Carlo Ancelotti thanked Atletico Madrid counterpart Diego Simeone for praising Real Madrid's defensive work after Los Blancos won Sunday's derby.

Goals from Rodrygo and Federico Valverde in the first half sent Madrid on their way to a sixth win from as many league games this season.

Although Mario Hermoso pulled one back, before being sent off late on for two bookings, Madrid were good value for the win at the Civitas Metropolitano.

Simeone commended the work of Ancelotti in his post-match press conference, applauding Madrid's defensive organisation in a "low block" and their effectiveness on the break, likening them to his 2013-14 title-winning Atletico side.

His comment claiming that critics accused that Atletico side of being "defensive" may have been interpreted by some as a backhanded compliment for Madrid, though Ancelotti decided not to take the cynical view.

"I think that in the first half we managed very well defensively at the start, then we were comfortable with the goals and in the second half we got rid of the idea of ​​​​doing damage," Ancelotti said.

"It affected us because then we suffered at the end. Atletico pushed and created problems for us.

"Yes, we have defended with a low block and we are used to it. We removed the danger of [Atletico] breaking with [Antoine] Griezmann or Joao Felix. The low block allowed us to control them well.

"If Simeone says that we have defended well in a low block, I tell him thank you, it is a compliment.

"The ideal football is to score many goals and not concede, perfection does not exist."

Madrid's two goalscorers have emerged as key players this season, taking on greater responsibility after previously being deployed more like rotation options.

Rodrygo was starting in the injured Karim Benzema's place in attack and led the line effectively, earning LaLiga's MVP award for the match, and Ancelotti was eager to commend him and Valverde.

"Both of them are very special players because they are what the modern footballer has to be now, who must play in different positions, must have physique, technique," Ancelotti added.

"Both of them have progressed a lot, and we are delighted because they are doing very well."

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone applauded the work of his opposite number Carlo Ancelotti after losing to the Italian's Real Madrid in Sunday's derby.

Los Blancos claimed a 2-1 win at the Civitas Metropolitano to ensure they go into the international break at the top of the table.

Madrid have won all of their first six LaLiga games in the 2022-23 season and rarely looked especially worried against Atletico, despite the hosts dictating the tempo for much of the second half.

Goals from Rodrygo and Federico Valverde in the first period sent Madrid on their way and, although Mario Hermoso – who was also sent off late on for two bookings – pulled one back, the away side were good value for the win.

Simeone subsequently struggled to hide his admiration for Ancelotti's team, suggesting they were comparable to the Atletico side that won the 2013-14 LaLiga title.

"Madrid defends very well, runs little, closes spaces for you, attacks on the counter-attack," Simeone told Movistar+. "They have a terrific forcefulness.

"The forcefulness is wonderful and seeing a team that attacks from deep and counter-attacks reminds me of our team with [Diego] Costa, and they [critics] told us that we played defensively. But when there is force, football is wonderful.

"[Atletico] made a great effort, we were close to drawing, but it's true that a team that defends organised like them and counter-attacks like that, I like it because you can play deep and play well. I congratulate them, it is a great job by the Madrid coach.

"But I am happy with the work of my team because they stuck it out until the end, the players made a great effort. Mario's expulsion was a pity because there were a few minutes left."

The result left Atletico seventh in the table heading into the international window – they go to Sevilla on October 1 in their next game after the break.

Antoine Griezmann was the headline inclusion in Atletico Madrid's starting XI for the derby with Real Madrid on Sunday.

Griezmann has scored three goals for Atleti this term, but all of his seven appearances had come from the substitutes bench.

Diego Simeone suggested this has in part been a financial decision, with Atleti set to owe Barcelona a fee for the on-loan forward should he play over half of the available minutes.

Yet he got the nod ahead of Alvaro Morata for the match at the Civitas Metropolitano, starting alongside Joao Felix.

Griezmann's introduction was one of five changes made by Simeone, whose team lost 2-0 to Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Carlo Ancelotti, meanwhile, made two alterations to the Madrid team that started in Wednesday's win over RB Leipzig.

Ferland Mendy and Toni Kroos came in for Nacho Fernandez and Eduardo Camavinga respectively.

With Karim Benzema out injured, Rodrygo – who has scored in his last two LaLiga appearances – was selected to lead Madrid's line along with Federico Valverde and Vinicius Junior.

Ancelotti has lost four of his six meetings as a manager with Simeone in LaLiga (W1 D1), while Atleti have the chance to win consecutive games against Madrid in Spain's top flight for the first time since February 2015

Karim Benzema will have to sit out Sunday's derby, Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti has announced.

The France international came off with a knee injury in Madrid's Champions League win at Celtic earlier this month and has not featured since.

Ancelotti previously said Benzema could be fit for the derby with Atletico Madrid this weekend, but also noted caution at the time by saying if he did not recover, he would also not be available for the upcoming international break.

With Benzema absent from Didier Deschamps' squad announcement for Les Bleus this week, it seemed unlikely he would feature at the Wanda Metropolitano, which Ancelotti confirmed at his press conference on Saturday, saying: "I'm not saying [who will play up front], Benzema won't be there.

"He has started working individually and will be ready after the [international] break."

Ancelotti also spoke about the recent controversial comments from Pedro Bravo, a senior agent in Spain, on Vinicius Junior.

Bravo appeared on television show El Chiringuito earlier this week, saying Vinicius had to stop dancing when he celebrated a goal, accusing the Brazilian of "playing the monkey".

Bravo has apologised and said he used the wrong expression, insisting he was sorry for causing offence.

"It's something that we don't touch on in the locker room, these are issues that are not normally discussed in the locker room, we usually talk about football," the Madrid boss said.

"Racism is one thing and what happens in football is another thing. We have not touched on this issue of racism because the player has responded very well."

When asked if he had spoken to the player about it, Ancelotti said: "No, because I'm not his father, nor am I his brother. I'm his coach.

"Nothing is wrong with him. He is playing with joy. Vini is joy, happiness."

Madrid have won all eight of their games in all competitions this season and will come up against an Atletico side who suffered a Champions League defeat at Bayer Leverkusen in midweek.

Ancelotti is not underestimating Madrid's local rivals, though.

"It will be a competitive match. They don't expect anything new and it will be a very competitive duel, a good football match, because there are very good players on both teams," Ancelotti said. "The match is open, but there is nothing definitive."

Carlo Ancelotti saluted the impact of substitute Marco Asensio following his goal in Real Madrid's 2-0 win over RB Leipzig in the Champions League.

The reigning champions made it six points from six in Group F after netting twice in the final 10 minutes to battle past their spirited opponents at Santiago Bernabeu.

After Federico Valverde opened the scoring, Asensio sealed the victory by sweeping a wonderful first-time effort into the top corner from Toni Kroos' lay-off for his eighth Champions League goal as a substitute - now the most of any player in the history of the competition.

The winger, who replaced Eduardo Camavinga in the 64th minute, was repeatedly linked with a move away from Madrid during the transfer window, and entered the contest having played just 17 minutes for Los Blancos across all competitions this season.

His frustration at the lack of playing time boiled over when he was overlooked by Ancelotti during Sunday's 4-1 win over Mallorca; throwing his bib to the ground while kicking a water bottle. But the Italian was pleased by Asensio's response.

"[I am] happy, he has had minutes and has delivered. I think he needed this goal," said Ancelotti, who became only the second coach to record 100 Champions League wins after Alex Ferguson (102). 

"At first, he hesitated whether to leave or stay, but he has stayed, and we were all happy. [It was a] good game, although we suffered a bit in the first half.

"The most important thing was to prevent them from having space behind the defenders, and that's why we wanted a slow pace. At half-time, we decided to put more energy into the game."

Madrid have now recorded clean sheets in each of their last three matches in the competition; doing so for the first time since the 2015-16 season.

And goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois highlighted the significance of making a strong start in Group F, with a double-header against Shakhtar Donetsk to come.

"It was important to start our defence with two straight wins," he said. "Now, if we can win our two against Shakhtar, we'll be nearly through to the next round.

"Maybe when we played better, we still didn't make huge danger [today], but the key was that we took our chances. 

"We applied much better pressure in the second half. We marked our men, played the ball simply when we had it. Our general play needs to improve - too many times, we failed to make our passes."

There was no shortage of thrills and spills on matchday one of the Champions League, and Wednesday's action promises more of the same as one of the world's most in-form strikers faces his former club.

Erling Haaland has made a spectacular start to his Manchester City career, hitting 12 goals in all competitions since his move from Borussia Dortmund, but how will he fare when his old team visit the Etihad Stadium? 

Elsewhere, Graham Potter will hope to have an immediate impact in his first game as Chelsea's head coach as they bid to bounce back from last week's 1-0 defeat to Dinamo Zagreb.

Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, meanwhile, are among the favourites to be crowned European champions, and will both be hopeful of making it two wins from two outings.

Ahead of another intriguing set of European ties, Stats Perform trawls through the Opta data to highlight the most noteworthy facts for each game.

Manchester City v Borussia Dortmund

City striker Haaland netted 15 times in 13 Champions League appearances for Dortmund, and few would bet against the Norwegian haunting his former team on Wednesday.

Haaland helped himself to a brace at Sevilla last time out, bringing him to 25 Champions League goals in just 20 appearances – the highest tally managed by any player in their first 20 games in Europe's premier club competition. 

The visit of BVB will represent a landmark outing for City boss Pep Guardiola, taking him to 150 Champions League games. Only five other coaches have reached that tally, while only two have earned more victories than Guardiola's 94 – Alex Ferguson (102) and Carlo Ancelotti (99).

The omens are certainly good for the Premier League champions, who are unbeaten in their last 20 Champions League home games, winning 18 and drawing two. That represents the longest such sequence by an English side since Chelsea's run of 21 without defeat between September 2006 and December 2009.

Dortmund, meanwhile, have not won at an English side in the competition since beating Arsenal 2-1 in October 2013.

Chelsea v Salzburg

Defeat to Dinamo Zagreb spelled the end of Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea reign last week, and Potter is the man entrusted to ensure they avoid back-to-back continental defeats when Salzburg visit.

Chelsea have never previously lost their opening two games of a Champions League campaign, and last lost consecutive games in the competition in 2019-20, when they were beaten by Bayern Munich in both legs of a last-16 tie.

This will be the first meeting between Chelsea and Salzburg, with the Blues only losing one of their previous four European ties against Austrian teams (W1 D2). Salzburg, meanwhile, have never beaten an English side in European competition in six attempts (D1 L5).

But the Blues will have to be wary of Matthias Jaissle's young guns at Stamford Bridge, and may need to keep a particularly close eye on Noah Okafor. 

The 22-year-old has four goals in his last five Champions League outings for Salzburg – only Haaland (eight) has ever scored more for the club in the competition.

Real Madrid v RB Leipzig

Holders Madrid are looking to secure consecutive wins when they host RB Leipzig at the Santiago Bernabeu, and are unbeaten in their last 11 Champions League games against German opponents, scoring at least two goals in all of those matches (27 in total).

Leipzig, however, are unbeaten in their three European clashes with Spanish sides (W2 D1) and will be looking for a result comparable to their 2-1 quarter-final win over Atletico Madrid in 2019-20.

Los Blancos possess a remarkable amount of experience at the highest level; should Luka Modric feature, he will become the first 37-year-old outfield player to play a European Cup/Champions League game for Madrid since Ferenc Puskas in November 1965 against Kilmarnock.

Coach Ancelotti, meanwhile, is on the brink of his 100th win in the Champions League, and could become just the second boss to bring up such a century in the competition (after Alex Ferguson with 102).

Maccabi Haifa v Paris Saint-Germain

Kylian Mbappe scored a terrific brace to get PSG's European campaign off to a flying start against Juventus, and a trip to Maccabi Haifa gives him the opportunity to make club history.

The striker has scored 29 goals in 45 Champions League outings with PSG, scoring against 14 of the 17 opponents he's faced with the French champions. One more goal will see him level Edinson Cavani's record of 30 goals in the competition for the Ligue 1 side.

He could be aided by the in-form Neymar, who has provided eight assists for Mbappe in the Champions League, more than any player has assisted another in the competition since the start of 2017-18.

The final member of their revered forward trio, Lionel Messi, also has his eyes on making history.

Messi has scored against 38 different teams in the Champions League, the same amount as his great rival Cristiano Ronaldo, and will be keen to claim the record outright when he faces Maccabi for the first time on Wednesday.

Other fixtures:

Rangers v Napoli

1 – Wednesday's rearranged match will be the first competitive meeting between Rangers and Napoli. The Serie A side have only faced a Scottish team in European competition once before, exiting to Hibernian in the Fairs Cup in November 1967.

3 – Piotr Zielinski was directly involved in three of Napoli's four goals as they thrashed Liverpool last week (two goals, one assist). This is already his best campaign for goal contributions in the competition since joining Napoli.  

Milan vs Dinamo Zagreb

6 - Milan have failed to win any of their last six home games in the Champions League (D3 L3), their longest run without a home victory in the competition.

31.8 – Dinamo Zagreb had just 31.8 per cent possession against Chelsea on matchday one, the lowest of any team who managed to avoid defeat in their opening game.

Shakhtar Donetsk v Celtic

3 – Shakhtar's Mykhailo Mudryk was one of three players to be directly involved in three goals on matchday one (one goal, two assists), along with Robert Lewandowski and Zielinski.

1/13 - Celtic goalkeeper Joe Hart has only kept one clean sheet in his last 13 away Champions League games, with his last coming at Roma in December 2014 (for Manchester City).

Copenhagen v Sevilla

8 - Spanish sides are unbeaten in all eight of their Champions League games against Danish clubs (W6 D2) – only against sides from the Czech Republic (13) have Spanish teams appeared more often without defeat.

3/4 - Sevilla have lost three of their last four Champions League group-stage games (W1), as many as they lost in their previous 22 such matches (W10 D9).

Juventus v Benfica

2 - Juventus have lost their last two Champions League games. Only once in the history of the European Cup/Champions League have they lost three in a row, doing so between May 1968 and September 1972.

4 – Benfica's Alejandro Grimaldo has been involved in four goals in his last four Champions League games (one goal, three assists), more than he was in his first 27 games in the competition (two goals, one assist).

Mallorca head coach Javier Aguirre has hit out at LaLiga's scheduling as he considered the decision to play in the afternoon heat against Real Madrid "a crime".

Los Blancos maintained their 100 per cent start to the new season with a 4-1 victory at the Santiago Bernabeu, played under 32-degree heat after kicking off at 2:00pm local time.

The kick-off time left Mexican boss Aguirre furious as he detailed the problems his players had in such temperatures.

"You can't play at this hour, it's a crime. You can see how the players end up after going after the ball," he said in his post-match press conference.

"We are all exhausted, so are the fans. It is very difficult to play at this time, [Vedat] Muriqi with cramps, [Rodrigo] Battaglia with discomfort, Dani [Rodriguez], too.

"I had to change the whole midfield, and we have another one on Saturday at the same time and we have come from another. Let's see if we have better luck in the future."

Carlo Ancelotti also discussed the conditions after the game but came to a different conclusion, understanding the schedule is necessary due to the upcoming World Cup.

"That's the way the calendar is – like today we had to play at 2pm," Ancelotti said. "Fortunately, it wasn't too hot."

Carlo Ancelotti says he empathises with Marco Asensio following his angry reaction to being left on the bench during Real Madrid's 4-1 win over Mallorca.

Los Blancos returned to the LaLiga summit after coming from behind to maintain their 100 per cent start to the season, while remaining the only team in the big five European leagues with a perfect record still intact.

Federico Valverde's marvellous individual effort cancelled out Vedat Muqiri's earlier header, while goals from Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo and Antonio Rudiger completed the turnaround after the break.

Asensio, who was repeatedly linked with a move away from Santiago Bernabeu during the transfer window, has played just 17 minutes for Madrid across all competitions this season.

His frustration at the lack of playing time boiled over when he was overlooked by Ancelotti after Dani Carvajal replaced the injured Lucas Vazquez in the 71st minute; the winger throwing his bib to the ground while kicking a water bottle.

When asked about the incident, the Italian said: "We were preparing if we didn't make it 2-1 to put Mariano and Asensio in. Lucas has been injured, and we only had one window, and I didn't think about making that change.

"If he is angry, I agree with him. It's normal, it means you want to play, feel important. In this period, he has been the most affected player in the squad and I take that into account. I totally agree with his anger, nothing happens."

Ancelotti also praised the leadership qualities of Valverde after the Uruguay international's wonderful solo goal that saw him pick up the ball from deep inside his own half, before firing into the top corner from 20 yards.

"You are a leader when you are an example, and Federico is very, very important to us," the head coach said of the midfielder, who netted his first Madrid goal in nearly two years. 

"He is doing very well, he is still very humble and this can help him to be a leader in the future. Here, we have many leaders who are leaders with examples, not with language. This is very important."
 

Liverpool reportedly had a deadline-day bid for Moises Caicedo rejected by Brighton and Hove Albion.

The 20-year-old is hot property with a long list of suitors, after an impressive second half of last season in the Premier League.

Caicedo joined Brighton from Independiente del Valle in January 2021 on a four-and-half-year contract.

TOP STORY – BRIGHTON TO OPEN TALKS WITH CAICEDO

Brighton and Hove Albion will open contract talks with hot property Moises Caicedo according to The Mirror.

The Ecuadorian has interest from Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea.

The Seagulls are determined to fend off those suitors by pinning Caicedo down to a new contract.


ROUND-UP

– Fichajes reports French giants Paris Saint-Germain will look to sign Antoine Griezmann after this season, as they begin planning for Lionel Messi's departure. Griezmann is currently on a two-year loan at Atletico Madrid from Barcelona. Messi is contracted until mid-2023 and view Griezmann as a suitable replacement if they cannot convince him to extend his stay.

Barcelona will resume their chase for Manchester City's Bernardo Silva in January, reports Sport. LaLiga has increased the club's salary cap, allowing them to pursue the Portuguese midfielder again.

– The Telegraph claims that among those under consideration for the vacant Brighton managerial role are ex-Shakhtar Donetsk boss Roberto de Zerbi and Bodo/Glimt's Kjetil Knutsen.

Carlo Ancelotti is set to be rewarded for his successful 2021-22 campaign with Real Madrid set to offer him a new contract, according to Marca. Ancelotti's current deal runs until 2024.

Karim Benzema will miss Real Madrid's next two games, but could return for the derby with Atletico Madrid, according to Carlo Ancelotti.

Benzema came off with a knee injury during Madrid's 3-0 win at Celtic in the opening group game of the Champions League on Tuesday, and it had been feared he would miss a significant period as a result.

However, Ancelotti appeared to allay those fears at a press conference on Saturday ahead of Los Blancos' game with Real Mallorca, saying the France international might even be back in just over a week.

After Mallorca, Madrid host RB Leipzig in the Champions League before making the short trip to face rivals Atletico next Sunday.

"We will not force Benzema," Madrid coach Ancelotti said. "He will certainly not play against Leipzig, but then we will see for the derby.

"If he can't play then [against Atletico], he won't go to France [for the international break]."

Benzema was replaced after 30 minutes at Parkhead by Eden Hazard, who went on to score the third goal in the victory, and it is likely the Belgian will be tasked with filling the centre-forward spot against Mallorca.

Ancelotti does not want him to play like Benzema, though, saying: "Hazard did well coming on against Celtic. I'm going to put him in again on Sunday. Hopefully he can repeat a great game.

"I don't expect [Hazard] to play like Benzema, but I want him to play well and to connect with the other forwards."

Ancelotti has made it clear that there is no replacement for Benzema, with alternative options providing different strengths in the final third, and singled out Vinicius Jr. - who has scored in each of his last four Madrid appearances - for praise.

He said: "We don't have Karim and because he is the best striker in the world, there is no substitute for him on the market.

"But he can be replaced with other players with different characteristics.

"Vinicius is getting more consistent in finishing, in scoring goals. It is difficult for him to fail in front of the goal, there he has improved a lot. 

"I want to emphasise that he continues to maintain a good attitude, with a lot of humility, work - he wants to improve every day."

Carlo Ancelotti believes the biggest unknown surrounding Real Madrid's potential defence of the Champions League is the prospective physical condition of his players when they return from the World Cup.

Madrid begin their quest for a 15th European Cup on Tuesday when they visit Scottish champions Celtic.

The group stage is condensed this season because of the World Cup, moved from its usual Northern Hemisphere summer slot to November because of the extreme heat in Qatar.

Teams involved in the group stage will play six games in under two months, with the battle for a place in the last 16 coming to a close on November 2.

On top of domestic commitments, that makes for a crowded fixture list. Yet Ancelotti is less concerned with the effects of the schedule than he is about the potential toll on his squad of playing in a mid-season World Cup.

"Until the World Cup, I think we won't have any problems," Ancelotti said of the unusually busy fixture list. 

"The players are prepared and motivated. The question is how the World Cup players will return. It cannot be known."

Madrid are not seen as favourites for the Champions League despite their remarkable run last season. Los Blancos delivered thrilling comebacks against Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City before beating Liverpool 1-0 in the final.

City are the bookmakers' favourites ahead of PSG, Liverpool and Bayern Munich. Ancelotti, though, is happy his team are not in the top four in that sense.

"I'm not surprised. I see it as a good sign," he added. "I think that last year we had even less probability in the statistics. So we have improved. 

"What happened last year will happen. We are going to compete until the end and hopefully we will compete in the final."

Ancelotti's team are, however, overwhelming favourites to win Group F, which also features RB Leipzig and Shakhtar Donetsk, as well as Celtic.

But Ancelotti pointed to Madrid's shock home defeat to Sheriff Tiraspol in last season's group stage when asked about their seemingly easy draw.

"It is not an easy group, because we know the teams very well," said Ancelotti. "Celtic are doing very well, we have to respect them, like Leipzig and Shakhtar. 

"In the group stage, there are surprises, especially in the first half. We have a pretty vivid memory of last season with Sherriff at home. We respect the group and I think it will be an even group."

Carlo Ancelotti hailed Rodrygo as "special" after the forward's goal secured a 2-1 LaLiga win over Real Betis on Real Madrid's return to Santiago Bernabeu.

Vinícius Junior scored the opening goal in Madrid's first game at their revamped home for 106 days, but Sergio Canales equalised in the first half.

Rodrygo stepped up to make it four LaLiga wins out of four for the champions and consign Betis to a first defeat.

Madrid boss Ancelotti lavished praise on the Brazil forward following his decisive 65th-minute strike.

The Italian said: "He is a special striker, he can play in all positions. He is fast, smart and effective one on one. The learning is over. He is a Real Madrid player for all purposes."

Ancelotti moved level with Vicente del Bosque in third place on the list of Los Blancos head coaches with the most victories, reaching 133 wins. They are behind Miguel Munoz (357) and Zinedine Zidane (172).

Madrid are sitting pretty at the top of the table and Ancelotti is delighted with the way they have begun the defence of their title.

He said: "We have started the season well. It was a difficult match. With the ball we have done well. We missed the last pass, but we generated a lot. The match was not easy because Betis plays very good football."

Ancelotti added: "The goal is to play effective football, which allows us to score points and win matches. With the quality we have, we are capable of putting on good games. The team dynamic is good. The squad is very confident in its quality."

Despite having a 100 per cent record, Madrid have conceded in all four LaLiga games they have played and Ancelotti says they must be tighter at the back.

He said: "This must be taken into account. The conceded goal was a pretty serious mistake. We were caught unaware behind in a throw-in. We have to improve these situations."

Carlo Ancelotti has no concerns around the contract situations of several of his veteran Real Madrid stars, with Karim Benzema, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos all now into the final 12 months of their existing deals.

The transfer window closed on Thursday, leaving Madrid coach Ancelotti with a squad to work with at least until January.

But there remains work to do in the coming months if this hugely successful group is to stay together beyond the end of the 2022-23 campaign.

Madrid have a host of players out of contract at the end of the season; some, like Marco Asensio, seem certain to leave, but Benzema, Modric, Kroos and Nacho are all key men.

Benzema is reportedly expected to sign a one-year extension, however, while Modric has done so in each of the past two years.

And Ancelotti sees this approach as sensible, remaining confident these top performers will stay at the Santiago Bernabeu as long as they are wanted.

"There are some players who are in the final year of their contract with the club, but that's not an issue," he said.

Ancelotti added: "You look at Modric, Kroos, Karim, Nacho, these are players who want to stay here until they finish their careers, sometimes signing one-year contracts.

"I don't think having a player in the final year of his contract is an issue.

"There are a lot of clubs who have players in their final year of contract, because you've got to look at the economy of a club and how clubs are run.

"That's why now we're seeing more players reach their final year of contract.

"Look at our veteran players and what we do with them, bringing in their contracts on a yearly basis."

Carlo Ancelotti believes Real Madrid are "in a better position" than at the start of their double-winning campaign last year, although he does not see any favourites for the Champions League at this early stage.

Madrid won LaLiga and the Champions League in 2021-22 after signing David Alaba on a free transfer and Eduardo Camavinga from Rennes.

Los Blancos' transfer activity has been similar again this year, bringing in Antonio Rudiger in defence and Aurelien Tchouameni in midfield.

But Madrid are also playing with the confidence of having achieved great success last season, starting the new campaign with a Super Cup win over Eintracht Frankfurt and three straight LaLiga victories.

"I think we're in a better position at the start of this season because of all that we achieved last year," coach Ancelotti said ahead of Saturday's game against Real Betis.

"I do expect a tougher league campaign and also in the Champions League. I don't think there is a clear favourite in the Champions League; we have to wait and see what happens in March and April.

"We have less doubts now than we did at this stage last year. I think we have a very good squad after the transfer deadline closed last night.

"We have options in every position, and we're definitely going to compete this season."

Madrid did lose Casemiro to Manchester United, but Tchouameni has started all three league matches at the base of the midfield in the position the departed Brazil international made his own at the Santiago Bernabeu.

While Ancelotti described Tchouameni as "the icing on the cake" for his squad, he has already taken on an integral role.

"I think he is the best player right now to play in that position," Ancelotti said of the new man. "Also, [Toni] Kroos and Camavinga could play in that midfield role – it depends on how we prepare for a game and how we need to play.

"Kroos could control the ball better, a great passer of the ball who sets the tempo of a game. If we need more energy and a more dynamic midfielder, maybe Tchouameni would be the better option.

"Camavinga has improved on last season, and Tchouameni has shown what he is capable of. He works very hard; I think he is a great signing. He is still very young, he still needs to progress.

"We have a great midfield; we have young players, energy, quality, intelligence, veteran players, players who are tactically astute.

"But I want to highlight it's not that important the three players who start, because you can change the entire midfield during the course of a game."

And Tchouameni's instant impact has not come as a surprise to Ancelotti.

"No, I'm not surprised," he said. "If we invest a lot of money in a player, which we did, you have to be sure that he's the player you want. Just look at what he's contributed so far.

"We're working on the defensive aspect of his game; he's a good defender, works hard, but also you have to work alongside other players, know how they work, how they play. That understanding comes with time.

"It's different when you're playing along Kroos and [Luka] Modric than if you're playing alongside Camavinga and [Federico] Valverde, for example. I don't foresee any problems, but it is different."

Carlo Ancelotti emerged with a sense of personal satisfaction after Karim Benzema's two late goals secured a 3-1 win for Real Madrid at Espanyol.

The head coach saw his substitutes come good in the closing stages of the game to pave the way for Benzema's heroics.

Regarded as a humble man, this time Ancelotti was happy to take credit for the decisions that saw him shuffle his Madrid pack in the second half of a hard-fought contest.

He brought off Luka Modric and Federico Valverde in the 58th minute, introducing Eduardo Camavinga and Rodrygo, before replacing Toni Kroos with Dani Ceballos.

Camavinga brought fresh vibrancy to the Madrid midfield, Rodrygo set up Benzema's first goal in the 88th minute, and Ceballos was fouled for the free-kick that led to a red card and Benzema's late clincher.

That final goal of the game came 10 minutes into stoppage time, after a marathon delay for the VAR to resolve the moment when home goalkeeper Benjamin Lecomte clattered Ceballos. Lecomte was sent off and home captain Leandro Cabrera, a defender, took over in goal, Benzema taking advantage by firing home from the set-piece. 

"We won the game because of that energy. That of Camavinga, Rodrygo or Ceballos," Ancelotti said. "The game was slow and we changed it. Each game has its own story."

He said it was impossible to know how the game would have flowed had he fielded his substitutes from the start, allowing the likes of Modric and Kroos to come on and change the game in the second half.

"Sometimes team selection is a gamble and today I think the Real Madrid coach has gambled well."

The veteran Italian coach said Madrid had started brightly, as was exemplified by the sharp movement that brought about Vinicius Junior's early goal.

Former Madrid reserve striker Joselu equalised with his seventh goal in nine LaLiga matches against Los Blancos, before Benzema's double provided the late twist.

Three days after picking up the UEFA men's player of the year award, Benzema showed why he is earning such accolades at this stage of his career. He turns 35 in December but shows no sign of slowing down.

Benzema has scored 28 goals for Madrid in 2022 across all competitions, the joint highest of all players from Europe's top five leagues. It puts him alongside Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe, who snubbed a move to Madrid in favour of signing a new PSG deal in May.

In all, Benzema had eight shots, the highest of any player in a single game during the opening weeks of the LaLiga season.

The late show poured salt on Espanyol wounds, with the team from Barcelona having now failed to win in their last 10 league games, going back to last season.

Kroos told Movistar: "It's to be expected that we suffer against a great rival, also away from home. We controlled the game until their goal. We suffered a bit in the second half, but in the last 30 minutes we regained control.

"They looked tired and we took advantage of that. Winning away is not easy and we have done it three times in a row."

Madrid's first three league assignments have indeed come away from the Santiago Bernabeu, while work is carried out on the stadium, and wins over Almeria, Celta Vigo and now Espanyol have made it an ideal start.

Madrid sit top of the table but are joined on nine points by Real Betis, the team they host next Saturday.

Kroos says Madrid are braced for a busy run of games, as the Champions League group stage begins.

He said: "Every three to four days we are going to play against difficult opponents and there are always times when we are going to have to suffer."

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