-1 at home to remain within touch with the top two in LaLiga.

Striker Morata, recalled to the Spain squad this week, has discovered his best form but Atleti had been struggling, winless in three in all competitions heading into this match.

Espanyol looked capable of furthering their misery for 45 minutes, too, leading through Sergi Darder's strike, until Morata created the leveller for Angel Correa in first-half stoppage time.

Morata, who had earlier squandered a clear opening, himself struck early in the second period, and Koke added a late third for Diego Simeone's men to move back within a point of leaders Barcelona and second-placed Real Madrid, both of whom won on Saturday.

Morata missed a huge chance to extend his outstanding scoring streak after 16 minutes, running onto Vitolo's measured pass and lifting the ball over Diego Lopez but missing the right-hand post.

Espanyol started to forge their own opportunities at the other end, however, and Darder was clinical, pouncing on a slack exchange between Thomas Partey and Koke to lash high past Jan Oblak.

Yet Morata was influential as Atleti got back on level terms on the stroke of half-time, with the forward reaching the byline and lifting a cross onto Correa's head for a simple finish.

The VAR confirmed Morata was onside in the build-up, much to Espanyol's frustration, as Naldo - earlier substituted injured having been run ragged by Vitolo - was booked on the bench for his protests.

There was a flurry of activity at the start of the second half, with Atleti denied a penalty as David Lopez and Felipe clashed, before Morata made amends for his earlier miss, holding off a recovering defender to beat Diego Lopez with a right-footed effort.

Espanyol still might have recovered a draw, but David Lopez was penalised for a foul on Koke prior to heading beyond Oblak, although the Atleti captain appeared to have tangled with a team-mate as he clutched his face.

Instead, Koke settled matters at the end of a rapid counter-attack, controlling substitute Diego Costa's cutback and sliding low into the net.

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