Erling Haaland is one of the most sought-after players in Europe.

Europe's elite are lining up to sign the Borussia Dortmund sensation.

Barcelona are reportedly prepared to go all out as Haaland grows frustrated in Germany.

 

TOP STORY – HAALAND EYES DORTMUND EXIT

Erling Haaland has notified his agent that he wants to leave Borussia Dortmund if they fail to qualify for the Champions League, according to Diario AS.

Haaland is a player in demand following his exploits for Dortmund, heavily linked with Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool and Juventus.

Dortmund – through to the 2020-21 quarter-finals – sit outside the Champions League places this season, fifth in the Bundesliga.

Haaland has reportedly given Dortmund an ultimatum should they miss out on Champions League football.

It comes as Sport claims Barca have started to try and raise funds in their pursuit of the Norway international, with the LaLiga giants willing to let two strikers leave.

 

ROUND-UP

- Bild says Germany boss Joachim Low is a candidate for the Real Madrid job should Zinedine Zidane ever leave. Low is set to vacate his post after the reschedule Euro 2020. Telefoot, however, insists Zidane has no intention of leaving ahead of the 2021-22 season.

Liverpool are unaware of Georginio Wijnaldum's reported pre-contract agreement with Barca, claims the Liverpool Echo. Wijnaldum is out of contract at season's end and the Dutchman has been tipped to join Barca.

- United are ready to listen to offers for forward Anthony Martial, claims The Touchline Talk. It comes as the Red Devils seek to sign Haaland.

- Fiorentina are asking €40million for forward Dusan Vlahovic amid links with Milan, reports Calciomercato.

- According to The Transfer Window Podcast, Liverpool are set to rival Arsenal in the race to sign Celtic forward Odsonne Edouard.

PSG are still tracking out-of-favour Tottenham midfielder Dele Alli as the Ligue 1 champions also eye Lazio star Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, reports Calciomercato.

Zinedine Zidane is baffled by Karim Benzema's continued absence from the France squad after the striker scored twice to help Real Madrid record a 3-1 win over Celta Vigo on Saturday.  

The Frenchman managed a brace inside the opening 30 minutes to put Los Blancos 2-0 up, then turned provider for Marco Asensio's late third after Santi Mina had pulled one back for the hosts.  

Benzema has scored in each of his last six games in all competitions (nine goals), equalling his best scoring streak for Madrid (also six games between January and February 2016). 

It was his fifth LaLiga brace of the season, just one behind the six he achieved in 2011-12. 

Benzema has not represented his country since 2015 after being investigated in relation to an alleged attempt to blackmail his international team-mate Mathieu Valbuena.  

"For people who like football, seeing Karim is a luxury because we enjoy him and his team-mates do too," Zidane told a media conference.

"How can we understand why Karim doesn't go with the national team? There are many who don't understand it. 

"But it's better for me as the coach of Madrid that he stays. He has done a great job for us." 

The result moved Madrid above Barcelona into second, three points behind Atleti, but Diego Simeone's men can restore the six-point advantage over their neighbours if they overcome Deportivo Alaves on Sunday. 

Madrid's unbeaten LaLiga away run now stands at 10 games – the first time they have achieved this since May 2016 when they went 11 without defeat on the road – and Zidane was pleased with how his side navigated a potentially tricky fixture.   

"It's not easy. You can't think you're going to score four, five or six goals," he added. 

"It's getting more and more complicated. In the end, I'll stick with the game we played, suffering in the second half but controlling the game. There was a rival and we controlled them well. We deserved the triumph.  

"We have to continue with what we are doing. We are in a good moment and we enter the final stretch where everything is played." 

Madrid host Eibar in LaLiga on April 3 following the international break.

Zinedine Zidane believes Liverpool are capable of two top performances against Real Madrid, even if the Premier League champions are struggling domestically.

Liverpool have lost eight games in the Premier League since the turn of the year, slipping from the top of the table down to sixth place.

With their title aspirations well and truly over, as well as their campaigns in both domestic cup competitions, the Reds' only chance of silverware this season is the Champions League.

Standing in their way of a place in the semi-finals are Zidane's Madrid, who won in the last meeting between the teams in the competition – Gareth Bale inspiring Los Blancos to a 3-1 victory in the 2017-18 final.

Madrid and Liverpool will face each other in a two-legged knockout tie for only the second time – the first saw the Reds inflict Los Blancos' biggest-ever Champions League aggregate defeat (5-0) in 2008-09.

Despite Liverpool's struggles in the Premier League, Zidane is anticipating a stern quarter-final challenge for his team, who are six points off the pace in the Spanish title race.

"We cannot say that it is a bad draw or that it is good, because what happens throughout the season does not matter," Zidane told a news conference ahead of Madrid's LaLiga clash with Celta Vigo on Saturday.

"It doesn't matter how Liverpool are in their league today because at any time, in a tie, they can play their cards without looking at how they are doing in their championship.

"We know who Liverpool are and that is not going to change. It's like us, who have been on the edge of the precipice, but we are alive in both competitions.

"It will be a match between two teams that have won many Champions League [trophies], a very complicated tie. At that level it is always very difficult to win."

There has been some doubt over Zidane's future at Madrid. The Frenchman left his post as head coach in the aftermath of Los Blancos' last victory over Liverpool – their third straight Champions League success – only to return for a second spell in March the following year.

Zidane's deal runs out at the end of next season, but he affirmed he is content to focus on the here and now, rather than his future.

"The world of football is what it is, I am not going to change anything. I enjoy being here every day, I don't care what is said from the outside," he added.

"We have to enjoy every day because this will end one day. We are alive in both competitions, that is what motivates us. The players have the ambition to show that they are the best.

"I look no further. I don't plan anything. You can sign for 10 years and be out tomorrow, and vice versa, you can sign a year and be here a long time. I cannot say anything."

Roberto Martinez remains "very positive" Eden Hazard will be fit and firing in time for Euro 2020 despite missing out on Belgium's latest squad.

And the Red Devils coach called on club side Real Madrid to join the national team in taking "responsibility" for Hazard's recovery.

The winger returned from a six-game absence in LaLiga to appear as a second-half substitute in Madrid's win against Elche last weekend.

However, Hazard had to miss training on Monday due to a damaged hip flexor and could not face Atalanta in the Champions League the following day.

Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane fumed at the repeated "inexplicable" issues that have restricted Hazard to just 36 appearances and 29 starts since his €100million transfer in June 2019.

Hazard has scored only four times for Los Blancos, providing five assists from 38 chances created.

But he remains a key man for Belgium, with five goals, seven assists and 34 chances created in eight European Championship qualifying outings and is set to captain the side at the finals, if he can recover in time.

Martinez is staying patient, revealing the player - in "good spirits" - will not undergo surgery and explaining: "I think there is still a long, long, long, long way to go [to the Euros].

"Rather than setting a timeline, all that matters is to measure every day and to see that Eden is on the right path to get back to full fitness.

"It would be wrong and it would be gambling, by anyone, to imagine if Eden will be fully fit or not.

"I feel this situation can be solved a lot earlier than the Euros, but only when Eden goes from day to day will we see the final answer.

"Knowing Eden, what we're dealing with is a player that has never been injured in his career. This is a real shock, something new. There is a lot of uncertainty around that.

"But in terms of the injury, I feel very positive that we can get to see the best Eden Hazard well before the Euros."

While Zidane had no explanation for Hazard's woes, Martinez added: "This is a situation with Eden Hazard. We're dealing with the same problem. There's been a lot of different niggles and different problems, but everything comes from the same previous problem.

"Now is the moment to forget about any deadlines, any times, it's about Eden Hazard, giving him what he needs and getting him fully recovered and making sure he's back on the football pitch.

"We all need to take that responsibility, between the Belgian federation and the club where he's playing his football."

While Hazard will play no part in Belgium's March World Cup qualifiers against Wales, Czech Republic and Belarus, Romelu Lukaku has been included, despite a coronavirus breakout at Inter.

There are also first senior nods for midfielders Albert Sambi Lokonga and Orel Mangala.


Belgium squad in full:

Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg), Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid), Thomas Kaminski (Blackburn Rovers), Simon Mignolet (Club Brugge); Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham), Dedryck Boyata (Hertha Berlin), Timothy Castagne (Leicester City), Jason Denayer (Lyon), Leander Dendoncker (Wolves), Thomas Foket (Reims), Brandon Mechele (Club Brugge), Thomas Meunier (Borussia Dortmund), Thomas Vermaelen (Vissel Kobe), Jan Vertonghen (Benfica); Yannick Carrasco (Atletico Madrid), Nacer Chadli (Istanbul Basaksehir), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Dortmund), Albert Sambi Lokonga (Anderlecht), Orel Mangala (Stuttgart), Dennis Praet (Leicester City), Alexis Saelemaekers (Milan), Youri Tielemans (Leicester City), Hans Vanaken (Club Brugge); Michy Batshuayi (Crystal Palace), Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace), Charles De Ketelaere (Club Brugge), Jeremy Doku (Rennes), Adnan Januzaj (Real Sociedad), Romelu Lukaku (Inter), Dries Mertens (Napoli), Leandro Trossard (Brighton and Hove Albion), Yari Verschaeren (Anderlecht).

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane replied "why not" when asked if his side can win LaLiga and the Champions League after getting past Atalanta in the last 16 on Tuesday.

Los Blancos completed a 4-1 aggregate victory over the Italians with a 3-1 win in Madrid to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 2017-18.

Zidane's side, who are third in LaLiga and six points behind leaders Atletico Madrid with 11 games to play, will find out their last-eight opponents at Friday's draw.

Madrid won three Champions League titles in a row from 2016 to 2018, although they only won LaLiga once during that hat-trick.

“That's what we're going to try to do," Zidane said when asked if they could win LaLiga and the Champions League.

"Why not? That's what we're here for. We're going to try to do it. It's a big ask, but we'll give it our all.

"We're alive in both competitions and tonight we have to enjoy this, not just because of the goals we scored but particularly because of our performance.

"When you work on things with the players and they then come off in a game it makes you really happy, particularly when it's against a team that demands so much of you."

Croatian midfielder Luka Modric was named man of the match against Atalanta, setting up the opening goal for Karim Benzema and pulling the strings.

"He's so intelligent, that's clear," Zidane said. "He's 35 years old but you wouldn't know it out on the pitch. If Luka wants to become a coach, he's got that in him.

"He understands football, if he wants to be a coach he won't have any problem. I love the kind of guy he is.

"Today, playing the double pivot alongside Toni [Kroos], they have such great chemistry and that's fantastic for the team."

Luka Modric believes Real Madrid's older players are still hungry for Champions League glory.

Croatia midfielder Modric, 35, has lifted the trophy four times with Madrid since he joined them in 2012 and is the eldest of seven players in their squad aged 30 or over.

Sergio Ramos (34), Karim Benzema (33), Marcelo (32), Toni Kroos (31), Nacho (31) and Eden Hazard (30) are the other Madrid players of a certain vintage.

Los Blancos did not make it beyond the last 16 in the previous two seasons after defeats to Ajax and Manchester City in 2018-19 and 2019-20, respectively.

However, Madrid booked their place in the quarter-finals of this season's competition with a 3-1 (4-1 on aggregate) victory over Atalanta on Tuesday.

Modric completed more passes (89) than any other player in the match and had more touches (109) too, underlining his influence remains strong.

"The important thing was to get through as we have not done it in two years," Modric told Movistar.

"We have to go step by step and see where we can go, but we have shown that there is still a lot of hunger in this team and that they want to keep winning.

"I hope we can go far but it was a very important first step. It was a very demanding game, Atalanta is a very physical team, they push one by one across the pitch, they don't stop.

"I think we have done well from the beginning and very happy to be in the quarter-finals."

Modric provided an assist for Benzema to score the opening goal for Madrid, before a penalty from Ramos and Marco Asensio's late strike wrapped up the win shortly after a Luis Muriel free-kick for the visitors.

Five of Modric's last six assists in all competitions have been for Benzema and only in 2013-14 (three) has the Croatian managed more Champions League assists than his two this season - both of which came in this last-16 tie.

When asked how old he felt as a player Modric said "27" before playing down the significance of his advancing years.

He said: "I always say that you don't have to look at the years, what the player does on the field is important, it doesn't matter how old, or how old his passport is.

"My physique and with everything I have achieved here, I am still hungry to continue doing things well, I am working to achieve all this and I feel very good."

Madrid captain Ramos agreed with Modric's sentiments, adding: "In the end, when you have been taking care of yourself for so many years, when you sow you end up harvesting.

"We always try to give the highest level; people must value the performance. The objective was to get through with a good result."

Only Roberto Carlos (16) has scored more Champions League goals than Ramos (15) among all defenders in the competition.

Nevertheless, the experienced centre-back said there was no update on a new contract with Madrid, his current deal set to expire at the end of the season.

Ramos added: "I cannot report anything, when there is something new I will be the one to say so."

Real Madrid booked their place in the Champions League quarter-finals after a 3-1 win over Atalanta on Tuesday thanks to goals from Karim Benzema, Sergio Ramos and Marco Asensio.

With a 1-0 lead from the first leg, Benzema eased any nerves for Madrid when he swept home in the first half following a mistake by Atalanta goalkeeper Marco Sportiello.

Madrid were awarded a penalty after the break when Vinicius Junior was clumsily fouled by Rafael Toloi and Ramos emphatically buried the resulting spot-kick.

Atalanta pulled a late goal back with a free-kick from Luis Muriel, but Asensio ensured there was no drama with goal on the counterattack.

Madrid made a tentative start and Atalanta went close early on when Muriel cut the ball back for Robin Gosens, who could only manage a tame shot straight at Thibaut Courtois.

Los Blancos eventually found their rhythm midway through the half when the lively Vinicius combined with Benzema inside the box, but the Brazilian saw his goal-bound effort blocked.

Zinedine Zidane's side took the lead after a weak clearance by Sportiello went straight to Luka Modric and he fed Benzema, who finished clinically.

Vinicius almost added a second in spectacular fashion, shooting wide with just Sportiello to beat after a dazzling run.

Ramos left Atalanta with a mountain to climb when he converted from the spot, Sportiello unable to keep it out despite getting a hand to the ball.

Benzema headed against the post and Courtois twice saved from Duvan Zapata before Atalanta pulled one back – Muriel curling a superb free-kick into the top-right corner with seven minutes left.

Madrid finished the game with a flourish and a minute later Asensio punished the Serie A outfit on the counterattack, beating Sportiello at his near post.

Zinedine Zidane is open to the idea of Cristiano Ronaldo returning to Real Madrid.

Speculation has been rife following Juventus' Champions League elimination by Porto, suggesting Ronaldo wants to head back to the Santiago Bernabeu.

Despite reports only surfacing in the past week, Spanish publication AS claims Ronaldo and Madrid have been in talks for several months and a transfer for the end of the season is being mooted, with Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe seemingly out of reach this year.

Ronaldo left Madrid for Juve in 2018, a move seen as a major statement in the Bianconeri's bid to end their Champions League drought, which stretches back to 1995-96.

But they have not been beyond the quarter-finals since, losing to Ajax, Lyon and most recently Porto in successive years.

Ronaldo is already Madrid's record scorer with 450 goals and won Europe's elite competition four times with Los Blancos, and Zidane acknowledges another link-up is not impossible.

Asked by Sky Sport Italia if there was truth in the rumours linking Ronaldo to Madrid, Zidane said: "Maybe. We know Cristiano, the person he is and what he did here.

"But he is a Juventus player. I did what I had to do with him, now we will see what happens in the future. I was lucky enough to train him because he is really impressive."

Zidane was speaking ahead of Madrid's Champions League last-16 second leg against Atalanta, having beaten Juve's Serie A rivals 1-0 in Bergamo in their previous meeting.

Remo Freuler was sent off after just 17 minutes for the home side, with Zidane's men then finally breaking the deadlock through Ferland Mendy four minutes from time.

Madrid are in the driving seat in the tie but Zidane insists he is not relaxed heading into Tuesday's game. While he realises Atalanta have to come out and go for goals, he is also well aware that is their main strength.

"I'm not calm, in football that doesn't exist," Zidane added. "You must have a great performance to get through the round, you can't go to 95 per cent because they will come here to win.

"We will need the best Real Madrid. I don't expect anything different from Atalanta. They always play in the same way: they attack and score, a lot. It's a great team.

"It's true that everything changed early on in the first leg, but many things were said to each other and they are rightly angry about the sending off, which was harsh. But we also prefer to play against 11 men, because then our game was also different."

Zinedine Zidane has described the latest injury to Eden Hazard as "inexplicable" as frustrations build over the Real Madrid star's fitness.

The Belgium international returned from a six-game absence in LaLiga as a second-half substitute in Madrid's 2-1 win over Elche on Saturday.

It had been hoped the 30-year-old would be ready for more game time on Tuesday, when Madrid host Atalanta in the Champions League last-16 second leg.

However, Hazard had to miss training on Monday due to a damaged hip flexor, and head coach Zidane confirmed he would not be in the squad for the visit of the Serie A side.

"He's not going to be fit. We're going to put something out shortly [on the injury]; I can't say any more," Zidane said.

"Something is going on. These are things I can't explain. I want to be positive and think it's going to be something small.

"They [the fans] have to wait. We know what sort of player he is. They want to see him, of course, just like everyone else here. But now, they can't."

Hazard has played just 14 times this season as injuries continue to blight his time in the Spanish capital.

The €100million signing from Chelsea has only started 29 matches in all competitions since joining two years ago and has not completed 90 minutes in a single game since November 2019.

"There are four questions on Hazard – I can't say any more," Zidane replied when pressed about the player's problems.

"We want to help him. I don't know if it will be with me or someone else, because he has a long contract, but I want with all my strength for him to be seen as the player he is. Sooner or later, he'll arrive."

Hazard is one of a number of fitness concerns Madrid have had this term but Zidane refused to pin any blame on the club's medical department.

"I don't think there's a problem [with the department]. We have very competent people here who are on top of the players," he said.

"We're going to find out what is happening, but at the moment, it's inexplicable. We've talked about pre-season, the accumulation of matches, also in the head.

"We're going to try to recover [the injured players]. Now, we have fewer injuries. Enough of them have returned."

Striker Karim Benzema, meanwhile, was left saddened by Hazard's latest setback, saying: "He hasn't had much luck since he came here.

"I'm sad because he's a top player. He's sad because he wants to show that he's a world star. We need him."

Zinedine Zidane is delighted with the character Real Madrid showed to clinch a late win over Elche, but wishes his side could have scored earlier.

Karim Benzema's sensational half-volley in stoppage time secured a 2-1 comeback win for Madrid, who moved up to second in LaLiga.

It was Benzema's second goal of the game – the Frenchman having previously cancelled out Dani Calvo's header.

Madrid have scored five goals in second-half injury time in LaLiga this season, four of them scored by Benzema.

And though Madrid showing the spirit needed to score late goals is a positive for ZIdane, he is concerned that his team are becoming too reliant on last-gasp strikes.

"I like the character but I would like them to score earlier. I would like quieter games," Zidane told reporters.

"It is a team that has character, we are alive in both competitions and we will continue to fight hard and believe in ourselves.

"It's a comeback. We believe in what we do, it has cost us, we have had two or three chances to score before and we have not done it.

"In the end, it is a fair result. They are two very beautiful goals, very good plays. It is good for us."

Playing at the centre of a back three, Sergio Ramos made his first league appearance in over two months after recovering from injury, though the veteran campaigner looked to be working his way back to sharpness.

Ramos made one clearance and lost possession five times before going off after Elche opened the scoring 61 minutes in.

However, Ramos did have a penalty appeal turned down beforehand, a decision which Zidane felt went against his side, though he refused to criticise the officials.

"I shouldn't get involved there. The referee does his job and we try to do ours, that's it," Zidane said.

"I saw the play, it seems to us that there is something, but the referee has decided something else and that's it."

Sergio Ramos and Eden Hazard have been named in Real Madrid's 20-man squad to face Elche.

Club captain Ramos, who is out of contract at the end of the season, has not played since suffering meniscus damage in January.

Hazard has endured an injury-plagued existence since joining Madrid from Chelsea for €100million before the start of last season, with a problem in his left thigh serving as the Belgium attacker's latest setback.

Asked at a pre-match media conference whether each man was ready to play a part against Elche, Zidane replied: "Yes, of course. And we are very happy. Our idea is that they have minutes."

And both are in the 20-strong party, with conjecture ongoing over whether Ramos will extend his deal in the Spanish capital.

Hazard is under contract until 2024, giving him plenty of time to turn around an underwhelming stint to date.

Zidane has every confidence the 30-year-old will do so.

"I see him 100 per cent physically and emotionally well," said the Frenchman. "He has overcome the injuries and discomfort he may have had.

"I see him well, he will be with us and I hope he can play."

The Madrid boss dismissed concerns that the catalogue of injuries suffered by Hazard could have a similarly debilitating impact as Gareth Bale's woes had over recent seasons.

"Eden has had his discomfort, it's true. He had never had a long injury before coming to Madrid," he added.

"Now here he had a lot of discomfort. But he has a long player and when he gets well, Damn, he is going to have an impressive performance.

"I speak to the fans: when a player is not at 100 per cent it is complicated, but he is going to do very well here "

Zinedine Zidane has refused to offer any guarantee over the future of Sergio Ramos, but he remains convinced Raphael Varane will stay at Real Madrid. 

Club captain Ramos is out of contract at the end of the season and stated on Thursday that there was "nothing new" to report around a possible extension. 

With Madrid said to be keen to sign Ramos to a new deal but only on reduced wages due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Paris Saint-Germain have been linked with the 34-year-old, who has won 22 trophies in 16 years with Madrid including five LaLiga titles and four Champions Leagues. 

Head coach Zidane admitted on Friday he has little knowledge of Ramos' contract situation, although he would be keen for the Spain veteran to stay in the capital. 

Speaking ahead of Saturday's LaLiga clash with Elche, he said of Ramos: "I can't really answer that question because I don't know. 

"I hope that Ramos remains at the club, he's a key player with everything he's done in the past and hopefully he can remain here and play." 

Meanwhile, the future of long-time centre-back partner Varane is also uncertain. The 27-year-old, whose contract runs out at the end of next season, is said to be considering a new challenge and is reportedly a target for Manchester United. 

However, Zidane appears confident his compatriot has no particular desire to move elsewhere and only has positive things to say about life at Madrid. 

"I don't think that's his first option, to play elsewhere," said Zidane. "He always speaks highly of the club. He's very happy here. I can't see him playing anywhere else." 

Madrid face Elche needing a win to put pressure on top two Atletico Madrid and Barcelona. 

The champions are two points behind Barca and eight adrift of leaders Atletico following last weekend's 1-1 derby draw.

Cristiano Ronaldo has been linked with a sensational return to Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane faced questions over the Juventus star's future on Friday.

It was reported this week that Ronaldo's agent, Jorge Mendes, had contacted Madrid over a potential switch back to the LaLiga champions.

Portugal captain Ronaldo is Madrid's all-time leading goalscorer after finding the back of the net a staggering 451 times in 438 matches before joining Juve on a four-year deal in July 2018.

Madrid boss Zidane could not escape the speculation at his latest media conference as talk over the possibility of the 36-year-old rejoining Los Blancos continues to rumble on.

"We all know what he means for the club, what he did for the club," he said.

"I coached Ronaldo, he's part of the club's history, his contribution was magnificent but right now he's a Juventus footballer and he's doing very well for the club and there's not much more I can add to all the things that have been said.

"He's a Juve footballer and I have to respect the club and the player."

Madrid host struggling Elche on Saturday knowing they have no margin for error in the title race, as they trail Atletico Madrid by eight points.

Zidane says relegation-threatened Elche must not be taken lightly.

"We know in the Spanish league there are no easy games really," said the former France playmaker. "You look at the league table and it doesn't tell the whole story.

"It's a club that are down near the bottom, but they are a very good side and have put in some very good performances this season in the league.

"Now with the new manager [Fran Escriba] things have changed. We expect a tough game and we know we've got to put in a great performance if we want to take all three points and that's our aim."

Zinedine Zidane declared Real Madrid "are alive" in a LaLiga title race that was given a stunning twist thanks to Karim Benzema's late equaliser against Atletico Madrid. 

Moments after Atletico threatened to go 2-0 ahead, Benzema drove the ball past Jan Oblak to earn a 1-1 draw that keeps Madrid clinging to hopes of a successful title defence. 

They are not as close as they would hope; five points off the pace having played one more game than Atletico means there is a mountain to climb. 

But that gap was almost eight points after Luis Suarez's early strike looked set to decide the derby, with Benzema's 88th-minute intervention a welcome reprieve for the visitors to the Wanda Metropolitano. 

"It is deserved, we had chances at the end. We could have scored more, but the good thing was we had a different second half and changed the game," Zidane told a post-game news conference. 

"It is a point, we are alive. We are going to keep fighting. It is a correct result, we believed until the end that it could be recovered."

Madrid thought they should have had a penalty late in the first half when a corner from Toni Kroos zipped across the six-yard box and struck Felipe on the arm, but referee Alejandro Hernandez Hernandez rejected the claims, even after viewing the incident on a touchline screen. 

Perhaps Zidane might have had a different view if Benzema had not equalised, but Madrid's head coach offered a phlegmatic post-game perspective. 

"His job is difficult. It is his decision, his responsibility. We have to respect that," Zidane said of the referee. "The players said it was a hand, he has reviewed it and decided not to whistle." 

Atletico are three points ahead of second-placed Barcelona but finished this game deflated, and their once-commanding lead has been whittled away in recent weeks. 

"We know there is a lot left," Zidane said. "Everything can always change, we are doing things well, we can improve. 

"I am very proud of all my players. We are in the same boat and we are going to fight to the end." 

Atletico have now gone 10 LaLiga derbies against Madrid without a win, drawing six of those games and losing four times. 

The result also means Real Madrid have not lost any of their four LaLiga games at Atletico's new home (W1 D3), and they remain the only team to have played in the stadium in the Spanish top flight without losing. 

Zidane also avoided a rare defeat to Diego Simeone, meaning the Atletico boss now has just one victory in nine matches (W1 D5 L3) against the Frenchman in LaLiga. That 11 per cent win record for Simeone is the Argentinian's worst against any manager he has faced at least four times in the competition. 

Ultimately, Real Madrid set out to bring home all three points, yet the one they left with felt almost like a win. 

Speaking to broadcaster Movistar, Zidane explained he was impressed by how greatly Madrid improved in the second half, after a shaky start to the game. 

"We had to be more aggressive, be higher, have more pressure. We had to be more alive on the pitch," he said. "You can get into a bad game, but then you have to change. 

"That's what we did in the second half, change at a general level, defensively and offensively. 

"They are a direct rival. We wanted all three points. The important thing is to turn the game around. Now we have to continue."

Luis Suarez scored a dazzling goal and was named man of the match, but on the day his former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard finally became a league champion, did Suarez have his own 'Gerrard's slip'?

Championships are often decided on fine margins, and it is almost seven years since Liverpool's Premier League title hopes were brutally hit by Chelsea, when Gerrard's famous stumble let in Demba Ba to score. Manchester City snatched the silverware from the long-time favourites, and Liverpool had to wait another six years before landing the trophy.

Gerrard has managed Rangers to the Scottish title and Suarez is attempting to power Atletico to LaLiga silverware, and on Sunday it seemed all the glory would be his after he fired the Rojiblancos into an early 1-0 lead over Real Madrid, a typically flamboyant finish from a player some thought was washed up at Barcelona barely six months ago.

How he has been revived this season under Diego Simeone, and what a moment it would be were he and Atletico to carry off the title in Spain this year.

But this game at the Wanda Metropolitano finished 1-1, and Suarez will know he is partly responsible for the home side not seeing out victory.

In the 87th minute, Atletico had a glorious chance on the counter-attack to go 2-0 in front. Suarez, in plenty of space inside the Madrid half, could not find the pass that would have sent Saul Niguez through on goal, instead pushing his team-mate wide, and the chance was snuffed out.

Within seconds, Madrid were encroaching on the Atletico penalty area, Karim Benzema on the ball. His pass to Casemiro was carefully returned to the feet of the Frenchman, who burst beyond the penalty spot and finally found a way past Jan Oblak.

Kingpins, that's what Suarez and Benzema are to their teams. Like Gerrard at Liverpool. They are the players whose influence is felt throughout the team, the squad, the club and beyond.

Suarez walked off with an apologetic look at full-time, tracked to the tunnel by television cameras. He had the game in his hands, and he dropped it. Madrid are still in this title race, and five points behind feels an awful lot better than the prospect of eight adrift, which was looming as Suarez picked his pass to Saul.

This was a result that would have been cheered in Barcelona, if they were paying attention in Catalonia and not all-consumed by the elections for a new club president.

Maybe a Madrid win would have been an even better result for Barcelona's title prospects, but nobody among the Blaugranas would dare admit that.

Barcelona sit second, just three points behind Atletico now, and Simeone's team must still visit Camp Nou. How Suarez must be relishing that, and how he must be relieved that Atletico remain in the box seat in this three-team battle.

He was excellent for large parts of this game, hitting the target with four of his six shots and typically delighting in winding up the opposition.

Benzema, by contrast, looked far from sharp until the final half hour, when the player who was returning from a three-week injury lay-off found something extra.

Zidane had labelled Benzema "a joy for football" before this game, but by the break he had registered three attempts, none of which hit the target; a tame shot and two stray headers.

This game seemed ripe for Atletico to end their nine-game winless run in LaLiga games against Madrid (D5 L4), with Marcos Llorente's skilful evasion of Nacho and Suarez's world-class finish from the pass that followed a real treat for the eyes. It was the Uruguayan's 10th goal in 13 LaLiga games against Madrid.

It was Suarez's 17th goal from his 29th shot on target this season in LaLiga, and by early in the second half the expected goal (xG) rating for each side showed Atletico were leading by 1.2 to 0.4.

Slowly, though, the chances began to flow for Madrid, Oblak making a string of magnificent saves, including two in quick succession from Benzema, who was coming into his own as others tired. Finally, Benzema got his reward for persistence. It finished a 1.8-1.8 draw on xG, 1-1 on the scoreboard.

And now Atletico are 10 league games without a win against their neighbours.

"We know how difficult this championship is," Simeone said in his pre-match news conference, pointing to how Madrid and Barcelona have been gradually reeling in Atletico in recent weeks.

It may get a whole lot harder now.

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