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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thibaut Courtois declared Vinicius Jr needs to be protected after he was on the receiving end of a horrendous challenge from Gabriel Paulista on Thursday.

The Brazilian defender kicked out at his compatriot, who had doubled Real Madrid's lead against Valencia to mark his 200th club appearance in style.

Los Blancos emerged 2-0 victors at Santiago Bernabeu to edge closer to leaders Barcelona, yet it was the challenge on Vinicius that left the biggest impression.

Courtois questioned why Vinicius was subject to such treatment, but praised the referee for taking the appropriate action.

"I don't know why he was kicked in that way, we need to protect him," he told LaLigaTV.

"He's a player who dribbles a lot, tries to go past defenders and defenders don't like it. It's the way he is as a player.

"We need him to be that way, we need him to be like that against defenders.

"He receives a lot of kicks and tonight I'm just happy the referee acted and had the bravery to give the red card. The ball is not there, there's no intent to get the ball.

"Even if it was one of us had made that challenge then I would have said yes, it has to be a red card."

Vinicius Junior marked his 200th Real Madrid appearance in style with the second goal in a 2-0 win against Valencia.

The Brazilian burst into space from inside his own half to double Los Blancos' lead, just 90 seconds after Marco Asensio's stunning strike opened the scoring at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Madrid, having failed to score on Sunday against Real Sociedad, encountered similar frustration in the first half and saw an Antonio Rudiger header disallowed juts before half-time.

That did not deter Carlo Ancelotti's side, who responded in style in a second period where Valencia finished with 10 men after Gabriel Paulista's dismissal.

It took just three minutes for Madrid to carve through Valencia's defence, Luka Modric feeding a pass through to Asensio but a fine save from the boot of Giorgi Mamardashvili kept him at bay.

Asensio had another chance after Karim Benzema's deft backheel into his path inside the area but Gabriel was on hand with an outstanding block to deflect the strike safely over the crossbar.

Los Blancos thought they had found their breakthrough on the brink of half-time, Rudiger flicking a header in off the right-hand post, but referee Javier Alberola Rojas chalked the effort off for a foul from Benzema on Yunus Musah as Modric's corner was whipped in.

Six minutes after the restart, the hosts finally broke the deadlock. It was third-time lucky for Asensio, who picked up possession outside the box and unleashed a ferocious left-footed drive that left Mamardashvili stranded.

The lead was doubled just 90 seconds later, Vinicius bursting into space down the left and driving into the area and slotting a comfortable finish beneath the Valencia stopper.

Valencia's problems got worse when Gabriel was given his marching orders for a horrendous hack on compatriot Vinicius, who was fortunate to avoid injury.

Gennaro Gattuso's Valencia tenure lasted just 18 LaLiga matches as the club announced his departure on Monday.

The former Milan and Napoli coach was appointed ahead of the 2022-23 season after a year out of the game.

But Gattuso has been unable to inspire Valencia, who finished ninth last term.

Gattuso leaves the club in 14th place, winless in four outings since the World Cup break and just a point above the bottom three – albeit with a game in hand over the other sides in the bottom half.

Following Sunday's last-gasp defeat to Real Valladolid – his final match at the helm – Gattuso addressed supporters and told them Valencia's poor results were his responsibility.

The 45-year-old also angrily confronted the assembled media a day before Valencia announced his exit.

"Valencia CF announce that this Monday, January 30th, the club and the first team coach, Gennaro Gattuso, have decided by mutual agreement to end the contractual relationship between the two parties," a statement read.

"The club wish to thank Gattuso for his commitment and work during his time in charge and wish him the best of luck for the future.

"The team will return to training this Tuesday, January 31st, under 'Voro' Gonzalez."

Voro, who is set to take charge of the team at Real Madrid on Thursday, is in his seventh spell as interim coach, having also led Los Che on a permanent basis in the second half of the 2016-17 campaign.

Real Madrid and bitter rivals Atletico Madrid will duel for a place in the Copa del Rey semi-finals after being paired in the last eight.

Los Blancos survived a scare on Thursday as they came from 2-0 down at Villarreal to win 3-2 thanks to goals from Vinicius Junior, Eder Militao and Dani Ceballos.

It ensured Carlo Ancelotti's team bounced back from losing to Barcelona in the Supercopa de Espana final four days earlier.

Nevertheless, their route does not get any easier with Thursday's draw pitting them against city rivals Atletico at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Diego Simeone's side beat Levante 2-0 in Valencia on Wednesday, with Alvaro Morata and Marcos Llorente scoring in the second half.

It will be the first time Atletico and Madrid have tussled in the Copa since January 2015, when the former emerged 4-2 aggregate winners over two legs.

The competition remains on track for a Clasico final, though Barca will also have to get past tricky opponents to reach the last four.

Real Sociedad, who have won each of their past eight games in all competitions and are third in LaLiga, will visit Camp Nou.

La Real have a dreadful record away to Barcelona, however, last winning there in LaLiga way back in 1991.

The other two quarter-finals are also all-LaLiga affairs.

Last season's beaten finalists Valencia will meet Athletic Bilbao at the Mestalla Stadium, while Osasuna – conquerors of defending champions Real Betis – play host to a Sevilla side who are battling relegation in the league.

The matches are scheduled across Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday next week.

 

Copa del Rey quarter-final draw in full:

Barcelona v Real Sociedad

Osasuna v Sevilla

Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid

Valencia v Athletic Bilbao

Carlo Ancelotti conceded Real Madrid were far from their best against Valencia, though that did not stop Los Blancos from reaching the Supercopa de Espana final.

Karim Benzema's first-half penalty seemingly had Los Blancos on course for victory after a dominant opening 45 minutes, but Samuel Lino equalised immediately after the interval for a resurgent Valencia.

Giorgi Mamardashvili kept Gennaro Gattuso's side in the semi-final clash in Riyadh with a series of extra-time stops, though Madrid prevailed on penalties after Eray Comert and Jose Gaya failed to convert.

Ancelotti acknowledged Madrid's shortcomings after the 4-3 shoot-out victory following an underwhelming 1-1 draw, suggesting the World Cup break may have played its part in a lack of sharpness.

The Madrid head coach told reporters: "It hasn't been a physical problem because in extra time we've done better than them. We're not at the top but it's normal.

"There are players who started a little while after the World Cup. We've put players who were on the limit like [Ferland] Mendy and [Dani] Carvajal.

"We wanted to reach the final and that's what we've done. It's a different moment from last year but I think we're going to fight hard to win the Super Cup."

Benzema, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos all converted their spot-kicks, with Ancelotti preferring to go with experience for his first three takers before Marco Asensio found the net with Madrid's fourth penalty.

"I put the three players with the most experience, the best," he added. "The last one was Vinicius [Junior] and it is better that he did not shoot."

The victory did seemingly come at a cost, though, as Eduardo Camavinga, Eder Militao and Lucas Vazquez all sustained injuries.

"Camavinga has had a blow to the knee, Militao is dizzy and is fine," Ancelotti continued. "Lucas has a sprain, that is the most serious. I don't know if he will be in Sunday's game."

LaLiga leaders Barcelona, who Madrid trail by three points, or Real Betis await in Sunday's final after the second semi-final in Saudi Arabia on Thursday.

Carlo Ancelotti conceded Real Madrid were far from their best against Valencia, though that did not stop Los Blancos from reaching the Supercopa de Espana final.

Karim Benzema's first-half penalty seemingly had Los Blancos on course for victory after a dominant opening 45 minutes, but Samuel Lino equalised immediately after the interval for a resurgent Valencia.

Giorgi Mamardashvili kept Gennaro Gattuso's side in the semi-final clash in Riyadh with a series of extra-time stops, though Madrid prevailed on penalties after Eray Comert and Jose Gaya failed to convert.

Ancelotti acknowledged Madrid's shortcomings after the 4-3 shoot-out victory following an underwhelming 1-1 draw, suggesting the World Cup break may have played its part in a lack of sharpness.

The Madrid head coach told reporters: "It hasn't been a physical problem because in extra time we've done better than them. We're not at the top but it's normal.

"There are players who started a little while after the World Cup. We've put players who were on the limit like [Ferland] Mendy and [Dani] Carvajal.

"We wanted to reach the final and that's what we've done. It's a different moment from last year but I think we're going to fight hard to win the Super Cup."

Benzema, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos all converted their spot-kicks, with Ancelotti preferring to go with experience for his first three takers before Marco Asensio found the net with Madrid's fourth penalty.

"I put the three players with the most experience, the best," he added. "The last one was Vinicius [Junior] and it is better that he did not shoot."

The victory did seemingly come at a cost, though, as Eduardo Camavinga, Eder Militao and Lucas Vazquez all sustained injuries.

"Camavinga has had a blow to the knee, Militao is dizzy and is fine," Ancelotti continued. "Lucas has a sprain, that is the most serious. I don't know if he will be in Sunday's game."

LaLiga leaders Barcelona, who Madrid trail by three points, or Real Betis await in Sunday's final after the second semi-final in Saudi Arabia on Thursday.

Real Madrid edged into the Supercopa de Espana final with a 4-3 penalty shoot-out victory over Valencia following an unconvincing 1-1 draw after extra time on Wednesday.

Carlo Ancelotti's side were not at their best in Riyadh, but Eray Comert – who conceded the penalty for Benzema's first-half opener – and Jose Gaya both faltered from 12 yards.

Samuel Lino's 46th-minute strike had earlier pulled Valencia level before Giorgi Mamardashvili made a trio of fine extra-time saves, but Comert blasted over and Thibaut Courtois denied Gaya to send Madrid through.

Los Blancos will aim for their third Supercopa in the last four seasons on Sunday when they face the winners of Thursday's semi-final between LaLiga leaders Barcelona and Real Betis.

Barcelona will face the lowest-ranked team left in the Copa del Rey after being drawn with Ceuta in the last 16.

Xavi's side will be huge favourites to reach the quarter-finals, with their next opponents propping up Group 1 of the Primera Division RFEF, Spain's third tier.

Nevertheless, Ceuta – who beat LaLiga's Elche in the round of 32 – will take encouragement from Barca's struggles in the last round ahead of welcoming the Catalans to Africa's north coast.

The top-flight leaders needed extra time to beat another third-tier side in Intercity, with Oriol Soldevila pegging them back three times to force extra time.

Ansu Fati's extra-time goal made it 4-3 and eventually sealed Barca's passage, but it was still alarmingly close to an upset for the Blaugrana.

The tie of the round will take place at Estadio de la Ceramica as Villarreal host Real Madrid.

Holders Real Betis were drawn at home to Osasuna, one of four all-LaLiga ties, while Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Sevilla were all paired with Segunda opposition.

Fixtures will take place across January 17, 18 and 19.

Copa del Rey draw in full:

Ceuta v Barcelona

Levante v Atletico Madrid

Sporting Gijon v Valencia

Deportivo Alaves v Sevilla

Real Betis v Osasuna

Villarreal v Real Madrid

Real Sociedad v Real Mallorca

Athletic Bilbao v Espanyol

Nico Gonzalez is facing a spell on the sidelines after suffering a fractured metatarsal during Valencia's 2-1 LaLiga defeat to Villarreal on New Year's Eve.

The midfielder, who joined Valencia on a season-long loan deal from Barcelona in August, did the damage in the second half of Saturday's game.

On New Year's Day, Valencia revealed the extent of the damage Nico has sustained.

The club said in a statement: "Nico Gonzalez has been diagnosed with a fracture of his fifth left metatarsal, suffered in the LaLiga game against Villarreal CF.

"The player and the Valencia CF medical team will assess treatment options for the injury."

Nico, who turns 21 on Tuesday, has made 13 LaLiga appearances for Gennaro Gattuso's side this season, with just six of those coming as a starter.

He signed a long-term deal with Barca before making a temporary move to their LaLiga rivals.

Jack Grealish's future at Manchester City has been the subject of speculation lately despite being only 18 months into a six-year contract.

The 27-year-old England attacking midfielder has not quite met expectations since his big-money switch from Aston Villa.

Grealish has scored one goal in 16 appearances this season, after netting five times in 33 games in his maiden season at City.

 

TOP STORY - MILAN PLOT SHOCK MOVE FOR GREALISH

Serie A champions Milan are set to launch a shock transfer bid for Grealish, according to Calciomercato.

City are open to selling the playmaker, who they signed from Villa last year for £100 million, the most expensive transfer of an English player.

The Premier League champions are willing to let Grealish go to fund their bid for Borussia Dortmund's England international Jude Bellingham. Milan would likely make a move for Grealish at the end of the season.

ROUND-UP

Bellingham's management have informed Real Madrid that Liverpool are ahead in the race for the Dortmund midfielder's signature, according to Bild.

Liverpool have joined the pursuit of Valencia's United States international Yunus Musah, competing with Premier League rivals Arsenal and Chelsea, reports Calciomercato.

– 90min claims both Tottenham and Liverpool are considering a move for Fiorentina's Morocco international midfielder Sofyan Amrabat in January.

Milan may be interested in Barcelona target Gabriel Martinelli, should the Italian giants sell Rafael Leao in January, claims Calciomercato. Martinelli is contracted with Arsenal until 2024.

Marseille are interested in a move for Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha when his contract is up at the end of the season, reports 90min.

– Bild reports that Bayern Munich are close to agreeing a new deal for 19-year-old whizzkid Jamal Musiala.

Cody Gakpo's reputation has grown exponentially during the World Cup having netted three goals for the Netherlands in the group stage.

Manchester United, who are managed by ex-Ajax boss Erik ten Hag, were keen on the 23-year-old during the off-season but no move materialised.

The Red Devils have since parted ways with five-time Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo and are eager to bolster their forward options.

TOP STORY – PSV UP GAKPO ASKING PRICE

Manchester United are ready to make their move for Netherlands forward Cody Gakpo in January, according to The Sun.

However, Gakpo's Dutch club PSV will demand £50million (€58m) for him, claims The Mirror, which is double what they wanted in the off season.

If that asking price is prohibitive, United may opt to switch their attention to Milan's Rafael Leao, who is contracted until 2024.

 

ROUND-UP

Real Madrid's plans to sign Leao will be deferred until 2024, according to Sport. Madrid's sights are set on chasing Manchester City's Erling Haaland, who reportedly has an exit clause from 2024, and Palmeiras teenager Endrick, who cannot move to Europe until he is 18, in 2024.

– Atletico Madrid are looking to sell Portuguese forward Joao Felix in January, reports Marca. Manchester United and Chelsea have been linked with the 23-year-old who is contracted until 2026.

– GiveMeSport's Dean Jones claims Newcastle United are considering Chelsea midfielder Christian Pulisic, who is currently the subject of plenty of speculation.

Arsenal are not making plans to sign a replacement for Gabriel Jesus whose World Cup was ended prematurely by a knee injury, despite there being no certainty on how long he will be out injured, claims Football Insider.

– La Gazzetta dello Sport reports that Inter are in the hunt for a midfielder and weighing up a move for Valencia's United States international Yunus Musah, who caught the eye at the World Cup.

Luis Enrique expressed sorrow for removing Jose Gaya from Spain's World Cup squad but insisted he made the right call despite Valencia apparently claiming the left-back's injury was minor.

Gaya was cut from the Spain selection last week after suffering an ankle injury in training, and although media reports at the time suggested his recovery would only be brief, Luis Enrique replaced him with Barcelona's Alejandro Balde.

After returning home, Spanish publication AS reported Gaya's club quickly declared him fit.

But when Luis Enrique addressed the media on Tuesday ahead of Spain's World Cup opener against Costa Rica, the coach was adamant Gaya's injury would have ruled him out for a chunk of the group stage at least.

For the Spain coach, doing without a player for so long was non-negotiable.

"With regard to Gaya, it happens everywhere," Luis Enrique told reporters. "I have to make decisions.

"If I followed my heart based on his professionalism, he'd be here, but I can't make decisions based on my heart. I have to use mind.

"In three games he'd not have been able to play 100 per cent. I have to make the best decision for the whole team and the whole country. Imagine if I'd listened to Valencia or what Gaya wanted, which was normal, and then imagine if [Jordi] Alba is injured.

"We'd start the World Cup with no left-back, then imagine what you'd say about me. You'd ask why we risked the situation.

"My mind said I should make the best decision for the team, and there's no doubt the best is to have two fully fit full-backs for the World Cup."

Luis Enrique's explanation did not satisfy everyone in attendance, with the former midfielder pressed on why he could not have just played someone else slightly out of position.

But Luis Enrique did not believe that was an option.

"No, you might not believe this, but I can't keep waiting for someone [to be fit], because no one else will be able to adapt to demands of left-back," he added.

"A winger can act as a wing-back at times, but left-back is unfortunately the only position I cannot wait for.

"If it happened to a centre-back, I'd wait, but I only have two players for the left-back position. I'm truly, deeply sorry for Gaya, I really like him, he's a great guy and he has had very bad luck, but I have to think with my mind what a coach should do.

"He's been unfortunate with the injury, he did it while crossing, and it was something I'd never seen before. But I'm sure he'll get something positive in future."

Luis Enrique was followed by Spain captain Sergio Busquets, who at 34 is the elder statesman in La Roja's squad.

Spain's group is among the youngest at the tournament, with six of their players aged 20 or younger.

But Busquets does not believe the younger players' age makes them any less competent.

Asked about the presence of his Barcelona team-mates Pedri and Gavi, Busquets said: "They are very young players, but they've received awards already and they are very well known in spite of their age.

"But they are here as part of the national team to contribute as they can. If the coach decides to field them, then it's a collective group - it's not about individual talent.

"But obviously, having players who are so skilled is great."

Barcelona's 19-year-old full-back Alejandro Balde has been added to Spain's squad for the World Cup following an injury to Jose Gaya.

Valencia left-back Gaya has won 18 caps for Spain after making his international debut in 2018, and he looked likely to deputise for La Roja's vice-captain Jordi Alba in Qatar.

However, Gaya suffered an ankle sprain in training on Wednesday, and while initial reports said his injury was not serious, Luis Enrique has opted against taking any risks ahead of the tournament.

Balde had been preparing to represent Spain's under-21 side against Japan in a friendly on Friday, but he could now win his first senior cap on the grandest stage of all.

Balde made his Barcelona debut in a Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich last September, and has assumed a prominent role in Xavi's new-look team this season.

With Barcelona battling a series of injury problems in defence, Balde has made 16 appearances for the Blaugrana this campaign, starting on 13 occasions.

Spain begin their Group E campaign against Costa Rica at the Al Thumama Stadium on Wednesday, before taking on Germany in a huge clash four days later.

Barcelona are expected to be major players in the January transfer market after a busy pre-season.

The 26-time Spanish champions are top of LaLiga at the World Cup break but crashed out of the Champions League.

The Blaugrana are still battling financial challenges, while they also have some unsettled players on their books.

TOP STORY – BARCELONA PLOTTING JANUARY GUNDOGAN MOVE

Mundo Deportivo reports that Barcelona are planning to move for Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan in January, with fears Franck Kessie may exit soon.

The Blaugrana are eager to bolster their midfield options and a move for Bernardo Silva appears difficult despite their ongoing interest.

As a result, Barca have turned to the Germany international, whose contract with City ends in mid-2023. The report also claims the Catalans could move for Leicester City's Youri Tielemans.

Kessie has been linked with Premier League clubs Aston Villa and Fulham by Spanish media outlet Sport. The Ivorian only joined in July, but the club's financial position means they are open to letting players go.

ROUND-UP

– Despite being linked with a long list of names, Sport claims Barcelona will only make one signing in the January transfer window, with a right-back seen as a priority. Manchester United's Diogo Dalot, Bayern Munich's Benjamin Pavard and Villarreal's Juan Foyth are among their options.

– New Aston Villa heard coach Unai Emery wants to bring in Real Madrid's Eden Hazard and Nacho Fernandez, according to El Nacional. Spanish boss Emery left Villarreal for the Villans last month.

Juventus are ready to offer a new contract to French midfielder Adrien Rabiot, claims Tuttosport. Rabiot had been linked with an off-season move, with Manchester United mentioned as a possible destination, but has impressed this term.

– La Gazzetta dello Sport claims Milan are putting together a bid for Chelsea's Hakim Ziyech in January. The Moroccan winger is expected to cost less than €20million (£17.5m).

Inter are keen on Valencia left-back Jesus Vazquez in January and a mid-2023 move for Borussia Monchengladbach forward Marcus Thuram, reports La Gazetta dello Sport.

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