Vinicius Junior has revealed Barcelona were interested in signing him but he opted to join bitter foes Real Madrid after being given just two days to make a decision.

The Brazil international officially arrived at the Santiago Bernabeu in July 2018, a year after Madrid agreed a reported £38.7million deal with Flamengo.

He has yet to hit double figures for the club in terms of goals but was on target in March's huge 2-0 win over LaLiga title rivals Barcelona.

However, things could have been a lot different for Vinicius as the winger was offered the chance to join Barca in 2017.

"I had proposals from Barca and Madrid and only had two days to choose," he said in Real Madrid TV documentary 'Campo de Estrellas'.

"I see myself in Madrid for a long time, winning everything and being very successful."

Vinicius, who is rumoured to be a target for Manchester United, remains grateful to former club Flamengo for giving him a platform to showcase his talent. 

"I come from Sao Goncalo, which is a very dangerous place," he said.

"They always helped me when I didn't have money to pay for the academy and they let me train for a long time without paying.

"My father went to work in Sao Paulo so that I would have money to train and play soccer."

Vinicius Junior has been included in Real Madrid's squad to face Deportivo Alaves on Friday.

The Brazilian winger has been in outstanding form for the LaLiga leaders since the season's restart, but his involvement in their next match was in doubt.

Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane revealed on Thursday that Vinicius had missed training to take a coronavirus test.

An initial test "went badly" - seemingly returning an anomalous result - and had to be repeated, Zidane said.

Madrid offered no update on Vinicius but named the 19-year-old among their 22-man group for the meeting with Alaves.

Zidane's side are a point ahead of Barcelona, who have played a game more.

Vinicius Junior must repeat a COVID-19 test after an apparently anomalous result, Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane has revealed.

Zidane was speaking ahead of his team's LaLiga match against Deportivo Alaves on Friday, where Vinicius' participation is now in doubt after a test "went badly".

The 19-year-old sat out training on Thursday and must wait to find out if he will be available to face Alaves.

"The doctors informed me that the test went badly and that we need to repeat it," said Zidane, who will be without Luka Jovic after the forward was forced to self-isolate due to coming into contact with a friend who contracted COVID-19.

When he was asked to clarify whether "badly" might mean Vinicius had tested positive for coronavirus, he replied: "Sometimes there are errors. That can happen.

"Whenever something like that happens, the player can't train. I hope it's nothing and that he can be with us for Friday's game.

"We'll have his results this afternoon."

Even if Vinicius is forced to sit out, Eden Hazard will be available as Madrid seek a victory that would give them a four-point advantage over Barcelona with three games remaining.

The Belgium playmaker was absent from the back-to-back 1-0 wins over Getafe and Athletic Bilbao and has had his debut season in the Spanish capital ruined by a broken foot.

"It is not a relapse and he has trained with us normally," Zidane said.

"I hope he will be with us in the four remaining games and then in the Champions League.

"He wants to be with us and he is not afraid, but it is the third relapse and it bothers him a little.

"There are people here who know much more than me and the image [X-ray] comes out clean, it is perfect, but the discomfort is normal after a game or strong training.

"He is not afraid and wants to help the team and tomorrow he will be with us "

Marcelo faces a scan on an unspecified complaint, but Raphael Varane is set to return at centre-back after recovering from concussion.

"We haven't won anything," Zidane said, when confronted with his team's strong position heading into the final stretch.

"Four games are remaining and tomorrow is another final.

"I am sorry to repeat myself, but there is no other choice. What we want is to continue with what we are doing."

Vinicius Junior lauded Eden Hazard and said it was easy to play alongside the attacker in Real Madrid's 2-0 LaLiga win over Real Mallorca.

A fine finish from Vinicius and Sergio Ramos' brilliant second-half free-kick saw Madrid climb back above rivals Barcelona and to the top of the LaLiga table.

Vinicius was happy with his performance and also talked up his combination with Hazard, with the pair starting together in Madrid.

"I am very happy with today's match. We have worked a lot at home to get to our best version," the forward said, via the club's website.

"As for me, I think I'm the same as before the break, but it's true that I worked a lot at home to be physically well.

"This is like a World Cup with few games and we have to be focused from the beginning. I always try to improve in all aspects. The coaching staff always helps me a lot to improve and I want to continue evolving at Real Madrid.

"Hazard is easy to play [with] because he is a great player and today was the first time that [Zinedine] Zidane has brought us together. It went very well."

Madrid extended their winning streak to four since returning from the coronavirus-enforced break, staying on track to win the LaLiga title.

Vinicius said it was important for the whole squad to be ready when called upon by head coach Zidane.

"We are all ready to enter the field when Zidane decides and we will do our best. We have the best players on the field," he said.

"We are going to do our best to win the remaining seven finals. We have won four and we are going for the league."

Madrid continue their campaign with a trip to Espanyol on Sunday.

Real Madrid returned to the top of LaLiga thanks to a 2-0 defeat of Real Mallorca at the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium on Wednesday.

Barca's 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao 24 hours earlier had put the pressure back on Zinedine Zidane's men, but Vinicius' goal after 19 minutes steadied any nerves within the home side.

Mallorca, who sit third from bottom of the table, gave a spirited account of themselves but rarely looked likely to claim a share of the spoils despite Madrid having made four changes from the 2-1 win at Real Sociedad on Sunday.

Zidane elected to start Vinicius, Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale in support of Karim Benzema but it was captain Sergio Ramos who made the win safe with an exceptional free-kick early in the second half.

Vinicius might have been a surprise starter but he justified Zidane's call 19 minutes in, steering a finish high past Manolo Reina after a clever reverse pass from Luka Modric.

The Brazilian hit the bar with a lob from a Karim Benzema throughball four minutes later, but it was Mallorca who threatened more as the half went on, even though Thibaut Courtois' goal was largely well protected.

Madrid took control with a second goal 10 minutes into the second half, Ramos curling a fine free-kick into the top-left corner from just outside the penalty area.

Mallorca did not lose heart at least and threatened through Madrid loanee Takefusa Kubo, who saw a shot hit the side-netting after one impressive run through the box.

The visitors remain three points from safety and at serious risk of relegation, but they did at least make a moment of LaLiga history when Luka Romero came off the bench to become the youngest player ever to play in the competition at the age of 15 years and 219 days.

 

What does it mean? Zidane's side taking shape for double charge

Madrid are back on top of the table above Barcelona on their head-to-head record and appear to be in good shape after the lockdown.

Zidane changed the system and personnel but was still rewarded with a strong performance. That sort of adaptability bodes well for their title challenge, and the return of the Champions League in August.

Vinicius on a mission

Having gone through a difficult spell this season, Vinicius looks determined to become a mainstay in Zidane's plans.

He scored one good goal, almost got a second and pressed across the front in the second half to keep the Mallorca defence worried.

No lucky break for Bale

Bale got out of Vincius' way to let his team-mate open the scoring and it was his most useful contribution of the game.

It was more a disinterested performance than a poor one, but certainly was not one to make his coach think he merits a regular place in the first XI.

What's next?

Madrid head to Espanyol on Sunday, with Mallorca facing Athletic Bilbao at San Mames a day earlier.

Vinicius Junior said Real Madrid want to win LaLiga for their fans following the coronavirus pandemic.

LaLiga has been suspended since March due to the COVID-19 crisis, though the league is hoping to resume in June.

Madrid were two points behind defending champions and bitter rivals Barcelona through 27 matches at the time of postponement.

Coronavirus has wreaked havoc in Spain and across the globe, and Madrid star Vinicius wants to give Los Blancos supporters something to smile about.

"I've watched the games again and I think so. I think we were better than them in more aspects," Vinicius told Marca when asked if he thought Madrid were better than Barca in their two LaLiga meetings this season.

"We've had very good games until now and we have to recover our best form. We're really hungry to come back, to win, and we want to win this league title for our fans. People have suffered a lot and we want to give Real Madrid fans something to cheer about in this situation.

"We know that winning the league isn't going to be a solution for big tragedies, but it would be something to smile about, something to be happy about."

There were 11 matches remaining in the 2019-20 season and Vinicius added: "The result against [Real] Betis [2-1 loss was a great shame. Now, we have a mission we can't fail. We can't fail and we're not going to fail."

"We may have only returned [to training] 11 days ago, but everyone's rhythm looks good," he continued. "We've still got lots of group work to do because we can't do it yet, but all my team-mates are very strong and very well. There's still quite a bit of work left to do, but we're feeling good."

Madrid had also lost 2-1 to Manchester City at the Santiago Bernabeu in the opening leg of their Champions League last-16 tie before the season came to a halt.

The Champions League could return in August and Brazilian forward Vinicius said: "If the Champions League returns, it will be great news not only for football, but for the world. Being able to play games in other countries will be a very positive sign because we'll be closer to normality.

"The result of the first leg [against Manchester City] was bad, but we're Real Madrid. Our obligation is to prepare ourselves well and, if this game comes, when everything is over, every Real Madrid fan can say: they gave everything, we're proud."

Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane hailed his players for regrouping from their Champions League collapse by upstaging Barcelona in the LaLiga El Clasico.

Pressure was on Madrid following their 2-1 defeat at home to Manchester City in the opening leg of the Champions League last-16 tie on Wednesday.

Madrid conceded twice in five minutes during the final 12 minutes in a stunning finish against City, however, Zidane's side bounced back with a 2-0 victory over Barca on Sunday.

Vinicius Junior and substitute Mariano Diaz scored in the second half at the Santiago Bernabeu as Madrid leapfrogged defending champions Barca atop the LaLiga table.

Zidane expressed his pride post-match, telling reporters: "The reaction today has been important. The dressing room is not touched. It was a complicated week, but we prepared this game well. That means the players are in and want.

"We played 78 very good minutes and in the end we lost. Today we win playing well from start to finish. We need to stick to what we believe, but we know that it will be hard until the very end. We need to prove ourselves every time we play."

"We deserved the victory because of everything we did both defensively and offensively," Zidane added. "The first half was even and our press up front was not perfect. In the second half we improved our press and we were better up top.

"We really pushed them hard and almost overwhelmed them. These are three important points because it has been a difficult week and today we had the opportunity to change that. It's three points and we regained the lead, but we're going to have to fight to the end.

"We're happy because we've all shown that we've done very well and I'm proud of them because it's not easy to win like this. Our strength today was very important. The first thing is to defend well together and then we know that at any moment we can have opportunities to score goals.

"The second half was ours. We had a lot of chances to score and we netted twice. We kept a clean sheet and [Thibaut] Courtois was instrumental in that. We won the game as a team today."

Vinicius – at the age of 19 years and 233 days – became the youngest Clasico goalscorer this century, surpassing Barca superstar Lionel Messi with his 71st-minute opener before Mariano completed the win in stoppage time.

"Vinicius was good and he scored an important goal in an important game. I'm happy for him. He was good offensively and defensively he did a great job helping Marcelo with [Nelson] Semedo," Zidane said.

"He has conditions, but he is very young and sometimes the criticism is difficult. He has to live with that because he is at Real Madrid."

Vinicius Junior broke Barcelona's resistance and substitute Mariano Diaz added a second as Real Madrid leapfrogged their bitter rivals at the top of LaLiga with a 2-0 win in Sunday's Clasico.

December's reverse fixture finished goalless for the first time in 17 years and that was the way this latest tussle at Santiago Bernabeu was heading until Vinicius struck with a deflected effort.

Thibaut Courtois and Marc-Andre ter Stegen made vital saves with the game at 0-0 and both teams had efforts stopped on the line.

But Vinicius found a way through 19 minutes from time and Mariano added a second late on to end Madrid's seven-match winless league run in this fixture as Zidane's side moved a point clear at the summit.

Vinicius Junior's strike in Real Madrid's LaLiga showdown with rivals Barcelona saw him replace Lionel Messi as the youngest Clasico goalscorer this century.

At the ripe age of 19 years, 233 days, Vinicius' deflected shot in the 71st minute put Madrid ahead at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday.

The diminutive forward eclipsed Barca superstar Messi, who was 26 days older when he scored his maiden Clasico goal in March 2007.

Messi was a peripheral figure as Madrid climbed above reigning champions Barca to the top of the table, with substitute Mariano Diaz completing a 2-0 victory.

Felipe dismissed the suggestion Atletico Madrid's players have any doubts about Diego Simeone after their derby defeat to Real Madrid left them 13 points behind LaLiga's leading side.

Karim Benzema's goal 10 minutes into the second half - his first at the Santiago Bernabeu in a Madrid derby - condemned Atleti to a third defeat in four matches in all competitions.

Simeone's side had their chances before the break, with Vitolo going close and Angel Correa hitting the post, though the visitors hardly threatened after going behind.

But defender Felipe insists the squad are fully united under Simeone, despite a dismal start to 2020 which has seen them fall well off the pace and drop out of the Copa del Rey.

"No, we're all united, all together in this," Felipe told a pitchside reporter.

"We do have things to correct, do have things to improve but we will do it. We'll do it game by game, little by little but count on us, we know that today we suffered but we are united and we worked hard.

"We know we've got things to change, winning is everything to Atleti. We've got to correct our errors as quickly as possible."

Zinedine Zidane made two changes at half-time, bringing on Lucas Vazquez and Vinicius Junior - who played a crucial part in Madrid's winner - and Felipe acknowledged the substitutions caught Atleti off guard.

"Yes, it was an aggressive change," he said. "It pushed us back onto our heels a bit. We knew how to work our way and stay in the game. Now we have to correct our position in the league quickly."

Vinicius, meanwhile, is hoping to grasp any opportunity he is given as he bids to become a regular starter for Madrid.

"Lucas Vazquez and I came on, changed the rhythm of the game first and foremost," Vinicius said.

"Zidane asked us to keep doing what we were doing and to do everything to go out and win. He's everything. He told us what we had to do and we did well.

"We've got such great players here. All I have to do, if I get a chance, is to win games like I did today."

Real Madrid coasted into the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey with a classy 4-0 victory at Real Zaragoza on Wednesday.

Raphael Varane and Lucas Vazquez were on target in the first half of the last-16 clash at La Romareda as Madrid barely had to move out of second gear.

Vinicius Junior and substitute Karim Benzema then completed the job in a second period that was even more sedate than the opening 45 minutes.

Tougher tests are on the horizon for LaLiga's leaders, starting with El Derbi against Atletico Madrid on Saturday, but it was a job well done for Zinedine Zidane's side.

Madrid caught Zaragoza napping after six minutes when Toni Kroos' low ball across the box went through Vinicius' legs and was smashed in by Varane.

The visitors were playing as though the game were a mere training exercise, although Alphonse Areola had to be sharp to tip Shinji Kagawa's deflected shot over.

Miguel Linares' questionable decision to dribble out of his own area was punished as Kroos pick-pocketed the forward and laid on for Vazquez to brilliantly smash home Madrid's second.

Kagawa scooped an effort over in a rare moment of note in the second half before Madrid put the game beyond doubt.

Vinicius played a neat one-two with James Rodriguez and clipped his effort past Alvaro Raton into the bottom-right corner.

Areola kept out Luis Suarez's one-on-one effort, but Madrid had a fourth 11 minutes from time when Benzema tapped in from Dani Carvajal's teasing low centre at the end of a well-worked move.

 

What does it mean? Madrid tune up nicely for the derby

Zaragoza are riding high in the second tier but were no match for Madrid, who are now unbeaten in 20 matches across all competitions. Zidane will be happy his side did not have to shift through the gears ahead of Saturday's derby with Atletico at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Madrid in Kroos control

Kroos was typically influential in the heart of Madrid's midfield and finished with two assists. The Germany international dictated the tempo from the centre of the park.

Lax Linares punished

Zaragoza were mainly chasing shadows but had a couple of moments, particularly through Kagawa, to threaten Madrid. Linares' ill-judged attempt to jink out of defence proved costly, though, as Madrid quickly made it 2-0 to leave the hosts with a mountain to climb and he was hauled off just before the hour.

What's next?

Madrid face the tricky task of a derby with Atletico in LaLiga on Saturday, while Zaragoza visit Cadiz a day later.

Real Madrid lifted the lid on the worst-kept secret in world football on Monday when they confirmed the signing of Flamengo talent Reinier Jesus for a reported €30million.

In completing the long-reported deal, Los Blancos bolstered an already impressive collection of young players on their books, with the club's future planning seemingly second to none in world football.

In Eder Militao, Federico Valverde, Luka Jovic, Brahim Diaz, Rodrygo Goes, Vinicius Junior, Takefusa Kubo, Achraf Hakimi, Sergio Reguilon, Martin Odegaard and now Reinier, Madrid boast a remarkable amount of under-23 talent.

Reinier completed his switch the day after his 18th birthday and, while his price tag appears hefty, it actually led to friction within Flamengo – coach Jorge Jesus accusing the club of not being able to value their players, a comment vice-president Marcos Braz subsequently shut down.

Although a regular in transfer gossip columns of late, Reinier remains something of an unknown quantity and a complete rookie given he has played just 15 matches of senior football.

We asked Andy Walker, a Brazilian football analyst and expert for Football Radar, for the lowdown on the latest Brazilian 'wonderkid' to secure a move to the Santiago Bernabeu.

 

What's Reinier's favoured role?

"Reinier is at his best in a No.10 role, but he does like to play slightly more advanced than a traditional '10', staying close to the striker as much as possible," Andy surmised.

It is an area in which Madrid are by no means short, but Reinier also boasts the flexibility to fill in right across the frontline. "He has actually been used as a striker at times by Flamengo as a result," Andy added.

 

What are his greatest attributes?

A Brazilian attacker coveted by Real Madrid – you might be able to guess at a few of his strongest traits, though Andy has also been impressed by Reinier's poise when it matters.

"A quick, direct dribbler who can glide past his man with ease, as well as possessing deceptively good close control and technique," Andy said. "He's also got a real eye for goal, with six goals in 729 minutes of senior football, with his composure really impressive given his very young age."

 

In which areas does he need to improve?

While he is certainly costly, it should not be forgotten Reinier has only just turned 18 and is by no means the finished article. Our expert has reservations over the Flamengo product's physicality and athleticism at the moment.

He said: "He needs to progress physically as we have seen him struggle to keep up the pace in the latter stages when playing a full 90 minutes, but that should all come as he learns the game and adapts to a more rigorous training regime in Europe. As with any young Brazilian, he will need a lot of growth on the tactical side of the game, but his six months under Jorge Jesus will prove a real benefit, rather than playing under some of the archaic Brazilian coaches."

 

Which player could he be comparable to?

Every talented young player from Brazil or Argentina gets labelled as the heir apparent to a previous superstar, and it seems Reinier is no different having drawn comparisons to a former Madrid player.

"The easy comparison to make is with Kaka – or specifically the Milan-era Kaka," Andy suggested, and he is not the only one to make that link. Guilherme Dalla Dea, Reinier's former Brazil Under-17 coach, said similar last year.

"I see him as a '10' – a Rai, a Kaka," he told FIFA. "I see these characteristics in Reiner. He likes getting in the box, scoring goals. He also scores goals from outside the box. I've so much belief in him. He's a kid, a youngster, but he's very level-headed and because of this he's our captain. I firmly believe we'll see him playing at a very high level overseas."

 

How does his potential stack up compared to Rodrygo and Vinicius?

There is no doubt Madrid are backing their own track record of turning raw young talents into the world's best, such has been their investment in under-23 players over the past few years. And the consensus is, Reinier's potential is vast.

"It's difficult to say given Rodrygo and Vinicius were given more time to show their talents in Brazil before moving, but Reinier's talent has been obvious since his very first game and I think the general feeling is that, if all goes well, then he could end up being the best of the lot," Andy observed.

 

Have there been any concerns relating to his mentality?

Talent can only take you so far. As a teenager moving to a new continent, Reinier will surely face mental challenges and those will likely determine whether or not he achieves success – but in terms of professionalism, he is seemingly well set.

"Reinier's team-mates and coaches have all been very positive about his attitude and willingness to learn, so he looks well-placed to make the most of his talents," Andy commented.

Similarly, his coach Jorge Jesus has no worries about that side of the 18-year-old, telling Marca: "I believe a lot in Reinier. I had several talks with him and we talked a lot from the point of view of how he can get better, about his defects, what needs to be corrected. Reinier is a very intelligent kid, he likes to learn and I can say he is a gifted one. I assure you, he is going to mature there. He will arrive in Madrid safe and quiet to do a job, but it is necessary to give him some time."

Mikel Arteta looks to be on his way out of Manchester City, and it may not be long before he is followed by Pep Guardiola.

That is if reports linking Paris Saint-Germain with a move for the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich head coach are to be believed.

Meanwhile, Arteta is not the only big managerial appointment expected imminently in the Premier League, with Carlo Ancelotti close to being confirmed as Everton boss, and reports suggest a big-name could be in line to follow the Italian to Goodison Park.

 

TOP STORY – GUARDIOLA LINED UP BY PSG

According to Le10 Sport, Paris Saint-Germain will look to swap Thomas Tuchel with Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola next season.

Guardiola is currently under contract with City until 2021, though has said he is open to extending his deal. However, these reports claim PSG will aim to bring in the Spaniard, along with former Barca star Xavi, who will act as his number two.

While City are 14 points behind Premier League leaders Liverpool, PSG are top of Ligue 1 and will face Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League last 16.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Sun claims Mauricio Pochettino is holding off on making any commitment to Real Madrid as he waits to see how Guardiola's situation at Manchester City plays out.

- According to The Telegraph, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is open to linking up with former boss Carlo Ancelotti at Everton. Ancelotti is reportedly set to be appointed by the Toffees and Ibrahimovic – who has been linked to Milan and Napoli – could follow him to Merseyside.

Mesut Ozil is close to securing a loan move from Arsenal to Fenerbahce in January, according to Turkish newspaper Fotomac.

- Madrid winger Vinicius Jr. has been linked with a move to the Premier League. El Desmarque reports Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham and Wolves are all interested in the Brazilian.

- Another potential outgoing from Arsenal could be Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, with The Mirror saying one of Arteta's first tasks will be to convince the Gunners' captain to stay put.

- Sky Sports reports Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs are all monitoring Lille forward Victor Osimhen, who has scored nine Ligue 1 goals this term.

- Inter great Dejan Stankovic is poised to become head coach of Serbian champions Red Star Belgrade. After Vladan Milojevic stepped down on Thursday, reports in Serbia claim the former Red Star midfielder will be unveiled on Friday. This is set to be Stankovic's first senior job.

Tottenham are considering a January move for Leicester City full-back Ricardo Pereira, says Het Nieuwsblad.

When Barcelona hosted Real Madrid on November 29, 2009, the final Clasico of the first decade of the 21st century, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo had won just a single Ballon d'Or between them.

The following month saw Messi land his first, yet even when considering the standards both were setting even then, few would have predicted the remarkable nature of their dominance over the following decade.

Ten years on, only one person – Luka Modric – has been able to interrupt their duopoly of the coveted individual award, with Messi edging out Virgil van Dijk earlier this month to win it for a record sixth time.

Ahead of the final Clasico of this decade on Wednesday, Barcelona's Messi is now the undisputed king of the fixture, with no one else's status even remotely comparable since Ronaldo's departure from Madrid to Juventus last year.

There is a staleness to the two squads in terms of many so-called star names, Messi and Karim Benzema aside. Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Toni Kroos, Modric, Gareth Bale, Sergio Ramos, Ivan Rakitic, Luis Suarez, Jordi Alba – all have been wonderful players and, in most cases, are still among the main attractions, but arguably every single one is past his prime.

But as we prepare to head into a new year and new decade, both sides have impressive youngsters waiting to be leading lights of the next generation, and some could even enjoy a decisive impact on Wednesday.

Barcelona

Ansu Fati - Winger, 17

The next jewel out of La Masia? Well, his lightning start to life in the Barca first team suggests so. Despite being just 16 years old at the time and without even representing their 'B' team, Fati was promoted to the senior side at the start of the season, becoming the club's second-youngest player as he featured against Real Betis. He then made himself the most junior goalscorer in their history. Nimble-footed, a good finisher and blessed with excellent vision, the teenager's potential appears limitless such is the ease with which he has adjusted to top-flight football.

Jean-Clair Todibo - Centre-back, 19

France Under-20 international Todibo has had a curious start to his Barca career, in that he has not made much of an impact. He joined from Toulouse – for whom he played 10 Ligue 1 games in 2018-19 – at the start of 2019, but then only featured twice in LaLiga before the campaign ended. Similarly, he has been sparingly used this term, but away to Inter in the Champions League he highlighted his potential. Making his Champions League debut, the defender was the best player on the pitch, coping comfortably defensively and showcasing considerable ability on the ball. The archetypal Barcelona centre-back, they already seem to have Pique's heir. That is if Barca resist the urge to cash in early, as reports suggest they are contemplating.

Frenkie de Jong - Central midfielder, 22

Probably the player on this list who least requires an introduction. De Jong rose to prominence last term with Ajax, playing a starring role as they went as far as the Champions League semi-final. While he has not quite hit those heights at Barca yet, there's no doubt about his ability. Once some of the older midfielders move on, De Jong will surely have the team built around him.

Pedri - Attacking midfielder, 17

He may be a year or two from making his first Clasico appearance, but Pedri looks destined for an illustrious career. Barca secured the attacking midfielder's signature in September when he was still 16, paying Las Palmas – where he has been important since returning on loan – an initial €5million. Media reports claim the Segunda club could eventually receive €25million for Pedri, whose release clause will balloon up to €400million when he becomes a first-team player at Camp Nou. A dazzling dribbler and a fine playmaker, Pedri is already seen as one of Spain's next great hopes and will surely light up El Clasico in the 2020s.

 

Real Madrid

Rodrygo Goes - Winger, 18

Even though Rodrygo cost Madrid a reported €45million from Neymar's former club Santos, it never felt as though there was quite the same hype around him from Madrid fans as there was Vinicius Junior. But the 18-year-old already seems to have moved ahead of Flamengo product Vinicius in the pecking order, with Rodrygo becoming something of a regular over the past couple of months. He is the Champions League's second-youngest hat-trick scorer following his treble against Galatasaray and is settling in at Madrid in encouraging fashion.

Vinicius Junior - Winger, 19

A positive debut campaign in Madrid gave Vinicius a real platform to build on this term, particularly given a lack of quality wide options aside from Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale – who is rarely in favour. The Brazil international is yet to nail down a starting role, with his performances a little inconsistent, though he remains an explosive option and has been used fairly regularly by Zinedine Zidane lately. If he progresses as expected, there is no reason why he and Rodrygo can't be pillars at Madrid over the next 10 years.

Federico Valverde - Central midfielder, 21

Valverde is by no means the typical Madrid player. He's not particularly flamboyant, meaning he lacks the aura of glamour of Vinicius and Rodrygo, yet he is enjoying an excellent breakthrough season. The Uruguayan midfielder has already made 12 LaLiga appearances this term – just four shy of his total for 2018-19 – and has truly earned Zidane's trust. Mixing an effective blend of combativeness, off-the-ball intelligence and fine ball control, Valverde could be Madrid's midfield lynchpin for years to come.

Martin Odegaard - Attacking midfielder, 21

The clamour to sign a 16-year-old Odegaard in 2015 at the time felt like the transfer saga to end all others. Madrid got their man, despite reported interest from Manchester United, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Barcelona and just about every other major European club. For a few years it seemed his potential may have been misread, but a solid loan spell at Vitesse last term saw him flourish and he has truly blossomed at Real Sociedad this season as a standout player in LaLiga. He'll almost certainly be back in 2020-21, and on the evidence of his current form, few would bet against him instantly starring.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does it mean? Madrid building towards El Clasico

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

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


Vinicius excites in Madrid sunshine

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

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


Marching orders for Mendy

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

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


What's next?

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

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

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