Carlo Ancelotti has been pleased with LaLiga leaders Real Madrid's performances up to the halfway point of the campaign but warned there is a long way to go in the title race.

Karim Benzema's first-half double was enough to see Madrid past Athletic Bilbao 2-1 on Wednesday, the striker becoming just the fourth player – excluding Lionel Messi (nine times) and Cristiano Ronaldo (seven) – to hit 30-plus LaLiga goals in a calendar year.

Toni Kroos assisted the first of Benzema's seven-minute brace, the Germany international's 77th assist in all competitions for Los Blancos since signing in the 2014-15 campaign – no Madrid player has managed more in that period.

Ancelotti's side, who were without the likes of David Alaba and Isco due to COVID-19, managed to hang on for victory to move eight points clear of second-placed Sevilla heading into 2022.

The Italian boss, who is undefeated in six top-flight meetings with Marcelino, told reporters of his pride in the performance of his rotated side: "The victory means a lot to us, because of the COVID casualties, because of the complete game that has come out with a team that was not used to playing together. 

"We must highlight this, the game of Nacho, Lucas [Vazquez], [Eduardo] Camavinga, [Eden] Hazard, [Federico] Valverde ... They all had a great game. 

"Most of the time it was a game of quality and great commitment, that's the most important thing for me, almost like the three points, which is what always counts."

Asked about his side's lead and title credentials, Ancelotti responded: "We have done very well, but the balance is at the end of the season. So far, so good. 

"We will see if something can be won, that is the requirement of this club. But now we have a week off, we deserve it."

 

San Mames has been a happy hunting ground for Madrid, who are without defeat in seven league games in Bilbao – their best ever unbeaten streak there.

The home crowd greeted Benzema's late removal with rapturous applause and Ancelotti hailed his forward's performance alongside the work rate of Eden Hazard and Vinicius Junior.

Ancelotti added on Benzema's reception: "The ovation to Karim was fantastic, this stadium has a spectacular atmosphere, I really like it. Karim has deserved it.

"They [Hazard and Vinicius] understand very well what the team has to do, in defence and attack, they did it well. 

"They were committed and put quality, especially at the beginning. The difference is defending, we know this team can attack and score, we have very good individuals. So far, we are doing well."

Indeed, Madrid have defended well, conceding just one goal across December despite facing Athletic twice, Inter, Real Sociedad and Atletico Madrid.

Ancelotti was also buoyed on by the continued return of Hazard, whose career with the LaLiga giants has been hampered by injuries and fitness issues so far.

The Madrid head coach said on Hazard: "Yes, it works for the team, it is true that he had doubts about his physical appearance, but he did well, in the second half he fought, he tried things. He's back, I agree."

Madrid next face Getafe on January 2 after the mid-season break and will be boosted by the return of Rodrygo, who confirmed he had tested negative for coronavirus after initially returning a positive test last Thursday.

Karim Benzema reached 30 LaLiga goals in 2021 with a first-half double as Real Madrid edged past Athletic Bilbao 2-1 to extend their lead at the summit.

Benzema's brace inside seven minutes on Wednesday quickly helped atone for Madrid's goalless draw with lowly Cadiz last time out.

Oihan Sancet halved the deficit in a frantic opening at San Mames, but the hosts rarely troubled Thibaut Courtois after the interval as Carlo Ancelotti's side navigated the contest to seal the three points.

Victory means Madrid boast an eight-point advantage over second-placed Sevilla heading into 2022 and a 17-point lead over defending champions Atletico Madrid, who were defeated by Granada.

Madrid struck first when Benzema expertly whipped into the bottom-right corner following Toni Kroos' offload, before the France striker added a quickfire second as he rolled past Julen Agirrezabala – Madrid scoring twice in the first seven minutes of a top-flight game for the first time since 1994.

Sancet responded by crashing a strike from the edge of the area in off the left post, with Unai Vencedor then wastefully curling just over as Athletic searched for an equaliser.

Kroos sliced harmlessly off target from range after the interval, while Inaki Williams fired narrowly wide and Raul Garcia blasted over as the game headed towards what promised to be a nervy ending.

Substitute Nico Williams then failed to slide under Courtois as Athletic, despite their best efforts, were unable to find a late leveller as Madrid held on for a narrow victory to make it 11 LaLiga games unbeaten. 


What does it mean? Madrid title charge marches on as unbeaten run continues

Ancelotti's side frustratingly saw their 10-game winning run across all competitions abruptly ended in a goalless draw with Cadiz, but Madrid responded excellently to ensure a healthy eight-point lead heading into LaLiga's mid-season break.

Athletic, who are winless in their past 14 top-flight meetings with Madrid, proved fierce competition for the visitors but could not stop Los Blancos from continuing their unbeaten run in all competitions that stretches back to early October.

Brilliant Benz in cruise control

Benzema's first-half double were his 29th and 30th goals of 2021 in LaLiga. Since the turn of the century only four players – excluding Lionel Messi (nine times) and Cristiano Ronaldo (seven) – have reached the 30-goal milestone in the competition.

Indeed, the France international joins esteemed company with Luis Suarez (2015 and 2016), Radamel Falcao (2012) and Ronaldo Nazario (2003) the others to achieve the feat and the Madrid striker now also has 17 goals in 26 games against Athletic across all competitions.

Muniain masterclass in vain

Iker Muniain delivered a creative masterclass on the left wing against Lucas Vazquez, though the Athletic veteran's showing eventually proved in vain.

The Spain international created a game-high four chances – two more than any other player on the pitch – as he produced a delightful attacking display for the home crowd.

What's next?

Madrid return to action in the new year as they travel to Getafe on January 2, while Athletic visit Osasuna the day after.

Real Madrid playmaker Isco has been unfortunate to miss out on a place in the side, according to Carlo Ancelotti.

Isco, who was signed during Ancelotti's first stint as Madrid coach in 2013, has made just seven appearances under the Italian this season, totalling just 176 minutes.

The midfielder has struggled with fitness in recent seasons and was out of favour under previous boss Zinedine Zidane.

Once an integral part of Madrid's system, Isco has started only nine times in all competitions across the entirety of 2021, making 25 appearances in total, scoring one goal and providing only one assist, having created 22 chances for team-mates.

With Ancelotti persisting with a 4-3-3 formation, down in large part to the superb form of Vinicius Junior on the left flank, Isco has found opportunities hard to come by and has not played since featuring against Granada on November 21. He last started a match in August.

Reports on Monday suggested Isco had tested positive for COVID-19, bringing his 2021 to an end prior to Wednesday's meeting with Athletic Bilbao.

Though Ancelotti did not confirm if these reports were accurate, he did say Isco would not play against Athletic. However, he does not believe the Spain international's chances of regaining his place in Madrid's starting XI are over.

"It is a complicated issue to describe exactly what has happened," Ancelotti told a news conference.

"He hasn't yet had the opportunity to show how good he is, because the team started playing much better. It coincided with Isco not being in the team then, so it's been difficult to get back in the team.

 

"Nacho is another player [like this], [Federico] Valverde, [Eduardo] Camavinga, Marcelo. These are players who haven't had much playing time because the players playing now are playing really well.

"They've not had the opportunity to show how good they really are. But Isco and the other players I've named are happy carrying themselves in a professional manner, there are no issues, I am not unhappy with any of these players.

"They've accepted that the team are doing really well, and they continue to train and work hard and are waiting for their opportunity.

"Right now, unfortunately, Isco isn't available, because he could have played on Wednesday."

Another player who has been in and out of the team is Eden Hazard. The Belgium forward made his first LaLiga start since September as Madrid drew 0-0 with Cadiz last time out, despite having 36 attempts (the most of any team without scoring since at least 2003-04).

Asked if Hazard could handle the short turnaround, Ancelotti replied: "I have to evaluate the recovery of the player. Yesterday was fine.

"He has done a recovery session like the others, he trains today and then we will evaluate him. It is clear that he is not a winger who plays on the outside, as Vinicius can be, but that he likes the left wing or behind the striker. 

"It is an option that we have, because what I want is for the player to be comfortable in the position he plays."

Ancelotti will be without Luka Modric on Wednesday, with the midfielder still not back in training after contracting coronavirus.

Carlo Ancelotti insisted nobody should be blamed after Real Madrid's disappointing 0-0 draw at home to struggling Cadiz, applauding the performance even if the outcome was not as expected.

Madrid had been hoping to extend their winning run to eight league matches but failed to convert their superiority into goals at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday.

Los Blancos' 36 shots amounted to 10 more than any other team have had in a single LaLiga match this season and the most since Madrid themselves had 37 attempts against Levante in April 2013.

Those shots equated to 2.8 expected goals (xG), meaning it was only the fourth time in the past decade that Madrid have failed to score in a LaLiga game despite registering at least 2.8 xG.

Cadiz defended valiantly, their 14 blocks being the most any team has recorded in a game since Opta began collecting this data (2005-06), somehow managing to leave the Santiago Bernabeu with at least a point for the second season in a row.

 

Yet, as frustrating as it would have been for his team to fail to beat 19th-placed Cadiz, Ancelotti looked on the bright side.

Speaking to Movistar, Ancelotti said: "I think we've tried in every way, but it has not turned out well.

"It didn't work, but we tried, and therefore I don't have to blame [anyone]. There are many positive things, the only thing that wasn't positive was not having won the three points, but this is football.

"There are times you don't deserve it and you win, and others you deserve it and you don't win. They have played us with a set-up that always challenges us, but that's the way it is.

"In the first half what we didn't do well was breaking their back line, the intensity wasn't very high. The second half was different, we created a lot of opportunities.

"The ball didn't go in, but, personally, I'm happy. We tried, I don't know what more we could do. We could have had more quality in the final metres, but I am not going to ask my team for more."

 

Numerous Madrid players caught the eye but one of the most notable – even if he was not necessarily the standout star – was Eden Hazard.

The Belgian has been a massive disappointment since joining Madrid from Chelsea, with injuries playing a major role in disrupting him, but he looked bright at times on what was his first LaLiga start since September.

Hazard had three shots, his match-high 0.77 xG showing he was a threat, while he also played five key passes, the second most he has tallied in a league game for Madrid.

Ancelotti added: "It was difficult for him to get into the game, but in the second half he did very well with better combinations with the forwards.

"It is clear that Hazard can be one more weapon for us in the second half of the season."

 

Carlo Ancelotti says Barcelona "are not a direct rival" for Real Madrid at the moment, with the Blaugrana enduring a difficult season.

Los Blancos are eight points clear at the top of the table, having lost just once in La Liga this season against Espanyol on October 3.

Barca, meanwhile, are 18 points adrift of the leaders in eighth place and have won only six LaLiga games so far this term.

Madrid head coach Ancelotti feels that the likes of Sevilla and Real Betis, who are second and third respectively, pose a more immediate threat than the Catalan club.

"Now Barcelona is not a direct rival because we are closer [to] Sevilla, Atletico or Betis, but if I were Barcelona's coach I would say that we can't rule out LaLiga either," Ancelotti said to a news conference ahead of Los Blancos' league clash with Cadiz.

Ancelotti is without six players for Sunday's encounter due to COVID-19, with Marcelo, Luka Modric, Andriy Lunin, Marco Asensio, Gareth Bale and Rodrygo all unavailable, while Isco is a doubt.

The Italian gave fitness updates on the rest of the squad and was particularly optimistic about Eden Hazard's chances of playing a starring role.

"It is true that we have had setbacks but those who have tested positive are fine and the rest are ready to play tomorrow's game," Ancelotti continued.

"After the first positive tests, the [rest] all tested negative and we are determined to play. We have to live with it just as society is doing. This virus is less strong than before and we have to keep in mind that we have to take care of ourselves and follow all precautions.

"Hazard starts tomorrow. He wants motivation and he's going to play because he trained well and deserves it. He is always well. The problem is that he has not always been able to train 100 per cent and I think that tomorrow he will play a good game.

"Hazard is prepared. It is clear that in the first part of the season he had the competition of [Karim] Benzema and Vinicius [Junior] and now he can have a very, very good second part of the season.

"Benzema has trained very well. He is very well and will play. Modric has tested negative but remains confined. He is tired and has had a fever so he will not be there tomorrow. Then we have to assess what the regulations say."

Carlo Ancelotti believes Real Madrid are "clear favourites" for the LaLiga title after their convincing 2-0 El Derbi win over Atletico Madrid on Sunday.

LaLiga leaders Madrid moved 13 points clear of fourth-placed Atleti as goals from Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio stretched their unbeaten league run over their city rivals to 11 games.

It was Madrid's seventh consecutive top-flight win and lifted them seven points clear of Sevilla, although Unai Emery's team do have a game in hand.

Asked about his impact on his team's fine run, Ancelotti told a media conference: "I don't think it's the Ancelotti effect; I have a team that leaves me calm because of what they do on the field.

"They handle the game very well and they have defensive commitment. It's a team, not just high-quality players, and that's the difference.

"We are clear favourites [for the title] because we have done very well, better than others, but we are focused on the next matches because a mental downturn can cost us dearly. This is the only way to get closer to winning.

"Of the team I really like the defensive aspect; it is the one that we have improved the most since the beginning of the season.

"We are more solid. Although the pressure is not too high, with a lower block we use the forwards for the counter-attacks."

Ancelotti was fulsome in his praise of Luka Modric after another supreme display from the veteran midfielder.  

The Croatia international made a joint-team high three interceptions and completed 90.1 per cent of his passes, with his all-round display leaving his boss purring.

"I have congratulated him on the game because he was incredible," Ancelotti added.

"I don't know what I said, but he was spectacular with and without the ball. It was extraordinary. 

"He had a spectacular game, with personality and character. He is an extraordinary player."

 

Both of Madrid's goals were created by Vinicius Junior, with the Brazil international becoming the first player to provide two assists in a LaLiga clash between Madrid and Atleti in the 21st century.

"He is improving himself," Ancelotti explained. "I don't talk to him much because I don't have much to say to him; he just needs to make it effective. 

"I tell him he doesn't have to dribble to do it. You have to do something to help the team and he has made two assists that have helped us win the game."

Carlo Ancelotti sees no need to assess the impact Diego Simeone has had at Atletico Madrid and can only hope to replicate the Argentine's longevity.

Ancelotti returned to Madrid for his second spell as coach in June, after leaving Everton.

He has overseen something of a resurgence after a disappointing campaign last season, with Los Blancos sitting pretty at the top of LaLiga with 39 points from their 16 games.

Reigning champions Atleti visit Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday for the first Madrid derby of the season. Simeone's men sit 10 points behind Ancelotti's side in fourth place, albeit with a game in hand.

Ancelotti and Simeone have met 15 times previously across all competitions. The Italian has managed five wins to Simeone's four, while six of the encounters were drawn.

However, none of Ancelotti's victories have come in LaLiga, with Simeone's Atleti winning three times out of four – the other game resulting in a draw.

 

Indeed, Simeone is the only coach that Ancelotti has faced on four or more occasions in LaLiga without winning, though he did enjoy a famous win over Atleti in the 2014 Champions League final, as Madrid clinched "La Decima".

"I am not the one who has to say what Simeone has done at Atletico," Ancelotti told a news conference on Saturday.

"He has put Atleti among the best clubs in Europe. What has happened with Simeone is what all the coaches want, to stay in a club for a long time and leave their mark on the club.

"It is the dream of any coach. Hopefully it can happen to me at Madrid."

If Ancelotti really does wish to stay for a sustained spell at Madrid, then he is off to a strong start – Los Blancos have lost just one league game this term and have finished top of their Champions League group – although the 62-year-old has not spent longer than two years at any club since leaving Milan in 2009.

Ancelotti has managed in most of Europe's biggest rival matches, from the Merseyside and Milan derbies to Der Klassiker and El Clasico, but he insists Madrid must keep a lid on their emotions on Sunday in order to claim the points.

"It is three points. Then the emotional aspect, which is playing a derby against a direct rival," he added.

"It is clear that this is going to put more pressure on both teams. It is a game that all the fans feel in a particular way, but in the table there are three points [on offer]."

Asked if a victory would put Madrid well in control of the title race, Ancelotti replied: "We will have three more points over an opponent who will fight to the end to win this competition. 

"I don't want to put more pressure on this game than it already is.

"We have shown that we have done better than the other teams to date. But the league does not end today, we have to play for six more months and I don't know what can happen. So far we have done better, but we are concerned about the future, not the past."

Ancelotti did not win LaLiga during his first stint at Madrid, and conceded he has unfinished business in that regard.

"I would value it like the other titles we have won," he said.

"The Champions League is the most important competition in Europe and the world. LaLiga is also an important title and it is true that not having won it here gives me more motivation."

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti insisted there is still a long way to go in the LaLiga title race after Los Blancos moved eight points clear ahead of next week's derby.

Vinicius Junior and Luka Jovic scored in the second half as leaders Madrid defeated Real Sociedad 2-0 away from home on Saturday.

After defending champions Atletico Madrid were stunned 2-1 by Real Mallorca earlier on Saturday, Ancelotti's men are now 10 points above their city rivals heading into the December 12 derby.

However, Ancelotti knows there is still plenty to play for after 16 rounds, with Atletico boasting a game in hand, while Sevilla – who have also played a match less – sit second in the standings.

"I think it was just a good day for us," Ancelotti told reporters. "The league continues and results have shown that we still know there are a lot of teams that are competing at a high level in this league, but they are very even matches, we're competing at a good level as well.

"Hopefully we can continue. And as for Karim [Benzema], he had a bit of pain early on in the game and he didn't want to aggravate any possible injury, so we opted to replace him. We'll see how he feels in the next few days, but I don't think he'll be able to play on Tuesday, but he could be fit for Sunday."

Pressed on people labelling Madrid champions already and whether it is exaggerated, Ancelotti replied: "Yes, because we are a team that's fighting for the league title and we are first.

"We're playing well, but it's far from over, and I do think we're playing well and we have another big exam in three days time. 

"So today's game is a good performance, but we have to work well in our next fixture. I'm thinking about our next game against Inter [in the Champions League]."

 

Madrid will welcome city rivals Atletico to the Santiago Bernabeu in their next league fixture and Ancelotti added: "We are confident because it's a special game as well, because a derby is always a special game, and in these kind of games there are no favourites.

"So we're going to show our quality against their quality. I think it's going to be a great game, a complicated game as well. And we'll see what happens."

Madrid are the first team from Europe's top five leagues to have two different players with 10 or more league goals this season – Karim Benzema 12 and Vinicius 10.

Vinicius scored the earliest second-half LaLiga goal (46:47) for Madrid away from home since December 2010, when Angel Di Maria netted at Real Zaragoza (46:36) thanks to an assist from Xabi Alonso, the current Real Sociedad B manager.

Meanwhile, Jovic – who replaced the injured Benzema – was also impressive after teeing up Vinicius' opener before scoring a goal of his own.

The last time Jovic had a goal and an assist in the same league game was for Eintracht Frankfurt against Hannover in the Bundesliga in February 2019.

It also meant the Serbia international forward scored and assisted in the same game for the first time in all competitions (41 appearances) and was involved in the same number of goals than in his previous 22 games (one goal and one assist in 462 minutes).

Madrid midfielder Luka Modric praised Jovic, saying: "He put in a very good performance. He provided an assist and scored after having gone a long time without playing. He showed that we can count on him. We're very pleased with his performance and his goal."

Vinicius Junior capped a dazzling display with a goal as Real Madrid claimed a 2-0 win over Real Sociedad to restore their eight-point cushion at the top of LaLiga.

Brazil forward Vinicius opening the scoring two minutes after half-time following a fine piece of individual skill and some neat interplay with Luka Jovic.

It made the 21-year-old the first player born in 2000 or later to reach double figures for goals in a single LaLiga season.

Jovic added a second with his first goal of the season when he bravely headed in from close range. Madrid are comfortably ahead of second-placed Sevilla and have a 10-point advantage over defending champions Atletico Madrid who are down in fourth.

Sociedad began with intent, although Madrid had the best early chance when Vinicius saw his shot from the edge of the box saved by Alex Remiro.

Shortly afterwards Alexander Isak got his head on the end of Diego Rico's teasing delivery but Eder Militao was well positioned to clear the danger.

Madrid were dealt a blow in the 17th minute when striker and captain Karim Benzema limped out clutching his hamstring and was replaced by Jovic.

Isak fired wide from a good position before the break while the lively Vinicius and Rodrygo were both kept at bay by Sociedad goalkeeper Remiro.

Vinicius looked Madrid's most likely source of a goal and delivered moments after half-time when he jinked in from the left flank, exchanged passes with Jovic, and struck a low shot into the left corner.

Jovic reacted quickest to nod in Casemiro's knockdown in the box from a Toni Kroos corner 10 minutes later to increase Madrid's advantage.

Sociedad found it difficult to break down Carlo Ancelotti's side in the remainder of the game as Madrid chalked up their seventh league away win of the season.

Carlo Ancelotti says "children have to pursue the dreams they have" when asked about a comic book detailing Kylian Mbappe's love of Real Madrid in his teenage years.

In the autobiographical comic, Paris Saint-Germain superstar Mbappe recalls a visit to Los Blancos' Valdebebas training ground as a 14-year-old where he met his heroes Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The publishing of the story has only exacerbated rumours Mbappe will make the move to the Spanish capital, having been the subject of an unsuccessful deadline-day bid in the previous transfer window.

Mbappe is out of contract at the end of the season and has been largely tipped with signing a pre-contract agreement with Madrid, who are top of LaLiga.

Asked about Mbappe and the comic, Ancelotti replied: "Children have to pursue the dreams they have. 

"As a child I had the dream of playing in Serie A and I fulfilled it."

However, when asked which player he would like to be if he were to have a do-over in his playing career, Ancelotti name-checked another superstar striker in the form of Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland among his list.

"I would like to be a forward. Vinicius [Junior], [Karim] Benzema or Haaland," he said.

"What I lacked in my career are the goals."

Madrid battled to a 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday and face off against third-place Real Sociedad on Saturday.

As things stand, Ancelotti's side have a seven-point lead over rivals Atletico Madrid, who have played one game fewer.

The trip to San Sebastian begins a huge week that also sees Madrid face Inter in the Champions League and Atleti in LaLiga.

But Ancelotti says changes to his line-up will only be considered if players need a rest.

"We are not thinking about Inter and Atletico. I am going to put the best line-up to win the game against La Real," he added.

"Casemiro is going to play even though he has four yellow cards. We have no alarm, we are evaluating the squad. We have almost everyone. [Gareth] Bale has returned with the team, although he will not be in the squad. 

"Almost the entire squad is in good physical condition. I have looked a little at the statistics and only against Shakhtar [Donetsk] and Barca [did I] repeat the eleven."

Asked specifically whether his favoured midfield of Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos can cope with playing in all the games, he replied: "I don't know if they can play the three games in a row. 

"I have to think first if they can play against La Real. I have to think about it. If Modric doesn't sleep well or feels tired, I won't put him in there."

Carlo Ancelotti believes Vinicius Junior has "something special" after his stunning late strike sealed a 2-1 win for Real Madrid against Sevilla on Sunday.

Karim Benzema had cancelled out Rafa Mir's opener before half-time at the Santiago Bernabeu, setting the stage for Vinicius to secure maximum points in the 87th minute with a thunderous drive from 22 yards.

The Brazil international has now scored nine goals in 14 LaLiga appearances this season – one more than in his previous 82 games for Los Blancos in the competition.

Ancelotti has long been impressed with the forward's all-round play, but he is delighted that the 21-year-old has added goals to his game.

"Vini has something special," Ancelotti said. "His goal was extraordinary; a spectacular shot.

"He did not have the opportunity to make a difference with dribbling, he could not do what he wanted, but he has focused on being effective in the game.

"It's another step towards being one of the best. I knew his quality in one on one situations, in dribbling, but he did not have that ability to score goals in the past. He has shown another quality; he had never shown it."

The result moved Los Blancos four points clear of Atletico Madrid and Real Sociedad at the top of the table, with Sevilla a further point back in fourth.

It meant Madrid have now won more points from losing positions than any other team in LaLiga this season (10).

"The rival was very strong and they showed all their qualities in the first half," Ancelotti said. "After their goal it was difficult for us to press up; we became unbalanced and we gave them opportunities.

"After our first goal, though, we controlled the game. We finished the game well."

 

Madrid are in action again on Wednesday when Athletic Bilbao travel to the capital, and Ancelotti revealed he will likely have to shuffle his pack.

"Those who have come off the bench, like Eduardo Camavaniga and Federico Valverde, brought a lot of energy," he said.

"I can think of some changes I will make as the team is tired – we play every three days. Valverde – we need him because he is a player who puts all his energy into the game."

Carlo Ancelotti has insisted that Vinicius Junior will continue to play in his favoured left-wing role regardless of who may join Real Madrid in the future, with Kylian Mbappe heavily linked.

Vinicius has been one of Madrid's standout performers this season, recording 10 goals and five assists in just 18 appearances across all competitions so far – second only to Karim Benzema (15 and eight respectively) in both categories at the club.

Madrid were reportedly keen to sign Paris Saint-Germain star Mbappe in the transfer window, but a move never materialised, although the 22-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season and continues to be touted as a target.

However, Ancelotti has reassured Vinicius of his place in the side no matter who may arrive in future transfer windows.

"Vinicius is a player who has to play on the left and he will continue to do it regardless of [what other players are at the club]," Ancelotti said ahead of Madrid's LaLiga match against Sevilla on Sunday.

Ancelotti was asked about the club's new stadium plans and any potential future changes to the squad, but refused to be drawn on specific players such as Mbappe and Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland.

"I like good players and they are both very good," Ancelotti continued. "I have talked about the future of this club, which has always been very clear. 

"The new stadium, the squad we have with many young people, a lot of quality, means that the future is going to be better.

"I imagine the new stadium with Ancelotti. I don't want to mix names and hopefully, Carlo will be the coach of the new stadium."

Madrid are one point clear at the top of LaLiga with a game in hand on Real Sociedad and face a tricky task on Sunday as they host third-placed Sevilla.

Los Blancos have not lost any of their last five games against Sevilla in LaLiga (W4 D1). Not since April 2003 have they gone six or more without a loss in this league fixture.

Indeed, Madrid are unbeaten in their last 12 home games against the Rojiblancos in LaLiga (W11 D1), scoring an average of 3.25 goals per game across that run.

Carlo Ancelotti hailed his Real Madrid midfield as the best in the world after Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro turned on the style in a 4-1 win at Granada.

Kroos grabbed his first two assists of an injury-blighted season, while Modric and Casemiro laid on a goal apiece in an impressive rout on Sunday, as Madrid beat Granada for a 13th successive time in LaLiga.

The last time Granada scored a home win over Madrid was in February 2013, when they won 1-0 thanks to a Cristiano Ronaldo own goal, his only such blunder in 292 appearances in the Spanish top flight.

There was no danger of a repeat as Madrid grabbed this game by the scruff of the neck and were 3-1 up and chasing more goals by the time their hosts had Monchu sent off for a wild challenge on Vinicius Junior.

Marco Asensio, Nacho, Vinicius and Ferland Mendy got the goals, but Madrid's midfield three were outstanding, as Ancelotti admiringly acknowledged after the game.

With Real Sociedad only able to draw against Valencia in the evening game, it meant Madrid finished the weekend on top of the table by one point.

"What can you say," Madrid head coach Ancelotti told reporters. "They're playing at a very high level and are still the best midfielders in the world for me. They're doing things that I don't even ask from them, they do it naturally, and it's a big advantage for this club.

"They are the past, present and the future. If we're talking about the near future, absolutely. If we're looking in 10 years' time, then perhaps not. But we're in good shape for the future because [Eduardo] Camavinga, [Federico] Valverde and [Antonio] Blanco are ready too.

"They're used to playing together and they have qualities which are hard to explain. The way they switch positions during the game, sometimes Modric drops deep to play through the press and sometimes it's Kroos, Casemiro moves forward."

Kroos created a game-high four chances and finished the game with a passing accuracy of 97.4 per cent.

Madrid could have had more goals, but Granada goalkeeper Luis Maximiano made five saves. It was the fourth time this season the young Portuguese has made five saves or more in a LaLiga game, and only Espanyol's Diego Lopez has done so on more occasions (seven).

Ancelotti included Nacho at centre-back out of a wish to give Eder Militao a rest. He substituted the lively Vinicius late on, too, but stressed that was not due to injury but out of a wish to protect the young Brazilian.

"I took Vini Jr [off] to avoid any issues," Ancelotti said, quoted on Madrid's website. "The game was heating up, for us and for Granada I thought it was best to take him off."

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti has questioned whether Gareth Bale should have played for Wales during the international break.

Bale has not played for the LaLiga club since August after suffering a knee injury against Real Betis.

The former Tottenham forward made his 100th senior international appearance for Wales in the 5-1 win over Belarus, but picked up a calf injury in that game and is now expected to miss several more weeks.

"He had recovered [from the knee injury]. Wales thought he was fit enough to play," Ancelotti told reporters at a media conference ahead of Sunday's trip to Granada.

"Perhaps they shouldn't have played him, but we have to make sure he recovers now because he could be a very useful player for the rest of this season and we hope to have him back soon.

"Gareth is an important player for Wales and he likes playing for his national team, but he also wants to play for Real Madrid. You can see when he trains with the effort and work he puts in. Of course, if he wants to play for his national team, he has to play well for Real Madrid and train well too."

Ancelotti was also asked about Eden Hazard, who was recently described as "sad in footballing terms" by Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez.

The former Chelsea attacker has made just four starts for Real Madrid this season, and Ancelotti understands his frustration.

"Of course, Hazard, like most players who don't play often, is unhappy," he said. "To be honest, I would be unhappy if he wasn't. You want players to try and fight for a first team spot.

"He's had a stomach bug and needs two or three days rest. It's not Covid. It's like a stomach flu."

The former Everton boss also wanted to make clear his frustration at the number of games his team has to play before the winter break, with nine games scheduled in a 31-day period.

"The players, clubs and managers have all come out and said there are too many games," Ancelotti exclaimed. "Something has to change. The way football is working right now isn't good for the sport, and changes have to be good changes, not decisions that lack common sense."

The 62-year-old was also asked about the recent appointment of Xavi at Barcelona, saying: "I'm sure Xavi is going to bring something different to the club.

"I'm sure we are going to be fighting them for the title, and I'd like to discover if there is anything different with this Barcelona side as soon as possible."

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti has no interest in leading Italy as he enjoys "day-to-day work" at club level.

Italy are currently in good hands with Roberto Mancini, who guided the Azzurri to Euro 2020 glory.

Mancini is contracted to Italy until 2026, having overseen the country setting a new world record of 37 matches unbeaten.

A 26-time Italy international, former Parma, Juventus, Milan and Napoli boss Ancelotti was asked about coaching at international level.

"I don't know, I don't know," Ancelotti told ESPN Colombia as Italy gear up for their decisive Group C contest with Switzerland on Friday.

"I like the day-to-day work of training with teams. I'd have to think about a national team role, but I don't think so."

Ancelotti is back in charge of Madrid for a second time after leading Los Blancos to Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, Club World Cup and Copa del Rey glory during his first spell between 2013 and 2015.

Madrid are second in LaLiga this season, a point behind Real Sociedad during the international break, though they have played a game less.

Ancelotti's Madrid also top Champions League Group D, two points ahead of Inter through four matchdays.

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