Carlo Ancelotti revealed David Alaba will "100 per cent" feature for Real Madrid in the Champions League final next weekend. 

Alaba has been dealing with a hamstring injury sustained in the semi-final first leg against Manchester City last month and did not feature in Madrid's last LaLiga game of the season against Real Betis on Friday. 

Los Blancos came through the match unscathed with a 0-0 draw at the Santiago Bernabeu and Ancelotti confirmed afterwards that the Austria defender will play against Liverpool at the Stade de France on Saturday week. 

"Alaba is going to play the final but it wasn't necessary to take risks," Ancelotti told Movistar+. 

"He's going to play, 100 per cent. He hasn't played since April 26, it's true, but not only physical condition is taken into account for the match. Skill and experience are too." 

The Italian coach expects to have Gareth Bale available for one more time before his contract expires at the end of the season. 

Bale missed out on a place in the squad to face Betis having only recently stepped up his recovery from a back issue. 

"He wanted to say goodbye and play if he was able. Bale has one last chance because he will be fine for the final," Ancelotti added. 

Marcelo was sent on as a second-half substitute for what is anticipated to be his final outing at the Bernabeu, but Ancelotti hinted that the Brazilian could yet extend his stay. 

"He hasn't said goodbye yet, he's still our captain and will be in Paris. If he does say goodbye in the end, of the best full-backs in the world will leave. I think he's talking to the club, I don't know," said the Madrid boss. 

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti suggested Italy are falling behind in international football due to an inability to find a new generation of footballers and a failing Serie A system.

Italy lifted the Euro 2020 title last July with a penalty shoot-out victory over England in the final, the Azzurri's first European Championship since 1968, but followed that up with failure to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar.

A play-off defeat to North Macedonia in March condemned Italy to a second successive absence from the global competition, having also missed out on qualification for Russia 2018.

Roberto Mancini and the Italian football system were met with widespread criticism for their reluctance to utilise younger players, instead relying on the experience of the likes of Giorgio Chiellini and Ciro Immobile.

There were also suggestions the problems were more deep-rooted in the Italian game, with a lack of opportunities granted for homegrown talents in Serie A that failed to establish a clear path to the national team.

Ancelotti, who featured for Italy as a player and has managed five Italian clubs, echoed those sentiments as he reflected on the improvements needed in his home country.

"I believe that Italian football must seek an improvement in the spectacle it offers," Ancelotti said at a forum to discuss Italian football, as quoted by Tuttomercatoweb. "It is not attractive for several reasons.

"There is the technical aspect, in the sense that there is a lack of figures to look up to in a generation of footballers that has had difficulty producing great champions after the 2006 World Cup, where there were the likes of [Francesco] Totti, [Alessandro] Del Piero, [Andrea] Pirlo, [Gennaro] Gattuso.

"Italy struggled to find a generation of new talents. It is true that the unexpected success at the European Championships arrived, but the individual quality of Italian players at the moment is not that of 15 years ago."

As for how Italy can improve, Ancelotti pointed towards the development opportunities in Serie A as a vital factor.

"In my opinion, right now young people are struggling to find chances in Serie A," he added. "Especially with the new rules, which benefit foreign players and do not allow Italians the time they need.

"In 2019 there was a youth final between Italy and Portugal: the Portuguese players included the likes of [Rafael] Leao, now they play in the top Portuguese or English leagues.

"If you look at the squad, the Italian players are much less active."

Italy will look to get back on track when they face South American champions Argentina in a match billed 'Finalissima' at Wembley on June 1.

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti insisted the ongoing Kylian Mbappe transfer saga is not on his mind as he focuses on the Champions League final against Liverpool.

Mbappe's contract with Paris Saint-Germain is due to expire at the end of the season as reports persist that the World Cup winner will move to the Spanish capital.

The France international has stated he will announce his decision before joining up with Les Bleus for international duty in June, with PSG still hopeful of keeping their talisman at the Parc des Princes.

Mbappe's 57 goal contributions in all competitions this season can only be bettered by Madrid forward and international team-mate Karim Benzema (59) among players in the top five European leagues.

Ancelotti could have the pair to call upon in his attack alongside Vinicius Junior next term, but the Italian insists he is concentrating on the European showpiece with Liverpool on May 28 in Paris.

"I spend my time in Valdebebas [Madrid's training ground], in the car at home or in a restaurant," Ancelotti said ahead of Friday's LaLiga game against Real Betis.

"Nobody asks me about Mbappe because everyone is thinking about the Champions League final.

"I don't consider the Mbappe issue; the only thing I have in mind is the Champions League final, and that leaves me very calm."

Ancelotti will continue to rotate his side against Betis on Friday with the LaLiga title already secured as Madrid eye their 14th European crown.

Meanwhile, Liverpool remain in the hunt for an unprecedented quadruple, having lifted the FA Cup last Saturday against Chelsea and then beaten Southampton on Tuesday to sit one point behind Premier League leaders Manchester City with a game to go.

However, Ancelotti does not believe the contrasting schedules will make a difference when the two teams meet at the Stade de France in UEFA's premier club competition.

"Liverpool in this period have had more difficulties than us, because they have important games," he added.

"They have won the FA Cup. We have had the opportunity to think more about this game, but it will not affect the team. We will think about the game from Monday."

Ancelotti also called on Madrid to enjoy the occasion of the final.

"We must not forget the happiness of playing this game," he continued. "It is normal to have anxiety and worry about facing a strong team. I am happy to have time to prepare it.

"We are where many want to be – it is the most important game of the world football. Now we are enjoying it. After the match, there may be more happiness or a bit of sadness."

Carlo Ancelotti confirmed Gareth Bale will leave Real Madrid when his contract expires in June as he hailed the forward who remains "a part of the history" at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Madrid wrapped up the LaLiga title with four games to spare and host Real Betis on the final matchday of the league season, with a Champions League final against Liverpool to follow on May 28 in Paris.

Bale's role in their success to this point has been extremely limited, making just seven appearances in all competitions this season, totalling only 290 minutes of action.

The Wales international, who will hope to qualify for the World Cup when his country face either Ukraine or Scotland in their play-off final on June 5, was expected to leave Madrid when his contract runs out at the end of the season, and Ancelotti confirmed that was the case on Thursday.

Bale has won four Champions League titles during his nine-year spell in the Spanish capital, scoring three final goals.

But his exit will mark the end of a turbulent stay in Madrid, with his Los Blancos commitment regularly coming under scrutiny from Madridistas and the Spanish press.

Ancelotti could not promise Bale a final farewell appearance at the Bernabeu on Friday as injury problems persist, but the Italian insisted the 32-year-old's name will be etched into Madrid's history books.

"Bale isn't 100 per cent fit, and he won't be in the squad. Tomorrow I'll choose if he's on the bench or in the stands," Ancelotti told a pre-match news conference.

Asked about his future, Ancelotti added: "The contract ends, and he will leave. It is not so important if he plays tomorrow. Bale is part of the history of this club. He will remain in the memory of all Madrid fans.

"He was important in the Decima [the club's 10th Champions League win], in Kyiv, in the Copa del Rey. He has written important pages in this club's history, and we have to take that into account."

While Bale will not feature against Betis, who are winless in their past 10 LaLiga visits to teams from the Madrid region, Ancelotti will continue to rotate his side to build fitness for the Champions League final.

"I think about giving minutes to the players who need it the most," Ancelotti continued. "Tomorrow Marcelo, [Luka] Modric... [David] Alaba will train with the group starting on Monday."

Karim Benzema has scored 27 goals in LaLiga this season and is set to become the first French player to finish a campaign as the top scorer in the competition's history, but he is expected to be rested again.

Despite fielding another heavily rotated side, Ancelotti expects an exciting game against Copa del Rey winners Betis.

"We are the two teams that have won the competitions," he added. "It will be an entertaining game because Betis plays quality football."

Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti emphasised how difficult it is to pick his starting XI after a tricky 1-1 draw against Cadiz on Sunday.

Mariano Diaz put Madrid ahead just five minutes into the contest from point-blank range, but the league champions struggled the rest of the way.

Cadiz's Sobrino equalised in the 37th minute and, according to expected goal data, the home side also had the four best chances of the second half.

For the game, Cadiz had 2.90 expected goals, compared to just 1.64 for Madrid.

With the LaLiga title secured, Carlo Ancelotti looked towards his side's Champions League final in his post-game comments to the media, commending the efforts of experienced defender Nacho and highlighting the difficulty of picking a line-up.

"A player like Nacho always makes you think twice when picking the line-up," he said.

"He's not the only one, as you have doubts over the line-up for every match here at Real Madrid. There is a full squad and not just 11 players."

When asked specifically about if in-form duo Federico Valverde and Rodrygo will start in the Paris showdown against Liverpool, Ancelotti played his cards close to his chest.

"Maybe they'll start or maybe they won't, but they will definitely play," he said.

"[Valverde] needs to make the most of his long shot, which he has been doing more in recent matches. I think it's good for him and us for him to try shooting more."

Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti has agreed with Mohamed Salah that the Liverpool star is the best player in the world in his position.

Ancelotti's Madrid face Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool in the Champions League final on May 28 in Paris, with two contenders for the Ballon d'Or lining up against each other in Salah and Karim Benzema.

Salah has been in fine domestic scoring form once again this season, on course for the Premier League's Golden Boot award with 22 strikes, while he has been directly involved in 35 goals in 34 league games.

The Egypt international, speaking after winning the Football Writers' Association Player of the Year in England, declared himself as the best forward in the world at present.

"If you compare me with any player in my position, not only in my team but in the world, you will find that I am the best," he told BeIN SPORTS.

"I always focus on my work and do my best, and my numbers are the best proof of my words."

Indeed, only five players – Ciro Immobile (156), Kylian Mbappe (167), Cristiano Ronaldo (169), Lionel Messi (174) and Robert Lewandowski (232) – have scored more than Salah (154) since his Liverpool debut in August 2017 across Europe's top five leagues in all competitions.

Meanwhile, Lewandowski (49), Benzema (44), Mbappe (35), Christopher Nkunku (34) and Immobile (32) are the only players from the same group to outscore Salah (30) this season.

The debate continues over who should win the next Ballon d'Or with Benzema, who could deliver World Cup glory for France in Qatar to aid his cause, and Salah among the front-runners for the personal accolade.

Ancelotti, addressing a pre-match news conference ahead of a LaLiga clash at Cadiz on Sunday, admitted that no player comes close to Salah in his position at the minute.

"Salah has said that in his position he is the best in the world and I think he is right," Ancelotti told reporters.

"I agree with him. In his position, yes, he is the best in the world."

Eden Hazard has no other plans than to stay at Real Madrid, Los Blancos manager Carlo Ancelotti has said.

Belgium international Hazard has struggled at Santiago Bernabeu since completing his reported €100million move from Chelsea in June 2019, with injuries and fitness issues hampering the forward.

Hazard has managed just seven starts for his 17 LaLiga appearances and 688 minutes this campaign as Madrid cruised to their 35th league title.

However, the 31-year-old appears to be a favourite with his team-mates in the Spanish capital after being seen to be encouraged to join in with celebrations after both LaLiga success and the Champions League semi-final victory over Manchester City.

Ancelotti, speaking before a trip to Cadiz on Sunday, has made it clear he intends to keep Hazard at Madrid.

"I have not talked about continuity. He stays and with a lot of motivation because he has not had a good time. He wants to show his quality. Hazard's plan is clear: he stays," Ancelotti said.

Asked if Hazard is likely to feature at Cadiz as Ancelotti rotates ahead of the Champions League final with Liverpool on May 28, the Italian responded: "I think so. In a squad like Madrid's there are many games. 

"There will be rotations. With a more complete squad you can rotate more and everyone can have opportunities. Being a starter in a great team is very complicated. For all, not only for those who play less.

"I think it is a locker room of a very high level. Professional, first, there are no arrogant people. Everyone is very humble and very respectful. It is a locker room that has a lot of quality of character. 

"It hasn't been easy to find changing rooms like this in my career.

"The number of minutes is not important. We have the example of Rodrygo. He has not played many minutes, but they have been quality when he features."

Ancelotti also confirmed he plans to rest Karim Benzema again, with Vinicius Junior and Thibaut Courtois also in line for a break.

"I have given him rest because he deserves it," he said of Benzema. "I have given him two days. Tomorrow I will also rest Vinicius and Courtois. They will be back on Tuesday. 

"[Dani] Carvajal, [Dani] Ceballos, Hazard are back... We're doing the plan well and next week they'll all be back."

As for the future of captain Marcelo, Ancelotti promised to open talks at the end of the season, while he heaped praise on the likes of Federico Valverde, Rodrygo and Eduardo Camavinga.

"Everyone has done their job. The ones I knew less about have surprised me: Valverde, Rodrygo, Camavinga. Vinicius has not surprised me because he has that talent," he continued.

"He has been more successful in finishing. I would say Rodrygo, Camavinga and Valverde are the three, though."

Madrid have won both of their last two visits to Cadiz in LaLiga (2-1 in August 2005 and 3-0 in April 2021), and could record three such straight away wins for the second time in the competition (three between 1987 and 1990).

Carlo Ancelotti has challenged his Real Madrid side to maintain their intensity ahead of the Champions League final with Liverpool on May 28.

Los Blancos, who were crowned LaLiga champions a fortnight ago, condemned Levante to relegation on Thursday following a 6-0 thumping at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Vinicius Junior scored his first hat-trick for the club in his 168th appearance, with Ferland Mendy, Karim Benzema and Rodrygo also finding the back of the net.

Benzema's header saw him move level with Raul as Madrid's second-highest all-time top goalscorer on 323 goals.

The emphatic win followed Sunday's El Derbi defeat to Atletico Madrid, and Ancelotti said he expects his players to give 100 per cent in their remaining two league games before the showdown with Jurgen Klopp's side.

"We are playing well and our self-esteem has grown a lot," he told a media conference.

"We have this challenge of playing in the final after winning the league. We know that there is a lack of time and that we have to have intensity.

"The team are showing very good signs. We work very well in the field. We have done well, with rhythm and intensity. It's what we wanted, high intensity for team dynamics."

Asked what his side's formation will be for the game against Liverpool, Ancelotti revealed he will not deviate from his trusted 4-3-3.

"It will be the 4-3-3," he said. "That sometimes can be a 4-4-2. I think there is no defined system. Sometimes to put pressure on the pivot, as we did against Manchester City, you go from 4-3-3 to 4-4-1-1. 

"The idea does not change much, just a little the way of defending the rival, of putting pressure on him."

Ancelotti has received plaudits from across Europe in recent weeks after masterminding Madrid's dramatic run to the Champions League final, yet the Italian would not be drawn on whether he is the best on the continent.

"It is difficult to answer that," he said. "I don't like to give myself votes, others give them to me. 

"I like to live a happy moment. I hope I can continue like this for a long time. We have a very big goal, we are going to give everything."

Madrid face Cadiz and Real Betis before doing battle with the Reds in Paris at the end of the month.

Erling Haaland is a "great player" who is joining a "great club" in Manchester City, but Carlo Ancelotti suggested he is not overly upset at missing out on the much-coveted striker.

City confirmed on Tuesday they have reached an agreement to sign Haaland, who had been linked with an array of clubs across Europe – Ancelotti's Real Madrid among them.

Haaland's 85 goals in 88 games since joining Dortmund in January 2020 is bettered only by Robert Lewandowski (122) and Kylian Mbappe (89) across Europe's top five leagues.

But Madrid already boast a prolific striker of their own in Karim Benzema, whose 57 direct goal involvements in all competitions is unmatched in the continent's major divisions.

While Ancelotti has made no secret that he is a fan of Haaland, he is happy with his current squad, having already wrapped up his first LaLiga title and reached the Champions League final thanks to their sensational comeback against City last week.

"I don't really like to talk about this," Ancelotti said at a news conference on Wednesday when asked about Haaland's imminent switch to the Premier League leaders.

"He's a great player, City's a great club. But I'm sticking with my squad, which has led me to enjoy another Champions League final."

Madrid set up a showdown with Liverpool in Paris by overcoming City in a remarkable semi-final tie that they trailed 5-3 with a minute of normal time remaining.

Los Blancos followed that up with a 1-0 loss to rivals Atletico Madrid last weekend in a game that saw Ancelotti make seven changes to his starting line-up.

Ancelotti confirmed the likes of Thibaut Courtois, Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior will each return for Thursday's visit of Levante, who have lost just one of their last four trips to face Madrid in LaLiga.

Despite the title being secured with four games to spare, Ancelotti insists his side are not yet focusing on their upcoming clash with Liverpool at the Stade de France on May 28.

"The time we have spent together since the Atletico match has been looking only at tomorrow's game," he said. 

"It's important we give minutes to those who didn't play against Atletico, and then we have another game on Sunday. We are not preparing for the final.

"Tomorrow is a game that we have to play well to win. The objective is the same: keep a good rhythm, play well with the ball and win the match.

"If you lose competitiveness, you will not do well. They must rest, but also play in order to reach 100 per cent. 

"All this time it has been said that Ancelotti did not rotate and now that he does, nobody is happy. You have to give minutes to players."

Even with Haaland no longer on the market, Madrid are expected to strengthen in attack, with Mbappe their main target.

But Ancelotti was once again unwilling to discuss any potential targets, with Chelsea's Antonio Rudiger another rumoured to be on Madrid's radar. In fact, reports on Tuesday suggested the deal had been done to bring the Germany defender to Santiago Bernabeu on a free transfer.

"After the final there will be time to talk about this. For now, we are just aiming to finish the season well," he said.

"Talking about the future transfer window is not correct, I don't want to. I want to talk about tomorrow's match. It is the day to talk about this, not about alleged new signings."

Carlo Ancelotti intends to continue rotating his Real Madrid side across their remaining LaLiga matches with all focus on the Champions League final against Liverpool.

Madrid were beaten 1-0 by fierce rivals Atletico Madrid in Sunday's El Derbi after making seven changes from their dramatic midweek European win against Manchester City.

While the likes of Luka Modric and Vinicius Junior were brought on at the second half, Karim Benzema and Thibaut Courtois remained on the bench at Wanda Metropolitano.

Los Blancos have already sealed the title and can afford to chop and change with three more LaLiga outings to come before their May 28 showdown with Liverpool. 

Ancelotti's side host Levante on Thursday and round off their domestic campaign with games against Cadiz and Real Betis.

Asked if he will continue to make changes to his side, the Italian coach told Movistar: "Yeah. Those who played less today will now play on Thursday.

"But the team that plays against Betis will more or less be the team that will play the [Champions League] final. The aim is to reach the final with everyone available.

"We still expect to compete, play with a high intensity and good rhythm. In the second half today the rhythm was good."

 

Madrid's defeat was their first against neighbours Atletico in 12 matches in all competitions in a run stretching back to 2018.

The visitors fired in 15 shots against Atleti, six of which were on target – only against Cadiz have they tested the keeper more times in LaLiga this term without scoring (nine).

Yannick Carrasco's penalty shortly before half-time proved the difference for Atleti, who ended the game with an expected goals (xG) value of 2.33 compared to 1.26 for Madrid.

"It was a good, competitive match," Ancelotti added. "We played much better in the second half and couldn't have asked for more in a match that comes after an exciting week.

"I didn't really expect any more from my side."

Atletico's penalty was awarded two minutes after Jesus Vallejo felled Matheus Cunha in the box, with VAR instructing referee Cesar Soto Grado to check the pitchside monitor.

That was the first spot-kick Los Rojiblancos have scored against Madrid in LaLiga since Diego Forlan converted from 12 yards in March 2010.

Ancelotti was surprisingly not asked about the contentious incident and joked "aren't we talking about the penalty" as he exited his post-match news conference.

Carlo Ancelotti insisted there are no problems with Gareth Bale within the Real Madrid dressing room after the Wales international missed Los Blancos' LaLiga title celebrations.

Madrid lifted their 35th league title last Saturday after a 4-0 hammering of Espanyol at the Santiago Bernabeu, where Los Blancos celebrated on the pitch with the trophy in front of supporters after the game.

Ancelotti's side then embarked on a bus parade around the Spanish capital the following day, but Bale was not present on both occasions as he cited "back spasms" for his absence.

Eden Hazard, much like Bale, has not featured often for Madrid this season but could be seen joyously involved with the midweek celebrations after a dramatic Champions League win over Manchester City.

That continued the speculation as to the popularity of Bale, who has just played five times in LaLiga this season, but Ancelotti believes his side hold a "mutual respect" for the former Tottenham man.

"There is no distance with the dressing room, they have mutual affection, he was absent because he could not move. It happened to me," the Italian told reporters at a news conference on Saturday.

Dani Ceballos is another Los Blancos name linked with the exit door in the next transfer window, but has been offered more chances in recent weeks, featuring in eight of the last nine games.

Ancelotti revealed his desire to keep the midfielder at the club ahead of the clash with Atletico Madrid in LaLiga on Sunday.

"I've had a chat with Ceballos, he knows what I think of him, what the club think of him and he has to make what he thinks is the best decision," he added.

"He knows what I think, what his team-mates think, then he has to sit down and decide what he wants to do."

Meanwhile, Ancelotti reserved special praise for right-back Dani Carvajal, who impressed against Pep Guardiola's City in the remarkable Champions League turnaround.

"He has struggled with injuries but he's got a good, strong personality," he continued. "I know he's been frustrated at times and has not been able to deliver to 100 per cent.

"He was outstanding against Manchester City. Nobody has ever thrown in the towel, given up. To wear the Real Madrid shirt means a lot to these players, Carvajal now is in excellent shape, he's helping a lot.

"Also, when the team need him most he's there."

Carlo Ancelotti hopes to continue living a "long honeymoon" at Real Madrid, and said he respects Atletico Madrid despite the fact the club will not give his side receive a guard of honour in Sunday's derby.

Los Blancos celebrated a 35th LaLiga title by hammering Espanyol 4-0 last week before reaching the Champions League final in the most dramatic of circumstances.

Madrid were trailing 1-0 on the night and 5-3 on aggregate before substitute Rodrygo scored twice in injury time, dramatic scenes that preceded Karim Benzema scoring the winning penalty in extra time to set up a showpiece with Liverpool in Paris.

Following the win over Espanyol, Ancelotti was pictured smoking a cigar when celebrating with his squad – a photo that went viral on social media.

Asked if he was enjoying a renewed youth in his second spell at Madrid, Ancelotti told a news conference: "You can say that [I am enjoying it more than ever].

"But I really enjoyed my time at Napoli for example, I didn't win titles I enjoyed my time at all the clubs I've managed.

"At Everton I didn't win a title but loved beating Liverpool. Everton are now struggling, we finished quite high up in the table with Everton. 

"Real Madrid is different. You could say, yeah, it's a honeymoon period. I'm still on the honeymoon, a long honeymoon, from December through to May – hopefully the end of May."

Madrid's first league encounter since regaining the title is against the side they deposed at champions in the form at Atleti, who released a statement on Monday saying they will not provide a guard of honour – an act that is commonplace in Spanish football.

Ancelotti has no qualms about the decision, though.

"I'm not used to this because we don't see it in Italy. If they do it then great, if they don't then I still respect the club," he added.

"I have the utmost respect for Atletico Madrid."

Amid the furore of Real Madrid's quite astonishing great escape in the Champions League – well, their latest – it's easy to forget they only won the Spanish title last weekend.

Of course, it had been long foreseen, but Madrid's 35th LaLiga crown was secured with their 4-0 win over Espanyol at the Santiago Bernabeu, leading to a party that had Marcelo climbing statues, Carlo Ancelotti smoking a cigar and David Alaba getting his chair out again.

With a record-extending 17th Champions League final appearance wrapped up, Madrid can turn their attention back to LaLiga knowing they still have a reason to keep themselves sharp, and they could yet equal their best points tally (93) since reaching 100 in 2011-12.

Fittingly, their first league match as champions comes against the team they ousted, with bitter rivals Atletico Madrid playing host to Los Blancos at the Wanda Metropolitano on Sunday.

While that match has taken a back seat over the past few days, in Spain there has been a debate centred on the derby rumbling in the background for some time now.

As champions, Madrid might feel entitled to a pasillo, or 'guard of honour' – but they won't get one.

'A public toll'

While the guard of honour is a tradition with deep roots in sport, there's little doubt that it's a polarising gesture.

A mark of respect, perhaps, but more and more it is seen as a tool of humiliation, particularly when expected in such contests between major rivals.

The decision was down to Atletico's decision makers rather than the players, though captain Jan Oblak made his feelings perfectly clear after their defeat to Athletic Bilbao last weekend.

He said: "As captain, I'm one of those who doesn't like to give or receive the guard of honour, but the club will decide and we'll do whatever is necessary."

Atletico subsequently released a statement on Monday confirming they'll not participate, with their strong response claiming the recent debate was stirred purely to stoke anger between fanbases.

They said: "Some want to turn what was born as a gesture of recognition for the champion into a public toll that their rivals must pay, also impregnated with the aroma of humiliation. Under no concept are Atletico Madrid going to collaborate in this attempt at derision in which the true values ​​of sport are completely forgotten and tension and confrontation between the fans is encouraged."

Additionally, Atletico suggested there was no such debate around Celta Vigo's decision not to give them a guard of honour at the start of this season, with the controversy around the upcoming derby "exaggerated and artificial".

Some might feel Atletico's disdain for the tradition is disrespectful, but there is refreshing sentiment behind their stance as well: not every mark of respect needs to be accompanied by a performative gesture.

In this age of obsessing over social media engagement, there seems a need to turn normal behaviour into a song and dance, the classic example being the tidy changing room photo. "That's class" or "respect [clapping emoji]" litter the replies on Twitter – it's not, it's just common courtesy.

If Atletico players, officials, coaches or fans wish to congratulate Madrid, it doesn't require a forced gesture.

Madrid's refusal

This is by no means the first time Madrid have been involved in guard of honour controversy. Four years ago, the debate around the pasillo was arguably at its zenith.

Barcelona had won the title prior to facing Madrid in El Clasico, meaning there were those in the Blaugrana ranks expecting a show of respect at Camp Nou.

But Madrid refused. Zinedine Zidane, coach at the time, pointed the finger. He suggested they might have reciprocated had Barca given them a guard of honour a few months earlier when Los Blancos won the Club World Cup.

Barca's justification then was that they didn't play in the Club World Cup so didn't need to acknowledge Madrid's success – not that Zidane was buying the excuse.

"It's a lie," he said. "You have to win the Champions League to play in the Club World Cup. I am not the one to decide that we don't want to do the pasillo. They didn't do it, we respect that; we'll not do it because they didn't do it."

Gerard Pique, true to form, found a novel way to get around the issue while simultaneously highlighting Madrid's refusal – he arranged for Barca's coaching staff to give the players a pasillo instead at full-time.

Had Sergio Ramos still been at Madrid, one might have been expecting a similar arrangement for Sunday.

'Party of the champions'

The only other time this century that the pasillo has been such a contentious subject was in 2008, when Madrid did receive one in El Clasico.

The 2007-08 season was a dire one for Barca. Not only did Madrid win the title comfortably with 18 points more than their great rivals, but Frank Rijkaard's men also finished 10 points adrift of second-placed Villarreal.

 

Although Barca crushed Valencia 6-0 leading up to the Clasico clash on May 7, 2008, they were unable to prevent Madrid claiming the title, setting things up perfectly for the ultimate humiliation.

"The party of the champions", read the front page of Madrid-based daily newspaper AS on the morning of the game. Notoriously pro-Madrid Marca went with "Barca is here", accompanying a picture showing where the visitors were due to form their guard of honour. And Catalan publication Sport highlighted the other side of things, saying, "the pasillo that suffers alone", and adding, "Barca fans do not deserve to have to see the pasillo".

Despite the shameless nose-rubbing of the Madrid press and the intense humiliation that was about to befall them, Barca gritted their teeth. "Although it hurts, we will do it," Rijkaard said.

Club captain Carles Puyol sang from a similar hymn sheet: "As an athlete you have to recognise the champion, and we will do that. They have won it on the pitch. Real Madrid have been fair champions."

The emotions of the two coaches that night could not have been more different. Rijkaard slowly ambled out and took his position, hands together behind his back, before the Barca players jogged out and formed two columns either side of the halfway line, the cameras of the Bernabeu crowd incessantly flashing with glee.

Meanwhile, Bernd Schuster watched on as his Madrid side triumphantly walked through that red-and-blue-walled corridor, twenty years after he was a part of the last guard of honour Barca performed in El Clasico, wearing a Blaugrana jersey.

Some, such as Pepe, Fernando Gago and Wesley Sneijder walked straight down the middle, seemingly preserving the thoughts of a true rivalry by refusing to thank their counterparts for the degrading act of a Clasico pasillo, but looking back, that was the least embarrassing part of the whole night for Barca.

What started with a pasillo ended in a pasting, with Barca flattered by a 4-1 defeat in which Madrid were utterly dominant.

Atletico will at least avoid one form of humiliation, but considering the contrasting fortunes of the two teams on the pitch this term, it's hardly a given that Diego Simeone's side will prevent a mauling.

Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos revealed Carlo Ancelotti sought advice from senior players when making tactical changes in the incredible Champions League semi-final win over Manchester City.

A late double from substitute Rodrygo – who became the first player in Champions League history to score twice in the 90th minute of a knockout match – saw Los Blancos force extra time in Madrid. Karim Benzema's penalty then secured a 6-5 aggregate triumph and kept alive Madrid's hopes of a 14th crown in the competition.

Madrid boss Ancelotti has now reached a fifth Champions League final, having done so in 2003, 2005 and 2007 with Milan, and in 2014 and 2022 across two spells with the Spanish champions, and his introduction of Rodrygo, who replaced Kroos after 68 minutes, proved vital.

Fellow substitute Eduardo Camavinga also produced an outstanding display from the bench as Madrid qualified for their 17th European Cup/Champions League final.

Kroos, 32, revealed he and other senior players were asked for input on Ancelotti's switches, saying the Italian's ability to communicate with his players makes him an elite coach.

"The coach himself had a few doubts about who he would bring on and who not to bring on," Kroos told DAZN. "We [the players] have all seen a few football games ourselves. That allows you to exchange ideas a bit.

"That describes him really well and why things always work well with the team. It's outstanding. In the end he decides, but of course he's interested in our opinion."

Since 2003-04, which saw the introduction of the Champions League's last-16 knockout stage, Madrid became the only team to lose a game in each of the first three knockout rounds and still make the competition's final (losing 1-0 to Paris Saint-Germain in the last-16, 3-2 to Chelsea in the quarter-finals, and 4-3 to City in the semi-finals).

After Los Blancos set up a repeat of their 2018 Champions League final against Liverpool, in which a Gareth Bale double won the Spanish outfit their 13th European title, Kroos said he was struggling to explain the team's remarkable ability to bounce back from falling behind.

"It's amazing, we were out 26 times during the knockout phase and fought back 26 times," he added.

"It's sometimes difficult to explain, even for me, what happened in the last few minutes. That's the belief, that's the stadium, the combination is magical."

Juventus head coach Massimiliano Allegri added his voice to those congratulating Carlo Ancelotti and Real Madrid on their extraordinary win against Manchester City in the Champions League semi-finals.

Los Blancos were 5-3 down on aggregate heading into the 90th minute at the Santiago Bernabeu before two goals from substitute Rodrygo forced extra time, and a Karim Benzema penalty sent Madrid through to the final, where they will meet Liverpool in Paris.

The victory marked the fifth time Ancelotti has guided a team to the Champions League final, the most of any manager in the competition's history, surpassing the four by Alex Ferguson, Marcello Lippi and his upcoming opponent in the French capital, Jurgen Klopp.

Speaking at a news conference ahead of Juve's game with relegation-threatened Genoa, Allegri was inevitably asked about Wednesday's remarkable game.

"It was a wonderful match," he said. "I have to congratulate Carlo Ancelotti because he did something extraordinary."

Focusing on his own team's goals, Allegri explained that while he is relieved to have secured Champions League football for next season after nearest rivals Roma could only draw 0-0 with Bologna on Sunday, he wants Juve to continue to set high standards, especially as they prepare for next week's Coppa Italia final against Inter.

"From now to the end of the championship we must try to score as many points as possible. We reached the minimum goal of fourth place with three matches to go, and we are happy with that. [Thursday] we will have to play a good match.

"The Coppa Italia is our goal [now]. At the start of the season, all competitions must be a goal. We will play this match on Wednesday and we are happy to be there."

The former Milan boss also insisted he will play the strongest team he can against Genoa as preparation for the clash with Inter, though did confirm that Danilo and Luca Pellegrini will be missing.

"Tomorrow our strongest line-up will be on the pitch. Danilo will rest and will be back with the team on Sunday morning. Pellegrini has an ankle injury and will not be available.

"Juan Cuadrado and Mattia De Sciglio will return."

Allegri was also asked about the impact of Dusan Vlahovic, January's big-money signing from Fiorentina who has seven goals in 17 appearances across all competitions since joining the Bianconeri.

"I am very happy with Vlahovic. I didn't expect him to be able to immerse himself so well in the team and in Juventus. He has done very well so far and I am really satisfied.

"He, like others, can only get better. Tomorrow he will likely play."

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