Real Madrid or Manchester United? 

The two European giants appear to be the likeliest options for Jadon Sancho, who continues to be linked with a move away from Borussia Dortmund. 

Sancho has been tipped to make the move to Old Trafford but the England international could be set to grace the Santiago Bernabeu instead. 

 

TOP STORY – MADRID AND UNITED FIGHTING OVER SANCHO

Real Madrid and Manchester United are going head-to-head to sign Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, according to Le10 Sport.

Sancho has been tipped to leave Dortmund for United, though Madrid, Chelsea, Liverpool, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain have all emerged as possible destinations.

Zinedine Zidane reportedly wants to bring Sancho to Madrid as Dortmund demand a huge fee.

 

ROUND-UP

- Could Sergio Aguero and Milan Skriniar be set to swap clubs? Calciomercato reports Inter are eyeing Manchester City star Aguero in a deal that would see Nerazzurri defender Skriniar move in the opposite direction. Inter could be in the market for a forward as Barca eye Lautaro Martinez, while Pep Guardiola's City are desperate to bolster their defence.

- There has been no decision on David Alaba's future, according to Bild journalist Christian Falk. The Bayern Munich star has been linked to City, Juventus, Chelsea and PSG.

Mauricio Pochettino is in talks to take over Portuguese giants Benfica, Record says. Pochettino has been out of work since he was sacked by Tottenham in November.

- Calciomercato claims Milan's hierarchy will confront Mino Raiola in the next 48 hours to try to finalise a new contract for star goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Arsenal have made an offer for Levante midfielder Enis Bardhi, reports Onda Cero. Fiorentina and an unnamed Bundesliga club are also interested.

Barca and Juve are expected to announce the swap deal involving Arthur and Miralem Pjanic on Monday after undergoing medicals, according to widespread speculation. Arthur will join Juve, while Pjanic is set to replace the Brazilian at Barca.

Diego Simeone hopes Marcos Llorente can continue to maintain the same high standards after once again playing a starring role for Atletico Madrid on Tuesday. 

Llorente was signed from rivals Real Madrid as a holding midfielder but has adapted to a more advanced role in the second half of the 2019-20 season. 

The 25-year-old scored twice in a stunning Champions League win at Liverpool and has been brilliant since LaLiga returned to action amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Indeed, Llorente created Atleti's winner - an own goal - as they defeated Levante 1-0 on the road, their third straight success since the resumed to leave his side in third spot. 

Simeone believes Llorente is gaining the rewards for his hard work, having stuck with the team through a tough first half of the campaign. 

"The facts speak for themselves," Simeone said. "It is not necessary to praise [Llorente] when you can watch his movement, attitude, pressure and see what is happening to him. 

"Hopefully he can maintain this consistency, because he worked a lot. He suffered a lot because he played little since he arrived. 

"After seeing how he worked in training, we tried to put him further on from the Liverpool game and we found a different characteristic from those of [forwards Angel] Correa, Joao [Felix], [Diego] Costa and [Alvaro] Morata. 

"He gives us a more important footballer in the team." 

With the media's focus trained on Llorente, Simeone added: "He created this situation after so much effort. 

"He was always training well, without protesting or having a bad attitude after being left out a lot of times. In the end, the people who work are always rewarded." 

Meanwhile, victory against Levante brought up a special milestone for Simeone, his 194th LaLiga victory as Atleti coach tying the late Luis Aragones' club record. 

Simeone said: "At no time did I plan to compete with Luis. I know, with the relationship that I had with him, that he will be happy from where he is watching. I have no doubt that he will be enjoying it. 

"It is always important to win. In the last five games, we played four away and we won three and we drew one. We are changing that situation that was costing us so much." 

Atletico Madrid again etched Diego Simeone's name into their record books as they defeated Levante on Tuesday.

A vital victory in the chase for Champions League qualification represented a landmark for iconic head coach Simeone in LaLiga.

The 1-0 win - secured thanks to an early own goal - was Simeone's 194th in the league as Atleti boss, matching Luis Aragones' record haul.

After three consecutive triumphs following the resumption of football in Spain, the 2013-14 title-winning coach reached the total in his 319th LaLiga match.

Aragones - the club's record goalscorer as a player - had four stints as Atleti coach, winning LaLiga in 1976-77, but required 407 games to tally 194 top-flight wins.

Simeone will have the opportunity to claim top spot outright when his side host Deportivo Alaves on Saturday.

Atletico Madrid took another significant step towards Champions League qualification with a 1-0 victory at Levante.

Diego Simeone's Atleti were sixth in LaLiga just a week ago but have since won three on the bounce without conceding to steal a march on their rivals and go third.

Marcos Llorente - this season's Champions League hero in the last 16 against Liverpool - was the star of the show on Tuesday, providing both style and substance as he had a hand in an early Bruno Gonzalez own goal.

Atleti were dominant throughout but failed to build on that opener - kept at bay by an all-action display from Levante goalkeeper Aitor Fernandez - in a deserved yet ultimately slightly nervy away success.

Swiftly stamping his mark on the match, Llorente had tested Aitor inside 30 seconds and soon forged the breakthrough with a sublime piece of close control.

The midfielder took a powerful 15th-minute pass in his stride as he turned into the area and then squared as Aitor advanced, forcing Ruben Vezo to clumsily turn the ball towards his own goal, although Bruno contributed an unwitting final touch.

Aitor did his utmost to keep the scoring down as he parried shots from Yannick Carrasco and Thomas Partey either side of the goal, while both Diego Costa and Llorente were wasteful from promising positions.

The Levante goalkeeper smartly saved again from Carrasco before the interval, which failed to disrupt the visitors' momentum as only an offside flag denied Thomas a fierce second.

Aitor bailed out Jose Campana after his error presented an opportunity to fellow substitute Joao Felix, who later blazed over when Levante again failed to clear their lines, a miss that maintained the home side's interest in the closing stages despite their failure to test Jan Oblak.


What does it mean? Atleti back on track

After spending big ahead of this season, it was crucial Atletico secured Champions League qualification - regardless of the success or otherwise of their ongoing European campaign. Their status in next season's competition looked in some doubt as the season restarted, but Simeone and his side have enjoyed an excellent week.

Llorente loving new role

Signed from rivals Real Madrid as a holding midfielder, Llorente is now making his name in an advanced role. The 25-year-old turned in another impressive performance here. Indeed, rather than Joao Felix or Alvaro Morata, it is Llorente who looks best suited to partnering Costa in attack at present.

Forward fails to fire

Supposedly a more natural attacking option, Joao Felix is struggling to follow Llorente in improving as his first Atleti season wears on. After scoring twice against Osasuna, the Portuguese struggled at home to Real Valladolid and then, as a substitute here, failed to impress again. One poor miss stood out after replacing Llorente.

What's next?

Atletico face another side stuck in mid-table with little to play for next: Deportivo Alaves visit the capital on Saturday. Meanwhile, Levante are at home again against Real Betis the following day.

Diego Simeone believes Atletico Madrid's defensive resilience is merely a by-product of the players' commitment to his footballing vision.

Atleti edged a 1-0 win over Real Valladolid on Saturday, the first time they have recorded back-to-back LaLiga victories since beating Real Betis and Levante either side of the mid-season break.

A return encounter against the latter opponents is up next for Los Colchoneros, whose previous away fixture ended in a 5-0 shellacking of Osasuna.

The departures of Diego Godin and Lucas Hernandez last year forced Simeone to remodel his backline, with Stefan Savic and Jose Gimenez stepping up to form a fine alliance at centre-back, while Kieran Trippier and Renan Lodi have proved shrewd full-back additions.

Backed up by the exceptional Jan Oblak between the posts, Atletico have only been breached 22 times in 30 LaLiga games in 2019-20, although Simeone insists he is reluctant to rely too much on this obduracy.

"There will always be mistakes, all teams make mistakes," he told a pre-match news conference.

"We must try to be focused and, with the best security we can offer the team, we have rotated.

"I am still convinced that the team's strength is the emotional convention of the group. This will be the way to reach the goals we want."

That goal, at least until August's mini-tournament in Lisbon to conclude this season's competition comes around, is securing qualification for the Champions League with a top-four finish.

The weekend result left Atleti in third, level on points with Sevilla immediately behind them and six better off than Valencia down in eighth.

More sparkling form from Joao Felix would certainly strengthen their hand after the Portugal youngster notched a brace as Osasuna were torn apart.

"He is a different player," Simeone said of the €120million recruit, who has endured a mixed debut campaign in LaLiga.

"We have always valued him, we have seen him in training and in games. Surely, when he grows up and can spend more time in situations that are decisive for the team, he will continue to evolve.

"He has all the important qualities to break a game. With his growth in the game he will grow even more as a footballer."

Experience is certainly not something Joao Felix's boss lacks.

If Atleti are victorious against Levante, Simone will equal Luis Aragones as the coach with the most LaLiga victories for the club.

"I did not know about this and, as I have already said, I do not stop on the path we are going through," he added.

"This is not the time to stop and look in the mirror; it is only time to work, win and continue in the best possible way."

LaLiga has confirmed the season will restart with a Seville derby on June 11 and the campaign will wrap up on July 19, it was confirmed on Sunday.

Suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, LaLiga will get back underway with a clash between Sevilla and Real Betis.

The remaining 11 matchdays will be played in less than six weeks as Barcelona and Real Madrid battle for the title.

Barca were two points clear of their bitter rivals when the season was stopped due to COVID-19, which has killed more than 373,000 people worldwide.

Quique Setien's men return to action with a trip to Real Mallorca on June 13, a day before Madrid host Eibar.

Barcelona also host Atletico Madrid on July 1 before facing rivals Espanyol in a derby clash a week later.

Barcelona's remaining fixtures
June 13: Real Mallorca (A)
June 16: Leganes (H)
June 21: Sevilla (A)
June 24: Athletic Bilbao (H)
June 28: Celta Vigo (A)
July 1: Atletico Madrid (H)
July 5: Villarreal (A)
July 8: Espanyol (H)
July 12: Real Valladolid (A)
July 15: Osasuna (H)
July 19: Deportivo Alaves (A)

Real Madrid's remaining fixtures
June 14: Eibar (H)
June 18: Valencia (H)
June 21: Real Sociedad (A)
June 24: Real Mallorca (H)
June 28: Espanyol (A)
July 1: Getafe (H)
July 5: Athletic Bilbao (A)
July 8: Deportivo Alaves (H)
July 12: Granada (A)
July 15: Villarreal (H)
July 19: Leganes (A)

Unai Emery reckons Diego Simeone has got the Atletico Madrid job for life.

Unless Simeone decides to call a halt to his Wanda Metropolitano career, Emery cannot see the club parting ways with the charismatic Argentine boss.

That factor reduces Emery's chances of getting back into coaching at the highest level in Spain, as he searches for the next calling point in a well-travelled career following spells at Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal.

Simeone has spent over eight years in charge at Atletico, leading them to the 2013-14 LaLiga title and two Champions League finals.

Atleti have established themselves as the most consistent challengers to Real Madrid and Barcelona for the biggest prizes in Spain, which is why when Emery looks at potential landing spots in LaLiga, he finds it hard to see an opportunity coming up with the Rojiblancos.

"You go where they want you," Emery said to AS. "Now I live in Valencia to be with my son, but I'm registered in Madrid. I don't know where my next project will be, I am open to everything.

"What is clear is that Atletico have Simeone, who should be with the team until he wants to be, or his whole life, because there is no one who fits like him."

Emery first forged his reputation with successful spells in charge of Valencia and Sevilla, but the 48-year-old would not discount taking charge of either side's main city rivals, Levante and Real Betis.

"I'm a professional," Emery said. "My heart has always been with Real Sociedad, where I was for 10 years, but if Athletic [Bilbao] ever called me... I've been to Valencia, but if Levante called me... I have been to Sevilla, but if Betis called me...

"Wherever they want me and I feel recognised, I will be there, and that will be what matters."

Passing the ball can sometimes look like the easiest thing in the world to do. At least, it does when these guys do it.

Our latest dive into the data of 2019-20 sees us look at the best playmakers in Europe's top-five leagues before the season was called to a halt.

We've deliberately broadened our approach to what constitutes a playmaker here – Gerard Pique doesn't often appear as a number 10, unless Barca are in real trouble – as the idea is to offer a wider consideration of those players who generally use the ball better than most when in possession.

To that end, we've looked at 12 different metrics to come up with the top performers of the campaign, again from among those to make at least 10 league appearances.

While some stars are not exactly strange to see in the list below, there is a handful of more surprising names, too...

 

THE TOP PLAYMAKERS IN EUROPE'S TOP-FIVE LEAGUES 2019-20:

BUNDESLIGA:

Most successful passes: Sven Bender (1,766)
Highest passing accuracy: Axel Witsel (94.1 per cent)
Most successful passes, opposition half: Joshua Kimmich (873)
Highest passing accuracy, opposition half: Axel Witsel (92.2)
Most passes ending in final third: Jadon Sancho (576)
Highest passing accuracy ending in final third: Axel Witsel (88.4 per cent)
Most chances created: Christopher Nkunku (65)
Most big chances created: Thomas Muller (24)
Most assists: Thomas Muller (16)
Most assists from open play: Thomas Muller (15)
Most crosses/corners successful: Filip Kostic (71)
Highest crosses/corners accuracy (min. 10): Dennis Geiger (50 per cent)

LALIGA:

Most successful passes: Gerard Pique (1,688)
Highest passing accuracy: Toni Kroos (93.6 per cent)
Most successful passes, opposition half: Sergio Busquets (957)
Highest passing accuracy, opposition half: Toni Kroos (92.4)
Most passes ending in final third: Lionel Messi (698)
Highest passing accuracy ending in final third: Toni Kroos (90.3)
Most chances created: Jose Campana (58)
Most big chances created: Lionel Messi (22)
Most assists: Lionel Messi (12)
Most assists from open play: Portu and Lionel Messi (8)
Most crosses/corners successful: Jesus Navas (43)
Highest crosses/corners accuracy (min. 10): Benat (55 per cent)

LIGUE 1:

Most successful passes: Marco Verratti (1,581)
Highest passing accuracy: Thiago Silva (95.5 per cent)
Most successful passes, opposition half: Marco Verratti (956)
Highest passing accuracy, opposition half: Thiago Silva (92.8 per cent)
Most passes ending in final third: Angel Di Maria (543)
Highest passing accuracy ending in final third: Colin Dagba (86 per cent)
Most chances created: Dimitri Payet (87)
Most big chances created: Angel Di Maria (31)
Most assists: Angel Di Maria (14)
Most assists from open play: Angel Di Maria (10)
Most crosses/corners successful: Dimitri Payet (63)
Highest crosses/corners accuracy (min. 10): Marco Verratti (54.6 per cent)

 

PREMIER LEAGUE:

Most successful passes: Virgil van Dijk (2,209)
Highest passing accuracy: John Stones (94 per cent)
Most successful passes, opposition half: Rodri (1,069)
Highest passing accuracy, opposition half: John Stones (93.9 per cent)
Most passes ending in final third: Kevin De Bruyne (740)
Highest passing accuracy ending in final third: Ibrahim Amadou (93.3 per cent)
Most chances created: Kevin De Bruyne (96)
Most big chances created: Kevin De Bruyne (23)
Most assists: Kevin De Bruyne (16)
Most assists from open play: Kevin De Bruyne (14)
Most crosses/corners successful: Kevin De Bruyne (69)
Highest crosses/corners accuracy (min. 10): Christian Atsu (47.1 per cent)

 

SERIE A:

Most successful passes: Fabian Ruiz (1,488)
Highest passing accuracy: Marlon Santos (94.1 per cent)
Most successful passes, opposition half: Fabian Ruiz (932)
Passing accuracy, opposition half: Eljif Elmas (91.5 per cent)
Most passes ending in final third: Luis Alberto (723)
Highest passing accuracy ending in final third: Walace (89.7 per cent)
Most chances created: Luis Alberto (75)
Most big chances created: Luis Alberto (16)
Most assists: Luis Alberto (12)
Most assists from open play: Luis Alberto and Alejandro Gomez (9)
Most crosses/corners successful: Erick Pulgar (46)
Highest crosses/corners accuracy (min. 10): Armando Izzo (54.6 per cent)

 

AND THE TOP 12:

Most successful passes: Virgil van Dijk (2,209)
Highest passing accuracy: Thiago Silva (95.5 per cent)
Most successful passes, opposition half: Rodri (1,069)
Passing accuracy, opposition half: John Stones (93.9 per cent)
Most passes ending in final third: Kevin De Bruyne (740)
Highest passing accuracy ending in final third: Ibrahim Amadou (93.3 per cent)
Most chances created: Kevin De Bruyne (96)
Most big chances created: Angel Di Maria (31)
Most assists: Thomas Muller and Kevin De Bruyne (16)
Most assists from open play: Thomas Muller (15)
Most crosses/corners successful: Filip Kostic (71)
Highest crosses/corners accuracy (min. 10): Benat (55 per cent)

 

Borja Mayoral expects to receive clarity over his Real Madrid future after this season but accepts matters are not solely in his hands.

The striker has been on loan at Levante since August 2018, scoring eight goals in 54 LaLiga appearances in that time.

Mayoral, who was previously with Wolfsburg for the 2016-17 campaign, is approaching the final year of his contract with boyhood club Madrid.

While he is staying calm over his future, particularly with football seasons mostly on hiatus during the coronavirus pandemic, the 22-year-old hopes to have more concrete ideas about where he will be playing in the coming months.

"I try to focus on the present," he told AS. "There are still matches [to play this season] and hopefully the competition will resume. Now, I think about finishing LaLiga in the best possible way. Then there will be time to think about what follows.

"Ultimately, I'm calm because I have one year left with Real Madrid. I've had two years at Levante and it's true that this summer I think a different decision will be made regarding me.

"But, as I say, I'm facing it in the best possible way, with all the excitement. What will come will come. I'm really happy, and calm above all, which is what is important.

"I've not been contacted personally [by Madrid]. My agent handles that more, but I don't think they've been contacted.

"I also think that everything will return to normal when this happens, and there will be more conversations about my future.

"I'm young, I know I have a lot of potential to give yet. In the end, if a player is expensive, it's because he's good and because he's loved.

"In the end, as I've told you before, it doesn't just depend on me, it also depends on Real Madrid and what they want to do with me."

Mayoral, who still has friends and family in Madrid, revealed it had been a challenging time during Spain's nationwide lockdown aimed at curbing the coronavirus spread.

"I have a lot of friends there and my whole family are from there," he said. "I'm constantly in contact with them to ask how they are, with my grandparents, too, who we know are risk factors. I try to speak with them almost every day."

With football no closer to being resumed as the coronavirus pandemic continues, players across Europe's top-five leagues have lots of time to pore over their performances from this season.

Using Opta data, we have already examined some of the worst attacking numbers from 2019-20, so now it's the turn of those ball-playing technicians: the pass-masters.

We have analysed nine key metrics for outfield players to play in at least 10 league games this season, thereby giving us a good summary of those whose passing could use some improvement. Those metrics are focused on the number of passes (overall, in a player's own half and their opponent's half), the accuracy of those passes, corners and crosses, and losing possession.

As always when it comes to data, context is key. For instance, we have included overall accuracy percentages to give balance to the simple number of passes. A team's playmaker or set-piece taker, for example, is arguably more likely to have a larger number of misplaced passes than team-mates simply because he will be attempting more of them, and often in difficult areas.

It's also worth noting that the number of times possession has been lost excludes 'Hoofs' (which, by their nature, make losing the ball more common), while corner and crossing accuracy is taken only from those to attempt, on average, at least one per game.

That said, the below gives a good indication of some passing figures that need improvement - and there are one or two surprising names...

THE WORST PASSING STATS IN EUROPE'S TOP-FIVE LEAGUES 2019-20:

BUNDESLIGA:

Most passes failed: Robert Andrich (291)
Worst passing accuracy: Anthony Modeste (55.4 per cent)
Most passes failed, own half: Jamilu Collins (110)
Worst passing accuracy, own half: Kai Proger (60.5 per cent)
Most passes failed, opposition half: Sebastian Andersson (215)
Worst passing accuracy, opposition half: Anthony Modeste (42.1 per cent)
Most corners/crosses failed: Filip Kostic (199)
Worst corners/crosses accuracy (minimum 10): Wendell (0 of 22)
Most times possession lost: Filip Kostic (616)

LALIGA:

Most passes failed: Leandro Cabrera (352)
Worst passing accuracy: Enric Gallego (48.6 per cent)
Most passes failed, own half: Pervis Estupinan (94)
Worst passing accuracy, own half: Sergio Leon (57.1 per cent)
Most passes failed, opposition half: Joselu (283)
Worst passing accuracy, opposition half: Leandro Cabrera (43.5 per cent)
Most corners/crosses failed: Jesus Navas (134)
Worst corners/crosses accuracy (minimum 10): Karim Benzema (0 of 19)
Most times possession lost: Pervis Estupinan (534)

LIGUE 1:

Most passes failed: Issiaga Sylla (281)
Worst passing accuracy: Suk Hyun-jun (44.8 per cent)
Most passes failed, own half: Fabien Centonze (111)
Worst passing accuracy, own half: Suk Hyun-jun (50 per cent)
Most passes failed, opposition half: Andy Delort (238)
Worst passing accuracy, opposition half:  Suk Hyun-jun (44.4 per cent)
Most corners/crosses failed: Mathieu Dossevi (142)
Worst corners/crosses accuracy (minimum 10): M'Baye Niang (0 of 11)
Most times possession lost: Angel Di Maria (539)

PREMIER LEAGUE:

Most passes failed: Trent Alexander-Arnold (480)
Worst passing accuracy: Christian Benteke (52.4 per cent)
Most passes failed, own half: Cesar Azpilicueta (132)
Worst passing accuracy, own half: Matej Vydra (50 per cent)
Most passes failed, opposition half:  Trent Alexander-Arnold (359)
Worst passing accuracy, opposition half: Christian Benteke (48 per cent)
Most corners/crosses failed:  Trent Alexander-Arnold (246)
Worst corners/crosses accuracy (minimum 10): Gabriel Martinelli (0 of 22)
Most times possession lost:  Trent Alexander-Arnold (867)

SERIE A:

Most passes failed: Stefano Sabelli (324)
Worst passing accuracy: Lautaro Martinez (59.5 per cent)
Most passes failed, own half: Stefano Sabelli (94)
Most passes failed, opposition half: Stefano Sabelli (230)
Worst passing accuracy, own half: Florian Aye (58.5 per cent)
Worst passing accuracy, opposition half: Roberto Inglese (54 per cent)
Most corners/crosses failed: Erick Pulgar (134)
Worst corners/crosses accuracy (minimum 10): Kevin Lasagna (0 from 13)
Most possession lost: Stefano Sabelli (494)

AND THE TOP NINE:

Most passes failed: Trent Alexander-Arnold (480)
Worst passing accuracy: Suk Hyun-jun (44.8 per cent)
Most passes failed, own half: Cesar Azpilicueta (132)
Worst passing accuracy, own half: Suk Hyun-jun and Matej Vydra (50 per cent)
Most passes failed, opposition half: Trent Alexander-Arnold (359)
Worst passing accuracy, opposition half: Anthony Modeste (42.1 per cent)
Most corners/crosses failed: Trent Alexander-Arnold (246)
Worst corners/crosses accuracy (minimum 10): Wendell and Gabriel Martinelli (0 of 22)
Most times possession lost: Trent Alexander-Arnold (867)

Eden Hazard's availability for Real Madrid's crunch fixtures against Manchester City and Barcelona appears in doubt after Zinedine Zidane admitted his latest injury "doesn't look good".

The Belgium forward hobbled off in the second half of the 1-0 loss to Levante on Saturday and he could be seen on the bench receiving treatment on his lower right leg.

Hazard only recently returned from a fractured right ankle so the sight of him appearing to have another problem in the same area was alarming for Zidane.

Madrid face Pep Guardiola's City in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Wednesday before a Clasico date with new LaLiga leaders Barcelona next weekend.

"It doesn't look good," Zidane told reporters at a news conference.

"It can become weak where you've had an injury. It is a blow, let's see.

"It's sore now but we'll see tomorrow when we do more tests."

It was a thoroughly miserable outing for Madrid as they suffered a surprise defeat thanks to Jose Luis Morales' stunning late effort.

Madrid drew 2-2 with Celta Vigo at home in their previous outing and they will host Barcelona next Sunday knowing they are now two points behind their great rivals in the title race.

Captain Sergio Ramos revealed the level of frustration he was feeling in a social media post.

"We're p***ed off," he wrote on Twitter.

"But we can't allow our heads to drop.

"We have to reset now and tomorrow push harder than ever before for a very important week. We're counting on you."

Real Madrid slumped to a shock 1-0 defeat at Levante thanks to Jose Luis Morales' stunning late winner, as Los Blancos produced a toothless display and lost Eden Hazard to injury ahead of a pivotal week.

Zinedine Zidane's men created the better chances in Valencia but were wasteful in front of goal, and Morales' glorious strike means Madrid head into next weekend's Clasico trailing leaders Barcelona – who thrashed Eibar 5-0 earlier on Saturday – by two points and possibly without the injured Hazard.

Karim Benzema was particularly culpable in the first 45 minutes, spurning a glorious opportunity early on, while Hazard – who was withdraw with what appeared to be a calf issue in the second period – also squandered a presentable chance after half-time.

Levante became a more prominent threat going forward following the interval and ultimately sealed an unlikely win through Morales' fierce effort 11 minutes from time, with Madrid heading into the first leg of their Champions League last-16 encounter against Manchester City on the back of a woeful result.

Madrid rarely looked worried at the back in the first half, though going forward they lacked a killer instinct.

That was clearest in the 11th minute when Benzema should have put them in front, but he shot straight at Aitor Fernandez with only the goalkeeper to beat.

Fernandez was alert again just before half-time, this time parrying Luka Modric's stinging drive.

It was the same story after the break.

The previously ineffective Hazard had the opportunity to make a decisive impact in the 53rd minute when released through on goal, but he could not get the bouncing ball fully under control and his eventual effort was scuffed harmlessly at the approaching Fernandez.

Hazard had to be withdrawn in the 67th minute due to an apparent calf strain seemingly suffered while attempting a backheel, and Levante netted soon after.

Morales chased a long ball down the left flank on the break and caught it sweetly as it bounced up, beating Thibaut Courtois at his near post with the venomous strike as Madrid dropped points for a second successive LaLiga game after last weekend's 2-2 draw with Celta Vigo.

First Barcelona and now Real Madrid. Lautaro Martinez is a wanted man.

With 16 goals across all competitions for Inter this season, Martinez is attracting plenty of interest following previous links to Manchester United.

Madrid and Barca are set to go head-to-head on and off the pitch.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID JOIN BARCA IN MARTINEZ RACE

Real Madrid want to pay the release clause of Inter star and Barcelona target Lautaro Martinez, according to Tyc Sports.

Martinez has long been linked with LaLiga champions Barca, who are eyeing a long-term replacement for Luis Suarez.

However, Martinez is now firmly on Madrid's radar with a release clause of €115million and Luka Jovic struggling to score regularly behind veteran striker Karim Benzema at the Santiago Bernabeu.

 

ROUND-UP

- ESPN says Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea are chasing Manchester United goalkeeper Dean Henderson, who is on loan at Premier League side Sheffield United. The 22-year-old – who is contracted to United until 2022 – has impressed at Bramall Lane and is reportedly unwilling to return to Manchester unless he is number one ahead of David de Gea.

Manchester City have joined Madrid, Barca, Arsenal and Tottenham in the race to sign RB Leipzig centre-back Dayot Upamecano, reports the Manchester Evening News. Pep Guardiola's City are desperate for defensive reinforcements following Vincent Kompany's exit and injury woes.

- According to the Daily Express, Serie A champions Juventus are eying a shock move for Chelsea's Willian, who is out of contract at the end of the season.

- Remaining in Turin and the Daily Mail claims Juve have entered the chase for Birmingham City teenager Jude Bellingham. The 17-year-old is also wanted by United and Chelsea.

Tottenham are plotting a double swoop for Norwich City pair Ben Godfrey and Max Aarons, the Express says. It comes as the Daily Mail reports Spurs will sell Eric Dier if he does not sign a new contract.

- Marca says Barca have contacted Levante about Roger Marti but the club have pointed to the striker's release clause. Barca are looking to bring in an emergency forward following Ousmane Dembele's long-term injury. Real Betis' Loren Moron and Lucas Perez of Deportivo Alaves are also reported options.

Quique Setien praised Ansu Fati after the teenage forward helped Barcelona to a 2-1 win over Levante in LaLiga on Sunday.

Fati, 17, scored twice in the first half as Barca closed the gap to league leaders and rivals Real Madrid to three points.

He became the youngest player to score a brace in LaLiga in the 21st century, breaking a record previously held by Juanmi Jimenez.

Fati has netted five goals this season and Setien hailed him for stepping up for Barcelona, who are set to be without the injured Luis Suarez until the end of 2019-20.

"I think that Ansu is a boy that is emerging, that we all know that has great potential," head coach Setien told a news conference.

"You have to understand that you have to give him peace of mind and confidence to exploit what he has inside.

"Apart from the two goals, what I give credit is the work he has done in defence. He has worked hard. He has given us solutions."

Fati struck in the 30th and 31st minutes and Barcelona closed out their win despite Ruben Rochina's late goal for the visitors.

Setien was satisfied with his side's performance, although he expects further improvement.

"I am happy with many things, but not with everything. We have given up too many shots," he said.

"We made a very good first half, I think we could score more goals. We lost a little control in the second half and conceded too much.

"But it was a good job by the team."

Barcelona are in action again on Thursday, visiting Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals.

Ivan Rakitic admitted he considered leaving LaLiga champions Barcelona in January as the midfielder appeared to take aim at the club's board.

Rakitic was heavily linked to Serie A duo Juventus and Inter before the transfer window closed, while Manchester United were also reportedly interested.

It came as Rakitic was reportedly offered to Paris Saint-Germain as part of a deal to prise Neymar back to Camp Nou at the start of the season.

After Sunday's 2-1 win over Levante, Croatia veteran Rakitic vented his frustration.

"I thought about leaving in the January window," Rakitic, who played the entire game, said post-match.

"The treatment of [former head coach Ernesto] Valverde's staff wasn't the best.

"They were bad times but it's in the past now.

"I can say very clearly that there were things that I didn't like."

Ansu Fati's brace ensured Barca stayed within three points of leaders and rivals Real Madrid after 22 matches.

Rakitic has made 16 LaLiga appearances this season, and 24 across all competitions.

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