Carlo Ancelotti has labelled Vinicius Junior as one of the world's best players ahead of Real Madrid's Copa del Rey tie against Barcelona.

The Brazil international has five goals in as many games in all competitions, most recently netting a brace as Madrid came from behind to beat Liverpool 5-2 in their Champions League last-16 first leg.

He has 18 goals in 36 games overall for Madrid this campaign – only eight players across Europe's top five leagues have scored more.

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Madrid boss Ancelotti refuted suggestions of an over-reliance on Vinicius and backed the Brazilian to get the better of his opposite number Ronald Araujo in Thursday’s fixture.

He said: "It's a positive aspect. He is one of the best players in the world, who sometimes changes games in our favour. It's quite normal to be dependent on it.

"You don't have to say anything special to Vinicius. We are not going to change. It is true that Araujo is a very strong defender, but it will be a very entertaining duel. Hopefully, Vinicius can win it."

Real Madrid lost their most recent fixture against Xavi's side in the Supercopa de Espana final in January but have plenty of chances to exact revenge.

Sandwiched between both legs of the Copa del Rey tie is a third Classico in the league, with Madrid hoping to reduce the seven-point lead Barcelona currently have at the top of the table. 

Ancelotti also provided an update on the fitness of Toni Kroos, who has started just one of Madrid’s last four games.

"These are games in which you need many things, including personality and energy. It may be that because of the energy, Kroos is not in the eleven," he added.

"But we also need experience so I have to think about this."

Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Raphael Varane were among those to pay tribute to Sergio Ramos following his retirement from international football.

The veteran defender, a World Cup winner and Spain's most-capped men's player, called time on his La Roja career on Thursday.

Ramos' decision came after new head coach Luis de la Fuente informed him he would not be part of his plans, after his absence at both Euro 2020 and Qatar 2022.

The news sparked an outpouring of support from team-mates past and present, with several taking to social media to congratulate him on a storied international career.

PSG forward Mbappe and Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos both called him: "The best."

Manchester United defender Varane, who played with Ramos at the Santiago Bernabeu, referred to him as a "legend", while current Los Blancos forward Vinicius Junior posted a crown emoji.

Neymar, another PSG team-mate, offered a trio of applause icons while Achraf Hakimi, whose Morocco side ended Spain's run at Qatar 2022, said: "Respect to you."

Ramos, who also won a pair of European Championships in 2008 and 2012 either side of his World Cup triumph at South Africa 2010, won 180 caps for Spain.

He made his international debut in 2005, in a friendly victory over China, and would go on to score 23 goals, ranking him ninth on the country's all-time scorer list.

After last featuring as a substitute against Kosovo in 2021, Ramos was subsequently overlooked by former head coach Luis Enrique for Euro 2020 and Qatar 2022.

Real Madrid will be without key midfielders Toni Kroos and Aurlien Tchouameni for their trip to Liverpool but Karim Benzema has made Los Blancos' squad.

Benzema, last year's Ballon d'Or winner, has had an injury hit campaign and missed Saturday's win over Osasuna.

Yet the 35-year-old, who has scored 14 goals this season, returned to training ahead of Tuesday's Champions League last-16 clash at Anfield and has subsequently been named in Carlo Ancelotti's travelling party.

However, Madrid will not be able to call on Kroos or Tchouameni.

The injured duo did not play against Osasuna and were not included in Madrid's squad, which was confirmed on Monday.

Ancelotti will be hoping Kroos and Tchouameni return to fitness in time to face city rivals Atletico Madrid on Saturday in LaLiga, with a Copa del Rey Classico against Barcelona following on March 2.

Madrid beat Liverpool 1-0 in last season's Champions League final, a match that was overshadowed by policing issues outside of the Stade de France.

Vinicius Junior scored the only goal as Thibaut Courtois turned in a fine display to help Madrid claim a 14th European crown.

The second leg of the last-16 tie will take place at the Santiago Bernabeu on March 15.

Toni Kroos has hit out at UEFA and believes it is only a matter of time before a European Super League is launched.

New plans for a continental Super League including up to 80 teams were laid out this month.

There would be at least 14 matches per season for the clubs involved in a multi-division format, with no permanent members and teams still participating in their domestic leagues.

A proposed breakaway European Super League collapsed in April 2021 soon after plans were announced, but Real Madrid midfielder Kroos is in no doubt a new competition will go ahead.

The former Germany international said on his podcast Einfach mal Luppen: "I think we will see the Super League. And I believe so for several reasons. The idea of the Super League has changed and deserves to be heard.

"If you look carefully from both angles, you will see that UEFA is by no means a great Samaritan for football fans and that the Super League has no plans, at least in the second attempt, to exclude any team, because there will be no permanent founding members.

"It is a sports competition, an open tournament, but managed by the clubs and not by UEFA, because these clubs believe that they do not need UEFA for that. I think this deserves at least one chance.

"Although we have already talked about the loss of passion for football, I believe that the Super League has the opportunity to reverse that situation. Let there be more enthusiasm and emotion for the games that we will be able to see.

"Because in the end, let's not fool ourselves, many people always say: 'Who wants to see Real Madrid against Manchester City every week?' But have you gotten tired of watching [Roger] Federer against [Rafael] Nadal over and over again? I don't. That’s my opinion,"

Kroos suggested Europe's governing body is guilty of double standards.

He added: "I think we have only heard the UEFA side, and too often in my opinion. Why is it okay for UEFA to introduce a Nations League that no one needs?

"Suddenly no one asks them about it. That's why I think it's incredibly important to listen to other proposals like the Super League. I get the feeling that we are no longer being listened to."

Germany great Jurgen Klinsmann believes Toni Kroos is an "exceptional player" who can remain at the top level with Real Madrid for another four seasons.

Kroos has made 395 appearance and won a remarkable 18 trophies – including the Champions League four times – for Madrid during nine seasons with the club.

The 33-year-old remains a key player for the LaLiga giants, starting 26 of their 34 games this term – only Federico Valverde (29) and Vinicius Junior (32) have started more often.

However, the midfielder's contract at the Santiago Bernabeu expires at the end of this season and he stated last week he will not rush into making a decision on his future.

Kroos has made clear he will not join another club after he brings an end to his Madrid career, and Klinsmann is hopeful he will hold off from retiring for many more years.

"What he has achieved in the last 10 or 15 years is truly fabulous," Klinsmann told Stats Perform. "He's won it all. I don't even know how many trophies he has won. 

"He is an exceptional player who can manage his energies not only for 90 minutes but up to 120, giving it all for Real Madrid. 

"He could easily play at this level for another three or four seasons, even more since he unfortunately retired from the German national team to save further energy. 

"I hope he can go on playing because it would be sad for him to quit so soon."

 

Kroos' influence has once again been clear for Los Blancos this season, with his 1,219 completed passes the most of any player in LaLiga, despite missing three games.

He also ranks highest in the division for passes attempted per 90 minutes (94) – 11 more than any other player – among those to have featured more than twice. 

Commenting on his future after helping Madrid to another Club World Cup title last weekend, Kroos said: "I will end my career here.

"I just don't know exactly when yet. I'm thinking about it. It won't take many more months, but there is still no decision."

Carlo Ancelotti insists Real Madrid will fight to claw back Barcelona in the LaLiga title race.

Los Blancos sit in second place, 11 points behind their Clasico rivals with a game in hand, which they play against Elche at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday.

Fresh from winning the Club World Cup after beating Al Hilal 5-3 in Morocco at the weekend, Ancelotti stated his belief that winning trophies makes you hungrier for more.

"I don't think it's a problem for Real Madrid," he told reporters. "The idea I have is that winning helps you win. When you win you feel things you want to repeat.

"Repeating is motivation for us. We have a disadvantage in LaLiga, but we're going to fight."

Madrid have won just four of their last nine LaLiga games (D2, L3) and were beaten 1-0 at Real Mallorca last time out.

"I don't need to give arguments," Ancelotti added. "Our fans know the professionalism of this team, of these players. They know that we are going to fight every game. I don't think anyone thinks that we are in a 'critical' situation."

The Italian coach was without Thibaut Courtois in Morocco, with the goalkeeper getting injured prior to the Mallorca defeat, but while Courtois will also not be available against Elche, Ancelotti believes he could have the 2022 Yashin Trophy winner back for Saturday's game against Osasuna.

Toni Kroos will also be missing on Wednesday through illness, though Eder Militao and Lucas Vazquez are in line to return.

"Courtois will not be there tomorrow, I hope he will be there for Saturday against Osasuna," he said. "Militao returns, Lucas returns... We have Kroos out, who has a problem."

Ancelotti was positive about Kroos' long-term availability, though, hinting that the German midfielder could sign a new deal with the club.

"I know what is going to happen, but I can't say it. I'm not Kroos," he said. "He hasn't told me, but the feeling is that he's going to renew, but we'll see."

When asked about Karim Benzema doing the same, Ancelotti replied: "I don't know, but I repeat: the legends of Real Madrid must retire at Real Madrid."

He was more certain that Benzema will still be at the club next season, though, despite suggestions that Madrid will be in the market for a new striker at the end of this campaign.

"Well, that Madrid needs a nine is an opinion," he said. "We have Karim, who is not a child, but he will be with us next year. This is not the time to think about next year."

Toni Kroos is yet to decide whether he will renew his contract with Real Madrid, but the midfielder remains "calm" concerning his talks with Los Blancos.

Kroos started as Madrid wrapped up a record-extending fifth Club World Cup title on Saturday, Vinicius Junior and Federico Valverde both scoring twice in a thrilling 5-3 win over Al Hilal.

While Kroos remains a key player for Madrid, appearing in 17 of their 20 games in LaLiga this term, he is yet to extend his contact at the Santiago Bernabeu, which expires at the end of the season.

Reports in December suggested Kroos would decide whether to pen a one-year extension in February, but the former Germany international is still pondering his future.

"There are different things that you have to think about if you want to continue or not," Kroos said after Saturday's win. "I'm thinking about it. 

"It won't take many more months, but there still isn't a decision.

"We are very calm and there is a relationship between the club and myself that nobody does nonsense. I am very calm." 

Kroos has featured in all five of Madrid's Club World Cup triumphs, and he says the manner in which Los Blancos qualified – winning a series of dramatic knockout ties en route to last term's Champions League success – sweetens the achievement.

"To get here you have to win the Champions League and that is what we are going to try to do again, although it is difficult," he said. "The road is very long. 

"Also, remembering how we suffered in the Champions League in the knockout games and in the final, getting here is a prize. 

"Here the rivals may not have the quality of the Champions League, but it's the game of their lives and you have to play a serious game."

Carlo Ancelotti says Luka Modric and Toni Kroos understand the need to refresh Real Madrid's midfield after the duo found themselves on the bench for last week's win at Athletic Bilbao.

Modric and Kroos were introduced as late substitutes during Madrid's impressive 2-0 win at San Mames on Sunday, with the former Germany man making the points safe with a fine long-range finish.

Modric's tally of 17 starts in all competitions this season has been bettered by team-mates Federico Valverde (24), Kroos (21) and Aurelien Tchouameni (18), while no Madrid midfielder has made more total appearances than Eduardo Camavinga's 27.

Speaking ahead of Thursday's Copa del Rey quarter-final against rivals Atletico Madrid, Ancelotti said the experienced players in his squad understood the nature of Los Blancos' transition.

"They are professionals and understand the quality of this team," he said of Modric and Kroos. "I don't need to explain why they don't play. 

"They understand it very well, we talked about it in pre-season. Now is a time of transition for this team. 

"The veterans must have understanding and young players must have patience. That has been key to success in the squad. They are all motivated.

"They [Modric and Kroos] can still play together, I don't have a single doubt. They contribute a lot and will continue to contribute during this season. They are always decisive."

Ancelotti is yet to decide who will start in the engine room against Los Colchoneros, who triumphed in a two-legged tie when the rivals last met in the domestic cup back in 2015.

Asked about possible changes in midfield, the coach said: "It could be a part of the rotation that we have to take on for this game. Tomorrow we have to put together the best possible team, and that's what we'll try to do."

The last meeting between the clubs was marred by racist abuse directed towards Vinicius Junior, audible before and during Madrid's 2-1 win at the Civitas Metropolitano in September.

Vinicius was on the receiving end of several heavy challenges against Athletic last time out, and Ancelotti wants the winger to be afforded greater physical and mental protection. 

"It is a subject that we are concentrating on," Ancelotti said. "The player is in good physical condition, and mentally you have to protect him. 

"It's very important. Football needs Vinicius, who has an extraordinary talent. You have to protect the physical and mental aspects. He is very motivated and eager to contribute."

Meanwhile, with reports continuing to suggest Ancelotti is a contender to coach Vinicius in international football by taking the vacant Brazil job, the Italian insisted he had not received any proposal from the Selecao.

"So far, we haven't been in touch," he said. "If that contact ever takes place, I will let you know."

Goals for Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos saw Real Madrid battle their way to a 2-0 win against Athletic Bilbao in a lively LaLiga encounter on Sunday.

Veteran France international Benzema hooked back a loose ball with a sensational volley to beat Unai Simon in the 24th minute at San Mames Stadium.

Kroos then swept home a breakaway finish in the 90th minute to wrap up the points for Carlo Ancelotti's men and keep the pressure on league leaders Barcelona.

But Ernesto Valverde's side will be left to mull whether they should have taken a point from the encounter after pushing hard for a draw before Kroos' goal ended those hopes.

Carlo Ancelotti believes a "zero tolerance" policy needs to be taken against racism after Real Madrid forward Vinicius Junior was abused by some Real Valladolid fans on Friday.

Madrid won the game 2-0 thanks to a Karim Benzema double, but shocking footage emerged after the final whistle of Vinicius being racially abused as he was substituted late on, while objects were also thrown at the Brazil international from the stands.

Vinicius voiced his frustration on social media over LaLiga bosses' inaction in tackling racism, saying the league "continues to do nothing".

Ancelotti agreed with Vinicius that racism needs to be stamped out with more action, though he stopped short of criticising LaLiga.

When asked if he had discussed the topic with the Brazil international, Ancelotti told reporters: "I don't have to [talk to Vinicius].

"It's quite clear to me. Racism shouldn't exist, and xenophobia shouldn't exist. Talking about it with Vinicius would be a mistake.

"It's society's problem, it shouldn't exist, for me it has to be zero tolerance.

"I don't think it's LaLiga's problem. It's a general, cultural problem in society. Society doesn't have the education it should have.

"With such an important issue I wouldn't focus on Vinicius or LaLiga or the punishments. It's much bigger."

A number of Madrid's key players are set to run out of contract at the end of this season, including midfield pair Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.

Ancelotti is relaxed over their futures though, explaining: "Football is changing. When a player reaches the end of his contract it isn't as worrying as it was a few years ago.

"A lot of players reach the end of their contract and it's no problem, if they want to stay, they stay, and if they want to go, they go. Clubs aren't so worried about that."

Former Germany defender Per Mertesacker insists he has his hands full at Arsenal and is not considering the possibility of his country coming calling.

Mertesacker is the academy manager at Arsenal, but he has been tipped as a "perfect man for the job" as Germany seek a new national team director.

That was the view expressed this week by Real Madrid star Toni Kroos, a former international team-mate of Mertesacker.

Mertesacker, speaking to German broadcaster Sky Sport on Saturday at a charity ice hockey game benefitting his Per Mertesacker Foundation, spoke of his enjoyment of his role in England.

The national team role has become vacant after long-time incumbent Oliver Bierhoff moved on after Germany's second consecutive World Cup group-stage exit.

"I'm super happy in England and I'm in charge of the youth academy. There's a lot to do there," said Mertesacker, who won 104 caps for Germany. 

"We're very committed and try to introduce young talent, but also give them certain values. That's very, very important to me."

Regarding the DFB position, he added: "I haven't been spoken to yet, so I don't want to speculate. We're all interested in German football and in having a lot to offer in the future."

Mertesacker, 38, retired from playing at the end of the 2017-18 season after seven campaigns with Arsenal, and immediately took up his current role.

Germany's football association, the DFB, recently announced a new advisory group to help the national team bounce back from their latest dismal World Cup performance.

It includes ex-Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, BVB adviser Matthias Sammer, Red Bull managing director Oliver Mintzlaff, current Bayern CEO Oliver Kahn and long-time Bayer Leverkusen managing director Rudi Voller.

The group will be led by DFB president Bernd Neuendorf and vice-chairman Hans-Joachim Watzke.

Lionel Messi has been linked with a blockbuster move to MLS club Inter Miami.

The Times report that the US franchise, co-owned by David Beckham, are ready to make Messi the highest-paid player in MLS history.

Messi is out of contract at Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the season and has also been linked with a move to his former club Barcelona.

 

TOP STORY - MESSI AND BUSQUETS COULD BE BOUND FOR MIAMI

Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets is set to join ex-team-mate Lionel Messi at MLS club Inter Miami, according to Cope.

The 34-year-old Spain captain is out of contract at the end of this season and has been weighing up his future at Camp Nou.

Messi and Busquets spent more than a decade together at the Blaugrana and could re-unite in Florida, where the Argentina great regularly vacations at a house he owns.

ROUND-UP

- ESPN reports Manchester United are exploring a January loan move for Chelsea's Christian Pulisic. Newcastle United and Arsenal have also been linked with the United States international by the Mail.

- Chelsea have been keeping a close watch on Bayer Leverkusen's Ecuadora centre-back Piero Hincapie during the World Cup, reports the Mirror.

- Fichajes claims that Real Madrid's German midfielder Toni Kroos has rejected the chance to move to Manchester City.

- Newcastle will move for 18-year-old Vasco da Gama midfielder Andrey Santos in January, according to the Northern Echo.

- Milan are eager to discuss lowering the €22m purchase option fee for on-loan midfielder Brahim Diaz with parent club Real Madrid, reports La Gazzetta dello Sport. The Spaniard's two-year loan deal is due to expire at the end of the season.

Manchester United are reportedly setting their sights as high as possible for their Cristiano Ronaldo replacement, planning a massive bid for Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe.

According to The Mirror, the 37-year-old Ronaldo has played his last game for the Red Devils after burning bridges with his explosive interview during the week.

Meanwhile, Mbappe is considered arguably the most valuable player in world football, racking up 169 goals in 193 games across his past five seasons with the French giants.

While there has been no indication the 23-year-old would consider United as a potential landing spot for the next stage of his career, the report claims he is their number one target.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED PLAN SHOCK BID FOR PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN'S MBAPPE

The Mirror claims that if United can get Ronaldo's contract off their books, they will be one of the only clubs in Europe who can afford the eye-watering contract demands of France's top star.

Sure to demand a fee north of £150million, and a contract exceeding £500,000 per week, it is a financial proposition that has caused even heavyweights such as Liverpool to declare him too expensive.

The report also states United will push forward their plans to invest at striker to January, further harming their chances of securing Mbappe as Paris Saint-Germain seek their first Champions League title.

However, it also mentions 23-year-old Napoli striker Victor Osimhen as their back-up plan, as the Nigeria international is expected to be available in the range of £60m.

 

ROUND-UP

- Football Italia is reporting Bayern Munich right-back Benjamin Pavard would be open to joining Milan, despite the 26-year-old being heavily linked with Manchester United.

- According to 90min, Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United are all showing interest in 27-year-old Inter centre-back Milan Skriniar, who is yet to renew his contract beyond this season.

- Leicester City, Everton and Brighton and Hove Albion have Lens goalkeeper Brice Samba on their radars, per 90min.

- According to Sport, Manchester City are monitoring 33-year-old Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos with the hope that he does not renew his contract.

- Calciomercato is reporting Tottenham target Weston McKennie could leave Juventus in January.

Manchester United are reportedly setting their sights as high as possible for their Cristiano Ronaldo replacement, planning a massive bid for Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe.

According to The Mirror, the 37-year-old Ronaldo has played his last game for the Red Devils after burning bridges with his explosive interview during the week.

Meanwhile, Mbappe is considered arguably the most valuable player in world football, racking up 169 goals in 193 games across his past five seasons with the French giants.

While there has been no indication the 23-year-old would consider United as a potential landing spot for the next stage of his career, the report claims he is their number one target.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED PLAN SHOCK BID FOR PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN'S MBAPPE

The Mirror claims that if United can get Ronaldo's contract off their books, they will be one of the only clubs in Europe who can afford the eye-watering contract demands of France's top star.

Sure to demand a fee north of £150million, and a contract exceeding £500,000 per week, it is a financial proposition that has caused even heavyweights such as Liverpool to declare him too expensive.

The report also states United will push forward their plans to invest at striker to January, further harming their chances of securing Mbappe as Paris Saint-Germain seek their first Champions League title.

However, it also mentions 23-year-old Napoli striker Victor Osimhen as their back-up plan, as the Nigeria international is expected to be available in the range of £60m.

 

ROUND-UP

- Football Italia is reporting Bayern Munich right-back Benjamin Pavard would be open to joining Milan, despite the 26-year-old being heavily linked with Manchester United.

- According to 90min, Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United are all showing interest in 27-year-old Inter centre-back Milan Skriniar, who is yet to renew his contract beyond this season.

- Leicester City, Everton and Brighton and Hove Albion have Lens goalkeeper Brice Samba on their radars, per 90min.

- According to Sport, Manchester City are monitoring 33-year-old Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos with the hope that he does not renew his contract.

- Calciomercato is reporting Tottenham target Weston McKennie could leave Juventus in January.

Toni Kroos scored a superb volley and assisted another goal as Real Madrid moved within two points of LaLiga leaders Barcelona by beating Cadiz 2-1 in their final match before the World Cup break.

Carlo Ancelotti's side suffered their first loss of the top-flight season at Rayo Vallecano on Monday, but returned to winning ways with a much-improved showing at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Eder Militao opened the scoring with a first-half header from Kroos' cross on Thursday, marking the centre-back's second goal in as many league games.

Kroos' emphatic second-half strike meant Lucas Perez's late goal proved irrelevant as Madrid closed the gap on Barca.

Alfonso Espino offered Madrid an early scare as his long-range strike clipped the top of the crossbar, before Federico Valverde fired narrowly wide at the other end.

A frenetic first half continued with tempers flaring for both sides before Militao headed Toni Kroos' left-wing cross into the bottom-right corner five minutes before half-time.

Thibaut Courtois thwarted Ruben Sobrino from a rare Cadiz chance after the interval, before Kroos powered into the bottom-left corner stylishly from the edge of the area. 

Luka Modric inexplicably missed an open goal to add a late third and was punished as Perez pounced on a spilled Courtois save, though Madrid held on for victory.

What does it mean? Los Blancos back on track

Madrid were a shadow of their usual high standards in their last two league outings and faced a three-match winless LaLiga run for the first time in two years – under Zinedine Zidane.

However, Ancelotti's side bounced back to record just their second victory in five league games against Cadiz, who have won just three of their 38 top-flight visits to Madrid (D5 L30).

With the World Cup now taking centre stage, Ancelotti will be delighted to head into the break with victory before Madrid reconvene in their seemingly two-horse race for the LaLiga title with Barca.

Kroos control

Kroos will be an integral figure for Germany in their bid to lift the Jules Rimet trophy in the Middle East and the veteran midfielder offered a timely reminder of his qualities with his second-half strike.

The 32-year-old appeared to be everywhere for Madrid, assisting Militao's header with one of his game-high four chances created, as well as regaining possession eight times – another game-leading figure.

Gonzalez struggles again

Cadiz coach Sergio Gonzalez must be pondering what he must do to taste victory against Madrid.

He has gone 11 games without defeating Los Blancos in LaLiga (D2 L9), more than against any other team in the competition.

What's next?

Madrid are not in action until visiting Real Valladolid on December 31 after the World Cup in Qatar, while Cadiz travel to Real Union Club on Sunday in the Copa del Rey first round.

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