Dejan Kulusevski scored his first goal since January as Juventus took another step towards securing a Champions League spot with a 3-1 win over Genoa.

Kulusevski opened the scoring early on and Alvaro Morata doubled Juve's lead midway through the first half of Sunday's Serie A clash at Allianz Stadium.

Genoa posed much more of a threat after the break and Gianluca Scamacca's goal early in the second half gave them hope.

Weston McKennie gave Andrea Pirlo's side breathing space with a third goal as they moved a point behind third-placed Milan with eight games to play.

Juan Cuadrado was the architect for Juve's opening goal four minutes in, bamboozling Nicolo Rovella with great trickery before cutting the ball into the path of Kulusevski, who found the far corner of the net with a measured left-foot finish.

The champions were in the mood and doubled their last after 21 minutes, with a moment to forget for Ivan Radovanovic.

Federico Chiesa raced away from the defender after robbing him just inside the Juve half before forcing a fine save from Mattia Perin and although Cristiano Ronaldo struck the post from a tight angle, the onrushing Morata lashed the loose ball home with his left foot.

Perin palmed Adrien Rabiot's rasping drive away and Wojciech Szczesny prevented Scamacca from pulling a goal back on the stroke of half-time after the striker got away from Matthijs de Ligt and Giorgio Chiellini with a sharp turn.

Scamacca halved the deficit three minutes into the second half, though, heading home an outswinging corner from the Juve-owned Rovella with De Ligt on the floor claiming he was pushed.

The Bianconeri looked shaky at the back and Marko Pjaca forced a great save from Szczesny before the same player fired wastefully off target from inside the area.

McKennie eased the tension just a couple of minutes after coming on, calmly finishing after clearly thinking he had strayed offside.

 

Matteo Darmian was the unlikely hero as Inter made it 11 league wins on the spin with a 1-0 triumph over Cagliari, in the process restoring their 11-point lead at the top of Serie A.

Antonio Conte's table-topping side turned in a sluggish performance in the early kick-off on Sunday, though eventually scored the only goal of the game with 13 minutes remaining.

Darmian arrived at the back post to convert Achraf Hakimi's low cross from Inter's right flank, the former Manchester United defender's finish finally breaking Cagliari's stubborn resistance.

Milan had closed the gap to the leaders on Saturday thanks to a 3-1 triumph at Parma, despite a red card for Zlatan Ibrahimovic after 60 minutes.

Inter appeared in danger of failing to win in the league for the first time since January 23 against opponents who arrived at San Siro having lost three on the spin, a run of results that had increased the prospects of Cagliari dropping into the second tier.

However, Leonardo Semplici's strugglers frustrated their hosts for the majority of proceedings, aided by an excellent performance from Guglielmo Vicario.

The visitors' goalkeeper twice kept out long-range attempts from Christian Eriksen, as well as denying Darmian in the first half.

Stefano Sensi also saw a strike kept out by Vicario, who had some help from the crossbar when Stefan de Vrij's powerful header from Eriksen's delivery left him rooted to the spot.

Conte sent on Lautaro Martinez in the 70th minute, though it was fellow substitute Hakimi who made the more telling contribution in a cameo appearance, delivering the ball into the path of Darmian to slide in and finish.

Philadelphia 76ers All-Star Joel Embiid believes he is still in consideration for the NBA's MVP, insisting he has been the best player all season when fit.

Embiid was reportedly the frontrunner for the league's Most Valuable Player award before missing 10 games with a knee injury.

The four-time All-Star scored 24 points in his return against the Minnesota Timberwolves on April 3, and he followed that up with 35 points in a win over the Boston Celtics.

Embiid struggled in Friday's loss against the New Orleans Pelicans – posting 14 points on just five-for-15 shooting – but he was close to his best with 27 points and nine rebounds as the 76ers took down the Oklahoma City Thunder 117-93 on Saturday.

"When it comes to the MVP stuff, I feel like I'm still right there," Embiid said post-game.

"When I'm on the floor, I feel like I've been the best all season, just doing my thing.

"Just dominating with the help of my team-mates and the coaches putting me in the right positions to succeed."

Embiid finishing 10-of-17 from the field, making seven of nine free-throws to lift the 76ers on the road against the Thunder.

The 76ers big man had 21 points in the first half – his 12th 20-point first half of the season – matching Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic for the most in the NBA.

Embiid is now one of three players with at least 20 20-point halves (first or second), joining Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors superstars Stephen Curry.

"To get 21 by half-time, I was shocked by that," said 76ers head coach Doc Rivers. "I didn't see that 21 which tells you how efficient he was being.

"I thought he did a great job of facilitating tonight as well. The brace bothers him, there's no doubt about that. He's gonna have to wear it for a couple more weeks I think, hopefully, less, but he's getting through it, and he's doing the best that he can."

In 2020-21, Embiid is averaging 29.4 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game for the 76ers – who are top of the Eastern Conference alongside the Brooklyn Nets.

On wearing a knee brace, Embiid added: "It just feels like every shot that I take, I just have a hitch and it's not a full motion or it's not as smooth as it was in the past, even though the makes, when I make him. I just got to get used to it and get back to where I was before.

"When you have a brace cutting that blood flow and blood circulation on your legs, my legs get tired fast. It's an adjustment, but it's there to protect me so I just got to keep doing it."

The short-handed Toronto Blue Jays claimed a much-needed 15-1 win over the Los Angeles Angels as unheralded duo Josh Palacios and Santiago Espinal stepped up on Saturday.

Toronto had lost four consecutive MLB games and were without some key weapons for the third matchup of the Angels series, including star recruit George Springer and Silver Slugger Teoscar Hernandez.

But the Blue Jays returned to form thanks to the likes of Palacios and Espinal – Toronto, who had scored seven runs across their previous 31 innings, using a seven-run second inning to blitz the Angels in Dunedin after rain delayed the start of proceedings for almost three hours.

Palacios managed his first MLB hit and scored on a three-run double from Randal Grichuk as he finished with four runs and as many hits against the Angels.

The 25-year-old became the second player in American League (AL) history with four-plus hits and four-plus runs in one of his first two career games, per Stats Perform. The other was Wid Conroy in 1901.

Espinal – called up to the Blue Jays from the alternate training site on Saturday – had two runs and three hits in five at-bats as Toronto registered 15 runs without homering.

Bo Bichette had five RBIs with three runs and two hits, while Marcus Semien and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. also scored.

Steven Matz impressed in his start for the Blue Jays, allowing just one run and five hits across six strong innings, while Angels pitcher Jose Quintana was tagged with the loss after giving up five hits, seven runs – five earned – in less than two innings.

 

Dodgers flex muscles in LA, Locastro makes history

Chris Taylor hit a three-run homer as World Series champions the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Washington Nationals 9-5. The Dodgers improved to 7-2 for the season after AJ Pollock also drove in three runs. Juan Soto homered twice but it was not enough for the visiting Nationals.

Tim Locastro became the first player on record (since 1951) to start a career with 28 consecutive stolen bases without being caught. It came as the Arizona Diamondbacks topped the Cincinnati Reds 8-3.

Jacob deGrom matched a career best with 14 strikeouts over eight innings, but the New York Mets were blanked 3-0 by the Miami Marlins.

Avisail Garcia homered, doubled and drove in five runs as the Milwaukee Brewers beat the St Louis Cardinals 9-5. Keston Hiura hit a three-run homer in a five-run seventh inning for the Brewers.

 

Yankees shut out as German pays the price

It was a miserable outing for Domingo German and the New York Yankees, who were blanked 4-0 by AL East rivals the Tampa Bay Rays. Austin Meadows and Randy Arozarena homered off German. The Yankees optioned German to the club's alternate site after the shut-out loss. 

 

Memorable day for Espinal

Toronto's Espinal will not be forgetting Saturday's game any time soon. Prior to starring for the Blue Jays, the 26-year-old Dominican infielder met iconic countryman and MLB legend Albert Pujols thanks to team-mate Guerrero. Angels star Pujols is a two-time World Series champion, three-time National League (NL) MVP, 10-time All-Star, six-time Silver Slugger, two-time Gold Glove winner and one of the Dominican Republic's most famous names.

 

Saturday's results

Miami Marlins 3-0 New York Mets
Tampa Bay Rays 4-0 New York Yankees
Seattle Mariners 4-3 Minnesota Twins
Milwaukee Brewers 9-5 St Louis Cardinals
San Francisco Giants 4-3 Colorado Rockies
Oakland Athletics 7-3 Houston Astros
Cleveland Indians 11-3 Detroit Tigers
Pittsburgh Pirates 8-2 Chicago Cubs
Boston Red Sox 6-4 Baltimore Orioles
San Diego Padres 7-4 Texas Rangers
Atlanta Braves 5-4 Philadelphia Phillies
Arizona Diamondbacks 8-3 Cincinnati Reds
Los Angeles Dodgers 9-5 Washington Nationals
Toronto Blue Jays 15-1 Los Angeles Angels
Kansas City Royals-Chicago White Sox (postponed)

 

Angels at Blue Jays

The Blue Jays (4-5) will look to level their series with the Angels (6-3) in Sunday's decider in Dunedin.

Kyrie Irving's ejection proved costly as the high-flying Brooklyn Nets were humbled 126-101 by reigning NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers.

Nets star Irving (18 points) and Lakers guard Dennis Schroder (19 points) were both ejected in the third quarter at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where the pair were jawing with each other before the officials stepped in.

Leading 66-62 at the time, the injury-hit Lakers surged clear – using a 15-2 burst to extend their advantage to 88-71 away to the Nets, who had their nine-game home winning streak snapped.

In the absence of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma, Lakers recruit Andre Drummond had 20 points and 11 rebounds, while Talen Horton-Tucker (14 points and 11 assists) also put up a double-double.

Nets star Kevin Durant posted 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists in his second game back following a 23-game absence.

The Utah Jazz extended their franchise-record home winning streak to 24 games after topping the Sacramento Kings 128-112.

Donovan Mitchell led the way with a season-high 42 points – the All-Star tallying his 18th 30-point game of the season.

Mitchell became the fourth Jazz player to score 35-plus points in three consecutive games, joining Karl Malone, Adrian Dantley and Pete Maravich.

Mike Conley (26 points) and Joe Ingles (20) made contributions for the Jazz, while Kings pair De'Aaron Fox (30 points) and Richaun Holmes (25 points and 10 rebounds) impressed.

 

Curry sizzles, Trent has game to remember

Stephen Curry scored 23 of his 38 points in the third quarter to lead the Golden State Warriors past the Houston Rockets 125-109. Curry had his sixth consecutive 30-point game, the longest streak of his career. The two-time MVP is the first Warrior to score at least 30 points in six straight games since Ricky Barry in 1974.

The Toronto Raptors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 135-115 behind Gary Trent Jr., who went off for a new career-high 44 points on 17-for-19 shooting. He joined Chris Bosh (40 points on 14-16 field goals made in 2008) as the only Raptors players to have 40-plus points on 80 per cent shooting or better in a game. Trent's 89.5 field goal percentage marked the second highest figure for any player with 44-plus points in a game during the shot-clock era (1954-55), trailing only Mike Woodson (48 points on 91.7 field goal percentage) in 1983.

The Phoenix Suns maintained their solid form by easing past the Washington Wizards 134-106. Phoenix have won 17 of their last 21 games after Devin Booker posted 27 points and Deandre Ayton had 14 points and 10 rebounds. The Suns only tallied three turnovers against the Wizards to tie the franchise record. Wizards star Russell Westbrook (17 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds) recorded his NBA-leading 22nd triple-double of the season.

Enes Kanter's 24 points and franchise-record 30 rebounds fuelled the Portland Trail Blazers' 118-103 win over the lowly Detroit Pistons. Team-mate Damian Lillard had 27 points and 10 assists.

 

Porter struggles

Kevin Porter Jr. was four-for-13 shooting from the field, while he made just one of six three-point attempts for nine points in 33 minutes as the Rockets went down to the Warriors.

Detroit's Cory Joseph finished with just four points after going two-of-seven from the field.

 

Korkmaz enjoys career night

Furkan Korkmaz put on a show at both ends of the floor as the Philadelphia 76ers returned to the top of the east alongside the Nets following a 117-93 win at the Oklahoma City Thunder. Korkmaz put up a season-high 20 points and a career-high five steals.

 

Saturday's results

Utah Jazz 128-112 Sacramento Kings
Toronto Raptors 135-115 Cleveland Cavaliers
Los Angeles Lakers 126-101 Brooklyn Nets
Philadelphia 76ers 117-93 Oklahoma City Thunder
Golden State Warriors 125-109 Houston Rockets
Phoenix Suns 134-106 Washington Wizards
Portland Trail Blazers 118-103 Detroit Pistons

 

Celtics at Nuggets

On Sunday, the Boston Celtics (27-26) will face the streaking Denver Nuggets (34-18), who have won eight straight games.

Ronald Koeman insisted Barcelona remain upbeat and optimistic in their pursuit of the LaLiga title, despite suffering Clasico pain at the hands of Real Madrid.

Barca left the Spanish capital emptyhanded after Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos guided defending champions Madrid to a 2-1 win on Saturday.

Oscar Mingueza set up a dramatic final half-hour with his second goal of the season for Barca, while Madrid midfielder Casemiro was sent off in the 90th minute.

But Madrid held on at a sodden Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium to seal a third consecutive win against Barca in all competitions for the first time since 1978 as they provisionally moved top of the table, with Atletico Madrid in action on Sunday.

Barca are third and a point off the pace, though they could fall four points adrift if Atletico beat Real Betis.

"Of course we're still upbeat and optimistic because we've produced a serious performance," Barca head coach Koeman told reporters. "We are fighting.

"We lost a match against a team who are fighting to win the league but there are nine matches and all the matches are important for the three best teams.

"It's difficult for all three of us. We will come back, we will fight until the last match."

Barca attempted 12 shots in total in the second half, three of those on target, and nearly snatched a point when Ilaix Moriba struck the crossbar in the 94th minute.

But, Koeman became the first Barcelona coach to lose his first two LaLiga games against Madrid since Joaquim Rife in 1980 (also the first two).

Koeman could not hide his frustration post-match, having felt his side should have had a penalty when substitute Martin Braithwaite went down in the box under pressure from Ferland Mendy.

The former Netherlands boss said: "I'm not the only person who's upset about the decision, or lack of decision.

"The players feel disappointed because of this decision by the referee to not give the penalty and there's players who have been playing for years for Barcelona, so I know. But once again not all decisions were right.

"You should ask the players but I would like to include myself. We know that we've played a good match football wise, the first part, the first half, ok, we were not up to our standards. Real Madrid defended very well in the first half.

"There's no [league] match next week and the title [Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao] is at stake. We have a week to prepare for a difficult match so we'll carry on and we are strong."

Lionel Messi, meanwhile, failed to score in seven consecutive Clasicos in all competitions for the first time in his career.

Hideki Matsuyama is embracing the new experience of leading a major as the Japanese golfer stands on the brink of history following a red-hot performance at The Masters.

Matsuyama seized control of the tournament at Augusta, where the five-time PGA Tour champion earned a four-stroke lead thanks to his flawless third-round 65 on Saturday.

After inclement weather halted proceedings, Matsuyama – chasing his maiden major title – jumped out of the blocks and gained six shots in seven holes to blitz the field in Georgia.

Matsuyama heads into Sunday's final round as the player to beat at 11 under through 54 holes, ahead of Xander Schauffele, March Leishman, Justin rose and Will Zalatoris, while looking to become the first Japanese man to win a major event.

"This will be a new experience for me, being a leader going into the final round in a major," said Matsuyama, who was one under before the weather delay.

"All I can do is just relax as I can tonight, prepare well and just do my best tomorrow."

Matsuyama – making his 87th start since his last victory at the 2017 WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational – posted the first bogey-free round this week and his best score in 37 rounds at The Masters.

The 29-year-old, who birdied the seventh hole on a bogey-free front nine, was red hot following the turn, birdieing the 11th and 12th.

Unstoppable, Matsuyama eagled the 15th before following that up with back-to-back birdies at the 16th and 17th as he soared to 11 under through 54 holes.

"During the rain delay, or right before the rain delay, I probably hit the worst shot I've hit this week," he said. "And during the rain delay, I just figured, I can't hit anything worse than that. And so maybe it relieved some pressure."

"Before the horn blew, I didn't hit a very good drive, but after the horn blew for the restart, I hit practically every shot exactly how I wanted to," continued Matsuyama.

Matsuyama was off the pace at the start of the day but turned the tables to soar to the summit.

Asked what he would have thought had he been told he would end the day four strokes lead, Matsuyama added: "Maybe I wouldn't have believed it, but I did play well today.

"And my game plan was carried out, and hopefully tomorrow I can continue good form."

Matsuyama has been paired with 2019 Masters runner-up and former PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Schauffele in the final round.

Of the last 30 Masters champions, 25 have come from the last pairing.

Barcelona are hopeful superstar captain Lionel Messi has not played his last El Clasico for the LaLiga giants, said director Guillermo Amor.

Messi is out of contract at the end of the season and his future with Barca is far from certain amid strong links to Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City.

New Barca president Joan Laporta remains determined to re-sign Messi, who has spent his entire senior career at Camp Nou.

Amor was asked about Messi's future after Barca lost Saturday's Clasico 2-1 at Real Madrid.

"We hope not," Amor told reporters following the match when asked if it was Messi's final Clasico showdown.

"We hope he decides to stay at Barcelona and plays many more Clasicos with Barcelona." 

Messi had seven attempts on goal against Madrid, including when he hit the post with an audacious effort directly from a corner towards the end of the first half.

No Barcelona player had more shots, but Messi could not find a way through in what could potentially be his final tangle with Madrid in this famous fixture.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner has now gone seven Clasicos in all competitions without scoring – the longest drought of his career against Los Blancos.

Barca missed the chance to move top of the league standings on Saturday – Ronald Koeman's men left in third position and a point adrift of Madrid and Atletico Madrid.

Hideki Matsuyama produced a flawless seven-under-par 65 as his stunning late blitz earned a four-stroke lead heading into the final round of The Masters.

Matsuyama – chasing his maiden major title and Japan's first in men's golf – made a huge splash on moving day at Augusta, where the 29-year-old seized control following a weather delay on Saturday.

After inclement weather halted proceedings, Matsuyama jumped out of the blocks and gained six shots in seven holes to leave overnight leader Justin Rose in his tracks.

Matsuyama – who birdied the seventh hole on a bogey-free front nine – was red hot following the turn, the five-time PGA Tour champion birdieing the 11th and 12th.

Unstoppable, Matsuyama eagled the 15th before following that up with back-to-back birdies at the 16th and 17th as he soared to 11 under through 54 holes.

Matsuyama – making his 87th start since his last victory at the 2017 WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational – posted the first bogey-free round this week and his best score in 37 rounds at The Masters.

Xander Schauffele and Marc Leishman also made their moves to join Rose and Will Zalatoris in a share of second spot heading into Sunday's final round.

Runner-up in 2019, American Schauffele improved 10 positions thanks to a third-round 68, which included an eagle, four birdies and two bogeys.

Leishman (70) – who finished tied for fourth in 2013 – enjoyed a strong finish, with two birdies from his final bogey-free six holes leaving him in a mix to become just the second Australian to win a green jacket after Adam Scott (2013).

The penultimate day did not go according to plan for Englishman Rose, who signed for a second consecutive 72 in Georgia.

It was a mixed day for Rose as the one-time major champion split three birdies and as many bogeys, while American Zalatoris (71) is also seven under overall.

Highlighted by an ace on the sixth hole, Corey Conners posted a four-under-par 68 to be outright sixth, five strokes behind Matsuyama.

Former world number one and 2015 champion Jordan Spieth – who ended his near-four-year title drought last week – will begin Sunday six shots off the pace following his 72.

Another former Masters winner, 2018 champion Patrick Reed, is four strokes further back after shooting a two-under-par 70 to be level alongside Justin Thomas (75) and last year's runner-up Cameron Smith (73).

Real Madrid prevailed 2-1 over Barcelona in a rain-soaked and chaotic Clasico in the Spanish capital.

Saturday's showdown proved a contrasting story for the two star forwards on display as Zinedine Zidane's men replaced city rivals Atletico Madrid at the top of LaLiga.

There were also a couple of moments of history before a red card in a frantic finale.

Here, we look at some of the standout statistics to emerge from the latest chapter in the eternal rivalry.

 

Seven not heaven for Messi

Lionel Messi had seven attempts on goal, including when he hit the post with an audacious effort directly from a corner towards the end of the first half.

No Barcelona player had more shots, but Messi could not find a way through in what could potentially be his final tangle with Madrid in this famous fixture.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner has now gone seven Clasicos in all competitions without scoring – the longest drought of his career against Los Blancos.

Simply the Benz

At the head of Madrid's attack, Karim Benzema simply cannot stop scoring, irrespective of the opponents.

His sensational backheel flick to convert Lucas Vazquez's 13th-minute cross was a finish that is sure to be cherished for years to come.

Benzema has now scored in his past seven LaLiga games, netting nine times overall during this period.

The Frenchman is the fourth Madrid player in the 21st century to have scored in seven consecutive top-flight outings after Ruud van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.

Kroos ends dead ball torpor

From Ronaldo to David Beckham, Madrid have rarely been shy of free-kick specialists.

It comes as a surprise, therefore, that Toni Kroos' strike on Saturday made him the first player in white to score a direct free-kick in El Clasico this century.

Sure, it deflected off Sergino Dest and bounced off Jordi Alba's head on the goal line, but they all count. Right, Toni?

Mignueza opens his account

Oscar Mingueza endured a torrid first half as Vinicius Junior ran him ragged, but the Barcelona defender bounced back after the break.

Mingueza appeared in the Madrid penalty area to convert when substitute Antoine Griezmann dummied Alba's cross.

The previous Barca defender to score on his first appearance in El Clasico was Marc Bartra in the 2014 Copa de Rey final.

Ref on Casemiro's case

Mingueza was also involved in another key moment, when Casemiro fouled him outside the Madrid box in the final minute of normal time.

That earned the combative Brazilian his second booking and only the second sending off of his Madrid career.

During this time, Casemiro has committed 478 fouls in all competitions. All in all, not a bad ratio.

Nacho was delighted to pick up three pivotal points in the LaLiga title race as Real Madrid demonstrated their strength in depth with a 2-1 triumph over rivals Barcelona on Saturday.

Zinedine Zidane's Madrid moved to the top of the table in Spain – albeit potentially for only 24 hours with Atletico Madrid playing on Sunday – by completing the league double over their Clasico rivals Barca for the first time since the 2006-07 season.

Reigning LaLiga champions Madrid scored both of their goals in the first half, Karim Benzema getting the first with an audacious back-heeled finish before Toni Kroos doubled the lead, albeit his free-kick took a deflection to beat goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

While Oscar Mingueza halved the deficit on the hour mark, Madrid's centre-back pairing of Nacho and Eder Militao helped make sure Madrid retained their advantage through to the final whistle.

"They're three very important points in terms of the title race," Nacho said. "We now have to push on because there's still a long way to go.

"Winning a Clasico is always special and a nice thing, especially with the way the league table is so tight, with everyone fighting to win the league, it's a very important win."

Madrid finished the contest, which saw the second half played out amid heavy downpours, with 10 men – midfielder Casemiro dismissed in the 90th minute.

On the game itself, Nacho said:  "We were very comfortable on the counter-attack. Barcelona like to have a lot of the ball, they can hurt you and you have to defend well and we had to dig in, but we got a two-goal lead which helped us to grow in to it.

"We had to work hard, but we got the win, which is the most important thing."

The home team were once again without captain Sergio Ramos – who missed his first LaLiga Clasico game having appeared in 31 consecutive showdowns – due to injury, while fellow centre-back Raphael Varane is still isolating after a positive COVID-19 test result.

However, having performed admirably in the 3-1 Champions League win over Liverpool in midweek, the combination of Nacho and Militao again impressed at the heart of the Madrid defence.

Lionel Messi could not help Barcelona rescue a point in an eventful finish; he has now failed to score in seven successive games against Madrid in all competitions for the first time in his career.

"We have a very strong squad, we're all contributing in big games like today and the other day against Liverpool," Nacho said.

"The coach believes in all of us and we're at 100 per cent. We still have a lot of really big things left to keep fighting for."

Barca felt aggrieved they were not awarded a penalty after substitute Martin Braithwaite tangled with Madrid full-back Ferland Mendy. 

"I was just the wrong side of Mendy and I don't know what to tell you know. When I've seen it, I'll be able to have an opinion on it," Nacho said of the incident.

Barcelona forward Ousmane Dembele said he is upbeat over his future with the LaLiga giants amid ongoing speculation.

Dembele is out of contract in 2022 and reports claim the Frenchman is nearing a three-year extension at Camp Nou.

The 23-year-old, who has been hampered by injuries since arriving from Borussia Dortmund in 2017, was heavily linked with Manchester United prior to the 2020-21 campaign.

Asked about his future before Saturday's 2-1 Clasico loss to bitter rivals and reigning LaLiga champions Real Madrid, Dembele told beIN SPORTS: "I still have a year of contract left.

"There hasn't been a discussion with the club yet, I'm happy, and I feel good.

"There is the new president who has arrived and whom I do not know too well, but he is very close to the players. We'll see how it goes."

Dembele has scored five goals in 24 LaLiga appearances this season and 10 across all competitions for Barca.

But the France international struggled as Barca missed the chance to move top of the league standings on Saturday – Ronald Koeman's men left in third position and a point adrift of Madrid and Atletico Madrid.

Koeman became the first Barcelona head coach to lose his first two LaLiga games against Real Madrid since Joaquim Rife in 1980.

Barca captain Lionel Messi, meanwhile, has failed to score in seven consecutive Clasico showdowns in all competitions for the first time in his career.

Ronald Koeman insisted Barcelona were denied a "clear penalty" in their 2-1 loss to Real Madrid as he hit out at the officiating in Saturday's dramatic El Clasico.

Barca fell to a third consecutive defeat to bitter rivals Madrid in all competitions for the first time since 1978 as they missed out on the chance to move top of LaLiga.

Oscar Mingueza set up a thrilling final half-hour at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano when prodding in to halve the deficit following first-half strikes from Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos. 

The visitors attempted 12 shots in total in the second half, three of those on target, and nearly snatched a point when Ilaix Moriba struck the crossbar in the 94th minute.

However, Koeman felt his side should have had a penalty when fellow substitute Martin Braithwaite went down in the box under pressure from Ferland Mendy.

And the Dutchman also questioned why more time was not added on at the end as a portion of the four allotted minutes was taken up by the officials resolving a technical issue.
 
"If you're a Barca fan or a Barca player, you're very unhappy with the result because I think there were two clear decisions that the referee didn't make that would have changed the game," he told LaLiga TV.

"I think we weren't good at all in the first 45. We weren't good in attack and we weren't good in defence.

"In the second half we improved but I only ask for a bit better when making key decisions because they are decisions that could have cost us the game and eventually they did.

"I think the added time as well was four minutes and it should have been added on. 

"He only added two minutes because of the issue with his microphone and there were quite a few more stoppages, also with the possible penalty towards the end. Once again, we have to accept it and shut up."

Defeat for Barca was their first in 20 league games since early December and saw them drop to third in LaLiga, a point behind Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, the latter of whom play their game in hand against Real Betis on Sunday.

When asked by reporter Ricardo Sierra if the two decisions that went against his side were defining moments, Koeman said: "Yes, of course. 

"The issue with the referee's microphone is a different issue completely. Obviously there were many things on the pitch that affected the result overall

"But I do think we should have gotten a clear penalty towards the end and I don't know why it wasn't reviewed by VAR.

"The linesman is there, he should assist with the decision. Everyone probably thinks it's a penalty. Do you think it's a penalty?"

Sierra failed to respond to Koeman's question, prompting the Barca boss to cut short the interview.

With this defeat, Koeman is the first Barcelona coach to lose his first two LaLiga games against Madrid since Joaquim Rife in 1980 (also the first two).

To borrow a line from Meatloaf, two out of three ain't bad for Real Madrid. 

A 2-1 triumph over Barcelona sees Zinedine Zidane's side take over at the top of the table. Their stay at the LaLiga summit could only last 24 hours - long-time leaders and noisy neighbours Atletico can go back above them if they take a point from their game in hand - but, make no mistake, Los Blancos are in the thick of a three-way title race.

A Clasico win - meaning they have won both league meetings in a season for the first time since 2007-08 - followed on from a 3-1 result against Liverpool in the Champions League. 

Just like in their midweek success in European action, Madrid scored twice before half-time to seize control. Barca will rue the deflection on Toni Kroos' free-kick that doubled the advantage, but they were undone for the opener by an audacious finish that capped a flowing attack.

Karim Benzema's 13th-minute goal continued a hot streak for a striker who keeps on scoring while seemingly waiting to see which rival will turn up to try and take his job.

His back-heeled finish to beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen at the near post made it seven league games in a row where he has found the net. He becomes the fourth player for the club to manage such a streak in LaLiga: Cristiano Ronaldo achieved the feat four times, while Ruud van Nistelrooy (2007) and Gareth Bale (2018) are the other names on the list.

Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland have been heavily linked with Madrid, but Benzema remains the man right now.

Since Ronaldo departed the club in 2018, the Frenchman has stepped up to become the focal point in the front line. He has scored 21 LaLiga goals in each of the previous two seasons, while this term he is already up to 19. With plenty of games remaining, his career-best tally of 24, managed in 2015-16 despite making just 27 appearances, is well within his sights.

If Madrid were to retain their title, his role was always going to be significant, despite the transfer speculation. Hopes of a second successive crown appeared distant, however, when they suffered a 2-1 defeat to Levante on January 30, at which stage the champions sat seven points behind Atleti, who also had two games in hand.

Eder Militao was sent off in that Levante loss, dismissed after just eight minutes and 12 seconds. It was a short-lived third start in LaLiga this term, while the Brazilian defender had also been in the Madrid team that suffered a shock Copa del Rey exit to Alcoyano 10 days earlier.

The big-money signing from Porto in 2019 had yet to convince in the Spanish capital, to put it nicely.

His role may have remained as someone on the periphery of the first-team picture, too, had Zidane not suddenly been faced with a shortage of options to line up at the heart of his defence. However, with captain Sergio Ramos again sidelined and Raphael Varane self-isolating after testing positive for COVID-19, Militao stepped up to show his value during a critical stretch for his club.

The centre-back made a game-high six clearances on Saturday, as well as three blocks. Forget the heavy rain that beseiged Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano throughout the second half; a Barca tide came his way, yet - alongside Nacho - he made sure Madrid did not go under.

Just like against Liverpool, the makeshift pairing defied expectations. A potential point of weakness has instead helped fortify the team, with a partnership born out of necessity helping to change the outlook ahead of the run-in. If they can do something similar in the second leg at Anfield on Wednesday, a double remains distinctly doable.

Perhaps, too, Militao has shown that there can be life after Ramos, whose contract is fast running out at Madrid, just as there has been since Ronaldo said his farewells and headed for Turin.

At half-time in Saturday's Clasico, Barcelona had out-passed Real Madrid by 390 to 172 and enjoyed 69 per cent of the possession. A fat lot of good it did them.

Madrid were 2-0 up having had more shots on goal, with eight to Barca's six and more on target (3-1). Federico Valverde had also hit the post as things threatened to get truly ugly for the Blaugrana.

Ronald Koeman has seen a remarkable turnaround since the new year, with Barca transformed from also-rans to many people's title favourites heading into this 2-1 defeat to their bitter rivals.

But against elite opponents, as in painful reverses earlier this season at the hands of Madrid, Atletico, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain, they again came up short. For that, their coach must take his share of the blame.

During a prior run of 13 wins and one draw in LaLiga in 2021, Koeman frequently deployed a 3-4-2-1 formation and the result was some swashbuckling performances, most notably a 6-1 routing of Real Sociedad before last month's international break.

This week's last-gasp 1-0 victory against Real Valladolid was far more laboured and Koeman blinked. Antoine Griezmann, having formed a free-flowing forward trident with Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembele, was consigned to the bench at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano.

Dembele was the match-winning hero against Valladolid but here cut an isolated figure as a lone striker, with Messi dropping deeper and deeper into midfield, trying to make something – anything – happen.

For all their numbers in the middle, Barcelona could not turn their possession into clear chances, nor could their apparent control prevent them from being eviscerated time and again on the break.

Karim Benzema's backheel finish for the opener was of the highest class, but Barca looked clueless as the white shirts rushed towards them.

Perhaps mindful of his poor record in big games this season, Koeman abandoned his successful formula for an approach that left Barca painfully between two stools.

 

Messi audaciously shot directly from a corner just before half-time, outfoxing Thibaut Courtois with vicious dip to hit the post. It was the latest of countless demonstrations of his genius in this fixture, but it was also a shocking indictment of Barca's overall play that it felt like a legitimate ploy.

The enduring and repeated image of the first period was Oscar Mingueza sprinting back towards his own goal wearing an anguished look as the effervescent Vinicius Junior showed him a clean pair of heels. Madrid's Brazilian forward enjoyed a career-best outing against Liverpool this week and was in no mood for the fun to stop.

Mingueza tired of that torment and took himself off to the Madrid box in the 60th minute to shin one in after Griezmann – on at half-time – dummied a cross from Jordi Alba, the full-back who was all at sea on the first goal before failing to head Toni Kroos' deflected free-kick off the line

Having made defenders look silly earlier on, it was Vinicius' turn to revert to slapstick as he broke clear with a chance to seal the points, only to botch a pass to Benzema where the idea was bad and the execution was worse.

To add to a mounting sense of chaos in torrential rain, Zinedine Zidane started taking off all his best players with an eye on Anfield.

The concluding moments were an encapsulation of this undulating LaLiga title race – hard to predict, full of errors and utterly captivating. Martin Braithwaite had a soft penalty appeal rejected amid great fury, Casemiro clumped into Mingueza and his perpetual mayhem to earn a second yellow card.

Top since November, Atletico Madrid will go back above their neighbours at the summit if they beat Eibar on Sunday. All three heavyweights will still fancy their chances, including Barca on account of their form leading into this weekend.

That is why this felt like such a missed opportunity for Koeman. His team have been the best in the country since January but he decided not to be bold when the stakes were highest.

For all the bridges built with a distant fanbase, turbulent boardroom and a star player whose future remains in the balance, this was a damaging backwards step.

And what of Messi? As things stand, his last act in this eternal rivalry will be delivering a free-kick for Illaix Moriba to hit the crossbar before a roving Marc-Andre ter Stegen hacked away at the rebound and booted the ball up Trincao's backside.

Perhaps he'll hang around after all.

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