Carlo Ancelotti is taking no enjoyment from bitter rivals Barcelona's ongoing struggles as he backed Real Madrid to continue improving.

Barca have managed just two wins from their opening five LaLiga games of the season and were beaten 3-0 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League last week.

The pressure is mounting on head coach Ronald Koeman following Thursday's stalemate with Cadiz, a result that leaves the Catalan giants down in seventh place.

LaLiga leaders Madrid are already seven points better off than Barca, albeit having played a game more, but Ancelotti is only concerned about his own side's performances.

"I'm not happy if a team has a bad time," he said at Friday's news conference previewing Madrid's home match with Villarreal on Saturday. 

"I focus only on my team. If things don't go well for another team, be it Barca or another, It doesn't make me happy."

 

Madrid's thumping 6-1 win over Real Mallorca on Wednesday moved them two points clear of reigning champions Atletico Madrid at the summit ahead of the visit of Villarreal.

Los Blancos are now unbeaten in 24 league games, which is their longest such run since going 28 without defeat between March 2016 and January 2017.

Marco Asensio scored a hat-trick against his former side in that most recent match, while Karim Benzema claimed a double and provided two assists.

Benzema has now been directly involved in 15 LaLiga goals this season, surpassing former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo (14) for the most of any player in the Spanish top flight this century after six games.

The France international turns 34 in December, but Ancelotti feels the prolific striker is only getting better with age.

Asked if Benzema is a contender for the Ballon d'Or award, Ancelotti said: "Because of what he's doing and has done, he has to be on the shortlist.

"But Karim still has time to win it. This will not be his last season. He's like wine – it gets better with time."

Thanks to the form of Benzema, Madrid have scored 21 goals after six LaLiga matches – their best tally at this stage since 1987-88 when registering 26 goals.

The capital club have not been as strong defensively, though, with only seven teams in the division having conceded more goals than the eight Madrid have let in.

With that in mind, Ancelotti believes there is still more to come from his side.

"The players are doing well. I have to be honest, we have focused a lot on the defensive side of our game because that needed the most improvement," he said.

"It's difficult to have a high line if there is no pressure on the ball. If there is no pressure we defend with a low block. 

"We'd like to have a line in the centre of the pitch, but it's not always possible.

"I was satisfied with the Mallorca game compared to our previous match against Valencia, but you quickly have to focus on what can be improved."

Ancelotti also revealed Eden Hazard has "trained well" this week but could not guarantee the forward, who was an unused substitute against Mallorca, would feature this weekend.

Madrid have lost just one of their 21 home LaLiga matches against Villarreal, winning 15 of those and drawing the other five.

Villarreal have therefore lost 71.4 per cent of their away matches against Los Blancos, which is their highest percentage against any opponent with at least two games played on the road.

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti hailed Marco Asensio following his hat-trick performance in the 6-1 LaLiga rout of Real Mallorca.

Asensio scored three goals in his first start of the season against former club Mallorca as Madrid returned to the league summit at the Santiago Bernabeau on Wednesday.

After Karim Benzema opened the scoring in the third minute, Asensio took centre stage – the Spaniard scored on either side of Lee Kang-in's goal to give Madrid a 3-1 half-time lead.

Asensio completed his treble 10 minutes into the second half as he became the sixth Spanish player to score a hat-trick for Madrid in LaLiga this century and the first since Alvaro Morata in April 2017. 

Benzema and Isco added gloss to the scoreline, though Ancelotti heaped praise on Asensio post-match.

"I invest my experience in the team and look to give them my all, both in terms of experience and confidence," Ancelotti told reporters, with Madrid now boasting 16 points from their opening six league matches – their best start to a season at this stage since 2013-14, when the Italian boss was last in charge.

"I'm lucky to coach this brave team with a lot of quality and players who learn quickly. Asensio played very well. We knew that he can do a lot of damage and they had a lot of quality between the lines, he's a very good shot taker and he combines very well.

"Asensio has performed very well and during next week he can hopefully score three goals as well. I think this is the position.

"It can be sometimes that if we push with the full-back, defending, he can play more on the outside, but with the ball it's always the same position because he likes it. When he comes inside he has the ball on the left and he is very dangerous there."

Benzema also impressed in the Spanish capital – the in-form France international has been directly involved in 15 goals in LaLiga this season (eight goals and seven assists).

It is the best start in goal involvement of any player after the first six league games of the campaign in the 21st century.

"Karim is doing well," Ancelotti said. "He's scored eight goals and can make you forget that he is playing very well with the team, he gets behind, he contributes to the other players.

"He's a striker who doesn't just score goals. He is complete in every way.

"The day when he needs a rest weell play [Luka] Jovic, who has been doing really well. Jovic is up against really tough competition, but when he's played he's done well.

"He had two chances today and he also played extremely well against Valencia. He'll play when Benzema isn't available."

Marco Asensio scored a hat-trick against former club Real Mallorca to help Real Madrid to a 6-1 win that lifted them back above Atletico Madrid at the top of LaLiga. 

Mallorca youth product Asensio added to Karim Benzema's early opener and doubled his personal tally after Lee Kang-in had pulled one back for Mallorca in a lively first half to Wednesday's contest. 

Making his first start of the season, Asensio curled in a delightful third before Benzema – who also assisted a couple of goals – and Isco rounded off a thumping victory for Los Blancos at the Santiago Bernabeu. 

Madrid have now collected 16 points from their opening six matches, making this their best start to a season at this stage since 2013-14 when Carlo Ancelotti was last in charge. 

Benzema scored a late winner for Madrid in their victory against Valencia last weekend and opened the scoring inside three minutes, nicking the ball off Josep Gaya's toes before racing through and coolly sliding past Manolo Reina. 

Asensio put Madrid on course for a sixth successive home league win against Mallorca 21 minutes later with a close-range finish after Rodrygo's pass was deflected into his path. 

Mallorca took just 71 seconds to respond, however, as Matthew Hoppe picked out Lee and the South Korea international got the better of Thibaut Courtois. 

But Asensio raced through to restore Madrid's two-goal lead and nearly completed his hat-trick moments later with a shot that Martin Valjent blocked on the line. 

Benzema set up Asensio's second goal and thought he had further extended Madrid's lead early in the second half, only for VAR to rule it out for a push on Joan Sastre. 

It did not take much longer for the fourth Madrid goal to arrive, though, as Asensio curled a shot away from Reina into the bottom-left corner for his first Madrid treble. 

Madrid did not let up as Benzema controlled a David Alaba pass with his back and fired a deflected shot past Reina in the 78th minute. 

The Mallorca keeper had to pick the ball out of his net once again six minutes later when Vinicius Junior teed up Isco for a simple finish. 

Karim Benzema bailed out Real Madrid once again, but the French striker insisted the 2-1 win at Valencia was richly deserved, as their unbeaten LaLiga run stretched to 23 games. 

The capital giants had trailed to a fine 66th-minute strike from Hugo Duro that looked set to take Valencia to the top of the table, but instead it is Madrid who sit on that perch with 13 points from five games. 

Captain Benzema teed up Vinicius Junior to slot in an 86th-minute leveller, with the help of a deflection, before roles were reversed for the winner two minutes later. 

A teasing cross from Vinicius was perfect for Benzema to attack, and although the ball went in off his shoulder rather than his forehead, as was the intention, they all count. 

Benzema has now scored in his last six games against Valencia, and Sunday's late show was sweet revenge for the 4-1 thumping that Madrid took at Mestalla last November. 

Coach Carlo Ancelotti described his team's spirit as "indomitable" and Benzema saw it similarly. 

The 33-year-old said: "I think it was a difficult game for us against a great team who are always difficult to beat here. 

"I think we deserved the three points that are important to us. Each game is a final, today was another final and we won. 

"All the players on the pitch and the people who came on at the end of the game to help us, it is a victory for the squad. If I can continue like this, scoring, the most important thing is that they are important for the club." 

Madrid are unbeaten in their last 18 away trips (W12 D6) in LaLiga, which equals their best such run in the competition's history, having previously reached 18 games unbeaten in 1997 (W11 D7) and 2016 (W13 D5). 

Benzema has six goals already this season in LaLiga from an expected goals (xG) total of 2.61, indicating he is having an outstanding run in front of goal. 

He has become the first player since Lionel Messi in 2011-12 to be directly involved in 11 or more goals in the first five games of a LaLiga campaign (six goals, five assists). 

This season has seen Vinicius very much come to the party too, bagging five goals from an xG of 2.3, also outperforming expectations substantially, and now adding a first assist. 

Quoted by AS, Vinicius said the win at Valencia was credit to Madrid's refusal to accept they are ever beaten.

"It is always difficult to play here, but we continue to believe and Madrid never give up," said the 21-year-old Brazilian.

"The main virtue is patience. It was the job of the coach and the whole team. We are doing things like never before. We played well, but things didn't work out and in the end we got the comeback. I am happy with the victory "

It was a victory that delighted Ancelotti, who has yet to lose a competitive game since returning to the club in the close season.

"We have not won because of quality, but because of the indomitable spirit of the team," said Ancelotti. "We continued to the end."

Karim Benzema insisted Real Madrid are not overly dependent on his goals as Carlo Ancelotti's men prepare to face Inter in Wednesday's Champions League clash.

Madrid open their campaign with a trip to San Siro, having won just one of their previous eight away games against Inter in European competition.

Benzema, who is set to feature in his 17th consecutive Champions League, needs just one goal to overtake Raul and become the all-time fourth highest scorer in the competition.

However, the forward deflected questions as to whether his side are too reliant on his output and chose to focus on the team dynamic of Los Blancos.

"Real Madrid are a very strong team," Benzema said at Tuesday's pre-match news conference. "What I need to do is try to help my team with assists and goals. We have to win something and that is a collective effort.

"The Champions League is a different competition and we must try to do everything to win games.

"It's the most important competition. There are favourites, but something different often happens on the pitch, we have a good team and we will fight to win this Champions [League]."

Benzema also quashed suggestions that Madrid's new front three, which he has formed recently with Eden Hazard and Vinicius Junior, could recreate what he had with Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo.

"I don't know, together we have done many things and many goals and that trident will remain in history," Benzema said.

"Vini [Vinicius Junior] is a strong player, he has grown and in this beginning of LaLiga he is scoring a lot. I am always by his side, I talk to him, if I can I talk to him and advise him because he is a top player.

"Now, however, let's think about today, about scoring and winning games."

Are Barcelona set to make a splash in 2022?

After losing Lionel Messi on a free transfer due to their crippling debt, Barca are busy planning for next season.

Franck Kessie and Youri Tielemans are believed to be on the radar at Camp Nou.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA EYEING PAIR

Barcelona are targeting Milan star Franck Kessie and Leicester City midfielder Youri Tielemans, according to reports.

Kessie is out of contract at the end of the season and he is yet to re-sign at Milan amid links with Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham.

Mundo Deportivo claims LaLiga giants Barca are considering a move for the Ivory Coast international, as well as Tielemans – who is reportedly wanted by the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool.

 

ROUND-UP

- Fichajes says Premier League champions Manchester City are plotting a bid for Leeds United and England star Kalvin Phillips.

Real Madrid are interested in Lyon's Rayan Cherki as a long-term replacement for Karim Benzema, per Fichajes. It comes as Madrid continue to pursue PSG's Kylian Mbappe and Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland.

- Calciomercato claims Juventus are considering a move for Madrid left-back Ferland Mendy.

United are ready to rival Barca, Juve and Bayern Munich for RB Leipzig attacker Dani Olmo, according to Marca.

Karim Benzema applauded the performance of Vinicius Junior in Real Madrid's 5-2 win over Celta Vigo, labelling the Brazilian a "phenomenon".

Benzema would have been most people's star of the show, the Frenchman scoring a hat-trick and getting an assist.

But Vinicius was Madrid's other key man, scoring the goal that Benzema set up and also winning the penalty that allowed the France international to score his first LaLiga treble since April 2019.

Vinicius frequently ran at the Celta defence and often caused havoc when doing so, tallying 11 dribble attempts – a figure only he (14 vs Real Betis) and Nabil Fekir (14 vs Cadiz) have bettered in a single LaLiga game this term – and completing five of them.

His goal took Vinicius to four for the season, which is already a personal best for an individual campaign at Madrid, and second only to Benzema (five) in 2021-22.

After regularly being seen as a source of frustration, even for his team-mates, the 21-year-old appears to be coming of age and Benzema is relishing his improvement.

"Vinicius is a phenomenon," Benzema told Movistar. "I really like playing with him.

 

"He is young and I talk to him a lot, giving him advice, because I know what he's going through.

"But he helps us a lot. He's a great player and he's showed that he can play for Real Madrid."

Carlo Ancelotti echoed that sentiment but was also eager to share the praise out, with the Italian clearly thrilled by the exhibition produced by his forwards.

"Vinicius is in a spectacular moment and I am happy for him. He is playing with a lot of quality and is at a very high level," Ancelotti said.

"But not only Vinicius. Benzema was also fantastic, [Luka] Modric, Miguel Gutierrez. Everyone in attack was good."

Though Ancelotti did suggest he was a little perturbed by Madrid's sloppiness at the back, with a mix-up between Nacho Fernandez and Casemiro leading to Celta's opener, before the visitors carved them open to then go 2-1 later in the first half.

"I have a good taste in my mouth," he added. "The fans helped us a lot. When we were down on the scoreboard, they pushed us and we felt their encouragement.

"It was a great game, with mistakes and with good things. It had everything.

"Defensively we gave away two goals because we lacked balance. The defensive organisation has to improve. With the ball we are fine but without it we are not as good and that can harm us."

Karim Benzema scored a hat-trick and Eduardo Camavinga netted on his debut as Real Madrid marked their return to the Santiago Bernabeu with a thrilling 5-2 win over Celta Vigo on Sunday.

Madrid last played at their iconic home on March 1, 2020, before remodelling work began on the stadium, and fans were treated to a real spectacle.

Twice Celta led in the first half, with Benzema's first strike sandwiched between Santi Mina's opener and Franco Cervi's rather fortuitous tap-in.

But Benzema nodded Los Blancos level again early in the second half before setting up in-form Vinicius Junior with a defence-splitting pass.

Camavinga put the game beyond Celta soon after his introduction from the bench and Benzema completed his treble from the spot after some dazzling play by Vinicius.

Celta stunned Madrid in the fourth minute as Miguel Gutierrez was robbed out wide and neither Casemiro nor Nacho Fernandez could clear, allowing Iago Aspas to nudge the ball on to Mina and he slotted past Thibaut Courtois.

Madrid's response was good, their subsequent dominance rewarded with the equaliser – Benzema driving in a Federico Valverde cut-back from 12 yards.

But the visitors soon restored their lead. Hugo Mallo latched on to Aspas' lay-off and produced a disguised pass to pick out Cervi, whose initial audacious flick hit the post and came back to him for an easy finish.

Marshalling Benzema continued to prove difficult for Celta, however, and the Frenchman got his second of the day just after the restart with a wonderful header from Gutierrez's searching cross.

He then turned provider as Madrid went in front for the first time in the match, pulling out wide and playing a throughball beyond the defence for Vinicius, who capitalised on Jeison Murillo's dozing in the Celta offside trap and calmly stroked past Matias Dituro.

Camavinga got off the mark for his new club six minutes after coming off the bench, burying from a few yards out after Dituro could only parry Luka Modric's shot at the end of a surging solo run.

Vinicius then won a penalty, his feet too quick for Denis Suarez, and Benzema subsequently rounded off an engrossing match by securing his hat-trick with an emphatic finish.

Didier Deschamps insists he has no concerns over the atmosphere in the France camp after his side's winless run continued with a 1-1 draw against Ukraine. 

Les Blues suffered a shock Euro 2020 exit at the last-16 stage in June following defeat to Switzerland on penalties and have now drawn five games in a row for the first time ever. 

France's latest underwhelming performance came in Kiev on Saturday as Anthony Martial's first international goal in five years cancelled out Mykola Shaparenko's excellent opener. 

However, the reigning world champions are still in a strong position to qualify for Qatar 2022 and Deschamps has refuted suggestions there are some issues behind the scenes. 

"You have external impressions which are not the same as from the inside," he told Telefoot. "There really is no problem on this side of things. 

"I can assure you the group is concentrated, even if we are in a period with less success. Everything is linked in terms of confidence and success." 

Despite having 61.5 per cent of the ball and managing 16 shots, five of which were on target, Deschamps' men could not find a winning goal. 

France have now conceded the opening goal in five consecutive matches, their longest such run since the days of Raymond Domenech from November 2009 to June 2010. 

"The opponents offer us the same pattern in front of goal with group blocks," Deschamps added.  

"We have the annoying habit of chasing after the score now. There are times like that, you have to accept it." 

 

France are four points clear of second-placed Finland in Group D, though their next opponents have two games in hand. 

Ahead of Tuesday's clash between the sides in Lyon, France striker Karim Benzema accepts it is down to him and his team-mates to take the game to Finland if they are to return to winning ways. 

"There is nothing to worry about," he told Telefoot. "We have to set the pace and manage our efforts. It is up to us to set the speed.  

"If we keep the ball behind, we have to play fast and vertical passes to hurt the opponent. We have the players needed for that. We can't fall into the pace set by the opponent. 

"We need to enter the field with the desire to win." 

The match at Groupama Stadium will be an emotional occasion for Benzema, who spent 12 years at Lyon before joining Real Madrid in 2009. 

"It's very special. I have not yet played in this stadium," Benzema said. "Coming back to my city, where it all began for me, is special." 

Didier Deschamps insists he has no concerns over the atmosphere in the France camp after his side's winless run continued with a 1-1 draw against Ukraine. 

Les Blues suffered a shock Euro 2020 exit at the last-16 stage in June following defeat to Switzerland on penalties and have now drawn five games in a row for the first time ever. 

France's latest underwhelming performance came in Kiev on Saturday as Anthony Martial's first international goal in five years cancelled out Mykola Shaparenko's excellent opener. 

However, the reigning world champions are still in a strong position to qualify for Qatar 2022 and Deschamps has refuted suggestions there are some issues behind the scenes. 

"You have external impressions which are not the same as from the inside," he told Telefoot. "There really is no problem on this side of things. 

"I can assure you the group is concentrated, even if we are in a period with less success. Everything is linked in terms of confidence and success." 

Despite having 61.5 per cent of the ball and managing 16 shots, five of which were on target, Deschamps' men could not find a winning goal. 

France have now conceded the opening goal in five consecutive matches, their longest such run since the days of Raymond Domenech from November 2009 to June 2010. 

"The opponents offer us the same pattern in front of goal with group blocks," Deschamps added.  

"We have the annoying habit of chasing after the score now. There are times like that, you have to accept it." 

 

France are four points clear of second-placed Finland in Group D, though their next opponents have two games in hand. 

Ahead of Tuesday's clash between the sides in Lyon, France striker Karim Benzema accepts it is down to him and his team-mates to take the game to Finland if they are to return to winning ways. 

"There is nothing to worry about," he told Telefoot. "We have to set the pace and manage our efforts. It is up to us to set the speed.  

"If we keep the ball behind, we have to play fast and vertical passes to hurt the opponent. We have the players needed for that. We can't fall into the pace set by the opponent. 

"We need to enter the field with the desire to win." 

The match at Groupama Stadium will be an emotional occasion for Benzema, who spent 12 years at Lyon before joining Real Madrid in 2009. 

"It's very special. I have not yet played in this stadium," Benzema said. "Coming back to my city, where it all began for me, is special." 

Kylian Mbappe will play for Real Madrid "one day or another" according to his France team-mate and Los Blancos striker Karim Benzema.

LaLiga giants Madrid reportedly offered Paris Saint-Germain €200million on deadline day, a whopping sum for a player in the final year of his contract.

It was said PSG failed to respond to that bid – Madrid's third during the window – meaning Mbappe will remain in Ligue 1 to form a mouth-watering attack alongside Lionel Messi and Neymar at the Parc des Princes this term.

However, Mbappe looks certain to agree a pre-contract agreement with Madrid in January, with the superstar forward having his heart set on a move to the Santiago Bernabeu.

Benzema is excited by the prospect of teaming up at club level with his Les Bleus team-mate, who has scored 135 goals in 175 games for PSG at a rate of one goal every 101.61 minutes.

Speaking to RTL, Benzema said of Mbappe: "He is a player who will play for Real Madrid one day or another.

"We get along really well, I would like him to be with me today in Madrid."

Benzema was speaking in the aftermath of France's 1-1 draw against Bosnia and Herzegovina on Wednesday, a World Cup qualifying match that saw Didier Deschamps' side finish with 10 men after Jules Kounde was sent off.

The point keeps France top of Group D on eight points after four games, four clear of Ukraine who have drawn all of their matches in the pool so far.

"We would have liked to win this match here, in France, in front of our audience," Benzema added.

"In the first half we made good moves, in the second half, with the red card, we fell back a little, which is normal when we play [with] one less."

France head coach Didier Deschamps acknowledged there is "significant room for improvement" with his attacking trio of Antoine Griezmann, Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe while the latter suffered a reported calf concern.

Deschamps deployed the star trio together for the seventh straight game but lacked genuine attacking cohesion as Les Bleus drew 1-1 with Bosnia-Herzegovina in Strasbourg.

The France boss has persisted with the trio since Benzema's return to the national team fold, yet Les Bleus are winless in their past four games.

Griezmann equalised in the 39th minute after Edin Dzeko's opener but France were forced to play for most of the second half with 10 men after Jules Kounde's red card.

Mbappe crashed his only shot for the game off the near post in the 27th minute, while Griezmann's goal came with fortune after Dzeko headed a corner into his back and over the line.

Benzema's only shot on target was a tame deflected effort that was easily held by Bosnia goalkeeper Ibrahim Sehic.

"There were good things, there were sequences and individual actions," Deschamps said after the game.

"The opponents make sure to bring in a lot of people, to reduce spaces. We created chances in the first half. There are situations that could have been better handled as well.

"The room for improvement in offensive efficiency is significant, particularly with the individual quality of these three players.

"I have others on the bench. I have made changes to boost this area."

Real Madrid target Mbappe was replaced in second-half stoppage time by Moussa Diaby with RMC reporting a calf issue, although the severity is unknown at this stage.

The world champions remain top of Group D in World Cup qualifying with eight points from four games despite the draw, with second-placed Ukraine drawing 2-2 in Kazakhstan.

"We knew that [result] before and it proves that the qualifying phases are complicated," Deschamps said.

"I will not hide that we must be satisfied with this draw even if it was not what we had planned. Considering the scenario, it was complicated when we were reduced to 10.

"We have one more point and there are others to pick up on Saturday in Kiev. It happens very quickly. I have no regrets in the sense that the intentions were there."

Les Bleus return to action on Saturday away to Ukraine in Kiev, before a third qualifier in the break against Finland.

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti dismissed speculation regarding Paris Saint-Germain star and Los Blancos transfer target Kylian Mbappe.

Madrid are reportedly in negotiations with PSG in a bid to prise Mbappe from Paris amid talk of a €170million offer plus €10million in add-ons for the France international.

Mbappe has one year remaining on his contract but Madrid are determined to sign the 22-year-old – who has scored 133 goals in 174 games for PSG – at a rate of one goal every 102.46 minutes – before the end of the transfer window.

Ancelotti was asked about Mbappe after Madrid defeated Real Betis 1-0 on Saturday, however he was unwilling to shed light on the possibility of the Frenchman moving to the Santiago Bernabeu.

"We should stick to talking about the game because the rest is a matter for the club, who are working on it," Ancelotti told reporters.

"I don't know the details at this stage."

Dani Carvajal's sublime second-half volley secured a hard-earned win for Madrid at Betis.

Carvajal had not scored for Los Blancos since November 2019, but the fit-again full-back marked his return to the side with a second-half finish after being teed up by Karim Benzema.

Benzema has been involved in five goals in his opening three games of a LaLiga season (two goals and three assists) for the first time in his Madrid career.

"The first 45 minutes was much more level and much more so than the second half," Ancelotti said when asked about Benzema.

"We tried to win the ball high up the pitch as quickly as possible and that's where [Karim] Benzema struggled a bit because he had to sit a bit deeper to try and win the ball back when we weren't in possession.

"But I think Karim made the difference today again because he had a very good cross into the box for Carvajal, and we won the game."

Carlo Ancelotti says neither he nor his Real Madrid "team full of stars" are overly concerned by speculation surrounding mooted target Kylian Mbappe.

The transfer window closes at the end of August and Madrid have so far signed only David Alaba, who was a free agent after leaving Bayern Munich.

Los Blancos are enduring financial difficulties amid the coronavirus pandemic, estimating it had cost them "close to €300million", meaning they will "continue in the effort so far to contain spending".

These statements have not prevented continued links to Paris Saint-Germain forward Mbappe, however.

The World Cup winner, now a team-mate of Lionel Messi as well as Neymar, is out of contract next year and is widely considered a top target for Madrid.

But Madrid coach Ancelotti was unmoved on Saturday, speaking ahead of the trip to Levante, by the suggestion Mbappe could arrive in the coming days.

"The atmosphere in the dressing room is very good because the players are focused on the work they are doing and they are not talking about the market," he said.

"You only talk about the matches and I don't know if everyone then thinks about this.

"I talk to the club every day and the idea that the club have about the future is the same as I have. But I don't think it's fair to talk about it here."

Ancelotti, who has won all four of his LaLiga games against Levante, added: "I don't care what's going to happen in the next few days.

"I have a very good squad that I really want to train with and I'm only focused on the team I have."

Former Madrid favourite Cristiano Ronaldo has also been linked with a return, yet he looks set to stay at Juventus and the idea was dismissed by Ancelotti.

"The issue is settled," he said. "After clearing up the rumours, I just want to say what I said before: the idea of the club is the same as mine.

"After that, everyone knows my affection for Cristiano."

Without bringing in Mbappe or Ronaldo, Madrid are a side seemingly lacking an obvious superstar – but Ancelotti disagrees.

"This squad as it stands can compete with everyone," he said. "We have a lot of top players.

"Courtois, Carvajal, Benzema, Bale, Hazard... I'm going to forget someone. This team is full of stars."

Karim Benzema has certainly picked up the slack since Ronaldo's departure in 2018, with no Madrid player scoring as many goals (89), providing as many assists (30) or playing as many games (148) as the France forward in all competitions in that time.

Benzema this week signed a contract extension to keep him at Madrid until the end of the 2022-23 season.

"Karim is a fundamental part of this team," Ancelotti said. "I'm not going to find out myself. I see him with more personality and more mature.

"It's a pleasure to coach him and watch him play. He has renewed and I am very happy and I think he is very much looking forward to continuing at Real Madrid."

Benzema scored twice in the opening fixture against Alaves and will be looking to net three times across the first two games of a league season for the first time.

That would go a long way to helping Madrid extend their unbeaten run in the competition to 20 matches, the longest current streak.

Karim Benzema will remain a Real Madrid player through to the end of the 2022-23 season after the talisman agreed a one-year extension to his contract.

The Spanish capital giants continue to be linked with moves for Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland, but they have ensured Benzema will be around to help any new arrivals settle.

A fresh deal for the 33-year-old was announced on Friday as the France striker pledged his allegiance again to the cause he joined in 2009 after beginning his career at Lyon.

Head coach Carlo Ancelotti saw Benzema prove his value to the team with two goals in the 4-1 season-opening LaLiga win at Deportivo Alaves on Saturday.

This season more than ever it appears Benzema will have a crucial role to play, given his seniority and profile at the club. Marcelo has been appointed as captain following the departure of Sergio Ramos, but there is little doubt Benzema will also be expected to show leadership.

With Marcelo absent for the Alaves game, it was Benzema who skippered the team, spearheading the attack as Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard supported from the flanks.

The value of Benzema to Madrid has long been obvious, but since Cristiano Ronaldo's departure to Juventus in July 2018 his goals and forward play have become ever more important.

In the period since record scorer Ronaldo moved on, Benzema has scored 89 goals in 148 games for Madrid, surpassing an expected goals score of 79.88. Only four players from Europe's top five leagues have scored more in that time: Robert Lewandowski, Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Ronaldo.

Excluding penalties from the equation, Benzema has netted more times than Ronaldo, scoring 80 to his former team-mate's haul of 72 for Juve.

Only Bayern Munich's Lewandowski (33 goals) has scored more headers than Benzema's 23 in the same period. Messi, who left Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain this month, is the only player to have hit the woodwork more often: 33 times to Benzema's 26.

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