Inaki Williams broke the record for most consecutive games in LaLiga history by featuring in Athletic Bilbao's win over Deportivo Alaves on Friday.

The forward made his 203rd successive appearance in the Spanish top flight, and it was marked with a victory as Athletic prevailed 1-0 thanks to Raul Garcia's 44th-minute strike.

One of only two players to feature in over 200 consecutive LaLiga matches, Williams surpassed the long-standing record previously held by former Real Sociedad defender Juan Antonio Larranaga, who played for Los Txuri-Urdin between 1980 and 1994.

The one-time Spain international, who joined the club from Pamplona in 2012, began his sequence when appearing as a substitute during Bilbao's 1-0 defeat by Atletico Madrid in April 2016.

He has subsequently featured in every domestic match since, helping the club achieve four top-10 finishes along the way.

 

Williams, who made his senior debut in December 2014, led Bilbao in scoring in the 2018-19 season, including finding the net on 13 occasions in LaLiga.

He recently played his 300th game for the club on September 11, celebrating the personal milestone with a goal in a 2-0 victory over Real Mallorca.

Inaki Williams is set to break the record for most consecutive games in LaLiga history should he feature in Athletic Bilbao's clash with Alaves on Friday.

If he plays in the showdown at San Mames, the forward will make his 203rd successive appearance in the Spanish top flight.

One of only two players to feature in over 200 consecutive LaLiga matches, Williams would surpass the long-standing record previously held by former Real Sociedad defender Juan Larranaga, who played for Los Txuri-Urdin between 1980 and 1994.

The one-time Spain international, who joined the club from Pamplona in 2012, began his sequence when appearing as a substitute during Bilbao's 1-0 defeat by Atletico Madrid in April 2016.

He has subsequently featured in every domestic match since, helping the club achieve four top-10 finishes along the way.

 

Williams, who has scored 67 goals in 303 appearances since his senior debut in December 2014, was named LaLiga's player of the month in January 2019 during a season in which he led Bilbao in scoring after finding the net on 13 occasions.

He recently played his 300th game for Los Leones, celebrating the milestone on September 11 with a goal in a 2-0 victory over Real Mallorca.

And the 27-year-old will be eager to mark his historic day by helping Marcelino’s side end a run of three matches without victory on Friday.

Although, Alaves are full of momentum having recorded a morale-boosting 1-0 victory over reigning champions Atletico last time out.

Real Madrid's salary cap spending limits for the 2021-22 season is seven times greater than financially stricken Barcelona's, LaLiga has announced.

Los Blancos have seen their limit boosted by €270million, with Barca's reduced by €280m.

Carlo Ancelotti's side will be capped at just over €739m, but Barca can spend only €97m – with six clubs able to splash more than them.

Reigning champions Atletico Madrid have also been hit, with their limit reduced by €81m from last term, resulting in Diego Simeone's men allowed to spend €171m for the next campaign – the third-highest ceiling in the division.

LaLiga corporate director Jose Guerra suggested to ESPN that Madrid's limit, which is over €500m more than any other LaLiga team, would have left room for them to secure Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe, who they attempted to sign last transfer window.

"They [Real Madrid] would have no problem whatsoever," LaLiga corporate director Jose Guerra said to ESPN. "They were ready for [Kylian] Mbappe or any other player."

LaLiga calculates these figures by considering club's earnings, spendings, overheads, losses and debts to encourage sustainability and financial fair play.

 

Barca caused conflict with the league in August when they, along with Madrid and Athletic Bilbao, refused to sign a deal to sell 10 per cent of its business to CVC Capital Partners and later saw Blaugrana legend Lionel Messi leave for PSG because of the club's perilous financial situation.

Players such as Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba responded by agreeing payment deferrals and salary reductions, but Guerra explained the Catalan club's severe decrease is down to losses of almost €500m last season.

"They acknowledge much higher losses than what they had initially estimated, so the impact is greater on their spending limit," Guerra continued.

"If you take the €97m limit and add the losses, around €480m, we're talking about €570m, which would be more normal. So it's more or less stable."

While Barca expect their cap to increase in the following season due to writing off several assets in last year's accounts, Guerra also warned that this was not guaranteed as LaLiga consider past losses moving forward.

Sevilla have the second largest kitty, capped at €200m, with Villarreal (€159m), Real Sociedad (€127m) and Athletic Bilbao (€111m) making up the top six.

However, Valencia – who won LaLiga in 2003-04 – have the smallest limit, with their spending reduced to just €31m, which is a €71m fall from the previous year.

Diego Simeone believes Joao Felix was unfortunate to be sent off in Atletico Madrid's draw with Athletic Bilbao, suggesting no one else would have seen red in similar circumstances. 

Atletico slumped to a third successive home draw across all competitions for the first time since October 2019, as Athletic frustrated them in a 0-0 stalemate. 

The visitors created the better chances, their accumulative xG total of 1.2 coming from six shots whereas Atletico recorded 1.1 from 14 attempts, though Marcelino Garcia Toral's men wasted two glorious opportunities. 

Simeone's side were not helped by the dismissal of Joao Felix for two bookings in quick succession 12 minutes from time, the Portugal international first shown a yellow card for catching his marker with a flailing arm and then his protests earned him another, resulting in a red card. 

Joao Felix's reaction included a gesture that most people would consider was questioning the referee's sanity as he pointed to his head, but Simeone seemingly thought official Jesus Gil Manzano's decision to send the forward off was harsh. 

"I did the same thing a lot of times," the former Argentina midfielder told reporters. "I was not in line with what I should have done, but as I grew older I corrected that. 

"I'm close to Joao and I don't care about this episode. If that gesture is made by someone else, he probably wouldn't be sent off. The referee doesn't react in the same way. 

"There were a lot of yellow cards. It's necessary to look for the sensitivity of the moment of the yellow cards – sometimes players have to talk [to the referee] during the game. It's not a yellow for asking a question. 

"Gil Manzano told me not to tell him to be calm when he was calm... He's a great referee, he has had very good performances for us last season, but the sensitivity depending on the day generates different feelings." 

 

While Simeone was somewhat magnanimous regarding Gil Manzano, Stefan Savic was clearly perturbed by the officiating of the referee, who was also in charge in April when Sevilla beat Atletico 1-0 thanks to a Marcos Acuna goal that was allowed to stand after a handball in the build-up was deemed accidental. 

Atletico ended Saturday's game with four players on a yellow card and Joao Felix having been dismissed – that took them to 20 from just five games, five more than any other team and Savic is baffled. 

"We are calm, but we don't know what's happening. We're unlucky or this is crazy," Savic added. "We have to look ahead. 

"We must think about the things that we can influence, but it cannot be that they [officials] give 15 [20] cards to us. 

"We're not the only ones who protest in a match. The tempo rises, the tension rises – there are hot heads, and you have to understand that. 

"Everyone must understand that it's not the same to speak with a cool head, as during the match your adrenaline rises. 

"You cannot speak with Gil Manzano. We told him that he can't draw a card for each word that's said, so it's better to not say anything [about the referee]." 

Atletico Madrid lacked the required cutting edge to beat Athletic Bilbao as the defending Spanish champions had Joao Felix sent off in a 0-0 draw at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Diego Simeone's side had been hoping to prove their struggles in a stalemate against Porto in midweek were not indicative of wider problems, but they disappointed the home crowd again.

The hosts had looked promising at the start, though Athletic soon grew into the game and defensively they were able to frustrate Atletico.

Inaki Williams was unable to make the most of a rare moment of defensive frailty from Los Colchoneros, though they were never made to rue his miss as Atletico failed to break the deadlock, the post denying Marcos Llorente late on before Joao Felix's red card encapsulated the home side's frustration.

Atletico enjoyed some pressure during the early exchanges, with Antoine Griezmann shooting wide from close range and Stefan Savic heading into the arms of Unai Simon from a similar distance.

But those half-chances were hardly precursors to a sustained onslaught, with Atletico not worrying Athletic again before the break.

They came out after the interval with renewed purpose, as Angel Correa headed just wide from Renan Lodi's cross.

But Athletic crafted the best chance of the game two minutes later, Williams poking the ball through Jose Gimenez's legs before charging through on goal, only to let Atletico off the hook by not even hitting the target when one-on-one with Jan Oblak.

Simeone turned to Luis Suarez – seemingly dropped after an ineffective showing against Porto – as he made four substitutions in five minutes before the hour, though the Uruguayan's lack of pace was glaring when unable to run through on goal when released by fellow substitute Yannick Carrasco.

Llorente attempted to take matters into his own hands but saw his long-range effort crash off the post, before Atletico's chances took a final blow when Joao Felix – another sub – was booked twice in quick succession, the second for dissent, and he left the pitch in a furious mood.

Asier Villalibre then squandered a glorious chance to win it in stoppage-time, slicing over with only Oblak in his path.

Barcelona, Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao have announced they will continue to challenge LaLiga's agreement with CVC Capital Partners. 

LaLiga last month struck a €2.7billion (£2.3bn) deal with CVC that will see the private equity firm acquire 10 per cent of the commercial business. The other 90 per cent of the investment was earmarked to boost cash-strapped clubs in the top two tiers of Spanish football as they deal with the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Madrid and Barca allege the agreement impacts all clubs' audiovisual rights for the next 50 years, with Los Blancos announcing legal action, including against LaLiga president Javier Tebas, last month. 

The deal was overwhelmingly passed by the LaLiga assembly on August 12, yet Barca, Madrid and Athletic still refuse to accept it, while the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) labelled the agreement as "totally illegal". 

In a statement released on Friday, the trio of top-flight clubs made clear their intentions to contest the resolution, following what they describe as a "highly irregular and disrespectful process". 

The statement read: "Barcelona, Athletic Club and Real Madrid announce that they have challenged the agreement adopted by the LaLiga assembly on August 12, 2021, relating to the operation between LaLiga and CVC, as it being an agreement that infringes the applicable rules set out (and in particular, amongst others, the Royal Decree Law 5/2015), and it was adopted as part of an highly irregular and disrespectful process toward with the minimum guarantees required to those purposes, especially faced with an operation of such importance and longevity." 

LaLiga boss Tebas claimed that Barca would have been able to keep Lionel Messi had they agreed to sign up. Due to the club's serious financial issues, the Argentina superstar was unable to sign a new contract and instead joined Paris Saint-Germain. 

Tebas also insisted CVC are investing to develop the league, rather than salvage the finances of Spanish clubs. 

"CVC were interested because of how we have developed, without help from Madrid or Barca. CVC have not come here to bail us out - they are not here because of the pandemic," he said. 

"Only 15 per cent of the money can be used to pay off debts, 70 per cent is for investment in infrastructure. So they are not here to bail out Spanish football, but to help build a stronger league."

Ronald Koeman had no complaints as Barcelona could only draw at Athletic Bilbao, hailing his battling side and Memphis Depay in particular.

Depay scored his first Blaugrana goal 15 minutes from time at San Mames to cancel out Inigo Martinez's opener and secure a point.

The Netherlands international became the first Barca player to have a goal involvement in each of his opening two LaLiga appearances (one goal, one assist) since both Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez in 2011-12.

Yet Depay could have added to his tally as he squandered the best of his three chances – valued at 0.24 expected goals – four minutes from time.

"I could have scored two goals," he told Barca TV. "In the end, I did it with the left.

"I am very pleased to have scored, for having scored my first goal, but disappointed not to have scored the second chance I had."

Koeman was pleased with Depay, however, adding: "He has scored a great goal and had a chance for another. We must highlight the attitude of the team after the 1-0 against.

"[Depay] has effectiveness, speed, strength. He's a great player, that's why we've signed him. You have to have personality, here the demand is better and he takes it well."

 

Indeed, despite Depay's late chance, Koeman suggested Barca would have been fortunate to win.

They had 67.3 per cent of the possession but just nine attempts to Athletic's 16.

"We initially lacked calm and the ability to find the free man," Koeman said. "We made mistakes and couldn't get out.

"Little by little we entered the game, we reacted well after the 1-0 and in the end we were better. We could even win, but maybe it would have been too much."

Barca had some issues at the back, with Eric Garcia sent off late on after Gerard Pique had departed with injury.

In a worrying trend, this is the sixth time in Pique's past 13 LaLiga starts he has failed to see out the full match, as many substitutions as in his previous 111 outings.

But Koeman said Pique's problem was "not serious and I hope he will be available for next week".

Memphis Depay's first goal for Barcelona secured a 1-1 draw for Ronald Koeman's side against Athletic Bilbao at San Mames on Saturday.

Barca started life without Lionel Messi – who joined Paris Saint-Germain earlier this month – with a 4-2 win over Real Sociedad last weekend, but they were well off the pace for much of the clash with Marcelino's side.

The hosts had seven shots to Barca's three in a lively first half and they deservedly went ahead five minutes after the restart when Inigo Martinez steered a header past Neto.

Former Lyon forward Depay ensured a share of the spoils 15 minutes from full-time, though, lashing home from an acute angle moments after Frenkie De Jong had hit the crossbar.

Eric Garcia was then sent off in the final moments of the match as Barca dropped their first points of the new season.

Martin Braithwaite squandered a glorious opportunity to put Barca ahead after six minutes, the Denmark international inexplicably blazing over from 10 yards after Depay's cross was deflected into his path.

That miss should have been punished five minutes later, but Oihan Sancet's instinctive effort crashed back off Neto's crossbar.

Inaki Williams headed over from inside the six-yard box shortly after the half-hour mark, while Ronald Araujo – who had earlier replaced the injured Gerard Pique – saw an overhead kick ruled out for a foul by Braithwaite in the build-up.

Araujo was in the thick of the action at the start of the second period, acrobatically clearing Alex Berenguer's strike off the line, but he was powerless to stop Martinez storming in to head home Iker Muniain's corner in the 50th minute. 

Neto pawed away Sancet's powerful strike soon after as Athletic continued to press, before Frenkie De Jong crashed a sumptuous half-volley against the crossbar.

His Netherlands team-mate was not to be denied, though, Depay thundering an effort past Julen Agirrezabala from a tight angle to secure a point for Koeman’s below-par side, who had Garcia dismissed deep into stoppage time for bringing down Nico Williams as he bore down on goal.

Liverpool defender Andy Robertson has confirmed he suffered ankle ligament damage in the 1-1 pre-season friendly draw with Athletic Bilbao.

The Scotland international limped off after attempting to block a cross and was replaced at half-time by Owen Beck.

Manager Jurgen Klopp said further tests were required to determine the level of damage, casting doubt on Robertson's availability for Liverpool's opening game of the Premier League season away to Norwich City on August 14.

Ahead of Monday's friendly with Osasuna, the Reds' final warm-up game before the 2021-22 season, Robertson said via Twitter that he expected to be sidelined for a time.

"Thanks to everyone for the kind messages and support," he wrote. "Scan suggests nothing too major but there's some ligament damage which will need to mend.

"I will be grafting every day so I can help the team again sooner rather than later. Good luck to the boys playing tonight."

Liverpool left-back Andy Robertson will have scans on an ankle injury described by manager Jurgen Klopp as "pretty painful".

Robertson was hurt during Sunday's 1-1 friendly draw between the Reds and Athletic Bilbao at Anfield.

The Scotland international limped off after attempting to block a cross and was replaced at half-time by Owen Beck.

Klopp said further tests are required to determine the level of damage, casting doubt on Robertson's availability for Liverpool's opening game of the Premier League season away to Norwich City on August 14.

"We obviously don't know in the moment how serious it is," Klopp said. 

"It was pretty painful and that's why Andy went off. You probably saw it on the TV pictures better than we did, but he got the ball, the ball on the front of his foot, [and] twisted the ankle.

"The pain settled already, but we cannot say anything further without further assessment tomorrow [Monday]. He has to get a scan and then we will know more."

Diogo Jota scored Liverpool's opener on Sunday before Alex Berenguer levelled early in the second half in front of a crowd of close to 40,000.

There was a warm reception from the home fans for Virgil van Dijk, who played 72 minutes on home turf for the first time in over 10 months, having missed the majority of last season with a knee injury.

Liverpool face Osasuna on Monday in their final pre-season friendly before the 2021-22 season gets underway.

After a year's delay, Euro 2020 will finally get under way when Italy take on Turkey in Rome on Friday, June 11.

Some of the world's top talents will be on display in the month-long tournament, including the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappe, Robert Lewandowski and Harry Kane.

But away from the elite players, there are a clutch of others looking to overshadow those aforementioned names and leave their own mark on the pan-European competition.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform picks out eight under-the-radar stars – those that would not necessarily be considered as one of the favourites for individual honours before a ball is kicked – ahead of the tournament.

 

Federico Chiesa (Italy and Juventus)

Juventus may have endured one of their worst campaigns in recent memory last time out, but Chiesa can hold his head up high after impressing in his first year at the Allianz Stadium.

He was the man for the big occasions, scoring a couple of goals in January's league victory over Milan and the winner in Juve's Coppa Italia triumph against Atalanta.

The 23-year-old was a regular threat down both flanks ​– only Benevento forward Riccardo Improta (77, 29.87 per cent) had more open-play crosses in Serie A last season with a higher success rate than Chiesa (69, 27.54 per cent).

That ability to both create and score goals, plus his never-say-die spirit – best embodied by his three goals in two legs of the Champions League last-16 knockout defeat to Porto – means he is already a fan favourite in Turin.

"He tries to ignite the fans at home on the couch to let them feel the game like the players in the pitch," former Juve striker Fabrizio Ravanelli told Stats Perform. 

"He always sends a strong message to Juventus fans, the true DNA of Juventus of never giving up like it says in the motto: 'Till the end'."

 

Alexander Isak (Sweden and Real Sociedad)

Whisper it quietly, but Sweden may have a new superstar forward emerging to rival the legendary figure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Isak's 17 strikes in 34 league appearances for Real Sociedad last season saw him become the Swede with the most goals in a single LaLiga campaign, surpassing Ibrahimovic's 16 for Barcelona in 2009-10.

He may be tall and blessed with great technical ability, but Isak is a lot different to Ibrahimovic – ruled out of Euro 2020 with a knee injury – in terms of his playing style.

And with clubs such as Barcelona and Manchester City reportedly keeping a close eye on the 21-year-old, it may well be one day that other youngsters from the Scandinavian country are described as 'the next Isak'.

 

Unai Simon (Spain and Athletic Bilbao)

Luis Enrique has not shied away from putting his faith in youth at the expense of those who have been there and done it, with veteran centre-back Sergio Ramos arguably the most high-profile omission from any squad at Euro 2020.

That is also true between the sticks, where 23-year-old Athletic Bilbao stopper Simon has usurped David de Gea to take control of the number-one spot.

Unlike Manchester United keeper De Gea and Chelsea's Kepa Arrizabalaga, who has not made the cut for Spain, Simon played regularly for his club side in 2020-21.

Indeed, the only Spanish goalkeepers to play more minutes last term in Europe's top five leagues than Simon (3,330) were Alex Remiro and Fernando Pacheco of Real Sociedad and Deportivo Alaves respectively.

Simon saved 63.3 per cent of the shots he faced in LaLiga in 2020-21, compared to 65.22 per cent for De Gea in 26 Premier League games, and the six-cap keeper will need to be at his best if Spain are to banish their demons from the 2018 World Cup.

 

Jamal Musiala (Germany and Bayern Munich)

Musiala switched international allegiance from England to Germany four months ago in the same week he became Bayern's youngest Champions League goalscorer at the age of 17 years and 363 days.

Despite strong competition for places, Musiala featured regularly for the German champions last season with 35 appearances in all competitions, albeit the majority of those outings being as a substitute.

The former Chelsea product made his first two appearances for Germany in March's World Cup qualifiers and only adds to a plethora of options available to Joachim Low in the final third.

Musiala may not be considered a regular just yet, but the stats suggest Low should perhaps consider using the youngster from the beginning of games.

Bayern's win rate increased from 62.5 per cent without Musiala in their side in the Bundesliga last term to 73.1 per cent with him, while their average goals for climbed from 2.5 to 3.0, and their passing accuracy in the final third went from 72.4 to 74.1.

Not so much a lucky omen, but a player who is clearly already good enough to make a telling impact on even the biggest sides.

 

Marcus Thuram (France and Borussia Monchengladbach)

No nation boasts a collection of forwards quite like France, who can call upon Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Wissam Ben Yedder, Thomas Lemar, Kingsley Coman, Olivier Giroud and the returning Karim Benzema.

What chance does Borussia Monchengladbach forward Thuram have, then, of ousting any of those players from the side?

While the 23-year-old may not be used as a regular starter, he will provide an intriguing option for spoiled-for-choice head coach Didier Deschamps to choose from off the bench for group games against Germany, Portugal and Hungary.

Thuram, the son of World Cup winner Lilian, certainly knows how to make the most of his minutes on the field and has the ability to score via a range of different ways.

All eight of his Bundesliga goals last term were scored inside the box, but they were shared between his right foot (three), left foot (two), head (two) and other means (one).

In fact, he was one of just nine forwards to start 20 games or fewer in Europe's top five leagues last season and still score more than once with his right foot.

 

Aleksandr Golovin (Russia and Monaco)

Monaco midfielder Golovin was plagued by injuries and illness in 2020-21 but still played a starring role in Monaco's unlikely Ligue 1 title bid that went down to the final game.

The 25-year-old found the net five times and set up nine more in 21 appearances, three of those goals coming in one game against Nimes in early February.

That made Golovin the first Russian to score a hat-trick in Europe's top five leagues since ex-Fulham striker Pavel Pogrebnyak in 2012.

He is undoubtedly the key creative talent in the Russia squad and, in a group that contains a defensively-strong Denmark and Belgium, plus Finland, it will likely be the Monaco man that holds the key to his side's hopes of progression.

His effectiveness with set-piece deliveries could be particularly vital.

 

 

Yusuf Yazici (Turkey and Lille)

Lille's incredible Ligue 1 triumph was down to a collective effort, but a few players certainly stood out for the shock title winners.

Look no further than breakthrough star Yazici, whose return of a goal every 153.71 minutes was the fourth best of any midfielder with at least five goals in Europe's top five leagues in 2020-21, trailing just Joe Willock, Lars Stindl and Musiala.

The 24-year-old scored seven league goals in total and netted the same amount in the Europa League, where Lille made it to the knockout stages before being eliminated by Ajax.

That includes a couple of three-goal hauls in the group stage as he became the first player to score an away hat-trick against Milan in all competitions since Rivaldo in October 2000 for Barcelona.

With experience of scoring in big matches and winning silverware with rank outsiders, Yazici will now be looking to guide many people's dark horses Turkey deep into Euro 2020.

 

Ryan Gravenberch (Netherlands and Ajax)

A member of the Netherlands' Under-17s European Championship-winning squad in 2018, Gravenberch has gone from strength to strength in the three years since and is now a regular in Ajax's central midfield.

Gravenberch also has two Eredivisie titles and two Dutch Cups to his name to go with that age-grade continental triumph, all before he even turned 19 last month.

The teenage talent, another product of Ajax's fabled academy, made his senior international debut earlier this year and has a chance of starting – or at least playing a prominent part in – the Oranje's quest for a second European Championship crown.

If nothing else, Gravenberch will certainly bring a level of calmness to the Dutch midfield.

He had a pass accuracy rate of 87.21 per cent in the Eredivisie last season – the only midfielders younger in Europe's top five leagues to play 20 or more times with a better return were Pedri (87.66) and Lucas Gourna-Douath (87.29). 

Athletic Bilbao defender Inigo Martinez withdrew himself from contention for a place in Spain's Euro 2020 squad because of concerns over his physical and mental health.

Luis Enrique named a 24-man squad for the tournament on Monday, with Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos the headline omission.

Ramos' absence would ordinarily mean a prominent role for Martinez, although he was another notable absentee, with Pau Torres, Diego Llorente, Aymeric Laporte, Eric Garcia and Cesar Azpilicueta comprising Luis Enrique's central defensive options.

Speaking at a news conference after the squad announcement, Luis Enrique did not go into detail over Martinez not being selected, simply saying there would be a statement after his briefing.

The 30-year-old then posted an explanation on social media, saying that he felt it was time to put his own wellbeing first for the good of both the national team and himself.

"These lines are very hard to write. The truth is that for some time I have not been 100 per cent physically or mentally to compete at the level of maximum demand required by the Athletic and national team jerseys," Martinez's statement read.

"I have come to the conclusion that, out of honesty with these shirts and with myself, I must stop. Take a step to the side to disconnect, recharge the batteries and quickly recover the strength that has always accompanied me.

"A few days ago I transferred this difficult decision to my club and to the national team, since I have been fighting all season to the fullest for my club and for the goal of participating in the Euro. 

"I have left everything on the pitch for it, but I believe that sincerity is the best for the national team in this difficult challenge that lies ahead."

Martinez has played 28 times for Athletic in LaLiga this season, largely matching the levels he has set throughout a distinguished career in Spain's top flight, the bulk of which came with Basque neighbours Real Sociedad before moving to San Mames in 2018.

A 68.2 per cent tackle success rate sits alongside his overall output in LaLiga (68.9) and is better than his average in Bilbao (60.3).

He has won 57.3 per cent of duels contested in 2020-21, a slight drop when compared to his whole career (59.5) and stint at Athletic (61.1).

Martinez is also reliably smooth in possession, completing 82.8 per cent of his passes this season – putting him 11th among Spanish-qualified defenders to have played 2,000 or more minutes in the division. That is up on 79.4 per cent for Athletic overall and 79.6 in his career to date.

Zinedine Zidane insisted the only focus for Real Madrid should be their pivotal LaLiga finale against Villarreal, rather than his future at the club.

Los Blancos remain in the hunt to retain their league title thanks to a 1-0 win away at Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, defender Nacho Fernandez the unlikely hero with the only goal of the game.

It appeared at one stage as if the reigning champions would be in pole position with one more round of fixtures to play, only for Atletico Madrid to produce an impressive comeback at home against Osasuna.

A late Luis Suarez winner at the Wanda Metropolitano has Diego Simeone's side two points ahead of their city rivals in the table.

Reports in the Spanish media on the day of the Athletic game said Zidane had informed the Madrid squad he will be leaving at the end of the campaign, but the Frenchman refused to be drawn on his situation.

"How am I going to tell my players that I am leaving now, when we are putting everything on the line?" Zidane said in his post-match press conference.

"When you say things from the outside, you can say whatever you want. I am not ever going to say that to my players.

"At the end of the season we will see, but now I am in this and am focused on the last match.

"We cannot talk constantly about my future; the most important thing is the last match that we have to play."

Zidane opted to retain the same forward line that started the 4-1 win over Granada on Thursday, meaning Eden Hazard once again had to settle for a place on the bench.

The Belgium international was introduced in the 77th minute in place of Rodrygo, with Zidane insisting it was simply a selection call made by himself, rather than any particular issue.

"Nothing has happened with Hazard, it is just that others are playing at the moment," he said.

"I have to choose the 11 and nothing more. He is contributing like everyone else.”

While Madrid host Villarreal in the Spanish capital next Sunday, Atletico have a trip to relegation-threatened Real Valladolid.

Zidane's side are on a 17-game unbeaten run in LaLiga, their best streak in a single campaign during his two stints in charge.

Nacho Fernandez's second-half goal ensured Real Madrid still have a chance of retaining their LaLiga title on the final day of the season as they beat Athletic Bilbao 1-0, but Atletico Madrid remain in the driving seat.

Madrid briefly looked to be going into their last match of 2020-21 at the top of the table after Nacho fortuitously put them in front while Atletico trailed, but Diego Simeone's men enjoyed a late turnaround against Osasuna to stay two points clear.

The build-up to Madrid's trip to San Mames had centred around reports Zinedine Zidane will leave at the end of the season, and for much of the game his team looked incapable of clinching the victory that could set up a triumphant conclusion for the French coach.

But with 22 minutes to go, Nacho bundled home what proved to be the winner, though Atletico's battling comeback at the Wanda Metropolitano means Madrid will need a helping hand if they are to be champions again, while Barcelona's chances are over following a 2-1 home defeat by Celta Vigo.

Aymeric Laporte is set to represent Spain at Euro 2020 after switching his allegiance from France.

Manchester City centre-back Laporte has represented Les Bleus 51 times in total across the under-17 and under-21 age groups.

However, the 26-year-old was never handed his senior debut, despite being called up three times by Didier Deschamps.

Laporte came through the youth ranks at Athletic Bilbao and made 222 appearances for the Basque club until joining City in January 2018.

He was granted Spanish citizenship earlier this week and FIFA has confirmed he can play for Spain with "immediate effect".

A report by Marca earlier this week claimed Spain boss Luis Enrique lobbied the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) to look into the possibility of Laporte changing allegiance, so it feels safe to assume he will be a key part of the former Barcelona head coach's plans for Euro 2020.

But how does Laporte compare to Spain's other options at centre-back?

Regular game time

Despite scoring the winner in last month's EFL Cup final against Tottenham and collecting a third Premier League title in four seasons at City, it has been a mixed campaign for Laporte on a personal level.

He went into 2020-21 as Pep Guardiola's go-to centre-back but the arrival of Ruben Dias and John Stones' resurgence means he is no longer first choice at the Etihad Stadium.

Nevertheless, the packed schedule undertaken across all competitions by the Champions League finalists means he has still played 27 games, starting 24 and completing 2,250 minutes.

Of centre-backs used by Luis Enrique this season, that places Laporte third behind Villarreal's Pau Torres (41 games, 3,675 minutes) and Athletic's Inigo Martinez (32 games, 2,914).

Sergio Ramos, who is now widely expected to have a new centre-back partner for La Roja, has been restricted to 21 games and 1,790 minutes by injuries this season, while Diego Llorente (14 games, 1,160) was compromised by a serious groin injury after joining Leeds United.

One would-be international colleague Laporte knows very well is club team-mate Eric Garcia. The 20-year-old is set to leave City after declining to sign a new contract last term.

While running down the clock to his anticipated move to Barcelona, Garcia has become a marginal figure in Manchester, despite Guardiola continuing to profess his admiration of his talents.

His 10 appearances and eight starts amount to 693 minutes, not significantly more than 514 minutes across seven caps for Spain this season.

Indeed, Luis Enrique started Garcia in all three of the March internationals, suggesting his lack of club action is not overly hindering his case.

Keeping it tight in Manchester

City's defensive improvements have been central to their success this season and, although no longer an automatic selection, Laporte has more than played his part.

The 14 goals conceded with him on the field are just four more than Guardiola's side have let in amid Garcia's sporadic outings. Only Torres (13) has amassed more than his 12 clean sheets.

Laporte ranks well across all of the key defensive metrics this season, with 18 tackles placing him level with Ramos and Torres.

Martinez has made 24, while Marcelo Bielsa's famously intense style of play might be largely responsible for Llorente going into 31 tackles during his relatively smaller workload.

Laporte's duel success rate of 63.7 per cent is the best of the bunch, with Martinez contesting and winning the most overall (263 and 149), while Torres is out in front in terms of recoveries (232).

In the air and on the ground

Standing at 6ft 3ins, Laporte will provide the kind of imposing presence Spain have perhaps lacked.

He has contested 100 and won 69 aerials, similar numbers to the 103 and 62 returned by Torres, who is of similar stature. Martinez's 136 contested and 82 won again show the Athletic man getting through plenty of work.

Perhaps Laporte's most celebrated quality is his capacity to start moves from the back via his superb left foot.

Centre-backs completing a high proportion of their passes is not unusual, given the generally simple nature of them, but Laporte generally plays in a notably progressive manner.

He has made 244 passes into the final third this season, more than any of the Spain centre-backs mentioned (Torres 240, Martinez 235), a trait that is sure to be welcomed by the attacking talents in Luis Enrique's squad.

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