Eduardo Camavinga backed Kylian Mbappe to deal with the added pressure after Karim Benzema was ruled out of the World Cup for France.

Didier Deschamps' side start their title defence in Qatar against Australia in Tuesday's Group D clash, but Les Bleus will do so without two key attacking figures.

Christopher Nkunku tore the lateral collateral ligament in his left knee after Tuesday's collision with Camavinga in training, before a thigh issue on Saturday for Benzema ruled the talisman out of the tournament.

France, who were already without Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante, still have a plethora of attacking options with Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Olivier Giroud and Ousmane Dembele the likely starting contenders.

Real Madrid midfielder Camavinga believes Mbappe will step up in the absence of Benzema, given the 23-year-old is already used to dealing with pressure for both France and Paris Saint-Germain.

"Kylian can do it. He is used to having everything on his back. He's used to receiving this pressure," Camavinga said. 

"I'm not worried about him. On a day-to-day basis, he seems at ease, and calm."

The attacking burden may fall upon the shoulders of Mbappe, who has scored the most goals (43) in Europe's top five leagues in 2022), but Camavinga does not expect France to lower their expectations.

"No, not necessarily, we also have a lot of big players in the squad. There are other leaders in the squad too," he added. "We're not going to lower our objectives. Of course, it's a hard blow.

"But we're not going to rest on that. We're going to continue to fight with the big squad that we have."

France centre-back Ibrahima Konate echoed team-mate Camavinga's sentiment as he urged Les Bleus to battle through injury issues in the Middle East.

"It hurts us. It's a hard blow for the French team but our objective doesn't change, it's always the same," the Liverpool defender said. 

"That's part of football. We have to deal with it and move on, not look back. We have a match coming up very quickly. If we start looking at these things, it could be complicated."

The French Football Federation (FFF) has condemned racist messages directed towards Eduardo Camavinga on social media after Christopher Nkunku was injured ahead of the World Cup.

Nkunku was ruled out of the tournament in Qatar after suffering a knee sprain in training on Tuesday and is reportedly facing up to eight weeks on the sidelines.

Video footage circulated on social media purporting to show Nkunku sustaining the injury in a challenge with Camavinga, which led to the Real Madrid midfielder receiving discriminatory messages.

A statement released by the FFF on Thursday read: "Following Christopher Nkunku's injury, Eduardo Camavinga was the victim of racist messages on social media.

"The FFF condemns these attacks in the strongest possible terms and is in full support of Eduardo."

Nkunku also defended Camavinga when addressing his social media followers on Wednesday, saying the 20-year-old had been "unfairly targeted" and calling for unity from supporters.

"Yesterday evening, following the medical examinations, I had to leave Les Bleus and forfeit the World Cup," Nkunku wrote on Twitter.

"Now, let's get to work with one and only objective, to come back even stronger.

"A thought for my team-mate Eduardo Camavinga, who was unfairly targeted. The World Cup must be a moment of togetherness and not of division."

France begin their Group D campaign against Australia on Tuesday, having suffered several injury blows ahead of their bid to become the first team to successfully defend the World Cup since Brazil in 1962.

Midfield duo Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante will both join Nkunku in missing the tournament, as will Paris Saint-Germain defender Presnel Kimpembe, who withdrew from their squad on Monday.

Karim Benzema is "doing so much better" as he battles to be 100 per cent fit for France's World Cup campaign, according to his Real Madrid team-mate Eduardo Camavinga.

Benzema won his first Ballon d'Or last month after leading Real Madrid to glory in LaLiga and the Champions League in the 2021-22 season, but has endured an injury-hit campaign to date.

The striker has started 11 games in all competitions this season, scoring six goals, but he spent time on the sidelines with a knee injury before missing further fixtures after suffering from muscular fatigue in his left quadriceps.

However, with less than a week remaining until France begin their Group D campaign against Australia, Camavinga is enthused by his team-mate's recovery.

"He's getting better. He's doing so much better," Camavinga told RMC Sport. "I have a very good relationship with him, he helps me a lot at Real Madrid. 

"He is a very great player who deserves what is happening to him. I hope he will be ready for the World Cup.

"Sometimes in a match he comes to see me and tells me, 'If I have the ball you are going to do this run or this run', so he gives me advice at the right moment. 

"He also tells me when to stay in position. He is very good at communicating, he is a leader."

France are looking to become the first nation to retain the World Cup since Brazil in 1962, but Didier Deschamps' team have been beset by bad luck on the injury front, with N'Golo Kante and Paul Pogba missing the tournament.

With those two veterans of the 2018 World Cup win absent, Camavinga could partner Madrid team-mate Aurelien Tchouameni in a new-look France midfield, but he has no reservations over their lack of experience. 

"Critics are part of life. We don't have the same experience, but we are keen to show what we are worth," Camavinga added.

"With our enthusiasm and the experience of the elders, it can make a good mix."

Meanwhile, Deschamps has called up Eintracht Frankfurt forward Randal Kolo Muani after Christopher Nkunku suffered an injury on Tuesday.

Nkunku was ruled out of the World Cup after limping out of training with a leg injury, but his absence has given Muani – the scorer of eight goals for Eintracht this term – the opportunity to feature at his first major tournament.

Barcelona teenager Gavi won the prestigious Kopa Trophy at the Ballon d'Or ceremony in Paris on Monday.

The 18-year-old midfielder became the second successive Barca player to land the award, given to the best player in the world under the age of 21, after fellow midfielder Pedri had the honour last year.

Gavi has been a revelation since breaking into the Catalan giants' first team and has been rewarded for a brilliant breakthrough 2021-22 season.

The youngster's performances also earned him a Spain call-up and he is set to play in his first World Cup in Qatar.

Real Madrid midfielder Eduardo Camavinga was the runner-up, with Bayern Munich's Jamal Musiala third ahead of Borussia Dortmund's Jude Bellingham and Nuno Mendes of Paris Saint-Germain.

Gavi said: "I try and give the best of myself the whole time and try to apply myself in the best way."

He made 34 LaLiga appearances last season, scoring twice and providing six assists as he pulled the strings in the middle of the park.

Luka Modric believes Real Madrid are well-equipped to thrive in the aftermath of Casemiro's move to Manchester United, as he praised Los Blancos' midfield options.

Casemiro left Madrid to join United in a £60million (€70m) move last month, but his departure has not stopped Carlo Ancelotti's men from making a strong start to the new season.

Ahead of Sunday's home clash with Mallorca, Madrid have won all four of their games in LaLiga and began their Champions League defence with a 3-0 thrashing of Celtic on Tuesday.

Madrid are the only team with a 100 per cent record in the top five European leagues this season, and are now bidding to win their opening five league matches for just the second time in the 21st century, having also done so in 2009-10.

The likes of Aurelien Tchouameni, Eduardo Camavinga and Federico Valverde have stepped up in Casemiro's absence. 

Of Madrid's midfielders, new signing Tchouameni leads the way for minutes played in LaLiga this season (328), followed by Valverde (265), Modric (260) and Camavinga (222). All four have made more starts than the two managed by Toni Kroos, who has played 173 minutes.

Modric believes the strength of Madrid's options means Casemiro will not be missed, telling the club's website: "We've started really well this year and we have a strong team. 

"In midfield, we lost an important player in Casemiro, but we've got a lot of other good players to replace him and do a good job. 

"Tchouameni has adapted really well. This is Camavinga's second year and he had a great first year.

"Kroos has been here for a long time. Valverde is also doing really well in any position. [Dani] Ceballos is helping the team a lot, so we're well-equipped in this position."

Meanwhile, Eden Hazard capped Madrid's trip to Celtic by finishing off a 33-pass move for their third goal. Since Opta data began in 2003-04, that is the longest uninterrupted build-up to any of Madrid's 434 goals in the competition.

But speaking on Saturday, Ancelotti insisted the Belgium forward's strike was not representative of a change in Madrid's style of play.

"Madrid deserves the credit it gets but scoring a goal from a 33-pass play doesn't mean that's our whole identity," the Madrid boss said.

"The game was almost over and we wanted to finish it out with a long spell of possession, but the stats say it's easier to score in under 10 passes. The numbers show very few goals come from over 10 passes.

"You could say that playing a possession-based game has been fashionable and has seen success in recent years, but football is changing and it's more direct.

"Possession football is less popular than it has been recently in every country."

Casemiro said the qualities of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric made it "easy" to star in Real Madrid's midfield ahead of his move to Manchester United, as he backed Los Blancos to replace him from within.

The Brazil international is joining United in a deal reportedly worth an initial £60million (€70m), having won an incredible 18 trophies during a nine-year spell with Madrid. 

Casemiro lifted the Champions League on five occasions during his time in the Spanish capital, and produced a masterful performance as Carlo Ancelotti's team clinched their 14th European crown against Liverpool in May.

Modric, Kroos and Casemiro have been key throughout one of the most successful spells in Madrid's history, starting together in four Champions League finals (in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2022), and the 30-year-old admits he will miss the duo.

"All the titles that you win, all the training sessions, the games you play, they make you happy, just realising you are a Real Madrid player," Casemiro said at a news conference on Monday.

"This era, winning five Champions League titles, is a once in a lifetime experience and very special to me, something I'll never forget. 

"Speaking about Kroos and Modric, they're my great friends, and apart from on the pitch I also think about them as two fantastic people and the great friends they've been to me. 

"It's very easy to play alongside them, I don't have much work to do, I will give them all the credit for all the work they have done. Of course, I will miss them a lot.

"It was difficult to talk to them, like it was in my conversation with the president. Toni sent me a message at 4am, asking me if all the rumours were true. 

"I'm really loyal to all of my team-mates, not just these two team-mates, but I have to be sincere with myself. If my time here is over, I have to take a step forward. I'm going to a great club, the biggest in the UK. 

"I will always be a fan, celebrate Real Madrid's goals and titles, which they will continue to win, no doubt about it. Real Madrid players are the best in the world and it's the best club in the world – it will always be like that for me."

With Kroos absent through illness, Madrid fielded a new-look midfield as they made it two wins from two outings in LaLiga by thrashing Celta Vigo 4-1 on Saturday, with Eduardo Camavinga and recent arrival Aurelien Tchouameni joining Modric in the starting line-up.

And Casemiro believes the presence of the two young French talents means Madrid may not need to replace him, adding: "Real Madrid is a club that always signs the best players in the world.

"Aurelien could also do the job, he's the kind of player that Madrid can rely on for many years to come. Toni and Modric will play at this high level but he can be a great asset as well.

"Camavinga already showed us how important he can be as well. Tchouameni is also a player that is very important, in the French national team as well.

"Real Madrid find themselves in a great place right now, they have great players and will continue to win important titles, that's what this club is about."

Aurelien Tchouameni and Eduardo Camavinga failed to show the quality they have done in training during Real Madrid's 2-1 win at Almeria on Sunday, according to boss Carlo Ancelotti.

Madrid fell behind to Largie Ramazani's early strike at the Power Horse Stadium in their opening LaLiga game of the season, but they drew level thanks to Lucas Vazquez's goal in the 61st minute.

They then sealed all three points with 15 minutes remaining when substitute David Alaba curled a sumptuous free-kick past Fernando Martinez from 25 yards with his first touch.

Tchouameni, who joined from Monaco in June for a fee that could rise to €100m, and Camavinga started alongside Toni Kroos in midfield, but both struggled to make an impact.

Camavinga was replaced by Luka Modric at half-time, while Tchouameni did not last an hour before he was substituted for Eden Hazard.

Neither player made more than a single key pass – well short of the team-high four that was achieved by three other players – with Ancelotti suggesting the pressure of playing for such a prestigious club affected the pair.

"For me, [Antonio] Rudiger played a good game," he told Movistar.

"The youngsters didn't play like they usually do. For what they do in training they deserve to play. They haven't done anything wrong, but they can do better.

"They are young and the shirt is heavy. It is a toll we pay, but we pay it with pleasure.

"I removed Camavinga because he had a card and could be a danger in a team that played on the break.

"It was normal to suffer, because we've complicated the game with a defensive error. From then on it has cost us a lot."

Hazard has endured a torrid time with injuries since he joined from Chelsea in July 2019, but the Belgium international is hoping to play an important role this season. 

Ancelotti is not sure where his best position will be, given Vinicius Junior's continued brilliance on the left of the front three, but the Italian expects him to feature regularly. 

Asked where his best position is, Ancelotti said: "I don't know, I have to think about it. Hazard is a midfielder. We have to bear in mind that Vini really likes the wing.

"Today he tried to find a lot of the right central defender, where the spaces were very small. Hazard when he came on was good, he's training well and I think he's going to have minutes this season."

Eduardo Camavinga hopes to see French compatriot Aurelien Tchouameni join him at Real Madrid after his own impressive debut campaign in the Spanish capital.

Camavinga adapted very quickly after signing from Rennes at the beginning of the season, playing an important role in midfield as Los Blancos claimed LaLiga, the Supercopa de Espana and the Champions League.

Meanwhile, Tchouameni continues to be linked with a move away from Monaco, and Madrid are reportedly among the prime suitors.

In an interview with L'Equipe, Camavinga threw his weight behind a similar move from Ligue 1 to the Santiago Bernabeu for the 22-year-old.

"He's fun, that's for sure," Camavinga said. "He's a player I already know from the national team. I hope he comes to Madrid.

"I don't know exactly what the situation is, but I've already spoken to him. We'll see what happens in the next few days."

Despite a notable first season in Madrid, Camavinga has not appeared for France since October 2020, coming off the bench in their 2-1 win over Croatia in Zagreb.

Playing with Les Bleus in this international window while another rematch of the 2018 World Cup final beckons for the senior team in the Nations League, the 19-year-old admits he is still yet to fully comprehend his Champions League triumph.

However, he still harbours the ambition to be called upon by Didier Deschamps when the World Cup eventually comes in November.

"I'm still in a dream," he said. "I already had the opportunity to go to Cibeles to celebrate LaLiga and I came back for the Champions League. You experience huge emotions, but then you have to know how to make sense of things and get back to work.

"I had a few days to enjoy myself, but now I have to concentrate on the national team. Although I still have the Champions League on my mind.

"It's my club performances that will determine whether I'm selected or not. I'll go back to the club and try to play as much as possible. Then whatever happens will happen."

Eduardo Camavinga described Real Madrid's Champions League final triumph as a "dream come true" as he reflected on a glorious first season at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Camavinga came on as an 85th-minute substitute at the Stade de France as Madrid claimed their 14th European crown courtesy of Vinicius Junior's goal, meaning the French midfielder ends his first campaign in Spain with LaLiga and Champions League winner's medals.

Despite finding himself behind experienced midfield trio Casemiro, Luka Modric, and Toni Kroos in the pecking order, Camavinga has made 44 appearances in all competitions since joining from Rennes last August.

The 19-year-old, who has been tipped as a future star for both Los Blancos and France, made a series of valuable contributions to Madrid's Champions League run from the bench, producing a particularly lively performance as Carlo Ancelotti's team recovered from a 5-3 aggregate deficit to eliminate Manchester City in the semi-finals earlier this month.

Speaking to Canal+ after Madrid beat Liverpool 1-0, Camavinga was delighted with the "dream" victory, saying experiencing such occasions was the reason he joined the Spanish giants.

"It's a crazy thing, it's a childhood dream come true. Touching the cup, experiencing matches like that, it's crazy... That's why I came here," he said.

"From the moment we come here, we know that we are in the best club in the world, we only play big matches. I am very happy to have played in the final and to have won it."

Camavinga has some way to go to match the honours of some of his Madrid team-mates, with Karim Benzema, Dani Carvajal and Modric all winning their fifth European titles in Paris. No one has won more.

Touching on the illustrious careers of his colleagues, Camavinga laughed: "Some have five Champions Leagues here, but I already have one, I still have four left [to win]. We're going to enjoy it. Next year, we'll see."

With his late introduction, Camavinga, aged 19 years and 199 days old, became the youngest player to appear in a Champions League final since Kingsley Coman for Juventus against Barcelona in 2015 (18 years, 358 days).

Coman is also the only Frenchman to have played in a European Cup/Champions League final at a younger age than Camavinga.

And the midfielder believes he has improved as a player after making 16 starts in his first season with the club, though he insists his playing time is of secondary importance compared to the team's performances.

"It's been an incredible season, an extraordinary accomplishment, very positive," he said in comments reported by Marca.

"I've learned a lot in this first year from the players here, from my coaches too, so I think I'm a better player than I was a year ago.

"The first thing to remember is this victory, the work of the team and [only] after that, whether I've played more or less is important."

Regardless of what occurs on the pitch at the Stade de France on Saturday, the 2021-22 season will have been a good one for Real Madrid.

Even if they are ultimately left with only the Spanish top-flight title to show for their efforts, there's an argument to be made that Carlo Ancelotti has defied expectations in his first campaign back at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Given the important losses of Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos coupled with the fact only two new players were incoming, it would've been understandable if fans were less demanding than usual in their pre-season predictions.

After all, Ancelotti was seen as a safe pair of hands rather than someone who was going to come in, shake things up and preside over a philosophical overhaul – and looking back over the course of the season, he's been the perfect appointment.

Of course, the turmoil at Barcelona helped Madrid's cause, while Atletico Madrid's title defence fell flat early on. For a while Sevilla looked to be the only challengers to Los Blancos, but given they ran out of steam in the previous campaign, it's unlikely Ancelotti and his team will have been unduly worried by them – they ended up scraping a top-four spot.

As composed and dominant as Madrid were at LaLiga's summit, fans, pundits and journalists alike did go searching for potential weaknesses, or reasons for the chasing pack not to give up hope.

One area that appeared to be brought up more than most was rotation and the risk of burnout.

Full steam ahead

Between the start of the season and the end of December, six Madrid players had featured for more than 1,400 minutes in LaLiga. There are no surprises in this list: they would be considered the majority of the team's core players.

In the same period, only Espanyol (seven) had more players feature for at least 1,400 minutes in LaLiga, but they didn't also have Champions League football to contend with. Sevilla had three players meet the criteria; Barcelona had two and Atletico Madrid just one, goalkeeper Jan Oblak. 

Similarly, Madrid named the same starting XI three times in LaLiga this season. While that doesn't sound a lot, only Celta Vigo, Getafe, Athletic Bilbao and Osasuna have done so more often.

It's clear to see Madrid have relied on a bigger group of core players than their rivals, and as such concerns about fatigue appeared astute earlier in the season.

But here we are, right at the end of the campaign: Madrid won LaLiga with four games to spare and are preparing to play in the Champions League final – and their route to this stage has relied on the ability to laugh in the face of fatigue, with Los Blancos coming back from the brink three times.

In that sense, you have to praise Ancelotti's squad management. Whether their lack of injuries has been by design or a fluke is difficult to speculate about, but there's clearly an element of Ancelotti swiftly establishing his preferred XI and then only wavering from it when absolutely necessary.

And when he did have to look elsewhere, there's no doubting who his favourites were.

Rodrygo and Eduardo Camavinga have come off the bench 23 times each across all competitions this season, the joint-most in the Madrid squad.

Granted, it's not as if they're two hopefuls promoted from the academy – both were expensive additions to the squad. But the frequency Ancelotti has turned to them as substitutes shows his belief in them to either carry out his instructions or make a difference.

Nowhere was that clearer than in the latter stages of the Champions League. Five of Camavinga's nine appearances in this season's competition have been in the knockouts, while Rodrygo has come off the bench four times in Europe since the turn of the year.

The latter has, understandably, taken a lot of plaudits in the second half of this season. He scored the vital aggregate equaliser against Chelsea, the brace that flipped the City tie on its head, and was inspirational off the bench away to Sevilla in the 3-2 win that essentially wrapped up the title.

Before the turn of the year, Rodrygo appeared to be struggling for relevance at Madrid. There will have been some wondering if he had a long-term future at the club, but he knuckled down after Christmas and has become a genuine weapon, seemingly embracing the fact you can still be decisive even off the bench.

On a per-90-minute basis, he heads into Saturday's game ranked fourth at Madrid for open-play chances created (1.4) and goals (0.34), joint-second for assists (0.34, behind Benzema on 0.35) and third for shots (2.4). He's beginning to show his worth.

Ancelotti's choice

Some might have generally expected more from Camavinga since joining from Rennes last year. He's not been able to establish himself as a regular in midfield at the expense of his more senior colleagues, perhaps unsurprising given he lacks the metronomic abilities of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric and the grit of Casemiro. However, his impact shouldn't be overlooked.

In the second-leg clashes against Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City, every single one of Madrid's eight goals came after Camavinga's introduction. Those goals ensured Ancelotti's men produced great escapes in each tie.

In fact, over the 146 minutes both Camavinga and Rodrygo have been on the pitch in the Champions League in 2022, Madrid have scored eight times and conceded none. Over 502 minutes without at least one of them on the pitch, they've scored six and let in 11.

Of course, it's not as if Camavinga himself has been a central figure to all eight goals. His importance in these scenarios is more centred on the wide-ranging skillset he instantly brings to Madrid – he can pass, he's confident on the ball and is a hard-working competitor.

His contributions were notable in all three second legs, but it was against City when he really forced people to sit up and acknowledge him. In the three and a half minutes that followed his 75th-minute entrance, Camavinga showed his poise with a nice switch of play, swept up effectively in midfield as Phil Foden looked to pounce on a loose ball, and then tackled Rodri out wide.

He was happy to accept possession under pressure several times, with one occasion seeing him turn and lift a wonderful pass over the City defence in the 82nd minute as Karim Benzema tested Ederson in goal. A minute later he was darting back in pursuit of Bernardo Silva, ultimately producing an exceptional sliding tackle to win the ball back.

Camavinga then played a vital role in Madrid's first goal in the 90th minute. His inch-perfect lofted pass to the back post allowed Benzema to turn the ball into the danger zone where Rodrygo was on hand to flick home.

Rodrygo's second in quick succession forced extra time, and Camavinga helped bring about Madrid's crucial third. It was he who carried the ball over half the length of the pitch before finding the Brazilian to cross towards Benzema, who won the penalty from Ruben Dias.

But he showed his value off the ball as well. His four tackles from 45 minutes on the pitch was bettered by only Federico Valverde (five) among Madrid players, and he played the full 120.

His showing was another reminder of the supreme talent Madrid brought in last year and, for many it might've even been enough to earn a starting spot in the final.

Both Camavinga and Rodrygo certainly deserve at least the chance to impact proceedings in Paris, but don't expect Ancelotti to lose faith in his preferred XI at this stage.

Despite wrapping up their 35th LaLiga title and retaining a chance of winning the Champions League this term, Real Madrid find themselves at something of a crossroads.

The individual brilliance of Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior may have fired Los Blancos to a dominant triumph in LaLiga, but attention will soon turn to Madrid's attempts to defend the title for the first time since 2007-08.

With the potential arrival of a true global superstar and one of the Premier League's best defenders, as well as the matter of refreshing a brilliant but ageing midfield, it promises to be an interesting few months at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Here, Stats Perform analyses what Carlo Ancelotti's men could do to fend off the potential challenge of an improved Barcelona next season.

 

The Mbappe conundrum: How would the superstar fit in?

For months, if not years, Real Madrid's plans for 2022 seem to have revolved around one name: Kylian Mbappe.

While recent reports have suggested the 23-year-old could yet remain at the Parc des Princes, a move for the talismanic attacker – who will be a free agent in June – cannot yet be ruled out.

Having scored 35 goals and provided 19 assists in 43 appearances in all competitions for Paris Saint-Germain, Mbappe would clearly be an asset to any team in European football, but the question remains as to how Mbappe will complement another free-scoring Frenchman in the Spanish capital.

Benzema has become just the fifth Madrid player in history to score 40+ goals in a single season for the club (after Cristiano Ronaldo, Ferenc Puskas, Alfredo Di Stefano and Hugo Sanchez), and is being touted for the Ballon d'Or after driving Madrid's Champions League run. Benzema has scored 14 goals in 10 European appearances this term, averaging a goal every 65.1 minutes in a stunning campaign.

Mbappe and Benzema are no strangers to playing together, but the PSG forward failed to score and only provided one assist when doing so during France's disappointing Euro 2020 campaign. The Madrid man, meanwhile, finished just one goal short of the golden boot after netting four times.

Matters are complicated further when taking into account the form of Vinicius, who has formed a lethal partnership with Benzema this season, registering 33 goal involvements of his own in all competitions (18 goals, 15 assists), and Mbappe's preference to play from the left could infringe on Vinicius. 

However, Mbappe's development into a more well-rounded attacking talent should ensure he at least provides a threat, whichever flank he starts from. 

As well as improving on his 11 assists from last season, Mbappe has completed more dribbles (138) at a higher success rate (50.74 per cent) than Vinicius this term (130, 41.4 per cent), and could join him in playing a more creative role supporting Benzema.

Upgrading in defence: The arrival of Antonio Rudiger

Having announced his intention to leave Chelsea at the end of his contract, Antonio Rudiger is another player strongly linked with a move to the Bernabeu ahead of next season.

The German defender has been one of the Blues' outstanding players under Thomas Tuchel, starring in their Champions League triumph last year and enjoying another fine campaign this season.

Rudiger has been a key component in the Premier League's third-best defence this season, with Chelsea keeping 15 clean sheets and conceding just 28 goals despite falling out of title contention after a promising start.

The 29-year-old appears to be an upgrade on Madrid's current defensive options after last year's departures of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, offering more physicality than David Alaba and greater defensive steel than Eder Militao, a partnership that was frequently exposed by Manchester City recently.

Rudiger would also offer a threat at the other end of the pitch, with his three league goals this season bettered by just one other Premier League centre-back (Jan Bednarek, four), and his ability to step out of defence was on display when he scored a 39-yard stunner against Brentford in early April – Chelsea's longest-range Premier League goal since January 2007

However, Rudiger has been accustomed to playing in a back three at Chelsea and would be most likely to play as a right-sided centre-back in a back four for Madrid, unless Ancelotti opts to shift Alaba to left-back.

Rudiger would likely have to curb his attacking enthusiasm if paired with the naturally forward-thinking Alaba, but he appears a smart choice to further solidify a defence that has been the second-strongest in LaLiga this term (only Sevilla have conceded fewer goals).

The case for Camavinga: Time to look to the future?

The midfield trio of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric will go down in Madrid history: they started together in three consecutive Champions League final wins between 2016 and 2018, with the Croatian also starring in 2014's victory.

Nobody can question their quality or longevity. All three have made at least 35 starts this season, while Modric in particular has produced several sumptuous contributions in big games that have helped him to an assist haul of nine, six more than any other Madrid midfielder.

 

However, given they occasionally appear to lack a certain dynamism when out of possession, could Madrid benefit from some extra mobility in the engine room?

The signing of Eduardo Camavinga, who has made 35 appearances this term, was clearly made with such a move in mind, but the French youngster has only started 14 times in all competitions and would benefit from more playing time next season as he looks to improve his all-round game.

However, neither Camavinga nor Federico Valverde possess the kind of metronomic abilities of Modric or Kroos, and the younger pair also average fewer passes into the final third per 90 minutes than their more experienced peers (6.25 and 6.1, respectively).

As such, with the rumoured arrivals of Mbappe and Rudiger involving no transfer fees, Madrid could yet benefit from dipping into the market to acquire another young, progressive midfielder in a move that might also help to prolong the excellence of Modric and Kroos.

Thibaut Courtois has confirmed he is asymptomatic after returning a positive test result for COVID-19.

The Real Madrid goalkeeper, along with team-mates Eduardo Camavinga, Federico Valverde and Vinicius Junior, was confirmed by Los Blancos to have tested positive in the latest round of testing.

LaLiga leaders Madrid have had to deal with several positive cases within their squad over recent weeks, and are likely to be without the four players for at least their opening matches of 2022, against Getafe and Alcoyano respectively.

While Valverde and Camavinga have made 15 LaLiga starts between them this season, goalkeeper Courtois has started every top-flight match and winger Vinicius has played in all 19 league fixtures, scoring 10 goals and providing four assists.

His 14 goal contributions in LaLiga is topped only by Karim Benzema (22) in Madrid's squad, and the Brazil international could be a big miss for Carlo Ancelotti, while Courtois' steady presence will also be absent.

"Unfortunately, and despite complying with all the measures, I have tested positive for COVID," wrote the Belgium goalkeeper on Twitter.

"Although I do not have any symptoms, I am at home following the corresponding protocol and training to return as soon as possible. Thank you all!"

SAFE HANDS

Courtois has played every minute for Madrid in all competitions so far in 2021-22, with back-up Andriy Lunin yet to make a single LaLiga appearance for Los Blancos across the last two seasons.

The Ukrainian was one of six Madrid players to test positive for COVID-19 last week, though should be in line to return from isolation in time to face Getafe on January 2.

Only Leicester City's Kasper Schmeichel (26) has made more appearances of goalkeepers in Europe's top five leagues than Courtois (25) this campaign.

Of shot-stoppers to play at least 20 times, only Yassine Bounou (Sevilla) and Edouard Mendy (Chelsea) – both 15 – have conceded fewer goals than Courtois' tally of 19.

In LaLiga, Courtois concedes 0.84 goals per 90 minutes played, ranking him third out of goalkeepers to have featured at least 10 times in Spain's top flight this season.

Courtois' save percentage of 78.41, meanwhile, leads the way in Europe's top five leagues, out of goalkeepers to have played 20 games or more across all competitions, ahead of Mendy (77.61), and the former Chelsea man has made only one error leading to a shot, with that mistake not resulting in a goal.

Thibaut Courtois, Eduardo Camavinga, Federico Valverde and Vinicius Junior have all tested positive for COVID-19, Real Madrid have confirmed.

LaLiga leaders Madrid have had to deal with several positive cases within their squad over recent weeks, and are likely to be without another four players for at least their two opening matches of 2022.

Madrid issued a short statement on Wednesday confirming Courtois, Camavinga, Valverde and Vinicius were the latest players to test positive.

Los Blancos face Getafe in LaLiga on January 2, before travelling to Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey three days later.

David Alaba and Isco were confirmed to have tested positive for coronavirus on December 21, taking the total of Madrid players to have contracted the illness to eight in the space of a week.

Luka Modric and Marcelo had gone into quarantine after routine testing on December 15, and Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio, Rodrygo and Andriy Lunin then tested positive the following day, along with Carlo Ancelotti's son and technical assistant Davide.

While Valverde and Camavinga have made 15 LaLiga starts between them this season, goalkeeper Courtois has started every top-flight match and winger Vinicius has played in all 19 league fixtures, scoring 10 goals and providing four assists.

His 14 goal contributions in LaLiga is topped only by Karim Benzema (22) in Madrid's squad, and the Brazil international could be a big miss for Ancelotti.

Madrid will be hoping to welcome back the players in time for their home match against Valencia on January 8.

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.

Real Madrid signing Eduardo Camavinga insists he is "ready to play" as he looks to make a name for himself quickly in Spain.

The 18-year-old joined on a six-year contract from Rennes in August in a deal reportedly worth up to €45million, the first time Madrid have spent money on a player since Eden Hazard signed from Chelsea for €100m in 2019.

Camavinga made 71 Ligue 1 appearances for Rennes and, at 18 years and nine months old, he is the youngest outfield player to feature in that many games in France's top flight since Basile Boli in 1985.

The teenager's breakthrough season with his former club came in 2019-20, attempting 105 tackles in top-flight football. Declan Rice (116) and Wilfred Ndidi (129) were the only players to attempt more across Europe's top-five leagues.

Despite a midfield that boasts Casemiro, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Federico Valverde, Madrid's new signing declared he is keen to show coach Carlo Ancelotti what he can do.

"I'm ready to play now," Camavinga told reporters at a presentation on Wednesday.

"As I said before, it is true that I am a young player. Maybe I need time to adapt, maybe not. I feel ready.

"I have come to learn and then I have to show the coach that I am ready and enjoy playing time."

 

Camavinga made his senior France debut on September 8 last year, the youngest player to do so since Maurice Gastiger against Luxembourg 107 years ago.

Only Gastiger (17 years and five months) scored for Les Bleus at a younger age than Camavinga, who was 17 years and 11 months old when he netted against Switzerland last October.

Asked how the quality of midfield competition would impact upon him, Camavinga responded: "The competition from those players motivates me a lot.

"And I'm also going to learn a lot from those players, tactically and technically."

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