The battle to sign David Alaba continues among European giants, while Thomas Tuchel is eyeing Dayot Upamecano at Chelsea.

Alaba, 28, is set to leave Bayern Munich at the end of the season and it was reported this month the defender had agreed a deal with Real Madrid.

But it seems the race to secure the Austria international's signature remains on.

 

TOP STORY – EUROPEAN GIANTS FIGHT FOR ALABA

Real Madrid have offered Alaba €11million per year and Manchester City are prepared to give the Bayern Munich star €14m, according to AS.

The report says Manchester United, Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea are also battling to sign Alaba.

Alaba has won nine Bundesliga titles and two Champions Leagues among numerous other trophies with Bayern.

 

ROUND-UP

- Tuchel's appointment as Chelsea head coach was confirmed on Tuesday, and the former PSG boss is already looking to strengthen. Bild reports Tuchel wants RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano at Stamford Bridge. It comes as The Guardian reports Chelsea's interest in West Ham midfielder Declan Rice is likely to end following Frank Lampard's sacking.

- Real Madrid have work to do before the end of the season. Marca reports Luka Modric has agreed a new contract with Madrid, while Sergio Ramos and Lucas Vazquez are yet to accept offers. The report says Karim Benzema, Raphael Varane and Nacho Fernandez are their next priorities.

- Eric Garcia is linked with a move to Barcelona. Sport reports the next president of the Catalan giants must ratify the defender's five-year deal if the Manchester City defender is to arrive ahead of next season.

- Out of contract at Paris Saint-Germain the end of the season, Angel Di Maria's future is uncertain. L'Equipe reports the attacker, though, is on track for an extension with the Ligue 1 giants.

- Staying at PSG and the club are still pushing to sign Dele Alli on loan, according to Fabrizio Romano, who reports Tottenham are unwilling to let the midfielder go until they sign a replacement.

- Jordi Alba turns 32 in March and Barcelona are considering the left-back's successor. Mundo Deportivo reports Valencia's Jose Gaya and Chelsea's Marcos Alonso are candidates.

Real Madrid star Karim Benzema will return to Ligue 1 side Lyon, according to his agent Karim Djaziri.

Benzema came through Lyon's academy and spent five years with the senior side until joining Madrid in 2009, having established himself as one of Europe's most promising young players following four successive Ligue 1 crowns.

Since moving to Madrid, Benzema has won four Champions League titles and three LaLiga trophies among 18 pieces of silverware in the Spanish capital.

But Djaziri hinted at a return to boyhood club Lyon for the 33-year-old striker.

"Will Karim Benzema return to Lyon? Yes, I honestly think he will," Djaziri told Inside Gones.

"He talks to me constantly and he watches all of the team's matches.

"On top of that, he has never been to the Groupama Stadium and in his mind it is something he wants, he has Lyon in his heart."

Benzema has scored 10 LaLiga goals for defending champions Madrid this season after his double inspired a 4-1 rout of Deportivo Alaves on Saturday.

In total, Benzema has netted 15 goals across all competitions in 2020-21.

Benzema has scored at least 15 goals in 10 out of his 11 seasons for Madrid in all competitions.

Madrid, meanwhile, are second in the table and seven points adrift of neighbours Atletico Madrid – who have a game in hand.

Karim Benzema has urged Eden Hazard to "make another story" at Real Madrid, after the Belgium star impressed against Deportivo Alaves on Saturday. 

Hazard scored himself and also set up the first of two Benzema goals as Madrid eased to a 4-1 win over LaLiga strugglers Alaves, relieving some of the pressure on Zinedine Zidane, who was absent from the touchline after testing positive for COVID-19. 

Madrid had lost their previous two matches, against Athletic Bilbao in the Supercopa de Espana before going down to minnows Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey in midweek. 

Casemiro opened the scoring before Benzema struck either side of Hazard's third goal of the season in all competitions. 

Hazard, signed from Chelsea in 2019, has struggled for form amid an injury hit spell at Madrid, but he seemed close to his best against Alaves. 

The 30-year-old both scored and assisted in a league game for just the second time in a Madrid shirt, while only Benzema (four) managed more attempts than Hazard's two.

With Hazard showing signs of a resurgence, Benzema, who has scored 10 league goals this season, wants his team-mate to go on and make his name in the Spanish capital.

"You always notice the depth in this team, I always want to help my team-mates," Benzema told Movistar. 

"Hazard I think he was a great player at Chelsea and now he has to make another story at Madrid. He is well, much better. He works hard and has played a good game. We need the best Hazard." 

Madrid's victory closed the gap, temporarily at least, on LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid, who host Valencia on Sunday.

Los Blancos are four points shy of their city rivals but six clear of Barcelona, who are also in action on Sunday. 

"It was a good game, very good for confidence, we know that each game is very difficult, each rival makes it difficult for us," said Benzema, who has now been involved in 10 goals in eight appearances against Alaves in LaLiga. 

"Today everything came out, we all wanted to play, it was a very good game for us. That is worked every day, the goals, the crosses, the passes. We are on the right track after a hard week for us. We always want to win."

Real Madrid returned to winning ways in style as Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard helped the defending champions to a 4-1 rout over Deportivo Alaves in LaLiga. 

Madrid were in desperate need of a victory after a Supercopa de Espana reverse to Athletic Bilbao and a shock Copa del Rey defeat to lower-tier Alcoyano piled the pressure on Zinedine Zidane, who was absent on Saturday after testing positive for coronavirus. 

Atletico Madrid's late victory at Eibar on Thursday had moved them seven points clear in the title race, though Los Blancos never looked in danger of failing to win on the road in LaLiga for a third successive game, Benzema and Hazard putting them in control after Casemiro's opener. 

Joselu's fifth league goal against Madrid gave Alaves hope, but Benzema's second meant the visitors had little trouble seeing out just their second win in 2021. 

Benzema seemed set to open the scoring when he latched onto Luka Modric's lofted pass, only to be denied first by Fernando Pacheco and then a deflection onto the right-hand upright. 

Madrid made the resulting corner count, though, with Casemiro rising high to head home from Toni Kroos' outswinger.

Madrid’s second goal should have followed in the 22nd minute, yet Ferland Mendy failed to tee up Benzema for a simple finish. 

Benzema had his goal 19 minutes later, sensationally picking out the top of the net with a wonderful, dipping effort from just inside the penalty box. 

Having curled wide earlier on, Hazard made it three on the stroke of half-time with a delicate finish over the onrushing Pacheco. 

Madrid are Joselu's favourite LaLiga opponent and the forward netted again when facing the capital club, this time sending a brilliant header beyond Thibaut Courtois. 

Alaves' comeback hopes were quashed with 20 minutes remaining, however, when Benzema cut in from the left to thump home and settle the contest.

Karim Benzema will stand trial for his alleged involvement in an attempted blackmail case targeting former France team-mate Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape.

Prosecutors in Versailles confirmed the development regarding the Real Madrid striker and four others on Thursday, according to reports in France.

Benzema, who denies any wrongdoing, was charged in 2015 in relation to the incident. He previously appealed against the charge but is now set for trial.

"The decision to take this to trial is absurd and unfair," Sylvain Cormier, his lawyer, told EFE. "Benzema doesn't have anything to be blamed for."

Paul-Albert Iweins, Valbuena's counsel, told L'Equipe the decision was "the logical continuation of the instruction which perfectly established the participation of the various people".

The incident has since seen Benzema exiled from the France national team.

Zinedine Zidane has no plans to rest Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema as he vowed slowly ease Eden Hazard back to full match fitness.

Benzema failed to register a single shot on goal in Madrid's 2-0 win over Celta Vigo in LaLiga on Saturday and twice missed the target from good positions.

The 33-year-old has started 15 of Madrid's 17 LaLiga matches this season and only goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and Raphael Varane have played more minutes.

When asked in a post-match media conference if Benzema, who has scored eight goals in LaLiga, needed a break, following a slightly jaded showing, Zidane disagreed.

"I don’t think he’s tired," Zidane said.

"I think he did well and I took him off so that another player could play. We’re in a great spell. We’re doing the right things and we have to continue like this."

Hazard came off the bench for another run out late in the second half against Celta as he stepped up his return from an injury-hit start to the season.

"We are going to go little by little," added Zidane. "Little by little, you have to recover feelings.

"We have to take it slowly and not force anything. He has to get back to his best and take it slowly. That’s all it is."

Madrid's possession against Celta was 41 per cent which was the lowest recorded in a win under Zidane at home in all competitions.

The Madrid head coach was, however, satisfied with the manner in which his side were able to manage the game against Celta.

"We played a complete game from the beginning to the end," Zidane explained.

"We controlled the game well, we had a good balance, when it came to pressing up and getting the ball back, we did everything well.

"You have to control when the rival team has strong moments in the game, but the feelings are good, out of nine games we won six and three draws."

Goals from Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio gave Madrid the victory as the pair assisted each other in what was the fourth duo to combine between them in a single LaLiga game this season.

Zidane added: "I am happy for Asensio. He has had a major injury and now he is much better and improving every time.

"Vazquez is very reliable, very involved and I am happy for what he is doing. We played a very serious game. I'm happy for everyone."

Cristiano Ronaldo was a huge influence in helping Karim Benzema fulfil his undoubted potential, according to former France boss Raymond Domenech.

Superstar Ronaldo arrived at Real Madrid from Manchester United ahead of the 2009-10 campaign, at the same time Benzema joined from Lyon.

The duo enjoyed a fine partnership in Los Blancos' attack, winning 171 of the 238 LaLiga fixtures they played in together – a win percentage of 71.8 per cent.

Together, the pair won LaLiga and the Copa del Rey twice, and the Champions League four times – including three in a row from 2016 to 2018.

Since Ronaldo's exit for Juventus prior to the 2018-19 season, Benzema has taken on much of the goalscoring burden and has netted 49 LaLiga goals, provided 19 assists and created 119 chances for team-mates.

Benzema's form was crucial to Madrid's title success last term, while this season alone he has seven goals, five assists and has teed up 13 chances.

Domenech, the man who first called up Benzema for Les Bleus, believes playing alongside a player with the sort of meticulous preparation as Ronaldo has been beneficial to the striker's career.

"He had this intelligence to adapt to the situation and to exploit his potential," Domenech told France Football, assessing Benzema.

"I saw him come back little by little. He was making efforts, relocations, calls, runs, whereas before he wanted the ball into feet and just play.

"Karim was helpful to Ronaldo. And Ronaldo helped Karim, improved him. They absorbed each other."

Prior to working alongside Ronaldo, Domenech believes Benzema was too comfortable coasting on unfulfilled talent.

"He believed that it was written and inscribed forever, that he was going to make his career like that and that he could be satisfied with doing little," said Domenech.

"Physically, he is monstrous, but he did not exploit this potential, was content to say to himself: 'Me, I'm here to score, the others just have to do the job'.

"He was in that phase, and he wasn't the only one."

Karim Benzema is playing the best football of his career for Real Madrid but can still improve, according to head coach Zinedine Zidane.

Former France forward Benzema scored one goal and created two more in Madrid's 3-1 win at Eibar on Sunday.

The 33-year-old's latest telling contributions, following on from a brace against Athletic Bilbao, took him to seven goals and five assists for the champions in LaLiga this season.

He leads Madrid in both regards, also topping the charts in terms of shots (40), shots on target (18) and big chances created for his team-mates from which they would be expected to score (five, tied with Rodrygo).

Benzema is averaging 1.0 goals or assists per 90 minutes this term, his best rate across a season since 2015-16 (1.4).

Leading the line alone this term, unlike in that campaign when Cristiano Ronaldo carried the burden, Zidane has been delighted by his number nine's form.

Asked if this was Benzema's best ever stretch, the coach said: "I think so, yes. Most recently he's been in his best form. What he's doing recently, he's been phenomenal.

"What's yet to come? I think Karim can even get better than he is now - that's what we all hope, for the team, for him, personally.

"On top, it's his ambition. He wants to get better as well as a player. That's very important."

Benzema has played 12 of Madrid's 14 league games, but they took just one point from the two matches he missed.

Indeed, Madrid have won all seven of the fixtures Thibaut Courtois, Sergio Ramos, Casemiro and Benzema - the team's spine - have started together, claiming only two victories when at least one of that quartet have been absent.

Zidane's team selection has therefore come under scrutiny with the topic of rotation broached at Tuesday's news conference before the clash with Granada.

"You guys make me laugh in a good way," Zidane told the media. "In the end, if I rotate, you ask me why I do it; if I don't, you ask me why I don't.

"I have it clear what I want to do and how I want to deal with my players. I'm going to count on every one of my players.

"It's true that recently the team has been playing very well and we've rotated less, but I think the players are ready and training very well.

"I think the important thing is with the amount of games coming up - and we have a lot of games coming up - when a squad player gets called upon, he is ready and ready to do a job. That's exactly what they're doing."

Despite the reliance on their key men, Madrid are level on points with rivals Atletico Madrid at the top of LaLiga, although Diego Simeone's men have two games in hand.

Real Sociedad, who have played a further game more, are three points back in third, but Zidane is not yet calling a two-horse race.

"We know how difficult this league is. You ask me about Atletico Madrid, they are going to say the same thing as me," he said.

"There are a lot of teams here that are going to challenge for this league title. That's the beautiful thing with this league; there are no easy games, you have to always battle, you have to always go out on the pitch to suffer and to win, it's always difficult.

"In any way, we're going to face difficult teams until the end to win this league."

Karim Benzema is playing "phenomenally" after helping Real Madrid to another win, coach Zinedine Zidane said.

Benzema scored and provided two assists as Madrid made it five straight wins in all competitions by beating Eibar 3-1 in LaLiga on Sunday.

It was the 30th time the Frenchman has scored and assisted in the same LaLiga game. Only Cristiano Ronaldo (44) has done it more often for Madrid in the 21st century.

Benzema's form was lauded by Zidane as Madrid joined Atletico on 29 points, although Diego Simeone's men have played two fewer games.

"He is doing phenomenally, but not only at the goal level," he told a news conference.

"It is not just a goal, it is a game. It is clarity in the game and it is very important for our team.

"But then we must highlight also the work of all."

Benzema set up Luka Modric to make it 2-0 before Kike pulled a goal back for Eibar, who felt they should have had a penalty for a handball by Sergio Ramos.

Zidane refused to be drawn on the decision, with Madrid sealing their win through Lucas Vazquez in additional time.

"The most important thing is that the referee was sure about it," he said.

"I'm not getting involved, as always. The referee is there to make the call and that's it."

Madrid's busy run of fixtures continues with a home clash against Granada on Wednesday.

Karim Benzema led the way as Real Madrid claimed a fifth successive win in a 3-1 triumph at Eibar on Sunday to go second in LaLiga.

Zinedine Zidane had been under intense pressure at the start of December due to a run of poor results, but the win at Ipurua was their fifth on the bounce across all competitions and leaves them on the tail of bitter rivals and pacesetters Atletico Madrid.

Benzema looked in the mood right from the start of an action-packed first half, the striker scoring and then teeing up Luka Modric in the early exchanges, before also having an effort disallowed for offside soon after Kike Garcia's stunning effort gave Eibar a lifeline.

Eibar certainly had their chances to clinch what had seemed an unlikely draw, but failed to take their opportunities and were punished again when Benzema played through Lucas Vazquez to wrap up the points in stoppage time.

Zinedine Zidane hailed Karim Benzema after the striker helped Real Madrid past Athletic Bilbao in LaLiga on Tuesday.

Benzema scored a late brace as Madrid beat Athletic 3-1, moving them level on points with Real Sociedad and Atletico atop the table.

The Frenchman took his tally to 10 goals in all competitions this season – more than any other LaLiga player.

Zidane praised the striker, saying Benzema's ability to deliver even when having a quieter game was impressive.

"For me he is the best because without playing a great game [against Athletic] he has scored two goals," the Madrid head coach said, via AS.

"He always appears. They are the great players."

Toni Kroos had given Madrid the lead at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano, where Athletic were reduced to 10 men in just the 13th minute following Raul Garcia's red card.

But Ander Capa drew the visitors level and Madrid struggled to create clear-cut chances before Benzema delivered late.

Benzema has been involved in 18 goals in 22 LaLiga games against Athletic, scoring 13 times and providing five assists.

Zidane admitted Madrid were below their best, feeling his side pushed too hard against 10 men.

"It is true that we suffered. When you play 11 against 10, if you interpret the game well you can have it easier, but it has been the other way around. We were too hasty," he said.

"When they lose a player, you say, 'I'm going to score the goal in 15 minutes'. And you had to be patient.

"After the fourth game in 10 days, there are three points and you have to be very happy."

Madrid will look to extend their four-match winning streak when they visit Eibar on Sunday.

Real Madrid continued their resurgent form with a 3-1 win over 10-man Athletic Bilbao in LaLiga on Tuesday.

Karim Benzema scored twice in the second half at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano, lifting Madrid to a fourth straight victory in all competitions.

Zinedine Zidane's men joined Real Sociedad and Atletico Madrid on 26 points atop the table, but they struggled for large parts at home to Athletic.

Madrid played more than 75 minutes against 10 men following Raul Garcia's red card, but Toni Kroos' fine opener was cancelled out by Ander Capa.

But Benzema haunted Athletic once more to continue Madrid's winning run.

Athletic had made a decent start before Garcia's aggression proved costly, the midfielder's third foul inside 13 minutes – this one on Kroos – leading to his second yellow card.

Madrid struggled to create much of note despite their numerical advantage, although they improved late in the half as Vinicius Junior drew a good save from Unai Simon from close range and Federico Valverde poked wide.

The opener arrived on the stroke of half-time through Kroos, who produced a superb first-time finish from 20 yards after a Vinicius pass.

Athletic responded and made the dream start to the second half thanks to Capa.

Starting a run in his own half, Capa exchanged passes with Oscar de Marcos before keeping his composure to tuck away an equaliser after his initial effort was parried by Thibaut Courtois.

Athletic had done superbly to keep a lacklustre Madrid, who lacked ideas, at bay until Benzema struck in the 74th minute.

Dani Carvajal delivered a wonderful cross, Benzema getting on the end of it to head in his fifth LaLiga goal of the season.

Athletic went close to a stunning late equaliser, but Courtois stepped up with a huge stop to deny Mikel Vesga, with Madrid going down the other end and Benzema sealing the points after a pass from Luka Modric.

Zinedine Zidane said Real Madrid played their most complete game of the season against Borussia Monchengladbach – and one that probably saved his job.

Madrid's 2-0 victory secured their progress from a Champions League group for the 29th time in a row and most likely earned their coach a stay of execution from president Florentino Perez.

Zidane agreed afterwards his team have a knack for producing when it matters in big games, and he will need them to deliver again on Saturday.

Los Blancos host Atletico Madrid in the derby knowing victory will end their city rivals' unbeaten start to the LaLiga season and cut the gap to the leaders to three points.

Atleti have not beaten Madrid in eight league meetings, but Zidane's men have only won one of the previous seven at home. They will need another huge performance if that is to change.

 

AUTHORITARIANS

Madrid produced their best performance of 2020-21 against Gladbach. They might have managed less possession (64 per cent compared to 66) and fewer shots (19 compared to 22) than they did in the away fixture, but 2-0 actually flattered the visitors, for whom Yann Sommer made five excellent saves and who were rescued three times by the woodwork.

Part of Zidane's praise was down to their level of control. Madrid only faced seven shots and, excluding hoofed clearances, lost possession 113 times, 17 times fewer than they did in their 2-2 draw in Germany, when they snatched a point with two goals from the 87th minute onwards.

Their best league game of the season, a 3-1 win at Barcelona, showed similar levels of authority. That day, they hit the target with nine of their 15 shots and created 12 chances – they have only created more once this term (15 against Real Sociedad).

And, while they had only 48 per cent possession, Madrid lost the ball (again, excluding hoofs) just 104 times – their lowest figure in a league match this term – and attempted 22 tackles, their most in a game in 2020-21.

They will need something extra against Atletico, though: ruthlessness in front of goal.

 

THE OBLAK BLOCKADE

Excluding penalties and own goals, Madrid have scored 13 times in the league this season, but, based on Expected Goals (xG), they should have a further six goals. That is profligacy they cannot afford against Atletico.

Not only have Atleti avoided defeat in every game this season bar a trip to European champions Bayern Munich, they have only conceded twice in LaLiga in 10 matches. That is the best defensive record of any team in Europe's top-five leagues and equals the best goals-against tally at this stage of a season in Spain, matching Deportivo La Coruna in 1993-94.

However, Atleti's Expected Goals Against (xGA) for 2020-21 is actually nine; their differential of seven is the highest of any team. That shows you the imperiousness of goalkeeper Jan Oblak.

The Slovenia international has kept eight clean sheets in 10 league outings, saving 32 of the 34 shots he has faced. That remarkable 94 per cent save rate is, unsurprisingly, the highest in LaLiga. Based on xG from shots on target faced (xGOT), Oblak should have conceded seven goals this term; the five he has prevented puts him, again, at the top of LaLiga.

 

OVER TO YOU, KARIM...

It will certainly help Madrid and Zidane's cause if Karim Benzema can replicate his performance against Gladbach.

The striker has scored four goals from 30 shots in LaLiga, with his xG rating at 5.6, suggesting he has somewhat underperformed in front of goal domestically. However, against Gladbach, Benzema was far more lethal: he scored from two of his seven shots (four were on target and two blocked), misplaced just three of 58 attempted passes and created five chances for team-mates.

It was exactly the kind of showing Zidane would hope has boosted a player who has only scored once in 10 home league games against Atleti, his lowest tally against an opponent he has faced at least seven times.

 

A DIFFERENT BEAST

Madrid have grown accustomed to Atleti adopting a low block and swift counter-attack, but Diego Simeone has his side playing a little differently in 2020-21.

With Koke back in form, Joao Felix growing in stature and Luis Suarez leading the attack, Atleti are far more adept at patient attacking play. Look at build-up attacks, which measures open-play sequences containing 10 or more passes that end either in a shot or a touch in the opposition box: Atleti have registered 37, lower only than Madrid and Barca this term.

Still, reverting a little more to type could well prove key. Madrid have faced 25 direct attacks this term, the highest in LaLiga (a direct attack is an open-play sequence starting just inside the team's own half, has at least 50 per cent of movement towards the opponents' goal and ends in a shot or touch in their box). They also have the second-worst record in terms of progress against (14.95 metres) – in other words, teams cover more distance upfield per sequence against Madrid than they do against any other side except Cadiz (17.5 metres).

Control, clinical finishing and great care without the ball will all be required if Madrid are to claim another significant win and boost Zidane's long-term prospects a little more.

Zinedine Zidane felt Real Madrid produced their most complete performance of the season as they claimed a crucial 2-0 win over Borussia Monchengladbach.

Needing a victory to guarantee their place in the Champions League last 16, Madrid delivered at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano, with Karim Benzema heading in the goals in the first half.

Benzema, Luka Modric and Lucas Vazquez all hit the woodwork, while goalkeeper Yann Sommer made flying saves to deny Sergio Ramos and Toni Kroos to keep the scoreline down.

The result always seemed safe, though, as Madrid progressed through a 29th consecutive Champions League group stage, with Gladbach also advancing after Inter and Shakhtar Donetsk drew 0-0.

Failure to go through could well have seen Zidane's position become untenable, and the Madrid boss was delighted with the way his side performed under pressure.

"This was the objective: to finish first," he said, as quoted by Marca. "We played a spectacular game, from the first minute to the last. We interpreted the game really well.

"I think this was the most complete game of the season. I've been a player and it's impossible to play like this all the time. We try to, but every now and then...

"We don't only perform under pressure; we have played other good games as well. It's true this team has that [quality]: when the difficulties are great, it appears.

"I'm happy for the players because they are the most important thing. I'm fighting with them and I'm happy for them. It was a good game."

Benzema's pair of headers means he has been involved in 11 goals in all competitions this season, the joint-most of any LaLiga player.

The striker's double took his tally to 51 goals in the group stages, a figure bettered only by Raul (53), Cristiano Ronaldo (67) and Lionel Messi (71).

"It was a difficult game," Benzema said. "We started well, we were eager to win and to show we're the best and that we were going to work together to win this game.

"When we give everything on the pitch, we get goals and we could have got more. If we always play like today..."

Real Madrid reached the Champions League last 16 and eased the pressure on coach Zinedine Zidane with a 2-0 win over Borussia Monchengladbach.

Karim Benzema netted two first-half headers to settle the contest in the Spanish capital, which Madrid had to win to make certain they did not crash out at the group stage of the competition for the first time.

Gladbach slipped into second spot in Group B with their defeat, but Inter's draw with Shakhtar Donetsk means the Bundesliga side join Los Blancos in the next round.

This was billed as a must-win contest not only for the 13-time European champions' hopes of competing for the trophy, but also for Zidane, whose future came under intense scrutiny after last week's loss to Shakhtar.

There was a clear response to the critics as Madrid led inside nine minutes, Lucas Vazquez picking out Benzema, who headed expertly beyond the reach of Yann Sommer.

Alassane Plea should have levelled but clipped a finish wide of the right-hand post after being sent through on goal by Florian Neuhaus.

That miss was punished just after the half-hour mark, Rodrygo's wicked cross setting up Benzema for a header that was too much for Sommer to keep out.

It would have been 3-0 before the break had Sommer not got fingertips to Luka Modric's volley to turn the ball onto the post, before the excellent Madrid midfielder had an emphatic strike ruled out for an earlier offside against Raphael Varane.

Sommer made a terrific save to keep out a Toni Kroos strike, although Gladbach were certainly improved after the interval and saw another chance go begging when Plea dragged a shot narrowly wide.

Sommer was again at full stretch to claw away Sergio Ramos' header before Benzema's follow-up somehow crashed off the underside of the crossbar and away, and the woodwork again denied Madrid in the closing stages when Vazquez's shot rebounded off the upright.

What does it mean? Stars stand up to spare Zidane

Given the context, this was Madrid's best performance and result of the season.

The ignominy of dropping out of the competition after 28 consecutive qualifications from the group stage would likely have left Zidane's position untenable. As it is, his key players all produced when it mattered to send Madrid through as group winners and keep their coach in a job.

Gladbach disappointed here but have done superbly overall to qualify for the next round.

Modric masterful

Modric was close to his Ballon d'Or-winning standards of two years ago, especially in the first half, when he was unlucky not to score at least one excellent goal.

He attempted more passes in the opposition half (54) than any other player as he knitted the midfield and forwards together with precision.

Plea wilts on the big stage

Plea really should have scored in the first half when Madrid only led by one goal, and his miss seemed to condition the rest of his performance.

He was wayward with his two good openings and completed the fewest passes (13) of any Gladbach starting player not hauled off at half-time.

What's next?

Atletico Madrid visit Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano for Saturday's LaLiga derby match. Gladbach are next in action at home to Hertha Berlin.

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