Borussia Dortmund must put their Champions League heartbreak behind them when they attempt to secure a club record ninth consecutive Bundesliga win in the 100th Revierderby against Schalke.

Edin Terzic's side crashed out of Europe's premier club competition in the round-of-16 when they were beaten 2-0 at Chelsea on Tuesday, having won the first leg 1-0.

That ended Dortmund's run of 10 consecutive victories and they felt hard done by, as referee Danny Makkelie allowed Kai Havertz to retake a decisive penalty due to encroachment and he made no mistake after missing his first attempt.

Dortmund must turn their attention back to the battle for the Bundesliga title and resuming their rivalry with relegation-threatened Schalke at the VELTINS-Arena on Saturday, when Marco Reus could make history.

Level on points with Bayern Munich at the top of the table, Dortmund have the opportunity to take their frustration out on the Royal Blues.

Stats Perform picks out the standout Opta data for the big derby.


From Champions League misery to cloud nine?

Dortmund have been licking their wounds since the pain of being consigned to a Champions League exit at Stamford Bridge.

They have no time to feel sorry for themselves, with so much at stake as they strive to dethrone Bayern.

Dortmund could win a club record ninth top-flight game in a row this weekend, having matched their best run with a 2-1 victory over RB Leipzig.

They have previously won eight in a row between 2011 and 2012, then again two years ago. 


Reus can go out on his way

Dortmund stalwart Reus is one goal away from becoming the outright record scorer for the club after he was on target against Leipzig.

That strike was his 159th for the club in all competitions, drawing him level with Michael Zorc.

Reus has been struggling with a cold, so it remains to be seen if he gets the chance to go out on his own in the home of Dortmund's rivals.

The skipper has had a hand in at least one goal in each of his past three Bundesliga games, scoring twice and setting two up.


Derby delight a distant memory for Schalke

Schalke have not only lost their past four encounters with Dortmund, but also failed to score in five matches against their rivals.

The last time they found the back of the Dortmund net was in April 2019, when they celebrated a 4-2 away victory after Reus and Marius Wolf were sent off.

Youssoufa Moukoko scored the only goal of the game when they met in September and Dortmund ran riot when they last travelled to Schalke, Erling Haaland scoring twice in a 4-0 rout just over two years ago – their joint-highest win over the Royal Blues.

Dortmund have only previously won four consecutive games against Schalke when they went on to beat them eight times in a row between 1964 and 1967.


Schalke fighting for their lives

The Royal Blues are battling to avoid relegation after securing promotion back to the top flight last season.

They are making a fight of it under Thomas Reis, securing back-to-back wins over fellow strugglers Stuttgart and Bochum to haul themselves off the bottom of the table.

Schalke had reeled off four goalless draws on the spin before defeating Stuttgart and they are unbeaten in the first six games of the second half of Bundesliga season for the first time since 2006.

This will be a battle between the only unbeaten sides in the second half of the season.

Graham Potter acknowledges any new Chelsea contract for Mason Mount must be right for the player, who has been linked with a move away after falling out of favour at Stamford Bridge. 

Mount's current Blues deal expires at the end of next season and, with fresh terms yet to be agreed, the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United and Newcastle United have been credited with an interest in the midfielder.

The 24-year-old has missed Chelsea's last two games – wins over Leeds United and Borussia Dortmund – through injury, though he started just one of their previous four matches across all competitions.

Potter outlined his desire for a swift resolution to Mount's talks with the club last month, but with no visible progress being made, he accepts the England international may need to take his time.

"Ultimately it is between the club and Mason," Potter said on Friday. "I have spoken to him numerous times about his situation, football and life generally. 

"My feelings for Mason are clear. He is a fantastic person firstly, but sometimes these things happen. 

"They are just complicated and it is best that I speak little about it, let them get on with it in deciding what is right for both parties. 

"I am not naive. I know it is an important time for him and an important contract. These things have to be right for him and his family. It's important he makes a decision on that basis."

Mount has made 32 appearances for Chelsea this season, 26 of them starts, with his tally of six goal contributions only bettered by Raheem Sterling (10) and Kai Havertz (eight) in an underwhelming campaign for the Blues.

Jose Mourinho must sit out the Rome derby after an appeal against his Serie A two-match touchline ban was rejected.

The Roma head coach will be a spectator for this Sunday's game against Sassuolo and the tussle with city rivals Lazio seven days later.

His ban was temporarily suspended last week, allowing him to take charge of a game against Juventus, but it now takes immediate effect.

The 60-year-old was sent off for the third time this season just two minutes into the second half of Roma's 2-1 loss at lowly Cremonese on Tuesday, February 28.

Mourinho clashed with fourth official Marco Serra and was sent to the stands, before continuing to argue his case when entering the officials' dressing room after the match.

The Italian Football Association (FIGC) announced a sports court of appeal rejected Roma's challenge to the ban, with Mourinho also fined €10,000 for his behaviour.

The FIGC statement said Mourinho's punishment was imposed "for vehemently and provocatively contesting a refereeing decision, reiterating such behaviour at the time of the expulsion and also for having, at the end of the match, entered, even if authorised, the referee's locker room and addressed to the fourth official seriously offensive expressions and inferences".

Former Chelsea, Inter and Real Madrid boss Mourinho had defended his actions after the game, saying: "I'm emotional but not crazy. For the first time in my career a referee has spoken to me in an unjustifiable way. To have the reaction I had is because something happened."

His Roma side sit fourth in Serie A, ahead of last season's champions Milan on goal difference.

Luciano Spalletti has refuted suggestions Napoli's Scudetto triumph is a mere "formality", ruling out the prospect of the Partenopei focusing on their Champions League campaign.

Napoli suffered just their second defeat of the Serie A season against Lazio last time out, though they still boast a 15-point lead over Inter at the summit ahead of Saturday's meeting with Atalanta.

With Napoli's first league title since the Diego Maradona era appearing to be on the horizon, some have suggested Spalletti could manage his squad ahead of Wednesday's Champions League meeting with Eintracht Frankfurt.

Napoli hold a 2-0 lead at the midway point of that last-16 tie, but Spalletti says his team are not in any position to prioritise future games.

"We always talk about future matches, I've already said many times that it doesn't work like that for us. We face them one at a time and the focus is all on the match against Atalanta," he said.

"We don't have the presumption of being able to manage a championship as if it were a formality or an obstacle to other more important matches.

"The obstacle is only Atalanta for now and they are very strong for many reasons. It is a huge challenge, you have to deserve the final result to bring it home, they are a great team." 

With several potential challengers having dropped away, Spalletti was asked when the title could realistically be secured, but he remains uninterested in such talk.  

"It will be possible when there isn't another team in a position to take as many points as us. Guys, we still have to play many even games," he said.

"We have seen what quality there is in Italy despite what they say in the European comparisons, this says a lot about the difficulties of bringing home the results. 

"Against Lazio we didn't do anything wrong to lose to them, but we found ourselves without any points. 

"I watch the matches, I have them reviewed, and I'm sure there is no need to have a reaction because the performance was there in an important way, but we were facing another team that did important things and took advantage of a moment in their favour."

Napoli are looking to improve on their poor home record against Atalanta, having only won one of their last four league games against Gian Piero Gasperini's side in Naples (D1 L2).

Having suffered a 3-2 defeat in this fixture last season, Napoli could lose consecutive home games against Atalanta for just the second time in Serie A, having previously done so in 1997.

Antonio Conte is ready to "die" for Tottenham until the end of the season but knows fans have run out of patience with him.

The pressure on Conte intensified after Spurs crashed out of the Champions League following a drab goalless draw with Milan on Wednesday.

Tottenham were beaten 1-0 in the first leg at San Siro and could not mount a fightback, bowing out at the round-of-16 stage to dash hopes of ending their 15-year trophy drought.

The London club have lost seven of their 15 games this year and although they occupy fourth place in the Premier League, Liverpool and Newcastle United are hot on their heels.

Conte, who was appointed as head coach in November 2021, is only under contract until the end of June and although it appears unlikely he will remain in the role, the Italian will continue to give his all.

He said on Friday: "You know my opinion and my desire. I've said to you a lot of times and during the press conference that the situation I have found - we are far [away from being able] to aspire to be competitive and try to win.

"For a long time I've said we need time, we need patience and I see that here the environment has no patience, or maybe the environment doesn't want to understand the reality.

"If no one wants to understand this and for sure I don't speak about my future because the club knows very well which is my situation, my thoughts. We can't do miracles. If I have become to people a target then no, I'm not this person. The reality is this.

"We need time and patience. I understood that here the patience finished for the fans, for the environment and then we'll see what happens in the future.

"Until the end, I am ready to die for this club, but then we'll see because I'm not so stupid to continue to kill myself."

He added: "You know with the club we signed a contract, a strange contract one-year-and-a-half. Usually you sign for three years, but I think it was for the club and for myself to see the situation.

"For the club to understand my personality, my capacity as a coach and for me - from my side it was the same. To understand if we were on the same page.

"Now after one year and a half, the club knows me, I know the club and it is clear this situation. We have to finish the season and then we will see.

"The club knows very well my thoughts. I am ready to die for this club until the end of the season."

Tottenham will attempt to respond to their Champions League heartbreak by beating Nottingham Forest at home on Saturday.

Darwin Nunez says Liverpool "can't afford to relax" after their 7-0 win against Manchester United, and must attack their next game against Bournemouth "like lions".

Jurgen Klopp's men have had a turbulent season but a recent resurgence saw them thrash their old rivals at Anfield last week, putting them back in the race for the top four in the Premier League.

Nunez has scored 14 goals and recorded four assists in 31 appearances for Liverpool since his big-money move from Benfica last year, including scoring twice in Sunday's win over United.

Liverpool travel to Bournemouth on Saturday having beaten the Cherries 9-0 at Anfield earlier this season, but the Uruguay striker knows they cannot be underestimated.

"We can't afford to relax now just because we beat Manchester United 7-0," he told Liverpool's official website. "We have to go into this game with the same mentality and with that same will to win in order to bring the three points home – which is what we want to keep climbing the table.

"In the first game [this season] against [Bournemouth] we beat them 9-0 if I'm not wrong, but this is a different game now. We have to go there to try to beat them again.

"It's like what happened with Manchester United, they beat us [2-1 at Old Trafford] but then it was a different game and we managed to score seven goals. That's football – things can turn around. We have to go there and be strong with the same positive mentality."

The 9-0 game in August saw Bournemouth sack Scott Parker as head coach, since replaced by Gary O'Neil, and Nunez was impressed by their efforts in last Saturday's last-minute 3-2 loss at league leaders Arsenal.

"They're coming into this game in decent form and you can see the changes they've made in their performances," he said. "Against Arsenal, for example, they put in a great performance and were just unlucky to concede in the last minute – but that's football for you.

"Now we have to go and play against them and go there with a positive mindset, not relax for a minute and go out there like lions from the very first second."

Nunez has slowly developed a partnership with Mohamed Salah and Cody Gakpo since his arrival at the end of last season and Gakpo's in January, with the trio scoring six of their seven goals against United (two each).

"Salah is just another thing altogether – he's an absolute star," Nunez said of the Egyptian. "And Gakpo, he got here when we weren't in the best form and he had to settle in as well. We needed to have time training together and now you can see that we're developing a better understanding.

"I hope that keeps going in the same way and that those up front can bring lots of happiness to the fans because they deserve it."

Leroy Sane was hailed by Julian Nagelsmann as "one of the best players in Europe" as the Bayern Munich head coach defended the winger on Friday.

It was reported Sane was slightly late for the start of training on the eve of this weekend's Bundesliga game against Augsburg, and that it could cost him a club fine.

There is a strong chance of Sane starting that match on Saturday, as head coach Julian Nagelsmann gives some a rest after the Champions League win over Paris Saint-Germain.

Germany winger Sane has started just 13 of Bayern's 23 domestic league games this season, with Nagelsmann having such an array of talent in attacking midfield roles he has to mix and match.

Similar applies to Serge Gnabry, who like Sane appeared as a substitute in the 2-0 victory over PSG that carried Bayern through to the quarter-finals as 3-0 aggregate winners.

"Each player has their own character. It is important that you respect, accept and deal with the characteristics of the players," Nagelsmann said. "Leroy and Serge have exceptional skills."

On Sane, Nagelsmann said: "His style polarises. I always try to support him. I'm not one to try to change players' characters. He is one of the best players in Europe. We need him.

"The same applies to Serge. They must be aware of their abilities. Both of them say that they can be decision-makers at important moments."

They, along with Sadio Mane and Mathys Tel, are pushing for selection as Nagelsmann must cope without striker Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting due to injury, while Thomas Muller could take a rest.

Gnabry's late goal against PSG in the second leg capped off a successful tie for Bayern, as Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe were kept off the scoresheet over 180 minutes.

Bayern lost 1-0 to Augsburg in September, an early season jolt for the reigning champions who find themselves in a battle for the title with Borussia Dortmund, both teams having 49 points from 23 games.

Joao Cancelo was also only used as a substitute against PSG, with the on-loan Manchester City full-back having yet to ink his place in the Bayern starting XI.

Nagelsmann is open about the fact Cancelo makes his disappointment known when not selected.

"When he plays everything is fine, and when he doesn't play he's not happy. That's normal too," Nagelsmann said. "He's always had a good reaction.

"One training session wasn't that good, but afterwards we had a very good conversation. The conversation was very open and did him a lot of good.

"He's happy again on the pitch. His game is characterised by a certain joy and lightness, which he now has again. So I assume that I will reward him for the good impressions I had of him in training. I'm sure that what he did well in training, he will also do well in the game."

Choupo-Moting has been performing at a high level since taking on the task of leading Bayern's attack, filling the Robert Lewandowski role after his departure for Barcelona.

He has 19 goals this season, but a back problem, which Nagelsmann said was also affecting his leg muscles, keeps him out of contention to face Augsburg.

The coach reported Muller, Matthijs de Ligt, Kingsley Coman and Leon Goretzka have shown signs of fatigue.

"We don't yet know who can start," Nagelsmann said. "We will decide tomorrow how fit everyone is. We'll have to make a few changes because not everyone is at 100 per cent."

Richarlison's assessment of his debut season at Tottenham was correct in the eyes of Antonio Conte.

The Brazilian forward caused a stir following Spurs' Champions League exit at the hands of AC Milan, describing the campaign as "s***".

Richarlison, who is yet to score for the north London side in the Premier League, was also perceived to have questioned Conte's management amid growing pressure on the Italian.

The Tottenham boss does not see it that way, however, believing the comments were not a direct criticism of him, while agreeing with Richarlison's views on his campaign.

However, he also feels the former Everton man made a mistake when referencing himself rather than the team as a collective.

"He didn't criticise me. He said his season was s***and he's right. His season has been not good," he told a press conference.

"He had injuries, played and scored in the Champions League and then went to the World Cup and then had a serious injury. He's scored no goals for us.

"I think he was really honest to say his season was not good. His season has not finished yet. If he deserves to play, I'll give him the opportunity.

"For the rest of the interview, I think he made a mistake. When you speak of 'I' and not 'us' you are being selfish. I say to my players if we want to build something important and win a trophy we have to speak with 'we' not with 'I', because otherwise you're thinking of yourself.

"He made a mistake and he apologised and it was good for me to clarify with the team again about this. In this aspect we have to improve. We have to be more of a team and show more spirit positive, especially in negative moments."

Reece James will miss Chelsea's trip to Leicester City on Saturday through illness, but boss Graham Potter is hopeful N'Golo Kante will make his long-awaited return next week.

James has endured a frustrating few months, making just 11 Premier League appearances this season and missing England's World Cup campaign after suffering a knee injury ahead of the tournament.

The wing-back missed last Saturday's 1-0 win over Leeds United with a hamstring issue, though he returned as Chelsea overcame a Champions League last-16 deficit to eliminate Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday, easing the pressure on Potter.

The latest setback to befall James will see him sit out Chelsea's trip to the King Power Stadium, while fellow England international Raheem Sterling is also a doubt.

"Reece has been ill and he's not trained today, so he won't make the game tomorrow," Potter explained at Friday's pre-match press conference.

"Raheem had a feeling in his hamstring, more tightness than anything, so he's looking doubtful for tomorrow as well."

Six of Chelsea's nine Premier League wins this season have come in the 11 games in which James has featured. The Blues have won just three of their 14 matches without the 23-year-old.

Chelsea count the likes of Kante and Thiago Silva among their more long-term absentees, with the former last featuring in August's 2-2 draw with Tottenham after suffering a hamstring injury and the latter aiming to return in April from a knee problem.

While Potter ruled out Kante returning against the midfielder's former team, the Blues boss revealed next week's home clash with Everton was a realistic target.

Asked whether Kante would be available at Leicester, Potter said: "No, he won't. He still needs some more time to build up. We're aiming more towards Everton, but unfortunately it won't be tomorrow.

"The most important thing for [Kante and Silva] is to get them back injury-free. The more good players we have, the better."

Chelsea's back-to-back victories have gone some way to easing pressure on Potter, after he watched his team win just one of their first 11 matches of the calendar year.

Asked if he felt a weight had been lifted in the last week, Potter said: "Yeah, in some way. It's always nicer to win, it's as simple as that. Everything feels a bit better, like you've taken a step forward.

"But I'm not getting carried away, it's just two wins. We have to focus on Leicester. The boys have stuck together through a bad time, and there's a lot to be said for that.

"The supporters have been really fair. Results-wise we haven't done that well, so you understand the criticism.

"It's hard for them to get behind something when the results aren't something to get behind. I have nothing to say about how we've been treated by the supporters, they've been great."

Pep Guardiola has reminded Manchester City's players they cannot expect privacy after footage of Kyle Walker's behaviour in a bar led to negative headlines this week.

The City and England defender was shown on CCTV footage, published by The Sun, with friends at a venue where he apparently pulled down his trousers.

The newspaper alleged Walker indecently exposed himself, with the incident said to have happened last Sunday. Cheshire Police has confirmed it is looking into the matter.

Guardiola said it was "a private issue" and he would not discuss Walker's conduct.

"We solved it internally, speaking with him," Guardiola said in his regular Friday pre-match press conference. "Of course, this is not the place to talk about private situations."

Asked if players needed to be extra cautious when out and about, given the chances of being on camera, Guardiola said: "Yes, definitely, it's completely different than years ago, definitely."

He suggested the players had already received plenty of advice about how to act.

"They know it already," Guardiola said. "When you open the door at home you have to know you will be filmed, whatever you do. It's part of the society."

City head to Crystal Palace in the Premier League on Saturday, looking to cut leaders Arsenal's advantage to two points ahead of the Gunners' game at Fulham the following day.

Palace have not won any of their last seven Premier League home games against City (D2 L5), last getting a Selhurst Park victory over the Manchester giants in April 2015.

Moreover, Palace have not won any of their last nine Premier League games in the current campaign, the longest ongoing barren run.

All signs point to an away success, although City have already dropped more points in league games away from the Etihad Stadium this season (15) than they did in the whole of 2021-22 (11).

Guardiola dismissed concerns over travel to the game after snowfall.

But he predicted the fixture would be a major test of his team, saying: "Every game away in the Premier League is difficult. Crystal Palace in previous seasons, especially at home [in Manchester], we've struggled a lot to get results."

Erik ten Hag is happy for Bruno Fernandes to keep playing with emotion, although he acknowledges there is a balance to strike for the Manchester United midfielder.

Fernandes scored in United's 4-1 win against Real Betis on Thursday having been the subject of intense scrutiny since Sunday's 7-0 loss at Liverpool.

The United vice-captain, who wore the armband at Anfield, was criticised for his role in a defeat in which Ten Hag's side appeared to lack leadership.

A confrontation with Trent Alexander-Arnold, followed by a push on an official, perhaps saw Fernandes fortunate not to be sent off.

Both Ten Hag and Marcus Rashford defended Fernandes ahead of the Betis game, however, and the manager was encouraged by his subsequent performance, even if there is still work to do to "stay rational" at all times.

"I was very pleased with his captaincy because he is giving the team energy," Ten Hag said ahead of Sunday's Premier League match against Southampton.

"He is not only giving the best physical output of the whole team, but also he is running in the right direction and is pointing players in that direction. He's coaching players, leading the team from a tactical perspective.

"His emotion is his weapon. But sometimes it's too strong. And yes, of course, I help him and support him. And I give him feedback.

"Sometimes he has to control his emotions, and that will help him to stay rational in the game, instead of the emotion.

"So, he has to find the balance and be rational, when to use [being] rational as a tool and when to use emotion as a tool, and that's the next step.

"I think that's a nice development point for him, and when he does it, he will be an even better player."

Meanwhile, Ten Hag offered an update on Christian Eriksen, who was ruled out for "an extended period" at the end of January due to an ankle injury.

"I think he will play [again this season], yes, definitely," Ten Hag said. "But I can't say now when [he is] expected.

"I think his progress in the rehab is okay. It's going according to plan and so we will definitely see him, but not before the international break.

"His main focus at this moment is to get back as soon as possible because we need all the players."

Christophe Galtier has no reservations over Lionel Messi's commitment to Paris Saint-Germain after their Champions League exit, despite the Argentine entering the final four months of his contract.

Messi is yet to agree fresh terms with PSG ahead of his deal expiring at the end of June, while former Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos is in a similar situation.

Wednesday's Champions League last-16 elimination at the hands of Bayern Munich has led to suggestions PSG's star-studded forward line of Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar may be broken up as part of a rebuild.

Despite PSG's early European exit, Galtier does not expect the likes of Messi and Ramos – both of whom have been linked with a move to MLS – to lower their standards in the coming weeks.

"There is no doubt about these two great players with incredible track records, who know this kind of situation," Galtier said at a press conference ahead of Saturday's trip to Brest.

"They are very high-level players, who go quickly from one game to another. Regarding their contractual situations, they are used to living in this kind of moment."

Galtier also denied there was a need to convince Mbappe to remain at the Parc des Princes, with PSG's latest Champions League failure increasing speculation he could seek an exit.   

"I don't have to try to convince Kylian Mbappe," Galtier said. "Kylian is a Paris Saint-Germain player, he shows it every time he plays, and he has a great determination to succeed and take the club as high as possible."

PSG must now shift their focus to Ligue 1, with Galtier's men holding an eight-point advantage at the summit as they chase a record-breaking 11th French title.

Galtier believes PSG's achievements in the competition have been unfairly belittled, highlighting the celebrations that accompany Bayern's regular Bundesliga successes and calling for the French top flight to receive greater respect.

"If PSG win this title, it will be the 11th, which has never been reached in this country," he said. "We should not minimise this achievement. 

"Some of our players have extraordinary records but are obsessed with adding this trophy, some haven't won it before. It's a very important thing.

"You all send out the message that this league title is easy, but it isn't. I see what's happening abroad. Bayern don't win the Champions League every year.

"But every time they win their league, they have a big celebration, they share it with their supporters and everyone at the club. 

"It must be the same with us. We need to stop trivialising being French champions. It is not easy."

Roberto Firmino's decision to leave Liverpool at the end of the season left Jurgen Klopp surprised, though he respects his choice.

The Brazilian informed the club last week that he would be leaving when his contract expires at the conclusion of the campaign, bringing an end to his trophy-laden seven-year spell at Anfield.

Firmino was given a rapturous reception after scoring the seventh goal in Liverpool's 7-0 demolition of Manchester United on Sunday, days after his decision to leave was revealed.

A Champions League and Premier League winner on Merseyside, Firmino has been a fan favourite throughout his time with the club and Klopp was taken aback by his choice.

Asked if he was surprised by the news, Klopp replied: "Yes, a little bit, but I was not hit by surprise, actually it's a normal thing to do.

"It could go two ways and it was one. And I respect that a lot. It's completely normal in this kind of long relationship that we have and Bobby has with the club and with most of the players and stuff like this, and with the fans of course.

"It's pretty special and I loved the reception he got when he came on against United. He told me and then the only other thing he said is, 'Now I want to bring this wonderful story to a positive end.'

"So, that's it. He is completely here and completely committed, how everybody can imagine. And that's all we need to know.

"There's no time for a goodbye or whatever in this moment, there's enough time for that later in the season. Whenever he will come back, everybody knows that the song will still be for a long, long time in everybody's ears I'm pretty sure.

"I think he's one of these players that even when he would come with an opposition team, people would be really happy to see him."

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."

Borussia Dortmund boss Edin Terzic said the question of Youssoufa Moukoko's age had never come up in their many discussions, after it was claimed the striker could be four years older than he attests to being.

German publication Bunte this week questioned whether Moukoko was 18 years old, or whether he was 22, citing as evidence a birth certificate.

That was reportedly issued after the birth of a Youssoufa Mohamadou in Yaounde, Cameroon, with the child's date of birth given as July 19, 2000, and the father named as taxi driver Ousman Mohamadou.

Moukoko's stated date of birth is November 20, 2004, and it has been repeatedly asserted during his career that he lived for around 10 years with grandparents in Cameroon before moving to Germany in 2014 to join his father, Joseph Moukoko, in Hamburg.

Joseph Moukoko has insisted he is the player's father.

Bunte also quoted a lawyer for Dortmund youngster Moukoko as denying the player provided false age details, saying: "Youssoufa Moukoko's date of birth is November 20, 2004. This is confirmed by all the official documents that we have, along with his parents."

The teenage Moukoko was a revelation in his early years at Dortmund, scoring 127 goals in 84 appearances at youth level, earning a rapid promotion to the first-team squad.

He has since gone on to represent Germany and featured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup before signing a new Dortmund contract in January.

Terzic was asked in a press conference on Friday about the age debate circling Moukoko, and said: "I don't read Bunte. I exchange ideas with him intensively – I have never spoken to him about that. I can't confirm that it bothers him. The nasty foul in Bremen puts a strain on him."

As Terzic pointed out, Moukoko is out of action at present with an ankle injury sustained against Werder Bremen in February. It means he will miss Saturday's derby against Schalke.

Terzic said: "He's doing well in rehab, improving his performance and feeling better. We hope he will be available to us after the international break."

Dortmund are level on points with Bayern Munich at the top of the Bundesliga with 11 rounds of games remaining.

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