Aaron Wan-Bissaka has been rewarded for his brilliant display up against Raheem Sterling in the Manchester derby, earning inclusion in FIFA Ultimate Team's latest Team of the Week.

Manchester United claimed a fine 2-1 win at the home of the champions on Saturday, with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial getting the goals.

But arguably just as vital was the performance of Wan-Bissaka at right-back, as the England Under-21 international played an integral role in nullifying Sterling, one of the Premier League's form players.

Wan-Bissaka completed a match-high five tackles – one a last-ditch challenge to deny Sterling what looked set to be a certain goal – and also made seven clearances.

Liverpool star Sadio Mane is back in the TOTW for the second time, while Serie A's chief creator Luis Alberto lines up in midfield having set up another two goals in Lazio's 3-1 win over Juventus, taking his campaign tally to 11, five more than anyone else in the competition.

Unsurprisingly there is also a place in the team for Real Betis' Joaquin after he became the oldest player in LaLiga history to score a hat-trick, while Memphis Depay and Marco Reus lead the line.

Below, we take a look at the latest squad in full.

FUT TEAM OF THE WEEK

GK: Martin Dubravka (Newcastle United) – 83

CB: Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Manchester United) – 82

CB: Martin Hinteregger (Eintracht Frankfurt) – 83

CB: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) – 86

LM: Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – 90

CDM: Charles Aranguiz (Bayer Leverkusen) – 85

CDM: Luis Alberto (Lazio) – 87

CM: Morgan Sanson (Marseille) – 82

RM: Joaquin (Real Betis) – 83

CF: Memphis Depay (Lyon) – 86

CF: Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund) – 89

SUBSTITUTES:

GK: Luigi Sepe (Parma) – 81

CB: Guillermo Maripan (Monaco) – 82

LM: Cristian Ansaldi (Torino) – 82

CAM: Matheus Pereira (West Brom) – 81

ST: Jamie Vardy (Leicester City) – 84

ST: Cristhian Stuani (Girona) – 82

RF: Lukas Podolski (Vissel Kobe) – 81

RESERVES:

CM: Cristian Battocchio (Brest) – 78

CM: Carlos Sierra (America de Cali) – 73

ST: Vinicius (Benfica) – 79

ST: Adam Le Fondre (Sydney FC) – 78

ST: Josh Maja (Bordeaux) – 75

The Royal Spanish Football Federation says it is not responsible for security during El Clasico and warned it could impose sporting sanctions if political demonstrations lead to trouble at next week's Camp Nou match.

Barcelona are due to host bitter rivals Real Madrid on December 18 in the fixture that was initially due to take place in October.

The original contest was postponed due to political tension that led to violent scenes in Catalonia after nine Catalan political leaders received long prison sentences for their roles in the region's 2017 referendum and subsequent unilateral declaration of independence.

A rally had been called for October 26 – the first date set for the Clasico – and it was decided to rearrange the match for security reasons.

But the Tsunami Democratic protest group – formed of Catalan independence activists – says it has called on its supporters to head to four meeting points near Camp Nou at 4pm local time on the day of the Clasico. Tsunami Democratic says more than 18,000 are due to join its protest.

The football federation (RFEF) has since made the decision to remind Barcelona the federation is not responsible for the organising of security, while also warning of sanctions if "the application of sports discipline is necessary".

A statement from the RFEF read: "In relation to the game on December 18 at the Camp Nou between Barcelona and Real Madrid, the RFEF states that, exactly as in all meetings of official competitions and being a public event, it does not hold responsibility in security matters.

"The RFEF will apply the regulations in force both before and during and after the game if there are situations of force majeure or circumstances in which the application of sports discipline is necessary.

"Similarly, as usual, the RFEF is in contact with the security forces to coordinate the arrival of the refereeing team at the Camp Nou facilities according to established protocols."

Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski has his sights set on a slice of Champions League history when Tottenham visit the Allianz Arena on Wednesday.

The Poland international needs two goals against Jose Mourinho's side to claim the record for goals in the group stage of a single campaign – an honour held by Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored 11 in 2015-16 for Real Madrid.

Atletico Madrid will book their place in the last 16 if they beat Lokomotiv Moscow, while Shakhtar Donetsk will join Manchester City in progressing from Group C if they overcome Atalanta.

In Group A, already-qualified Paris Saint-Germain host Galatasaray and Real Madrid – who have also booked their place in the knockout stages – travel to Club Brugge.

Here is the pick of the key Opta facts for Wednesday's eight matches.

Club Brugge v Real Madrid

7 - This is the seventh Champions League group stage campaign which Club Brugge have failed to progress from. No side has ever competed in more group stages without progressing from any in the history of the competition.

2 - Karim Benzema has scored two goals in each of his last two Champions League games. Only four players have scored two or more in three consecutive games - Giovane Elber (2001), Filippo Inzaghi (2002), Cristiano Ronaldo (2013, twice in 2017) and Lewandowski (2018).

Paris Saint-Germain v Galatasaray

18 - PSG striker Kylian Mbappe has scored 18 goals in 29 appearances in the Champions League. If he scores twice in this game, Mbappe would become the youngest player in the competition's history to reach 20 goals, aged 20 years and 356 days.

1 - Galatasaray scored their first goal of the 2019-20 Champions League campaign in their last game against Club Brugge, ending a run of 38 shots without scoring from the start of the campaign. In total, they have only scored once from 43 shots in the competition this term.

Bayern Munich v Tottenham

16 - Bayern Munich had 16 shots on target in their 6-0 win over Red Star Belgrade on matchday five; the most by a team in this season's Champions League. Bayern last had more in a Champions League game in October 2013 against Viktoria Plzen (18).

2 - New Spurs manager Mourinho has lost both of his previous away games against Bayern Munich in the Champions League, losing in the quarter-finals with Chelsea in 2004-05 and the semi-finals with Real Madrid in 2011-12.

Olympiacos v Red Star Belgrade

1 - Olympiacos have picked up just one point from their five Champions League games this season. Only in 2017-18 (one) have they picked up one point or fewer from a completed group stage.

19 - Red Star have conceded 19 goals in their five Champions League games this season, more than any other side. There have been just five occasions of a team conceding 20+ goals in a single group stage in the competition, most recently by Legia Warsaw in 2016-17 (24).

Dinamo Zagreb v Manchester City

5 - Dinamo Zagreb have picked up five points in this season's Champions League. Only in 1998-99 (eight points) have they won more in a single group stage in the competition. 

19 - City’s Raheem Sterling has scored 19 goals in 46 appearances in the Champions League. He could become the sixth Englishman to reach 20 goals in the competition after Wayne Rooney (30), Paul Scholes (24), Frank Lampard (23), Steven Gerrard (21) and Harry Kane (20). Should Sterling score in his 47th appearance, he would be the second quickest Englishman to 20 Champions League goals after Kane (24 appearances).

Shakhtar Donetsk v Atalanta

5 - Shakhtar Donetsk are without a win in each of their last five Champions League home games (drawn three, lost two). It is their longest ever winless run at home in the competition.

2 - Atalanta have lost their last two away games in the Champions League, conceding nine goals in the process. They last lost three consecutive away matches in all European competition back in October 1987.

Atletico Madrid v Lokomotiv Moscow

2 - Atletico Madrid have lost consecutive matches in the Champions League; they've never lost three in a row in the competition. The Spanish side last lost three consecutive games in all European competitions back in October 1984 in the UEFA Cup.

0 - Lokomotiv Moscow have never won an away game against Spanish opposition in all European competition, losing six of their seven such games and failing to score in each defeat.

Bayer Leverkusen v Juventus

3 - Bayer Leverkusen have benefited from three own goals in this season's Champions League, with only two teams benefiting from more in a single campaign: Inter in 2002-03 (four) and Barcelona in 2017-18 (five).

27 - Juventus forward Ronaldo has scored 27 goals in 24 Champions League appearances against German clubs; the most a single player has accumulated against sides from a particular nation in the competition's history.

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane remains hopeful Eden Hazard will not have to undergo surgery on his fractured ankle.

Hazard was forced off late on against Paris Saint-Germain towards the end of November after receiving a bang to his ankle.

Early concerns appeared to be put to rest when Madrid's medical team claimed the Belgian had only suffered bruising, but after needing crutches for longer than expected, he was sent for a second scan.

It was then that a small fracture was identified, essentially confirming he will not feature in El Clasico on December 18.

While there is no suggestion Hazard will be able to recover in time to face Barcelona, Zidane is at least hoping he will not require an operation.

"I don't believe so [that Hazard will need surgery]," Zidane told reporters on Tuesday.

"But I don't know exactly either. Yes, I can tell you that the injury he has is now controlled and I hope it [the time out] is less than expected.

"There was talk of a week or two, but now the important thing for him is to be patient, because it is not a good time, but I hope he will return quickly with us."

Madrid face Club Brugge in Belgium on Wednesday already knowing they will finish second in Champions League Group A.

As such, Zidane has taken the opportunity to rest some key players, with Toni Kroos and Sergio Ramos not in the travelling party, but Casemiro is with the team, suggesting the coach does not feel anyone else can do the Brazilian's job.

"We know what Case [Casemiro] does, we've talked about this many times," Zidane said. "He's a player that plays many minutes.

"A coach always has to choose a call and think about the specific game. Then we will see the others.

"There are many players who have a lot of time [and travelled], like [Raphael] Varane, and you also have to consider the minutes they have with their selections."

Real Madrid are not contenders to win the Champions League this season, according to former player Hamit Altintop.

Madrid won three consecutive Champions League trophies under Zinedine Zidane between 2016 and 2018 but, without the Frenchman, exited to Ajax in the round of 16 last term.

Zidane is back at the Santiago Bernabeu with Madrid already guaranteed to finish second in Group A behind Paris Saint-Germain, while domestically Los Blancos are only behind LaLiga leaders Barcelona on goal difference.

Altintop spent the 2011-12 season with Madrid and the former Turkey international does not believe Madrid are cut out for Champions League success this term.

"I don't think they are a championship contender," Altintop told Omnisport. "I think you can compare the situation of Real Madrid to the situation of the German national team. 

"They are in a rebuilding phase and want to integrate new players. They invested in young players and they need time. But right now they are playing good, convincing football, because the requirements are there. 

"But if it is enough for the Champions League final... I would like Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, my two former clubs, to play in the Champions League final in Istanbul, with me as an ambassador. But I think it will be difficult."

Altintop played under Jose Mourinho during his time at Madrid and the Portuguese coach is seeking a third Champions League title, having helped his new club reach the next round since replacing Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham last month.

"I think that Mauricio Pochettino did great work the five years before. And I think that the players and the team as a whole increased their value," Altintop added. 

"Considering their style of playing, the Champions League final [last season's loss to Liverpool] and their confidence I think that Jose Mourinho isn't a bad choice because he knows every factor of the game and every trick in the book. 

"He is able to get Tottenham one step further. I will follow it closely and we are still in contact. I wish him all the best. Last year they played really well and with this squad they can do it this year.

"I think he is able to separate the business from personal stuff. He is really good at that. I believe he was one of the first ones to transform football into showbusiness, what many people love.

"You need a little bit extra for that and it shows how intensely he is living that. He is able to - as a friend, as a coach - to praise your strength and to motivate you. That is what the young people need."

Barcelona and Real Madrid face a new threat of disruption at the season's first Clasico after pro-Catalan independence activists targeted the Camp Nou for protests.

The Tsunami Democratic protest group, which is run by anonymous leaders and mobilises followers by means including social media, has called on its supporters to head to four meeting points close to Barcelona's stadium at 4pm local time on December 18.

That is four hours before kick-off in the biggest match of the LaLiga season so far, which was moved from October 26 to its December date following civil unrest in Catalonia.

Tsunami Democratic says more than 18,000 supporters have already committed to joining its protest, including many who have tickets to the Clasico and members - known as 'socios' - of home club Barcelona.

The jailing of nine Catalan separatist leaders sparked major protests in Barcelona during early autumn, and the Tsunami Democratic group was behind a move to bring the city's El Prat airport to a standstill by flooding it with protesters.

Now the same group, knowing it will be unable to protest inside Camp Nou, is intending to make itself impossible to avoid on the day of the match, which could mean political protests take place inside the stadium as millions watch across the world.

Tsunami Democratic said: "In an exceptional situation, it is necessary to act exceptionally."

In a statement posted on Twitter, the group said: "At this time, an important part of the Catalan population suffers from exclusion for ideological reasons.

"It cannot exercise fundamental rights without repression, nor can it exercise his right to self-determination. In addition, dozens of people are or have been arrested simply for exercising and promoting these rights.

"After verifying the impossibility of agreeing with FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF the opportunity to make visible, in the stands and on the pitch, in an effective form, the call for dialogue that Spain ignores, Tsunami Democratic commits to doing so.

"For this, Tsunami Democratic convenes a massive concentration on December 18 at 4pm outside Camp Nou. So far, more than 18,000 people have signed up to the call.

"Many of these people, with tickets or membership [of FC Barcelona], have already received the relevant slogans and have organised to develop the actions planned for a day that will be followed by 650 million people around the world."

Sergio Ramos has joked there should be one Ballon d'Or award for Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo - and an alternative trophy for the rest of the world's footballers to fight over.

Real Madrid captain Ramos has a stack of individual accolades alongside the host of trophies he has won in his Santiago Bernabeu career.

But like so many great players of the last 12 years, he has been put in the shade by Messi and Ronaldo when it comes to the biggest awards.

From 2008, when Ronaldo first landed the Ballon d'Or, through to Messi scooping the honour earlier this month, the pair have had a near total duopoly, interrupted only in 2018 by Luka Modric's success.

Ronaldo has taken the prize five times and Messi six, prompting Ramos to jest that the pair should be left alone to slug it out for one trophy, while giving everyone else a chance of taking another.

"They could make a Ballon d'Or only for Cristiano and Messi depending on results...and another for the rest," Ramos told Mexican broadcaster TUDN. "In the end it would be better for football."

Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk split Barcelona star Messi and Juventus forward Ronaldo this year, taking second place in the vote conducted by France Football magazine.

But the star goal-getters have been the dominant figures in the world game for over a decade, establishing a rivalry for who will be remembered as the greatest of their generation.

Ramos played alongside Ronaldo for many years at Madrid, before the Portuguese moved to Italy in July 2018.

At the age of 33, and as he approaches 15 years as a Madrid player, the captain of Spain is targeting next year's Olympic Games football tournament and sees himself playing on for several seasons yet.

"I will play until the excitement goes, but my excitement is very great," Ramos said, according to Marca. "I will make the most of everything football has to offer for as long as I feel good. I look after myself well and I hope to continue for many years."

Erling Haaland is not finding it difficult to deal with the transfer speculation that has unsurprisingly followed his remarkable run of goalscoring form.

The teenage Salzburg striker is enjoying an excellent campaign and has scored eight goals in five Champions League games to go with 16 in 14 in the Austrian Bundesliga.

Should Haaland score against Liverpool on Tuesday in their Group E finale, in which Salzburg could knock out the holders, he will become the first player to score in his first six Champions League matches.

Manchester United – managed by Haaland's former Molde coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – have been heavily linked with a move for the 19-year-old, while Borussia Dortmund, Juventus, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Liverpool have also been credited with interest in his services.

Haaland, however, has little interest in such rumours.

"I just focus on my job, playing football, and to enjoy what I do every day and to go in with a clear mindset, to be in the present, and enjoy the moment right now," he told a media conference.

"That's my focus, to focus on Salzburg and me as a player. So, it's not hard at all [dealing with transfer speculation]. I'm enjoying every day and playing football."

Lionel Messi has been left out of Barcelona's squad for their final Champions League group stage match against Inter.

Messi endured an injury-hit start to 2019-20, but has shown little sign of rustiness since returning to full fitness, and followed up his record sixth Ballon d'Or win with a hat-trick in Barca's 5-2 win over Real Mallorca on Saturday.

However, with Barca's place in the last 16 already secured thanks to a 3-1 victory over Borussia Dortmund in their previous Group F fixture, it appears Ernesto Valverde has decided to rest Messi for the trip to Milan.

After Tuesday's match at San Siro, Barca face Real Sociedad before taking on Real Madrid in the rearranged Clasico on December 18, with another league match against Deportivo Alaves capping off 2019 three days later.

Messi is not the only star name to be left out of Barca's squad, with Gerard Pique also missing, while Jordi Alba and Nelson Semedo continue their respective recoveries from hamstring and calf problems. Arthur and Ousmane Dembele are absent through injury as well.

Luis Suarez, who scored both goals in Barca's 2-1 win over Inter in October, is included within the 20-man squad, as is Antoine Griezmann.

While Barca's place in the knockouts is secured, Inter need to at least match Dortmund's result against Slavia Prague if they are to guarantee progression.

Pep Guardiola has questioned whether his Manchester City side are able to compete with the likes of Liverpool, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

The reigning Premier League champions fell 14 points behind leaders Liverpool on Saturday after suffering a 2-1 home defeat to rivals Manchester United.

City's defence was torn to shreds in the opening 30 minutes by United's attack, with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial putting Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side 2-0 up.

Nicolas Otamendi set up a grandstand finish with a late header, but City were unable to salvage anything from the game.

Despite dominating English football for the past two seasons and boasting an exceptional, expensive squad, Guardiola has suggested his side might be unable to go toe-to-toe with Europe's biggest clubs.

"This is the level we are facing, against Liverpool, [Manchester] United, Barcelona, [Real] Madrid and Juventus," he told reporters. "They are the teams we have to face, and the reality is maybe we're not able to compete with them.

"Okay, so we have to improve and accept it and move forward. I could come here and complain about many things; I have reasons to complain.

"Maybe we need as a club to accept the reality we have right now and improve."

Despite the points advantage Jurgen Klopp's side hold over City, Guardiola says he has no intention of throwing in the towel in his pursuit of a third Premier League title.

"The reality is we're 14 points behind because of the mistakes, the quality of the opponents and especially for the things we cannot control. That's the reality," he added.

"But we have to continue. We are at the beginning of December. We have other competitions to play, other games to fight and improve on that. Maybe it will help us for the future of the club; maybe we need that for the future to be better."

After being selected at left-back for the 4-1 win over Burnley on Tuesday, Angelino once again lined up in defence for the Manchester derby.

Guardiola says the Spaniard feels like a better fit for the position at present, suggesting Benjamin Mendy still needs more time to fully recover from two years of injury problems.

"In this moment Angelino feels better and plays better than the other one in that position," he explained.

Asked what Mendy needs, Guardiola said: "Time. After two years injured, it's not 'tac tac' [clicks fingers], where one week you're fit, and you play. You need time."

Zinedine Zidane admitted Real Madrid lacked fluency in their 2-0 win over Espanyol and said the team "can do much better", yet he still had saw positives at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Goals from Zidane's French compatriots Raphael Varane and Karim Benzema saw off the lowly visitors from Barcelona.

There were promising performances from the likes of striker Vinicius Junior and midfielder Federico Valverde, two youngsters of whom much is expected in the coming years.

But it was largely an underwhelming display by a team that ultimately ground down their opponents, Madrid's pedigree telling in the end despite Ferland Mendy's late red card.

"Today, we have to be happy because we continue on a good run," Zidane said afterwards.

"Of course, we can do much better, but we played a very serious game, respecting the opposition, and that is the most important thing."

Zidane said that 19th-placed Espanyol "do not deserve to be where they are in the table", and he acknowledged: "I think we controlled our own game, even though we were missing a bit of fluidity.

"Despite this, I'm happy because we scored two goals and didn't concede."

He added that he continues to feel pride at coaching Madrid in his second spell in the post, saying: "I am fortunate to be here with them.

"It is they who are fighting on the pitch and we have a very good squad. There is still a lot of work and let's not forget where we came from."

After winning three Champions League titles in his first spell as head coach, Zidane is jostling for more silverware this season, and his side are battling Barcelona for LaLiga supremacy, inching ahead of their great rivals at least for a few hours with their latest victory.

Asked about Valverde's lively display, Zidane said of the 21-year-old Uruguayan: "Fede has a place for many years here because he is demonstrating what he has, he is an important player, like everyone else.

"He is very young; when he plays, he doesn't have any trouble with the ball and without the ball. And when he plays, he does well."

Zidane also highlighted his other options in midfield, including Luka Modric, who came off the bench late on, and Isco, who was not used.

Modric, who was celebrating his new status as a Ballon d'Or winner this time last year, still has a major role to play for Madrid, as Zidane stressed: "He knows that occasionally he'll miss a game. But physically he can hold up very well."

In attack, Madrid continue to rely on the goals of Benzema, but they have a major talent in 19-year-old Brazilian Vinicius Junior.

His pace and dribbling caused Espanyol problems at times, and Zidane is sure the goals, in short supply for now, will come.

"The important thing is his work. What he has done, he has done well, both in attack and in defence," Zidane said. "I don't ask anyone for goals. That is a consequence of what the team does."

Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane praised the patience of his team-mates after Saturday's 2-0 win over Espanyol.

Madrid nudged clear of LaLiga title rivals Barcelona with a comfortable home victory thanks to goals from Varane and fellow Frenchman Karim Benzema.

Zinedine Zidane's side secured the points despite being reduced to 10 men in the 82nd minute after Ferland Mendy was sent off.

"It was a closely contested match against a rival that ran a lot and pressed us," Varane told Real Madrid TV.

"We had to be strong and solid at the back in order not to concede and be patient in front of goal. It was a good game from the team.

"After the second yellow card for Mendy we handled the remaining time well. We have kept a clean sheet and that is very good.

"We are playing with more confidence, at a good physical level and with a good team dynamic.

"We must continue because we have some tough games to end the year and we will give it our all."

Madrid midfielder Federico Valverde believes Madrid have been ruthless at taking their chances in recent matches.

"We are seizing the moment and enjoying playing together," he added. "Feeling the support of the fans helps us to move forward.

“The coach asks us to go for goal and get players into the area. I try to do that and as a team we did it well." 

Saturday lunchtime, and the Gran Via and Plaza Mayor are teeming with Christmas shoppers in Madrid.

Cyclists, too, are out in force, gathering for a peaceful protest ride to make the case for leaving the car at home.

This is day one of a UN climate change convention being hosted by Spain's capital, and it is hard not to be conflicted by the collision of consumerism and conservationism.

We are living through times where we want to give, give, give to afford loved ones brief relief from cataclysmic reality, but at the same time we are warned the shop-around-the-clock culture is killing the planet.

At the nearby Santiago Bernabeu stadium, Real Madrid are wearing their mint-green third kit for a home league fixture against Espanyol.

The gesture is one of solidarity with the environmental campaigners - eco warriors, one and all, particularly when a global audience can snag a rare glimpse of a shirt that retails around the £90 mark.

At the same time, Real Madrid are wondering what their hipster manager, Zinedine Zidane, might deserve in his stocking this year.

Has he been a good boy? Does he deserve Paul Pogba? Kylian Mbappe? Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang?

Another pair of his beloved skinny jeans simply will not cut it this year.

Zidane, in middle age, still has the chutzpah and the physique to pull off a fashion statement, even if his band of footballers rarely catch the eye in such a manner.

A year ago he was enjoying a break from football, having grown tired of Real Madrid life. He and wife Veronique paid a trip to the Great Wall of China, and days later Zidane enjoyed dinner out with his fellow France 98 World Cup winners.

Retirement - for that is how it seemed - looked to be suiting the artisan footballer of his generation. A commercial deal here or there kept the money rolling in, and yet nine months after waving goodbye to the Bernabeu, Zidane was drawn back.

Saturday's 2-0 victory over lowly opposition was more pallid than it sounds, yet for several hours at least it lifted Madrid to the LaLiga summit. They and Barcelona are again duking it out for domestic silverware, and Madrid's saving grace is that their great rivals have also been shadows of their old selves at times this term.

The Clasico on Wednesday week - December 18 - might struggle to live up to that billing.

In this post-Cristiano Ronaldo era, Madrid all too often look bereft of the identity their great rivals still possess thanks to the ever-imperious Lionel Messi.

Neither Gareth Bale nor Eden Hazard, both temporarily absent through injury, has risen to the challenge of becoming Madrid's totemic personality, despite both being sufficiently gifted to step into the role. Newcomer Hazard deserves time to make his presence felt, but Bale's continuing presence - and the golf narrative - is helping nobody.

Bale is said by his agent to be "not ecstatic" to be at Madrid, and you wonder whether Zidane might soon feel similarly about his own second reign. The reliance on Karim Benzema, scorer of the second goal against Espanyol, is now all too obvious. This team look ripe to be picked off by stronger opposition, as Paris Saint-Germain have shown in the Champions League.

Marca reported on Saturday that Madrid must find 200 million euros to satisfy financial fair play bean-counters; presumably, in the absence of any more training grounds to sell, that means players will have to move on before others come in during January.

So recycling, fittingly enough, could be the salvation of this most functional of Real Madrid teams. The time is approaching for Zidane, the king of the first Galacticos era, to bring style and verve back to the Bernabeu.

That, or get on his bike.

Real Madrid extended their unbeaten run to nine games in all competitions with a straightforward 2-0 win over struggling Espanyol on Saturday.

Raphael Varane opened his season account and sent Los Blancos on their way to a fourth consecutive LaLiga victory with a left-footed finish in the 37th minute.

Karim Benzema made the points safe when he swept home Federico Valverde's pass 11 minutes from full-time, making Ferland Mendy's late sending off for a needless second booking the only blight on an otherwise unfussy showing.

Madrid's win momentarily edges them three points ahead of title rivals Barcelona, who host Mallorca later on Saturday.

Vinicius Junior started for the first time since October and registered two attempts on target inside the opening 30 minutes.

Thibaut Courtois clawed away Esteban Granero's header between those chances before Varane made the breakthrough.

The defender stayed forward following a corner and finished with impressive poise after Benzema created space through neat footwork.

Vinicius escaped a potential second yellow for an ungainly collision with David Lopez, then forced goalkeeper Diego Lopez into a near-post save.

Espanyol's number one prevented Benzema from doubling the margin when the French striker broke through on goal after the interval.

Benzema squandered another good chance to put the result beyond doubt 20 minutes from full-time, turning wide from Rodrygo's cut-back.

But the 31-year-old was not to be denied, his unerring low finish after Valverde's fine build-play ensuring the late loss of Mendy for a silly foul on Victor Gomez counted for little.
 

What does it mean? Madrid building towards El Clasico

The rescheduled first Clasico of the season is fast approaching and Madrid look set to take a good deal of confidence to Camp Nou on December 18.

Zinedine Zidane's men have two games to negotiate before that big test but the head coach will be pleased with how his side has moved on from a middling start to the season.


Vinicius excites in Madrid sunshine

Vinicius has struggled for minutes this season but here it was simple to see why Zidane has ruled out a loan move.

The winger was vibrant and incisive on the left flank, with a sense of over-eagerness perhaps the only area for improvement.


Marching orders for Mendy

The absence of Marcelo due to a calf strain offered an opportunity to France defender Mendy and he had been perfectly serviceable for over 80 minutes.

That will have made it all the more frustrating for Zidane when his second-choice left-back left a foot in on Victor Gomez for the second time in the space of 20 second-half minutes, earning him a red card and forcing him out of the next match against Valencia.


What's next?

Madrid conclude their Champions League group stage commitments with a midweek trip to Club Brugge, then visit Valencia on Sunday.

Espanyol have a Europa League game at home to CSKA Moscow before next weekend's date with Real Betis.

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