Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti insisted he has no intention of letting speculation over Kylian Mbappe’s arrival at the club take his focus away from the job at hand.

Real are seen as the most likely destination for the French striker, who has informed Paris St Germain he intends to leave in the summer, but Ancelotti was careful not to fan the flames of those rumours.

With his side leading the way in LaLiga and well fancied to secure the title, the Italian coach is more interested in what happens in their away game at Rayo Vallecano on Sunday than what happens in the transfer market at the end of the campaign.

Pressed on the club’s interest in the 2018 World Cup winner, he said: “I see and hear what has happened. I understand that it’s the subject of the day for you, but for us it’s tomorrow’s game.

“Vallecas is always a tough place to play at. It has been in the past and it’ll be a tough game against a team that needs points.

“Do I seem affected or worried (about Mbappe) today? No. It will be the same at the next press conference.

“We have to finish this season well. We’ve discussed the game, we’ve watched a video and we’ve tried to prepare for the game as well as possible.

“It’s a vital game for our season. I’d like to finish this season well and try to win trophies. There’s plenty of time to think about next season.”

While Ancelotti was not keen to discuss the possible arrival of one global star, he was willing to reflect on the reduced role of another: Luka Modric.

The 38-year-old has had to settle for a more peripheral role than he is accustomed to this season and, although he looks certain to leave at the end of his contract, he has continued to make a positive impression behind the scenes.

“A player who is used to playing every game finds it tougher than others to sit on the bench,” admitted the head coach.

“But I understand and respect him. His behaviour is that of a very serious professional who continues to train and fight to be able to play.

“He’s available to play in any game, even tomorrow’s. He continues to contribute in the dressing room just as he did before when he played all the games.

“He’s a highly-respected player and an example of how a professional should be. He continues to be a figurehead for the squad.”

Former assistant Inigo Perez faces a baptism of fire as Vallecano’s new coach, attempting to lift a side who have lost five and drawn one of their last six and sit 14th in the standings.

“Four days are enough to work on an idea and it is not a new project because I already knew them,” he said.

“When it comes to picking up a team in the middle of the season, I’m lucky because I know everything.

“It’s relatively easy. But a team like Madrid demands the maximum from you in all aspects.”

Brahim Diaz provided a stunning response to the challenge of deputising for the injured Jude Bellingham by firing Real Madrid to a 1-0 Champions League victory at RB Leipzig.

Diaz’s superb 48th-minute solo effort secured a last-16 win at the Red Bull Arena to put the Spanish side in the driving seat ahead of the second leg at the Bernabeu, although he later limped off in a fresh blow for boss Carlo Ancelotti.

His intervention could hardly have been better timed with 20-goal England international Bellingham facing two to three weeks on the sidelines with a sprained ankle and the 14-time European champions misfiring for long periods in his absence.

Indeed, had Leipzig striker Benjamin Sesko made the most of the chances which came his way and Madrid goalkeeper Andriy Lunin not been in inspired form, the Spaniards might have had significantly more work to do on their own pitch.

The hosts set out their stall from the off when Sesko headed into the net after Xaver Schlager had helped the ball back into the box from Lunin’s punch as he dealt with David Raum’s second-minute corner.

However, the assistant referee’s flag went up immediately and the goal was disallowed, with replays showing Sesko was not offside but team-mate Benjamin Henrichs, who made contact with Lunin, was.

Sesko might have had a hat-trick inside the opening 10 minutes, failing to make the most of Xavi Simons’ fine pass and then firing straight at Lunin, although in the meantime, Real defender Aurelien Tchouameni saw a ninth-minute header cleared off the line, with keeper Peter Gulacsi safely claiming Eduardo Camavinga’s follow-up.

Henrichs tested Lunin from distance, but Toni Kroos responded in kind to keep Gulacsi on his toes after Vinicius Jr had made his first real contribution down the left.

Camavinga got in a vital touch to deflect Sesko’s 20th-minute attempt into the side-netting as Real continued to look vulnerable at the back, with Tchouameni having to make a vital challenge to deny Sesko before Vinicius stabbed wide after exchanging passes with Diaz in stoppage time.

But Bellingham’s replacement broke the deadlock within three minutes of the restart, and he did so in spectacular fashion.

Picking up the ball wide on the right, Diaz span away from Raum and cut inside Simons and then Schlager before curling a left-foot shot across Gulacsi and inside the far post.

Leipzig would have been level almost immediately had Lunin not produced a double save from Dani Olmo and Sesko, and the keeper had to race from his line to prevent Sesko from latching onto Olmo’s excellent through-ball as the Germans fought for a way back into the game.

At the other end, Schlager did just enough to put off Rodrygo as he ran onto Vinicius’ 64th-minute pass after Real had broken at pace, and the Brazilian saw a shot come back off a post after he and Diaz had ripped the home defence to shreds with 19 minutes remaining.

Lunin produced a string of saves to deny Simons, Sesko and Amadou Haidara as Leipzig pushed for an equaliser, but the late assault proved to no avail.

Jude Bellingham made it 20 goals for the season as he and Vinicius Junior teamed up to put Girona to the sword and send Real Madrid five points clear at the top of the LaLiga table.

The England midfielder scored twice with both set up by Vinicius, who had opened the scoring before Rodrygo wrapped up a 4-0 win with a fine run and finish. Substitute Joselu also missed a late penalty.

It was just surprise package Girona’s second defeat of the league campaign, with the first also coming at the hands of Carlo Ancelotti’s men, and it was every bit as comprehensive as the scoreline suggests.

With visiting head coach Michel banned from the touchline following his dismissal for leaving his technical area during last weekend’s draw with Real Sociedad, and opposite number Ancelotti forced to field a makeshift back four with injuries biting hard into his resources, there was an air of uncertainty around the Bernabeu Stadium as the game kicked off.

However, the fears of the locals were settled within six minutes when Vinicius picked up possession wide on the left, cut inside Ivan Martin and curled an unstoppable right-foot shot across keeper Paulo Gazzaniga and inside the far post.

With Toni Kroos dictating play, Madrid continued to look the more threatening and Girona skipper Juanpe was mightily relieved to concede a free-kick on the edge of the box rather than a penalty after he had rudely interrupted Eduardo Camavinga’s blistering 21st-minute run towards goal.

Federico Valverde curled the resulting set-piece straight into Gazzaniga’s arms, but there was little let-up in the home side’s efforts to build upon their encouraging start.

Bellingham dragged a 32nd-minute shot wide, but made amends within three minutes when he ran on to Vinicius’ superb ball behind Eric Garcia and rounded Gazzaniga to make it 2-0.

Vinicius scuffed wide after being played through as the whistle approached, but the sides headed for the dressing rooms with the hosts very much in the driving seat.

The visitors, who had offered little before the break, returned in determined mood and it took a last-ditch clearance by Ferland Mendy to cut out Miguel Gutierrez’s inviting cross as they finally started to make an impression going forward.

However, their hopes suffered a further blow within nine minutes when Vinicius cut in from the left and saw Gazzaniga parry his shot straight to Bellingham, who tapped into the empty net.

The Englishman’s evening ended prematurely with 57 minutes gone when, having earlier turned an ankle, he was replaced by Brahim Diaz.

His team did not feel his loss, however, and Rodrigo extended their lead within four minutes, accepting Vinicius’ pass before racing away to fire emphatically past Gazzaniga.

It should have been 5-0 at the death, but Joselu struck the post with a penalty awarded for Yan Couto’s foul on Arda Guler.

Real Madrid’s top-of-the-table clash with Girona this weekend will not be a title decider, insists Los Blancos boss Carlo Ancelotti.

LaLiga leaders Real are two points ahead of second-placed Girona, who have defied the odds to emerge as genuine contenders in just their fourth-ever season in the top flight.

Michel’s side would leapfrog Madrid back into pole position with victory at the Bernabeu Stadium, but Ancelotti said Saturday’s showdown will not be decisive.

The Italian told a press conference: “Whoever wins will gain the advantage, but there is still a long way to go in the league.

“Both teams are very well positioned and the game won’t decide the league, but (the winners) will have an advantage over the others.

“I don’t think the league will be decided no matter what happens. Both teams have high points and the sooner we get to 80 points, the sooner we can win the league.

“You don’t win the league with 80 points, but if you get close as soon as possible, you’re very close.”

Girona finished 10th in LaLiga last season after winning promotion via the play-offs under head coach Michel in 2022 and have beaten both Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in this campaign.

Ancelotti said: “It will be a demanding match against a team that has done better than everyone else, including Real Madrid.

“It’s going to be tough, they’re doing very well. We have a lot of respect for them, while we are confident of winning again after drawing.”

Girona boss Michel will be absent from the Bernabeu dugout as he starts a two-match touchline ban after his red card in the closing stages of last week’s 0-0 home draw against Real Sociedad.

The Catalan club will also be without defender Daley Blind and midfielder Yangel Herrera through suspension.

On Michel’s absence, Ancelotti added: “Football is about the players, but the coach’s presence gives confidence to the team.

“However, it’s not a determining factor. It’s not decisive because football is about the players.

“Sometimes we coaches get carried away a bit in protest, but we need a bit more understanding because of the circumstances we’re in.

“A little more understanding could allow him to be at the Bernabeu on Saturday.”

Madrid defender Antonio Rudiger faces a late fitness test after missing last week’s 1-1 derby draw against city rivals Atletico due to a thigh injury.

Vinicius Junior (neck/shoulder) was an unused substitute against Atletico but will be in contention and Ancelotti confirmed defender Nacho (thigh) is hoping to be back for Tuesday’s Champions League last-16 clash in Leipzig.

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti recognises the reasons for Xavi’s impending departure from Barcelona but refused to identify any comparisons in their roles.

Xavi hinted internal factors were among the reasons as he announced – following a 5-3 defeat at the weekend by Villarreal – that he will leave his position as Barcelona boss at the end of the season.

The 44-year-old had a decorated playing career at Barcelona and led them to the 2022-23 LaLiga title in his first full season at the helm but they sit well adrift of leaders Girona this season.

Asked whether he comprehends why Xavi is set to step down, Ancelotti told a press conference: “I understand it. I don’t want to make comparisons. I respect his thoughts and his decisions.

“There is pressure on our job. We have to respect everyone with words, decisions and thoughts.”

Real visit Getafe on Thursday looking for a sixth successive league win that will take them back above surprise leaders Girona.

“It’s a key game,” Ancelotti said. “It will be very difficult and it’s going to be very demanding for us. The team is doing well and hopefully we can put in a good performance.

“Getafe are solid, they play good football and are strong in their duels. It will be a tough game and vital for the league and the season.

“We have to get the first goal in every match. We’ve played games where we’ve taken the lead and in others we’ve had to come from behind. If we come back it’s because we’ve got the quality in the squad.”

Real trailed 2-0 against Almeria and 1-0 at Las Palmas in their two most recent contests but hit back on each occasion to win by the odd goal.

Luka Modric was an unused substitute in both matches, with the 38-year-old’s game time dwindling this season.

“Modric didn’t warm up for the game because a young player such as Arda (Guler) can warm up, not play and nothing happens,” Ancelotti said. “But with Luka I can’t do that.

“He has won five Champions League titles and he’s a legend of the club. When I’m sure he’s going to play during the game, he warms up. The player knows this.”

Ancelotti spoke fondly of Jose Bordalas, describing the “fantastic job” he is doing as Getafe head coach, who sees the resemblance in the styles between himself and the veteran Italian.

Bordalas told a press conference: “Ancelotti and I are good friends, we share many things on a professional level, we have a very similar idea.

“I have great affection for him, great respect and a lot of admiration, for what he represents for all coaches, for the world of football and for everything he is capable of achieving.

“We all know that Real Madrid is in a formidable moment. We have to be close to perfection if we want to achieve a good result.”

Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti has hit back at Barcelona in a row between the rival clubs over refereeing standards.

Title-chasing Real controversially beat bottom side Almeria 3-2 in LaLiga last weekend after a number of contentious VAR calls went in their favour.

Commenting on what occurred, Barca boss Xavi claimed his side could not expect such luck with refereeing decisions.

“I already said in Getafe that it was going to be very difficult to win this league,” said Xavi, whose side are seven points behind second-placed Real. “There are things that we do not control, everyone has seen it.”

Barca president Joan Laporta went even further in his criticisms, suggesting the whole competition had been “corrupted” by the Almeria controversies.

Ancelotti responded on Friday with a thinly veiled reference to the ongoing investigation into Barcelona and alleged historic payments to Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, the former vice-president of Spain’s referees’ committee.

“I don’t like to get into this kind of controversy,” told reporters Ancelotti at a press conference carried by the club’s website to preview Saturday’s game at Las Palmas.

“There’s been a lot of talk this week and I think the same as I said before. We don’t have to divert the issue, everyone knows what has happened in Spanish football over the last 20 years.

“That’s the problem of Spanish football, not the league being adulterated, because it isn’t. Spanish football has had a problem and the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office and the Guardia Civil are carrying out investigations and we have to give them time and patience.”

Ancelotti expects his team to rally after being questioned this week in the aftermath of the dramatic Almeria game, in which Real fought back from 2-0 down to win in the last minute.

He said: “We will try to perform at our best in a game that could be difficult because Las Palmas play very good football and defend really well. It’s going to be a demanding game.

“We’re motivated to get back to playing at our best and be more solid at the back. This week has been good for us, we’ve rested. The team is in good shape.”

Ancelotti will have to make one notable change to his line-up, with England midfielder Jude Bellingham suspended after clocking up his fifth LaLiga booking last week.

Ancelotti said: “We’ve been able to make up for the absence of important players many times and we’ll do the same again.”

Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti has warned his side face a tougher test on Thursday when they play arch-rivals Atletico for the second time in eight days.

The two Spanish giants go head-to-head in the Copa del Rey’s last 16 at the Metropolitano Stadium with Atleti seeking revenge after last week’s thrilling Spanish Super Cup semi-final defeat to Real in Saudi Arabia.

Ancelotti’s side scored twice in extra time in Riyadh to edge it 5-3 – they beat Barcelona 4-1 in Sunday’s final – but the Italian expects Diego Simeone’s Atleti to thrive in front of their own fans.

“The (Atleti) team is good,” Ancelotti told a press conference. “We’ve got another very difficult game.

“Atletico are a top opponent and they showed that in the Super Cup; the match was very even.

“We’re expecting it to be even more difficult (on Thursday) because they’re at home and they’re doing very well there.”

Atleti have won nine and drawn one of their 10 home games in LaLiga this season and are unbeaten at the Metropolitano Stadium since a 1-0 league defeat to Barcelona in January 2023.

Real’s last visit there ended in a 3-1 LaLiga defeat in September, while Atleti refused to give their city rivals a traditional guard of honour after Los Blancos had sealed the league title with four games remaining in 2022.

Whether Simeone’s side afford Real the honour after their Spanish Super Cup success remains to be seen and Ancelotti commented: “I respect the decisions of every club.

“I think it’s perfectly fine whether they do it or not. I don’t attach much importance to this.”

Ancelotti has no new injury worries, but is still without Lucas Vazquez (thigh), while Thibaut Courtois, David Alaba and Eder Militao are working their way back from serious knee injuries.

“The whole team is available apart from Lucas Vazquez and the three with cruciate injuries. I’m going to put the best possible team out. If the team recovers well, everyone is available,” Ancelotti added.

“We’ve had a lot of injuries and we’ve stuck it out because the squad is very strong. There is a great deal of competition in training sessions and they’re very intense. This allows us to be in good physical condition.”

Real Madrid struck twice deep into extra time to book their place in the final of the Spanish Super Cup with a thrilling 5-3 victory over rivals Atletico Madrid in Riyadh.

Carlo Ancelotti’s side looked to be heading out of the competition after Antonio Rudiger’s 78th-minute own goal put Atletico 3-2 up but Dani Carvajal struck with five minutes remaining to send the match into extra time.

The derby seemed destined for a penalty shoot-out until Joselu’s header deflected off Atletico defender Stefan Savic and into the net before Brahim Diaz’s late breakaway goal sealed Real’s spot in the final.

Antione Griezmann had earlier become Atletico’s all-time record goalscorer by netting his 174th goal for the club to make it 2-2 after a pulsating first half which also featured strikes from Mario Hermoso, Rudiger and Ferland Mendy.

Diego Simeone’s men had the first big chance in the sixth minute as Samuel Lino’s whipped effort looked to be heading into the top corner from the edge of the box but goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga was on hand to tip over the crossbar.

The save counted for very little as Atletico hit the front from the resulting corner when Hermoso was left unmarked at the back post to nod into the net from Griezmann’s delivery.

Real swiftly equalised in similar fashion from a corner when Rudiger headed home from Luka Modric’s cross.

Ancelotti’s side turned the game on its head just before the half-hour mark as Carvajal’s pass into the area was cleverly flicked home by Mendy to make it 2-1.

But Atletico responded just seven minutes later when Griezmann slammed into the bottom-left corner from outside the area to seal his place in the club’s history.

Real had a golden opportunity to retake the lead as Rodrygo picked up the ball inside the area and pulled off a clever fake shot to open up the space for him to shoot at goal but Jan Oblak brilliantly dived in front of the effort to somehow keep the scores level.

Atletico came closest to the opening goal of the second period when Lino capitalised on some sloppy play from Real Madrid and burst forward to strike just wide of the far post.

But they did take the lead with 12 minutes left as Kepa failed to deal with a ball into the box which bounced off Rudiger and into the net.

Real were not to be denied though as Carvajal hit back with five minutes to go. Vinicius Jr’s initial effort was kept out by Oblak but the ball fell to Jude Bellingham whose drilled shot was cleared off the line before Carvajal slammed into the top corner.

As spot-kicks loomed on the horizon Real found the killer blow.

Joselu’s flicked header was bundled into his own net by Savic and Ancelotti’s side added the icing on the cake when Diaz won a foot race with Oblak and slotted into an empty net to book Real’s place in the final against either Barcelona or Osasuna.

Carlo Ancelotti has admitted “it hurt” when Real Madrid slipped to their only defeat of the season so far against Atletico Madrid in September.

On Wednesday, the city rivals will meet in the Supercopa de Espana in Saudi Arabia, their first encounter since Diego Simeone’s side ran out 3-1 winners at the Wanda Metropolitano with two goals from Alvaro Morata and one from Antoine Griezmann.

That loss saw Real slip to third in the table but they have since recovered to lead the way in La Liga at the halfway stage, level on points with the season’s surprise package Girona.

Atletico, meanwhile, are clinging on in the title race after slumping to fifth off the back of a run of two wins in six in the league.

Ancelotti was confident his side had corrected the errors that led them to derby defeat four months ago, and reflected on a rivalry with opposite number Simeone increasingly rooted in mutual admiration.

“The last time we played Atletico it hurt us,” he said. “I think we’ve fixed that. But (on Wednesday) we will need to show a better version of ourselves than in the first game of the season against Atletico.

“It’s a relationship of respect (with Simeone). We talk a lot. We’ve faced each other many times, he scored against my team once for Lazio against Juventus in Turin. We respect one another. I think we’re neighbours and we see each other sometimes.

“I’m very happy in the atmosphere at the club now. From outside, it seems that Simeone is very happy at Atletico. He seems the ideal profile, otherwise you wouldn’t stay there so long.”

Ancelotti has Vinicius Junior, Eduardo Camavinga and Dani Carvajal all available after injury but will be without Lucas Vazquez, who has a thigh problem, as well as long-term absentees Thibaut Courtois, David Alaba and Eder Militao.

Ferland Mendy is also an injury doubt, though Arda Guler could feature after making his debut in the Copa del Rey win over Arandina on Saturday.

Atletico boss Simeone has included Pablo Barrios in his travelling squad as he nears a return to fitness, whilst Mario Hermoso, Samuel Lino, Koke, Marcus Llorente and Rodrigo de Paul are all expected to return to the starting line-up after sitting out the cup win over Lugo.

Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti says Jude Bellingham is “obviously” one of the best players in the world.

The England international has had a brilliant start to life in the Spanish capital, scoring 17 goals in all competitions since signing from Borussia Dortmund last summer.

Bellingham, who is LaLiga’s top scorer with 13 goals in 17 league appearances, is in Real’s squad for their Copa del Rey round-of-32 clash at fourth-tier Arandina on Saturday evening, and Ancelotti did not hold back on his opinion on the 20-year-old midfielder.

“He is doing very well,” Ancelotti told reporters at a press conference on Friday.

“He’s done well in the first half of the season. Bearing in mind that he’s had to adapt to our club, to a new culture and language, he’s done it very well. For us, obviously he’s the best.”

Arandina currently sit rock bottom of Group 1 in Spain’s fourth division and represent a banana skin for the holders of the trophy, which Los Blancos have won on 20 occasions.

Real struggled to a 1-0 victory at the same stage last season when they faced fellow fourth-tier side Cacereno.

Arandina have already defeated LaLiga opponents this season, knocking out Cadiz in the previous round, and Ancelotti is determined not to follow suit.

“We are the defending champions. We enjoyed the competition last season and our aim is to win it again this year,” the 64-year-old added.

“It is our first game in the competition on Saturday and we’ve got to try and put in our best performance.

“Last season against Cacereno, it was a tough game and we know we have to take this game seriously.

“We will try and win this game. We played on Wednesday night so there will be some tired players no doubt, but I will still put out a competitive side for that game.

“Hopefully, we can play to our full potential. We want to compete and I’m sure we will. The team is fully focused, motivated. We were very successful in this competition last season and we would like to be again.”

Ancelotti confirmed he will be without Toni Kroos and Lucas Vazquez for the clash at Estadio El Montecillo to due to their respective ankle and thigh issues picked up during Wednesday’s 1-0 LaLiga win against Mallorca.

The Italian has been hit by a spate of long-term injuries this season, but has still selected a strong travelling party for the clash in Aranda de Duero, with only Vinicius Junior and Aurelien Tchouameni rested for the cup tie.

In Kroos’ absence, 18-year-old Turkey international Arda Guler could make his long-awaited Madrid debut after recovering from a series of injury setbacks since joining from Fenerbahce last summer.

Ancelotti said: “All the players who have come into the side, who have been given the opportunity, have played very well. Guler is available and Guler could play, perhaps.”

Juventus head coach Massimiliano Allegri said it gives him “great pride” to be compared with the likes of Roma counterpart Jose Mourinho.

The pair will lock horns on Saturday evening when Roma visit the Allianz Arena as Juve bid to keep the pressure on Serie A leaders Inter Milan in the title race.

Allegri told a press conference: “It always gives me great pleasure when I’m compared to the ‘old school’ coaches, together with Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti.

“Personally I believe there are a thousand variables in football, there is no absolute truth.

“Ancelotti is an extraordinary coach, who continues to win and is still doing a wonderful job.

“For Mourinho, the results speak for themselves. He has always achieved them. You may not even like him, but the rest matters little.

“Being compared to them is a source of great pride. The first time I faced Jose I was coaching Cagliari, I was still a ‘child’ and he was already a winning coach with Inter.”

Juve head into the year’s final round of Serie A fixtures in second place, four points behind Inter, who play at Genoa on Friday night.

Allegri added: “Roma are a ‘grumpy’ side at the moment, but have one of the best coaches ever on their bench.

“They are good at getting you out of the game and have quality in attack. Great attention is needed as well as patience and compactness, and we must not think of overdoing it.”

Allegri confirmed Alex Sandro (thigh) is “about 10 days” from a return to action, while Mattia De Sciglio and Moise Kean remain long-term absentees.

Roma, currently sixth in the table, 12 points behind Juve, will be buoyed by last week’s 2-0 home win against defending champions Napoli.

Mourinho’s side could also be boosted by the return of Paulo Dybala, who has missed the last three games due to a thigh injury.

Gianluca Mancini will “certainly play” on Saturday as he deals with an on-going groin issue, Mourinho said.

Juve are bidding for their first Serie A title in four years and when asked about their progress under Allegri, Mourinho told a press conference: “Juve are Juve and Allegri is still Allegri.

“We always know what to expect from the team and what to expect from Max.

“When we speak about risultatista (results-oriented) teams or coaches, it’s a strange term.

“I consider getting results to be the most important thing in football. Some people nowadays think it has a negative connotation. When people speak about a risultatista, all the connotations for me are positive.

“Juventus are just that. They defend in numbers and they defend well and when they go on the counter-attack they’re so strong. “

Lucas Vazquez scored an injury-time winner for 10-man Real Madrid against Alaves to send Carlo Ancelotti’s men above Girona to the top of the LaLiga table for Christmas.

Girona’s draw earlier in the evening meant Real knew victory would be enough to see them leapfrog the Catalan side but they played most of the second half with 10 men after Nacho was sent off for a bad challenge on Samu Omorodion.

The game appeared to be heading for a goalless draw but Vazquez headed in a corner two minutes into injury time to seal a 1-0 victory.

Earlier, German Pezzella’s late strike earned Real Betis a 1-1 draw against Girona.

Artem Dovbyk swept home a first-half penalty to put Girona on course for a ninth win in 10.

Betis tried to force the issue in the second period but failed to register a shot on Paulo Gazzaniga’s goal until Pezzella’s rocket found the top corner late on.

Mallorca claimed a second home win in a row, defeating Osasuna 3-2 in an entertaining clash at the Iberostar Stadium.

Pablo Ibanez put the visitors ahead in the seventh minute but the hosts hit back quickly through Matija Nastasic and took control early in the second half with goals from Dani Rodriguez and Antonio Jose Raillo Arenas.

Osasuna threatened a dramatic comeback when Raul Garcia grabbed their second in injury time but Mallorca held on.

Sixth-placed Real Sociedad recorded a third successive 0-0 draw, this time against struggling Cadiz.

Lucas Vazquez scored a stoppage-time winner for 10-man Real Madrid against Alaves to send Carlo Ancelotti’s men to the top of the LaLiga table for Christmas.

Girona’s draw earlier in the evening meant Real knew victory would be enough to see them leapfrog the Catalan side but they played most of the second half with 10 men after Nacho was sent off.

The game appeared to be heading for a goalless draw but Vazquez headed in a corner two minutes into injury time to seal a 1-0 victory.

The Real players came out of the tunnel in tops showing support for their team-mate David Alaba, who became the third Madrid player this season to rupture his anterior cruciate ligament in last weekend’s victory over Villarreal.

Real have been badly hit by injuries and Ancelotti was limited in his options, although he brought back Kepa Arrizabalaga in goal.

Alaves were without a win or a goal in their previous three LaLiga matches and again started with teenage forward Samu Omorodion, who is on loan from Atletico Madrid.

Real immediately cut through the home side, with Jude Bellingham playing in Brahim Diaz, who drove towards the box before teeing up Federico Valverde for a shot from a tight angle that was saved by Antonio Sivera.

Alaves showed good intent with the ball, though, and they created a clear opportunity in the eighth minute but Luis Rioja’s shot from the middle of the box was blocked by Fran Garcia.

An 18th-minute free-kick from Toni Kroos evaded all of his team-mates and dropped just wide of the far post, while at the other end Samu headed straight at Kepa.

Real were struggling to create anything clear-cut and Sivera beat away a fierce shot from outside the box from Valverde seven minutes before the break.

The visitors’ hopes of forcing a victory were dealt a major blow nine minutes after the break when Nacho was shown a straight red card.

The defender went into a tackle from behind on Samu and raked his studs down the youngster’s calf.

The referee initially gave a yellow card but was sent to have a look on the pitchside monitor by the VAR officials and changed his decision, with Ancelotti reacting by sending on Aurelien Tchouameni for Luka Modric.

Despite their numerical disadvantage, Real looked the side more likely to find a winner, and Rodrygo came close in the 75th minute, breaking away down the left and cutting inside but driving his shot high and wide.

When it did finally come, the breakthrough was from an unlikely source, with one of their smallest players, Vazquez, left alone in the middle of the box to head in Kroos’ cross.

Carlo Ancelotti has lauded the “special” job his Real Madrid players are doing this season ahead of their trip to Deportivo Alaves in LaLiga on Thursday.

Madrid, sitting in second, have added David Alaba to their now six-man long injury list after the Austrian international damaged a cruciate ligament.

And Ancelotti praised his available players for challenging Girona at the top of the table and called for them to finish 2023 on a high.

“We want to keep up the good momentum we’ve had in the last few games, get the three points and finish this 2023 campaign on a high note.” Ancelotti said.

“It’s a very complicated moment of the season.

“Fortunately, I have the players to thank for pulling through. It’s not that we’re doing a special job, we have to invent something, but what is special is what this squad is doing at such a tough time.”

Alaba’s serious knee injury comes after both Eder Militao and Thibaut Courtois suffering the same injury this season.

Ancelotti admitted the nature of cruciate ligament damage is horrific and shed some light on when Militao and Courtois could return to action.

He added: “The cruciate injury is an horrific injury. You can’t prevent it.

“Players who haven’t had any knee problems have had this injury. It’s something you can’t control. It’s different from muscle injuries, which can be caused by fatigue.

“Let’s see what happens in the second half of the season. In March or April we may be thinking that Militao or Courtois could come back if everything goes well with their respective recoveries.”

The Real Madrid boss hinted that the club may dip into the transfer market during January to add centre-back options.

He said: “We have spoken to the club and we will evaluate it over the next few days. We have time because the January transfer window ends on the 31st.

“We will look for the best possible solution, but for now we’re not in a hurry. We will try to finish the year well with tomorrow’s game and then we have time to make the best possible decision.”

Carlo Ancelotti knows Real Madrid still have a long way to go if they are to achieve their targets for the season.

Los Blancos host Villarreal at the Bernabeu on Sunday looking to keep up the pressure at the top of LaLiga, with surprise leaders Girona not in action until Monday night.

Having secured safe passage through to the knockout stage of the Champions League with a perfect group record, Ancelotti wants full focus on the last two games before the Christmas break.

 

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“We are up against a well-organised, well-prepared team, but we are on a great run, the results reflect that,” Ancelotti said.

“The atmosphere is good, there’s a good mood around the place and the players are motivated.

“We want to finish the first half of the season strongly, we’ve done really well so far.

“We’ve managed the first part of the campaign well, despite all the problems we’ve had. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I have faith in the campaign.

“I’m pleased with what we’ve done to this point, but well aware of what is still to come because it’s a long season – there are still six months to go.”

Ancelotti’s current deal runs through to the end of the season and the veteran Italian coach has been linked with a switch to take over Brazil’s national team.

For the moment, though, the 64-year-old is just concentrating on the job in hand.

“Being Real Madrid coach is the most important thing. I hope the players will give me a Christmas present by winning the last couple of games so we can have a relaxed festive period,” Ancelotti said at a press conference.

“If the club is happy then I am too. There is no rush to renew my deal, it’s not a problem. We are here until 30 June 2024.”

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Goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga is fit again after a thigh injury and started the Champions League win at Union Berlin on Tuesday night ahead of Ukrainian Andriy Lunin.

“I have decided (who will play against Villarreal), but I haven’t spoken to them yet. I want them to hear it from me before finding out in the press,” Ancelotti said.

“The good thing is that they make it hard for me because they are both in such great form.”

Villarreal head coach Marcelino, who returned to the club last month, knows his side will have to try to shackle “extraordinary” England midfielder Jude Bellingham if they are to leave the Bernabeu with a positive result.

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“He is the player who has given the best performance in all of Europe,” Marcelino said at a press conference.

“We will try not to let him get involved too much. It will be difficult because he has a lot of participation in most of the pitch, especially in the final third.

“He is accompanied by players of great quality like Rodrygo.

“We are going to need to be strong collectively to reduce their influence on the game.”

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