Carlo Ancelotti suggested Spanish football has a "problem" with racism after Real Madrid star Vinicius Junior was abused again on Sunday.

LaLiga launched an investigation on Monday after social media footage showed racist insults being directed at Vinicius during Madrid's 1-0 defeat at Real Mallorca on Sunday.

The 22-year-old was subjected to racist abuse in both of Madrid's matches with city rivals Atletico Madrid this season, while LaLiga filed hate crime charges to Spanish courts after similar incidents in December's game with Real Valladolid.

Vinicius accused LaLiga in December of "doing nothing" to combat racism, and his head coach feels Spanish football must face up to the issue.

"The question I ask is this: What is the problem?" Ancelotti told reporters. "Vinicius? Vinicius' team-mates? What's the problem? To defend himself? What does Vinicius have to defend himself against? What do his team-mates have to defend themselves against? I don't know.

"It seems like the problem is Vinicius, but the problem is what happens around him. Period.

"It is a problem of Spanish football. I am a part of Spanish football and I think it's a problem that we have to solve. Because it seems that Vinicius is the culprit, but he is the victim of something that I don't understand."

Federico Valverde defended Vinicius' exuberant playing style after he was fouled 10 times against Mallorca – the most by any Madrid player in a Spanish top-flight match since Isco against Real Betis in August 2013.

Vinicius has won 79 fouls in LaLiga this season, 25 more than any other player, and Valverde feels Madrid's players must stand up for him to counter any opposition roughhouse tactics.

"He is an incredible person, with a lot of values," Valverde said ahead of Madrid's Club World Cup semi-final against Egyptian side Al Ahly on Wednesday. "On the pitch, he tries to enjoy it, that's the way he is.

"I always say that so many fouls on the pitch is part of the game, we have to defend him as team-mates.

"Another thing is racism and what happens on the pitch, [there is] so much anger. He is a 22-year-old boy. I think Vinicius deserves respect."

Carlo Ancelotti defended Vinicius Junior after the Brazil forward was subjected to rough treatment during Real Madrid's defeat at Real Mallorca.

Los Blancos missed the chance to close the five-point gap on LaLiga leaders Barcelona after Nacho's own goal condemned them to a 1-0 loss on Sunday, in which Marco Asensio also saw a penalty saved.

Vinicius, who complained of being targeted during his side's 4-1 victory in the reverse fixture in September, was fouled 10 times – the most by any Madrid player in a Spanish top-flight match since Isco against Real Betis in August 2013.

Having branded Vinicius "disrespectful" earlier in the season, Mallorca captain Antonio Raillo also turned up the pressure earlier this week by claiming he would "never" cite the 22-year-old as a role model for his son.

But Ancelotti leapt to his forward's defence, telling Movistar: "Everything that happens is not Vinicius' fault. All he wants to do is play football and then there is an atmosphere that provokes, rivals that squeeze him. 

"The focus must be changed. We have to look at what happened to him in today's game.

"Today, the referee has forgotten about the repetitions of the fouls. It is a yellow card when the foul is repeated, repeated, repeated and repeated again. From the first half, we have come out with two cards and Mallorca with zero.

"It's a defeat that hurts a lot in this sense, but it was the game we expected. We prepared a hard, difficult game, with many fouls and interruptions.

"The small details determined the match. We were very affected by the goal conceded early and the missed penalty."

Andriy Lunin, who was a late replacement in goal for the injured Thibaut Courtois, added: "We did not deserve to lose this game. I'm angry about conceding the goal.

"Madrid always comes back and we will fight until the end. We don't have to think about this defeat, now it's our turn to go to the World Cup [against Al Ahly on Tuesday]."

Marco Asensio missed a penalty as Nacho's own goal condemned Real Madrid to a surprise 1-0 defeat against mid-table Real Mallorca in LaLiga on Sunday.

Madrid fell behind when stand-in captain Nacho deflected Vedat Muqiri's header beyond Andriy Lunin – a late replacement for the injured Thibaut Courtois – 13 minutes in.

The champions toiled for long periods without absent striker Karim Benzema, and they missed a golden chance to level when Predrag Rajkovic saved Asensio's second-half penalty.

The result meant Los Blancos missed the chance to close the gap on LaLiga leaders Barcelona ahead of their fixture against Sevilla later on Sunday, handing the Blaugrana the chance to move eight points clear.

Fresh from three successive home wins, Mallorca wasted little time in taking the lead. Muriqi met Dani Gonzalez's inswinging cross, and his flicked header deflected off Nacho before looping over Lunin. 

Madrid controlled the remainder of a scrappy first half but failed to register a single shot on target before the break, with the likes of Federico Valverde and Antonio Rudiger restricted to ambitious long-range efforts that cleared the crossbar.

The visitors were presented with a wonderful opportunity to equalise on the hour mark when a VAR review ruled Rajkovic had fouled Vinicius Junior. However, the goalkeeper atoned for his error by guessing correctly to brilliantly deny Asensio. 

Ancelotti introduced the likes of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos in a bid to inspire Madrid, who had lost just once in their nine previous away games against Mallorca prior to Sunday's meeting.

Substitute Mariano Diaz volleyed narrowly over and Rudiger sent a header wide late on, but the stubborn hosts clung on to deal a huge blow to the champions' title defence.

 

Carlo Ancelotti hailed Vinicius Junior as a role model after the Real Madrid forward faced fresh criticism from the Real Mallorca camp ahead of Sunday's LaLiga game at Son Moix.

Madrid won 4-1 at home against Mallorca in September, with Vinicius complaining during the game of instructions from visiting boss Javier Aguirre.

The Brazilian felt Aguirre was telling his Mallorca players to hand out some rough treatment, and Vinicius confronted him about his orders.

Days later, Mallorca captain Antonio Raillo told Diario de Mallorca: "Vinicius should dance, but he shouldn't be disrespectful, he shouldn't insult or belittle his fellow professionals; then when he is branded as provocative he uses the race card."

This week, Raillo spoke again about Vinicius, saying in a clip on DAZN's Twitch channel: "If tomorrow I have to set an example for my son as a player, maybe I would give [Luka] Modric or [Karim] Benzema, but never him."

It means there will be focus on Vinicius on Sunday, but Ancelotti has no doubt the 22-year-old can cope with the attention.

"Vini's going to prepare for this game the same way as he does for all matches," said Ancelotti. "He doesn't need a sit-down, for me to have a chat with him.

"For me, Vinicius is an example of a footballer. Youngsters like players with such quality. My grandchildren have his shirt and they don't want another one."

Ancelotti spoke in a press conference on Saturday, ahead of a trip to face a Mallorca side who sat 10th heading into the latest round of games.

Defending LaLiga champions Madrid began the weekend five points behind leaders Barcelona, with a win over Valencia on Thursday atoning to some extent for last weekend's goalless draw with Real Sociedad.

Madrid have won nine of their past 10 games against Mallorca in LaLiga, including each of the last four, while Los Blancos have won six times in their last nine visits to the island outfit (D2 L1).

Ancelotti is unimpressed that Madrid have been handed an early afternoon kick-off slot on Sunday, having been in action on Thursday evening.

"We're not happy," he said. "We don't have a choice. The 72 hours is the minimum needed, so playing at two o'clock I don't think is right."

A Club World Cup campaign awaits, and Ancelotti could rest veteran midfielders Luka Modric or Toni Kroos on Sunday.

Equally, he could play both, as the Italian said: "The most important game is the one against Mallorca. There is a lot riding on the match, so I'll pick my best team, with or without Modric and Kroos, we'll see.

"This is the most important game right now and will help with preparations ahead of the Club World Cup."

On December 21, 2019, two new managers sat in the stands at Goodison Park, watching on as Everton hosted Arsenal.

Everton had just appointed Carlo Ancelotti amid Duncan Ferguson's full-blooded, temporary spell in charge after Marco Silva's sacking.

On the opposite side of the director's box, Mikel Arteta, who had been unveiled as Arsenal's new head coach a day earlier, looked down as Freddie Ljungberg took charge for the final time as interim boss. The match finished 0-0, both teams in need of reinvigoration and a sense of direction.

Arsenal have found that direction. Everton, it is safe to say, have not.

Arteta, of course, played for both clubs. A star of the David Moyes era at Everton, Arteta was "the best little Spaniard" the blue half of Merseyside knew, though the relationship was soured slightly when he left for Arsenal in 2011.

The former midfielder had been linked with the vacant Everton job when it became apparent he was ready to cut his teeth in management, though Arsenal always seemed the likely destination.

In fairness, while Farhad Moshiri, once an investor at Arsenal, and Everton's board have made numerous mistakes over the last several seasons, bringing in such an experienced, quality manager as Ancelotti seemed like a no-brainer.

Indeed, there were some suggestions it was Arsenal who had made the wrong call, going for the inexperience of youth (Arteta was only 37 at the time) when a proven, top-class winner in the form of Ancelotti was right there.

Arsenal would go on to finish eighth that season, while the Toffees ended in 12th. Yet just over three years later, Everton welcome Arsenal to Goodison Park again, and the contrast in their fortunes could not be more different.

While the Gunners sit five points clear at the top of the Premier League, Everton – now under the tutelage of Sean Dyche – are embroiled in a relegation scrap for the second season running. This time, though, it very much feels as if Moshiri and Co. might have pushed their luck too far.

 

Patience is a virtue

Arsenal supporters might be revelling in their title charge, but it would be fair to say that Arteta has not always had the backing of 100 per cent of the club's fanbase.

Despite leading Arsenal to FA Cup glory in his first half-season at the club (albeit no fans were at Wembley Stadium to witness it), Arteta was criticised in his first full campaign as the Gunners struggled to adapt fully to his approach.

Then there was his strained relationship with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, whose form fell off a cliff after he was rewarded with a lucrative new contract in 2020, and a move for free agent Willian that Arteta pushed hard for, only for the playmaker – now back in the Premier League at Fulham – to struggle.

Aubameyang's last appearance for Arsenal came, coincidentally, in the corresponding fixture at Goodison Park last term, when the Gunners surrendered a lead and lost 2-1 to a late Demarai Gray thunderbolt.

There was yet more scrutiny directed at Arteta and sporting director Edu when, with Arsenal having failed to add to their ranks in January last year, the 2021-22 season culminated in them losing out on Champions League football to rivals Tottenham.

A 5-1 home win over, you guessed it, Everton, on the final day did ensure they ended a campaign on a high, but the business Arsenal did in pre-season has been transformative, and Arteta seems to have finally and firmly got his message across.

 

Arsenal head to Goodison Park with 50 points, 35 more than Everton, having lost just one league game all season. They have scored 45 goals, second only to Manchester City; Everton, on the other hand, collected the last of their three victories (the lowest total in the top flight) on October 22, and have netted just 15 times in 20 games.

While Arsenal are reaping the rewards for the patience shown in Arteta – and, it must be noted, large financial backing, too – Everton are paying the price for flitting between managers and chaos in the upper echelons at the club.

A club in chaos

Even with Arsenal flying high, Everton could have cause for optimism heading into this match. They have, after all, won three of their last four Premier League games against Arsenal, as many as they had in their previous 26 against them, and that includes two successive home defeats last season and in the 2020-21 campaign.

They last won three home league fixtures in a row against the Gunners between March 1977 and August 1978, but the chaos of the last month, which has somehow surpassed even the disarray of January 2022, when Rafael Benitez was allowed to sell Lucas Digne before being sacked himself and replaced two weeks later by Frank Lampard, has drained any air of optimism that might come with a new manager.

Lampard was sacked on January 23, less than a year into the job following a 2-0 defeat at West Ham two days prior. In a summary of the level of dysfunction at Everton, the club did not officially confirm Lampard's sacking until over five hours after it was briefed to media outlets.

On the same day, Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher labelled the Toffees "the worst run club in the country" – it's hard to argue with that assessment.

While Lampard, with a meagre 23.7 per cent win ratio in the league, can have few complaints over his dismissal, that dysfunction was clear again in the managerial search that followed. Marcelo Bielsa was the owner's preferred candidate and even flew into London for talks, reportedly offering to take over the club's under-21s in view to taking charge of the first team at the end of the season.

 

Dyche, a polar opposite in terms of playing style, was appointed instead, though even that announcement dragged on into Monday.

The hope will be that Dyche can steady the ship, though he has already suffered a blow, with Everton – who are said to have targeted up to 14 players in a last-ditch scramble on deadline day following the £45million sale of Anthony Gordon to Newcastle United – the only Premier League club that failed to make a signing in January, when reinforcements were evidently required.

Arsenal, on the other hand, could not get their first-choice acquisitions (Mykhaylo Mudryk and Moises Caicedo) through the door, but boosted their ranks with Leandro Trossard, Jakub Kiwior and Jorginho.

Forks in the road

With Arteta's links to Everton, it's hard not to make direct comparisons, especially with the start of his Arsenal tenure coming right after that goalless draw back in 2019.

Arteta's first game in charge of Arsenal was a 1-1 draw against Bournemouth on Boxing Day, 2019. He has now overseen 115 top-flight matches as Gunners boss, winning 65, losing 32 and drawing 18.

That 56.5 per cent win ratio is far better than any of the three permanent Everton managers that have immediately proceeded Dyche.

Ancelotti won his first match, against Dyche's Burnley, on the same day as Arsenal drew with Bournemouth, and despite a flying start to his one full season in charge in 2020-21, even he could not guide Everton to European football.

He left for Real Madrid with a 43 per cent win record (25/58) in the league, having taken 1.5 points per game, not far off Arteta's 1.85, but far better than Benitez's 1.0 or Lampard's 0.9.

In the same timeframe, Dyche oversaw 88 Premier League matches at Burnley, winning 22 (25 per cent), drawing 27, losing 39 and averaging 1.1 points per game.

 

Dyche's overall win percentage across his 258 top-flight matches is 27.9, though his Clarets side did tail off in his final seasons, prior to his dismissal last April.

Only against City (11) has Dyche lost more Premier League games than he has to Arsenal (10), who would become the first team in English league history to register 100 wins against a specific opponent should they triumph.

Arteta has lost three of his five matches against his old club as a manager, so it's no sure-fire guarantee for Arsenal, but Dyche has an unenviable task on his hands... not just on Saturday, but in the coming months.

Carlo Ancelotti is optimistic Karim Benzema will not miss Sunday's trip to Real Mallorca despite limping out of Real Madrid's win against Valencia, but defender Eder Militao's injury is of greater concern.

Benzema teed up second-half goals for Marco Asensio and Vinicius Junior on Thursday, as Madrid moved to within five points of LaLiga leaders Barcelona with a 2-0 victory over Los Che.

However, the reigning Ballon d'Or holder limped out of the contest with an apparent thigh problem on the hour mark, after Militao had been replaced in the first half for what looked to be a groin issue.

While Ancelotti is hopeful of having his star striker available for Madrid's final league game before their Club World Cup campaign, Militao's initial prognosis is less encouraging.

Asked about the condition of the duo after Thursday's win, Ancelotti said: "Karim seems like a slight problem and Militao will not be fit on Sunday."

Benzema has been involved in 11 goals in his last 12 appearances for Madrid in all competitions, having only registered five goal contributions in his first nine matches this season.

After Sunday's trip to Mallorca, Madrid jet off to Morocco for the Club World Cup, where they will meet either the Seattle Sounders or Al Ahly in a semi-final tie next Wednesday.

Madrid's involvement in that competition means there will be no respite during a congested period, but Ancelotti is pleased with how Los Blancos have coped in recent weeks.

"January was a hard month after the World Cup and we've turned out well. We're going to see in February. It doesn't stop here," Ancelotti said.

"Luckily, they have put the game on Sunday for both us [and Barcelona]. Imagine they had put ours on Saturday night!"

The Premier League will always lead in Europe when it comes to transfers, but Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti vows his side will not surrender easily.

Clubs in the English top flight spent over a record-breaking £800million during the January window, led by a slew of big-money moves from Chelsea, who broke the competition's transfer record by signing Enzo Fernandez.

The financial outlay to bring in players to the Premier League saw the competition outspend the combined totals of LaLiga, Ligue 1, Serie A and the Bundesliga.

Speaking ahead of his side's Thursday clash with Valencia, Ancelotti suggested European clubs will always trail those across the English channel when it comes to spending sprees, though noted the Premier League teams will not necessarily dominate in UEFA competitions.

"We know what happens there," he said. "With the television rights, they can spend higher amounts. It will continue like this.

"Europe will follow the Premier League, it gives them an advantage.

"Even so, the competition against them, in Europe, it will not end."

Ancelotti's side are preparing for a busy four-week period that will see them juggle matches across four competitions, including the Club World Cup.

Though Madrid are ready to rise to the challenge, Ancelotti said the congested schedule laid out by UEFA and FIFA is a pressing concern for big clubs.

"We're in the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey, the last 16 of the Champions League and the Club World Cup," he added. "We don't throw away competitions.

"It is a [tough] calendar. LaLiga wants to do its thing, FIFA wants to do its thing, UEFA wants to do its thing. It doesn't let us have days off.

"The calendar is a very serious issue. We are excited to fight in all these competitions, but the calendar limit is being exceeded. We have to do something to avoid this."

Carlo Ancelotti hailed a "complete" Real Madrid performance as "one of the best of the season" despite a goalless LaLiga draw with Real Sociedad on Sunday.

Madrid sit five points behind leaders Barcelona after failing to breach Imanol Alguacil's defence in a largely one-sided encounter at Santiago Bernabeu.

La Real goalkeeper Alex Remiro thwarted a dominant Madrid with seven saves, the most he has managed in a LaLiga game this season, including three fine stops against the energetic Vinicius Junior.

Head coach Ancelotti was "satisfied" with his side's showing, though, as third-placed La Real held on for a precious point that kept them just three behind Madrid, having played a game more.

He said: "It was a shame because we played very well and we deserved to win. We played a complete game, one of the best of the season, but we didn't have any luck.

"The team is improving and growing and physically we are much better. Now the injured return and we have confidence for the coming months. 

"We have done very well with and without the ball and all we had to do was score, we came so close but it is a draw. I am satisfied because the team has played very well."

The majority of Madrid's attacking threat came through Vinicius, who attempted 21 dribbles – the most by one player in a single LaLiga match since Opta began recording in the 2005-06 season.

Dani Ceballos impressed in a rare start in the Madrid midfield, while Eduardo Camavinga showed his versatility in a fine performance at left-back.

"We pushed the 90 minutes to the fullest with great intensity, Real Sociedad has not played as they like because we pressed well up top," Ancelotti added.

"The extra time of the Copa del Rey [a 3-1 quarter-final win over Atletico Madrid on Thursday] was not noticed, we have had a high intensity for the 90 minutes.

"It was difficult to make changes because nobody deserved to leave the field, the team was playing well and I did not want to change the dynamics. 

"Ceballos and [Federico] Valverde played very well. [Camavinga] did well, he is an option because of his quality and his energy. He is not used to playing there and with Vinicius they created many chances.

"The game was good but if you don't score... now we are five points behind and we have to chase."

Madrid will hope to make up ground on Xavi's Barca when they host top-four chasers Valencia on Thursday.

Carlo Ancelotti has responded to strong claims made by Atletico Madrid CEO Miguel Angel Gil Marin that Real Madrid get preferential treatment from referees, insisting corruption no longer exists in football.

In a statement published on Atletico's official website on Friday, Gil Marin claimed Real are involuntarily favoured by referees and have created an atmosphere that influences officials.

Gil's strong remarks came a day on from Atletico's 3-1 extra-time loss to fierce rivals Real in their Copa del Rey quarter-final tie, which they led for an hour until Rodrygo cancelled out Alvaro Morata's goal.

Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior won the tie for the hosts at the Santiago Bernabeu in the additional period, after Stefan Savic was sent off by man in the middle Cesar Soto Grado for two bookable offences.

However, Atletico felt Real midfielder Dani Ceballos should also have been dismissed for bringing down Thomas Lemar when already on a yellow card and with the visitors a goal to the good.

"Anyone who observes [the situation] from the outside can see that for decades the same thing almost always happens," Gil Marin added in his statement.

"Unfortunately it no longer surprises anyone, it is not news. It's very obvious and you just have to remember the story."

Ancelotti was reluctant to get involved when asked about Gil Marin's comments at a pre-match press conference previewing Sunday's LaLiga match with Real Sociedad, but he did add suggestions of referees favouring certain teams are wide of the mark.

"I have not read the comments, though I have heard something," Ancelotti said. "I don't want to talk about it. The only thing I can say is that my character is my character and I respect to all opinions.

"It was a competitive match, an even match. I think for our part we deserved to win. The rest are matters I won't talk about."

Asked if he feels referees in general are doing a good job, Ancelotti said: "It is very complicated for them. It seemed that with VAR it could help. There is no longer talk about offside, for example. 

"But everything that is not objective can create controversy. The corruption is gone compared to the past. In general, refereeing has improved a lot across Europe."

Madrid now turn focus back to LaLiga and a showdown with third-placed La Real, who lost to Barcelona in the Copa del Rey in midweek but are on a five-game winning run in the league.

"La Real are playing very well and have good dynamics," said Ancelotti, whose side trail leaders Barcelona by three points.

"We have to improve certain parts. After what happened against Atleti, it is important to play a complete match offensively and defensively."

Karim Benzema suggests Real Madrid must find earlier goals in games if they do not wish to suffer after their 3-1 Copa del Rey comeback against Atletico Madrid.

Los Blancos failed to find the net until the final quarter-hour of regular time at the Santiago Bernabeu, when Rodrygo cancelled out Alvaro Morata's opener.

His superb solo finish forced extra-time in Thursday's quarter-final tie, with further goals for Benzema and Vinicius Junior cementing the turnaround for the hosts.

The reigning winner of the Ballon d'Or acknowledged his side made themselves work for their spot in the last four with their performance at points, but stresses they always had the quality to respond.

"It was a very difficult and complicated game," the France international reflected afterwards. "But with the players and talent we have, we knew we could make a comeback of it.

"Perhaps we need to score goals sooner, because we don't like to suffer. Atletico positioned themselves well, got in behind, and that cost us. Rodrygo's response was a great goal."

For Vinicius, his goal ensured a bright finish to a difficult day in which an effigy of the Brazilian winger was hung from a bridge near Madrid's training ground ahead of the derby.

Coach Carlo Ancelotti praised the 22-year-old in his post-match comments, adding there was never any doubt he would miss the match despite the incident.

"Vinicius has always wanted to play and was very focused on the game," he said. "He played a great game. What happened elsewhere today has been very regrettable."

Diego Simeone warned Atletico Madrid against focusing all their energy on stopping Vinicius Junior in Thursday's Copa del Rey quarter-final against rivals Real Madrid.

Vinicius is enjoying another standout campaign for Carlo Ancelotti's men, leading his team-mates for goal contributions (16 – 11 goals, five assists) across all competitions as they bid to follow up last season's LaLiga and Champions League double.

The last Madrid derby was marred by racist abuse being directed towards the winger, who responded by dancing in front of Atletico's supporters after Los Blancos took the lead in a 2-1 win.

The Brazil international will look to guide Madrid to their first Copa del Rey semi-final since 2019 on Thursday, but Simeone is aware he will not be the only threat for Atleti to deal with.

"They have very important footballers, highlighting just one falls short," he said at Wednesday's pre-match press conference.

"We think of Real Madrid as a team, they have a lot of very good tools to compete, we'll try to take the game where we feel most comfortable to hurt them.

"They're a competitive team, and when they decide to compete, they do very well. We must show our strength, enthusiasm and desire to play an important game."

Atleti have won five of their seven games since the World Cup, only losing to Barcelona in that run, and Simeone is pleased with the progress displayed by his team.

"I see us better since we returned from the World Cup, with more offensive options to create danger and working very well as a group," he said.

"I see the group as committed and enthusiastic, and we are going to play an important game, a tie against a very strong team with a coach that I greatly admire."

For Madrid, Thursday's game represents their first at the Santiago Bernabeu since a 2-1 win over Cadiz in November, and Ancelotti hopes returning to their iconic stadium will provide his side with a boost.

"It may be that we are favourites because we play at home, but both teams have motivation and enthusiasm," the Italian said.

"The illusion of going home, I think, will help us. Playing in front of our fans will help us. Going back to the Bernabeu will be special."

Asked whether the opportunity to effectively end Atleti's hopes of lifting a trophy this season provided additional motivation, Ancelotti added: "We don't think about that. It's an important opportunity to reach the semi-finals of an important competition, nothing more. 

"We take into account the strength of the rival and we know that it takes a lot [to win]. It's a special game, and it's going to be an entertaining game because Atletico are improving."

Carlo Ancelotti says Luka Modric and Toni Kroos understand the need to refresh Real Madrid's midfield after the duo found themselves on the bench for last week's win at Athletic Bilbao.

Modric and Kroos were introduced as late substitutes during Madrid's impressive 2-0 win at San Mames on Sunday, with the former Germany man making the points safe with a fine long-range finish.

Modric's tally of 17 starts in all competitions this season has been bettered by team-mates Federico Valverde (24), Kroos (21) and Aurelien Tchouameni (18), while no Madrid midfielder has made more total appearances than Eduardo Camavinga's 27.

Speaking ahead of Thursday's Copa del Rey quarter-final against rivals Atletico Madrid, Ancelotti said the experienced players in his squad understood the nature of Los Blancos' transition.

"They are professionals and understand the quality of this team," he said of Modric and Kroos. "I don't need to explain why they don't play. 

"They understand it very well, we talked about it in pre-season. Now is a time of transition for this team. 

"The veterans must have understanding and young players must have patience. That has been key to success in the squad. They are all motivated.

"They [Modric and Kroos] can still play together, I don't have a single doubt. They contribute a lot and will continue to contribute during this season. They are always decisive."

Ancelotti is yet to decide who will start in the engine room against Los Colchoneros, who triumphed in a two-legged tie when the rivals last met in the domestic cup back in 2015.

Asked about possible changes in midfield, the coach said: "It could be a part of the rotation that we have to take on for this game. Tomorrow we have to put together the best possible team, and that's what we'll try to do."

The last meeting between the clubs was marred by racist abuse directed towards Vinicius Junior, audible before and during Madrid's 2-1 win at the Civitas Metropolitano in September.

Vinicius was on the receiving end of several heavy challenges against Athletic last time out, and Ancelotti wants the winger to be afforded greater physical and mental protection. 

"It is a subject that we are concentrating on," Ancelotti said. "The player is in good physical condition, and mentally you have to protect him. 

"It's very important. Football needs Vinicius, who has an extraordinary talent. You have to protect the physical and mental aspects. He is very motivated and eager to contribute."

Meanwhile, with reports continuing to suggest Ancelotti is a contender to coach Vinicius in international football by taking the vacant Brazil job, the Italian insisted he had not received any proposal from the Selecao.

"So far, we haven't been in touch," he said. "If that contact ever takes place, I will let you know."

Vinicius Junior deserves more respect than he is afforded, according to Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti. 

The forward endured something of a muted outing in the 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao at San Mames Stadium on Sunday, contributing just one shot and being shown a yellow card.

However, no player won more than his six fouls, with the 22-year-old on the receiving end of some hefty challenges.

Ancelotti went on the defensive when asked for his thoughts on Vinicius and reinforced his affection for the attacker.

"He is a very sensitive person, and [yet], everyone pushes him," he said. "Rival players, rival fans and sometimes even the referees.

"Tonight, as always, he has been kicked around a lot. But he will get better in this regard. Right now, everyone is putting pressure on him.

"It may be that he sometimes loses concentration, but he is a very young boy. I love him very much and I want him to be respected a little more."

Goals from Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos delivered the goods for Madrid on the road, though the latter did not score until the closing stages.

It meant the visitors were forced to protect their slender lead secured through the France international's delightful volley.

The goal took Benzema joint-second on Madrid's all-time LaLiga scorer charts and Ancelotti was keen to pay tribute to his skills too after a tough end to 2022.

“He has returned with all his quality [after his injuries]," he added. "It brings us a lot, and we are very satisfied."

Carlo Ancelotti emphatically ruled out the possibility of Eduardo Camavinga leaving Real Madrid following links with Arsenal and Chelsea.

The 20-year-old midfielder joined Los Blancos in August 2021 in a reported €31million deal after emerging as one of Europe's most promising young players at Rennes.

He unsurprisingly took ownership of a rotation role during his first season, making 13 LaLiga starts from 26 appearances.

But the France international has struggled to kick on this term, with only five of his 16 league outings coming as a starter.

His future was then called into question on Friday when speculation surfaced suggesting Arsenal were particularly keen on a loan move, while big-spending Chelsea have been credited with an interest.

Camavinga's agent insisted on Saturday that the player is happy in Madrid, and Ancelotti looked to firmly put an end to the rumours.

"Eduardo is untouchable, like [Luka] Modric and [Toni] Kroos," the Italian told reporters ahead of Sunday's trip to Athletic Bilbao.

Camavinga is not the only Madrid player who has had to contend with a degree of uncertainty around his future.

Nacho Fernandez, Dani Ceballos and Marco Asensio are among the players who have entered the final six months of their contracts.

Nevertheless, Ancelotti is convinced the lack of certainty is not an issue.

"They could start the game, or be decisive in the game," he added. "You have to evaluate. From what I see, I see very motivated players, and they show it. We have to see what happens.

"Their contracts are running down and they show that they have motivation, desire, and concentration. The fact that their contract ends does not affect them at all."

Ancelotti also moved to draw a line under the recent controversy around Aurelien Tchouameni.

The Frenchman, who has been injured for two weeks, was not in attendance for the midweek Copa del Rey win over Villarreal because he went to watch the NBA game in Paris between the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls.

He apologised on Friday and Ancelotti says the situation is resolved.

Ancelotti said: "He made his apology public. He was wrong, but he is a young boy, and the subject has ended with this."

Carlo Ancelotti ordered his Real Madrid players to "wake up" before his team came from two goals down to beat Villarreal 3-2 in the Copa del Rey.

Madrid were beaten 3-1 by rivals Barcelona in Sunday's Supercopa de Espana final and they looked to be on their way out of the Copa del Rey on Thursday when they went into half-time 2-0 down.

Etienne Capoue and Samuel Chukwueze gave Villarreal in control, yet Vinicius Junior halved the deficit and Madrid were level when Eder Militao prodded home after Filip Jorgensen could only parry Karim Benzema's header into the centre-back's path.

Having started just three LaLiga games this season, Dani Ceballos seized upon his opportunity to complete a stunning turnaround to send Madrid into the quarter-finals.

After such a poor first-half display, Ancelotti revealed his furious reaction to his players at half-time provoked the much-improved second-half performance.

"I was really angry at half-time," Ancelotti told reporters. " I decided to take a risk and press high up.

"We weren't being forceful enough in our duels and I told them to wake up, there was still time to come back. They definitely woke up. It wasn't a good first half and we can't be playing like that.

"In the second period, it was an incredible reaction, as it always is. This club never gives up but we can't wait until near the end of the game to react.

"The team showed great personality to turn things around. The second half is fantastic for our confidence. We didn't give up."

Ceballos was Madrid's unlikely hero as he popped up to fire in from Marco Asensio's perfectly weighted pass.

Ancelotti felt that combination was one of the keys to victory, saying: "Ceballos and Asensio have changed the dynamics of the match because they put in more quality and energy, they were decisive in turning the result around."

An incident in the second half saw Vinicius clash with Pepe Reina, Villarreal's substitute goalkeeper, while Ancelotti was also involved in a confrontation with Los Blancos winger Rodrygo.

Rodrygo appeared to dismiss Ancelotti's offer of a handshake after the Brazil international made way for Asensio in the 56th minute, but the Madrid head coach had no concerns over the episode.

"He [Rodrygo] had a slight muscle strain and I decided not to risk him," Ancelotti explained. "He didn't acknowledge me because I think he forgot, I don't think it's a big deal.

"[The Reina and Vinicius altercation] was nothing. He was a bit wound up with Vinicius, that's all. I have a good relationship with him. What I saw, was that Vinicius got kicked a lot, like he does every game."

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