Carlo Ancelotti knows Real Madrid must produce a "complete" performance against Manchester City to reach the Champions League final, as he confirmed David Alaba is out of the second leg.

Madrid were beaten 4-3 by Premier League leaders City in a thrilling first leg at the Etihad Stadium last week.

Los Blancos responded to that defeat by thrashing Espanyol 4-0 on Saturday to win their 35th LaLiga title in style.

Ancelotti, who is the first coach to have triumphed across all of Europe's big five leagues and has stated that Madrid will be the last club he coaches, believes his side have a great chance to overturn a deficit when they face Pep Guardiola's side at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday if they are their very best.

The wily Madrid boss told reports on the eve of the match: "The game has to be complete. The low block has to be better than the first leg, the pressure has to be well done to avoid passes between lines and transitions. 

"We are not going to propose a game with a low block, that's for sure, but at some moments of the game it will be. The game has to be complete."

According to Ancelotti, Madrid will be without Alaba due to a hamstring injury, despite the Austria defender having been named in the squad. However, he has faith in Nacho Fernandez to perform.

He said: "Alaba can't play. I don't have doubts, it will possibly be a long game too but it's not so important who starts as it is who finishes it.

"The defence system is the same. Alaba is an important player but Nacho's played very well this season. He's experienced and I'm sure he'll put on a good performance tomorrow."

Another player who will start is Casemiro and Ancelotti expects the fit-again Brazil midfielder to make Los Blancos much more difficult to break down.

The Italian said: "His return is going to help us, it reinforces the defensive aspect, in which we have to improve, also in collective commitment, moving better as a block, being more compact 

"We have worked on the defensive aspect. I think we will see improvement."

Madrid have been crowned European champions a record 13 times, but Ancelotti believes that will count for nothing when they attempt to reach yet another final.

"History won't have an impact tomorrow," he said: "It will be different, each game has its own history. They have an edge and we are aware of it.

"We have to do our best. It will be a tough game but we've got an incredible opportunity to play another Champions League final and we've already won the league, so the atmosphere will be good and it's something we can pull off."

Real Madrid have to demonstrate that they are "the best team in the world" when they take on Manchester City for a place in the Champions League final, so says Luka Modric.

The meeting between the sides in Manchester last week was only the second semi-final first leg in Champions League history to see seven goals scored, after Liverpool beat Roma 5-2 in 2017-18.

Premier League leaders City hold a slender, 4-3 advantage heading to the Santiago Bernabeu and have progressed in nine of the previous 10 Champions League two-legged knockout ties when they have won the first leg.

Madrid have been eliminated in all five previous semi-finals in the competition when they have lost the first leg, but Los Blancos have progressed from two of their last three knockout ties when losing the first leg, including their remarkable comeback against Paris Saint-Germain in March.

Modric played a key role in that victory and in their quarter-final revival against Chelsea, and the mercurial 36-year-old was in bullish mood in Tuesday's pre-match news conference.

"The atmosphere in the locker room is very good. We are really looking forward to it. We know what we have to do, it is the most important game of the season," said Modric, who celebrated winning a third LaLiga title of his career on Saturday when Madrid beat Espanyol to clinch their 35th domestic crown.

"We are very confident that we will come back. We know that in the first leg we did not play our best game, but we still scored three goals. We have to do better, and I am sure of it."

 

Modric believes that Madrid's prestigious history can play its part in pushing Carlo Ancelotti's team on to reaching the final for the first time since 2018.

He said: "What do we have? Quality, a lot of character. The history of this club also plays a part. The club, which is the one with the most titles in the Champions League [13].

"All this influences a lot. We never give up. The club has taught us this since we got here. We have to show that we are Real Madrid, the best team in the world."

Modric played a pivotal role in Madrid winning three successive Champions League titles between 2015-16 and 2017-18, while he also helped win 'La Decima' during Ancelotti's first spell in 2013-14.

"I'm sure it's important. It's nice to remember that we've already won four Champions Leagues, some with a chance of reaching our fifth final," Modric said when asked if that experience was crucial against City, who have only reached one final, losing last season to Chelsea, before scoffing at the suggestion Madrid had been lucky in the past.

"To be here and win this many Champions Leagues, it's not just luck. It makes us laugh a little, although everyone can say what they want.

"We are focused on what we do and we don't care what they say outside. To get to this point year after year, beating great rivals and winning titles, you have to have more than luck: character, personality, faith. This is what makes us win."

Carlo Ancelotti has revealed he is likely to call time on his coaching career at club level once he leaves Real Madrid, but is open to staying in charge of Los Blancos for another 10 years.

The 62-year-old last week became the first ever coach to win each of Europe's top five leagues when guiding Madrid to LaLiga glory.

Ancelotti's legendary managerial career has spanned 26 years and across 11 jobs, including two stints with Spanish giants Madrid.

But the Italian is now thinking about the future and hopes to spend more time travelling and with his family.

"After Real, yes, I'll probably stop," he told Amazon Prime. "But if the club keeps me here for 10 years, I'll train for 10 years.

"I'd like to be with my grandchildren, go on vacation with my wife – there are so many things to do that I have left out that I would like to do. 

"There are many places I have never been. I have never been to Australia. I have never been to Rio de Janeiro. 

"I'd like to visit my sister more often. The day I quit, I'll have all these things to do."

 

Ancelotti has won 22 trophies, including Serie A with Milan in 2004, the Premier League with Chelsea in 2010, Ligue 1 with PSG in 2013, the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich in 2017 and LaLiga with Madrid this year.

With his latest league triumph, Ancelotti became the oldest manager to win the Spanish top flight at 62, two years older than Fabio Capello was when lifting the trophy with Madrid in 2006-07.

Having also won a record-equalling three European Cups at club level, Ancelotti has suggested he may be tempted into managing an international side in time for the 2026 World Cup.

"Yes, there could be a national team but now it is premature [to discuss that]," he said. "Certainly not for this World Cup. But for the one in 2026, why not?"

Asked if he has any interest in taking charge of Canada, who will jointly host the tournament along with the United States and Mexico, Ancelotti said: "Why not? They have done very well".

Real Madrid and Villarreal have it all to do when they host Manchester City and Liverpool respectively in the second legs of their Champions League semi-final ties in midweek.

Fresh off the back of winning a second LaLiga title in three seasons, Madrid are aiming to overturn a 4-3 deficit against City following last week's thrilling first leg in Manchester.

That was the joint-highest scoring semi-final first leg in the competition's history, along with Liverpool 5-2 Roma in 2017-18, and more drama awaits in the Spanish capital.

Villarreal face an even bigger task, meanwhile, as they trail Liverpool 2-0 through an unfortunate Pervis Estupinan own goal and a Sadio Mane strike at Anfield.

However, only once before have the Reds won both legs of a knockout stage tie against Spanish opposition in the Champions League or its former guise as the European Cup.

So will it be an all-English final in Paris on May 28, or can the LaLiga pair turn things around on home turf?

Ahead of the second legs, Stats Perform digs into some of the best Opta numbers around the two semi-final ties.


Villarreal v Liverpool

To put the size of Villarreal's task into some perspective, only once before – Liverpool versus Barcelona in 2019 – has a team overturned a two-goal first-leg deficit at this stage of the Champions League.

Villarreal are unbeaten at home in Champions League knockout ties, albeit having won just two of their seven such games. The bad news, though, is that across those seven matches, neither side has managed to score more than once on any occasion.

If they are to have any hope of advancing then Unai Emery's men need to display far more attacking impetus than was on show last week, having attempted only one shot and failed to hit the target at Anfield. The last team to fail to record a shot on target across two legs of a Champions League semi-final was Deportivo de La Coruna in 2003-04, against Jose Mourinho's Porto.

Should Liverpool see the job through, they will become only the fourth side to reach the final of the European Cup/ Champions League on 10 or more occasions after Real Madrid (16), Bayern Munich and Milan (both 11), with their current tally of nine the most of any English side.

Jurgen Klopp's side have been formidable on the road in Europe this season, scoring 15 goals and conceding five across their five away Champions League matches, all of which have ended in victory. Should they win on Tuesday, they will boast the longest 100 per cent away record by any team in a single European Cup or Champions League campaign.

After netting in the first leg it is likely that Mane will again be selected in Liverpool's star-studded front three. The Senegal international has scored 14 knockout-stage goals for the Reds in the Champions League, leaving him one short of Chelsea legend Frank Lampard's record for the most for an English club.

 


Real Madrid v Manchester City

The omens are good for City as they have progressed from nine of their previous 10 knockout ties in the Champions League after winning the first leg, the only exception being against Monaco at the last-16 stage in 2016-17 after squandering a 5-3 advantage to lose 6-6 on away goals.

Madrid have been eliminated from all five previous Champions League semi-finals in which they have lost the first leg, meanwhile, though they have advanced from two of their past three knockout ties when losing the first leg – against Wolfsburg in the 2015-16 quarter-finals and versus Paris Saint-Germain in this season's last 16.

Los Blancos, the competition's most successful side, have lost their past two Champions League games, though only once before have they lost three on the spin. Head coach Carlo Ancelotti, incidentally, has never lost three in a row with this his 178th match.

A draw would be enough to see City through, but they have won their last three matches against Madrid in the Champions League and could become the third side to win four in a row against them in UEFA's showpiece competition, the only previous sides to have done so being Ajax (between 1973 and 1995) and Bayern Munich (between 2000 and 2002).

City boss Pep Guardiola has had his fair share of battles with Madrid down the years, not least in the Champions League. The Catalan coach has won four matches against Los Blancos in the competition – only Ottmar Hitzfeld (seven) has won more – with half of those wins coming at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Karim Benzema has rescued Madrid a number of times in Europe this season, the Frenchman having netted nine times in the knockout stage alone. Only former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo (10) has ever scored more in a single season, while Benzema could become the fourth player to score in both legs of the quarter-finals and semi-finals in a single season after Fernando Morientes (2003-04), Neymar (2014-15) and Edin Dzeko (2017-18). 

While Benzema has rightly received plenty of plaudits, strike partner Vinicius Junior has himself played a huge part in Madrid's charge for a record-extending 14th European Cup. The 28 open-play chances created by the Brazil international is the most of any player in the Champions League since Dusan Tadic (36) in 2018-19.

Real Madrid defender David Alaba did not train with the squad on Monday, casting doubt over his participation against Manchester City.

Alaba, who has added a LaLiga title to his 10 Bundesliga crowns after Madrid sealed their domestic triumph on Saturday, trained inside away from the rest of the squad, according to an update on the club's official website.

The versatile defender, signed on a free transfer last season following the expiration of his Bayern Munich contract, has played a key role in Carlo Ancelotti's defence this term and has made 45 appearances across all competitions, all of them starts.

However, Alaba was taken off in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final against City last week, which finished 4-3 in the Premier League leaders' favour, with a hamstring issue, and it is unclear if he will return in time to play against Pep Guardiola's team in Wednesday's second leg. He did not play against Espanyol on Saturday.

Madrid are vying for a place in the final, which will take place on May 28 in Paris. Liverpool lead Villarreal 2-0 on aggregate in the other semi-final.

Gareth Bale did also not take part in full training, while Eden Hazard continues his recovery from a fibula fracture.

Real Madrid have reportedly made Chelsea's Reece James their primary transfer target ahead of next season.

Despite his time on the pitch being limited by injuries, the 22-year-old right-back has been a potent force going forwards this season, contributing five goals and six assists in 22 Premier League fixtures.

While Chelsea will likely do all they can to hold on to their homegrown England international, Madrid have had plenty of opportunities to scout the man top of their wish-list as he played all 210 minutes across their two Champions League legs, with the second going to extra-time.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID MAKE JAMES A PRIORITY

Todofichajes is reporting Los Blancos have identified right-back as a position of weakness, spelling bad news for incumbent Dani Carvajal.

Madrid, who won LaLiga on Saturday, are said to have assessed other options at the position, such as Sporting CP's Pedro Porro, but ultimately landed on James after getting an up-close look at him in the Champions League.

James still has three years remaining on his contract, and 90min is reporting a revamped new deal is one of Chelsea's top priorities once the sale of the club is complete. He is expected to fetch a transfer fee of at least €60million.

ROUND-UP

- Arsenal defender Gabriel Magalhaes is a target for Juventus in the upcoming window, according to TEAMtalk.

- The Daily Mail is reporting Leicester City midfielder Youri Tielemans would prefer a move to Spain if he leaves the club, with Madrid said to have a strong interest.

- According to Birmingham Live, Manchester United sent a senior scout to watch Wolves midfielder Ruben Neves against Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday.

Juve are interested in bringing Chelsea midfielder Jorginho back to Italy before his contract expires, per Todofichajes.

- Fabrizio Romano is reporting Chelsea left-back Marcos Alonso is keen to return to Spain, and Barcelona have made contact. 

- Romano also claims that Chelsea are still eager to sign Sevilla centre-back Jules Kounde. The France defender has an €80m release clause.

Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois could not help but twist the knife after Los Blancos secured their 35th LaLiga title on Saturday.

Following their 4-0 win over Espanyol at the Santiago Bernabeu, giving them an unassailable lead with four games to spare, Courtois had a response to a claim from Dani Alves.

With Barcelona's recent win over Real Sociedad, and March's 4-0 victory over the newly-crowned champions in mind, Alves had joked that Madrid were fortunate the Blaugrana let them open up such a huge margin.

After clinching the league, Courtois engaged in some tit-for-tat while praising Madrid's maturity and togetherness in seeing the title race through.

"After the Clasico was key," he said. "Some people celebrated as if they had won the title, that they were back.

"But we kept calm to beat Celta in a difficult game, and Getafe, which is always difficult for us.

"This is the work of the whole team," Courtois said. "We all attack and defend."

With Wednesday's Champions League semi-final second leg against Manchester City looming, it will have been a relief to head coach Carlo Ancelotti that Saturday's contest became a relatively routine victory, and the Los Blancos boss was able to stagger the minutes of Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Vinicius Jr.

Courtois noted despite the result that Espanyol did not make it easy on his side.

"We had to finish it off today," Courtois said. "Everything was ready, also for our friends, family, fans.

"We knew we couldn't slip. Espanyol gave us a very tough game at the beginning, but we were calm and after the first goal, everything was easier."

 

Real Madrid captain Marcelo became Los Blancos' most decorated player in history after securing the Spanish title on Saturday.

A first-half brace from Rodrygo coupled with second-half strikes by Marco Asensio and Karim Benzema sealed the top-flight crown for Madrid with a 4-0 win over Espanyol.

Madrid wrapped up LaLiga with four games to spare, their earliest domestic crown since the 1988-89 campaign (also four), while their 35 titles are more than any team in Europe's top five leagues.

Carlo Ancelotti created his own piece of history as he became the first coach to lift top-flight trophies in Europe's top five leagues (Spain, England, Germany, France and Italy).

Brazil international Marcelo also claimed a personal landmark with Madrid's success, the veteran full-back boasting the most trophy wins of any player for the club after his 24th triumph.

Marcelo's cabinet includes four Champions League crowns, four Club World Cups, three European Super Cups, six league titles, two Copa del Rey trophies and five Supercopas de Espana.

"It's the most incredible thing that a player can experience," said Marcelo, who has managed 545 appearances and scored 38 times for Madrid.

"We've won LaLiga as a result of the hard work from the whole team. We have to keep winning. This is the result of hard work, enjoyment, sacrifice... We've managed to win it by combining all the factors.
 
"It's the best thing there is to be able to celebrate with the fans after playing at home. It's the most incredible thing that a player can experience.

"It's a day to celebrate, even though we're aware that we've got an important game coming up, but it's OK to celebrate and remain focused and motivated for Wednesday."

The attention of Madrid will now turn to a Champions League semi-final second leg at home to Manchester City on Wednesday, with Pep Guardiola's side holding a slender 4-3 lead heading to the Spanish capital.

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.

Carlo Ancelotti outlined his desire to win more trophies with Real Madrid after Los Blancos secured the LaLiga title with 4-0 victory over Espanyol.

A first-half Rodrygo double set Ancelotti's men on their way before strikes from Marco Asensio and Karim Benzema finished off the job in style at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday.

Madrid claimed their 35th Spanish top-flight crown with four games to spare, their earliest title since the 1989-99 campaign.

Ancelotti became the first coach to win each of Europe's top five leagues and the Italian is hungry for further success in the Champions League, with Madrid 4-3 down in the semi-final heading into the second leg at home to Manchester City on Wednesday.

"A lot of emotion, we have met a challenge," he said on the pitch after Madrid sealed the title.

"The season has been spectacular. Lots of consistency. I have to thank the players for their work and their attitude. 

"Today we have to celebrate, not talk. I want to celebrate. It fills me with pride to win in the five major leagues. I can say that I like what I do. It means I've done pretty well. 

"I'm proud. I want to continue winning titles with Real Madrid. See you on Wednesday. I tell the fans on Wednesday we need this atmosphere."

Madrid captain Marcelo also expressed his pride as he dedicated the triumph to the Los Blancos faithful.

"An immense joy," the veteran full-back said. "We have won it as soon as possible and that is everyone's job. Very happy and we need to keep adding. It is the fruit of work, joy, sacrifice and many things. 

"That's why we've won before. Celebrating it with the fans is the best. Before we couldn't but today we can. The party is theirs. 

"It is the greatest joy, celebrating at the home of the best club in the world. Today we have to celebrate. We have an important game ahead, but nothing happens to celebrate well."

Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois echoed his skipper Marcelo's sentiments.

"It is incredible to win the league with so many games remaining," the Belgium international said. "We made a great effort this year and we are very happy. 

"We have had a very important consistency in key games, but above all how we got through the difficult games we had after the Clasico [a 4-0 defeat at home to Barcelona]. 

"We beat Celta and Sevilla at their stadium, Getafe here at the Santiago Bernabeu... Many thanks to the fans for everything. Today the atmosphere was great. 

"We really wanted to celebrate it, because two years ago we couldn't celebrate it with the fans due to the pandemic. Go Madrid!"

Real Madrid are LaLiga champions for the second time in three seasons – and a 35th time overall – after beating Espanyol 4-0 on Saturday to clinch top spot.

Los Blancos have led the way pretty much throughout a campaign that has seen erstwhile champions Atletico Madrid and a Lionel Messi-less Barcelona struggle for consistency.

Indeed, Sevilla proved Los Blancos' biggest threat for large parts of this season, but Carlo Ancelotti's men never truly looked in danger of relinquishing their grip on another title.

Madrid's latest triumph came in Ancelotti's first season back at the club, with the Italian becoming the first head coach to win each of Europe's top five leagues.

While Ancelotti deserves plenty of credit, the title stroll would not have been possible if not for Karim Benzema and Thibaut Courtois at opposite ends of the pitch.

Here, Stats Perform looks at the numbers behind Madrid's latest title romp, which they could still yet add to with the Champions League in the coming weeks.

 

Madrid masterclass

Not only have Madrid won more European Cups than any side, their 35th LaLiga crown sees them overtake Juventus for the most titles among the top five European leagues.

Their two titles in three seasons, with the other coming under Zinedine Zidane in 2019-10, is as many as they won in the previous 11 campaigns.

Ancelotti's men have done so in style, too, having clinched top spot with four matchdays left, surpassing 2007-08 (three matchdays) for their earliest title win this century.

 

Carlo completes the set

Ancelotti won five trophies during his previous spell in charge of Madrid but the LaLiga title eluded him.

However, the 62-year-old can now lay claim to having won the title in Italy, England, France, Germany and indeed Spain – the first head coach to have ever achieved a sweep.

He is also the oldest coach to have won the Spanish top flight, some two years more senior than Fabio Capello was when also tasting success with Madrid in 2006-07.

Incidentally, Ancelotti and Capello are the only two Italian coaches to have reigned in Spain, with the latter having done so twice.

 

Karim the Dream

Benzema has led the way for Madrid with this his fourth LaLiga conquest, adding to the titles won in 2012, 2017 and 2020.

The France international has scored 26 goals in 30 league games this season, making this his most prolific campaign across his 13 years in Spain's top flight.

Not only does Benzema lead the LaLiga scoring charts, his 11 assists are also level with Barcelona's Ousmane Dembele as the most in the division.

Just to further underline the striker's importance this season, with 37 direct goal involvements he has played a part in 51 per cent of Los Blancos' 73 league goals.

Courtois a calming presence

For all of Benzema's goals, Madrid have so often called upon goalkeeper Courtois to rescue them this campaign.

The former Chelsea stopper has conceded 29 goals across 34 matches, keeping 14 clean sheets in the process.

Real Sociedad's Alex Remiro (18) can hold claim to keeping more shutouts, but a separate metric shows just how good Courtois has been in 2021-22.

The 29 goals Courtois has conceded have come from 33.4 expected goals on target conceded, meaning he has prevented 4.4 goals based on the quality of his shot-stopping.

To put that in some perspective, no goalkeeper in LaLiga has prevented more goals this season, while only five others across Europe's top five leagues have prevented more.

Benzema and Vinicius Junior may get most of the plaudits, but Courtois' influence has undoubtedly been significant.

 

Real Madrid secured the title with four LaLiga fixtures remaining thanks to a commanding 4-0 win over Espanyol.

Carlo Ancelotti's team went into Saturday's game at the Santiago Bernabeu knowing a point would be enough to wrap up the 35th LaLiga title of the club's prestigious history.

But anything other than a home win never looked likely after Rodrygo opened the scoring in the 33rd minute, with Los Blancos cruising to a comfortable victory despite significant squad rotation.

Rodrygo made it 2-0 10 minutes later, before Marco Asensio and substitute Karim Benzema added to the score in the second half.

Success this season represents a maiden LaLiga title for Ancelotti, who has become the first coach to win all of Europe's top five leagues, having previously triumphed in England, Germany, France and Italy.

Madrid have led the way for much of the season as Atletico Madrid struggled to defend their title and Barcelona initially floundered without Lionel Messi.

Sevilla represented Madrid's closest rivals for a long stretch but fell off the pace, while Barca's recent poor run ended their slim hopes of a title challenge.

Madrid's full focus will now switch to the Champions League. They trail 4-3 on aggregate heading into the second leg of their semi-final clash with Manchester City next week.

After a third successive Champions League title, Cristiano Ronaldo's departure for Juventus was meant to signal the end for a team that had scaled the heights of European football.

The annus horribilis of the 2018-19 season seemed to reaffirm such sentiment, but with Real Madrid now claiming a second LaLiga title and sitting another hair's breadth from the Champions League final since that departure, it seems even more irrational in hindsight.

How have Madrid been able to sustain their level among the best in European football and keep fighting for silverware on multiple fronts despite such a seemingly transformative absence? How have they won this season's LaLiga title with such ease?

Despite a severely weakened Barcelona and a supposed closing of the gap to the rest, Madrid can still reach 90 points this season.

 

In reality, their three successive Champions League triumphs during Zinedine Zidane's first spell in charge were largely due to the ideal balance of their midfield, comprising of Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Luka Modric.

To use but one example, bring into perspective how could they nullify Liverpool's ability to press in both the 2017-18 final and then again in the 2020-21 quarter-final over two legs, with Zidane in charge for a second time.

It bears repeating. Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp – a great pressing team that squeezes the opposition into submission, consistently forces errors and is tactically transforming football before our eyes – were eventually rendered inert on multiple occasions.

At Madrid's core though, the collective did and continues to flourish via the creative and incorporative link between Modric and Karim Benzema, both with and without the ball. In a burgeoning era of automation and systems, they are the system.

 

The thing that maximises the duo's technical proficiency is their ability to improvise and embrace risk in the exploitation of space. If automation was football's equivalent to the legend of developing a pen in space, the link between Modric and Benzema is the comparative pencil – just as effective, far more practical.

Granted, that reliance on them creates volatility. When the two are on the pitch, they give Los Blancos a distinct flexibility. When they're not together, the collective is without a reference point and their relationship between defence and attack is compromised – as it was in their thumping in El Clasico in March or even going back to the 2016-17 season and their Copa del Rey elimination in the quarter-final over two legs to Celta Vigo.

 

Viewing Madrid through this prism makes a lot of other aspects relating to them clearer – the ability to feasibly play Lucas Vazquez at right-back in Dani Carvajal's absence, the varying shifts in form from the likes of Vinicius Junior and Kroos this season, or the differing fates of Eduardo Camavinga and Martin Odegaard upon attempting to integrate them into the midfield.

On that latter point, within this context, Camavinga earning more scope at Kroos' expense instead of Modric does not become much of a surprise – because while Benzema has elite comparisons in the form of Robert Lewandowski and Harry Kane in terms of profile, Modric has always been one of a kind.

Midfielders as complete as Modric, possessing the effortless ability to blur the line between the elegant and the practical, simply did not exist before him – at least as a deep-lying player and not deployed higher up the pitch.

At the incomprehensible age of 36, the Croatia international is still unique, still elite. Ahead of Saturday's match, he led Madrid's midfielders in all competitions this season for chances created in open play per 90 minutes (1.1), expected assists (0.17) and trailed only Camavinga (1.5) for dribbles completed (1.4).

Only Kroos (12.5) bettered Modric (9.5) for passes into the final third per 90 in all competitions, but the German's passing represents an increasingly singular role in Madrid's midfield. He is a world-class distributor, but it is maximised as a result of the spaces that Benzema and Modric create.

No player is more relevant in this regard, however, than Vinicius. His own progression has also accelerated upon that basis. Benzema and Modric's ability to collapse opposition defences leaves the opposition full-back on Vinicius' side isolated, and the 21-year-old can be destructive when he has momentum to dribble.

This all matters because it creates a cumulative impact on how Madrid score their goals. In all competitions ahead of Saturday's game, Vinicius topped the team for dribbles completed per 90 (3.0), chances created from open play (2.3) and expected assists (0.23). 

This goes some way to explaining Benzema's dramatic increase in rate of goal scoring, especially comparing 25 goals in 29 league appearances heading into the weekend to his tally of five LaLiga goals in 2017-18.

Much like Modric, 34-year-old Benzema has the capacity to be flexible as that central striker, and to do what the game requires of him in any given moment. 

 

The reference point Benzema and Modric provide has been the primary dynamic in this season's title win – Carlo Ancelotti's first LaLiga success. They can win games in an instant but collectively, the consequent ability to manage games and keep applying pressure from either winning or losing positions, on the back of both territorial and positional superiority, has been critical.

Ultimately, intelligent footballers gravitate towards one another and it is one of most profound and beautiful aspects of the sport. While Madrid will eventually go on without Benzema and Modric, their interaction and how it has built a worthy title winner this season has only underlined that.

Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain were among the clubs to pay tribute to Mino Raiola following the agent's death.

Raiola, whose list of clients included Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Erling Haaland and Gianluigi Donnarumma, was confirmed to have died on Saturday at the age of 54.

He had been in a critical condition at a Milan hospital.

Madrid tweeted: "Real Madrid C.F., its president and its board of directors deeply lament the passing of Mino Raiola and wish to express their condolences and affection to his family and loved ones."

PSG, who signed Donnarumma from Milan last year, tweeted: "Mino Raiola, charismatic sports agent, passed away today following an illness. The club, through its president, sends its condolences to his family and loved ones."

Serie A leaders Milan posted "our deepest condolences to the Raiola family and all the friends of Mino for their tragic loss," to their official Twitter account, while Inter also expressed their condolences.

 

Real Madrid clinched the LaLiga title in style as Rodrygo scored twice in a 4-0 thrashing of Espanyol.

Los Blancos needed only to avoid defeat to give third-placed Barcelona no chance of producing a remarkable turnaround in the title race.

And they made no mistake against Barca's city rivals on Saturday, Rodrygo doing the damage in the first half with a well-taken brace.

Marco Asensio made it 3-0 and Isco had a goal disallowed before Karim Benzema fittingly had the final say as Madrid claimed a 35th LaLiga title. They will now turn attention to trying to overturn a 4-3 deficit to Manchester City in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final on Wednesday.

Espanyol started brightly with plenty of energy but they were fortunate not to go behind in the 13th minute when Mariano, playing as the central striker in place of the rested Benzema, hit the post with a header from point-blank range.

Mariano headed wide from Luka Modric's pass nine minutes later before the deadlock was broken by Rodrygo, who received Marcelo's cutback and stroked a side-footed effort into the bottom-right corner.

Ten minutes later, Rodrygo doubled their advantage, wrong-footing Diego Lopez with a clever finish after Espanyol lost possession deep in their own half.

Asensio effectively made sure of the points and the title 10 minutes into the second half, when he confidently finished off a rapid counter-attack led by Eduardo Camavinga.

Substitutes Benzema and Isco combined for what looked a fine fourth goal, only for VAR to intervene with Lopez's vision apparently impeded by an offside player.

It mattered not as Madrid regained the title they lost to Atletico Madrid last season, Benzema's 81st-minute effort too strong for Lopez to put the icing on the cake.

 

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