Eden Hazard vowed Real Madrid will fight to the end in their pursuit of honours this season and was delighted to be back out on the pitch in the frustrating 2-2 draw with Celta Vigo.

The Belgium forward managed 70 minutes on his first outing since November due to an ankle injury.

Madrid appeared to be headed for three points after Fedor Smolov's opener was cancelled out by Toni Kroos and Sergio Ramos.

But Santi Mina earned Celta a share of the spoils in the closing stages to leave Madrid just one point clear of Barcelona at the top of LaLiga.

For Hazard, it was a great feeling to be back playing even if the result was disappointing.

"I felt good," Hazard said in quotes reported by Marca. "The first 10 minutes I was tired, but as the minutes went by I felt fine. I'm happy with my performance, but not with the result.

"I hope we'll improve in the next few games. When a team is winning 2-1 you try to see out [the match], but it wasn't to be.

"There's still a lot of games left and we're going to fight it out until the end."

Madrid's goal return of 46 this season is 11 fewer than title rivals Barca, who Los Blancos meet in El Clasico on March 1.

Hazard does not believe Madrid have an issue in front of goal, though.

"I don't think [we're lacking goals]; we had chances and deserved to score more goals," he added.

"We're working well and we're going to win a lot of games together; it's going to be good for us."

Zinedine Zidane moved to defend Marcelo and Gareth Bale after Real Madrid's "painful" 2-2 draw at home to Celta Vigo.

Marcelo was a surprise starter ahead of Ferland Mendy for Sunday's contest at Santiago Bernabeu where Santi Mina earned the visitors an 85th-minute equaliser after Toni Kroos' strike and a Sergio Ramos penalty had cancelled out Fedor Smolov's opener.

The Brazil full-back, a mainstay of Madrid's line-up for over a decade, has faced criticism at times this season, particularly over his performances defensively, but head coach Zidane had no issues with Marcelo's showing.

"I don't think he makes us weaker defensively, because he was good at the back, but you always bring out stats," Zidane said.

"I'm happy with everyone for how they play and when they play."

Bale was mainly ineffective having been selected to start in a front three alongside Karim Benzema and the returning Eden Hazard.

Zidane, though, said the focus is on how the team as a collective can improve after they missed the chance to win a sixth straight LaLiga match.

"I think Bale played a good game and we have to keep thinking that there's a long way to go and we have to think about what we all do on the pitch to improve it," Zidane added.

On how he felt after conceding the late equaliser, the Frenchman said: "Painful to be brutally honest. I thought the team gave a very big effort to try to win the game. 

"After taking the lead and five minutes towards the end conceding the draw, it's not very good. 

"But I'm very pleased with my team, it wasn't easy for us. A first half where we conceded a goal after six minutes and then they closed themselves at the back, very defensively solid.

"The gap in the first half, we were trying to cross the ball too much, but in the second half we did it much better."

One positive for Madrid was the return of Belgium forward Hazard, who has been absent since November with an ankle injury.

Zidane was encouraged by what he saw from the former Chelsea star.

"I'm very happy to have him back and with the 70 minutes he played," Zidane said. 

"I think we know the player he is, and after three months out it wouldn't be easy for him to come back in and play a great game, but I'm very happy with his game and to have him back."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer warned that Paul Pogba belongs to Manchester United and not outspoken agent Mino Raiola amid ongoing doubts over the star's future at Old Trafford.

Raiola cast fresh doubts over Pogba – who is recovering from an ankle injury – on Thursday when he said the United midfielder "would not mind" returning to Juventus as "Italy is like home".

Pogba left United for Juve in 2012 but the 26-year-old was prised back to Old Trafford in 2016 for a then-world record transfer fee of €105million (£89.3m).

LaLiga giants Real Madrid have also been linked to Pogba but United manager Solskjaer said: "I've not spoken to Mino that is for sure. And, no, I haven't sat down and told Paul to tell Mino what he should say. Paul is our player and not Mino's."

Asked if he could conclusively say Pogba will play for United again this season, Solskjaer replied: "Well of course, I'd like to say that. As soon as he gets fit he'll be good enough to play for the team and I'm sure Paul's desperate to play for us again."

It has been an injury-ravaged season for Pogba, who has started just five Premier League matches this term and made only seven appearances in total.

Pogba – who did not travel to Spain with his team-mates during the break – has only managed eight games across all competitions for United, who languish eighth in the Premier League after 25 rounds.

Pressed on whether it has been a "disastrous" season for Pogba, Solskjaer – speaking ahead of Monday's trip to Chelsea – told reporters: "You're not going to get that headline from me.

"As a player, the last thing you want to be is injured, and not being able to contribute to your team. Paul's a footballer and he wants to play football. He knows he has to work hard now to get back to his best.

"He's been out for so long now, it's a challenge for him as well to get back into shape. I've been injured for a long, long time myself, it's a difficult period of your career, but it's part and parcel of being a player.

"He's taken off his cast, so when he comes back here we'll integrate him with us. Hopefully soon. He's started running on the treadmill now, so he's getting closer. It's been a long haul, this, so hopefully we'll see him back soon."

Raheem Sterling is focused on Manchester City, according to his agent, amid reports linking him with a move to Real Madrid.

Speculation over the futures of several City players has intensified in the wake of the two-season Champions League ban handed to the club by UEFA for "serious breaches" of Financial Fair Play regulations, although they deny wrongdoing and intend to appeal.

Sterling, who is contracted at City until 2023, is reportedly a target for LaLiga giants Madrid.

But the 25-year-old forward's agent, Aidy Ward, said Sterling's focus was on the Premier League club.

"Raheem is solely focused on Manchester City and will not be distracted by any talk of transfers to any club at the moment," he told the Mirror and the Daily Mail.

Sterling, who arrived at City from Liverpool in 2015, has scored 20 goals in 35 games in all competitions this season but is sidelined with a hamstring injury.

Real Madrid and Barcelona target Lautaro Martinez is eager to play for Inter, insisted club CEO Giuseppe Marotta.

Martinez continues to be linked with a move away from Serie A side Inter – LaLiga giants Madrid and Barca as well as Manchester United and Manchester City reportedly interested.

LaLiga holders Barca have been linked to Martinez as they eye a long-term replacement for veteran forward Luis Suarez.

Marotta was asked about Martinez prior to Sunday's 2-1 loss to Scudetto rivals Lazio in Rome.

"Lautaro is improving, he is a very young lad who I think is above all eager to wear this glorious jersey and grow professionally," Marotta told Sky Sport Italia.

"As I always say, players only leave Inter when they point towards that exit."

Martinez has taken centre stage alongside Romelu Lukaku since Mauro Icardi's initial loan move to French champions Paris Saint-Germain at the start of the season.

The 22-year-old has scored 16 goals across all competitions for Inter, who are third and three points behind leaders Juventus in Serie A.

Argentina international Martinez has netted 25 goals in total since arriving from Racing Club in 2018.

Eden Hazard made his return from a three-month injury lay-off in Real Madrid's 2-2 draw against Celta Vigo, with Thibaut Courtois confident the forward will be key for Zinedine Zidane's side.

An ankle injury sidelined Hazard in late November, but he made his comeback on Sunday, winning a penalty that Sergio Ramos converted to put Madrid 2-1 up in the second half.

Madrid's run of five straight LaLiga wins was ended by Santi Mina's 85th-minute leveller, though, to ensure they only moved one point clear of Clasico rivals Barcelona at the top of the table.

However, the return of Hazard, who has scored just once in nine league games since joining from Chelsea ahead of this season, was seen as an encouraging development for his compatriot Courtois.

"Little by little he will catch up again after three months," Courtois, who also played alongside Hazard at Stamford Bridge, told Movistar.

"He is a player that is worth a lot to us."

Madrid surprisingly fell behind against Celta after Fedor Smolov scored his first goal for the club in the seventh minute.

The home side failed to muster a shot on target across the opening 45 minutes, but Toni Kroos' sixth goal against Celta – he only has 14 overall in LaLiga - levelled matters and Hazard then won a penalty that Ramos scored.

Yet more poor defending allowed substitute Denis Suarez to find fellow replacement Mina as Celta dramatically claimed a share of the spoils.

Asked about his emotions, Courtois replied: "Angry because we conceded a [second] goal.

"It was a difficult game because they started by scoring a goal early on. They defended well with 11 men and then I made a good save to keep the score at 0-1.

"Then in the second half, we scored two fast goals but in the end we've lost two points that are worth a lot at home.

"We defended well but Denis made a good turn and made space for Santi Mina, who put the ball away well.

"It's two points lost and that leaves a bad taste in the mouth."

Real Madrid's most memorable attacking moment during the first half of their title-race twisting 2-2 draw against Celta Vigo was Sergio Ramos launching into one of his driving runs in search of a goal, only to volley the ball into his own face when it arrived.

This botched attack had a claim beyond slapstick, given Zinedine Zidane's LaLiga leaders failed to muster a single shot on target before the break.

Indeed, there was nothing remotely as incisive from an forward line featuring Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale as the move Celta produced for their seventh-minute opener – Iago Aspas shifting smoothly into a pocket of space in front of a ramshackle Madrid defence and threading a perfect pass for Fedor Smolov to coolly slot home.

Hazard was making his first appearance since suffering a fractured ankle in November and, shortly after Ramos' party piece, showed signs of starting to shift through the gears.

In the 40th minute, Karim Benzema pulled out to the left channel and Hazard scampered around the outside, pulling the ball back from the byline for the on-rushing Bale to fire narrowly over.

It was link-up play to cheer Zidane as he tries to get his returning attackers up to speed ahead of the Champions League showdown against Manchester City later this month.

On this evidence, however, Hazard and Bale are playing for one spot. The ever-dependable Benzema is a guaranteed starter, fitness permitting, and Los Blancos missed the benched Vinicius Jr's dynamism for much of Sunday's contest.

Having set themselves a low bar in the first-half, Madrid improved considerably during the second period and hit the front thanks to a couple of sure things.

Toni Kroos' midfield scheming is not annotated with goals too frequently, but he dispatched Marcelo's pass to score for the sixth time against Celta. He has 14 LaLiga goals overall since joining Madrid from Bayern Munich in 2014.

Ramos is, by comparison, somewhat more prolific from centre-back. A smart finish from an offside position showed his radar to be back in order following the earlier mishap and there was little doubt about the outcome when he stepped up for a 65th-minute penalty.

Ruben Blanco erred badly when Benzema and Hazard repeated their first-half link, with the Celta goalkeeper darting from his ground to needlessly bring the Belgium star down.

Blanco guessed correctly but Ramos' sprung from his staggered run-up to dispatch an unerring strike.

Hazard made way for Vinicius in the 73rd minute and enjoyed a warm ovation from the Bernabeu faithful – the sort of reception that sadly only seems to exist in the past tense for Bale nowadays.

As for the other grizzled survivors of Zidane's three consecutive Champions League final triumphs from 2016 through to 2018, they remain his dependables.

They will be asked to go to the well once more the next time Madrid emerge at their famous home ground, faced with a formidable but flawed City in a competition they know like the back of their hand.

It would be a brave person who backs against them but the sight of Celta producing a sting in the tail suggested the years could be taking a toll.

Substitutes Denis Suarez and Santi Mina combined as Aspas and Smolov had before for the latter to score – the lines of communication between Dani Carvajal and Raphael Varane in the backline again appearing unhelpfully clogged.

The lead at the top of LaLiga from Barcelona was only a point at full-time, a situation roughly as comfortable as booting a football into your own face.

Of course, Ramos tumbled theatrically in stoppage time to try and win another penalty and Madrid will strain and scrap for everything until the end of the season. With 46 goals from 24 LaLiga games, don't expect them to blow too many teams away either. The Galactico grind is on.

Substitute Santi Mina's 85th-minute equaliser denied leaders Real Madrid a sixth successive LaLiga victory as Celta Vigo left the Santiago Bernabeu with a 2-2 draw.

Los Blancos were stunned by Fedor Smolov's first goal for Celta in the seventh minute and the home side failed to register a single shot on target in the opening half.

However, they turned the game on its head within 13 minutes, Toni Kroos scoring again against Celta before Sergio Ramos slotted home a penalty after the returning Eden Hazard had been fouled.

Mina's late leveller meant Zinedine Zidane's men only moved one point clear of Clasico rivals Barcelona, though, as their winning run came to an end.

 

 

Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane recalled Eden Hazard to his starting line-up to face Celta Vigo on Sunday after the Belgium international recovered from an ankle fracture.

Hazard's last appearance for Los Blancos came in a 2-2 Champions League draw against Paris Saint-Germain in November, the injury limiting him to just eight LaLiga appearances and one goal since his €100million transfer from Chelsea.

The 29-year-old joined Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema in Los Blancos' front three against Celta, with Isco dropping to the bench despite scoring in Madrid's 4-1 win at Osasuna.

Hazard's return to fitness is well-timed given Madrid's tough run of forthcoming fixtures.

Zidane will take his side to Levante in LaLiga before a Champions League clash at home against Manchester City and then the Clasico versus Barcelona on March 1.

Manchester City's two-season Champions League ban could be about to reverberate through the Premier League.

Pep Guardiola's future had been a topic of discussion prior to UEFA handing down sanctions for "serious" Financial Fair Play breaches and the loss of European competition has fuelled suggestions the Catalan could quit the club.

Media reports indicate City already have alternatives in mind, and their search for a successor looks set to pose problems for Premier League rivals.

 

TOP STORY – CITY EYE PEP REPLACEMENTS

Mauricio Pochettino and Brendan Rodgers are among the contenders to take over at City if Guardiola walks, according to The Telegraph.

The report states the pair "would be in the running" to become the club's next manager in the event their current boss decides to leave at the end of the season.

Ex-Tottenham manager Pochettino recently admitted he would "love" to return to the Premier League, telling the 'In The Pink' podcast: "It's going to be difficult, I know, and for now it's a moment to wait and we'll see what happens."

The Argentinian has been heavily linked to City's cross-town rivals Manchester United, while Rodgers is tied to Leicester City until 2025.

ROUND-UP

- Juventus-linked Guardiola might not be the only big name headed for the Etihad Stadium exit. The Sun claims Real Madrid will launch an "all-out assault" in a bid to sign Raheem Sterling.

- City could potentially even be docked Premier League points for the same Financial Fair Play breaches that compelled UEFA to act, says The Guardian.

- Meanwhile, over at Old Trafford, United have set their asking price for Paul Pogba at £130million, reports the Daily Star.

- As for potential arrivals, United are interested in Norwich City pair Todd Cantwell and Max Aarons plus West Ham midfielder Declan Rice, states the Daily Mail.

- Serie A side Milan are no closer to extending Gianluigi Donnarumma's deal beyond June 2021, according to Tuttomercato, and LaLiga title contenders Madrid are monitoring the situation.

- Sky Sport Germany continues to link former Bayern Munich boss Niko Kovac to manager-less Bundesliga outfit Hertha Berlin, who saw Jurgen Klinsmann leave earlier in the week.

Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo picked Real Madrid over Barcelona when presented with an offer ahead of the NBA All-Star Game.

Antetokounmpo will lead Team Giannis against Team LeBron in Chicago on Sunday.

But the reigning NBA MVP faced a different test on Saturday, when he was offered Barcelona and Real Madrid shirts.

"We've got Real Madrid, who's the player though?" Antetokounmpo said, assessing his options.

"I love both of these players, [Lionel] Messi or [Cristiano] Ronaldo, who used to play with Real.

"But I'll probably go with Real. There you go, Real."

Madrid can restore their three-point lead atop LaLiga when they host Celta Vigo on Sunday.

Eden Hazard is 100 per cent fit and ready to return when Real Madrid take on Celta Vigo in LaLiga on Sunday, says Zinedine Zidane.

Belgium international Hazard has been out of action since November after fracturing his ankle in a 2-2 Champions League draw against Paris Saint-Germain.

He has scored one goal and made 13 appearances since arriving from Chelsea for a reported initial fee of €100million, his debut having been delayed until September due to a hamstring problem.

However, Hazard has been in full training with Madrid this week and Madrid coach Zidane confirmed he could feature at the Santiago Bernabeu.

"We all know how important Hazard is and that's why we signed him. He's a great player. We're very happy he's back with the group," Zidane said at a pre-match news conference on Saturday.

"He hasn't played for three months and it's not easy. It will also depend on the game and the rhythm but physically he's absolutely fit and available to be with us.

"We know how much he can help us. It was tough not having him for almost three months due to injury. He's also very happy to be back.

"It's true we have to take it easy, we should give him time, and that's what we did to make sure he's 100 per cent fit when he is back. He is ready to play tomorrow."

Madrid went into the weekend three points clear at the top of LaLiga and face a huge Clasico against Barcelona in between Champions League last-16 matches against Manchester City.

In previous campaigns Zidane has rotated his side heavily for domestic and European matches, but he was guarded when asked about how he will approach the next month.

"The most important game is the one the one that we're playing tomorrow and after that we'll just plan the following week," said Zidane.

"In the next month we'll have very important games and in each game we'll have to give it our all because they are all crucial.

"We've done well up to now but we have to continue like that if we want to win something important at the end of the season. We know the situation and every game will be a tough one, but we're ready for that challenge."

City have been handed a two-season European ban by UEFA for breaching Financial Fair Play regulations, though the English club will appeal the sanction at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Asked for his thoughts on what has happened to their Champions League opponents, Zidane said: "I don't really know what's going to change or what's going to happen. I can only talk to you about football and about games we're going to play.

"They are a very strong team, very competitive team and this is something that is not going to change. But right now I'm focused on our game tomorrow.

"They are a great team regardless of the situation they are going through. The games against them in the Champions League will be tough.

"As far as the ban goes, I cannot talk about that, it's not my job. What I want to stress is Manchester City are a great team, a very tough opponent."

RB Leipzig head coach Julian Nagelsmann has revealed he turned down the chance to become head coach of Real Madrid.

The 32-year-old told the Independent he was approached by Madrid managing director Jose Angel Sanchez in 2018, at a time when the club were seeking a successor to Zinedine Zidane.

That job went to Julen Lopetegui, whose controversial appointment led to the incoming Madrid boss being ousted as Spain's head coach on the eve of the World Cup.

Lopetegui and Santiago Solari did not last, with their respective short stints in charge followed by the second coming of Zidane.

It could have been Nagelsmann in charge at the Santiago Bernabeu; however, the highly-rated young German decided the opportunity had come too early in his career.

He elected to stay with his club at the time, Hoffenheim, before moving on to Leipzig last year.

"It's normal if Real Madrid call you, you think about it," Nagelsmann said. "I was surprised at first, I weighed it up and I didn't feel comfortable with a decision to go there. I want to improve. If you go to Real Madrid, there's no time to improve as a manager. 

"You don't have a chance to be a better manager, you already have to be the best. I'm not the best now, but I can admit I want to be one of the best in future. If you go to Real Madrid or Barcelona, the fans, the media and the decision-makers don't give you the time to grow into that.

"They only want to see victories every game, titles, Champions League trophies. If you don't win, you can't say 'but I'm still young, I'm still developing'. It's not that easy in football to plan a career, because it is so unpredictable, but you have to try.

"The main thing is to make the right steps, not the biggest steps. Real Madrid is probably one of the highest steps you can take so I thought, 'You turn 31, go to Real and where to do you go from there?'."

He said the language barrier could also have been a problem, with Nagelsmann not a Spanish speaker.

He jumped at the Leipzig chance, however, and said that sparked a period when he was constantly linked with top jobs.

"The funny thing about that is, I signed a contract and then it felt like 10 minutes later, all the clubs were interested," he said. "It's like when you go to a disco and you are single, you'll never find a girl. Then when you go to the disco with your girlfriend, quite a few want you!"

Nagelsmann's Leipzig are set to face Jose Mourinho's Tottenham in the Champions League last 16, with the first leg in London next Wednesday.

The young German boss admits coaching in England holds plenty of appeal for the future.

"In the Premier League, there is no time slot for anything else. Football, football, football," he told the Independent. "But there are a few clubs that I watch closely and the Premier League is a goal for every manager."

Barcelona will not take unnecessary risks with Lionel Messi's fitness, head coach Quique Setien has assured.

Barca are light on options in attack as they battle to defend their LaLiga title, with Luis Suarez set to be sidelined until May following knee surgery, while injury-plagued winger Ousmane Dembele will miss the rest of the campaign after an operation on a torn hamstring this week.

Reports earlier this month suggested Messi was playing through pain but Setien insisted he had no concerns over the six-time Ballon d'Or winner ahead of Saturday's home match against high-flying Getafe.

"Messi, like a lot of other players, knows what he can do and what he can’t do," he told a news conference.

"If he's on the pitch it’s because he's able to be. He's okay, there's no problem.

"Like any other players, there will be a time when we have to rest him. I haven’t spent so much time here to be able to evaluate this.

"These players are so used to playing Sunday to Wednesday for many years that in some cases it is not necessary for them to rest, but we will have a look as it goes on."

The Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and LaLiga granted Barcelona special dispensation to sign a replacement for Dembele, with Real Sociedad's Willian Jose among those touted as a possible target.

Setien refused to be drawn on links to Loren Moron, who he coached at Real Betis, with his successor at the Seville club, Rubi, saying such a deal is a non-starter.

"What I've done all of my life is adapt to what I have," Setien said. "If a player arrives then that's preferable.

"Dembele’s injury affects us a lot and puts us in a risky situation. In the end, you have to play with 11 men and that's what we're going to do

"We'll adapt. We'll find a solution and the way forward."

An unlikely solution might have already presented itself in Rey Manaj, the 22-year-old forward signed for Barca B from Albacete during the January transfer window.

Albania international Manaj has trained with the first team over recent days and certainly made an impression with Setien.

"We don’t know Rey completely. We haven’t seen everything he can do because he's spent little time here," he added.

"His willingness is extraordinary and if he's here it's because he is going to help us."

Barcelona head coach Quique Setien does not believe Real Madrid should be considered favourites for LaLiga glory this season.

Madrid hold a three-point advantage at the summit over Barca, who have struggled for their best form since Setien replaced Ernesto Valverde last month.

Valverde and Barca won the previous two titles, with the Blaugrana also collecting four of the past five either side of Zinedine Zidane's sole domestic success in 2016-17.

Setien feels the Clasico showdown at the Santiago Bernabeu on March 1 could yet prove to be pivotal.

"Many league titles have been decided on details, in final minutes, in situations that neither of the two teams are able to control," he told a news conference.

"We're just as much favourites as Real Madrid. They have got a three-point advantage but we've got a game there at the Bernabeu and when that moment comes we've got a lot of expectation.

"We know the importance of the game and of course we'll go all out for it."

First, Barca must negotiate a game that might turn a two-way battle into a three-horse race.

Getafe travel to Camp Nou on Saturday sitting third in the table, seven points shy of their hosts but enjoying another exceptional season on the back of a surprise fifth-place finish in 2018-19.

Setien has previously clashed with Jose Bordalas over Getafe's direct style of play and, while he declined to discuss a feuding relationship with his opposite number that dates back to their respective tenures in charge of Segunda Division sides Lugo and Alcorcon, he praised their impressive progress.

"It's clear that we have two different styles. Barca have been playing like this for years, Getafe are playing the way they have been for years," he said.

"The important thing is your plan and way of doing it overcomes the opposition

"We're clear in what we're playing for and how we play. What you have to do, you must to well and I think both of us do that."

On whether Getafe might become a direct rival in LaLiga this term, Setien suggested their forthcoming Europa League obligations – an intriguing last-32 showdown with Ajax – could be a complicating factor.

"The difficult thing for every club is to stay at the top. I don’t know if it's us and Madrid or Getafe [as well], who are on a great run.” said the Barca boss.

"The difficult thing is to keep up that run. There are some difficult games coming up for them in Europe that might take something out of their power in LaLiga.

"Getafe last year stayed up there and this year they're still up there. I don't know if this form is going to be enough to catch us and Real Madrid but we have to consider them rivals."

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