Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane praised Karim Benzema but insisted he is not surprised by the star forward following his goalscoring performance as Los Blancos battled to a 1-1 draw with Chelsea in the Champions League semi-finals.

Benzema rescued Madrid on Tuesday – the Frenchman cancelling out Christian Pulisic's 14th-minute opener just before the half-hour mark in the opening leg of the semi-final tie in the Spanish capital.

Madrid's Benzema once again showcased his importance as he drew level with Raul as the joint-fourth leading scorer in Champions League history after netting his 71st goal.

Only Lionel Messi (36) and Cristiano Ronaldo (35) have scored against more different opponents in the Champions League than Benzema (33, level with Raul).

Benzema, meanwhile, has scored six goals in this season's Champions League. In only one of his 16 seasons in the competition has he scored more (seven in 2011-12).

"Karim is amazing and I am happy for him, but I am not surprised for what he is doing every game," Zidane told reporters.

"It is the same with all of my players. They are the most important. They have done again a great effort tonight and keeping the faith in what we are doing.

"There are difficulties, of course, because we have an amazing team in front of us and they are Champions League semi-finals. We have suffered.

"But I am very happy for all of the players, because we are alive. We know we have to go to London and score goals in order to win the game."

Los Blancos were unable to find a winner in a cagier second half. They have faced Chelsea more often than any other side in all competitions without winning in their entire history, failing to do so in four matches (D2 L2).

Benzema's goal was Madrid's solitary shot on target against Chelsea. Only versus Paris Saint-Germain in September 2019 – when they had none – have they had fewer in a Champions League game since Opta began collecting such data in 2003-04.

Meanwhile, this was the only game in which Madrid have not scored at least two goals at home this season in the Champions League, though they have still scored the most home goals so far in the competition (14).

"We were much better in the second 45 minutes. We were much more organised. They started strongly and quickly, but I think it's a fair result," said Zidane.

"We wanted to press high one on one, but when you don't carry it out well, things are tough. Once we scored, we were better and controlled play a lot more.

"We're alive and we're going to the second leg with the idea of winning. In general, we're happy with tonight."

Madrid were without captain Sergio Ramos due to a calf injury but he could return for the second leg in London, with Zidane adding: "I wish he could be with us. I cannot tell you now.

"Sergio has not had any training with the group, so we are waiting for him. We wish he could be as soon as possible.

"All the players, Sergio, and the rest. Lucas [Vazquez] is a bit more complicated due to his injury, but also Ferland [Mendy], Fede [Valverde]. All of them. I want all of my players with me, sure."

Raphael Varane said Chelsea's pressing game proved problematic for Real Madrid, though he remains optimistic about his club's Champions League chances.

Karim Benzema rescued Madrid on Tuesday as Los Blancos rallied from behind to draw 1-1 at home to Chelsea in the opening leg of the semi-final tie in the Spanish capital.

Madrid made a sluggish start at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano, where Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea led after 14 minutes thanks to Christian Pulisic, though Benzema restored parity 15 minutes later.

Zinedine Zidane's Madrid were unable to find a winner in a cagier second half and the Spanish powerhouse have now faced Chelsea more often than any other side in all competitions without winning in their entire history, failing to do so in four matches (D2 L2).

Reflecting on the match, Varane – who has been linked with a move to Los Blancos' Tuesday opponents – told Movistar: "I think we saw two games between the first half and the second.

"They started well with a lot of intensity and they pressed us well, and they broke our first line of the press with some very vertical play. With Karim's goal we got into the game and the second half was a lot better.

"We couldn't break their lines with our passing. Their press was annoying for us and we'll need to learn from the start of the game for the second leg."

Benzema once again showcased his importance to Madrid – the Frenchman drawing level with Raul as the joint-fourth leading scorer in Champions League history after netting his 71st goal.

Only Lionel Messi (36) and Cristiano Ronaldo (35) have scored against more different opponents in the Champions League than Benzema (33, level Raul).

Benzema, meanwhile, has scored six goals in this season's Champions League. In only one of his 16 seasons in the competition has he scored more (seven in 2011-12).

"In a game like this, Benzema makes the difference – he changed the dynamic of the game. We know his quality and he helps us a lot," Varane said.

"At this stage of the competition, our fitness will be important physically and also mentally. We need to go out to win the return leg."

Benzema's goal was Madrid's solitary shot on target against Chelsea. Only versus Paris Saint-Germain in September 2019 - when they had none - have they had fewer in a  Champions League game since Opta began collecting such data in 2003-04.

Meanwhile, this was the only game in which Madrid have not scored at least two goals at home this season in Champions League. Still, they are the team who have scored the most home goals so far in the competition (14).

"We came in with a plan to do things and we couldn't do it," Marcelo told Movistar. "But when we started to do what we wanted, it was totally different.

"They run a lot, we knew it could happen, but there is another game as well. We know what we have to. It will be different at Stamford Bridge.

"We do not choose the rhythm of the game, we have to adapt to what there is. It was a difficult game, as they all are, but we are fine, we are calm because we are going to play a good game there [at Chelsea]."

"We left with our heads high. Now we are going to rest and see what we will have to do there, but it will surely change."

Thomas Tuchel was left frustrated by Chelsea's finishing in Tuesday's 1-1 Champions League semi-final first-leg draw with Real Madrid, adamant they would have been deserved winners had they shown more "composure and precision".

Chelsea took the lead in Madrid thanks to Christian Pulisic's fine individual work in the 14th minute, though they should have already been in front.

Just a few moments earlier, Timo Werner latched on to a Pulisic header across goal but shot at Thibaut Courtois from close range when he seemed destined to score.

The German also missed a decent chance late in the first half, with Karim Benzema having equalised in the interim period.

But that Benzema strike was Madrid's only shot on target, the first time since at least 2003-04 that Los Blancos have had so few in a home Champions League match.

Madrid have progressed from their two previous Champions League knockout ties with English opposition when drawing the first leg at home, though, and Tuchel rued his side's inability to finish them off at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano.

"We started very well, very aggressive with courage and quality. We deserved to win the first half," he told BT Sport. "We had lots of chances and half-chances where we missed precision with the last ball.

"Unfortunately they scored from a set piece – nothing else normally for us to defend, we didn't allow any chances – so it was a disappointing result at half-time.

"It was important that we stayed calm, didn't lose confidence and we fought back into the game.

"I felt the second half was a tactical game and the speed and intensity dropped. You could feel that we were a bit tired with only two days between two away games. We suffered today from that.

"If we had one more day to recover we would have had a big chance to keep the intensity up and maybe hurt Madrid also in the second half. This was not possible and we have to live with 1-1."

Tuchel felt their initial one-goal lead was more than justified and reiterated his opinion Madrid were fortunate to be level at the interval.

The German, who is the only Champions League coach to face Madrid five times without losing, then allowed a little frustration at his team's finishing to come to light.

"It was well deserved [Pulisic's goal] and, like I said, we should have won the first half," he continued.

"We should have scored a minimum one more goal. The chances were there, the half-chances were there, we had many ball wins, good control, good attacks. We were very confident, looked very strong.

"The goal came more or less out of nothing but that can always happen when you are faced with individual quality from Real Madrid.

"A bit more composure and precision in front of goal and we could have won the first half and been a deserved winner. It's not like this, so we live with 1-1 and try to win the next game."

The two teams meet again at Stamford Bridge next Wednesday, with Tuchel aiming to reach a second successive Champions League final having lost in last season's showpiece with Paris Saint-Germain.

Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta rued missed chances in the first leg of their 1-1 Champions League semi-final draw against Real Madrid.

Thomas Tuchel's men dominated the opening exchanges at Valdebebas, with Christian Pulisic's splendidly taken goal giving them a 14th-minute lead.

But the Premier League side arguably let the 13-time European champions off the hook, with Timo Werner once again the chief culprit when it came to being wasteful in front of goal.

Karim Benzema gave the Germany international and his Chelsea team-mates a lesson in clinical finishing when he swivelled to volley a stunning equaliser against the run of play before the half hour. That remained Madrid's only attempt on target over the course of the 90 minutes.

"I think we started really well in the first 20 or 25 minutes. We got the goal and could have got more goals," Azpilicueta told BT Sport.

"They came back from a set play. After that, some moments we controlled and others we suffered.

"It is just the first half, we knew against Real Madrid it would be tough.

"We started with courage, we had to perform at our best level. The semi-final of a Champions League asks you to play your best. We missed that little last pass where we could choose the best option.

"I think in the overall analysis we performed well."

Pulisic was electrifying during the opening exchanges and Azpilicueta marvelled at the 22-year-old's coolness under pressure after he rounded Thibaut Courtois and lined up an unerring finish as Madrid defenders scampered back towards their own goal line.

"It was a great finish, great composure. When he was in front of the goal he took the best decision," he added.

"With and without the ball he makes difficult runs to defend.

"He is a young player, growing and improving. I'm very pleased with his goal. He is a very important player for the team."

Although Benzema's athleticism and clever movement caught the eye, Azpilicueta was frustrated to see Casemiro and Eder Militao win headers in the Chelsea box to make the equaliser possible.

"It was a set play, they win two headers in the box," he lamented.

"He scored a great goal, he is a very good striker.

"He dropped, he got the ball for the goal. We have to be aware. Wednesday is a decisive game and we have to be ready for it."

Worried about football's global appeal to the younger generation? Fearful the Champions League has lost its lustre beyond the core of 'legacy' (urgh!) fans in its traditional markets?

Perhaps what you need is a dazzlingly skilful 22-year-old becoming the first player from the United States to score in the semi-finals of Europe's top competition, while generally wreaking havoc every time he has the ball.

Florentino Perez must have loved Christian Pulisic taking his Real Madrid apart. The Chelsea forward made the 13-time winners of the competition Perez sought to torpedo last week look more non-league than Super League.

Pulisic was at the heart of an utterly dominant opening for Chelsea – themselves foolhardy signatories to the not-so-brave new world last week – nodding down for his beleaguered attacking colleague Timo Werner to volley too close to Thibaut Courtois between the Madrid posts.

Shortly afterwards, Pulisic took matters into his own hands, darting across a static Los Blancos backline to collect Antonio Rudiger's raking pass. His first touch was poor, but everything else from that point was perfection.

Madrid's defenders scattered and then cowered towards their goalmouth. Werner found himself demoted from strike partner to spectator at The Christian Pulisic Show. The American rounded Courtois and took aim high into the net.

Just after that, Nacho should have been booked for bringing down the goalscorer, with Eder Militao having also escaped censure for clobbering through the same player. Pulisic was everywhere.

If Perez was worried about addled young minds missing all this, no problem. It all happened inside the first 15 minutes. Plenty of time to watch, absorb, enjoy and then stick Fortnite on.

Amid his compilation of violent brain vomits last week, Perez suggested football matches should be shorter to appeal to fans more than 50 years his junior – a demographic with whom he appears to feel he is completely in tune.

Of course, it's an awful idea. And it is hard to think of many teams who would suffer more in a world of fast food football than the aging Real Madrid team he no longer has the bank balance to reupholster.

Zinedine Zidane opted to match Chelsea's shape, only to find a reinforced five-man backline somehow riddled with holes as Pulisic and Werner made merry early on.

Much is made of the esteemed midfield trio of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric having a combined age of 95. As N'Golo Kante jackhammered around them, each one of them looked about 95.

Collectively, they needed 20 minutes or so to click into gear. Even then, they negotiated the rain-lashed terrain of Valdebebas tentatively.

The one exception was Karim Benzema, Madrid's talismanic centre-forward who nodded and licked his lips with menace during the pre-game anthem, before basically playing Chelsea on his own for a good while.

At a time when Madrid's superstars have moved on from either the club or their peak playing days, Benzema stands tall week after week.

Against the run of play, he had his 71st Champions League goal, drawing level with Madrid great Raul in fourth on the all-time list. Inside a crowded penalty area, he controlled the ball with his forehead before swivelling to detonate an unstoppable volley.

Benzema's goal was one that beautifully combined the cerebral and the visceral and would have been at home in any of Madrid's previous great eras in this competition, eras that are connected to the present by such moments of brilliance.

Goals like Benzema's shimmer brighter through their link to past context. A great Real Madrid goal in a European Cup semi-final really means something.

From that moment, Chelsea's more nimble operators became engaged in an arm wrestle that was more to Madrid's liking. Even when Thomas Tuchel introduced Kai Havertz, Reece James and Hakim Ziyech in a triple change after the hour, the hosts remained upright on weary limbs.

Having seen his team be so inept in the initial exchanges, Zidane was able to play with Chelsea's tensions and emotions by sending on Eden Hazard.

It remained 1-1, a result most teams would be delighted to take into a home second leg. But Madrid do funny things in this tournament. They defy logic to find reserves that should have long run dry. They are propelled by purpose and history.

Above all the others, simply wanting to take his team away from the Champions League might have been Florentino Perez's most stupid idea of all.

Karim Benzema spared Real Madrid but Christian Pulisic's away goal gives Chelsea the advantage after their Champions League semi-final first leg ended 1-1 at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano.

Zinedine Zidane's side were guilty of a sluggish start in Valdebebas and, although they managed to restore parity, rarely did Los Blancos look likely to take a win to Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea were good value for their 14th-minute lead as Pulisic added the finish to fine individual work, though Benzema – arguably Madrid's only threatening player in the match – netted to draw level with Raul as the joint-fourth leading scorer in the Champions League with 71.

A significantly cagier second period followed and Madrid were even less of a danger to Edouard Mendy's goal, while Chelsea largely seemed content to settle for their away-goal advantage.

Madrid looked to be in for a long night amid a rocky start that almost saw them fall behind after just 10 minutes, as Timo Werner inexplicably shot straight at Thibaut Courtois from close range.

The visitors did not have to wait much longer for another chance, however, and Pulisic took full advantage as he raced on to Antonio Rudiger's long pass, coolly evaded Courtois and then shot between two defenders on the line.

But a few moments after hitting the post from distance, Benzema brought Madrid level in the 29th minute with an emphatic volley roughly six yards from goal following a lovely first touch with his head.

The tempo of the match changed considerably in the second period, however, with neither side much of a threat to the opposing goal.

A triple change by Chelsea just past the hour seemed to increase their control over Madrid, who themselves brought on former Stamford Bridge favourite Eden Hazard.

The final chance fell to Madrid in the 89th minute but Varane's deflected header went just wide, meaning Zidane's men will need to score in London next week.

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has heaped praise on Karim Benzema after his double in Wednesday's 3-0 win at Cadiz lifted Los Blancos into top spot in LaLiga.

The France international striker took his LaLiga season tally to 19 goals, closing within four strikes of league top scorer Lionel Messi.

Benzema converted a penalty on the half hour, before adding Madrid's third in the 40th minute.

"I’m delighted with how he’s performing," Zidane said post-game. "We know how important he is to our game and not just because of his goals.

"He makes the guys around him play, we enjoy watching him and I hope Real Madrid can continue enjoying him for a long time to come."

Madrid's win moves them ahead of Atletico Madrid on goal difference for the time being although Atleti are due to play on Thursday against Huesca.

Zidane was delighted to see his side sitting top of LaLiga albeit temporarily while also being through to the Champions League semi-finals.

"We’re still alive in both competitions and we keep going," Zidane said.

"We’ve picked up three very important points to keep us in the race, but there’s still a long way to go."

Zidane also praised his side's defence, having only conceded twice in their past six matches in all competitions.

He deployed a three centre-backs against Cadiz, with Marcelo and Odriozola getting up and down the flanks as wing-backs to good effect.

"We haven’t conceded a goal for three games and that’s pleasing for me," Zidane said.

Luka Modric was absent for the game with a back issue although Zidane was hopeful he would be in contention for the weekend's league game against Real Betis.

"He felt something in his back but I don’t think it’s anything serious," Zidane said.

"We’ll see how he feels tomorrow and I hope he can be back with us straight away."

Karim Benzema delivered a sensational performance as Real Madrid beat Cadiz 3-0 to move top of LaLiga.

Madrid president Florentino Perez was perhaps in need of a distraction after spearheading widely condemned plans for a proposed – and now suspended – European Super League in recent days.

Zinedine Zidane refused to comment on the issue during his pre-match news conference and, though Madrid's off-pitch troubles look set to rumble on, they were superb on the field on Wednesday.

Benzema starred, scoring twice in the first half either side of Alvaro Odriozola's header to secure a convincing win which sees Los Blancos leapfrog would-be Super League rivals Atletico Madrid.

Perhaps inspired by Leeds United's act of defiance before Monday's Premier League clash with Liverpool, Cadiz's players wore t-shirts protesting the premise of a Super League prior to kick-off.

Yet Madrid hardly seemed affected, and their quality told in the 30th minute.

Referee Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz initially failed to spot Isaac Carcelen's foul on Vinicius Junior, but changed his decision after consulting with VAR, and Benzema buried the resulting penalty before turning provider for Madrid's second goal when he crossed for Odriozola to head in. 

Benzema should have had his second assist when he cushioned a header down for Casemiro, only for the midfielder to blaze over.

However, Benzema made no such mistake when Casemiro returned the favour with a delicate cross – the Frenchman glancing a deft header into the left-hand corner.

Anthony Lozano, who scored in the reverse fixture, should have pulled one back for Cadiz before the hour, but headed wide from three yards out.

Benzema's sublime flick through to Marcelo almost crafted another Madrid goal, but the visitors settled for three as Zidane claimed a win which means he has now beaten all 28 LaLiga teams he has faced as Madrid boss.

Erling Haaland might be too expensive a purchase for some of football's richest clubs. 

The Borussia Dortmund sensation is on everyone's wish list.

The question is who will be willing to meet his reported demands?

 

TOP STORY - LALIGA GIANTS PRICED OUT OF HAALAND MOVE?

Haaland's apparent desire for a €35million annual salary has the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid thinking twice about a potential move, Goal reported. 

The prolific 20-year-old's agent, Mino Raiola, has held informal discussions with both LaLiga stalwarts but the sides did not get into specifics about finances. 

For now it appears Barca and Madrid are content to wait it out and see how Haaland's market unfolds. 

That is not the case for another potential suitor. According to Goal, an unnamed English club that made inquiries about the Leeds-born striker earlier this year has backed away from talks due to that salary figure. 

The mystery team is not Chelsea, who consider Haaland their top target according to an Evening Standard report. 

 

ROUND-UP

- While the Blues can hope to land the high-flying Norwegian, Timo Werner may be on the way out. Though the Evening Standard reports Chelsea have not yet seriously discussed selling him, it is not clear how he fits into the Blues' strike force at the moment.

Gianluigi Donnarumma is out of contract with AC Milan this summer and has had talks with Juventus, per La Gazzetta dello Sport.

- Manchester United have coveted Nikola Milenkovic and may be ready to make a move for the Fiorentina defender, though The Sun says United would not be interested at the rumoured £38m fee. 

- United also want Edinson Cavani to have another season at Old Trafford, but at age 34 he might want to move closer to home. Boca Juniors would offer him a two-year deal, says Fabrizio Romano. 

- Watford are prepared to bring Ashley Young back to the club should they return to the Premier League next season, the Daily Mail says. Young's contract with Inter is expiring.

- After a loan spell with Paris Saint-GermainAlessandro Florenzi could be in line to play in Italy with Inter next season rather than returning to Roma, La Gazzetta dello Sport reported. 

- Luis Suarez appears likely to remain with Atletico Madrid, but there is a possibility he could rekindle last year's reported talks with David Beckham's Inter Miami. The American side's interest in the Uruguayan "has not stopped," according to Mundo Deportivo. 

- One player not headed anywhere is Karim Benzema, who Marca reports will sign to remain with Real Madrid through 2023.

Real Madrid prevailed 2-1 over Barcelona in a rain-soaked and chaotic Clasico in the Spanish capital.

Saturday's showdown proved a contrasting story for the two star forwards on display as Zinedine Zidane's men replaced city rivals Atletico Madrid at the top of LaLiga.

There were also a couple of moments of history before a red card in a frantic finale.

Here, we look at some of the standout statistics to emerge from the latest chapter in the eternal rivalry.

 

Seven not heaven for Messi

Lionel Messi had seven attempts on goal, including when he hit the post with an audacious effort directly from a corner towards the end of the first half.

No Barcelona player had more shots, but Messi could not find a way through in what could potentially be his final tangle with Madrid in this famous fixture.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner has now gone seven Clasicos in all competitions without scoring – the longest drought of his career against Los Blancos.

Simply the Benz

At the head of Madrid's attack, Karim Benzema simply cannot stop scoring, irrespective of the opponents.

His sensational backheel flick to convert Lucas Vazquez's 13th-minute cross was a finish that is sure to be cherished for years to come.

Benzema has now scored in his past seven LaLiga games, netting nine times overall during this period.

The Frenchman is the fourth Madrid player in the 21st century to have scored in seven consecutive top-flight outings after Ruud van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.

Kroos ends dead ball torpor

From Ronaldo to David Beckham, Madrid have rarely been shy of free-kick specialists.

It comes as a surprise, therefore, that Toni Kroos' strike on Saturday made him the first player in white to score a direct free-kick in El Clasico this century.

Sure, it deflected off Sergino Dest and bounced off Jordi Alba's head on the goal line, but they all count. Right, Toni?

Mignueza opens his account

Oscar Mingueza endured a torrid first half as Vinicius Junior ran him ragged, but the Barcelona defender bounced back after the break.

Mingueza appeared in the Madrid penalty area to convert when substitute Antoine Griezmann dummied Alba's cross.

The previous Barca defender to score on his first appearance in El Clasico was Marc Bartra in the 2014 Copa de Rey final.

Ref on Casemiro's case

Mingueza was also involved in another key moment, when Casemiro fouled him outside the Madrid box in the final minute of normal time.

That earned the combative Brazilian his second booking and only the second sending off of his Madrid career.

During this time, Casemiro has committed 478 fouls in all competitions. All in all, not a bad ratio.

To borrow a line from Meatloaf, two out of three ain't bad for Real Madrid. 

A 2-1 triumph over Barcelona sees Zinedine Zidane's side take over at the top of the table. Their stay at the LaLiga summit could only last 24 hours - long-time leaders and noisy neighbours Atletico can go back above them if they take a point from their game in hand - but, make no mistake, Los Blancos are in the thick of a three-way title race.

A Clasico win - meaning they have won both league meetings in a season for the first time since 2007-08 - followed on from a 3-1 result against Liverpool in the Champions League. 

Just like in their midweek success in European action, Madrid scored twice before half-time to seize control. Barca will rue the deflection on Toni Kroos' free-kick that doubled the advantage, but they were undone for the opener by an audacious finish that capped a flowing attack.

Karim Benzema's 13th-minute goal continued a hot streak for a striker who keeps on scoring while seemingly waiting to see which rival will turn up to try and take his job.

His back-heeled finish to beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen at the near post made it seven league games in a row where he has found the net. He becomes the fourth player for the club to manage such a streak in LaLiga: Cristiano Ronaldo achieved the feat four times, while Ruud van Nistelrooy (2007) and Gareth Bale (2018) are the other names on the list.

Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland have been heavily linked with Madrid, but Benzema remains the man right now.

Since Ronaldo departed the club in 2018, the Frenchman has stepped up to become the focal point in the front line. He has scored 21 LaLiga goals in each of the previous two seasons, while this term he is already up to 19. With plenty of games remaining, his career-best tally of 24, managed in 2015-16 despite making just 27 appearances, is well within his sights.

If Madrid were to retain their title, his role was always going to be significant, despite the transfer speculation. Hopes of a second successive crown appeared distant, however, when they suffered a 2-1 defeat to Levante on January 30, at which stage the champions sat seven points behind Atleti, who also had two games in hand.

Eder Militao was sent off in that Levante loss, dismissed after just eight minutes and 12 seconds. It was a short-lived third start in LaLiga this term, while the Brazilian defender had also been in the Madrid team that suffered a shock Copa del Rey exit to Alcoyano 10 days earlier.

The big-money signing from Porto in 2019 had yet to convince in the Spanish capital, to put it nicely.

His role may have remained as someone on the periphery of the first-team picture, too, had Zidane not suddenly been faced with a shortage of options to line up at the heart of his defence. However, with captain Sergio Ramos again sidelined and Raphael Varane self-isolating after testing positive for COVID-19, Militao stepped up to show his value during a critical stretch for his club.

The centre-back made a game-high six clearances on Saturday, as well as three blocks. Forget the heavy rain that beseiged Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano throughout the second half; a Barca tide came his way, yet - alongside Nacho - he made sure Madrid did not go under.

Just like against Liverpool, the makeshift pairing defied expectations. A potential point of weakness has instead helped fortify the team, with a partnership born out of necessity helping to change the outlook ahead of the run-in. If they can do something similar in the second leg at Anfield on Wednesday, a double remains distinctly doable.

Perhaps, too, Militao has shown that there can be life after Ramos, whose contract is fast running out at Madrid, just as there has been since Ronaldo said his farewells and headed for Turin.

Real Madrid moved top of LaLiga for the first time since November as goals from Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos sealed a 2-1 win over Barcelona in El Clasico. 

Fresh from their Champions League quarter-final first-leg triumph over Liverpool, Zinedine Zidane's side started in blistering fashion and were two up inside the opening 30 minutes thanks to a sublime Benzema flick and deflected Kroos free-kick. 

Oscar Mingueza set up a dramatic final half-hour with his second goal of the season and Casemiro was sent off in the 90th minute, but Madrid held on at a sodden Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium to seal a third consecutive win against Barca in all competitions for the first time since 1978.

The result means Los Blancos leapfrog Barca and neighbours Atletico Madrid to the league summit, although Diego Simeone's side can reclaim top spot with just a draw against Real Betis on Sunday.

Karim Benzema expects the title race in Spain to go down to the wire, meaning Real Madrid must treat every remaining LaLiga fixture as if it were a final.

Atletico Madrid at one stage in the season held a commanding lead at the summit, but Diego Simeone's side have now won just four of their past 10 fixtures, allowing their rivals to close the gap.

Barcelona sit second - just a point behind Atleti in the standings - having produced a 19-game unbeaten run since a shock 2-1 defeat away to Cadiz on December 5, 2020.

However, Madrid have already beaten their Clasico rivals once this season, the reigning league champions triumphing 3-1 at Camp Nou. A similar result on Saturday in what Benzema describes as "the greatest game in the world" would see them climb above Barca.

"There are still quite a few games to go," Benzema told LaLiga World.

"I think this league is going to go down to the wire, because it's still very competitive. We've got to treat every game as if it were a final."

On the fixture itself, he said: "In my opinion, El Clasico is the greatest game in the world. Not just for me but for everyone. There's an incredible history between the two clubs, it's always a key game.

"As always, it's going to be a tough match against a team who like to have the ball. But we also like to have the ball.

"I think a lot of the game will take place in the middle of the park. But just like when we played at Camp Nou, we've got to go all out to win because this is a final for us.

"They love to have possession, they've got a good keeper [Marc-Andre ter Stegen] and then they've got [Lionel] Messi. He is so important for Barcelona in every way. We've got to take care because he's very dangerous indeed."

Having scored 21 goals to help his team secure the title in the 2019-20 season, Benzema already has 18 in 25 league appearances this term.

The Frenchman is averaging a goal every 122.4 minutes in the competition during the campaign, while he has also provided six assists.

While Messi tops the scoring charts with 23, the Barca talisman has only managed one more goal in open play (17 to 16) than Benzema, who is playing with a freedom on the pitch that has benefited both him personally and also the team.

"I don't know if it's my best season. Every year I start from zero and aim to do better than the previous campaign," Benzema said.

"I'm on a good goal-scoring run and hope to keep it up, keep helping out my team, putting points on the board, keep winning games.

"But the most important thing is winning those games. I feel free on the pitch. I do what I like on the field, I help the team set up moves and I finish them."

Benzema has scored at least one goal in each of his past six LaLiga games - he could become the fourth Real Madrid player to find the net in seven or more in a row in the competition in the 21st century, following in the footsteps of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo, who achieved the feat four times, and Gareth Bale.

Zinedine Zidane's Madrid can also make it three wins in a row against Barcelona for the first time since 1978; they have not done the league double over their opponents since the 2007-08 season.

Tuesday heralds the start of the Champions League quarter-finals and there are two mouthwatering clashes in store.

With the Premier League title surely wrapped up, Manchester City's attention turns to Borussia Dortmund and the formidable threat posed by Erling Haaland. 

The 20-year-old is in demand, with City one of the clubs reportedly interested in his services, and he could join an illustrious group of goalscorers if he finds the net at the Etihad Stadium. 

The other game sees a repeat of the 2018 final, with Liverpool travelling to face Zinedine Zidane's Real Madrid. 

The Reds have endured a torrid Premier League title defence, but a resounding win over Arsenal at the weekend could provide them with the impetus to produce an eye-catching result in the Spanish capital.

 

Manchester City v Borussia Dortmund: Can Guardiola's stubborn defence keep Haaland out?

City's hopes of making the semi-finals could rest on keeping Haaland quiet. 

The Norway striker Haaland is the Champions League's top goalscorer this term, finding the back of the net 10 times.

If he scores in this game, he will become just the fifth player in the competition's history to score in seven matches in a row, after Cristiano Ronaldo (twice), Robert Lewandowski, Edinson Cavani and Ruud van Nistelrooy.

A goal on Tuesday would also take him to seven in his first five Champions League knockout matches for Dortmund, overtaking Lewandowski's record of six in his first five matches in the latter stages of the competition for Bayern Munich. 

He will come up against a defence in fine form, however. City have not conceded a goal in any of their last seven games in the Champions League – only Arsenal in 2005-06 have ever had a longer run of consecutive clean sheets in the competition (10).

City will also be buoyed by their excellent record against Bundesliga opposition, winning 10 of their last 11 Champions League matches against German sides. 

They will need to improve on a poor quarter-final record, though. City have lost four of their five matches in the last eight under Pep Guardiola, with the Premier League leaders going out at this stage in each of the last three seasons.

Prep done for Dortmund! 

  @marathonbet
  #ManCity   |   https://t.co/axa0klUGiM   pic.twitter.com/H85QRGPXxi

— Manchester City (@ManCity)   April 5, 2021

Real Madrid v Liverpool: Klopp's men hoping to halt losing streak against Los Blancos

This will be the first Champions League meeting between the two sides since Madrid beat Liverpool 3-1 in the 2018 final. 

That was the Reds' third consecutive defeat to Los Blancos in the competition. They have only suffered four losses on the spin against the same opponent across all European competitions once before, with Benfica putting together such a streak between 1984 and 2010. 

The LaLiga champions will be in confident mood, having won the first leg in eight of their last nine Champions League knockout ties. 

Karim Benzema is likely to lead the line and the Frenchman has a stellar record against the Premier League outfit. In the history of the Champions League, no player has more goals against them than Benzema's four – level with Didier Drogba.

Reds boss Jurgen Klopp will hope to continue his fine recent record at this stage of the competition, the German winning each of his last five quarter-final games, including all four of his games at this stage while in charge of Liverpool.

Central to their hopes of taking a lead back to Anfield for the second leg will be Sadio Mane. The Senegal international has scored 19 goals in 40 games in the Champions League and could become just the third player in the club's history to reach 20 goals in the competition after Mohamed Salah (24) and Steven Gerrard (21).

Real Madrid closed to within three points of LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid with a 2-0 win over Eibar at the start of a huge week at home and abroad.

Struggling Eibar were the first of three visitors to Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano in succession, with games against Liverpool and Barcelona set to go a long way to deciding Madrid's season.

Los Blancos were not tested on Saturday, though, frustrated only by offside calls and their own finishing either side of Marco Asensio's 41st-minute strike before Karim Benzema made sure 17 minutes from time.

Although Atleti and Barca – now third behind Zinedine Zidane's side – are both still to play this weekend, Madrid's title rivals will do well to find opponents as accommodating as Eibar.

An awful blind pass from Alejandro Pozo sent Benzema clear three minutes in, but the striker delayed before shooting and allowed Marko Dmitrovic to make a brilliant right-handed save.

Benzema was quickly denied again, this time by the offside flag after nodding in Marcelo's cross at the far post.

Asensio saw a wonderful free-kick bounce away off the crossbar and then joined Benzema in having a breakthrough goal struck off, his exquisite flick nutmegging Dmitrovic but drawing the attention of the VAR – again for offside.

Fortune soon found Asensio's favour, however, as he charged onto Casemiro's pass and slipped while shooting, only for his effort to clip his standing foot and beat Dmitrovic.

A second-half storm briefly threatened to derail Madrid, notably when Lucas Vazquez's backpass picked up pace on a slick pitch and required a desperate lunge from Thibaut Courtois to divert it to safety.

But after falling foul of the flag for a third time – Casemiro disappointed by team-mates standing in Dmitrovic's line of sight – Benzema wrapped up the result with a downwards header from substitute Vinicius Junior's fine centre.

What does it mean? First hurdle cleared with minimum of fuss

The weather was Madrid's most dangerous opponent against relegation-threatened Eibar. The same will not apply when Liverpool and Barca make the trip to Valdebebas.

Injured captain Sergio Ramos will be far more of a miss in those matches, but it was still important for Zidane – unbeaten against Eibar in 10 LaLiga meetings – to get three points on the board at the start of a monumental month.

Timely reminder of Marcelo's talents

This was just a ninth league outing of the season for Marcelo, who lined up on the wing with the security of fellow left-back Ferland Mendy behind him. It was a role that suited him well and no doubt gave Zidane pause for thought ahead of a big Champions League tie.

Given the license to attack without worrying about protecting a defence missing Ramos, Marcelo was a constant threat. Only the offside flag meant his final-third contributions – one blocked shot, one successful cross and no chances created – were relatively modest.

Benzema belatedly breaks through

Madrid's number nine was LaLiga's Player of the Month for March with five goals in three games, but he initially appeared to have left his fine form on the other side of the international break.

Benzema's third-minute chance really should have brought the opener, while mistimed headers followed either side of his disallowed effort. Finally, he found his range with the fourth of five attempts before being substituted with 10 minutes to go ahead of a season-defining stretch.

What's next?

Madrid have three days to prepare for the visit of Liverpool, while Eibar do not play again until next Saturday, at home to Levante.

Page 1 of 10
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.