Zinedine Zidane is on the cusp of leading Real Madrid to a 34th LaLiga title, but the head coach continues to be plagued by the question of whether his team are anything special.

Two wins from their remaining three games over the coming week would be enough to clinch another Spanish league success, with Granada first up on Monday evening.

Madrid have been ruthless since the resumption, winning all eight games and conceding just two goals over that stretch.

It has meant previous leaders Barcelona, themselves also unbeaten over the past month, have seen a two-point advantage slip away due to three draws in their nine games.

But debate rages over the merits of this Madrid team, who arguably lack the panache of previous Los Blancos sides but have shown themselves to be a winning machine, unlike some of their more celebrated forebears.

"It doesn't bother me or surprise me, it's always the same debate," Zidane told a news conference on Sunday.

"We prove in every game and every training session that we are good. We have to show it. Everyone will give their opinion on what they think of Real Madrid because it is the most important club in history and this will never change."

Zidane, once the unpredictable flair player in Madrid's midfield, has become the straight man of the media room, a serious figure and a coach who has brought the best out of many of his players.

Rather than consider the prospect of another championship, with Villarreal on Thursday and Leganes on Sunday the other remaining games for Madrid, Zidane's focus does not deviate from the immediate task at hand.

"LaLiga and the Champions League are the goal and what we fight for, but it is useless if we look beyond tomorrow's game," he said.

"This is the last week and there are three games. It is the most difficult, but the most important. All the teams have things to play for and we want to put all our energy into tomorrow's game."

Zidane clearly finds the suggestion his team have had the better of VAR decisions over recent weeks to be thoroughly tedious, amid claims Barcelona have had a relatively raw deal.

"Everyone can give their opinion, I don't mess with the opinions of others," he said, when asked about the VAR talk.

"What we are doing is giving everything on the pitch and putting in a great effort every day. That is what I'm interested in."

Barcelona forward Antoine Griezmann has suffered a thigh muscle injury, the LaLiga club have confirmed.

The France international was replaced by Luis Suarez at half-time of Saturday's 1-0 victory away to Real Valladolid.

Medical tests on Sunday showed Griezmann has damaged the quadriceps in his right leg and is facing a spell out of action.

The 2018 World Cup winner, a €120million signing from Atletico Madrid last year, is likely to miss Thursday's league match against Osasuna at Camp Nou.

Griezmann has scored just nine goals in 35 league appearances during a difficult first season with Barca.

He was dropped from the starting line-up by coach Quique Setien for the 2-2 draws with Celta Vigo and Atleti last month but made a goalscoring return in the 4-1 win over Villarreal on July 5.

Juventus and Inter are reportedly ready to do battle for Roma star Nicolo Zaniolo.

Zaniolo, 21, made his return from a serious knee injury this month and has repeatedly been linked with a move away from Roma.

A pair of Serie A giants may be ready to fight for the midfielder's services.

 

TOP STORY – INTER, JUVE TO BATTLE FOR ZANIOLO

Inter are ready to challenge Juventus to sign Roma star Zaniolo, according to CalcioMercato.

Zaniolo is considered one of Europe's best young talents, and left Inter for Roma in 2018.

Roma reportedly want at least €50million for the five-time Italy international.

 

ROUND-UP

- Contracted at Manchester City until 2021, Sergio Aguero may yet stay at the Etihad Stadium a little longer. The Mirror reports City have not ruled out giving the star forward, 32, a one-year extension.

- With Neymar repeatedly linked with a return to Barcelona, it seems the LaLiga giants are wanting to distance themselves from the Paris Saint-Germain star. Marca says Barca are keen to see the rumours of a potential return for Neymar stop.

- Staying at Camp Nou and Barcelona apparently have interest in two players from Tottenham. The Daily Star says Barca want Ryan Sessegnon and Tanguy Ndombele. However, it reports Spurs will reject all offers for Sessegnon this close season.

- Philippe Coutinho's future remains unclear. Mundo Deportivo reports the playmaker, who is on loan at Bayern Munich from Barcelona until the end of the season, will not decide his future until after the Champions League next month.

- Plenty of talk continues to surround Arsenal star Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who is coming out of contract at the Premier League club next year. The Daily Star reports the forward will sign a contract extension with Arsenal – if no other club makes an official approach.

- After just two goals in 25 games for Real Madrid, Luka Jovic seems set for an exit. According to Mundo Deportivo, Juventus, Inter, Chelsea, Leicester City, Milan and Napoli are all considering moves for the forward.

Diego Simeone is looking for improvement from Atletico Madrid despite securing Champions League qualification once more.

A 74th-minute goal from Diego Costa saw 10-man Atletico overcome Real Betis 1-0 on Saturday to qualify for the Champions League for an eighth straight season.

Atletico had only played in Europe's top club competitions eight times in total before qualifying for the 2013-14 Champions League.

But head coach Simeone is refusing to rest, eager for Atletico to continue growing.

"I don't stop to analyse what is being done," he told a news conference, via AS.

"We always seek to improve and grow and the only way is to give the club the possibility with our work on the field that they can manage the tremendous growth of the club in these years.

"If there was a moment to qualify for the Champions League as it was, it was what happened in the match, because this is us.

"They hit us and we got up and we always compete and we will continue to compete, having all the energy so that all four legs – fans, players, coach and club – we stay firm.

"This is Atletico Madrid and I think that in the second half when it seemed that everything was going to suffer, we won."

Costa's winner came 17 minutes after Atletico were reduced to 10 men when Mario Hermoso was sent off.

Atletico are on a 16-match unbeaten run ahead of visiting Getafe on Thursday.

Quique Setien said Lionel Messi needed a rest as his "tired" Barcelona kept the pressure on Real Madrid with a 1-0 win over Real Valladolid.

Messi set up Arturo Vidal's 15th-minute goal on Saturday as Barca moved back within a point of rivals and LaLiga leaders Madrid, who have a game in hand.

But the superstar attacker played 90 minutes as Barca's busy schedule continued and Setien said afterwards that Messi needed a rest.

"He probably will get a rest, yes," the Barcelona coach told a news conference.

"I've mentioned it to him previously and perhaps today if we'd got a couple more goals, as I think we deserved, he probably would have come off to get a little bit of a rest."

Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez, meanwhile, each played 45 minutes, with the Uruguayan replacing the France international at half-time.

Setien, who said Griezmann had taken a "knock", feels Barca were tired after a third game in the space of a week.

"I think it's mostly tired legs. It's less than 72 hours since we played our last game," he said.

"It was very hot today and the pitch felt a lot bigger towards the end of the match. You could see that, a lot of players were not looking fresh on late in the game and they probably lacked that touch of intensity.

"We've played many games and it's very draining and we have quite a few players who've played a lot of minutes so we can't blame our football, I blame mostly our tired legs for today's game.

"Sometimes that can affect your decision making, but this is normal for the current situation we're in."

Diego Costa denied that his goal in Atletico Madrid's 1-0 victory over Real Betis was scored with the assistance of his arm.

Atleti secured the win they needed to clinch a top-four finish in LaLiga on Saturday, despite playing over half an hour with 10 men following Mario Hermoso's straight red card for a foul on Loren Moron.

Costa was sent on as one of a trio of attacking changes just before Hermoso's dismissal and, after Diego Simeone's side absorbed some late pressure, he guided Yannick Carrasco's free-kick into the bottom-right corner to seal the three points.

Betis defender Marc Bartra played Costa onside but a lengthy VAR check was conducted to see whether the Atleti striker had used his arm in the process of scoring.

The replays appeared inconclusive and the goal was allowed to stand, unlike first-half efforts for Angel Correa and Alvaro Morata that were chalked off with video assistance.

"It would be one thing if they called it offside for my goal but it didn't come off my arm. I'm very clear it wasn't [handball] and I'm happy," Costa told Movistar.

"It was a difficult game after Mario's red card. Our goal was to finish in the top four. Now we have that and we've got two more games we have to try to win to continue our good form.

"I think it was a good sign that we scored from a set-piece. We were in control. What happened in the second half made it more difficult, but we had a bit of luck and got the win.

"I don't know why we always have to suffer like this, but we always suffer and win. If we don't suffer, we don't feel right, so we're happy and we'll look for more glory."

Referee Jose Luis Gonzalez Gonzalez maintained his decision to dismiss Hermoso after a trip to the pitchside monitor, but Costa felt a booking would also have been a fair punishment.

"If they'd given a yellow card for Mario Hermoso then fine. I think it was on the limit and in the end the referee has to make the decision, but I think a yellow or red was fair," he said.

Guido Rodriguez disagreed with Costa's assessment of the goal, claiming the ball clearly struck the attacker's arm.

"We saw that when Costa scored it touched his arm, but they didn't make that decision, so that's how it was," the Betis midfielder said.

"We played with a player more, looking for the goal, but we leave pretty annoyed because we couldn't get it."

Diego Costa guaranteed 10-man Atletico Madrid's place in next season's Champions League by heading home the winner in a 1-0 LaLiga victory over Real Betis.

Atleti looked destined to hold on for at most a draw after Mario Hermoso was shown a straight red card for a foul on Loren Moron, but substitute Costa steered home Yannick Carrasco's free-kick in the 74th minute to secure a top-four finish for Diego Simeone's men.

After seeing goals for Angel Correa and Alvaro Morata overturned by VAR, there were concerns Costa's header would be ruled out during a lengthy check for handball.

However, the goal was allowed to stand, ensuring Atleti will return to European football's top table in 2020-21.

 

Arturo Vidal vowed Barcelona will fight all the way after a scrappy 1-0 win at Real Valladolid kept their title hopes alive.

Had they dropped points for a fourth time since LaLiga's restart, there would surely have been no coming back for Quique Setien's side.

But Vidal's fine finish in the 15th minute, coupled with a second-half starring role for goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, kept pressure on leaders Real Madrid.

Until Zinedine Zidane's team cannot be caught, there will always be hope in the Barcelona ranks that Los Blancos might stumble.

"We know it depends. We just have to win all the games that we have remaining," Vidal said in a post-match interview.

"It doesn't depend on us. We just have to do what we have to do and see what the other teams around us do."

There is only one "other team" that Barcelona are concerned about, and Madrid will go to Granada on Monday hoping to capitalise on their game in hand by going four points clear with two games to play.

Barcelona have German shot-stopper Ter Stegen to thank for the fact Madrid cannot be crowned champions in that game, given that would have been the case had Setien's team dropped points in Valladolid.

Barcelona missed chances, particularly in the first half, which saw one awful fluffed effort from Antoine Griezmann, who missed his kick from in front of goal.

By the closing stages, the final whistle could not come soon enough for the flagging visiting players.

"We had our chances and didn't take them and we knew they'd have theirs," Vidal said.

"We have to improve going forward and take our chances. The important thing is we've done what we came here to do and we've got three points."

It was a hot early evening in Valladolid, and Vidal indicated Barcelona were feeling the pace in the second half.

"It's difficult against a team that were very hard to play and they played very well. Also, the conditions complicated things slightly, but I'm glad we won," he said.

"We knew we'd have to work very hard and wouldn't necessarily be able to maintain our rhythm throughout.

"We wanted to improve. We kept ourselves in the title race and that's the most important thing."

 

Lionel Messi's clever pass to set up Barcelona's opening goal against Real Valladolid on Saturday saw him reach a notable double in LaLiga.

Arturo Vidal was the beneficiary of Messi's short ball from the edge of the penalty area, with the Chilean sending a low shot in off the left post to nudge Barcelona 1-0 ahead.

It means Messi has achieved the stunning feat of both scoring and creating 20-plus goals in the Spanish top flight this season, having already netted 22 times prior to the trip to Valladolid.

No other player has ever achieved the individual double during a single campaign in Spain in the 21st century, while the only other to do so in Europe's top five leagues is Thierry Henry, who managed 24 goals and 20 assists for Arsenal in 2002-03.

Messi is also the first in LaLiga to register 20 assists in a season since former team-mate Xavi in the 2008-09 campaign, when Barca won the league, Copa del Rey and Champions League under Pep Guardiola.

Although Messi's strike rate this season has not yet reached the heights of recent times, the 33-year-old has managed a combined haul of 40 or more goals and assists in LaLiga for a sixth successive campaign.

Barcelona will keep Real Madrid waiting for the coronation that is surely coming their way after Arturo Vidal's strike secured a 1-0 win at Real Valladolid. 

The gap at the top of LaLiga is down to a single point, but Madrid can go four clear with two rounds of games remaining when they face Granada in their game in hand on Monday. 

Lionel Messi provided the killer pass that gave Vidal the chance to strike the 15th-minute goal that sank Valladolid, a 20th assist of the league season for the Argentinian. 

Had Barcelona failed to win Saturday's game at Estadio Jose Zorrilla, Madrid would have had the opportunity at Granada to clinch the title with two games to spare. Now it cannot come until Thursday at the earliest. 

Worryingly for Barcelona, they came into this game with just three wins from their last nine away games in LaLiga, but nerves were soon calmed by Vidal's fine finish. 

The Chilean midfielder received a lovely dink through from Messi and quickly got away a shot low across goal, his strike going in off the left post. 

Messi's assist made him the first player to reach the 20 mark in a single campaign in the Spanish top flight since Xavi in Barcelona's 2008-09 treble-winning year. 

Taking into account his 22 goals this term too, Messi can hardly be blamed for Barcelona missing out on the title. 

Antoine Griezmann, however, chosen ahead of Luis Suarez for this game, continues to flatter to deceive. 

He squandered an early half-chance before missing a sitter four minutes after Barcelona's breakthrough, getting his feet in a pitiable tangle when Nelson Semedo's skidding low cross from the right reached him eight yards from goal. 

Full-back Semedo had a thumping shot saved by Jordi Masip before Barcelona were thankful for Kike Perez stumbling after getting in behind their defence as the hosts sought an equaliser. 

Suarez unsurprisingly replaced Griezmann for the second half, with coach Quique Setien looking for more from a Messi sidekick than the Frenchman had been able to provide. 

Perez, Javi Sanchez and Enes Unal all had chances for Valladolid but could not make them count, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen kept busy, while Messi saw a free-kick tipped over by Masip, the king of the assists always a threat. 

Lionel Messi's clever pass to set up Barcelona's opening goal against Real Valladolid on Saturday saw him make LaLiga history.

Arturo Vidal was the beneficiary of Messi's short ball from the edge of the penalty area, with the Chilean sending a low shot in off the left post to nudge Barcelona 1-0 ahead.

It means Messi has achieved the stunning feat of both scoring and creating 20-plus goals in the Spanish top flight this season, having already netted 22 times prior to the trip to Valladolid.

No other player has ever achieved the individual double during a single campaign in Spain, while the only other to do so in Europe's top five leagues is Thierry Henry, who managed 24 goals and 20 assists for Arsenal in 2002-03.

Messi is also the first in LaLiga to register 20 assists in a season since former team-mate Xavi in the 2008-09 campaign, when Barca won the league, Copa del Rey and Champions League under Pep Guardiola.

Although Messi's strike rate this season has not yet reached the heights of recent times, the 33-year-old has managed a combined haul of 40 or more goals and assists in LaLiga for a sixth successive campaign.

Manchester City are reportedly ready to give up two players in a deal for Napoli star Kalidou Koulibaly.

Koulibaly, 29, has regularly been linked with a move from Naples, with several of Europe's biggest clubs apparently keen to land the centre-back.

And City may know who they are ready to offer up as part of a deal.

 

TOP STORY – MAN CITY PREPARED TO GIVE UP TWO PLAYERS FOR KOULIBALY

Manchester City could use Nicolas Otamendi and Oleksandr Zinchenko in a deal for Napoli star Koulibaly, according to The Sun.

The report says the Serie A club have already contacted City about Otamendi and Zinchenko.

Napoli are said to want €100million for Koulibaly, who has also been linked to Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal.

ROUND-UP

- Liverpool have been repeatedly linked with a move for Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago Alcantara over recent weeks. However, ESPN reports the Premier League champions will not pursue a deal for the former Barcelona star.

- Speculation around Eric Garcia's future continues. According to Mundo Deportivo, the Manchester City defender is motivated to return to Barcelona, but the Premier League club have offered the 19-year-old a bumper contract, with his current deal expiring in 2022.

- Jonathan Ikone is seemingly attracting some interest. Le 10 Sport reports Chelsea and Inter are interested in the Lille forward. Ikone scored three goals and provided six assists in 28 Ligue 1 games in 2019-20.

- Will Roma get a deal done for Chris Smalling? Gianluca Di Marzio says Roma are in negotiations with Manchester United to make the defender's move permanent. The report says Roma's offer of €3m (£2.7m) to extend the loan for a season before a €15m (£13.4m) offer to make the move permanent has been deemed too low.

- Mesut Ozil wants to see out his contract at Arsenal, with his deal expiring in 2021. The Sun reports the attacker has told friends he will only consider playing in MLS or the Turkish Super Lig after he leaves Arsenal.

- Paris Saint-Germain could be looking to strengthen while weakening one of their Ligue 1 rivals. Foot Mercato reports PSG are interested in Lyon and France defender Leo Dubois.

Zinedine Zidane is unsure if James Rodriguez will play for Real Madrid ever again.

James, 28, has been linked with a move away from Madrid and was left out of the squad for Friday's 2-0 LaLiga win over Deportivo Alaves.

It marked the second straight game in which the Colombia international has not been in the squad.

Asked if James would play for Madrid again, Zidane told a news conference: "I don't know."

James arrived at Madrid from Monaco in 2014, but spent the previous two seasons on loan at Bayern Munich.

He has played just 14 games this campaign, scoring one goal.

Zinedine Zidane praised the "phenomenal" Thibaut Courtois after Real Madrid took another step towards the LaLiga title with a win over Deportivo Alaves.

Madrid kept a clean sheet for the fifth straight game, recording a 2-0 win on Friday to move four points clear of rivals Barcelona with three games remaining.

Zidane lauded Courtois, who made four saves in Madrid's win as Karim Benzema netted a penalty before Marco Asensio's second-half goal.

"He has a very big influence. He is our goalkeeper, what he is doing every game is phenomenal," Madrid coach Zidane told a news conference, via AS.

"It is a matter for everyone when it comes to defending … today, he [Courtois] has been good for us with two or three stops, and then the strength of the entire team.

"We have to continue like this."

Madrid scored a penalty for the third straight game, while the VAR was needed to award Asensio's goal after it was initially ruled out due to an offside decision against Benzema.

As another clean sheet helped Madrid, Zidane said he was happy with his team, who are away to Granada on Monday.

"I'm not worried because the important thing is to win matches," he said.

"We didn't score four or five goals, but because there is an opponent who defends. We scored two goals, one very beautiful in play.

"I am happy and calm with what we are doing."

Raphael Varane dismissed talk the VAR favoured Real Madrid after the LaLiga giants moved closer to the league title with a win over Deportivo Alaves.

A Karim Benzema penalty and Marco Asensio goal saw Madrid record a 2-0 win on Friday, moving four points clear of rivals Barcelona with three games left.

Madrid were awarded a spot-kick for the third straight game, while the VAR was needed after Asensio's goal was initially incorrectly ruled out for an offside decision against Benzema.

Varane, who helped Madrid keep a clean sheet for the fifth straight game, was unfazed by any talk decisions were going his team's way.

"Outside noise doesn't matter to us. We are focused on winning and giving everything on the pitch," the defender told Movistar.

"We don't control the VAR, we control the effort and attitude we show on the pitch."

Madrid are closing in on their first league title since 2016-17, with Barcelona having clinched the past two crowns.

Varane said Madrid still had finals to play ahead of matches against Granada, Villarreal and Leganes to finish the league season.

"We are focused on our objective and we have three finals left," he said.

"It was important to win, of course, but it is very important to keep a clean sheet. That gives us a lot of confidence.

"We will continue with the positive dynamics we have."

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