Carlo Ancelotti saluted "complete" Karim Benzema after the Real Madrid captain became the club's second-highest LaLiga scorer of all time.

The striker struck twice from the penalty spot in Wednesday's commanding 4-0 win over bottom side Elche, taking his Spanish top-flight tally for the club to 230 goals – surpassing Raul's 228 – with only Cristiano Ronaldo netting more on 311.

Marco Asensio and Luka Modric were also on target as Ancelotti's side closed the gap on league leaders Barcelona to eight points.

And the Italian paid tribute to his in-form number nine, who has now been directly involved in 15 goals in his last 14 appearances for Madrid (12 goals, three assists).

"Karim is not just a striker," the Italian said. "He is very complete, he combines well – today especially with Rodrygo. He is always ready in the area and helps us a lot in possession.

"His career is fantastic and hopefully he can continue. Real Madrid wants him at this level.

"Every game is good to gain confidence. When you win 3-0 and relax, there can be problems and I don't want it. The moment is good. We must maintain this dynamic of concentration and commitment."

Ancelotti also defended his decision to bench Modric, who completed the rout with a wonderful strike 10 minutes from time, as Dani Ceballos, Eduardo Camavinga and Federico Valverde comprised Madrid's three-man midfield.

The head coach highlighted the importance of rotation with his squad aiming to chase down Barca, while a blockbuster Champions League last-16 tie with Liverpool is also on the horizon.

"Modric is untouchable for me and for everyone. Everyone is important, and I have total confidence in everyone," Ancelotti said. "I have to rotate because it's a very demanding season.

"The statistics say that [Toni] Kroos scored against [Athletic] Bilbao when coming off the bench [in last month's 2-0 win] and that, today, Modric has scored coming off the bench. From there, they can contribute goals."

Carlo Ancelotti has been getting teased by his Brazilian players at Real Madrid about stories linking him with their national team.

Reports have suggested that Ancelotti is in line to become Brazil's head coach as the replacement for Tite, who left his role after the Selecao's exit at the 2022 World Cup in the quarter-final stage to Croatia.

At a press conference ahead of Wednesday's LaLiga match against Elche, the Madrid boss was asked if the trio of Vinicius Junior, Eder Militao and Rodrygo have mentioned the rumours.

"They joke about it," the Italian replied. "They laugh about it, but we haven't talked about it. We're friends, they laugh.

"They're jokes. But the reality is different. I have a contract [at Madrid] until 2024."

The three Brazilians have been key to Madrid's success under Ancelotti in recent years, but it was not enough for Vinicius to be named in FIFA's FIFPro Men's Team of the Year 26-player shortlist for 2022.

The shortlist was revealed on Monday, with Vinicius' name surprisingly absent despite winning LaLiga and scoring the only goal of the Champions League final against Liverpool in Paris.

The 22-year-old scored 20 goals and recorded 14 assists in 49 games for Los Blancos in 2022, and Ancelotti has been left confused by his omission from a selection of seven forwards that included his Madrid team-mate Karim Benzema, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo among others.

"Vinicius not being there seems strange," he said. "I think they've made a mistake."

Carlo Ancelotti insists Real Madrid will fight to claw back Barcelona in the LaLiga title race.

Los Blancos sit in second place, 11 points behind their Clasico rivals with a game in hand, which they play against Elche at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday.

Fresh from winning the Club World Cup after beating Al Hilal 5-3 in Morocco at the weekend, Ancelotti stated his belief that winning trophies makes you hungrier for more.

"I don't think it's a problem for Real Madrid," he told reporters. "The idea I have is that winning helps you win. When you win you feel things you want to repeat.

"Repeating is motivation for us. We have a disadvantage in LaLiga, but we're going to fight."

Madrid have won just four of their last nine LaLiga games (D2, L3) and were beaten 1-0 at Real Mallorca last time out.

"I don't need to give arguments," Ancelotti added. "Our fans know the professionalism of this team, of these players. They know that we are going to fight every game. I don't think anyone thinks that we are in a 'critical' situation."

The Italian coach was without Thibaut Courtois in Morocco, with the goalkeeper getting injured prior to the Mallorca defeat, but while Courtois will also not be available against Elche, Ancelotti believes he could have the 2022 Yashin Trophy winner back for Saturday's game against Osasuna.

Toni Kroos will also be missing on Wednesday through illness, though Eder Militao and Lucas Vazquez are in line to return.

"Courtois will not be there tomorrow, I hope he will be there for Saturday against Osasuna," he said. "Militao returns, Lucas returns... We have Kroos out, who has a problem."

Ancelotti was positive about Kroos' long-term availability, though, hinting that the German midfielder could sign a new deal with the club.

"I know what is going to happen, but I can't say it. I'm not Kroos," he said. "He hasn't told me, but the feeling is that he's going to renew, but we'll see."

When asked about Karim Benzema doing the same, Ancelotti replied: "I don't know, but I repeat: the legends of Real Madrid must retire at Real Madrid."

He was more certain that Benzema will still be at the club next season, though, despite suggestions that Madrid will be in the market for a new striker at the end of this campaign.

"Well, that Madrid needs a nine is an opinion," he said. "We have Karim, who is not a child, but he will be with us next year. This is not the time to think about next year."

Carlo Ancelotti joked he is grateful he does not have to retire at the end of the season after Federico Valverde struck his 10th goal of the campaign in Real Madrid's Club World Cup final win.

Valverde netted twice at Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium in Morocco as Madrid defeated Saudi Arabian champions Al Hilal 5-3 to win the competition for a record-extending fifth time.

Ancelotti said in September, when Valverde had three goals to his name, that he would rip up his coaching licence if the versatile right-sided attacker failed to reach double figures in a single campaign for the first time in his career.

That milestone was reached on Saturday in emphatic style, with the pair embracing on the sidelines after Valverde's second goal of the game.

"I'm grateful because I don't want to retire," quipped Ancelotti, who has now won the competition three times, in his post-match press conference.

"He has gone through a very difficult period. Valverde offers us a lot playing on the right."

Vinicius Junior also scored twice for Madrid, while there was a welcome goal for Karim Benzema on his return from an injury lay-off.

Brazil winger Vinicius was also on the scoresheet in the semi-final win over Al Ahly and won the Golden Ball, awarded to the best player of the tournament.

Vinicius has faced appalling racist abuse in Spain this season, but he once again let his football do the talking on the pitch in Rabat.

"We are delighted for him because we can see he's still improving," Ancelotti said. "He's much more effective now. He scores and makes a difference in every game we play.

"He was hurt by our loss against Real Mallorca last week but was ready to play in this tournament. We'll now go back to Madrid hoping the way he's played in this tournament will give him a boost.

"We know he won't play on Wednesday [against Elche] because he's suspended, so I'll give him a couple of days off which will do him good, even though he isn't showing any signs of fatigue. The opposite is true."

Liverpool and Newcastle United are reportedly among the Premier League teams exploring a potential move for Bayer Leverkusen centre-back Jonathan Tah – and the interest could be mutual.

Tah, 26, is in his eighth season in Leverkusen after arriving ahead of the 2015-16 campaign, racking up 283 appearances in all competitions and earning 16 senior international caps for Germany.

After five consecutive seasons finishing in the Bundesliga's top-six, Leverkusen have struggled this campaign, with just seven wins and a negative goal difference after 19 games, leaving them 10th.

Facing an uphill battle for any European football next season, the club will reportedly struggle to convince Tah to stick around, especially with plenty of interest from his desired landing spot in the Premier League.

 

TOP STORY – TAH SETS HIS SIGHTS ON THE PREMIER LEAGUE

According to 90min, Tah is "keen to take his talents to England at the end of the season".

He has two more seasons on his contract, tying him to Leverkusen until 2025, leaving the club with a difficult decision about whether to hang on to one of their top players or cash in and use the funds to improve the squad.

As well as Liverpool and Newcastle, West Ham are also understood to have touched base with Leverkusen about Tah's availability in January, while his name also came up in discussions with Tottenham, but they are said to prefer his centre-back partner Piero Hincapie.

 

ROUND-UP

– The Mirror is reporting Tottenham are admirers of 26-year-old Leicester City midfielder James Maddison

– According to El Nacional, Real Madrid have held talks with Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp about potentially taking over from Carlo Ancelotti at the end of the season, and Klopp is said to have requested the Spanish giants pursue Jude Bellingham and Kylian Mbappe.

Milan have an interest in signing 27-year-old Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita, per the Mirror, while the Daily Mail adds the Italian side are also impressed by 21-year-old Arsenal loanee Folarin Balogun, who has 14 Ligue 1 goals for Reims this season.

Manchester United and Newcastle are said to be two of many clubs keeping a close eye on 18-year-old Royal Antwerp prospect Arthur Vermeeren, per the Daily Mail.

– Fabrizio Romano is reporting United, Arsenal and Liverpool have all held talks with the agent of 20-year-old Barcelona forward Ansu Fati.

Carlo Ancelotti believes winning the Club World Cup this weekend could be the impetus Real Madrid need, as he backed Karim Benzema to roar back to his best.

Benzema has flown in late to Morocco, along with Eder Militao, in the hope they can play some part in Saturday's final against Al Hilal after recovering from minor injuries.

Madrid are having a sticky time of it, with a defeat to Real Mallorca in LaLiga last weekend seeing them slip eight points behind leaders Barcelona.

A Champions League last-16 tie against Liverpool awaits them in the coming weeks, a reunion after last year's final that Madrid won to conquer Europe for a 14th time.

These, then, are important days for Madrid, and landing a trophy would only help strengthen morale.

Asked whether the Al Hilal game was one where there was little to gain but a lot to lose for Madrid, Ancelotti said: "I don't see it that way, because it's an important title, the end of a long road.

"This final can give us a boost. The team have confidence and the important thing is not to lose it."

He added: "Evaluating Real Madrid's season is not easy. We started well with the European Super Cup and we did well up until the World Cup.

"Then the World Cup arrived and we said we didn't know what was going to happen. It took us a while to recover the players who went to the World Cup. January has cost us in terms of points and injuries. The month of January is over, February is here and I think we are doing well.

"We reached the important moment of the season with players coming back and with the idea of giving the maximum. Tomorrow is a final and Madrid respects finals very much. We will play to the maximum physically, technically and tactically."

After a spectacular season last term saw Benzema hit 44 goals in 46 games, earning him the Ballon d'Or award, injuries have blighted his follow-up campaign.

He has still managed 13 goals in 21 appearances, but the strike rate is down at one goal every 138.08 minutes, where last season he scored on average every 88.91 minutes.

His shot conversion rate has dipped from 24.18 to 15.48 per cent, but Ancelotti says the 35-year-old captain will remain his main striker this season and into 2023-24.

The ex-Everton and Milan boss spoke in defence of the former France striker when the question of Madrid possibly signing another number nine was raised in Friday's pre-match press conference.

"It is a subject that must be discussed calmly. Karim's age and Karim's performance must be taken into account," Ancelotti said. "Benzema is our number nine. After the World Cup he is doing very well and I think next season, too, he will do very well.

Ancelotti said there was no certainty Benzema or centre-back Militao would feature against Saudi giants Al Hilal, who beat Flamengo 3-2 in the semi-finals, while Madrid swept to a 4-1 victory against Al Ahly.

"Today's training is important," Ancelotti said. "If they are here it is because they have the chance to play. Today they will train and then I will decide."

Amid continuing reports Ancelotti is fancied by Brazil to be their next manager, the man himself again declined to state any interest in that role.

He said: "My situation is very clear, I have a contract until 2024."

Carlo Ancelotti resolved to help Real Madrid forward Vinicius Junior through the strife affecting him on and off the pitch.

Vinicius has been become a regular target for racist abuse from fans this season, with footage on social media appearing to show discriminatory remarks being directed at him during Madrid's 1-0 defeat to Real Mallorca last Sunday.

Athletic Bilbao midfielder Dani Garcia said in an interview released by Spanish news outlet Durangaldeko Telebista on Friday that he believed Mallorca players had "gone too far" in winding up Vinicius during that game.

Garcia said Vinicius "sometimes makes gestures that he should not do, but then I think that he is also provoked too much", and that by becoming rattled by opponents "he gets hot and honestly it doesn't do him any good".

None of that excuses or serves to explain the racism Vinicius has encountered from the stands, but working through the on-pitch battles he encounters is an area Madrid may be able to influence as they look to get the best out of the Brazil international.

Garcia said he had chided Vinicius more than he would other players in the past, and Madrid head coach Ancelotti is eager to find ways to make life easier for the 22-year-old.

"If you think there is a problem, you have to find a solution," Ancelotti said, speaking ahead of Saturday's Club World Cup final against Al Hilal in Rabat.

"We are not stupid. We are going to find a solution."

Team-mate Aurelien Tchouameni also wants to support Vinicius and hopes LaLiga will take firm action to allow the former Flamengo player to flourish, no longer fearful of facing vile abuse from the stands.

"Vini is fine. We know that there are difficult moments in football, against opponents, the public," Tchouameni said. "We are with him. The important thing is that he focuses on football and shows his level."

Tchouameni, who is also black, said this episode of racism was not an isolated problem.

"Against racism, there should be zero tolerance and it is something that must be eradicated as much as possible," France international Tchouameni said.

"It doesn't matter if they are white, black or red. LaLiga can also take measures, and we hope that the situation will change."

Argentina's World Cup-winning boss Lionel Scaloni and Real Madrid's Carlo Ancelotti are among the finalists for The Best FIFA Men's Coach Award 2022.

The duo are listed alongside perennial candidate Pep Guardiola of Manchester City in the final three, with the latter named as a finalist for the third time.

Scaloni, who finished fourth last year, took La Albiceleste to victory at Qatar 2022 and is recognised for his efforts in helping to seal a first World Cup triumph since 1986.

Ancelotti is feted for his work with Madrid, after winning a continental double and becoming the first manager to win all five major European league titles.

Guardiola guided City to another Premier League triumph, though he fell short in the Champions League once again and saw his team's main rival Liverpool nab the FA Cup and EFL Cup.

The Spaniard will be looking to go one better than his previous two appearances as a finalist in the voting, having finished second in 2019 and third in 2021.

Among those included in the final three for The Best FIFA Women's Coach Award, England boss Sarina Wiegman picks up a sixth consecutive nod in the category.

The Lionesses manager, a two-time winner of the prize, led the team to a maiden major honour triumph at Euro 2022, securing victory against Germany on home soil.

She is joined by Brazil boss Pia Sundhage – the Swede having claimed Copa America Femenina glory – and Lyon's Sonia Bompastor, who won the treble with the French side.

The winners of The Best FIFA Football Awards will be announced on February 27.

 

Carlo Ancelotti is hopeful Karim Benzema will be fit to feature for Real Madrid in the Club World Cup final.

Last year's Ballon d'Or winner Benzema did not travel to Morocco earlier this week for the tournament, having sustained a hamstring injury.

However, Ancelotti confirmed after Madrid beat Al Ahly 4-1 in Wednesday's semi-final that the 35-year-old will travel out to train with his team-mates on Friday.

Benzema will be joined by Eder Militao, though Ancelotti – who confirmed Marco Asensio and Dani Carvajal were kept on the bench against Al Ahly due to issues with their fitness – harbours more doubts over the defender's possible contention for Saturday's clash with Al-Hilal.

"They are not fully recovered," Ancelotti told reporters of Benzema and Militao.

"Karim is doing pretty well and there are more doubts about Militao.

"They will train on Friday and then we will see.

"Carvajal had a fever and Asensio a little overload. I think he will be ready for Saturday."

Madrid are going for a record-extending fifth Club World Cup title, with their first success coming under Ancelotti in Morocco in December 2014.

"Preparing it well, giving clear instructions to the players and introducing a good strategy," Ancelotti replied when asked how he managed preparations for the mini-tournament.

"And then, it's the confidence that we have players who handle this type of pressure very well."

Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilal stunned Copa Libertadores champions Flamengo 3-2 on Tuesday, and Ancelotti acknowledged he was shocked by that result.

He said: "I was surprised. At an individual level [Flamengo] had an advantage, but they are in pre-season and their physical level is not top, like the rest of the teams. They paid for it."

Carlo Ancelotti saluted the performance of Vinicius Junior in Wednesday's Club World Cup win over Al Ahly as the Real Madrid forward managed to ignore the recent furore around him.

Vinicius has been become a regular target for racist abuse from fans this season, with footage on social media appearing to show discriminatory remarks being directed at him during Madrid's 1-0 defeat to Real Mallorca on Sunday.

LaLiga launched an investigation into that incident the following day, though it was by no means the first example of Vinicius being abused this term.

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

Ancelotti subsequently insisted such treatment is indicative of a wider problem in Spanish football.

Vinicius went on to play a starring role as Madrid beat Al Ahly 4-1 in Rabat to reach the Club World Cup final, and Ancelotti was asked if being away from Spain helped him feel more at ease on the pitch.

"He likes to play football to the best of his abilities wherever he is, always," Ancelotti said of the 22-year-old, who put Madrid ahead with one of his four attempts and also created three chances.

"Today, he's always tried. He played a complete game, he was always dangerous and he scored a fantastic goal.

"He's been the Vinicius that you've seen in many games. He has shown again what he is, and that is a great player."

Luka Modric had a penalty saved in the latter stages on Wednesday when Madrid were 2-1 up.

Ultimately his failure mattered little as Rodrygo and Sergio Arribas scored in stoppage time to complete a resounding victory, and Ancelotti is not going to overthink the Croatian's miss.

"I have to choose better shooters," Ancelotti joked.

"Sometimes they fail. Luka usually does well, and you have to choose the best. I have made it quite clear: Karim [Benzema], Modric and, when the others aren't there, [Marco] Asensio [are the main takers].

"It's difficult to train on penalties. The environmental factors cannot be replicated in training."

Arribas' late strike was the 21-year-old's first senior goal for Madrid, and his impact off the bench was notable due to his status as an academy player.

Homegrown youngsters have struggled to earn minutes for Los Blancos this term, particularly in LaLiga, with Eduardo Camavinga the only player aged under 21 to make a top-flight appearance for them in the 2022-23 campaign.

Ancelotti stressed the young players are not forgotten about, however.

"The youth academy is a very important aspect, no one forgets the players from the youth academy," he said. "But we must bear in mind that it's not easy to give them minutes because the level of the first-team is very, very high.

"We are evaluating [the young players], they are progressing. The academy coaches are doing a great job, and [the young players] will soon be in the first team.

"But this squad has won the Champions League – it's a very good squad."

Madrid will face Al-Hilal in the Club World Cup final on Saturday.

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.

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.