Aurelien Tchouameni’s deflected strike was enough to secure Real Madrid a 1-0 win at Mallorca and keep them out on front at the top of LaLiga.

France midfielder Tchouameni broke the deadlock early in the second half as Real extended their unbeaten league run to 25 matches and after arch-rivals Barcelona’s win later on Saturday night, the gap remains eight points.

The two sides meet in El Clasico next Sunday and Barca also remain in top form as they made it six straight wins in all competitions after Joao Felix’s first-half overhead kick secured all three points in Cadiz.

Barcelona were indebted to goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen for their win as the German goalkeeper made two crucial saves to deny Cadiz pair Javi Hernandez and Diadie Samassekou.

Antoine Griezmann scored twice to help keep Atletico Madrid on course for the final Champions League spot after a 3-1 home win against Girona, who remain third.

Griezmann’s first-half penalty cancelled out Artem Dovbyk’s early opener for Girona and Angel Correa headed Atletico into the lead in stoppage time before the break.

France forward Griezmann added his 12th league goal of the season early in the second period as Girona slipped to their fifth defeat in eight league matches.

Rayo Vallecano edged six points clear of the relegation zone after being held 0-0 at home by Getafe.

In the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich got their domestic campaign back on track as second-half goals from Raphael Guerreiro and Thomas Muller sealed a 2-0 home win against Cologne.

It was a crucial win for Bayern, who had lost their previous two league matches, as Champions League rivals Stuttgart, Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund all won.

Dani Olmo, Benjamin Sesko and Lois Openda were on target for Leipzig in their 3-0 home win against Wolfsburg and Dortmund held on to win 2-1 at Borussia Monchengladbach despite the second-half dismissal of Germany winger Karim Adeyemi.

Marcel Sabitzer gave Dortmund the lead and then converted a penalty before Max Wober hit back for the hosts before the interval.

Adeyemi’s second yellow card left Dortmund with 10 men for most of the second period, but they held on.

Third-placed Stuttgart extended their unbeaten run to nine matches with a 3-0 home win against Eintracht Frankfurt.

Serhou Guirassy, Deniz Undav and Jamie Leweling were all on target in the first half for Stuttgart, who are level on points with Bayern.

Mainz boosted their survival hopes with a 4-1 home win over Hoffenheim, which made it 10 points from their last four matches and lifted them to within a point of Bochum, who drew 1-1 against Heidenheim.

In Serie A, Juventus failed to close the gap on second-placed Milan after they were held 0-0 by derby rivals Torino.

Juve have won only one of their last six domestic league matches and are five points behind Milan and 19 adrift of leaders Inter, with the top two both in action on Sunday.

Fourth-placed Bologna failed to capitalise on Juve’s dropped points as they were also held to a goalless stalemate at home against Monza, while Nicola Sansone’s late goal clinched Lecce a 1-0 home win against Empoli.

In Ligue 1, Reims’ hopes of European football next season were dealt a blow as they lost 3-1 at Strasbourg and Rennes had a setback in their bid for a top-six finish after losing 2-1 at home to Toulouse.

Joao Felix’s overhead kick sealed Barcelona a 1-0 win at lowly Cadiz and lifted his side back to within eight points of LaLiga leaders Real Madrid.

The Portugal forward converted with a bicycle kick following a first-half corner and with the help of two crucial saves from goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Barca extended their winning run in all competitions to six matches.

Barca, who edged the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final 3-2 against Paris St Germain in midweek, are now unbeaten in 13 before next weekend’s El Clasico at the Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys.

Cadiz had boosted their survival hopes by winning two of their previous three in LaLiga and they had their chances, but they remain three points from safety.

Felix’s strike lit-up a first half of few clear-cut chances, in which Cadiz went close to taking a 22nd-minute lead when Javi Hernandez’s drilled angled effort forced Ter Stegen into a sharp near-post save.

But Barca edged in front in the 37th minute with their first real effort on goal following a corner.

Sergi Roberto headed the ball on and Joao Felix swivelled to send a bicycle kick inside Cadiz goalkeeper Conan Ledesma’s right-hand post for his sixth league goal of the season.

Barca should have extended their lead shortly before half-time when the ball broke to Fermin Lopez on the right edge of the box, but his goalbound shot was brilliantly blocked on the line by Cadiz defender Victor Chust.

Cadiz thought they had made an ideal start to the second period as Juanmi turned home Iza Carcelen’s low ball into the box, but the effort was ruled out as the striker was clearly offside.

Chust then headed narrowly wide for the home side, whose appeals for a penalty soon after when the ball appeared to hit Barca defender Pau Cubarsi on the arm were waved away, with the incident not reviewed by VAR.

Felix went close to doubling Barca’s lead through his first-time effort from Ferran Torres’ cross as the action flowed.

Barca were indebted to Ter Stegen with 10 minutes remaining as the German goalkeeper’s flying save from Diadie Samassekou’s thumping long-range shot preserved their slender lead.

Following Real’s 1-0 win at Mallorca earlier on Saturday, Barca closed the gap back to eight points ahead of next Sunday’s showdown between LaLiga’s top two.

Real Madrid kept themselves in control at the top of LaLiga with a 1-0 win at Mallorca.

In a game of limited clear chances, a deflected effort from Aurelien Tchouameni early in the second half proved the difference for Los Blancos, who built towards a defining period of the campaign next week in the Champions League and hosting Barcelona in El Clasico.

With an eye on next week’s European quarter-final second leg against Manchester City, Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti opted for five changes, but England midfielder Jude Bellingham retained his place in the side.

The visitors made a bright start, with Luka Modric sending an early free-kick straight into the wall.

Mallorca, recently beaten in the Copa del Rey final by Athletic Bilbao, were proving difficult to break down.

In the 34th minute, Bellingham sent in a curling effort from the edge of the penalty area but it looped over the goalkeeper and cannoned off the crossbar.

Real finally made their pressure count three minutes after the restart.

Tchouameni picked the ball up around 25 yards out before drilling in a rising drive which took a deflection off a Mallorca defender and spun off up into the top right corner.

Brahim Diaz had a chance to quickly double the lead after running into the Mallorca penalty area but his effort was straight at goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic.

As the hour mark passed, Mallorca substitute Abdon Prats saw his shot blocked before Real missed the chance to add a second.

Modric cut a pass back to Diaz just outside the six-yard box but the winger’s touch was too strong, which allowed Rajkovic to kick the loose ball clear.

Ancelotti then made a couple of changes, with Diaz and Bellingham given a rest as Vinicius Junior and Eduardo Camavinga were sent on.

Real pressed for another goal to kill off the match, with Camavinga playing in Federico Valverde, only for his effort to be hacked off the line by Mallorca defender Matija Nastasic.

Sergi Darder almost scored a fine equaliser when his 25-yard effort, flying towards the top left corner, was palmed away by Real keeper Andriy Lunin at full stretch.

With 10 minutes left, Joselu’s header from a free-kick was saved by Rajkovic.

Mallorca almost snatched a dramatic equaliser with what proved to be the last kick of the game deep into stoppage-time.

Lunin jumped with Vedat Muriqi as he tried to catch a high cross into the Real box but dropped the ball – which the Kosovo striker then stabbed wide of an open goal.

Antoine Griezmann struck in both halves as Atletico Madrid consolidated fourth spot in LaLiga with a 3-1 victory over rivals Girona.

The capital club got off to a slow start, falling behind in the fourth minute when a slick move finished with Yangel Herrera rolling through to Yan Couto, whose strike from a narrow angle was turned in at the back post by Artem Dovbyk.

But they were back on level terms in the 34th minute after Miguel Gutierrez handled in the area, with Griezmann dispatching the resulting penalty despite Girona goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga guessing the right way.

In the sixth minute of added-on time at the end of the first half, Alvaro Morata kept the ball in play on the left touchline and his cross led to Angel Correa stealing in between two defenders to head home.

Griezmann then gave Atletico some breathing room in the 50th minute, firing high beyond Gazzaniga after Rodrigo De Paul’s cross had fallen into his path following a deflection from Jhon Solis.

Atletico are now five points clear of Athletic Bilbao, who are fifth, and moved to within four of third-placed Girona, whose hopes of pipping Barcelona as runners-up suffered a setback.

Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti has backed Jude Bellingham to rediscover his golden touch in front of goal.

Bellingham made a stellar start to life in Madrid after his summer transfer from Borussia Dortmund and scored 16 times during the first half of the season.

Goals have been harder to come by since the turn of the year with Bellingham only able to find the net on four occasions in 2024 and not at all in two months, but Ancelotti is positive his drought will end soon.

Speaking ahead of Saturday’s trip to LaLiga struggles Mallorca, Ancelotti told a press conference: “The goals he was scoring have dropped off a bit.

“It was a surprise for everyone when he hit 20 goals in the first part of the season. Now he’s doing his job as a midfielder or a number 10, he’s not a centre forward.

“His performance levels have not dropped. He’s not lacking anything. He’ll get back to scoring goals again sooner or later.”

Ancelotti also leapt to the defence of other stars across world football following a week where it was noted that Kylian Mbappe of Paris St Germain and Manchester City’s Erling Haaland failed to make an impact in Champions League matches, which was also the case for Bellingham.

“Perhaps these big stars haven’t delivered their best displays in the first games but there are more matches to come and we have to be careful with Haaland, Mbappe and  Bellingham,” Ancelotti warned.

While Madrid have a quarter-final second leg to come next week in Manchester, Ancelotti insisted they were fully focused on the trip to Mallorca.

Madrid boast an eight-point advantage over nearest challenger Barcelona but will face a Mallorca side still reeling from last Saturday’s Copa del Rey final loss to Athletic Bilbao.

Ancelotti added: “I’m not sure how the Copa final defeat will affect Mallorca.

“I doubt it will have too much influence because they have a big challenge, which is to ensure their survival as soon as possible.

“For us, it’s a key game in trying to win the league as quickly as we can.

“It will be a tough game, as ever, they will fight hard. We’re up against a very committed team who have shown an incredible attitude as a unit.

“We’re expecting an intense game and we have to try and match the things the opposition do superbly well, which is their collective commitment.

“The whole squad is ready. Our priority is tomorrow’s game. We have a lot to play for this week.

“Our confidence is just the same as it was a few days ago, unchanged, but we have to remember that tomorrow is a crucial game in the battle to win LaLiga.”

Xavi is convinced Barcelona’s season would have been a “disaster” had he not announced his decision to leave at the end of it.

The 44-year-old revealed after a 5-3 home defeat by Villarreal in January that he would walk away from the club after two and a half years in charge following a difficult spell.

He said at the time his decision would free up his players, and they will head into Saturday’s LaLiga clash with lowly Cadiz on a 12-game unbeaten run in all competitions – the last of them an impressive 3-2 Champions League quarter-final, first-leg victory at Paris St Germain.

Xavi told a press conference: “With the decision made, I was sure we would be like this. If not, it would have been a disaster, and I told the president so.

“I looked and looked around the club. If I hadn’t decided, we wouldn’t be competing by now.”

Asked if he might reconsider his decision in the circumstances, Xavi said: “I’ve told you that at every press conference. Nothing has changed.”

Barca head into the game still revelling in the glow of their midweek fightback in Paris, which saw them recover from a 2-1 deficit to win 3-2 at the Parc des Princes and secure a priceless lead to take back to Catalonia.

They have won their last five in all competitions, although their hopes of closing an eight-point gap to leaders Real Madrid – their opponents at the Bernabeu Stadium next Sunday – appear to be receding by the week.

Xavi said: “Next week there is a Clasico that, if we win tomorrow, could leave us five points behind. If we lose tomorrow, the league is over.”

Indeed, Barca’s focus could lie as much over their shoulder, with third-placed Girona only two points worse off and due to host them in a potentially pivotal clash on May 4.

In the circumstances, they can afford no slip-ups this weekend against a side fighting for their lives inside the relegation zone and three points adrift of safety.

Cadiz have rallied in recent weeks, collecting eight of their 25 points to date from the last five games – including a famous 2-0 home win over top-four side Atletico Madrid on March 9 – and they boast a 2-1 home victory and a 1-0 success at the Nou Camp, as well as two draws, in seven meetings with the Spanish aristocrats since returning to LaLiga in 2020.

Xavi said: “They have only lost one game in the last five, they have beaten Atletico at home… a lot is at stake. Life is going for them football-wise in every way, they are playing for the season.”

Inter Milan moved 14 points clear at the top of Serie A after Federico Dimarco and substitute Alexis Sanchez scored to help Simone Inzaghi’s side to a 2-0 win at home to struggling Empoli.

Dimarco volleyed in from the edge of the box after just five minutes after being set up by Alessandro Bastoni before a late strike from Sanchez, just minutes after coming off the bench, sealed it, tapping in Denzel Dumfries’ low cross to send Empoli into the relegation zone on goals scored.

It means that victory in their next two games will give them a chance to wrap up the title if they win the Milan Derby on April 22.

Bologna struck a significant blow in the race to qualify for the Champions League as they defeated bottom-side Salernitana 3-0, goals from Riccardo Orsolini, Alexis Saelemaekers and Charalampos Lykogiannis ensuring they moved five points clear of Roma, who were held to a goalless draw away at Lecce.

Angelino struck a post from a free-kick for the visitors whilst Patrick Dorgu swept Lecce’s best opportunity wide with the goal gaping in the second half, as Daniele De Rossi’s team stretched their unbeaten league run to seven games.

Sassuolo earned a potentially valuable point in their bid to avoid relegation, Gregoire Defrel scoring in the first half to give them the lead against Udinese before Florian hit back on the stroke of half-time to level, leaving Sassuolo a point adrift of safety.

Cagliari and Verona are both just outside the bottom three after playing out a 1-1 draw, Ibrahim Sulemana giving Cagliari the lead before Federico Bonazzoli equalised to leave both sides with a two-point gap to the drop zone.

In Spain, Atletico Madrid moved back into the top four in La Liga thanks to a goal three minutes from the end by Saul Niguez to defeat Villarreal 2-1.

Axel Witsel had headed Diego Simeone’s team into the lead after only nine minutes but they were pegged back by Alexander Sorloth early in the second half, as the opportunity to capitalise on Athletic Bilbao’s defeat to Real Madrid looked to be under threat.

But Saul settled the game just minutes after coming off the bench, slotting home to put Atletico in pole position to take the final Champions League spot.

Rodrygo's double helped Real Madrid strengthen their position at the top of the table in LaLiga as Athletic Bilbao were beaten 2-0 at the Bernabeu.

The hosts went ahead just eight minutes into the game through Rodrygo's excellent top corner finish and an energetic start to the second half saw Brahim Diaz go close twice either side of Inaki Williams' strike, but Jude Bellingham's neat pass set the Brazilian up for his second in the 73rd minute to seal the three points.

Real remain at the summit, eight points clear of second-placed Barcelona, while Athletic remain fourth.

Although Athletic started the brighter of the two teams, Real struck with their first attack of the game when Brahim broke forward and dispatched a fantastic cross-field ball into Rodrygo, who cut in from the left to curl the ball sweetly from the outside of the box into the top corner.

The hosts settled into the game after their early goal, with Brahim having plenty of involvement on the right flank, but Athletic were handed an early blow when Yeray Alvarez Lopez was taken off with injury in the 24th minute and Daniel Vivian came on to replace him.

Toni Kroos' deflected 34th minute strike was comfortably claimed by Julen Agirrezabala and moments later the German international's corner was cleared as far as Federico Valverde, who chipped the ball from long-distance towards the bottom left corner but Agirrezabala made a quick low save.

The hosts pushed for a second in the closing stages of the first half when Brahim pounced on a loose ball and his cross was poked just wide of goal by Vivian and Real threatened again from the resulting corner when Aurelien Tchouameni headed just wide.

Real were straight out of the blocks after the break and nearly doubled their lead following a mazy run from Rodrygo, who cut in from the left and played the ball through to Brahim on the right, but his low shot rattled off the far post.

Athletic had a brilliant chance seven minutes into the half when Berenguer's corner picked out an unmarked Williams at the far post, but Andriy Lunin palmed away before Brahim threatened again at the other end, firing over the crossbar.

Real extended their lead in the 73rd minute when a quick ball from Bellingham picked Rodrygo out in plenty of space on the left and the Brazilian cut into the centre to coolly slot home into bottom corner.

Athletic had two great chances when Iker Muniain's flicked effort was collected by Agirrezabala and after finding some space Williams dragged a shot wide.

Eder Militao made his first appearance in seven months since picking up a cruciate ligament injury after coming off the bench in stoppage-time as Real comfortably saw out the win.

Raphinha’s second-half goal helped Barcelona edge out 10-man Las Palmas 1-0 to close the gap on LaLiga leaders Real Madrid to five points.

Barcelona saw two goals chalked off for offside and Robert Lewandowski hit the bar but Las Palmas had goalkeeper Alvaro Valles red carded for a crude challenge on Raphinha outside his box after 25 minutes.

Xavi’s side were unable to initially capitalise on the extra man but Joao Felix came off the bench and provided a delicately-weighted ball over the top for Raphinha to head into the net in the 59th minute.

Felix could have given Barcelona some breathing room but conspired to hit the goal frame from point-blank range. However, the hosts extended their unbeaten run in all competitions to 11 matches.

The Catalan giants were far from their best against mid-table opposition who are now winless in their last half-dozen league games but they have kept pressure on Real, who welcome Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

Barcelona started strongly on Saturday night as Lewandowski was flagged offside before chipping over and then again after slotting home in the fifth minute, denying him a 21st goal of the campaign.

They had the ball in the net once more after 20 minutes when Lewandowski bore down on goal before teeing up Raphinha, who slipped inside and slotted beyond Valles only for the assistant’s flag to go up.

While Raphinha was onside when given the ball by Lewandowski, the Brazilian was clearly offside when his team-mate was originally put through and VAR upheld the official’s original decision.

If the hosts felt hard done by, they were given a boost when Valles was given his marching orders after rushing out of his goal and upending Raphinha, who had sprung the offside trap as he tried to latch on to Sergi Roberto’s through ball.

Valles and Las Palmas bitterly protested referee Mateo Busquets’ red card but the goalkeeper got none of the ball before cleaning out Raphinha and VAR backed the decision, leaving the visitors down to 10 players for more than an hour.

The dismissal led to the withdrawal of Munir El Haddadi and introduction of Aaron Escandell, who was soon beaten by Lewandowski’s header but the frame of the goal came to the goalkeeper’s rescue.

Raphinha drilled wide but despite all their dominance, Barcelona were given a major scare on the stroke of half-time when Saul Coco’s free-kick flashed fractionally wide.

Felix was sent on for Fermin Lopez shortly after the resumption and the on-loan Atletico Madrid forward had a near instant impact as his deft chip behind the defence led to Raphinha sweeping in and heading beyond Escandell to finally break Las Palmas’ resistance.

Barcelona went in search of a second and another teasing delivery from Felix was met by fellow substitute Ferran Torres, although his effort was well saved by Escandell.

Felix blotted his copybook by thudding against the crossbar inside the six-yard area, with the ball cannoning off Escandell’s right leg, the post then the substitute goalkeeper’s left leg before being cleared.

That miss might have come back to haunt him had substitute Alberto Moleiro found the right side of the net after cutting inside and lashing towards goal, but Barcelona were able to hang on and remain within distance of Real with eight matches of the season remaining.

Eder Militao could return for the first time in seven months as Real Madrid look to tighten their grip on the LaLiga title race against Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

The Brazilian picked up a cruciate ligament injury on the opening day of the season against the same club, but has been named in the matchday squad by head coach Carlo Ancelotti.

However Ancelotti warned not to expect too much of the centre-back, saying: “He’s available, he’s trained well, but obviously he’s not 100 per cent fit because he hasn’t played football.

“Militao is a very important player who helps us in many areas of the game. I wouldn’t rule him out completely. If we don’t go with Militao, either Nacho or (Aurelien) Tchouameni will play.”

Ancelotti will also have keeper Thibaut Courtois available after a long-term knee injury, but star striker Vinicius Junior is absent after picking up a one-game ban for his fifth booking of the season in last week’s win over Osasuna.

Jude Bellingham is also likely to return for the league leaders after missing the last two games following his red card against Valencia, as well as a minor ankle injury.

Real go into the game against their fourth-placed opponents on the back of two straight wins and Ancelotti added: “We’re feeling confident but we have to bear in mind that we’re playing against a team that’s having a great season.

“We’re feeling good and we have all the confidence in the world to perform well.”

Meanwhile, Ancelotti went on to dismiss renewed speculation that star midfielder Luka Modric could be leaving the Bernabeu at the end of the current season.

The 38-year-old’s contract runs out at the end of the current campaign, but Ancelotti insisted: “Everyone is talking about next season except us.

“Luka is focused and what we want to do is finish the season strongly and compete until the end. We’ll deal with the future of the players when the season is over. Nobody is interested in talking about his future now.”

Gary Neville was sacked by Valencia on this day in 2016 after spending only four months as the Spanish side’s head coach.

The former Manchester United and England defender, who at the time was part of Roy Hodgson’s England coaching staff, was dismissed just 28 games into what was his first management role.

That featured 10 wins, seven draws and 11 losses, including a 7-0 thrashing at Barcelona in the Copa del Rey.

Neville said in a statement on Los Che’s website: “I would like to thank Valencia, the fans, staff and the players.

“I would have liked to have continued the work I started. But I understand that we are in a results business and in the 28 games they have not been to my standards or to those which are required by this club.”

In LaLiga, Neville did not oversee a victory until his 10th attempt, and there were only three wins in total across 16 league matches.

Valencia had been ninth in the table when Neville was appointed as successor to Nuno Espirito Santo at the club, where his brother Phil was already on the coaching staff – their position was 14th when he departed.

The then 41-year-old’s final game in charge had been a 2-0 home loss to Celta Vigo – a third straight defeat.

Neville returned to the role of Sky Sports pundit – having left the position to take up the Valencia job – at the start of the 2016-17 campaign.

Barcelona head coach Xavi admits his side face a potential banana skin on Saturday against LaLiga rivals Las Palmas.

Xavi’s team return to action after the international break and are bidding to cut the gap to leaders Real Madrid to five points before their game at home to Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

Barca are unbeaten in 10 matches in all competitions but, when asked if there was a chance his side could slip up against 11th-placed Las Palmas, Xavi said: “Yes, especially because the (players) are coming back from the national teams.

“I’ve told them to forget about (the pressure). There are two trophies at stake and we’ve been competing very well over the previous two games, with excellent moments of play. It’s a very important match to keep fighting for LaLiga.”

Barca face Paris St Germain on April 10 in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final after beating Napoli 4-2 on aggregate in the last 16.

Xavi said he was grateful all his players had returned fit from international duty, adding: “(On Saturday) we play against an opponent that play very good football, they have personality, they don’t give balls away.

“They are a team with very Barca DNA, with technically-gifted players. It will be hard for us to get the ball from them. They come with little to lose and a lot to prove.”

Xavi hinted he will not be resting veterans Robert Lewandowski and Ilkay Gundogen, who were involved in both matches for their respective countries Poland and Germany earlier this week.

“I spoke with them (on Thursday) and (Friday) and they feel good. They will be ready for Las Palmas,” he said.

“They have accumulated a lot of minutes, but they will be ready. (Saturday) is not the ideal day to rest and even more so when we have 10 days until the next game.

“We have to get back into club mode. We’ve still got PSG to play. We have to focus on LaLiga because we want to fight for it and we think we can do it. We have to put pressure on Real Madrid.”

Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has undergone surgery on a meniscus tear in his right knee and is set for another spell of rehabilitation.

The 31-year-old Belgium international had already missed most of Real’s campaign so far after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury to his left knee last August.

Courtois only recently returned to first-team training and it had been hoped he could soon be available again as Carlo Ancelotti’s side challenge for the LaLiga title and Champions League success.

Real Madrid confirmed in a statement on Wednesday: “Our player Thibaut Courtois underwent successful surgery today for a tear to the internal meniscus of his right knee, under the supervision of the Real Madrid Medical Services.

“Courtois will start his recovery program in the next few days.”

It remains to be seen how long his latest injury setback will leave Courtois sidelined again.

Courtois had already been ruled out of Belgium’s upcoming friendlies against Republic of Ireland and England in the international break.

He also now looks likely not to be in contention for both legs of next month’s Champions League quarter-final against Manchester City.

Given Courtois’ absence, Ukrainian stopper Andriy Lunin has established himself in goal for Real this season.

Ancelotti’s side are eight points clear of fierce rivals and reigning Spanish champions Barcelona with nine games remaining.

Lionel Messi confirmed his leading role in Barcelona’s pantheon of greats on this day in 2012, breaking the club’s goalscoring record with a hat-trick against Granada.

The Argentina forward powered past Cesar Rodriguez’s benchmark of 232, which had stood since 1955, as he struck three times in a 5-3 thriller at the Nou Camp.

Messi equalled the record with his first goal – volleying home at the far post – and moved ahead with a trademark flourish.

Latching on to Dani Alves’ through ball, he produced a typically-classy lob to beat Julio Cesar and secure his long-anticipated place in the history books.

He was not done there, securing the match ball in the 88th minute when he rounded the goalkeeper and slammed his shot into the roof of the net between two covering defenders on the line.

Messi was in the midst of an unstoppable run of form, finishing the season with a remarkable 50 league goals and left his manager toasting him as the best in the business.

Former Barca head coach Pep Guardiola said: “I’m sorry for those that want to sit on his throne, but this lad is the best.

“Hopefully we can enjoy his football for many more years.

“He does everything and he does it every three days. Leo has rightfully entered into history.”

Messi’s love affair with the Catalan club finally came to an end in 2021, the 34-year-old tearfully departing for Paris St Germain after he had left an unimpeachable legacy behind.

His final scoring record stood at 672, including 474 in LaLiga and 120 in the Champions League, ousting Pele as the most goals for one player at a single club.

Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is set for more time on the sidelines after suffering a meniscus tear in his right knee.

The 31-year-old Belgium stopper has already missed most of Real’s campaign so far as they challenge for the LaLiga title and the Champions League after enduring an anterior cruciate ligament injury last August.

Courtois now looks set for an extended lay-off, reported to be in the region of six weeks, ruling him out of Belgium’s friendlies against the Republic of Ireland and England across the next seven days and possibly both legs of the Champions League quarter-final against Manchester City.

A statement published on realmadrid.com on Tuesday afternoon read: “After the tests carried out today on Thibaut Courtois, he has been diagnosed with a torn internal meniscus in his right knee. The injury occurred during today’s training session.”

In Courtois’ absence, Andriy Lunin has established himself between the sticks for league leaders Real this season. Carlo Ancelotti’s side are eight points clear of fierce rivals and reigning Spanish champions Barcelona with nine games remaining.

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