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."

Roberto Martinez remains "very positive" Eden Hazard will be fit and firing in time for Euro 2020 despite missing out on Belgium's latest squad.

And the Red Devils coach called on club side Real Madrid to join the national team in taking "responsibility" for Hazard's recovery.

The winger returned from a six-game absence in LaLiga to appear as a second-half substitute in Madrid's win against Elche last weekend.

However, Hazard had to miss training on Monday due to a damaged hip flexor and could not face Atalanta in the Champions League the following day.

Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane fumed at the repeated "inexplicable" issues that have restricted Hazard to just 36 appearances and 29 starts since his €100million transfer in June 2019.

Hazard has scored only four times for Los Blancos, providing five assists from 38 chances created.

But he remains a key man for Belgium, with five goals, seven assists and 34 chances created in eight European Championship qualifying outings and is set to captain the side at the finals, if he can recover in time.

Martinez is staying patient, revealing the player - in "good spirits" - will not undergo surgery and explaining: "I think there is still a long, long, long, long way to go [to the Euros].

"Rather than setting a timeline, all that matters is to measure every day and to see that Eden is on the right path to get back to full fitness.

"It would be wrong and it would be gambling, by anyone, to imagine if Eden will be fully fit or not.

"I feel this situation can be solved a lot earlier than the Euros, but only when Eden goes from day to day will we see the final answer.

"Knowing Eden, what we're dealing with is a player that has never been injured in his career. This is a real shock, something new. There is a lot of uncertainty around that.

"But in terms of the injury, I feel very positive that we can get to see the best Eden Hazard well before the Euros."

While Zidane had no explanation for Hazard's woes, Martinez added: "This is a situation with Eden Hazard. We're dealing with the same problem. There's been a lot of different niggles and different problems, but everything comes from the same previous problem.

"Now is the moment to forget about any deadlines, any times, it's about Eden Hazard, giving him what he needs and getting him fully recovered and making sure he's back on the football pitch.

"We all need to take that responsibility, between the Belgian federation and the club where he's playing his football."

While Hazard will play no part in Belgium's March World Cup qualifiers against Wales, Czech Republic and Belarus, Romelu Lukaku has been included, despite a coronavirus breakout at Inter.

There are also first senior nods for midfielders Albert Sambi Lokonga and Orel Mangala.


Belgium squad in full:

Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg), Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid), Thomas Kaminski (Blackburn Rovers), Simon Mignolet (Club Brugge); Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham), Dedryck Boyata (Hertha Berlin), Timothy Castagne (Leicester City), Jason Denayer (Lyon), Leander Dendoncker (Wolves), Thomas Foket (Reims), Brandon Mechele (Club Brugge), Thomas Meunier (Borussia Dortmund), Thomas Vermaelen (Vissel Kobe), Jan Vertonghen (Benfica); Yannick Carrasco (Atletico Madrid), Nacer Chadli (Istanbul Basaksehir), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Dortmund), Albert Sambi Lokonga (Anderlecht), Orel Mangala (Stuttgart), Dennis Praet (Leicester City), Alexis Saelemaekers (Milan), Youri Tielemans (Leicester City), Hans Vanaken (Club Brugge); Michy Batshuayi (Crystal Palace), Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace), Charles De Ketelaere (Club Brugge), Jeremy Doku (Rennes), Adnan Januzaj (Real Sociedad), Romelu Lukaku (Inter), Dries Mertens (Napoli), Leandro Trossard (Brighton and Hove Albion), Yari Verschaeren (Anderlecht).

Zinedine Zidane has described the latest injury to Eden Hazard as "inexplicable" as frustrations build over the Real Madrid star's fitness.

The Belgium international returned from a six-game absence in LaLiga as a second-half substitute in Madrid's 2-1 win over Elche on Saturday.

It had been hoped the 30-year-old would be ready for more game time on Tuesday, when Madrid host Atalanta in the Champions League last-16 second leg.

However, Hazard had to miss training on Monday due to a damaged hip flexor, and head coach Zidane confirmed he would not be in the squad for the visit of the Serie A side.

"He's not going to be fit. We're going to put something out shortly [on the injury]; I can't say any more," Zidane said.

"Something is going on. These are things I can't explain. I want to be positive and think it's going to be something small.

"They [the fans] have to wait. We know what sort of player he is. They want to see him, of course, just like everyone else here. But now, they can't."

Hazard has played just 14 times this season as injuries continue to blight his time in the Spanish capital.

The €100million signing from Chelsea has only started 29 matches in all competitions since joining two years ago and has not completed 90 minutes in a single game since November 2019.

"There are four questions on Hazard – I can't say any more," Zidane replied when pressed about the player's problems.

"We want to help him. I don't know if it will be with me or someone else, because he has a long contract, but I want with all my strength for him to be seen as the player he is. Sooner or later, he'll arrive."

Hazard is one of a number of fitness concerns Madrid have had this term but Zidane refused to pin any blame on the club's medical department.

"I don't think there's a problem [with the department]. We have very competent people here who are on top of the players," he said.

"We're going to find out what is happening, but at the moment, it's inexplicable. We've talked about pre-season, the accumulation of matches, also in the head.

"We're going to try to recover [the injured players]. Now, we have fewer injuries. Enough of them have returned."

Striker Karim Benzema, meanwhile, was left saddened by Hazard's latest setback, saying: "He hasn't had much luck since he came here.

"I'm sad because he's a top player. He's sad because he wants to show that he's a world star. We need him."

Sergio Ramos and Eden Hazard have been named in Real Madrid's 20-man squad to face Elche.

Club captain Ramos, who is out of contract at the end of the season, has not played since suffering meniscus damage in January.

Hazard has endured an injury-plagued existence since joining Madrid from Chelsea for €100million before the start of last season, with a problem in his left thigh serving as the Belgium attacker's latest setback.

Asked at a pre-match media conference whether each man was ready to play a part against Elche, Zidane replied: "Yes, of course. And we are very happy. Our idea is that they have minutes."

And both are in the 20-strong party, with conjecture ongoing over whether Ramos will extend his deal in the Spanish capital.

Hazard is under contract until 2024, giving him plenty of time to turn around an underwhelming stint to date.

Zidane has every confidence the 30-year-old will do so.

"I see him 100 per cent physically and emotionally well," said the Frenchman. "He has overcome the injuries and discomfort he may have had.

"I see him well, he will be with us and I hope he can play."

The Madrid boss dismissed concerns that the catalogue of injuries suffered by Hazard could have a similarly debilitating impact as Gareth Bale's woes had over recent seasons.

"Eden has had his discomfort, it's true. He had never had a long injury before coming to Madrid," he added.

"Now here he had a lot of discomfort. But he has a long player and when he gets well, Damn, he is going to have an impressive performance.

"I speak to the fans: when a player is not at 100 per cent it is complicated, but he is going to do very well here "

Zinedine Zidane insists Atletico Madrid can be caught at the top of the table, with the Real Madrid coach adamant the title is not out of reach for Los Blancos nor Barcelona.

Atletico lead the way in Spain's top flight and until recently looked to be running away with it, but their position has become a little less commanding after dropping points in three of their previous five league games.

A win at Villarreal on Sunday will put Atletico five points clear of Barca once again while still having a game in hand – Madrid, one point further back, will have also played one match more than their local rivals after Monday's visit of fifth-placed Real Sociedad.

Zidane is also seemingly not ruling out Sevilla despite the fact Julen Lopetegui's side lost 2-0 at home to Barca on Saturday, meaning they could end the weekend 10 points adrift of the summit.

While some are framing Atletico's position at the top as the most pressured, Zidane prefers to see it as Diego Simeone's men having an advantage, as the two Madrid giants prepare to tussle next weekend.

"Now the league [title race] is three, tomorrow it will be two and then four again," Zidane told reporters on Sunday." Everyone has their opinion.

"LaLiga is open to all and whoever is ahead has the advantage, but there are many points left and we are going to continue with our business.

"We do our thing. What's going to happen tonight, I don't know, and we don't even have to watch it – I will watch it as a fan.

"There are 42 points at stake and it is our objective is to add the maximum possible points."

Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard returning from injury would surely improve Madrid's fortunes, with the Frenchman last playing on February 14 and the former Chelsea star a month into his layoff with a thigh issue.

While both are getting closer to a return, Zidane still does not have a return date for either.

"Benzema and Hazard are better, but they are not ready," he said. "I cannot give a date, they will recover later than those who have already returned. I can't give an exact date."

Sergio Ramos is another player Madrid have had to cope without recently, with the captain absent since mid-January with a knee injury – not that it has stopped the centre-back dominating many of Zidane's news conferences since.

Ramos' contract is up at the end of the season and it remains to be seen if he will agree to an extension, which, to Zidane's frustration, is becoming a regular topic.

"You always ask me the same thing – he's an impressive man. I want him to get fit, but apart from that, nothing else. Tomorrow we have a game," Zidane said.

Lionel Messi is reportedly open to staying at Barcelona, but the LaLiga giants have work to do.

Messi, 33, stayed at Barca after sensationally requesting to leave ahead of this season.

But the six-time Ballon d'Or winner is out of contract at the end of the campaign, leading to more talk over his future.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI OPEN TO BARCELONA STAY

Messi is open to staying at Barcelona and is prioritising the sporting project over the economic offer, according to Marca.

The report says Barca strengthening their squad could convince Messi, who has been linked to Manchester City.

Signing City forward Sergio Aguero, Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland, Chelsea's N'Golo Kante or Liverpool's Roberto Firmino would help Barca's position in their bid to re-sign the superstar.

ROUND-UP

- With Real Madrid linked with a move for Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, such a deal could lead to questions over Eden Hazard. AS reports Mbappe joining Madrid could lead to an exit for Hazard, who has struggled with injuries since joining the LaLiga giants.

- Staying at Real Madrid and there is uncertainty over Raphael Varane's future. AS reports Madrid are prepared to listen to offers for Varane ahead of next season if they cannot agree to a new deal with the defender, who is out of contract in 2022. Manchester United have been linked with Varane, who is valued at £60.7million (€70m).

- Harry Kane has again starred for Tottenham this season. The Telegraph reports the forward, who is contracted until 2024, is set to stay at Spurs for at least another campaign.

- Amid suggestions Sevilla defender Jules Kounde is too expensive, Manchester United could look elsewhere. Eurosport reports Villarreal's Pau Torres may be a more realistic target due to his reported release clause of around £43m (€49.6m).

- Alexandre Lacazette seems set for an Arsenal exit. The Mirror reports Monaco are targeting the forward ahead of next season.

Real Madrid star Eden Hazard said he wants to keep playing for at least another five of six years as the upbeat attacker insisted injuries are "not the end of the world" amid fitness issues at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Hazard swapped Chelsea for Madrid in a reported €100million deal in 2019 but his time in the Spanish capital has been plagued by injuries.

The 30-year-old, who is set to miss "two or three weeks" due to a damaged rectus femoris muscle in his left leg, has only started 20 games in LaLiga – six of those coming this season, and scored just three goals.

Hazard has failed to complete a full 90 minutes in any match for Madrid in 2020-21 across all competitions, but the Belgium international remains positive.

"I'm just hoping to play football for as long as possible, and I always try to enjoy myself on the pitch," he told On The Front Foot.

"When it comes to the end of my career I can look back at my achievements, but my priority now is playing well and enjoying my football. 

"I don't think about where I will be in the next few years, I try to focus on the next match and the next training session.

"I've only just turned 30 so as long as my body feels good, hopefully I can keep playing for at least another five or six years."

"I'm lucky that when I'm injured and stuck at home, I have my family to get me through," Hazard added.

"It's not the end of the world for me because I can spend time with my kids, when you're alone and injured it can be tough but I'm lucky that I have my family to support me.

"When you're injured there's only so much you can do, you can work to get better faster but the injuries I have had just take time to heal. I just have to wait, work hard to get better and when I'm at home I can enjoy the time with my family."

Juventus are not targeting Eden Hazard, while Sergio Ramos looks set to wait for a new Real Madrid deal.

Hazard's future has become a talking point amid his struggles at Madrid since arriving from Chelsea in 2019.

But just where the playmaker could end up remains to be seen.

 

TOP STORY – JUVENTUS NOT INTERESTED IN HAZARD

Juventus are not interested in Real Madrid playmaker Eden Hazard for now, according to CalcioMercato.

Hazard has made just 24 LaLiga appearances for Madrid since arriving ahead of 2019-20 after battling numerous injuries.

Madrid reportedly paid €100million for the Belgium international.

 

ROUND-UP

- Sergio Ramos' future at Madrid is also uncertain. The defender is out of contract at the end of the season and is reportedly set to miss another two months after undergoing knee surgery. Marca says Ramos will still be without a contract by the time he returns, most likely in April.

- Changes are also expected at Barcelona at season's end. CalcioMercato reports Milan are interested in midfielder Philippe Coutinho, who has struggled to live up to expectations with the LaLiga giants.

- Barcelona and Arsenal are interested in bringing in Marc Overmars as sports director, according to Mundo Deportivo, with the former Netherlands international set to leave his role as Ajax director of football at season's end.

- After several impressive displays for Leicester City, the Premier League club are rushing to renew Youri Tielemans' contract, which runs until 2023, according to TodoFichajes.

Eden Hazard should recover from his latest injury setback in "two or three weeks", according to Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane.

A damaged rectus femoris muscle in his left leg initially led to concerns that Hazard could be sidelined for up to six weeks, making him a doubt for both legs of the Champions League last-16 tie with Atalanta.

However, the Belgium international should recover in half that time, meaning he could have a chance of featuring in the first leg against Atalanta in Bergamo on February 24.

Hazard has already had two spells out with muscular issues this season, while he also missed time after a positive coronavirus test.

"The best Hazard is exactly what we want, we want to see a fully fit Hazard – we look at how tough it's been for the football player, [who] wants to prove how good he is and wants to play for Real Madrid," said Zidane ahead of Saturday's LaLiga meeting with Huesca.

"It's not an easy time for the footballer. I'm sure it's a matter of time before we see him back playing and hopefully he won't pick up another injury.

"Hopefully, when he recovers, we see the best Hazard, maybe in two or three weeks when he recovers.

"I think it's a bit of bad luck. It's not been easy on the player. We have to maintain a positive attitude. He's a great player, we need him back 100 per cent."

He added: "Do you think he's happy with what's going on? Well, no. He's doing what he can to be in good shape, but you know in the life of a player you can be injured.

"We'll have to look at maybe changing something and improve this situation. He's the first player who wants to be fine, of course."

Madrid have been without captain Sergio Ramos for the past three games due to a knee injury and they will have to become accustomed to his absence if he does not extend his contract beyond this season.

Ramos has been linked with a move to Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United, and Zidane reiterated his hope that Madrid could reach an agreement with the 34-year-old.

"I don't know anything. I don't think anyone really knows what the current situation is," said Zidane.

"Hopefully it's something that gets sorted out and that Sergio can continue being a part of the club, and a captain."

Martin Odegaard was allowed to leave during the latest transfer window, with the Norway international joining Arsenal on loan for the rest of the campaign.

Zidane was reluctant to let Odegaard go but sanctioned the switch at the player's insistence.

"The footballer wanted minutes, wanted to leave the club. We had two or three conversations," said the Madrid boss.

"He's a footballer who wanted to try elsewhere. It was the player who requested this move, I was of course in the know.

"I thought maybe the player could have stayed here, fought for a place in the first team. I wanted him to come back to the club because he's a talented player.

"I think the player wanted to go out on loan, get more minutes. The important thing is he's happy, we're happy too. It's good for both parties."

Is Erling Haaland's future becoming clearer?

Haaland's exploits for Borussia Dortmund have attracted interest from far and wide.

But Manchester City appear to be the frontrunners for his signature…

 

TOP STORY – CITY LINING UP BIG HAALAND BID

Manchester City are confident of landing Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland in a £100million (€114m) deal, according to the front page of Friday's Mirror.

Haaland is one of the most sought-after players in Europe, having been linked with the likes of Real Madrid, Liverpool, Barcelona, Manchester United and Juventus.

But City believe winning this season's Premier League will help them sign Haaland at the end of the campaign.

 

ROUND-UP

- Goal claims Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi will wait until season's end before deciding his future. Messi has been linked with Paris Saint-Germain and City on a free transfer.

Sergio Aguero is tempted by a move to Barca if Messi remains at Camp Nou, reports Cadena Ser. Like Messi, City forward Aguero is out of contract at the end of the 2020-21.

- Defensa Central says Chelsea are interested in re-signing Eden Hazard, but at a huge discount. Hazard has struggled for form and fitness since leaving Chelsea for Madrid in a big-money move in 2019.

Milan will miss out on signing Ajax teenager Brian Brobbey as he is set to join RB Leipzig, according to Calciomercato and widespread reports in Italy. But Milan are close to signing Marseille's soon-to-be free agent Florian Thauvin.

- Calciomercato claims Madrid have put veteran full-back Marcelo up for sale amid links to Juventus.

Real Madrid have confirmed Eden Hazard has sustained yet another muscle injury.

The Belgium star has damaged a rectus femoris muscle in his left leg, having reportedly failed to complete training on Wednesday.

It was hoped the problem was simply muscle fatigue, but tests have shown the former Chelsea forward has a more serious injury.

According to reports in Spain, Hazard could be out for up to six weeks, which would rule him out of the first leg of the Champions League last-16 tie with Atalanta on February 24 and perhaps make him a doubt for the return fixture on March 16.

It is the latest in a succession of injuries that have blighted Hazard's time in Madrid since his €100million move from Chelsea in 2019.

The 30-year-old was out for nearly a month at the end of September and again from late November due to muscle issues. He was also unavailable for two weeks between the injuries due to a positive coronavirus test.

Hazard has only started 20 times in LaLiga, six of those coming this season, and scored just three goals. He has failed to complete a full 90 minutes in any match this season across all competitions.

Madrid, who are third in LaLiga and 10 points behind leaders Atletico Madrid after playing a game more, face Huesca away on Saturday.

Real Madrid assistant coach David Bettoni urged patience with Eden Hazard after the playmaker showed signs of his best in a win over Deportivo Alaves.

Hazard has struggled to find his best form since arriving at Madrid from Chelsea in 2019, but he scored once and set up another in Saturday's 4-1 LaLiga victory.

The 30-year-old scored and assisted in a single game for Madrid for just the second time and first since October 2019 before coming off just after the hour-mark.

Bettoni, who took charge for the game after Zinedine Zidane tested positive for coronavirus, said Hazard needed time.

"I think Eden has had a tough season and a half with Real Madrid," he told a news conference.

"We have to be patient with him, although obviously in football and especially at Real Madrid, we don't really have time to be that patient but with Eden I think we have to be.

"He had a very good game, scoring a goal and getting an assist and I think we'll see the best of him eventually. We saw a little bit of that today."

Casemiro and Karim Benzema scored before Hazard's strike, only for Joselu to pull a goal back for Alaves.

But Benzema sealed Madrid's win after Hazard came off, the Frenchman reaching at least 15 goals in all competitions for the 10th time in the past 11 seasons with the LaLiga giants.

Bettoni explained his decision to introduce Vinicius Junior in place of Hazard was a tactical choice.

"It was a change because we wanted to bring on Vinicius to give us a bit more pace," he said.

"I think Hazard had a very good hour on the pitch and it was basically just to change things, to add a bit more pace to the front three and nothing more than that."

Madrid are second in LaLiga, four points behind Atletico Madrid, who have played two fewer games.

Karim Benzema has urged Eden Hazard to "make another story" at Real Madrid, after the Belgium star impressed against Deportivo Alaves on Saturday. 

Hazard scored himself and also set up the first of two Benzema goals as Madrid eased to a 4-1 win over LaLiga strugglers Alaves, relieving some of the pressure on Zinedine Zidane, who was absent from the touchline after testing positive for COVID-19. 

Madrid had lost their previous two matches, against Athletic Bilbao in the Supercopa de Espana before going down to minnows Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey in midweek. 

Casemiro opened the scoring before Benzema struck either side of Hazard's third goal of the season in all competitions. 

Hazard, signed from Chelsea in 2019, has struggled for form amid an injury hit spell at Madrid, but he seemed close to his best against Alaves. 

The 30-year-old both scored and assisted in a league game for just the second time in a Madrid shirt, while only Benzema (four) managed more attempts than Hazard's two.

With Hazard showing signs of a resurgence, Benzema, who has scored 10 league goals this season, wants his team-mate to go on and make his name in the Spanish capital.

"You always notice the depth in this team, I always want to help my team-mates," Benzema told Movistar. 

"Hazard I think he was a great player at Chelsea and now he has to make another story at Madrid. He is well, much better. He works hard and has played a good game. We need the best Hazard." 

Madrid's victory closed the gap, temporarily at least, on LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid, who host Valencia on Sunday.

Los Blancos are four points shy of their city rivals but six clear of Barcelona, who are also in action on Sunday. 

"It was a good game, very good for confidence, we know that each game is very difficult, each rival makes it difficult for us," said Benzema, who has now been involved in 10 goals in eight appearances against Alaves in LaLiga. 

"Today everything came out, we all wanted to play, it was a very good game for us. That is worked every day, the goals, the crosses, the passes. We are on the right track after a hard week for us. We always want to win."

Real Madrid returned to winning ways in style as Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard helped the defending champions to a 4-1 rout over Deportivo Alaves in LaLiga. 

Madrid were in desperate need of a victory after a Supercopa de Espana reverse to Athletic Bilbao and a shock Copa del Rey defeat to lower-tier Alcoyano piled the pressure on Zinedine Zidane, who was absent on Saturday after testing positive for coronavirus. 

Atletico Madrid's late victory at Eibar on Thursday had moved them seven points clear in the title race, though Los Blancos never looked in danger of failing to win on the road in LaLiga for a third successive game, Benzema and Hazard putting them in control after Casemiro's opener. 

Joselu's fifth league goal against Madrid gave Alaves hope, but Benzema's second meant the visitors had little trouble seeing out just their second win in 2021. 

Benzema seemed set to open the scoring when he latched onto Luka Modric's lofted pass, only to be denied first by Fernando Pacheco and then a deflection onto the right-hand upright. 

Madrid made the resulting corner count, though, with Casemiro rising high to head home from Toni Kroos' outswinger.

Madrid’s second goal should have followed in the 22nd minute, yet Ferland Mendy failed to tee up Benzema for a simple finish. 

Benzema had his goal 19 minutes later, sensationally picking out the top of the net with a wonderful, dipping effort from just inside the penalty box. 

Having curled wide earlier on, Hazard made it three on the stroke of half-time with a delicate finish over the onrushing Pacheco. 

Madrid are Joselu's favourite LaLiga opponent and the forward netted again when facing the capital club, this time sending a brilliant header beyond Thibaut Courtois. 

Alaves' comeback hopes were quashed with 20 minutes remaining, however, when Benzema cut in from the left to thump home and settle the contest.

Frank Lampard stated Chelsea do not have players to compare to the calibre and experience of Eden Hazard and Diego Costa as he again sought to temper expectations around his youthful stars.

A 1-0 win over 10-man Fulham last weekend was the Blues' first three-point haul since before Christmas and they are seventh in a Premier League table they briefly topped early in December.

Throughout the subsequent slump, when critics have highlighted a moderate return on considerable transfer investment, Lampard has pointed to the fact the likes of Kai Havertz, Timo Werner - the Germany duo who have underwhelmed since arriving for a combined cost in the region of £125million - and a host of other youngsters still have their best years ahead of them.

For now, though, he feels the elite winners from his own playing days at Stamford Bridge are something Chelsea lack and must work towards

"When you look at the Premier League going forward, around us, when people were sort of lauding us to be title challengers and stuff like that, we do have a squad when you look at the composition of it that is very young, particularly in the forward areas," he told reporters ahead of Tuesday's match against third-placed Leicester City.

"We don't have that history of players: goal machines or assist machines or those things that win you games. With our team, it's potential.

"The club hasn't got an Eden Hazard contributing 50 per cent of goals and assists, it hasn't got a Costa scoring 30 goals.

"We're trying to develop those players and I believe in them strongly, but at the moment we're not quite there, where other teams around us possibly are at the front end of the pitch.

"I think for us, and I should just focus on us, there could be tough times. That's why it's important for me, and I've said this to the players, to keep working, but also to be patient and stay calm around that."

Another figure from the club's past, Brendan Rodgers, will be in the opposite dugout to Lampard at the King Power Stadium.

Leicester manager Rodgers was appointed to Chelsea's academy staff during Jose Mourinho's first spell in charge, although he infamously said he did not wish to "destroy" his career when touted as a possible replacement for Andre Villas Boas in 2012 while at Swansea City.

"I don't know, that's a difficult one, I've got to be careful with this one," Lampard replied when asked whether the Chelsea he leads is a more "nurturing" environment than the one Rodgers experienced.

"I don't want to speak for Brendan when he said that. I suppose at that time, there was a turnaround of managers. I was a player here, so I get that.

"Whether he would give the exact same answer tomorrow after the game, maybe not. For me, all I can do is tackle the job that's in front of me and at the moment we, as Chelsea, are not the Chelsea of when Brendan made those quotes.

"I'm presuming they were made at the time of Chelsea having [Didier] Drogba, [Petr] Cech, [John] Terry, I'm not going to name myself, [Claude] Makelele, whoever, and it would have been a team that was always challenging and the benchmark was different.

"At the moment, we're not a team that has Costa, [Cesc] Fabregas, Hazard, any of the era that came slightly after that.

"We're a team relying on players at the front end of the pitch [who] are clearly new to the Premier League, young to the Premier League."

Lampard was keen to highlight his pitch was not one for sympathy.

He added: "We've seen a couple of big clubs and big managers be questioned within one or two or three weeks, a couple of results this year.

"That's the modern world; I'm not crying about this because it's the Premier League, we all have different expectations, [and] if we're seen to not be getting to them, the pressure comes. That's why we're in this job."

Page 4 of 5
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.