Real Madrid have expressed their "sincere gratitude and affection" to departing duo Gareth Bale and Isco.

Bale confirmed on Wednesday that, as expected, he was leaving the LaLiga champions and Champions League winners, with his contract with Los Blancos coming to an end.

Isco also revealed earlier this week that he was departing the club on a free transfer.

Both players signed for Madrid in 2013 - Bale joining from Tottenham while Isco arrived from Malaga.

The pair have helped Madrid win 19 trophies in their nine years in the Spanish capital, although Bale did spend the 2020-21 season on loan at Spurs.

They can count five Champions League titles, three league crowns, one Copa del Rey and four FIFA Club World Cup triumphs among their honours.

Bale also scored crucial goals to help seal some of those successes, including a match-winning double in the 2018 Champions League final against Liverpool.

"Real Madrid would like to express its sincere gratitude and affection to Gareth Bale, a player who will forever be part of the club's legacy," a statement on the club's website read, with the same applying for Isco.

Isco's time at Real Madrid may be winding down, but the playmaker at least was able to see the funny side as he wished team-mate Marcelo a happy birthday.

Marcelo turned 34 on Thursday. The left-back joined Madrid in 2006 and has gone on to enjoy five LaLiga titles, two Copa del Rey triumphs and four Champions League crowns.

Isco, meanwhile, swiftly established himself as a key cog in Carlo Ancelotti's system upon joining Madrid from Malaga in 2013. 

However, the 30-year-old has struggled with injuries and was used sparingly by Zinedine Zidane in 2020-21.

Isco's struggles have persisted in Ancelotti's second spell in charge and he has been restricted to just 386 minutes of action this season, across 16 appearances in all competitions.

 

Just three of those have been starts, while Marcelo has played 17 times, totalling 790 minutes.

Isco, though, managed to see the humour in the situation while celebrating Marcelo's birthday.

"Happy birthday legend," a photo of Marcelo and Isco on the latter's Instagram story was captioned. "It was hard for me to find a photo of when we played!"

That being said, it should not have been too difficult for Isco to find a photo of the pair playing together.

Only last month, Marcelo started and Isco came on as a substitute in a victory over Espanyol, one that clinched the title. Both players seem unlikely to be at Madrid to help push for more trophies next season, though.

A 10th Ligue 1 title for Paris Saint-Germain has evidently left a bitter-sweet taste.

Their devastating elimination at the hands of Real Madrid in the Champions League made for a fourth last-16 exit in the past six seasons, following final and semi-final defeats to Bayern Munich and Manchester City respectively.

Amid protests that culminated in fans walking out of the Parc des Princes as PSG claimed the domestic title at the weekend, the remedy reportedly appears to be a new coach.


TOP STORY – CONTE TO REPLACE POCHETTINO AT PSG

Paris Saint-Germain appear set to dismiss Mauricio Pochettino as their head coach and have lined up Antonio Conte as his replacement, Le Parisien is reporting.

Pochettino's exit is reportedly imminent and all that is left for the club is to come to a financial settlement, with another season left on the contracts of Pochettino and his staff.

PSG's preferred choice as Pochettino's replacement is apparently Zinedine Zidane, but he appears more intent to replace Didier Deschamps as France's national team coach if he leaves after the World Cup.

Tottenham boss Conte would be brought in on a two-year deal. 


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Lucas Paqueta has told Lyon head coach Peter Bosz he will let the club know of his desire to stay or leave at season's end, according to the Chronicle.

- Manchester City's Gabriel Jesus is also yet to commit to his future beyond the end of this season, the Guardian reports.

Real Betis are keen to sign Real Madrid's Isco, who will be leaving at the end of the season, per Marca.

- Mundo Deportivo is reporting Barcelona are considering a bid for Ajax centre-back Lisandro Martinez.

Carlo Ancelotti acknowledged Eden Hazard and Isco might have been frustrated by their restricted roles for Real Madrid but now hopes to rely on both moving forward. 

Hazard and Isco have started just 10 Madrid games between them in all competitions this season and were again on the bench for Thursday's Copa del Rey clash at Elche. 

Isco was introduced late in normal time with the game goalless, before Hazard came on as the tie headed into extra time. 

The pair did not have an immediate impact, as Marcelo was sent off and Gonzalo Verdu netted a deflected opener for Elche, but ultimately turned the match on its head. 

Isco touched in an equaliser before Hazard's first goal of the season sent Madrid through. 

A report last week claimed Madrid had accepted a bid from Newcastle United for Hazard, but it added the player rejected the move. He has now had two goal involvements in as many appearances – as many as in his previous 17. 

A delighted Ancelotti appears convinced, saying of the winger and Isco: "I knew that changes could give a boost to the team and they have given it. 

 

"[Hazard] and Isco have won the match. It has a meaning. It may be that they deserve to play more, but the past is the past and you have to look forward. 

"I know that I can count on them and on a squad that has everything, an extraordinary character and that fights against adversity and never gives up. 

"I'm very happy. I think it's the game that's given me the most happiness." 

Both men might expect to feature again in the quarter-finals of the Copa in a fortnight, when Madrid will be without a host of South American stars due to a short international break outside of a FIFA window. 

"Let's see if those who make the calendars wake up. It's nonsense," Ancelotti said of the issue. "It is inevitable, but it has to be changed. We have to make them fairer for everyone." 

Madrid are playing in the last eight for the fifth time in six seasons, although they have not won the trophy since 2013-14. Only twice this century have the Blancos lifted the Copa. 

Real Madrid have confirmed David Alaba and Isco returned positive tests for COVID-19.

The duo are the latest Madrid players to contract the virus, taking the total to eight in the space of a week.

Los Blancos revealed last Wednesday that Luka Modric and Marcelo had gone into quarantine after routine testing determined they had the illness.

Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio, Rodrygo and Andriy Lunin then tested positive the following day, along with Carlo Ancelotti's son and technical assistant Davide.

All are absent for Madrid's scheduled trip to San Mames to face Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday.

Ancelotti's side are six points clear at the top of LaLiga, having collected 43 points from their first 18 matches, but second-placed Sevilla can close the gap when they face Barcelona on Tuesday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manchester United are in the market for a midfielder. 

With a long-rumoured target looking unlikely, United are shifting their gaze from one England midfielder to another. 

Could they prise another up-and-coming star from Leeds United? 

 

TOP STORY – UNITED SHIFT SIGHTS TO PHILLIPS

Kalvin Phillips is Manchester United's latest target in an effort to shore up the midfield, the Daily Star reports. 

The Leeds star has gained favour at Old Trafford as United have given up hopes of adding West Ham's Declan Rice thanks to his reported £90million price tag.

Phillips, 25, is under contract at Elland Road through 2024 and reportedly is valued at £60m. 

 

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– Barcelona are still in pursuit of Matthijs de Ligt and are prepared to offer Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Memphis Depay to Juventus in a deal for the Netherlands defender, who is valued at €75m, according to Calciomercato.

– Franck Kessie has turned down Milan's latest contract offer and is eyeing a move to the Premier League, 90min reports, with United and Liverpool said to be interested. 

– Juan Mata is considering a move away from Old Trafford in January due to a lack of playing time this season, the Manchester Evening News reports. 

– Everton are considering loan deals with Real Madrid for Isco and Luka Jovic, claims Defensa Central.

– West Brom teen Reyes Cleary is drawing attention from Borussia Dortmund and Hoffenheim, says the Daily Mail. 

– Steven Nzonzi is nearing a move from Roma to Al Rayyan, Calciomercato reports. 

Could Harry Kane end up at Real Madrid?

Borussia Dortmund forward Erling Haaland is one of Europe's most sought-after and expensive players, while Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe also commands a hefty fee.

With that in mind, Tottenham's Kane has reportedly emerged as a transfer target in the Spanish capital.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID ADD KANE TO LIST

Real Madrid are interested in signing Tottenham star Harry Kane, according to SER Deportivo.

Madrid have been heavily linked with in-demand Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland and Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe.

But Madrid's hierarchy reportedly feel a deal to prise Kane from Tottenham may be easier.

 

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- Wednesday's Marca and Diario AS newspapers are dominated by Cristiano Ronaldo. Marca claims Ronaldo would exit Juventus to return to Madrid, who he left in 2018. Diario AS says Juve are ready to listen to offers for the five-time Ballon d'Or winner. Ronaldo has also been linked with former club Manchester United.

- Sport reports Manchester City defender Eric Garcia will join Barcelona on a five-year deal. It will be the first major signing under new president Joan Laporta as the LaLiga giants also eye Haaland and look to re-sign superstar captain Lionel Messi, who has been tipped to join either PSG or City on a free transfer at season's end.

- TV3 claims Ronald Koeman will continue as Barca head coach in 2021-22 following talks with Laporta. RB Leipzig's Julian Nagelsmann and club great Xavi had been linked.

Inter are ready to reignite their interest in Udinese star Rodrigo De Paul, claims Calciomercato. The Serie A leaders have previously been linked with the Argentina midfielder. Antonio Conte's Inter are also tracking Madrid outcast Isco, according to Sport.

- L'Equipe claims United are considering a move for Tottenham captain and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris amid doubts over David de Gea. Milan star Gianluigi Donnarumma has also emerged as a possible target.

Bayern Munich are in talks to sign Madrid attacker Lucas Vazquez on a free transfer, according to AS.

Liverpool, Juventus and Roma are among clubs interested in Madrid defender Nacho Fernandez, says AS. The 31-year-old is out of contract at the end of 2021-22.

Matthijs de Ligt was linked with Manchester United before his move to Juventus in 2019.

United have reportedly renewed their interest in the 21-year-old Dutch defender.

Could he end up in Manchester?

 

TOP STORY – UNITED WANT DE LIGT

Manchester United are set to target Juventus centre-back Matthijs de Ligt, according to TodoFichajes.

United were heavily linked with De Ligt before the Netherlands international swapped Ajax for Serie A champions Juve in 2019.

With United reportedly not advancing in their pursuit of Real Madrid pair Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, the Red Devils are eyeing De Ligt.

United have also been linked with RB Leipzig's Ibrahima Konate, Sevilla defender Jules Kounde and Napoli star Kalidou Koulibaly.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato reports Paris Saint-Germain are poised to offer David Alaba a €25million-per year deal in an attempt to prise the Bayern Munich star to the French capital. Out of contract at season's end, Alaba has been tipped to join Madrid. Chelsea, Barcelona and Manchester City have also been linked.

United have been left alone in the fight to sign Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, claims TodoFichajes. Unwilling to match Villa's valuation, City have reportedly exited the race for Grealish. The report also says United could sell Marcus Rashford to fund the move.

- Madrid stars Lucas Vazquez and Isco are wanted by Everton, according to Calciomercato. After prising James Rodriguez from the LaLiga champions, Everton are targeting another two players from the Spanish capital, though Milan and Juve are also keen.

- Diario AS reports Madrid are prioritising a move for in-demand Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland. Chelsea, United, City, Juve, PSG, Barca and Bayern have all been linked but Madrid are reportedly shifting their attention from Kylian Mbappe to Haaland.

Monchi claims Isco is keen to leave Real Madrid but swatted away rumours Sevilla are preparing to sign the Spain international.

Attacking midfielder Isco has made just three LaLiga starts this season for Zinedine Zidane's team, with suggestions circling in the Spanish media that he fancies a change.

Sevilla director of football Monchi appreciates why Isco has been linked with a move to the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, given his former Madrid and national team boss Julen Lopetegui is head coach of the Europa League winners.

But Monchi says it is a non-starter, even if Isco's name came up in discussions he had with club president Jose Castro.

Speaking to Estadio Deportivo, Monchi said: "The conversation lasted approximately 15 or 20 seconds. It is news that had come out, he asked me and I said no, that was all the interest in Isco."

Monchi added: "I talk to the president or vice-president on a day-to-day basis. There are things that jump out and the president asks me if that is true and I say 'Yes, yes, I have not told you', but it is not the case with Isco.

"It is a rumour, a logical rumour, because he wants to leave, and here is a coach who has had him and for whom he played at a high level, but there was absolutely nothing, not a movement."

Isco was born and raised in Andalusia, and after a spell away in Valencia's system he joined Malaga, which is where he caught the eye of Madrid.

This is his eighth season at Madrid, and Isco has now entered the last 18 months of his contract.

It remains to be seen whether there is a future with Los Blancos for a player who scored 10 goals and had eight assists in the 2016-17 LaLiga campaign, and who in his debut campaign at Madrid created a remarkable 71 chances despite starting only 23 games.

Certainly, Sevilla appear to have made their position clear. They appear content with their attacking options, with Papu Gomez having newly joined from Atalanta and with players out on loan capable of returning and staking a claim.

Monchi said: "Fortunately in that position we have very interesting players. It is one of the positions on the field in which we can be calmer.

"In the profiles that Isco can play, we have players here and elsewhere that will give us a solid performance."

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