Graham Potter acknowledged Chelsea's turnaround in form has involved an element of luck, though he also praised the "fight" of his players as he bids to continue the team's recent revival.

The Blues have won their last three games across all competitions, having previously struggled to string together a run of results since the mid-season restart.

Progress to the Champions League quarter-finals – where they have been rewarded with a tie against holders Real Madrid – has helped to ease the immediate pressure on Potter.

But ahead of Chelsea's final game before the March international break, a clash against Everton at home in the Premier League, Potter acknowledged his side had still needed the wind to blow their way in recent weeks.

"You need luck," he said after the wins over Leeds United, Borussia Dortmund and Leicester City.

"As much as you can be good, it is important to be lucky.

"But you can't wait for that to come around and sometimes you have to fight through the storm.

"We've come out of it with three wins, but we need to carry that form on. Now there are three points up for grabs against a tough team."

Pressed on drawing Real Madrid in the Champions League, a few days after he outlined his desire to lead the Blues to success in the competition, Potter insisted his focus was the Everton fixture on Saturday.

But on the subject of ex-Toffees boss Carlo Ancelotti, who is chasing back-to-back triumphs with the Spanish side in Europe, he was unequivocal in his praise.

"I've played against him when he was at Everton," he added. "He is a gentleman and there's nothing I can say in terms of the respect I have for what he's achieved in his career.

"I think the length of time he's had between Champions League wins – twenty years – is incredible.

"[But] where we are now is to focus on Everton. They play to their strengths and that is what we must focus on."

The Champions League quarter-final draw threw up no shortage of intrigue – particularly for Pep Guardiola.

The Manchester City manager will face Bayern Munich for the first time since leaving Germany in 2016.

But that is not the only reunion in the last eight as Carlo Ancelotti again goes back to Chelsea 12 months on from an epic tie at the same stage last season.

It might not be Ancelotti's last meeting with a former side either, potentially facing Bayern in the semi-finals and then Napoli or Milan in the final.

The Madrid coach has a mixed record facing sides he has previously coached, however, while Guardiola has some painful memories to get over.

Stats Perform looks at how the most dominant coaches of the modern era have fared against former teams...

Carlo Ancelotti (P14 W3 D5 L6)

The Italian eliminated two of his former employers en route to winning the Champions League in 2021-22, with dramatic comebacks against both Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 and Chelsea in the quarter-finals.

And Ancelotti's first European crown as a coach came courtesy of Milan beating Juventus on penalties in the 2003 final.

There was another victory against Juventus while in his first stint with Madrid back in 2013-14, winning at the Santiago Bernabeu in the group stage.

Yet after that match, Ancelotti went nine without a win in the Champions League against clubs he had previously coached, finally ending that run with the second-leg victory against PSG last season.

That miserable sequence included a semi-final loss to Juve in 2015 when Madrid were defending champions, along with crashing out at the quarter-final stage against Madrid while in charge of Bayern in 2016-17.

In September 2017, Bayern lost 3-0 to PSG, prompting Ancelotti's sacking. It is fair to say he has bounced back.

Pep Guardiola (P4 W2 D0 L2)

Guardiola may be set to face Bayern for the first time since joining City, but he has already endured a pair of rough returns to Barcelona.

His first Champions League trip back to Camp Nou, where the Catalan coach had so many happy memories, was in the 2014-15 semi-finals.

Guardiola's Bayern were blown away by eventual champions Barca, losing 3-0 in a game best remembered for Lionel Messi's mesmerising second goal that left Jerome Boateng in a spin. Bayern's 3-2 home victory in the second leg was too little, too late.

Yet that tie does not even include Guardiola's heaviest defeat to the Blaugrana, taking City back to his former home in the 2016-17 group stage and losing 4-0 as Messi hit a hat-trick.

City at least responded with a 3-1 win at home, but Guardiola will hope this latest reunion is far more enjoyable.

Jose Mourinho (P8 W5 D1 L2)

Guardiola's great rival Jose Mourinho has had far more joy facing former friends, although he has had the benefit of taking on Porto – the underdogs he remarkably led to the 2004 title – with some big hitters.

Porto were still reigning European champions when Mourinho's Chelsea faced them in the 2004-05 group stage, splitting the two matches as the sides won their home games.

Mourinho's second stint at Chelsea also included a double-header against Porto in 2015-16, in which they again won one game apiece, but the now Roma boss revels in knockout ties.

Chelsea beat Porto over two legs in the last 16 in 2006-07, before the Blues saw one of these encounters from the other side in 2009-10. Mourinho's Inter dumped Chelsea out in the first knockout round, going on to win the competition.

Zinedine Zidane (P3 W2 D0 L1 – versus Juventus)

Despite persistent speculation, Zinedine Zidane has still only coached one club – albeit over two spells – in Madrid.

But the former France midfielder played for Juventus before joining Madrid, and the Bianconeri proved accommodating opponents during his time as coach at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Zidane and Madrid won three Champions Leagues in three years between 2016 and 2018, beating Juve en route to the second two successes.

The Madrid boss's first meeting with Juve as a coach was in the 2017 final in Cardiff, where Los Blancos swatted their Serie A opponents aside 4-1.

It was a rather closer and more controversial affair the following season, when Madrid were coasting after Cristiano Ronaldo's first-leg overhead kick in a 3-0 away win in the quarter-finals, only for Juve to rally in Spain.

At 3-0, the tie was heading for extra time, before a remarkable finale saw Gianluigi Buffon sent off as Ronaldo scored from the penalty spot. Rarely has a 3-1 loss been so celebrated.

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti claimed Vinicius Junior is the "best in the world" after helping Los Blancos into the Champions League quarter-finals in Wednesday's 1-0 win over Liverpool.

The Brazilian provided the assist for Karim Benzema's 78th-minute winner in the last-16 second leg, having netted twice while setting up another in the 5-2 first-leg victory at Anfield three weeks ago.

Ancelotti stated Vinicius was "one of the best players in the world" prior to their Copa del Rey clash with Barcelona earlier this month, and he now cannot see anyone better.

"For me, he's the best in the world," Ancelotti told reporters. "Today he didn't score, but he played very well and provided a goal."

The Brazil international has scored 19 goals this season, along with 10 assists.

Vinicius is one of only two players to have both scored and assisted 10-plus goals (13 goals and 10 assists) across the last three editions of the Champions League, alongside Kylian Mbappe (21 goals and 11 assists).

The 22-year-old enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2021-22 with 17 LaLiga goals and 22 in all competitions for Los Blancos as they won a league and Champions League double.

Vinicius finished eighth in the voting for last year's Ballon d'Or, won by team-mate Benzema, while he came 11th for the Best FIFA Men's Player award won by Lionel Messi last month.

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of Benzema's goal, the scorer appeared to be hampered by an ankle injury and was quickly replaced by Rodrygo.

"It's a blow, nothing more," Ancelotti said. "I hope there will be no problems."

Carlo Ancelotti believes the high-press system favoured by Liverpool worked in Real Madrid's favour as the holders sealed a safe passage through to the Champions League quarter-finals.

Karim Benzema scored the only goal of Wednesday's last-16 second leg to complete a 6-2 aggregate win for Madrid, who have eliminated Liverpool from the competition for three seasons running, which includes last season's final.

The damage was ultimately done in the reverse fixture at Anfield three weeks ago when Madrid scored five goals in the space of 46 minutes to recover from two goals down and take control of the tie.

Liverpool had a number of chances at Santiago Bernabeu, but Madrid also tested Alisson five times before Benzema tapped in to inflict a joint-heaviest defeat on the Reds in a two-legged European tie.

Toni Kroos and Luka Modric helped control play for the hosts, and Ancelotti puts that down to Liverpool's playing style, which has brought plenty of success and trophies to Anfield in recent years but has not been as efficient this season.

"Pressing up high for them has cost them because Modric and Kroos manage very well in these types of matches," Ancelotti told Movistar+.

"They are not afraid and are able to get the ball out from the back. It has cost [Liverpool] in this sense."

 Madrid are through to the quarter-finals for a 19th time in the Champions League era – once more than LaLiga rivals Barcelona, and behind only Bundesliga heavyweights Bayern Munich (21 times).

Ancelotti decided against making any substitutions until after Benzema's 78th-minute breakthrough, despite having a trip to Barca on Sunday, with the Italian explaining he was wary of Liverpool finding a route back into the tie.

"The team was fine. There's no need to change for the sake of changing," he said. "I wanted to keep the substitutions to stop the game if we had problems at the end. 

"I liked the team. On a psychological level, in a game like this when you have a three-goal lead, you can lower your level... but we didn't lower it today."

Madrid had a late penalty appeal rejected following a VAR review in added time after a goal-bound shot hit Kostas Tsimikas on the arm, but Ancelotti had no complaints over the decision.

Asked about his conversation with Klopp at the end of the game, Ancelotti said: "We agreed it wasn't a handball. We talked about yesterday's penalty against Leipzig in the [Manchester City] game.

"You have to be careful with decisions like that because it's not football. I don't think anyone noticed it was a penalty, not even [Pep] Guardiola."

Ancelotti will take charge of a Champions League quarter-final for a 13th time, taking him ahead of Manchester United great Alex Ferguson and level with Guardiola (13) for the joint-most of any manager.

The only thing to be sure about with the Champions League, is that nothing's for sure.

That is at least what Liverpool fans will be telling themselves as Jurgen Klopp's men prepare to try to overturn a three-goal first-leg deficit against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday.

Carlo Ancelotti continued his habit of terrorising Liverpool as his team staged a comeback of their own, recovering from 2-0 down at Anfield to run out 5-2 winners.

The LaLiga giants also defeated the Reds in last season's Champions League final, and so the hunger for revenge should be strong, but to come back against a team as strong as Madrid seems fanciful... or so it would seem.

Perhaps the most famous comeback in the competition's history is Liverpool breaking Ancelotti's heart in the final in Istanbul in 2005 as they turned around a three-goal margin in six second-half minutes before beating Milan on penalties, and Stats Perform has taken a look at some of the most notable second-leg Champions League comebacks of all-time to see if there is any cause for optimism for Klopp's team.

Deportivo La Coruna v Milan – Quarter-finals, 2003-04

Speaking of Ancelotti's Milan, they had a strange relationship with the Champions League over a three-year period between the 2002-03 season and that famous night in Istanbul 18 years ago.

The Rossoneri won the 2003 final against Juventus on penalties after an astonishingly dull 120 minutes at Old Trafford, before their agonising defeat to Liverpool at the same stage two years later.

What happened in between might have been the most bizarre of the lot, though.

In the last eight of the 2003-04 season, Milan eased to a 4-1 win against Spanish side Deportivo La Coruna in the first leg at San Siro.

It would turn out to be a strange season for the competition overall, with upsets all over the place, but none as remarkable as Deportivo's turnaround in the second leg at the Riazor Stadium.

Three goals in the first half from Walter Pandiani, Juan Carlos Valeron and Albert Luque put them ahead on away goals, before substitute Gonzalo Fran sealed a sensational 4-0 win in the second half to take the tie 5-4 on aggregate.

Barcelona v Paris Saint-Germain – Last 16, 2016-17

The biggest and arguably most famous comeback in Champions League history, Barcelona looked dead and buried after a 4-0 trouncing at the hands of PSG at the Parc des Princes in the first leg.

Goals from Angel Di Maria (two), Julian Draxler and Edinson Cavani looked to have put the tie to bed before the second leg at Camp Nou had even begun.

Luis Suarez scored just three minutes in to provide hope, while a Layvin Kurzawa own goal just before half-time was followed by a penalty from Lionel Messi just after as the impossible suddenly looked possible.

Cavani scored what seemed to be a crucial away goal for PSG just after the hour though as hopes began to fade for the Catalans.

In the closing stages, head coach Luis Enrique raised eyebrows when he turned to Sergi Roberto from the bench, hardly known for his goalscoring exploits at a time when they needed three in a short period.

Neymar made it 4-1 on the night in the 88th minute with what most assumed was just a consolation, before Barca were given a penalty soon after, which the Brazilian also dispatched.

With seconds remaining deep into stoppage time, Neymar lofted a ball into the box to find Sergi Roberto, who applied the finish and sealed an unbelievable 6-5 aggregate win.

 

Roma v Barcelona – Quarter-final, 2017-18

Of course, what goes around, comes around and Barca were on the wrong end of a dramatic turnaround just a year later.

Their 4-1 home win in the first leg had them full of confidence heading to the Italian capital for the second.

As with Barca's comeback against PSG, the return encounter started with an early goal, with Edin Dzeko finding the net just six minutes in at the Stadio Olimpico.

The Blaugrana held out until half-time without further damage, but Daniele De Rossi scored a penalty to bring Roma to within one goal of going through on away goals.

With eight minutes remaining, Kostas Manolas headed in a corner at the near post to send the home fans into absolute delirium and improbably take the Serie A side through.

It was a chastening experience for Barca, but surely it was just a one-off...

Liverpool v Barcelona – Semi-final, 2018-19

After a 3-0 win against the Premier League challengers at home, Barca had put themselves in a strong position again, but this time with the caution that was necessary after their humbling by Roma.

Yet again, an early goal gave hope to the optimists as Divock Origi bundled in the opener for Liverpool in the seventh minute, but yet again, Barca held out until the break, knowing Liverpool still needed two just to take it to extra-time.

Those two arrived in very quick succession as half-time substitute Giorginio Wijnaldum made it 2-0 in the 54th minute with a sweeping finish before heading in a third less than two minutes later.

All the momentum was with Liverpool, and with an almost inevitable amount of farce, a quickly-taken corner by Trent Alexander-Arnold caught the visitors napping as Origi slammed in a fourth.

Two seasons in a row, Barca had thrown away three-goal leads from the first leg, amounting for half of the four occasions it has happened in the competition's history.

 

Manchester United v Paris Saint-Germain – Last 16, 2018-19

While this was not a comeback from a three-goal deficit, it is the only example of a tie in which the team that has played the second leg away from home has won despite losing the first leg by more than one goal.

PSG outclassed United at Old Trafford, winning 2-0 thanks to goals from Presnel Kimpembe and Kylian Mbappe, while Paul Pogba was sent off late on for the hosts.

The dominant nature of the win more than anything else is why few gave United a hope of turning things around in Paris, but once more, an early goal changed the mood as Romelu Lukaku scored in the Parc des Princes with less than two minutes played.

Juan Bernat equalised soon after, but Lukaku restored United's lead on the half-hour mark.

PSG tried to put their English opponents away but in stoppage time, conceded a penalty for handball against Kimpembe, allowing Marcus Rashford to fire home to give the Red Devils a place in the history books.

So where does this leave Liverpool's chances of overcoming a three-goal deficit in Madrid?

Well, Los Blancos have only lost at home by a three-goal margin twice in the Champions League, both in the 2018-19 campaign, going down 3-0 to CSKA Moscow in the group stage and 4-1 against Ajax in the last-16 second leg.

Meanwhile, Liverpool have won an away game in the Champions League by three or more goals on 10 occasions, eight of which have come under Klopp, while they only very recently beat Manchester United 7-0 in the Premier League, albeit that was at Anfield and was swiftly followed by a limp 1-0 defeat at Bournemouth on Saturday.

You could argue that if it were any other team than Madrid, who seem to have a spell over the famous tournament, you would give Liverpool a chance of doing it such is their own record of dramatic appearances in the Champions League.

It seems like an impossible task, but you could also argue that if ever there were an opponent who could do such a thing to Madrid, it may be the Reds, especially given their past with Ancelotti.

It would certainly raise an eyebrow.

Carlo Ancelotti has refuted suggestions he has a "cold" relationship with Eden Hazard, attributing the Belgian's lack of playing time at Real Madrid to the fine form of Vinicius Junior.

Hazard's Madrid career has been blighted by injuries, and he has featured for just 297 minutes across all competitions this season, with only 98 of those minutes coming in LaLiga.

In an interview with Belgian broadcaster RTBF, Hazard outlined his respect for Madrid boss Ancelotti but revealed the duo "don't talk to each other".

Despite that, Hazard – who has just over 12 months remaining on the five-year deal he signed upon joining Madrid in 2019 – confirmed he wishes to stay at the Santiago Bernabeu next season.

Asked about those comments at a press conference to preview Wednesday's Champions League fixture against Liverpool, Ancelotti said: "The relationship is not cold. 

"I don't talk much with him, but talking is a matter of character. Sometimes you talk more with one person than with another, it happens when you have kids as well!

"I respect Hazard, I value his thoughts. That's the most important thing, as far as I'm concerned.

"He's not playing because there is so much competition, because Vinicius is playing in his position and doing very well."

Pressed on the former Chelsea winger's future, the Italian simply replied: "For next year I have the players that the club makes available to me."

Vinicius tops Madrid's charts for both goals (19) and assists (nine) across all competitions this term, a fact which has not aided Hazard's bid for regular minutes on the left flank. 

While the Brazilian has recently attracted criticism in Spain for his attitude towards referees, Ancelotti is focused on his extraordinary talents and believes he can "write history" with Los Blancos.

"I think he's progressed a lot, he's come a long way and his attitude is good," Ancelotti said of Vinicius. "He has to focus on playing. That's what he does well.

"I think he is on the right track to write the history of Real Madrid in the coming years, as [Luka] Modric, Karim [Benzema] and Casemiro have done and others continue to do. Our group has been fantastic."

Karim Benzema has recovered from injury ahead of Real Madrid's Champions League clash with Liverpool on Wednesday, with Carlo Ancelotti warning Los Blancos to forget last month's win at Anfield.

Benzema joined Vinicius Junior in scoring twice as Madrid thrashed Jurgen Klopp's men 5-2 in February's last-16 first leg, but the striker has seen his form dip since that rout.

The Madrid skipper has failed to find the net in three consecutive games across all competitions, while injuries have limited him to just 15 appearances in LaLiga this campaign.

Benzema sat out Saturday's 3-1 win over Espanyol with an ankle problem, but Ancelotti says he is fit and raring to go ahead of Liverpool's visit to the Santiago Bernabeu.

"Benzema is 100 per cent recovered. He has done good work in training sessions since Sunday," Ancelotti said at Tuesday's pre-match press conference.  

"He has great enthusiasm for this game. For me, for the players, for the club and for Karim, this is a massive competition."

Asked about Benzema's lack of form in recent weeks, Ancelotti said: "We're not talking about criticism. We're talking about his condition, how he's doing... I see him looking good, motivated and excited for tomorrow's game."

Madrid became the first visiting team to score five goals in a European fixture at Anfield last month, and they have progressed from 26 of their 27 European Cup/Champions League ties when winning on the road in the first leg.

However, with Liverpool one of just four sides to have overturned a first-leg deficit of three goals or more to win a Champions League tie, Ancelotti remains wary of their threat.

"We have to work on our defence and what we do in the final third. We're not focused on that first leg," he said.

"We've got our game plan, which we're going to stick to. We'll try to start off strongly, play with plenty of tempo and look to win the match.

"We're going to approach this match like its just 90 minutes, we're not going to get the calculator out and work out how many goals we need. We can't focus purely on defending."

 

Madrid were involved in several dramatic Champions League ties last term, including when they squandered a 3-1 first-leg lead over Chelsea before sealing a 5-4 aggregate win in the last eight in extra time in the home leg.

Ancelotti is determined to enjoy a smoother passage to the next stage on Wednesday, saying: "Maybe people don't see me that stressed, but of course I suffer a lot and against Chelsea, I did! 

"Everyone played their part on that day and it was a remarkable victory. We've got to make sure it's a very different game this time.

"That's why I said we're not going to get our calculator out. We're going to make sure we book our place in the next round."

Eden Hazard has decided to stay with Real Madrid next season as the club's forgotten superstar clings to the faint hope of reviving his Santiago Bernabeu career.

The Belgian winger was Chelsea's player of the year in 2018-19, his final season at Stamford Bridge, hitting 16 goals in 37 Premier League games and helping the Blues win the Europa League.

Since leaving London as a 28-year-old at the peak of his powers, however, Hazard has suffered a wretched run of injuries that have blighted his Madrid career.

He has been fit for most of this season, but Ancelotti seemingly regards him as peripheral to his plans, and there is no obvious prospect of his status changing.

Hazard has played only 98 minutes in LaLiga this term and just 297 minutes across all competitions, and he has one season left on his contract before the club can discard the €100million man.

All the same, Hazard hopes that one year can be transformative, and he told Belgian broadcaster RTBF: "I would like to stay here. I have always dreamed of this club. I'm only waiting for one thing. That is to be on the pitch to prove that I can still play football, even if people doubt it, which is normal.

"There is only one thing that could get me out of the spiral in which I am, and that it is to play. After months without a game, I know I wouldn't score five goals in my first game. I need time. But at Real, we don't have the time.

"I see in training that I can bring something. I feel good physically. But there are other players who are doing well."

Hazard is destined to be watching on as Madrid tackle Liverpool in the Champions League on Wednesday before facing Barcelona in LaLiga on Sunday.

Addressing his relationship with Ancelotti, Hazard said: "There is respect between us. But I'm not going to say that we talk to each other, because we don't talk to each other.

"But there will always be respect. I have to have respect for a guy like Carlo Ancelotti. What he represents for football, what he has done in his career. There is no problem."

Hazard was such a special player in his prime, that to be reduced to effectively begging for a chance to reignite his career at the age of 32 is a desperate fall from grace.

He continues to be paid well by Madrid, but his professional pride has been jolted.

"I'm not asking to play 90 minutes but just to feel useful," he said. "Last season, my situation was difficult to live with. It affects me less now."

He claims some Madrid team-mates have urged him to move on and find a team where he would play.

"But that's not my option," he said. "I remain convinced that I can bring something."

Real Madrid forward Vinicius Junior has criticised LaLiga referees for failing to issue cards to opponents who repeatedly foul him.

Vinicius was on target for Madrid in Saturday's 3-1 win over Espanyol, with that his team-high 19th goal in 39 appearances this season.

He was once again targeted by opposition players, with his 138 fouls won in all competitions this term at least 34 more than any other player across Europe's top five leagues.

But Vinicius was himself shown a 12th yellow card of the season against Espanyol – only Sofyan Amrabat (13) and Alex Baena (14) have more across the continent.

"Referees don't give fouls and they don't give yellow cards," he told ESPN. "Players can foul me 15 times and, when the game is in the 88th minute, the referee gives a yellow.

"Players have to think of a way to stop me, and, by [committing fouls], it becomes very easy for them. 

"I don't judge the players, but I judge the referees, because they have to apply the rules correctly."

 

Vinicius added: "I'm not asking for anyone to protect me. Nobody has protected me in my life, except my team-mates, my parents and the people that like me.

"What I have to do is to try to keep a clear head. I make mistakes sometimes; I'm only 22. I'll make a lot of mistakes. But I want to make fewer mistakes and keep learning."

Asked about referee Jorge Figuerola's decision to book Vinicius for a rather innocuous challenge, Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti said: "I didn't understand it.

"It wasn't an action that stopped a promising attack. I don't understand the yellow cards they give him. His attitude has been exemplary and he scored another fantastic goal."

Vinicius arced a fine strike into the bottom-right corner to cancel out Joselu's early opener at the Santiago Bernabeu, before Eder Militao put Madrid in the lead before half-time. 

Marco Asensio then sealed the comeback win for Madrid, who have now won 10 points from losing positions in LaLiga this term – a tally only Osasuna (12) can better.

Ancelotti's side are back to within six points of leaders Barcelona, who play their game in hand at Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

Carlo Ancelotti credited Real Madrid's powers of recovery after Saturday's 3-1 win over Espanyol, as Los Blancos prepare to enter a decisive week with a spring in their step.

Madrid appeared in danger of losing more ground on LaLiga leaders Barcelona when Joselu put Espanyol ahead at the Santiago Bernabeu, but the champions responded well to cut the gap to six points.

Vinicius Junior arced a fine strike into the bottom-right corner to level, before Eder Militao's header put Madrid on top and Marco Asensio made the points safe at the death.

Madrid have now claimed 10 points from losing positions in LaLiga this campaign – a tally only bettered by Girona (12).

With the second leg of their Champions League tie against Liverpool and a huge meeting with Clasico rivals Barcelona to come in the next eight days, Ancelotti knows Madrid had no margin for error.

"The matches are all difficult, whoever the rival is," he told Movistar. "We needed the three points, a very important week begins now with the Champions League and the Clasico. 

"The beginning was not very spectacular, then we came back, we controlled it well, it was a good game. We needed to win, we won, and now we go for the next one.

"We arrive in a good mood, hopefully we can prepare well for Wednesday's game [against Liverpool], which has many traps, and they must be avoided."

Madrid hold a handsome 5-2 advantage over Liverpool at the halfway point of their last-16 tie, having become the first visiting team to score five goals in a European game at Anfield last month.

While the European champions are heavy favourites to reach the last eight, Ancelotti says last year's quarter-final tie against Chelsea – in which Madrid squandered a 3-1 first-leg lead before triumphing 5-4 on aggregate – should serve as a warning.

"I think we had an experience last year with Chelsea where it was very difficult for us to get through despite the advantage," he said at his post-match press conference.

"The fact is that we have an advantage, we are favourites, but we have to play 90 minutes with the same attitude as the first leg and with our best performance. 

"We cannot hide the advantage, hopefully we will take advantage of it with a match at the top level. We can't think about managing the result, the minutes... You have be at your best, like at Anfield."

The build-up to Saturday's game was overshadowed by the revelation that Madrid's board would discuss "suspicions of corruption" regarding Barcelona at an urgent meeting on Sunday.

Spanish prosecutors have filed a complaint against Barcelona over alleged historic payments to former refereeing official Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira, but Ancelotti would not be drawn on the controversy.  

"Tomorrow I know there is a board meeting. I refer to the club on this issue," Ancelotti said. "It's important, but I prefer to focus on the next game."

Real Madrid came from behind to cut Barcelona's lead at the top of LaLiga to six points, with Vinicius Junior, Eder Militao and Marco Asensio scoring in a 3-1 win over Espanyol at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Madrid entered Saturday's game having gone three matches without a win, and they threatened to lose further ground in the title race when Joselu's early strike put Espanyol ahead.

However, a solo effort from Vinicius Junior swiftly levelled things up, before Militao nodded home at the back post to put the hosts on top before half-time.

Asensio escaped in behind to net a third late on, ensuring Madrid went six points behind Barcelona ahead of the Blaugrana's trip to Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, with the Clasico rivals due to face off in a huge clash next week. 

Espanyol stunned the Bernabeu with their first real attack eight minutes in, Joselu guiding a side-footed finish into the top-right corner after Ruben Sanchez broke beyond Eduardo Camavinga to cross.

Madrid almost went 2-0 down when Vinicius Souza's header forced Thibaut Courtois into action, but they were level after 22 minutes as Vinicius Junior skipped inside to bend a terrific finish into the bottom-right corner.

With Espanyol coming under intolerable pressure, Militao gave Madrid the lead six minutes before the break, heading Aurelien Tchouameni's delicate delivery in off the crossbar.

A last-ditch clearance from Vinicius Souza denied Rodrygo as Madrid continued to press after the interval, before Leandro Cabrera scuffed an effort wide at the other end.

Rodrygo then rattled the crossbar with a fine free-kick as Espanyol faded, before substitute Asensio applied a calm one-on-one finish to make the points safe in stoppage time.

Carlo Ancelotti has backed Karim Benzema to play a big part in Real Madrid's end to the season.

The French striker has come in for criticism as Madrid have struggled for goals domestically in recent weeks, despite his brace against Liverpool in their 5-2 win at Anfield in the Champions League last-16 first leg.

Ballon d'Or holder Benzema has scored 11 goals in 15 LaLiga games but has not netted in his last three in all competitions, and he will be missing from the team for Saturday's home game with Espanyol because of an ankle injury.

"He was a key player for us [last season], he performed incredibly, scored more than 40 goals," Ancelotti said at a press conference on Friday.

"It affected us a bit [earlier this season] because he couldn't reach his top level. This second part of the season he has been important for us, and we think he will be key for us until the end of the season. He has a knock, and he has to get better."

Regarding Benzema's contract, which expires at the end of the season, Ancelotti said: "He has been here for so many years, I'm absolutely sure about what's going to happen next year, but I'm not a magician."

The Madrid head coach was also asked again about the possibility of signing long-term target Kylian Mbappe after Paris Saint-Germain's exit from the Champions League at the hands of Bayern Munich on Wednesday.

"Well, it's a question you can ask me whenever, but it is something to which I will never reply," he said.

Ancelotti confirmed Rodrygo will play as the central striker against Espanyol, adding: "He has to play where the team needs him, maybe at some point he can play as a winger to show his quality, or as a number 10, but he can play in different places."

He was also asked about criticism of him and his team for their recent form, having not won any of their three games since the success at Liverpool (D2 L1).

"I don't want to think about it, but it is always like this," Ancelotti said. "When there are difficult moments, criticism starts."

Carlo Ancelotti vowed Real Madrid will not give up on chasing down Barcelona at the top of LaLiga, despite his side falling nine points adrift of the leaders on Sunday.

Madrid were held to a goalless draw by Real Betis on a potentially pivotal day in the title race, a few hours after 10-man Barcelona had battled to a 1-0 home win against Valencia.

Los Blancos still have to travel to Barca in a fortnight, but Opta's league predictor now gives the reigning champions just a 9.8 per cent chance of finishing top of the table.

After seeing his side held for a second league game running, having drawn 1-1 against Atletico Madrid last week, Ancelotti accepted Madrid have their work cut out.

"It's not impossible," he told Movistar when asked if there is any hope of catching Barca. "It will be very difficult, very complicated, but we have no doubt we'll fight until the end.

"Of course these results are affecting the team. If it doesn't then you have no room to improve." 

Madrid are without a win in three games after going down 1-0 to Barcelona in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final on Thursday.

The European champions have failed to score in their past two games, which is as many as in their previous 39 matches.

After being unable to register a shot on target against Barca and in the first half against Betis, Madrid did at least improve in the second half as Claudio Bravo made five saves.

"It was a difficult match for us," Ancelotti added. "We know we could have done better in terms of efficiency in attack. We had opportunities but lacked efficiency.

"This is the reality. We've scored only one goal in our past three games, and it's clear to see what we're missing from set-pieces. We have the quality to be doing better.

"We know we have to improve in that regard. We know in moments like this we have to do better."

 

Karim Benzema thought he had given Madrid the lead in the 15th minute, only for his free-kick to be ruled out after a VAR check showed the ball hit Antonio Rudiger on the arm.

Madrid have now played out six goalless draws with Betis in the league this century – against no side have they done so more often – with this latest stalemate particularly costly.

Dani Ceballos, who wasted one of a few good chances that fell the visitors' way in the second half, echoed Ancelotti's sentiment that his side must keep on fighting.

"There are still games left and we are not that far away [from Barcelona]," he said. "The DNA of this club is to fight until the end. Where there is an opportunity, Madrid will fight.

"We have a very important game against Espanyol next Saturday in front of our fans. We also have Barcelona to play, so we have to do our best before the international break."

Betis fell short of registering a fourth straight league win for the first time since December 2021, but head coach Manuel Pellegrini was happy to come away with a point against his former club.

"Winning games is important, but if you can't do that then it's better to not lose," said Pellegrini, whose side are three points adrift of fourth-placed Real Sociedad.

"I think it was a fair point for both teams. There are many teams in the fight for the top four and others will also start to challenge."

Carlo Ancelotti is not concerned by Real Madrid's struggles in front of goal and is confident Karim Benzema will soon get back to scoring ways.

Madrid failed to register a single shot on target in Thursday's 1-0 Copa del Rey semi-final first-leg loss to Barcelona – the first time that has happened in a home game since 2010.

Los Blancos managed seven attempts on target in their most recent LaLiga outing, but they found the net from just one of those in a 1-1 draw against Atletico Madrid.

Benzema played a full part in both games without scoring, but his mini drought was preceded by a two-goal showing in Madrid's stunning 5-2 Champions League win at Liverpool.

The former France international has 18 goals in 26 appearances this season, and Ancelotti defended Benzema's displays ahead of facing Real Betis.

"It's not possible to be 'at the top' in every game," Ancelotti said at Saturday's pre-match press conference. "Karim doesn't worry me because I see him in good shape.

"He's in a good physical condition, certainly better than in the first part of the season. At the offensive level, collectively, we are very good.

"We are the team with the most goals in the league. Benzema has failed at some specific moments, nothing more. But there is no 'offensive problem'. We scored five at Anfield."

 

Vinicius Junior was fouled a game-high five times against Barca and has now been fouled 130 times this term – 32 times more than any player across Europe's top five leagues.

The Brazil winger reacted angrily to a couple of challenges, but Ancelotti is not concerned about the 22-year-old being sent off for retaliating.

"It doesn't worry me at all," Ancelotti said. "The important thing here is that Vinicius doesn't lose the love of playing. 

"In recent games they have defended against him very well, that's why it has cost him at times."

Madrid are aiming to avoid going three games without a win in all competitions for the first time this season when they face Betis.

Ancelotti's side, who trail leaders Barcelona by seven points, have won five of their past six visits to Betis in LaLiga.

"We enter the game in good shape and we are recovering players," Ancelotti said. "We know Sunday's game will be difficult against a great team who play attractive football.

"There is no margin for error. We will have to give everything to get the win."

Carlo Ancelotti is convinced Real Madrid have the firepower to overturn their 1-0 Copa del Rey semi-final first-leg defeat to a Barcelona side he suggests did not want to play.

Barca claimed a smash-and-grab victory at the Santiago Bernabeu on Thursday to take a slender advantage into next month's return game at Camp Nou.

The decisive goal came in the 26th minute when Franck Kessie's shot was saved by Thibaut Courtois before going in off Eder Militao.

Madrid were largely dominant otherwise, with Barca having just 35.3 per cent of the possession – that is their smallest share of the ball in a single match since Opta records began (2013-14 season).

Similarly, it was only the third time since the start of last year that Barca have recorded less than 50 per cent possession in a match.

Ancelotti was unimpressed by Barca's performance and remains confident Madrid will reach the final, despite Los Blancos failing to get a single shot on target for only the third time in a decade.

"The team played well," he told reporters. "Barcelona played like they didn't want to play.

"We haven't been good in the last third. Defeat hurts, but if we do the same in the second leg, we have a chance to progress.

"We played the game we have to play: pressing, playing with intensity. We lacked a goal, but they did nothing to score. They were lucky with a rebound. We have 90 minutes [to turn it around]."

He added: "We've failed, but we did not deserve to lose. But in 90 minutes we can score a goal in Barcelona."

Despite the obvious frustration in his voice, Ancelotti was undoubtedly impressed with how Madrid managed to control the majority of the game, forcing Barca to play mostly on the edge of their own box.

"It's a very bad result, undeserved, but it was a game well done on our part, with intensity and commitment.

"We didn't let Barca play the way they want. They had a very low block, not because they wanted to, but because we made them do it.

"It was difficult to have opportunities, we tried from outside the box, but they have great defenders and they gave us problems in the crosses.

"It was difficult to find spaces. They were very closed off. I have nothing to reproach. I am very happy and I am very excited to do the same in the second leg.

"They have an advantage, but we have all the confidence in the world to be able [to turn it around]."

The second leg is at Camp Nou on April 5.

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