Lionel Messi has dominated the headlines for Barcelona since their 2019-20 season finished, but he showed little sign of letting off-field matters impact his performances as he helped secure a 4-0 win over Villarreal.

Barca were in action on Sunday for the first time since losing 8-2 to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals last month, a result that seemed to start a tumultuous chain reaction at the club.

Quique Setien was sacked and replaced by Ronald Koeman, Luis Suarez was deemed surplus to requirements and ultimately sold, that angered an already disillusioned Messi – who attempted to force a transfer, and supporters subsequently launched a bid to oust president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

But the Blaugrana returned to the pitch and blew Villarreal away to begin the Koeman era victoriously, Barca's baggage seemingly left to one side and forgotten about for an evening at Camp Nou.

Messi was at the fore as he usually is and, after seeing Ansu Fati terrorise the visitors with two early goals, the superstar Barca captain dispatched a penalty that the teenager won.

That goal meant Messi has scored in 17 successive LaLiga seasons, making him just the fourth player to ever achieve the feat.

Real Madrid greats Santillana and Sergio Ramos – who scored against Real Betis on Saturday – both netted in 17 consecutive LaLiga campaigns, with the former doing so between 1971 and 1988.

The only player to have scored in more successive LaLiga seasons is Agustin Gainza, who reached 19 straight campaigns for Athletic Bilbao from 1940 to 1959.

Given the uncertainty around Messi's future, one has to wonder whether the 33-year-old will make it to 18.

Sergio Ramos defended referee Ricardo de Burgos Bengoetxea and the officials after Real Madrid beat Real Betis 3-2 through a contentious late penalty.

Ramos gave Madrid all three points from the spot in the 82nd minute, Marc Bartra adjudged to have handled in the area following a VAR review.

It did appear as though Bartra may have been pushed into the ball by Borja Mayoral, with Betis unfortunate to suffer their first defeat after two successive wins under Manuel Pellegrini.

Earlier Aissa Mandi and William Carvalho had turned the game in Betis' favour following Federico Valverde's opener but Emerson conceded an own goal three minutes after the second-half restart and was then sent off before the game's controversial finish.

"I can't comment on specific incidents," Ramos said to Madrid's official website.

"From what we've been told it was a clear penalty, but there's nothing that can be done about it now.

"Sometimes they help us and sometimes they go against us, but that's football. The referee is there to do the best he possibly can and I don't think it's ever intentional."

Madrid have four points from two games, with their victory at the Benito Villamarin following a 0-0 draw with Real Sociedad.

Ramos added: "We were very good for the first 15 minutes. We dominated the game up until the first goal, which gave us confidence but in the end, we had to dig in.

"If you keep giving the ball to quality teams who like to have possession, they will create chances and you run the risk of them scoring goals.

"The most important thing was our mentality and the team came out hungry to come back, which is exactly what we did. We managed to level it up quickly to get right back in the game.
 
"It serves as a lesson for us. We're not going to come from behind in every game. The other day we played really well but just lacked a bit of an edge. 

"We created a lot of chances today and it was a fantastic second half, we were dominant and it's clinched us the three points which will do us the world of good."

 

Raphael Varane will lead Real Madrid in his own way should he one day succeed Sergio Ramos as captain.

The France international has formed a formidable partnership with Ramos in the heart of Madrid's defence during his nine seasons at the club.

He has been touted as a possible contender to take on captaincy duties when Ramos, who will turn 35 later this campaign, eventually departs the Santiago Bernabeu.

However, the World Cup-winning centre-back is not thinking about what the future holds and says Ramos remains an integral player for Madrid.

"For the future, it's difficult to plan," he told beIN SPORTS. "Real Madrid is a very, very big club with great players. What is important is that everyone plays their part in the team. 

"When we won our titles, our Champions Leagues, it was as a team, with eleven leaders on the pitch each time. 

"Sergio is a legend in Madrid. The future for the moment I do not project about it, but for sure Ramos is a very important player for us.

"What is certain is that we are very complementary with Sergio Ramos, in our way of playing.

"We have qualities that complement each other perfectly. We have been playing together for several years, so we know each other very well. 

"In defense, it works in pairs and this understanding is very important. For the future, after the departure of Ramos, it is difficult to project yourself. 

"I am a leader in my own way. With my team-mates, I talk a lot before matches about tactics and positioning. We each have our own way."

Without the suspended Ramos alongside him, Varane made a couple of costly errors in August's 2-1 loss to Manchester City as Madrid exited the Champions League.

Varane takes full blame for Madrid's last-16 defeat and is keen to quickly move on when the new campaign begins next weekend.

"For sure, that will not remain a very good memory in my career. It was a difficult game for me, this elimination," he said. "Immediately after the match I wanted to take responsibility. 

"I made some mistakes, it cost us the victory. You had to digest and watch what is happening ahead, and think about what is happening.

"At the high level, we don't have time to think about it - we have to think about the next game. The days that followed were a bit difficult, I admit, but at the top level, you have to look ahead quickly."

Luis Enrique says Ansu Fati's self-confidence level is "not normal" after the Barcelona youngster made history in Spain's 4-0 Nations League win over Ukraine.

The teenager brilliantly won the penalty from which Sergio Ramos opened the scoring in Madrid and netted his side's third in fine fashion to give Spain a three-goal advantage before the break.

Fati's strike made him Spain's youngest goalscorer in history aged just 17 years and 311 days and head coach Luis Enrique has no doubt the prodigious talent will stay grounded.

"I'm not scared. I'm sure it won't go to his head, he's very humble," he told a news conference about Fati's first Spain start.

"We're going to know how to manage it. Although I know him, of course he surprised me, that he did that in minute two [won the penalty].

"Sure, he will have bad games, but that self-confidence is not normal to see. Ansu Fati is very happy and has reasons. He is only 17 years old and has to mature, but in his second match with the national team he dares to do all this.

"He brings work and humility. At his age it is easy for it to go to your head, but he is mature enough to know that the path he is following is the best. He is very calm and humble."

Ramos, Spain's record appearance holder, also moved into joint-eighth with fellow Madrid great Alfredo Di Stefano on Spain's all-time goalscoring list when he headed in his team's second.

Luis Enrique hopes his experienced captain can continue breaking new ground for years to come.

"I hope he can achieve many more things with the national team. He is a leader, but not only in words, with the example, which is how he leads," he added. 

"He does nothing but add. It is very easy for a coach to have Sergio Ramos." 

Ansu Fati made history on his first start and Sergio Ramos scored twice as Spain coasted to a 4-0 victory over Ukraine in Sunday's Nations League contest in Madrid.

Barcelona star Fati, who made his senior international debut off the bench in Thursday's 1-1 draw with Germany, made it 3-0 in fine fashion prior to half-time at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano to become Spain's youngest goalscorer at 17 years and 311 days old.

Fati had earlier won the penalty from which Ramos opened the scoring and the Real Madrid great doubled the lead at a familiar venue, which is part of Los Blancos' Valdebebas training complex.

Ferran Torres got off the mark for La Roja with a well-controlled finish six minutes from time as Spain moved to four points from two matches to sit top of Group A4.

Fati's quick feet proved too much for Sergey Krivtsov in just the third minute, with Andriy Pyatov unable to stop Ramos' penalty finding the bottom-left corner.

The Barca forward placed an effort just past the right post after tormenting Oleksandr Tymchyk on the left flank and had an overhead-kick blocked by Mykola Matvyenko in a goal-mouth scramble.

Ramos deservedly doubled the lead with a fine looping header from Dani Olmo's cross before Fati brilliantly jinked inside Ihor Kharatin and fired into the bottom-right corner off the post.

Olmo, also making a first international start, drew a smart stop from Pyatov just after the hour, while Gerard Moreno had the ball in the back of the net only to be flagged offside. 

Pyatov again kept the scoreline down with a fine fingertip save from Oscar Rodriguez's dipping effort but could do nothing to prevent new Manchester City winger Torres placing a side-footed volley into the bottom-right corner.


What does it mean? Fati a star who can help Spain reign again

Spain were the dominant force of international football during a golden period that returned two European Championships and the World Cup between 2008 and 2012. In 17-year-old Fati they seemingly have a generational talent who can be the driving force behind a new crop of emerging players.

Ramos matches Di Stefano

Ramos, his country's most-capped player, will forever be regarded as a Spain legend and his double means he now sits joint-eighth in the nation's list of highest goalscorers – level with fellow Los Blancos great Alfredo Di Stefano, after whom Sunday's venue was named.

Fati not feeling the weight of international expectation

This was Fati's first start in international football, but he played with the swagger and quality of a seasoned veteran. Time and again Ukraine's defenders were left quaking by the Barca forward, who fully deserved his historic goal.

What's next?

Spain prepare for their next Nations League assignment with a friendly against Portugal on October 7, while Ukraine host Germany in their third Group A4 encounter.

Sergio Ramos was heartened by Spain's fighting spirit and the performances of their young debutants in the dramatic 1-1 draw against Germany in League A, Group 4 of the Nations League.

Timo Werner crowned a wonderful team move early in the second half to put Joachim Low's Germany in front and their lead might have been greater but for a fine showing from Spain goalkeeper David de Gea in Stuttgart on Thursday.

Spain also had their chances, the last of which fell to Jose Gaya – the Valencia full-back who made no mistake after popping up inside the opposition box in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

After witnessing the type of goal the Real Madrid captain has become something of a specialist in for his club, Spain skipper Ramos told reporters: "In the end, hope is the last thing that is lost.

"This is a team with faith, very hungry. The victory would have been unfair for them and we fought to the end.

"The team has shown its face after a great physical demand. We have gone desperately, but with order, with faith and with a hunger to get the draw."

Barcelona teenager Ansu Fati came on at half-time to become Spain's second youngest full international of all time behind Angel Zubieta.

Mikel Merino also won his first cap from the bench, while fellow debutant Ferran Torres completed the full match and his cross led to the equaliser.

"In general, the debutants have been very good," Ramos, Spain's all-time record appearance maker, added.

"They are daring, hungry, eager. They are no longer promises, they are realities – people with heart and hunger, who push us and will be good for us.

"I'm happy for their debuts and that they did not take a defeat."

Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos hopes Barcelona skipper Lionel Messi stays with the Blaugrana for the good of LaLiga as the Argentinian's father attempts to secure his release.

Messi rocked Barca last week when he informed them of his intention to leave and his father – who is also his agent – was in Catalonia on Wednesday for a meeting with club officials, saying beforehand that it would be "difficult" for his son to stay.

The meeting spanned most of the afternoon before concluding around 21:00 local time, with reports from local media claiming the two parties were unable to reach any form of agreement.

Messi had an exit clause written into his contract that would allow him to leave on a free transfer at the end of the 2019-20 season, and although that was said to have expired at the end of May, the player and his entourage believe it is still valid due to the campaign being extended by the coronavirus pandemic.

On the other hand, Barca – who have been backed by LaLiga – say the clause has expired and Wednesday's meeting was planned in the hope of finding some form of agreement, with Messi said to be in favour of joining Manchester City.

Ramos was asked about Messi's situation earlier in the evening while on international duty with Spain, and the Madrid captain – a regular Clasico opponent of Messi – would rather Barca's talisman stayed.

"It is not an issue that concerns us [Madrid]," he told reporters. "He has earned the right to decide his future.

"I don't know if he will be doing it in the best way, but of course for Spanish football, for Barcelona and for us [Madrid], who like to win while being the best, we would like him to stay here.

"It makes LaLiga and his team better, and the Clasicos more beautiful. I've little more to add – he has earned that right on his own.

"Without speculation, we will see what happens. For us it is not a worrying news."

Former Real Madrid defender Oscar Ruggeri labelled Barcelona star Gerard Pique a "bang-average" player, while insisting Sergio Ramos is the best centre-back in the world.

Pique has enjoyed great success since re-joining boyhood club Barca from Manchester United in 2008, winning eight LaLiga trophies and three Champions League titles among other honours to establish himself as one of the world's best defenders.

The 33-year-old is also a World Cup and European Championship winner with Spain.

However, ex-defender Ruggeri – a 1986 World Cup champion with Argentina who spent a season playing for Madrid in 1989-90 – talked down Pique as he hailed Los Blancos and Spain captain Ramos.

"Pique is a second-rate [player], like me, like many others," Ruggeri told FOX Sports Argentina.

"He's good looking, he's with the singer [Shakira]... he has a cool beard, but if he played for Valencia, he wouldn't be well known.

"Pique ended up playing for Barcelona. He's like me – bang average. A good defender, but not much else.

"He doesn't get put under pressure, except against the big teams.

"Sergio Ramos is the best [centre-back] in the world, by far."

Sergio Ramos has been the face of Real Madrid, especially since Cristiano Ronaldo's departure in 2018.

Ramos highlighted his importance as Madrid dethroned Barcelona in LaLiga this season.

As the 34-year-old's current deal winds down, talks are reportedly underway to prolong his stay.

 

TOP STORY – RAMOS REVEALS RENEWAL PLANS

Real Madrid captain Ramos wants €17million to renew his contract with the LaLiga champions, according to Diario Sport.

Ramos is out of contract in 2021 and there have been question marks as to whether the Spain skipper will sign a new deal at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The defender has called Madrid home since arriving from Sevilla in 2005.

ROUND-UP

- The front page of Thursday's Diario Sport claims Barcelona are determined to sign Manchester City defender Eric Garcia. The 19-year-old left Barca for City in 2017. It comes as Premier League outfit City push for a swap deal involving full-back Joao Cancelo and Barca's Nelson Semedo.

- Could Real Madrid forward Luka Jovic reunite with former Eintracht Frankfurt team-mate Ante Rebic at Milan? According to reports, Fali Ramadani – agent to both Jovic and Rebic – met with Milan directors Paolo Maldini and Ricky Massara on Wednesday. Jovic has struggled since leaving Eintracht for Madrid at the start of the season, with the Serbia international linked to Milan, Napoli, Leicester City and Chelsea among others. Rebic, meanwhile, is on a two-season loan from Eintracht.

Manchester United are interested in signing Adrien Rabiot from Juventus, claims Calciomercato. Fellow Premier League teams Everton and Newcastle United are also reportedly interested.

- Sky Sport Italia and Sportitalia report Victor Osimhen is set to be presented as a Napoli player on Friday. The Lille forward had previously been the subject of reported interest from the likes of Liverpool and United. Sky journalist Fabrizio Romano also says talks are ongoing for Napoli to sign Jeremie Boga from Sassuolo.

- According to RAC1 journalist Gerard Romero, Barca are eyeing Villarreal defender Pau Torres. The 23-year-old – also linked to City – reportedly has a €50m release clause.

City have offered Yangel Herrera to Valencia in an attempt to lure winger Ferran Torres to Manchester, says Gols Media. City are looking to replace Leroy Sane following his Bayern Munich switch.

Milan have contacted the agent of Brescia star Sandro Tonali, claims Sportmediaset. While Inter remain the frontrunners, their city rivals are not giving up on the Italy midfielder.

- Mundo Deportivo says Chelsea are dreaming of signing Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen amid doubts over current number one Kepa Arrizabalaga. Chelsea have also been linked to Atletico Madrid star Jan Oblak.

Luka Modric has described Sergio Ramos as a "phenomenon" and says the Real Madrid captain is the best defender in the world.

Ramos led Madrid to his fifth LaLiga title this season, scoring 11 times in the top flight - a record for a defender in the 21st century.

The 34-year-old has won 22 trophies with Los Blancos since joining from Sevilla in 2005 and remains integral to Zinedine Zidane's plans, with many suggesting he could have been in the running for the Ballon d'Or this year before the 2020 award was cancelled.

Modric, who has become a good friend of Ramos since moving to the Spanish capital in 2012, says there can be no doubting his quality.

"My brother Sergio is a phenomenon," he told Sportske Novosti. "And I'm not just saying that because in eight years we've created a really special relationship, we hang out as families, go on holiday together, or because we've had fantastic footballing experiences and successes together.

"Ramos is a 34-year-old rock, a top-level competitor, and when you watch him working on himself, it's clear how dedicated he is and how hungry he is for success. He's a team leader and the best defender in the world."

Madrid's title triumph was also inspired by the form of Karim Benzema, whose 21 goals earned his side 16 points in the title race.

Modric believes Benzema is now starting to get the recognition he deserves.

"Now, everyone has finally realised what we players have known for a long time," he said. "Benzema is a top striker who is a pleasure to play with. His understanding of the game, movement, disrupting the balance of the opposition defence, is something special.

"Benzema has always done a great job for the team and I am just glad that he has now experienced a general standing ovation and great satisfaction from people recognising his class."

Madrid trailed Barca at the top of the table when LaLiga was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, but a run of 10 wins in a row and a draw with Leganes on the final day saw them finish five points clear.

Modric felt there were signs when the team returned to training that they had a good chance of overhauling Barca.

"I've already won 16 trophies at Real, four Champions Leagues, but this LaLiga title made me especially happy," he added.

"We definitely should have had more domestic titles because we threw away some championships in a very clumsy way.

Zinedine Zidane is the "prodigal son" whose status as a top coach was already secure before Real Madrid clinched LaLiga glory on Thursday, says Christian Karembeu.

Madrid defeated Villarreal 2-1 at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano to dethrone Barcelona and win the top-flight title for just the third time in the past 12 seasons.

Zidane led Los Blancos to success in the Champions League three straight times during his first spell in charge of the club and has now overseen 11 trophy wins across both his tenures.

Despite questions about his true ability as a coach given all his success has come with one of the world's biggest clubs, Zidane's former France team-mate, and ex-Madrid player, Karembeu thinks his credentials were validated before he returned to the club last year.

He told Stats Perform News: "[Zinedine] Zidane doesn't need to prove to anyone anymore that he's a great coach. Everyone can agree on that, winning three Champions Leagues in a row is enough. And then he won LaLiga.

"For me, he's the prodigal son and he deserves to win so many titles because he's innovative and he's learned a lot, despite players coming and going, he managed to create a winning team, there's nothing else to say."

Karim Benzema struck both Madrid's goals against Villarreal to take his LaLiga tally for the season to 21 – the first time he has surpassed 20 in back-to-back league campaigns.

Asked if Benzema is a contender to win the Ballon d'Or, Karembeu said: "Zizou himself said it, all his players deserve the Ballon d'Or, so that includes Karim as well, obviously.

"Karim has always played efficiently in all of his games and he has also scored plenty of goals every season, in all competitions.

"He knew how to move between the lines when Cristiano [Ronaldo] was there but can also offer himself to lead the attack when he needs to.

"He knew to play with [Gonzalo] Higuain, with [Alvaro] Morata, with Cristiano, and with [Gareth] Bale. And now he's still there, still efficient as ever."

Madrid's defence was key to their LaLiga triumph and if they let in fewer than three against Leganes on Sunday they will set a club record for the fewest goals conceded in a 38-game season.

Captain Sergio Ramos has been central to that effort, while he has contributed 10 goals to equal the most prolific LaLiga campaign by a defender since the turn of the millennium.

Ramos has entered the final year of his contract but expressed a hope to retire at Madrid amid their title celebrations, and Karembeu detailed how important he is to the team.

"I think Sergio Ramos is the key player for Los Blancos," said Karembeu.

"He's the captain. He's a role model for everyone. He's a warrior, he does his job. He also enjoys the game, but when they have to win, he knows how to raise his level and inspire Real Madrid to victory.

"When he signed for Real Madrid and took Fernando Hierro's number on his jersey, a defender who had scored many goals, I already knew he'd be a success.

"Sergio is doing very well. He has surpassed everyone. When he's playing good, the whole squad is playing good."

Florentino Perez is sure Sergio Ramos will end his career at Real Madrid after leading them to their 34th LaLiga title on Thursday.

Los Blancos' 2-1 victory over Villarreal secured their first league title since 2016-17 as they brought great rivals Barcelona's grip on the trophy to a close.

Ramos was influential throughout the campaign, scoring five times in the previous 10 LaLiga games, to collect a fifth title-winners' medal.

The 34-year-old is out of contract at the end of next season and said he would like to finish his career with Madrid, though admitted it was dependent on what Perez wanted.

The club president is also keen for Ramos to end his playing days in the famous white shirt.

"Ramos will surely end his career at Madrid," Perez told Movistar.

"Although there is talk of that, it will not change, everyone is calm. He is more than a captain. He has led the team with enormous leadership."

Perez also hailed coach Zinedine Zidane for bringing the title back to the Spanish capital.

Zidane won LaLiga and three successive Champions Leagues in his first stint as boss and only returned in March last year after answering an SOS from Perez.

Though Madrid have not always been as thrilling to watch as in recent seasons, Perez knows the importance of the Frenchman.

"He has won a title every 19 games," he said.

"It is a blessing from heaven and that he is with us for a long time.

"They criticise him for what they want. We will continue to win titles."

Madrid have been relentless since the restart following the coronavirus-enforced break, winning all 10 of their matches, and Perez has been impressed by the team's consistency.

"We have trained well and we have had the mentality to return with the desire to win this title," he added.

"The strength we had has been seen by everyone. It will go down in Madrid's history."

Real Madrid are champions of Spain again, having sealed LaLiga glory by defeating Villarreal on Thursday.

GAME INFO

Madrid trailed Barcelona by two points when LaLiga was suspended in March amid the coronavirus pandemic, but a season-best 10-game winning run catapulted them to the title.

With the help of Opta, we take a look at the numbers behind Los Blancos' latest triumph.

 

THE BIG PICTURE

By claiming their 34th LaLiga title – the equivalent of a 38 per cent success rate in the competition's 89-year history – Madrid have won the league eight more times than any other team. Barcelona are the nearest contenders on 26, while Atletico Madrid, who sit third in the all-time list, have taken home the trophy 24 times fewer than their more illustrious neighbours. Madrid topping the table this term means that, although 63 different teams have featured in LaLiga, only nine have won the title.

COACHING HISTORY ON THE HORIZON

Zinedine Zidane has now led Madrid to 11 pieces of silverware across his two spells with the club – with three more he will equal Miguez Munoz as the most successful coach in their history. The Frenchman has joined Fabio Capello (1996-97 and 2006-07) and Luis Molowny (1977-78, 1978-79 and 1985-86) as the only Madrid bosses to win LaLiga titles in different stints at the helm.

CLASICO AND DERBI DOMINANCE

Madrid avoided defeat and kept a clean sheet in both their LaLiga games against Barca this season – the first time they have done so since the 1974-75 campaign under Milan Mijanic. They also went unbeaten against Atletico and claimed a pair of shutouts, making it the first LaLiga season in which they did not concede a goal in El Clasico or El Derbi.

STRENGTH AT THE BACK

A strong defence has underpinned Madrid's success and they are on course to set a club record for the fewest goals conceded in a 38-game LaLiga season – their previous best was 26 in 1987-88. They also need one more clean sheet to record 20 in a single top-flight campaign for the first time in their history. That would not be the only impressive achievement for Thibaut Courtois, who has tied Francisco Buyo (1977-78) for the most clean sheets by a Madrid goalkeeper in a season (18). The Belgian has saved each of the 26 shots on target from outside the area he has faced in LaLiga this term. Since at least 2003-04, no team has finished a season without conceding a goal from outside the box.

GOALS FROM EVERYWHERE

Madrid have used 26 players this term and 21 of those have scored – the most by a team in a single LaLiga season in the 21st century. Captain and centre-back Sergio Ramos has found the back of the net 10 times – six from the penalty spot – and if he scores again will set a record for the best tally by a defender in a campaign since the turn of the millennium. Karim Benzema has also upped his game since Zidane's return has topped 20 goals in back-to-back seasons for the first time.

Real Madrid cannot repeat their second-half performance in their 2-1 win over Granada if they want to clinch the title, according to Sergio Ramos. 

Zinedine Zidane's side raced into a two-goal lead on Monday, Ferland Mendy scoring his first goal for the club from a tight angle before Karim Benzema curled home a fine finish. 

Granada boss Diego Martinez tinkered with his tactics and Darwin Machis pulled one back for the hosts early in the second half. 

Antonin had a volley kept out by Thibaut Courtois and Ramon Azeez had a shot cleared off the line by Ramos in the closing stages, with Madrid clinging on for a result that puts them one win away from being crowned champions in Spain. 

Madrid can do that by defeating Villarreal at home on Thursday, but Ramos warned his team-mates they must improve. 

"We let our guard down a little bit in the second half when we saw it was 2-0," Ramos told Movistar. "Instead of going to kill the game and looking for the third, we relaxed. 

"These things cannot happen because anyone can beat you if you don't keep the intensity. We've got to concentrate for 90 minutes. We won the first half but lost the second – maybe that's something to reflect on for the future. 

"We let a goal in after a few games without doing so. It's a good victory for our spirits but it comes with a bad feeling after a bad second half. 

"Every team falls into this error sometimes, not only Real Madrid, but we have to make sure we don't repeat it. 

"It's inevitable, but we got the three points in the end. We've got to keep the same rhythm for 90 minutes. We can't let our guard down." 

Madrid were two points behind Barcelona when LaLiga was suspended amid the coronavirus pandemic, yet they are now four clear of their rivals with two games remaining.

"We can't relax. We're a bit closer. We've got to keep our desire to take the league. We're close but we'll carry on," said Ramos. 

"There are still points to play for and we depend on ourselves. The objective from the beginning after the break was to win every game and we are going to try. The team deserves a lot of merit for being up there and keeping these results going. 

"It would mean a lot to be champions. It's a reward for consistency of a whole year. Maybe we had a point of reflection during the break, that we had to come back and react. 

"We prepared very well, we all worked hard at home. Hopefully on Thursday we can celebrate it."

Athletic Bilbao captain Iker Muniain became the latest player to question refereeing decisions involving Real Madrid after Sergio Ramos scored a decisive penalty at San Mames.

Madrid were made to work hard for a 1-0 victory on Sunday - their seventh win in a row - as Zinedine Zidane's men moved seven points clear at the top of the LaLiga table.

But Athletic were unhappy with the award of the spot-kick from which Ramos clinched the points, with Dani Garcia's trip on Marcelo spotted only after a VAR review.

Muniain was particularly frustrated as there was then no similar call made at the other end of the pitch when Ramos appeared to step on Raul Garcia's foot off the ball.

He said: "Raul Garcia has been stamped on and they haven't even reviewed it. That's the difference.

"We've seen the theme in these weeks since the restart - depending on which teams it is, some decisions are given.

"Everyone can draw their own conclusions."

Barcelona stalwart Gerard Pique has previously suggested it would be difficult to stop Madrid winning the title because decisions too often go their way.

Those claims prompted Ramos to respond: "People shouldn't be imagining things!"

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