Santiago Solari described Sergio Ramos' latest red card as an "occupational hazard" after the Real Madrid captain was sent-off in their home LaLiga loss to Girona.

Ramos was dismissed in the last minute of Sunday's 2-1 victory for relegation-threatened Girona at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The Spain defender earlier conceded a penalty for handball, for which he was booked, and was shown a second yellow after catching a Girona defender with a high boot in the process of attempting an overhead kick.

It ended a controversial week for Ramos, who backtracked on suggestions he deliberately received a booking in Madrid's 2-1 win at Ajax in the first leg of their last-16 Champions League tie so he would be available for the quarter-finals, should the holders progress.

Ramos has now been sent-off 20 times in LaLiga, more than any other player in the history of the competition, but Solari would not criticise his skipper.

"They are occupational hazards," Solari told a news conference when asked about Ramos being sent off.

Despite Madrid having no upcoming midweek game, Solari opted to rest regulars including Vinicius Junior, Gareth Bale, Sergio Reguilon and Dani Carvajal for the visit of Girona.

Luka Modric was also missing due to suspension as Madrid missed out on a sixth straight win in the league, a defeat instead leaving them nine points behind LaLiga leaders Barcelona.

But Solari denied regretting his team selection as Cristhian Stuani's penalty and a Portu header turned the game around for Girona, who trailed to Casemiro's first-half header.

"Those questions are impossible," the Madrid coach added. "Talking about past or future hypotheses is not a job we can do. We make decisions and compete and sometimes we do not win.

"It's a shame, we dropped points, the rivals won and we moved away. We came with a good streak, cutting points and we have to continue striving.

"The league is not lost, at all. We will continue fighting for the three fronts that we have open. All matches are difficult against any team, as demonstrated today. Girona have played a very serious game and we have to keep working to keep trying to win.

"There is always a rival and today they did well both in the first half when we dominated and in the second, they came out with energy, they pressed very well and attacked. 

"Attrition is not only physical, it is mental, of concentration... there are many factors. We came from many hard matches that we have overcome and it may be that it took its toll in the second half."

Marcelo's long-term future at Real Madrid appears increasingly shaky after the shock 2-1 home loss to Girona contributed to a damning statistical portrait of the left-back's waning influence.

After two matches among the substitutes, the experienced Brazil international was restored to the starting XI on Sunday and only succeeded in fuelling positional rival Sergio Reguilon's claims for a permanent berth.

His defending was questionable for both Girona goals as Los Blancos slumped to their seventh league loss of the season, six of which have been suffered in Marcelo's 13 matches.

The European champions have managed a paltry five victories in that time, meaning the 30-year-old has been on the victorious side in just 38.5 per cent of his LaLiga appearances this term.

Rumours that he could reunite with Cristiano Ronaldo at Juventus have emerged amid the decline and Santiago Solari's belief in the identity of his best option on the left side of defence could be cemented with a glance at the available data.

In 22-year-old Reguilon, the Madrid boss has a trusted commodity known since their time together with Castilla and one who statistically offers better results in all departments.

The homegrown product made headlines for the wrong reasons in October when widely shared footage showed Sergio Ramos reacting angrily to an innocuous training ground collision between the pair, but he has since remodelled his image as an important ingredient in improved Madrid performances.

Reguilon has helped Solari's men claim maximum points in eight of his nine LaLiga outings, during which their average number of goals conceded has fallen from 1.4 per game to 0.9.

In all competitions, Madrid's 2018-19 winning record with the long-serving Marcelo in the team stands at 50 per cent, a stark comparison to the 82.4 per cent of games they have won without him.

Time, at least at the Santiago Bernabeu, may be running out for the four-time Champions League winner to restore his fading reputation.

Girona coach Eusebio Sacristan described under-fire Real Madrid left-back Marcelo as an "institution" after his side's historic LaLiga win at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Marcelo has come in for criticism after a series of poor performances this season and he once again struggled against relegation-threatened opponents on Sunday.

Although squad rotation saw the Brazil international start the clash with Girona, Marcelo has hinted he may seek a move away from Madrid at the end of the season after losing his place to Sergio Reguilon.

Madrid have won only 38.5 per cent of LaLiga games Marcelo has started this term, compared to 81.8 per cent when Santiago Solari has left him out.

Eusebio appeared to target the defender during the second half by switching Portu from the left wing to the right, with the attacker heading in the winner after Cristhian Stuani's penalty had cancelled out Casemiro's opener.

However, the Girona boss - who had lost his seven previous encounters against Madrid in league action - insisted it was not a deliberate ploy.

"I respect the rival players a lot and someone like Marcelo is an institution," he told a news conference.

"Portu plays on the right and generates a lot of problems, but this time he did on the left.

"Pere Pons was forced [to come off], he was dizzy and it was a big risk to continue in the field after the blow he suffered.

"We were subdued and with [Anthony] Lozano we gained more depth, we thought we could create more problems."

Asked about Marcelo's performance, Solari told a news conference: "Good, he played well."

Eusebio was reportedly close to the sack with Girona having lost six games in a row in LaLiga to slip towards the relegation zone, but their upset victory sees them move to 15th in the table.

"They could have made us more goals in the first half, but in the second half we had more control," he added.

"We made them less comfortable and the match was indicating that we were better. Their advantage was minimal and in the second half we were superior, we scored two goals and that's why we deserved to win.

"They dominated in the first half, but being 1-0 only made us believe and we tried to take the initiative away from them, we wanted to make them run with the ball, they are three very important points, and achieving the goal depends on us.

"It's a very happy day, we have won the prize for the work that is done every day. The prize did not arrive and it has arrived today. Very happy because they are three important points, we must continue working with that spirit."

There is no need to "kill Real Madrid forever" after a LaLiga loss at home to Girona, says right-back Alvaro Odriozola.

Santiago Solari's side led at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday thanks to a first-half Casemiro header, with Madrid hunting a sixth consecutive league win to exert pressure on leaders Barcelona.

But a second-half collapse saw a Cristhian Stuani penalty and Portu's header turn the game around for relegation-threatened Girona before Madrid captain Sergio Ramos was dismissed in the last minute.

Los Blancos are now nine points behind Barca ahead of a March 2 Clasico at the Bernabeu, with the sides also soon set to meet in the capital in the second leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final.

Madrid's chances of catching defending champions Barca are seemingly hanging by a thread but Solari has refused to concede his side's involvement in the title race is now over.

And Odriozola said there should not be an over-reaction despite Madrid losing to a Girona side that had not won any of their past 13 matches in all competitions since December 5.

"It's a difficult time because we were in a very good dynamic and this puts the brakes on," he told reporters. "The match could have been won and in the end it's lost, we have to do self-criticism and see where we've failed.

"We have to recover the group emotionally because what is coming is nice and we do not have to kill Real Madrid forever, we have to keep fighting, we have lost a battle but not the war.

"There is no need to make excuses, if Girona have taken the game, it is because they deserved it. The first half was good, we could have led 2-0 and taken the match but we do not have to make excuses."

And like Solari, Odriozola is not giving up hope that Madrid could yet catch Barca although they only have 14 league games remaining to do so.

"It's never an excess of confidence because at Real Madrid you go out at 200 percent to give everything," he continued. "Sometimes these things happen, it's tough for the group and the fans, but there are exciting weeks ahead and we're never going to give up.

"The calendar is what it is, we do not have to make excuses. We are alive in all three competitions, although LaLiga gets more complicated, but Real Madrid have cut other leads in other years."

Santiago Solari insists Real Madrid will keep fighting for the LaLiga title despite their five-game winning run ending with a stunning home loss to Girona.

Casemiro's first-half header had Madrid 1-0 up and in total control against Eusebio Sacristan's LaLiga strugglers at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday.

But, within 10 second-half minutes, Cristhian Stuani's penalty and Portu's header had earned Girona's first win away to Madrid and moved them four points clear of the relegation zone.

Sergio Ramos was sent-off in the last minute as he tried to equalise, the Madrid captain catching a defender with a high boot when desperately attempting an overhead kick.

Defeat leaves Madrid nine points behind LaLiga leaders Barcelona, who visit the Bernabeu on March 2, four days after the second leg of the Clasico Copa del Rey semi-final.

Three-time defending champions Madrid also have a foot in the quarter-finals of the Champions League after a 2-1 first-leg away win against Ajax.

Solari, though, claims he will not prioritise cup competitions over the league despite Madrid's deficit to last season's table-toppers Barcelona and a busy fixture list.

"There's always the league," he said. "We have to get up quickly and keep going, all three competitions are still open for us.

"We came from a very hard journey, we paid for that effort. We tried to overcome, to be fresher with the changes, but we did not achieve it."

Luka Modric's absence due to suspension appeared to leave Madrid weak in the centre of midfield with Douglas Luiz beating Casemiro too easily in the build-up to Girona's winner.

"It is always a cliche to think about the one who is not in [the team]," Solari added.

"We have to face what we are in. This is a squad with great players, it did not come out and that's it."

Marcelo, who has been regularly left out in favour of Sergio Reguilon by Solari, had a difficult day but the Madrid coach would not single out the defender for criticism.

"Football is a collective sport and the field is covered with all the players," he said when asked if Madrid's defensive problems stemmed from their left.

"Girona came out very well, very strong and they grew in the second half. We did not find the depth when we were dominated."

Cristhian Stuani scored his 13th LaLiga goal of the season and Portu headed a famous winner as relegation-threatened Girona claimed a 2-1 comeback win away at Real Madrid. 

Santiago Solari's side looked on track for a sixth straight victory in the league following Casemiro's first-half header at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday. 

But after Sergio Ramos was punished for a handball in the penalty area, Stuani stepped up to convert a spot-kick and Girona's battle against relegation was boosted by a stunning winner. 

Thibaut Courtois weakly parried Anthony Lozano's effort back into the danger zone and Portu was on hand to steer the rebound past the Madrid goalkeeper, with captain Ramos then dismissed in the last minute as he tried to equalise with an overhead kick.

Madrid took the lead in the 25th minute with Casemiro on target for the second LaLiga game in a row, the Brazil midfielder powering home a downward header from a Toni Kroos cross. 

Casemiro teed up international team-mate Marcelo for a drilled finish before the break, but the goal was rightly ruled out for offside. 

Girona should have equalised in the 59th minute. Courtois could only push Lozano's header back into the danger zone but Garcia blazed the rebound way over the crossbar. 

However, Madrid failed to heed that warning and Girona levelled from the penalty spot. 

Courtois turned Stuani's effort on to the post but Douglas Luiz got to the loose ball first and his shot was partially blocked by Ramos' arms. 

Stuani clipped the spot-kick down the middle after Courtois dived to his right to equalise and Girona suddenly had Madrid reeling, Portu crashing a rocket of a shot against the post. 

And Girona scored an incredible winner in the 75th minute, Portu squeezing a header past Courtois to complete a remarkable comeback.

Bale was denied by Yassine Bounou and as Madrid chased a leveller, Ramos was shown a second yellow card after referee Guillermo Cuadra Fernandez deemed his acrobatic effort to be a dangerous challenge.

Courtois almost made amends with an unbelievable 95th-minute equaliser but, after going up for a set piece, his header flew wide in a frantic finale.

Santiago Solari said Sergio Ramos was caught out by "tricky" questioning after his controversial yellow card in Real Madrid's 2-1 win over Ajax in the Champions League.

The 32-year-old defender was booked in the 89th minute at the Johan Cruijff ArenA and initially admitted he took the caution on purpose.

His confession led to UEFA opening an investigation to establish whether he had taken the punishment to ensure he would serve any suspension before the quarter-finals, should Madrid advance.

Ramos subsequently back-tracked, saying his intention was to force a foul not a ban, and Solari accepted his captain's explanation.

"Referring to what Sergio said, he has given all the pertinent explanations and he has said clearly that he refereed about forcing the foul," Solari told reporters.

"He has also been asked in a tricky way, you [journalists] have your own methods.

"Anyway, he has also explained himself."

Solari was asked about the furore surrounding a gesture made by Gareth Bale towards Atletico Madrid supporters following his goal in the derby.

Bale scored Real's third goal in a 3-1 victory before making an arm gesture towards fans at Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, prompting LaLiga to request that the Welshman be punished by the Spanish Football Federation.

It was put to Solari that LaLiga president Javier Tebas has a vendetta against his side, but the Real Madrid boss dismissed the suggestion.

"Persecuted by Tebas? We are persecuted by Atleti and chasing Barca," said Solari

"We would love for everyone to persecute us."

On Bale's celebration, he added: "I think it is just an anecdote. People are reading too much into it."

Santiago Solari described himself as "delighted" with the progress Vinicius Junior is making at Real Madrid but stressed the credit for his development must be shared among his team-mates.

Brazilian forward Vinicius has scored two goals in 12 LaLiga appearances this season and his performances in all competitions have helped to justify the club's €45million investment in him.

The 18-year-old played 81 minutes of Madrid's 2-1 first-leg win over Ajax in the Champions League last 16 and Solari was full of praise for the way he has established himself at Santiago Bernabeu.

"He's very young and you can see in the last few months his improvement," Solari told reporters.

"We're delighted with his progress. He's getting lots of help not just in matches, but in training too.

"Lots of credit must go to Vinicius but also to his team-mates for the advice they're passing on, helping him to improve his game."

Marco Asensio came off the bench to score Madrid's winner at Johan Cruijff Arena after recovering from a thigh muscle injury and his return to form and fitness could present Solari with a selection dilemma.

Los Blancos lined up with Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Vinicius in attack against Ajax, but Solari indicated he would have few problems finding room for left-sided playmaker Asensio in his side to face Girona in LaLiga on Sunday.

"Marco can play anywhere across the front three, even as an attacking midfielder," said Solari.

"He is talented and came back from injury strongly. Hopefully he continues to work in same vein.

"He came on and scored a decisive goal - an important goal for him and for the team. We're happy with the way he has returned from injury."

 

Santiago Solari said head coaches need to trust in VAR after Real Madrid benefited from a controversial call in Wednesday's 2-1 Champions League win at Ajax.

Holders Madrid took control of their last-16 tie as goals from Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio, either side of a Hakim Ziyech strike, gave them a victory and two away goals at Johan Cruijff ArenA.

Ajax thought they had taken a deserved first-half lead through Nicolas Tagliafico, but the goal was ruled out after a VAR review, with Dusan Tadic judged to have impeded goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois while in an offside position.

Madrid boss Solari, though, insists officials should be entrusted to make such decisions as they are the only ones with access to the video replays.

"We don't have the elements to make a judgement. We don't have a monitor. We trust what VAR or the referees say," he said.

"Without a doubt [we suffered]. We knew how to play the game, how to work it, suffer through it and to score when we created those chances.

"We did everything and that shows the strength of the players and of the group."

Madrid struggled in the first half against Ajax's high press, but Solari did not agree that it was a poor performance overall.

"That's your opinion," he said. "We had to do a lot of things to get this result. We had to work, suffer, know how to escape the press, and be strong.

"This is the Champions League, the last 16, and there are no teams that are not very good.

"They played with a lot of energy, pushing some situations to the limit, and they made us work hard for the win."

Solari was pleased with Asensio's impact as a substitute, while he also denied he took off Gareth Bale after 61 minutes because of a poor display from the Wales forward.

"I'm particularly happy with his goal and his performance," he said of Asensio. "He's played in three or four games since he came back from injury.

"He did everything he had to do, not only for the goal but also how he acted on the pitch, how he defended and for his effectiveness in reaching the goal."

When asked about Bale, he added: "I'm very happy with everyone's performance. It was a very difficult game and we needed the maximum from everyone. Without that, we wouldn't have won."

Santiago Solari has hailed Sergio Ramos ahead of the Real Madrid captain making his 600th appearance for the club.

Ramos will reach the landmark in the Champions League on Wednesday if he is selected for the first leg of Madrid's last-16 tie away to Ajax.

The Spain international has led Madrid to three consecutive continental crowns and has hit 11 goals in all competitions this season after inheriting penalty duties from Cristiano Ronaldo.

"Playing 600 games for Real Madrid is not easy," Solari told a news conference when asked about Ramos' achievement.

"This historic Real Madrid has the stamp of his character so we hope he can play many more games for Real Madrid."

Ramos' deputy Marcelo has been linked with a move to Juventus after losing his place to 22-year-old left-back Sergio Reguilon.

Marcelo has told Esporte Interativo he will leave if Madrid do not want him, but Solari denied being dissatisfied with the Brazil international.

"Marcelo is great - he's our vice-captain and an emblem of the club," Solari added. 

"He has always put the club first and he is training well, like all the other players. Like I said, he's great and we all like him. He works hard in every training session."

Madrid are unbeaten in seven games in all competitions while Ajax are stumbling, losing two of their past three games including a 6-2 Eredivisie thrashing at Feyenoord.

"That's what this profession is like, in football you have one game and another. Then when you lose it's terrible, when you win it's fine," Solari continued.

"Day to day, on the inside, we want to compete - and on the next day too. Tomorrow is very important for this competition and this is where we focus. Other things, we don't pay a lot of attention to it as managers and players and it's right to be like this.

"I don't think it's a bad period for them, I don't agree. I think they are having a good season. I've seen a lot of games and they play well, construct the play well and they have great players. This is football. There is always an opponent and you have to respect them all, just like the teams Ajax have played.

"I hope we play a game with a serious performance as we did three days ago, that's my maximum hope. Football is day to day work. All we have to live for is the game tomorrow."

When a Gareth Bale-inspired Real Madrid overcame Liverpool 3-1 in last season's Champions League final, the triumph merely scratched the surface of LaLiga's recent dominance in Europe's premier club competition.

Having become the first team in the Champions League era to retain the title against Juventus in Cardiff in 2017, head coach Zinedine Zidane made it three in a row before riding off into the sunset.

Madrid have won four out of five, their bitter rivals Barcelona interrupting the streak in 2015. Indeed, Liverpool and Juventus proved to be the only interlopers on a Spanish party during this period – Atletico Madrid were left in anguish by their city rivals in 2014 and 2016.

Five wins out of five and seven of the previous 10 finalists paints a picture of total domination that felt unlikely after Bayern Munich beat Borussia Dortmund in an all-Bundesliga affair at Wembley in 2013.

That experience shows the folly of declaring the beginning and end of eras, but LaLiga's grip on continental supremacy appears somewhat looser as this season's knockout rounds get underway.

No Zidane, no Ronaldo = no party?

That Madrid's struggles post-Kiev seemed, to an extent, so inevitable is a damning indictment of president Florentino Perez and the Bernabeu hierarchy.

Zidane caught them off guard – Madrid head coaches are habitually pushed rather than jumping on their own terms – but the pursuit of Julen Lopetegui was an unseemly mess that counted torpedoing Spain's World Cup campaign among its collateral.

A chequebook that remained tightly bound even after Cristiano Ronaldo's departure to Juventus gave an indication of why Los Blancos were so hasty in wrapping up the Lopetegui deal. They were not presenting a strong hand to any incoming coach.

Being able to rely on an all-time great forward and the inspiration of a club hero in the dressing room had papered over plenty of ills and Lopetegui trudged out of his second dream job in a matter of months following a 5-1 hammering in El Clasico.

Messi carrying Barcelona

Barcelona accomplished that October humiliation of their bitter foes without a sidelined Lionel Messi as Luis Suarez produced a bravura display.

However, recent weeks have added weight to claims of Messidependencia. The mercurial Argentinian was rested for Copa del Rey ties at Levante and Sevilla and had to be recalled to pull around first-leg defeats. He came off the bench in last week's 1-1 semi final draw at home to Madrid despite injury fears.

Those losses and a 2-2 LaLiga draw against Valencia pointed to unaddressed defensive vulnerabilities, exacerbated by Ernesto Valverde's squad rotation – a necessity of the modern game, but the drop-off when the Barca boss rests weary legs is often stark.

Sunday's stalemate at Athletic Bilbao made it three winless games across all competitions, while uncertainty over whether Valverde will stay beyond the end of this season might count against players going the extra mile..

Atletico fluffing their lines

The thrill of Atletico's 2013-14 LaLiga triumph and their Champions League final appearances was how against the odds it all felt.

Diego Simeone's side cannot be so easily cast in that role this time around, given they mark a contrast to the sense of drift witnessed at their city rivals and Barca.

After tying star forward Antoine Griezmann down to a long-term contract, Simeone was reportedly set to follow suit at the end of last year. What he has built in the shadow of two giants is, by any measure, incredible.

But it feels reasonable to ask whether Atleti could be doing more.

Barcelona have left the door ajar in LaLiga, failing to win eight matches this term. But Atleti have now dropped points 11 times and find themselves behind Madrid after Saturday's sapping 3-1 defeat on their own patch in El Derbi.

PSG, Juventus, Manchester City – can anyone take advantage?

If those flaws paint an unconvincing picture for Atletico, Barcelona and Real Madrid, the lack of a solid counter-argument from Europe's pretenders to the throne gives cause for encouragement.

Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham are embroiled in a fierce and sapping battle for the Premier League title, which has magnified flaws with in each excellent team. All face Bundesliga opposition this month and must be wary of becoming over-stretched.

The other Premier League participant, Manchester United, are revelling in a post-Jose Mourinho feelgood factor under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and represent an unappetising prospect for a Neymar-less Paris Saint-Germain, who are still to bring their Ligue 1 dominance to bear on the European stage.

Juventus' move for Ronaldo was the clearest statement yet of their determination to take the final step – an experienced side hitting the sort of peak Bayern Munich now have in their rear view mirror.

The Old Lady's showdown with Atleti is the pick of the last 16 ties and could prove a bellwether when it comes to assessing LaLiga's current strength.

Following a home loss to Real Sociedad at the start of the year, Madrid have rediscovered the winning feeling, something deeply ingrained in their muscle memory where the big trophy is concerned.

Interim boss Santiago Solari came through this week's clashes against Barcelona and Atletico intact, with a reputation enhanced and confidence blossoming within his squad. Ajax are up next, having lost two of their past three Eredivisie outings. It couldn't happen again, could it?

Meanwhile, focusing upon Barca without Messi ignores the terrifying prospect for opponents when he is in full flight.

LaLiga's heavyweights might not swagger as they once did, but the rest will have to walk taller than before to knock them off their stride.  

Santiago Solari believes Real Madrid can win a fourth consecutive Champions League, saying "nothing is impossible" for the European giants.

Madrid have been dominant in Europe in recent years, winning the continent's top club competition in three straight seasons.

Despite being less convincing so far this campaign, Solari feels Madrid can make it four in a row in 2019.

Asked what came to mind when he thought of the challenge of winning a fourth straight title, the head coach told UEFA: "That nothing is impossible for Real Madrid."

Madrid's first step in the knockout stage is Ajax, with the first leg of their last-16 tie to be played in Amsterdam on Wednesday.

Solari knows the challenge awaiting Madrid against the Dutch giants, who last won the competition in 1995.

"Ajax are very well known for their work in the youth system, for their commitment to young talent and their offensive football," he said.

"That's the way they still work, with a team that has already shown that it was competitive last year and that it remains competitive this year.

"The tie is going to be difficult, like all these occasions in the Champions League."

Isco missed El Derbi due to neck and back pain, Real Madrid have confirmed.

The Spain international was not included in Santiago Solari's squad for Saturday's trip to Atletico Madrid, where goals from Casemiro, Sergio Ramos and Gareth Bale earned a 3-1 win.

Isco has fallen out of favour since Solari replaced Julen Lopetegui, with the Madrid coach appearing to hint the playmaker has not been giving enough effort in training.

"In football, you have to work and put all your talent into everything," Solari said ahead of El Derbi. "You have to do that in training so you are available to play."

Isco earlier hit out at Solari via social media, complaining about his lack of game-time in recent weeks despite forwards Bale and Marco Asensio having been sidelined by injury.

Former Madrid midfielder Ruben de la Red said the club do not wait for anyone and told Isco he must perform to the standards of his team-mates, drawing a response from the 26-year-old.

"I completely agree with De la Red, but when you are not getting the same opportunities as your team-mates, that changes things…" Isco wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

"Despite that, I'm continuing to work hard and battling for the moment when those opportunities arrive! Hala Madrid!!"

Isco has only started five LaLiga matches this season and has not been in Madrid's XI for a league game since Solari took charge.

It is unclear how long his injury will keep him out of action, with Saturday's win at Atletico moving Madrid above their city rivals into second place in LaLiga.

Solari's side travel to Ajax for the first leg of their last-16 Champions League tie on Wednesday, with two more Clasico clashes with Barcelona upcoming.

Madrid drew 1-1 at Camp Nou in Wednesday's first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final, a game in which Isco was an unused substitute.

Santiago Solari said Gareth Bale helped define Saturday's derby after scoring his 100th Real Madrid goal against Atletico Madrid.

It was a memorable outing for Bale at Atletico's Wanda Metropolitano, where the Welsh forward celebrated his century of goals in the 3-1 LaLiga derby victory.

Bale came off the bench and netted Madrid's third – his 100th goal in all competitions since arriving from Tottenham in 2013 for a then-record fee of €100million – against 10-man Atletico.

And Madrid head coach Solari praised Bale following reports the Wales international walked back to the dressing room on his own following the triumph.

"He walked into the locker room very well and he was very happy with his goal," Solari said during his post-game news conference.

"He helped define this match because it was very much alive at this point. But thanks to his goal it ended the match and he's very good."

Bale has scored six LaLiga goals in 18 matches – 15 of those in the starting XI – this season, while the 29-year-old has netted 12 in all competitions.

 

Santiago Solari declared LaLiga glory is still up for grabs after his Real Madrid side claimed a 3-1 win at city rivals Atletico Madrid.

Goals from Casemiro and substitute Gareth Bale – his 100th for the club – either side of a coolly converted penalty from captain Sergio Ramos moved Madrid a point ahead of their neighbours and up to second in the standings.

Barcelona are still five points better off and can extend their lead further when they travel to face Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

However, with Madrid resurgent and a Clasico clash at Santiago Bernabeu coming up before the end of the month, Solari suggested he smells blood.

"Real Madrid fight for everything until the end - it's not over, it's historic," he told reporters.

"Now we are second, but we have to keep going because I know that Atletico will keep fighting.

"They're a great team with a marvellous coach, now we have to keep this up and keep winning. We have our feet on the ground and know that we have to keep working."

Despite Bale bringing up an impressive personal milestone, Solari had no doubt his team's victory in El Derbi was forged by the work of the collective.

"It was a team victory, there's no other way to get anything from this stadium against a strong and competitive rival," he added.

"Playing as a team is the only way to win at the Wanda, we were strong in every aspect of play. It's the best we've played since December."

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