Real Madrid kept alive their LaLiga title hopes with an emphatic 4-1 win over Granada at Nuevo Estadio de Los Carmenes on Thursday. 

The result moved Zinedine Zidane's side above Barcelona into second, two points behind leaders Atletico Madrid with just two games remaining in the season.

Luka Modric got them on their way early on with his fourth league goal of the campaign – the first time he has achieved that since 2011-12 with Tottenham in the Premier League – before Rodrygo doubled their advantage on the stroke of half-time.

Jorge Molina threatened to set up a dramatic finale with a goal 19 minutes from time, but Los Blancos comfortably sealed an 18th win in their last 19 games against Granada thanks to goals from Alvaro Odriozola and Karim Benzema.

Madrid started on the front foot and almost went ahead after 14 minutes, Benzema's header forcing a smart stop from Rui Silva. 

Zidane's men opened the scoring three minutes later, though, when Modric latched onto Miguel Gutierrez's sumptuous flicked ball over the top and rolled through Silva's legs from a tight angle. 

The visitors' dominance was rewarded again in first-half stoppage time when Rodrygo powered into the penalty area down the right-hand side and fired across Silva for his first LaLiga goal of a frustrating campaign.

Granada reduced the deficit inside the final 20 minutes, Molina stroking into an empty net after Thibaut Courtois had parried Luis Suarez's strike into his path. 

Substitute Odriozola settled any Madrid nerves, though, powering home after Eden Hazard's cross had fallen kindly to him in the 75th minute. 

Benzema added gloss to the scoreline a minute later, expertly  into an unguarded net from 35 yards after Silva's slapstick attempt to cut out Casemiro's long ball over the top.

Zinedine Zidane does not think 2020-21 will automatically be considered a "bad season" if Real Madrid fail to successfully defend their LaLiga title.

A 2-2 draw at home to Sevilla at the weekend left Madrid two points adrift of leaders Atletico Madrid with three games to go, the stalemate meaning title success was no longer in their hands.

They go to Granada on Thursday having beaten the Nazaries in 17 of their 18 LaLiga meetings, that sole defeat coming in 2013 as a result of the only own goal Cristiano Ronaldo has ever scored in Europe's top five leagues.

Their run of 11 successive league wins over Granada is their best current winning streak over a single opponent in LaLiga.

If Atletico beat Real Sociedad on Wednesday, a shock defeat for Madrid will effectively end their title hopes as they will be five points behind with two games to go.

Zidane is not losing faith, though he does not think it can be deemed a poor campaign even if they do not win LaLiga.

"Everything can happen," he told reporters. "We can win it just like we can lose it.

"The most important thing is to give everything and how we act on the pitch. We've played good games and the season is long.

"I am not going to say that it is a bad season, because that's when you don't give everything on the pitch.

"2017 was a phenomenal season and we could have lost in the last game. The most important thing is what you can control, and then whatever happens will happen."

The focus after that Sevilla draw was on the officiating, as Zidane publicly criticised referee Juan Martinez Munuera for giving a penalty against Eder Militao for handball.

The infringement was brought to the referee's attention by a VAR review, his decision to bring play back subsequently robbing Madrid of a penalty of their own at the other end after Karim Benzema had been brought down by Yassine Bounou.

Zidane was not prepared to get into the discussion again, accepting things could get "messy" if he did.

"I'm not going to get into the polemics. Things should be clear to everyone," he said. "The VAR will always help to improve football but specific plays must be clarified.

"In the end, everyone does their job. I'm not going to talk about these things anymore. I trust football.

"We will do our job and the referee his. I'm not going to say something because it makes a mess. We are going to control our work."

Ronald Koeman suggested the fourth official perhaps wanted to be "the star of the night" after the Barcelona boss was set off in Thursday's damaging 2-1 defeat to Granada.

Talisman Lionel Messi's 23rd-minute goal appeared to have Barca on track towards a fifth straight home win and three points that would have seen them leapfrog rivals Real Madrid and table-toppers Atletico Madrid in LaLiga.

However, Darwin Machis levelled and Koeman was sent to the stands prior to Jorge Molina heading home the winner 11 minutes from time to leave Barca two points off the pace with five games to play.

Koeman insisted he did not say anything insulting to the official and hinted he may challenge the decision.

"I don't understand why they have sent me off. They [said I] have disrespected the fourth official," he said in quotes reported by Marca.

"I don't understand the red. According to the delegate, it was a lack of respect for the fourth official. 

"I haven't said anything. I haven't insulted him or anything. But hey, if the fourth official wants to be the star of the night ... thank you.

"Let's see what the record says. If the record says something that I haven't said, I'll have to do something."

Koeman accepted his team made errors in a defeat few would have seen coming but the Dutchman is refusing to lose belief in a thrilling title tussle.

"We lost focus in the second half and made mistakes in defence," he added.

"We must accept today's defeat. It is reality. We had opportunities to win, but okay we have five games to go. Each one will have its difficulties. We have to prepare well for next Sunday.

"There are still possibilities. We have to accept defeat, analyse it and prepare for this tournament.

"I think we have tried to continue. We have not created many opportunities after their goals. They have closed down well and we could not create more.

"Seeing the two goals, we leave spaces where we have to close them. We have not been well defensively.

"It is a hard blow to stop depending on us. We are disappointed. We have five games to be champions. For us it is the same as for others."

Barcelona missed the chance to move top of LaLiga after suffering a shock 2-1 loss to Granada at Camp Nou on Thursday.

Lionel Messi’s 23rd-minute goal appeared to have Barca on course for a fifth straight home win, a result good enough to see them leapfrog both rivals Real Madrid and long-time leaders Atletico in the table.

However, Granada – who had failed to even manage a draw in any of their previous 25 league visits to their Catalan opponents – turned the game around to further change the outlook in the title race.

Darwin Machis equalised before Barca boss Ronald Koeman was shown a red card, meaning the Dutchman had to watch on from the stands as Jorge Molina was afforded time and space to head in a 79th-minute winner.

The dramatic turnaround had never appeared on the cards, yet Barcelona allowed their opponents to score with their only two attempts on target to cause a huge upset.

Messi had broken the deadlock after linking up with Antoine Griezmann, the Frenchman timing his delayed return pass perfectly to allow his team-mate to fizz a low, left-footed shot beyond goalkeeper Aaron Escandell and into the far corner of the net.

However, Messi was not quite so clinical with another one-on-one opportunity later in the first half and Griezmann himself failed to capitalise when presented with a clear sight of goal soon after the break, firing well wide with his right foot.

Sergi Roberto also sent a volley off target as Barca struggled to make their dominance tell – and Granada made them pay to clinch a result that will undoubtedly be celebrated in the Spanish capital.

Oscar Mingueza's failure to cut out a throughball allowed Machis to run clear and slot the ball beyond the advancing Marc-Andre ter Stegen, while Barca's goalkeeper had no chance when Molina ghosted into the penalty area to convert Adrian Marin's cross.

Ronald Koeman says he has "no interest" in further speculation over Lionel Messi's future as Barcelona battle for the LaLiga title.

According to TNT Sports, Paris Saint-Germain are preparing an "unbeatable" contract offer to try and lure Messi to the French capital.

Messi's contract expires at the end of June, so the Barca captain could walk away from Camp Nou as a free agent.

The mercurial Argentina forward sensationally handed in a transfer request last August before agreeing to remain with the Catalan giants for the 2020-21 season.

Koeman reiterated his desire for Messi to sign a new deal, but for the time being the focus is on securing a win over Granada on Thursday that would move Barca top of the table.

The Barca boss said in a press conference on Wednesday: "I am not interested in what has come out because I do not know if it is true and because I hope he continues with us.

"I have said several times that it has to end here, but it is a decision that he has to make."

Atletico Madrid's defeat at Athletic Bilbao on Sunday has given Barca the chance to take a one-point lead at the summit by beating eighth-placed Granada at Camp Nou.

Koeman does not see his side as favourites to be crowned champions as his side prepare to try and leapfrog Real Madrid and Atleti.

The former Netherlands defender said: "The team that goes first is the favourite and we are not the first."

Koeman says there is no chance Barca will get ahead of themselves in their quest to dethrone Real Madrid with six games to play.

"I have not seen the players thinking that the job is done," he added. "Now we may be the favourite according to many people, but we do not think that way. We know the difficulty of winning the games because all the rivals play for something.

"I've learned that you have to go game by game. You don't have to go crazy for the possibility that exists if you win. The important thing is tomorrow and being prepared for a difficult game."

Argentine veteran Sergio Aguero has been list with plenty of clubs after Manchester City confirmed he would be leaving this off-season.

Among those are European heavyweights Chelsea and Barcelona.

But Leeds United have reportedly entered the race for the 32-year-old forward.

 

TOP STORY - LEEDS JOIN AGUERO PURSUIT

Leeds United want to bring Sergio Aguero to Elland Road on a free transfer this off-season.

Manchester City confirmed last month that Aguero would be departing the club after a decade of service.

90Min reports that Leeds hope Aguero's countryman Marcelo Bielsa can help woo him to the newly promoted club.

 

ROUND-UP

- The speculation around Kylian Mbappe's future continues, with The Telegraph reporting that he is stalling on signing a new deal with Paris Saint-Germain with his current contract to expire in 2022. Cuatro claims Mbappe will not sign a new deal as he wants to join Real Madrid.

- ESPN reports Edinson Cavani is "closer than ever" to finalizing a deal to join Argentine club Boca Juniors from Manchester United for this off-season.

- Manchester United may look into signing West Ham United's England international midfielder Declan Rice, as part of a permanent switch for Jesse Lingard, claims the Athletic.

- Metro claims Lyon's Joachim Andersen will cost £25m amid reported interest from Manchester United and Tottenham.

- Yangel Herrera, who is on loan at Granada from Manchester City, has ignited interest from West Ham United according to Todofichajes.

- Inter may explore signing Napoli's Nikola Maksimovic if Andrea Ranocchia leaves, reports Calciomercato.

Manchester United will face European debutants Granada in the quarter-finals of the Europa League and cannot now meet Arsenal until the final.

The draw for the last eight on Friday kept the two remaining Premier League giants apart.

United claimed a 1-0 win at Milan on Thursday to advance 2-1 on aggregate and their reward is an apparently kind draw against LaLiga's Granada, winners over Molde.

If United advance, they could have a replay of the 2016-17 final in which they defeated Ajax, who take on Roma for the right to play the Red Devils or Granada.

Ajax were too strong for Young Boys, while Roma dumped out Shakhtar Donetsk.

Arsenal, who knocked out Olympiacos despite losing at home, will be wary of their quarter-final opponents Slavia Prague.

Slavia have already eliminated Leicester City and Rangers, and have now been paired with the 2018-19 finalists, visiting Emirates Stadium before hosting the reverse fixture.

Arsenal's half of the draw is completed by Dinamo Zagreb and Villarreal.

Dinamo defeated Tottenham in a stunning second-leg comeback on Thursday and could get the chance to complete a north London double if they meet the Gunners.

A meeting between Arsenal and Villarreal would also have significance, with the Spanish outfit coached by Unai Emery, Mikel Arteta's predecessor and a three-time Europa League winner with Sevilla.

Emery's men swept aside Dynamo Kiev in the last 16.


Quarter-final draw:

Granada v Manchester United
Arsenal v Slavia Prague
Ajax v Roma
Dinamo Zagreb v Villarreal

Semi-final draw:

Winner of QF 1 v Winner of QF 3
Winner of QF 4 v Winner of QF 2

Diego Simeone praised the development of Marcos Llorente after the midfielder helped Atletico Madrid secure a 2-1 victory over Granada. 

Atleti extended their lead at the top of LaLiga to eight points thanks to Angel Correa's deflected winner on Saturday. 

Llorente provided the assist for Correa having opened the scoring himself with a neat finish in the 63rd minute, taking his tally of league goals for the season to seven. 

The 26-year-old – signed primarily to play as a defensive midfielder in 2019 from rivals Real Madrid – scored his first goal for Atleti in a 2-2 draw with Valencia on February 14 last year. 

He has now netted 13 times in all competitions in total for the club, while his tally of 10 league goals since getting off the mark puts him behind only Luis Suarez (16) for Simeone's squad. 

Llorente has averaged a goal every 237 minutes in LaLiga over the last 12 months, as well as providing 10 assists and creating 35 chances. Only Koke, who moved level with Tomas Renones for second place on the list for appearances in all competitions for Atletico, has created more (41).

With his opener against Granada, Llorente became the midfielder in LaLiga with the most direct goal involvements so far this season, so it was hardly surprising when Simeone spoke glowingly of the Spain international's desire to transform himself into an all-round attacking threat. 

"As coaches, titles are wonderful, because they fill you with excitement and glory," Simeone told a news conference. 

"But when you work with a footballer and see his growth reflected, you feel more joy and more enthusiasm to continue advancing in this profession.  

"When we see a footballer with the ability to do different things than what he had been doing in his career, we jump into it. It happened to us with Griezmann, with Saul, with Juanfran. 

"Why is it happening? I would like to look for the images of Marcos training when he was not even playing, when in practice he scored a lot of goals, we joked that he was going to have to play higher [up the pitch]. 

"We put him up front and now I think in the middle is where feels more at ease." 

While Llorente delivered the goods on Saturday, LaLiga's leading scorer Suarez had an off day in front of goal, landing only one of his four attempts on target, though he was unfortunate to hit the crossbar in the second half. 

"We always ask all the boys who have played as strikers in our team for collaboration and effort for the team," Simeone said. 

"Luis, beyond what he generates with his goals, has a lot of intelligence. He knows where to apply pressure, where to bother the rival, generate doubts and we need everyone."

Atletico Madrid got their LaLiga title tilt back on track as Angel Correa's fortunate goal secured a hard-fought 2-1 win over Granada.

Diego Simeone's team saw an eight-match winning streak in the league come to an end when they were pegged back by Celta Vigo on Monday.

Real Madrid and Barcelona looked to be getting another favour when Granada substitute Yangel Herrera cancelled out Marcos Llorente's 63rd-minute opener on Saturday.

The unusually profligate Luis Suarez had gone close to breaking the deadlock numerous times, hitting the crossbar and finding Rui Silva in fine form, but a fifth successive away win seemed set to evade Atleti.

However, a huge slice of luck went Atleti's way when Correa's strike deflected in off Jesus Vallejo to settle the contest and move the visitors eight points clear.

Correa let Granada off the hook when he poked a one-v-one straight at Silva, before German Sanchez headed Granada's first opportunity wide.

Geoffrey Kondogbia's surging run resulted in an opening for Suarez three minutes later, but LaLiga's leading scorer could not generate enough curl to pick out the far corner.

Kondogbia and Suarez combined again 30 minutes in, yet Silva was equal to the latter's powerful effort, with Granada's goalkeeper denying Atleti's number nine again soon after.

Suarez went closer after the restart – a half-volley clipping away off the bar.

Another opportunity fell Suarez's way before the hour, but the former Barca star could not take the ball under control in the six-yard box.

Llorente finally found the opener when he drilled in from the edge of the box for his seventh league goal of 2020-21, but despite creating little of note, Granada snatched a swift equaliser three minutes later as Atleti failed to clear a corner and Herrera's effort deflected beyond Jan Oblak.

Yet Atleti had a deflection go in their favour 16 minutes from time, Silva helpless to prevent Correa's shot from looping in after Vallejo's attempted block.

Barcelona have been drawn away to Granada in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals.

Ronald Koeman's team fought back to defeat second-tier Rayo Vallecano 2-1 on Wednesday, earning their place in the last eight after a major scare.

Barca will now have to face a LaLiga team in Granada, a side they defeated 4-0 at Los Carmenes earlier this month.  

Sevilla, who have not won the competition since 2010, will play away to Almeria, the last team from outside the top flight left in the tournament.

Real Betis will take on Athletic Bilbao, who are yet to play Real Sociedad in the final of last season's Copa, while the other match will see Levante host Villarreal.

Ties will be played across next week from Tuesday to Thursday, with Barca favourites to win it after Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid were eliminated against lower-league opposition.

Even in these extraordinary times, Barcelona letting Luis Suarez go to Atletico Madrid is starting to look like the oddest decision of the season.

Suarez's double over Eibar on Thursday secured a 2-1 victory for the league leaders, who are seven points clear at the top with a game in hand over champions Real Madrid in second.

The Uruguay star, who has netted six in his past six league games for Atleti, is joint-top of the division's scoring charts alongside former team-mate Lionel Messi.

It seems increasingly likely that Suarez, and certainly Atletico, will be at the top of the tree come the end of 2020-21.

With the majority of sides having now played half of their matches, the Stats Perform AI team have run the numbers to simulate how the rest of the LaLiga campaign will play out – and it's good news for Diego Simeone.

 

The data model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team's attacking and defensive quality.

Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly.

All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model – with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.

 

ATLETICO WIN AT A CANTER

Atletico have been given a 75.1 per cent chance of winning LaLiga, according to the model.

Simeone's men are predicted to finish on 86 points, nine clear of the rest of the field. They are given just a 17.8 per cent chance of coming second and dropping outside the top four is considered practically impossible.

Barcelona and reigning champions Real Madrid are predicted to end with 77 points apiece, with just a 12.4 per cent chance each of pipping Atleti to the title. Madrid have a 41 per cent chance of finishing second, slightly above Barca's 39.4, having beaten Ronald Koeman's side 3-1 in the first Clasico of the season at Camp Nou last October.

Those two are, at least, very likely to end up in a Champions League place. They are expected to be joined there by Sevilla, who have a 47.8 per cent chance of finishing fourth on 65 points, just three above Villarreal and six clear of Real Sociedad. The remaining European spot is predicted to be a close battle between Granada, Getafe and Real Betis, with Diego Martinez's men odds on to snatch it.

Valencia fans might be enduring a difficult time (again), and our sim has Los Che missing out on European football once more, if only by four points. That said, they still have a 3.6 per cent chance of a Europa League spot, which is better odds than those given to Supercopa de Espana winners Athletic Bilbao.

 

WOE FOR HUESCA

At the other end of a relatively tight table, in which just 11 points will separate seventh from 16th, it looks like Huesca are in for a tough run-in. They are given a 59.7 per cent chance of finishing bottom of the pile and just a 5.1 per cent shot at avoiding relegation, having won only once so far this term.

Osasuna are predicted to end up just four points above them, with the bottom three likely to be completed by Deportivo Alaves, although Elche will also be right in the mix. In fact, with those two tipped to finish level on 39 points, survival could come down to their head-to-head record, making their showdown on May 11 potentially decisive. Elche have the advantage there, having won the reverse game 2-0 away from home.

Real Valladolid are expected to have just enough to stay out of trouble, although they have scant room for manoeuvre, with our predictor giving them an equal 15.1 per cent chance of finishing 17th and 18th.

Eibar and Cadiz are looking likely to stay safe; indeed, Jose Luis Mendilibar's men, along with Celta Vigo and Athletic, are given a 0.1 per cent chance of gatecrashing the top four. They might well have boosted those odds this week were it not for that pesky Suarez.

Ronald Koeman backed Antoine Griezmann but said goals would be the "best medicine" to boost the Barcelona forward's confidence.

Griezmann's last goal came against Ferencvaros in the Champions League on December 2, and he has just three in 16 LaLiga appearances this season.

A trip to Los Carmenes to face Granada on Saturday could help the France international, who has been involved in four goals (three goals and one assist) in his past five visits to the ground in LaLiga.

Barcelona coach Koeman said while Griezmann was working hard, goals would be best for the 29-year-old.

"Any player needs confidence in himself, his team-mates and the place where he plays. This starts with the player," he told a news conference.

"As a coach, I can communicate with [Griezmann], show him things and footage of potential things to improve, but at the end it's the player who has to show his quality and give effectivity to the team.

"It's not the case that Antoine doesn't work, he works a lot in any position. The other day he recovered a lot of balls, he gave an assist to Leo [Messi].

"But it's time that he scores, because scoring goals is the best medicine to have total confidence in yourself."

Griezmann has converted just 22.2 per cent of his big chances in LaLiga this season, his lowest in any campaign since at least 2012-13.

 

Barcelona are fourth in the table, seven points behind Atletico Madrid but having played two more games.

Ronald Koeman is keen to bolster his options at Barcelona with some January additions, but he acknowledges the club's financial situation may make it too difficult.

Philippe Coutinho last week joined Ansu Fati, Sergi Roberto and Gerard Pique on Barca's long-term injury list, while Carles Alena was allowed to leave for Getafe on loan until the end of the season.

Koeman has already expressed his desire to add a striker to his ranks, with the club having let Luis Suarez leave in the close season without signing a replacement, and they continue to be linked with Memphis Depay.

However, Barca's finances have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, so much so that they have delayed the biannual wage payment due to players in January.

Koeman consequently accepts it may not be possible for Barca to fulfil his wish to bring in new faces.

"It is important for our short-term future. We want to improve the squad. I still think some positions need more competition and effectiveness," said Koeman on Friday.

"But I understand the situation of the club. If it is not possible, it is not possible, and we will wait for the next window."

Koeman suggested Alena may not be the only young player to leave Camp Nou this month, though he revealed 17-year-old midfielder Ilaix Moriba could be in line for a first-team debut against Granada on Saturday.

"We have told the players that I think it is better for them to find a way out so they have minutes, predominantly [these suggestions have come from] Ramon Planes [club technical secretary] because I am more focused on the games," said the Dutchman.

"Once again it is the player's decision. I think that for some, without mentioning names, because of their youth it is best to seek the best as a player. A young man cannot go a year without playing. It's not good for improving as a young player.

"We know that with Alena's loan we are missing a player, and Ilaix was with us in pre-season. Sometimes he trains with the first team. It is a possibility he will be called up for tomorrow's game."

Barca will be without the suspended Clement Lenglet at Nuevo Los Carmenes and Koeman indicated Samuel Umtiti could make his first start of the season in his fellow Frenchman's stead.

"He has been out for a long time and has recovered from his injury. It's a long path for him to be as he was before," said Koeman.

"He has had some minutes and we have to make a decision. Without Lenglet, he and [Oscar] Mingueza can deliver. We will make a decision after training today."

Following their meeting with Granada, Barca will compete in the Supercopa de Espana and the Copa del Rey.

In the latter competition they were drawn against fellow Catalan side Cornella, who remarkably knocked out LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid on Wednesday.

"I am not surprised. There are surprises like this in all countries," Koeman said of Atleti's defeat.

"It can be a complicated game. They deserved to win against Atletico, who played with a strong team. If it's not your day, a lower team with motivation and dedication can make things complicated for you.

"It's a nice tie because we don't have to travel, but we have to adapt to the artificial pitch. There are other games that we have to have maximum attention on first, though."

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