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.

Zinedine Zidane is not interested in discussing a new contract with Real Madrid but is hopeful skipper Sergio Ramos will soon commit his future to the Spanish giants.

Madrid have won four games in a row ahead of Sunday's trip to Eibar to get their LaLiga title defence back on track and advance through to the last 16 of the Champions League.

Zidane, who was rumoured to be one game away from being sacked earlier this month, is under contract at the Bernabeu until the end of next season.

A number of Madrid players are also into the final 18 months of their existing deals, with the likes of Ramos, Luka Modric and Lucas Vazquez set to become free agents in 2021.

But while Zidane is not looking to open talks over fresh terms with Madrid, the Frenchman is keen for his first-team squad members to resolve their futures. 

"I have nothing in mind. I have a contract until 2022 and I will not ask for anything," he said at a news conference.

"I am fortunate to say that I am at the best club in the world. I hope the players stay."

Ramos is able to open talks with other clubs from January over a free transfer at the end of the campaign, with Paris Saint-Germain reportedly eager to snap up the centre-back.

However, Zidane expects Ramos - into his 16th season with Madrid - to prolong his stay in the Spanish capital beyond the end of 2020-21.

"He is looking well, because he is convinced that he will continue and that is the most important thing," he said. 

"I see him playing football for many years because he is someone who takes great care of himself.

"If you want to continue and take care of yourself, you have a great chance of continuing for a long time and I'm not surprised by what he does."

Isco is another player facing an uncertain future at Madrid amid suggestions he is on the radar of Premier League clubs Manchester United, Arsenal and Everton.

The 28-year-old has featured nine times in LaLiga this term but just three of those have been starts, totalling 332 minutes on the field.

He has yet to score or assist a goal in those appearances, failing to find the net from his seven shots, but Zidane insists the Spain international is not trying to force a move away.

"Isco is fine here. We have enough to think about to just focus on what we are doing," Zidane said.

Madrid will be looking to keep pace with LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid, who are three points better off at the summit having played a game less, when they take on mid-table Eibar.

The reigning champions have won 10 and lost just one of their 12 previous league meetings with Eibar, who are unbeaten in six matches in all competitions.

Zidane will not risk Eden Hazard for the match at Ipurua Municipal Stadium on the Belgium forward's latest return from injury, while Vinicius Junior is another major doubt.

"Hopefully [Hazard] will return soon. He is almost fully recovered, but he lacks match fitness. I hope he will be with the team shortly," Zidane said.

"I don't think [Vinicius] will be available because he's not feeling well. I think it's gastroenteritis. He is not comfortable. Let's see how it evolves today."

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.

Zinedine Zidane acknowledged he is not giving Isco the opportunities he needs to display his talents amid continued speculation over the Spain international's Real Madrid future.

The attacking midfielder has become a peripheral figure under head coach Zidane and last month his agent and father Francisco Alarcon suggested he is ready to try a new league amid reports Arsenal, Manchester City and Everton are monitoring his situation.

Since the start of the 2018-19 season, Isco has started just 29 times in LaLiga, while he has been named among the starting XI only three times this campaign.

In those games, Isco has failed to score or provide an assist, but he has created four chances for team-mates and has a pass success rate of 87.56 per cent.

Zidane was reported to have told Isco he should seek pastures new in January but says he will remain a big player for Madrid this term.

"Isco is going to be an important player, it is true that he is not playing much and I am not giving him the opportunity to show the player that he is," he said when previewing Tuesday's clash against Athletic Bilbao.

"I feel sorry for my players and I will never forget what I have experienced with them.

"He has to work hard to get another chance, but what is being said [in the media] I can't respond because we don't control it."

Zidane's own future was said to be under threat after defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League left their chances of qualifying for the last 16 hanging in the balance.

But victory over Sevilla preceded 2-0 triumphs over Borussia Monchengladbach and rivals Atletico Madrid, to secure a place in the knockout stages of Europe's premier competition and reduce the deficit to Atleti in LaLiga.

Asked about the upturn in fortunes, Zidane said: "I don't aim to prove anything, I take advantage of every moment I'm here.

"I have fantastic players and there is nothing left but to keep working.

"It has been a very good week and we have to continue at that. The games are hard and there is no time to rest, just to continue in the same way.

"We are not going to change anything, we know that we have to always be the best, but there is an opponent and sometimes it is difficult to put the opponent in danger all the time.

"But we are good and we can show consistency. For us it has changed nothing."

Zidane also said veteran full-back Marcelo has to keep showing what he can do after falling out of favour to Ferland Mendy in recent weeks.

"It is true that he has played less, we know what he can give us," he said.

"It is true that Ferland has played very well, it is true that [Marcelo] has not played much lately. 

"He is training very well and has to continue what he is doing. It is true that he hasn't had a chance lately but it's not his fault, we'll see what happens later."

Zinedine Zidane believes his Real Madrid midfield stars have rediscovered their best form after an influential display in their 2-0 win over Atletico Madrid.

Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos started together in LaLiga for just the third time this season on Saturday and Zidane's team selection proved effective.

Madrid led through Casemiro's header and then extended their advantage courtesy of a Jan Oblak own goal in the second half.

Zidane was particularly taken by the displays of Modric and Kroos, with the World Cup winner completing 87 of 90 passes, the most in a league Madrid derby since at least 2005-06.

"We used [Modric and Kroos] to find the way out, it's true," said Zidane, who is unbeaten in seven games against Atleti. "We had to do it.

"And then playing fast from one side to the other and with diagonals, we found gaps. They're f***ing great, they're exceptional.

"Karim [Benzema], too, and Lucas [Vazquez], he is phenomenal, and [Dani] Carvajal, and our captain [Sergio Ramos], [Raphael] Varane. They are all very good."

The coach was further asked about the trio in the centre of the pitch, who now have competition in the form of Federico Valverde and Martin Odegaard.

"They are at the level of the three Champions Leagues we won in a row," he said. "They are playing at a very high level."

Victory against Atleti brought to an end an extremely successful week, having also won 1-0 at Sevilla and 2-0 against Borussia Monchengladbach to reach the last 16 of the Champions League.

"We confirmed what we did in the two previous games," said the coach, whose side restricted Atleti to one shot on target across the 90 minutes and no efforts at all before half-time.

"We competed very well throughout the game.

"But we don't have anything to celebrate because we haven't won anything. It's a good week.

"I'm happy for the players because they always believe in what they do. And when they get things done I'm happy. Let's enjoy and think about Tuesday [against Athletic Bilbao]."

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

An old adage it may be but it is one that can certainly be reasonably used in relation to Saturday's El Derbi as Real Madrid sauntered to a 2-0 triumph over rivals Atletico.

If a week is a long time in politics then it must feel like an eternity in football and certainly the events of the past seven days have markedly changed the outlook for Zinedine Zidane and his Real Madrid Galacticos.

Only 11 days have passed since a lifeless 2-0 defeat at Shakhtar Donetsk left Madrid's chances of qualifying from the Champions League group stages hanging as precariously as the last leaf on an autumnal tree.

That setback had followed the insipid 2-1 home loss to Deportivo Alaves - the latest deafening alarm bell in a LaLiga title defence that has also witnessed Los Blancos beaten on their own patch by Cadiz and dismantled 4-1 at Valencia.

Conversely, the situation across the capital could scarcely have been more rosy for Atletico.

Ten LaLiga games played, zero defeats, eight wins, only two goals conceded, not once trailing in any league game and comfortably into the Champions League 16 - even if a record of two wins, three draws and a defeat appears miserly compared to the 16 points accrued by pool winners Bayern Munich.

So, what to do in such a pickle of situation. For Zidane, the solution has been rather simple; stick to what you know.

Tried and tested help Madrid out the malaise

As with everything in football, indeed life, there is context behind Madrid's mixed fortunes thus far in 2020-21.

Injuries to key men have combined with a lethargy so completely at odds with their relentless drive to the title in the strangest of 2019-20 seasons.

Sergio Ramos, Karim Benzema, Eden Hazard, Dani Carvajal, Nacho Fernandez, Eder Militao, Casemiro and Luka Jovic have all missed various amounts of game time, meaning it has been difficult for Madrid to go with a settled XI.

The issue is in the circus-like world of Real Madrid, context doesn't tend to buy you much time. Nor too does sentiment. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that had this week played out differently, Zidane's plethora of honours over two spells as coach would have done little to assuage a ruthless boardroom.

But a 1-0 win at Sevilla preceded a 2-0 triumph over Borussia Monchengladbach - a performance Zidane described as Madrid's most complete of the campaign - to secure a Champions League last-16 berth and keep the wolves at bay. 

And then this. The juiciest of cherries atop the cake, a derby win in the most comfortable fashion.

In each game, Zidane has gone with his most trusted midfield lieutenants in Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos - a combination that has played together just three times in total in LaLiga this season.

One of those games was the aforementioned Alaves setback, a loss that perhaps led some credence to the school of thought that an aging Madrid squad is in need of a reshape.

But the terrific trio remain crucial to Madrid and so it proved here. The centre of the park was dominated by Los Blancos, goalscorer Casemiro completed 45 of 48 passes (93.8 per cent success rate) and Modric 69 of 77 for 89.6 per cent. Incredibly, Kroos was successful with 87 of his 90 passes (96.7 per cent) - finishing with an assist and two key passes.

Even beyond the trusted triumvirate, the return of talismanic captain Ramos - absent against Alaves and Shakhtar - has again been so crucial for Zidane. He too barely put a foot wrong - making 63 of 67 passes and commanding a Madrid defence to a third straight clean sheet since returning.

Perhaps most notable for Zidane is the fact he has finally been able to get some fluency to his line-up. The only alteration from the prior two wins was the return of Carvajal - whose well controlled volley helped double Madrid's lead, albeit with a hint of fortune from the post and the back of Jan Oblak - at full-back, which pushed Lucas Vazquez onto the wing in place of Rodrygo Goes.

Madrid have now won two of the three games in LaLiga when Casemiro, Kroos and Modric have started. A deeper delve sees five wins from five when Thibaut Courtois, Ramos, Casemiro and Benzema are all in the same line-up.

Simeone's El Derbi hoodoo

You probably don't need to be a fly on the wall to imagine Simeone will have exchanged a few cross words at half-time as the most stoic of defences surrendered the lead to a goal so basic it could have been seen in park football.

A Kroos cross into the box and a planted Casemiro header - a simple set-piece the undoing of a defence usually as watertight as a window on the side of a cruise ship.

Even after that 15th-minute set-back, it was disappointing to see an Atleti attack of Luis Suarez and Joao Felix barely lay a glove on their opponents.

Joao Felix has been a forward reborn in LaLiga after a difficult debut campaign, aided by the arrival of his veteran strike partner from Barcelona, but on this occasion the Portuguese flopped. 

He failed to muster a single shot at goal and completed just 68.8 per cent of passes in the opposition half before he was hooked on the hour. In fairness, Suarez - now without a goal in his past three LaLiga matches against Madrid - fared little better registering just a single blocked shot.

In total there was just one Atleti effort on target, although Thomas Lemar's wastefulness 10 minutes into the second half when he side-footed wide with the goal gaping may have altered the course of the game.

Simeone has now seen his side fail to beat Madrid in nine straight LaLiga outings. The situation is still extremely optimistic, with Atleti top of LaLiga and three points clear of their third-place rivals having played a game fewer.

But any idea of a changing of the guard in Madrid can be parked for the time being.

Real Madrid beat LaLiga pacesetters Atletico Madrid 2-0 in the derby on Saturday to close to within three points of the leaders and cap a brilliant week.

Pressure was building on Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane before his side won at Sevilla last weekend and then progressed in the Champions League by seeing off Borussia Monchengladbach.

The Spanish champions therefore headed into the clash with Atleti in high spirits and quickly established another lead through Casemiro's header.

Atleti had won their prior seven LaLiga matches and were unbeaten this term, but their record against Madrid is rather less impressive and Jan Oblak's unfortunate second-half own goal ensured a ninth consecutive league meeting with their neighbours without victory.

Madrid had the visitors on the back foot from the outset and only a vital fingertip touch from Oblak denied Karim Benzema as he cracked a 20-yard drive against the upright.

The opener arrived soon enough as Casemiro rose to head Toni Kroos' corner inside the near post, unimpeded following marker Hector Herrera's slip, although the game slowed thereafter.

Atleti had to wait until the 55th minute for their first effort of note but should have drawn level as Thomas Lemar ghosted in at the far post after Raphael Varane failed to cut out a low cross, only to stab a tame effort into the side-netting.

They were made to pay eight minutes later when Dani Carvajal rifled in a low shot from outside the area and the ball bounced off the post, against a prone Oblak and into the net.

A recovery from Diego Simeone's men always appeared unlikely and Thibaut Courtois saved well from Saul Niguez's close-range header to allow Madrid to coast home, almost netting a third as Oblak turned Lucas Vazquez's blast over the top.


What does it mean? Blancos back on track

Madrid had lost two of their previous three home league games coming into this contest, but the tide already appeared to have turned earlier in the week.

A vital victory at Sevilla was followed by the most accomplished display of the season so far as they leapfrogged Gladbach, setting the stage for a third win and a third clean sheet.

Atleti did not even have a shot before half-time - the first such instance in this fixture since Opta records began in 2003-04.

Madrid inspired by spine

Since Cristiano Ronaldo departed for Juventus, Madrid have relied heavily on the key men through the centre of their side: Courtois, Sergio Ramos, Casemiro and Benzema.

Six times this season that quartet have started together in LaLiga, six times they have won. Only one of the other half-dozen matches have ended in victory.

While Casemiro grabbed a goal, this was a particularly special outing for Benzema, who surpassed Roberto Carlos for the most Madrid appearances by a foreign player (528).

Atleti lament Lemar miss

Lemar last week netted his first club goal since April 2019, but Saturday brought a return to his frustrating prior form in LaLiga.

The France international came off the bench at half-time yet failed to create a single chance and passed up Atleti's clearest opportunity with one of his two shots.

What's next?

Madrid are quickly back in action at home to Athletic Bilbao on Tuesday, while Atletico have Copa del Rey duty against Cardassar the following day.

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.

Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane said neighbours Atletico Madrid are favourites to win LaLiga this season.

Madrid play host to unbeaten LaLiga leaders Atletico at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano in Saturday's derby, with Diego Simeone's visitors holding a one-point advantage over Real Sociedad atop the table.

Defending champions Madrid are six points off the pace and Zidane believes Atletico are in the box seat to claim their first league crown since 2013-14.

Asked if Atletico are favourites for LaLiga glory, Zidane told reporters on Friday: "Yes, for sure.

"That's what they're showing on the pitch. They're doing things well and competing. They've always been competitive and they're first right now.

"What interests us is what we're going to do. It'll be a good game of football and one that fans have marked in the diaries and one that the players want to play.

"What we want in each match is to show what team we are, without thinking about whether we'll win the league title. We want to win each match. We're competitive."

Atletico have failed to win in their last eight LaLiga games against Madrid – drawing five matches and losing three – after winning four of the previous six against their rivals in the competition.

But Atletico have won their last seven LaLiga games, keeping a clean sheet in six matches – last winning eight or more in a row in the competition in March-April 2014.

After winning his first LaLiga game as coach against Atletico's Simeone in February 2016, Madrid boss Zidane is unbeaten in his last six games against the Argentinian in the league.

"As usual we are always talking about finals, every game is a final here," Zidane added. "I see it as another opportunity to show what we are about as a team. 

"We know where we are. What we want is to play a great football match, just as we did the other day."

Atletico Madrid head coach Diego Simeone revealed his admiration for city rivals Real Madrid ahead of Saturday's LaLiga derby.

Madrid welcome neighbours and LaLiga leaders Atletico to Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano, with Simeone's men holding a one-point advantage over Real Sociedad atop the table.

Defending champions Madrid are six points off the pace and while Atletico have only lost one of their last eight derbies in LaLiga, keeping seven clean sheets, Simeone is wary of an experienced Los Blancos side.

"It is a nice game where there are fantastic football players in both teams. Real Madrid has been competing at the highest level for many years," Simeone told reporters.

"As I said yesterday [Thursday], I feel admiration for our opponent and the players they have. They are maintaining a great level despite the amount of time they have been on top. Some of them they are 33, 34 or 35 and they are still young in their minds.

"That's the most important thing. And this is something to admire, even if it is an historic rival for us.

"We are keeping our way, leading the game in the areas where we can hurt them. And there, we will be playing a game which surely will be beautiful."

Atletico have failed to win in their last eight LaLiga games against Madrid – drawing five games and losing three – after winning four of the previous six against their rivals in the competition.

But Atletico have won their last seven LaLiga games, keeping a clean sheet in six matches – last winning eight or more in a row in the competition in March-April 2014.

After winning his first LaLiga game as coach against Atletico's Simeone in February 2016), Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane is unbeaten in his last six games against the Argentinian in the league.

As for Atletico forward Luis Suarez, he has scored nine goals in his 11 LaLiga games against Madrid but has failed to score in his last two, his longest run without scoring against the Spanish powerhouse in the competition.

"Every footballer has ups and down," Simeone said of Suarez. "We shouldn't forget Luis has gone through coronavirus. I think his last game was in Ecuador… around twenty days with no competition. So, it is normal he needs time to get back to his best.

"Luis is a very important player for us. A striker who has goals in his DNA. Saturday is an important game for him and for the team. So, hopefully he can give his best during the time he is on the pitch."

Marcos Llorente's development at Atletico Madrid does not come as a surprise to Zinedine Zidane, whose Real Madrid players will have to be wary of his potential impact in Saturday's derby.

Madrid host neighbours and LaLiga leaders Atletico at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano with Diego Simeone's men holding a one-point advantage over Real Sociedad at the top of the table.

The defending champions are five points further back having already lost three games in 2020-21.

Key to Atletico's unbeaten start has been the form of Llorente, who has four goals and two assists in the league. He has featured in every game, making six starts.

Llorente also scored a goal and registered an assist as Atletico came through the Champions League group stage and enjoyed an impressive performance against Barcelona in their 1-0 win over the Blaugrana last month.

He completed 90 per cent of his passes in the Barca half, only Koke (93.3) and Angel Correa (95) fared better among Atletico players to attempt more than one pass in the opposition half. Llorente was also one of four players to record two interceptions.

Sold to Atletico by Madrid in June last year, all signs point to Llorente having a significant role to play if Atletico are to claim a crucial win this weekend, with Zidane believing they are harnessing talent the midfielder has always had.

"He is not surprising me. He is a high-level player and he is showing another facet that he did not have at Madrid," Zidane told a media conference.

"It was known that he had a lot of quality and I am happy for him, nothing more."

Two Madrid players who may have to play the role of spectators in the derby are Marcelo and Isco.

Marcelo has made only five starts in LaLiga this season and has not featured in the Champions League since Madrid's opening group game.

Just three of Isco's eight league appearances have been starts and he has played only one game in the Champions League.

Neither featured in Wednesday's win over Borussia Monchengladbach that secured their place in the last 16.

Zidane said of that duo: "I will always have confidence and I will count on them.

"They have always shown everything they have done here. It is true that they have not played in the last games, but I have to choose, it is my job. I will count on them."

Asked about player fatigue amid this season's congested schedule, Zidane replied: "Each game is different and has its history.

"It is true that we have not made many changes in these two games, but it is a particular moment.

"Tomorrow there is another game and there may be five changes, maybe not. It depends on each game."

Paul Pogba could reportedly leave Manchester United as early as next month, while Zinedine Zidane is said to be eyeing a Real Madrid exit.

Pogba's future has again become a talking point at United after his agent, Mino Raiola, said the midfielder wanted to leave.

And the Premier League giants may be ready to make it happen.

 

TOP STORY – MAN UTD WANT TO SELL POGBA IN JANUARY

Manchester United want to sell Pogba in January after Raiola's latest outburst, according to The Sun.

It comes after ESPN reported the Premier League giants doubted whether Juventus or Real Madrid – the clubs the France international has been most heavily linked to – could afford the 27-year-old.

Pogba came off the bench as United were knocked out of the Champions League with a 3-2 loss to RB Leipzig on Tuesday.

 

ROUND-UP

- Real Madrid managed to reach the last 16 to ease the pressure on head coach Zidane. However, Diario Gol reports Zidane has made it clear to Madrid president Florentino Perez he is likely to leave at the end of the season, regardless of what happens. The report says Zidane was promised the signings of Pogba, Liverpool star Sadio Mane and Rennes midfielder Eduardo Camavinga.

- Under pressure, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's future at Manchester United is uncertain. But the Daily Mail reports United will back the manager despite their Champions League exit and the availability of Mauricio Pochettino. Meanwhile, Sky Sports says United are interested in Atletico Madrid right-back Kieran Trippier.

- David Alaba seems certain to leave Bayern Munich at the end of his contract after the 2020-21 season. Bild reports Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain are on the shortlist of destinations for the defender.

- Could Frenkie de Jong leave Barcelona after just two seasons at the club? Mundo Deportivo reports Bayern Munich are in contact with the midfielder's agent regarding a possible move. De Jong joined Barca from Ajax for a reported initial fee of €75million in 2019, and he re-signed with the club in October until 2026.

- Eric Garcia has been heavily linked with a move to Barcelona, but it seems there is also interest from elsewhere. The Sun reports Arsenal are tracking the defender, who is out of contract at Manchester City at the end of the season.

- Arsenal and Wolves are monitoring Maxi Gomez's situation at Valencia, according to the Daily Mail, which says Valencia could sell the forward in January or at season's end as they look to raise funds.

Zinedine Zidane joked he would never be Real Madrid's Alex Ferguson amid the pressure he has faced at the helm.

Madrid managed to ease the pressure on their coach with a 2-0 win over Borussia Monchengladbach that sent them into the Champions League last 16 on Wednesday.

Zidane is in his second stint at the helm of the Spanish giants, and has already won three Champions League titles and two LaLiga crowns among other trophies as a coach.

The 48-year-old ruled out becoming to Madrid what Ferguson was at Manchester United, where the Scot spent 27 trophy-laden years.

"I don't think I'll ever be the Alex Ferguson of Madrid, for sure," Zidane told a news conference.

"I want to enjoy what I'm doing. I don't know how long I'm going to stay here, I don't think about it.

"I think about the day to day and the luck I have to be at this great club and with these great players. I like it even in moments like these, not only when we win.

"These are things of life, as a person. I have to improve things but I don't know until when. It's been a long time in Spain, in Madrid, and I want to continue a little bit."

Karim Benzema's first-half brace was enough as Madrid progressed through a 29th consecutive Champions League group stage, with Gladbach also advancing after Inter and Shakhtar Donetsk drew 0-0.

It made it back-to-back wins for Madrid, who are fourth in LaLiga, and Zidane was pleased with his side's performance.

"I'm happy about the game. I think we played a great game. We knew what we were playing for," he said.

"It was important. We had to win. as you say, we ended up as first in our group. It's what we wanted to do. We went out and played a good game. The first half was spectacular and the second one was good. We did it in Saturday's game and today we played even better."

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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