David Alaba has taken his place in Real Madrid's starting line-up for the first time in over a month for the Champions League final against Liverpool on Saturday.

Alaba had been out of action since being substituted at half-time during Madrid's 4-3 semi-final first-leg defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, with Nacho starting instead when Carlo Ancelotti's men sealed a 6-5 aggregate victory with a stunning comeback at the Santiago Bernabeu earlier this month.

The Austria defender's selection in Paris was the only change to the Madrid side that started that second leg, with attacking duo Vinicius Junior and Karim Benzema again leading the line.

Those two have assisted one another a combined 18 times in all competitions this season, the most of any pairing in Europe's top five leagues.

Vinicius' inclusion made him just the fifth player to start a Champions League final for Madrid aged 21 or younger, after Raul (1998), Iker Casillas (2000), Nicolas Anelka (2000) and Raphael Varane (2014).

However, Benzema is at the opposite end of his career. He and Alaba were joined by Toni Kroos and Luka Modric to make Madrid the first team to start a final with four players who had previously made 100 or more Champions League appearances.

Benzema had been one of three centurions (also Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos) in Madrid's 2018 final win over Liverpool, in which Gareth Bale's brace as a substitute proved the difference in a 3-1 triumph.

Bale was named on the bench again for this rematch ahead of his imminent departure as a free agent, while fellow winger Eden Hazard was also among the substitutes.

Semi-final hero Rodrygo Goes, who grabbed an improbable stoppage-time double to wipe out City's lead over Los Blancos, hoped to make a similar impact after being named next to the big-money duo on the bench.

Madrid headed into the game aiming to win their 14th European Cup or Champions League title, with their 13 prior wins already a record. Ancelotti was bidding to become the first man to win four Champions Leagues.

Carlo Ancelotti revealed David Alaba will "100 per cent" feature for Real Madrid in the Champions League final next weekend. 

Alaba has been dealing with a hamstring injury sustained in the semi-final first leg against Manchester City last month and did not feature in Madrid's last LaLiga game of the season against Real Betis on Friday. 

Los Blancos came through the match unscathed with a 0-0 draw at the Santiago Bernabeu and Ancelotti confirmed afterwards that the Austria defender will play against Liverpool at the Stade de France on Saturday week. 

"Alaba is going to play the final but it wasn't necessary to take risks," Ancelotti told Movistar+. 

"He's going to play, 100 per cent. He hasn't played since April 26, it's true, but not only physical condition is taken into account for the match. Skill and experience are too." 

The Italian coach expects to have Gareth Bale available for one more time before his contract expires at the end of the season. 

Bale missed out on a place in the squad to face Betis having only recently stepped up his recovery from a back issue. 

"He wanted to say goodbye and play if he was able. Bale has one last chance because he will be fine for the final," Ancelotti added. 

Marcelo was sent on as a second-half substitute for what is anticipated to be his final outing at the Bernabeu, but Ancelotti hinted that the Brazilian could yet extend his stay. 

"He hasn't said goodbye yet, he's still our captain and will be in Paris. If he does say goodbye in the end, of the best full-backs in the world will leave. I think he's talking to the club, I don't know," said the Madrid boss. 

Carlo Ancelotti knows Real Madrid must produce a "complete" performance against Manchester City to reach the Champions League final, as he confirmed David Alaba is out of the second leg.

Madrid were beaten 4-3 by Premier League leaders City in a thrilling first leg at the Etihad Stadium last week.

Los Blancos responded to that defeat by thrashing Espanyol 4-0 on Saturday to win their 35th LaLiga title in style.

Ancelotti, who is the first coach to have triumphed across all of Europe's big five leagues and has stated that Madrid will be the last club he coaches, believes his side have a great chance to overturn a deficit when they face Pep Guardiola's side at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday if they are their very best.

The wily Madrid boss told reports on the eve of the match: "The game has to be complete. The low block has to be better than the first leg, the pressure has to be well done to avoid passes between lines and transitions. 

"We are not going to propose a game with a low block, that's for sure, but at some moments of the game it will be. The game has to be complete."

According to Ancelotti, Madrid will be without Alaba due to a hamstring injury, despite the Austria defender having been named in the squad. However, he has faith in Nacho Fernandez to perform.

He said: "Alaba can't play. I don't have doubts, it will possibly be a long game too but it's not so important who starts as it is who finishes it.

"The defence system is the same. Alaba is an important player but Nacho's played very well this season. He's experienced and I'm sure he'll put on a good performance tomorrow."

Another player who will start is Casemiro and Ancelotti expects the fit-again Brazil midfielder to make Los Blancos much more difficult to break down.

The Italian said: "His return is going to help us, it reinforces the defensive aspect, in which we have to improve, also in collective commitment, moving better as a block, being more compact 

"We have worked on the defensive aspect. I think we will see improvement."

Madrid have been crowned European champions a record 13 times, but Ancelotti believes that will count for nothing when they attempt to reach yet another final.

"History won't have an impact tomorrow," he said: "It will be different, each game has its own history. They have an edge and we are aware of it.

"We have to do our best. It will be a tough game but we've got an incredible opportunity to play another Champions League final and we've already won the league, so the atmosphere will be good and it's something we can pull off."

Real Madrid defender David Alaba did not train with the squad on Monday, casting doubt over his participation against Manchester City.

Alaba, who has added a LaLiga title to his 10 Bundesliga crowns after Madrid sealed their domestic triumph on Saturday, trained inside away from the rest of the squad, according to an update on the club's official website.

The versatile defender, signed on a free transfer last season following the expiration of his Bayern Munich contract, has played a key role in Carlo Ancelotti's defence this term and has made 45 appearances across all competitions, all of them starts.

However, Alaba was taken off in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final against City last week, which finished 4-3 in the Premier League leaders' favour, with a hamstring issue, and it is unclear if he will return in time to play against Pep Guardiola's team in Wednesday's second leg. He did not play against Espanyol on Saturday.

Madrid are vying for a place in the final, which will take place on May 28 in Paris. Liverpool lead Villarreal 2-0 on aggregate in the other semi-final.

Gareth Bale did also not take part in full training, while Eden Hazard continues his recovery from a fibula fracture.

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti backed Karim Benzema to bounce back after missing two penalties in the 3-1 win over Osasuna on Wednesday.

Ante Budimir cancelled out David Alaba's 12th-minute opener before Marco Asensio restored Madrid's advantage at El Sadar.

Benzema was then twice denied by Sergio Herrera from 12 yards as the France star became the first player to miss two penalties in a LaLiga game since Raul Tamudo against Real Betis in April 2006.

Lucas Vazquez sealed victory for the league leaders in stoppage time as Madrid moved 17 points clear of nearest challengers Atletico Madrid, with distant chasers Sevilla and Barcelona playing on Thursday.

Speaking after the game, Ancelotti was quick to defend Benzema, who leads LaLiga scoring charts with 25 goals to this season.

"Penalties are missed by those who take them, it won't affect Benzema. Karim played a super game, he's going to score the next game," he said.

Alaba limped off at half-time and was subsequently withdrawn at the interval, but Ancelotti did not appear concerned about the centre-back's injury.

"We are optimistic with Alaba. We removed him as a precaution, he has been overloaded with a lot of work," the Italian added.

Madrid will now turn their attention to the Champions League semi-final first-leg clash at Manchester City on Tuesday, and Ancelotti insists his focus will be solely on that tie and not securing the league title.

"The title? We plan to prepare well for the next match, which is the semi-final of the Champions League," he continued.

"Then let's see what happens. We need to win. We are focused on the semi-final match and I think we are going to arrive in good form."

Real Madrid moved one step closer to the LaLiga title with a 3-1 victory at Osasuna despite Karim Benzema twice failing from the penalty spot on Wednesday.

Madrid needed a stunning comeback to win 3-2 at Sevilla after a slow start on Sunday, but were quick out the blocks at El Sadar as David Alaba struck after 12 minutes before Ante Budimir immediately equalised.

Marco Asensio restored Madrid's lead in the 45th minute and, after Benzema saw two penalties saved by Sergio Herrera in the second half, Lucas Vazquez sealed victory in stoppage-time.

Victory moved Madrid 17 points clear of Atletico Madrid, with distant chasers Sevilla and Barcelona also in action against Levante and Real Sociedad respectively on Thursday.

Rodrygo forced a smart Herrera stop with a long-range effort in the opening exchanges, but Madrid were soon ahead.

A quick free-kick from Asensio and Dani Ceballos found space for Benzema, before the striker squared for Alaba, who fortuitously bundled home on the rebound from a Herrera reflex save.

Osasuna responded a minute later when Chimy Avila whipped across from the right for Budimir to tap-in.

Asensio pounced on Ceballos' saved close-range effort to poke Madrid ahead again on the stroke of half-time, before Thibaut Courtois excellently denied a looping Budimir header after the interval.

Avila then handled when trying to stop Rodrygo to offer Madrid a penalty, which Herrera saved against Benzema.

Benzema went for the same bottom-left corner after Rodrygo was felled by Nacho Vidal, with Herrera again guessing the right way.

Vinicius Junior then rolled wide on the counter before teeing up Vazquez, who finished into the bottom-left corner to confirm the win.

What does it mean? Title procession continues for Madrid

Madrid's title charge has been characterised by their fighting spirit to come through adversity to secure victory, and their performance at El Sadar was no different.

Los Blancos weathered an early storm from the hosts to take the half-time lead and, although Benzema twice failed from 12 yards, battled to victory over Osasuna, who have not defeated Madrid in 14 top-flight meetings.

Now, Ancelotti's team will tick off another fixture as they edge closer towards lifting the LaLiga trophy.

 

Rampant Rodrygo spares Benzema blushes

Winger Rodrygo was the star of the show as his half-time introduction sparked a comeback against Sevilla, and he was on form again against Osasuna as he won two penalties and laid on a game-high four chances.

The Brazil international's creative excellence did not prove fruitful for Benzema, who became the first player to miss two penalties in a LaLiga game since Raul Tamudo against Betis in April 2006.

Budimir efforts in vain

Budimir has scored in each of his last five LaLiga games (five goals in total) as he became only the second Osasuna player to score in five successive top-flight games in the 21st century after Richard Morales in 2004. However, the striker's efforts ultimately proved in vain against the league leaders.

What's next?

Madrid visit Manchester City in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final clash on Tuesday, before hosting Espanyol on Saturday – the day before Osasuna are away at Elche.

Karim Benzema is playing "the season of his life" as Real Madrid team-mates queued up to praise the inspirational captain after his latest Champions League hat-trick.

French frontman Benzema hit all three of his side's goals in their 3-1 victory at Chelsea on Wednesday, the first leg of a quarter-final tie over which Madrid now have firm control.

That performance in London saw Benzema advance to 37 goals and 13 assists in 36 games this season. His goal involvements total of 50 puts him top of all players from Europe's top five leagues, with Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski second on the list with 49 involvements (45 goals, four assists).

Ten of those goals from Benzema have come in his past four games, with Champions League hat-tricks against Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea sandwiching LaLiga doubles against Real Mallorca and Celta Vigo.

When he was absent against Barcelona due to injury, Madrid looked lost without their talisman and were thumped 4-0 in El Clasico.

Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel sounded a despondent note after the game, warning of the danger of his team being destroyed in next week's second leg if they deliver another lacklustre display.

But Madrid were delighted with the outcome, with star defender David Alaba raving about the 34-year-old Benzema's match-winning turn.

"What he's doing this season is incredible," Alaba said after the game. "I can see how hard he works, and he's having the season of his life, he's very focused and is hungry to score goals. He prepares very well for every game, particularly matches like tonight's. I'm delighted to have him as a team-mate."

Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois spoke of Madrid's "important result" and pinpointed the hat-trick hero, saying: "To go far in the Champions League you need a player like Benzema."

The win at Stamford Bridge will have resonated around Europe, with LaLiga leaders Madrid chasing a 14th European Cup/Champions League triumph this season.

Two early headers from Benzema put Madrid in firm control, before he spurned the chance of a first-half hat-trick when firing wide shortly before the break.

The veteran former Lyon man made up for that miss when he seized on a shocking pass from goalkeeper Edouard Mendy to fire in Madrid's third in the first minute of the second half.

Brazilian midfielder Casemiro said it was important to acknowledge Benzema is going through a special phase in his career.

"Firstly, we've got to talk about Karim’s magic," said Casemiro, quoted on Madrid's official website.

"We simply have to continue to enjoy the player that he is, we appreciate his quality and the player that he is, but many people only see his goals and we see his quality, the type of person he is, and it's extremely important for us that we continue to enjoy having him.

"It was a whole team effort, in terms of the effort, reading the game, knowing how to play, and I think that we understood the game well."

The qualification campaign for the 2022 World Cup is all but over.

Some key matches still have to be played, with Wales yet to find out their fate as they wait to face the winner of Scotland's play-off with Ukraine, which has been postponed due to Russia's invasion of the country, while there are inter-confederation play-offs also to be decided.

In total, 28 nations have qualified already, and most of football's star names will be present.

That being said, while France's world champions will bid to defend their crown, Neymar will bring the Brazilian stardust, Lionel Messi will look to build on Argentina's Copa America triumph and Cristiano Ronaldo will feature at a record-equalling fifth tournament, some huge players - and indeed teams, in the case of Italy - will not be present in Qatar.

Stats Perform has looked at some of the star players who will be watching the tournament from home.

Mohamed Salah (Egypt)

Arguably the best player in the world this season, Salah will not be lighting up Qatar with any mazy runs or sensational strikes. Given the tournament is in the middle of next season, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp may secretly be pleased his talisman will not be risking injury or fatigue, but Salah – who blazed his penalty over in the decisive shoot-out against Senegal on Tuesday – will be a big miss.

 

James Rodriguez (Colombia)

A star of the 2014 World Cup, in which he won the golden boot, James Rodriguez scored Colombia's winner against Venezuela on Tuesday, yet Peru's victory over Paraguay meant the ex-Real Madrid playmaker and his team-mates will not appear in Qatar, where James currently plies his trade for Al-Rayyan.

Luis Diaz, who has made a flying start to life at Liverpool since joining from Porto in January, is another Colombian talent who will be watching on from the sidelines.

Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy)

The hero of Italy's Euro 2020 triumph with his saves in the penalty shoot-out victory over England last July, Donnarumma – one of Europe's best goalkeepers – will be watching on from afar along with the rest of Roberto Mancini's players. After his error in Paris Saint-Germain's capitulation against Madrid in the Champions League, March has been a sour month for the 23-year-old.

Georgio Chiellini (Italy)

While Donnarumma has time on his side to make it to the next World Cup, the same cannot be said for Giorgio Chiellini. The centre-back is 37 and will surely not be featuring at another major tournament for Italy now.

Defensive partner Leonardo Bonucci may also fall into that category, given he turns 35 in May, while 29-year-old playmaker Marco Verratti may also have seen his final chance of appearing at the World Cup for a second time dashed.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden)

It was the battle of two of Europe's leading marksmen of the last decade on Tuesday, as Poland went head-to-head with Sweden, and it was Robert Lewandowski and Co. who came out on top, winning 2-0.

Bayern Munich star Lewandowski opened the scoring from the penalty spot, and though Ibrahimovic came on as a late substitute, he could not turn the tide in Sweden's favour. The Milan striker has suggested he wants to carry on playing for his country, but at 40, surely this was his last chance of appearing at a World Cup.

Erling Haaland (Norway)

Although Ibrahimovic may be approaching the tail-end of his career, Haaland is certainly not. Yet like the Swede, the Borussia Dortmund forward will not be playing in Qatar either.

Indeed, even if Norway had made it through their qualification group, it is uncertain as to whether or not the players would have chosen to boycott the tournament, having previously made their feelings on Qatar's human rights record clear. But they finished third in Group G anyway.

Arsenal playmaker Martin Odegaard is another bright Norweigian talent, though the Scandinavian nation may well fancy their chances heading towards Euro 2024 and the 2026 World Cup.

 

David Alaba (Austria)

Madrid defender Alaba could not inspire Austria to victory in their play-off clash with Wales, with Gareth Bale's double doing the damage. After a glittering career with Bayern, Alaba is on course to win LaLiga with Los Blancos, but any form of real, tangible success on the international stage looks set to avoid him.

Jan Oblak (Slovenia)

Oblak's form has dipped this season for Atletico Madrid but on his day he is still right up there among the world's best goalkeepers, though he could not help Slovenia finish higher than fourth in their qualification group, as their wait to qualify for a first World Cup since 2010 rolled on.

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.

Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain each have four nominees in the 23-man shortlist for the FIFA FIFPRO Men's World 11 for 2021.

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson and full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold are also included, although there is no place for Mohamed Salah.

PSG's attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe are among the forwards, as is Manchester United star Cristiano Ronaldo.

Veteran Dani Alves also won enough votes to make the list, even though the 38-year-old, who recently rejoined Barcelona, only played 16 times in domestic competition in Brazil this year.

Professional footballers across the world were asked to vote for the three players they considered to have the best seasons during the 2020-21 season among goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and forwards.

FIFPRO said: "For the first time in 17 years, FIFPRO is updating the announcement about the most-voted players, reducing the shortlist from 55 to 23. This has been done to resemble a real-life 'squad' which, usually for international competitions, is the number of players involved. 

"The three goalkeepers, six defenders, six midfielders and six forwards with the most votes earned a place in the 23-men World 11 'squad'. To complete this elite selection, the two remaining outfield players with the most votes were added."

The keeper, three defenders, three midfielders and three forwards with the most votes will be chosen for the World 11, with the remaining spot assigned to the outfield player with the next highest number of votes.

The final 11 will be announced at The Best FIFA Football Awards ceremony on January 17.

 

FIFA FIFPRO MEN'S WORLD 11 23-PLAYER SHORTLIST:

Goalkeepers:
Alisson (Liverpool, Brazil)
Gianluigi Donnarumma (Milan/Paris Saint-Germain, Italy)
Edouard Mendy (Chelsea, Senegal)

Defenders:
David Alaba (Bayern Munich/Real Madrid, Austria)
Jordi Alba (Barcelona, Spain)
Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool, England)
Dani Alves (Sao Paulo/Barcelona, Brazil)
Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus, Italy)
Ruben Dias (Manchester City, Portugal)

Midfielders:
Sergio Busquets (Barcelona, Spain)
Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City, Belgium)
Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United, Portugal)
Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona, The Netherlands)
Jorginho (Chelsea, Italy)
N'Golo Kante (Chelsea, France)

Forwards:
Karim Benzema (Real Madrid, France)
Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus/Manchester United, Portugal)
Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund, Norway)
Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich, Poland)
Romelu Lukaku (Inter/Chelsea, Belgium)
Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain, France)
Lionel Messi (Barcelona/Paris Saint-Germain, Argentina)
Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain, Brazil)

Carlo Ancelotti was full of praise for midfielder Toni Kroos after his influential display in Real Madrid's 3-0 Champions League win over Sheriff on Wednesday.

Kroos doubled Los Blancos' advantage before the interval after David Alaba had opened the scoring, while Karim Benzema added a third in the second half.

The routine win helped the LaLiga giants progress to the last 16 of the competition for the 19th season a row – the only team to do so since the round was introduced in the 2003-04 season.

Kroos has now been involved in four goals in his last three games in all competitions for Madrid (two goals, two assists) – as many as he had in his previous 13 games – and Ancelotti was delighted with his contribution.

"If Kroos is well the coach is calmer," the Italian told a media conference. "He handles the ball like nobody else. 

"That combination with Casemiro and Modric is spectacular. He is also scoring goals and he is doing very well."

The match was played on the same day Benzema was handed a one-year suspended prison sentence and fined €75,000 after being found guilty of complicity in the attempted blackmail of Mathieu Valbuena.

The France striker was one of five people standing trial over the attempt to extort former international team-mate Valbuena in a case dating back to June 2015.

It did not seem to distract the 33-year-old, who was in typically clinical form, with Ancelotti insistent the forward is focused only on what happens on the pitch.

"It is calm, it has been a topic for a long time," he added. "He is focused on Madrid and I see that he is well."

Alaba's deflected free-kick ended a run of 50 Champions League games without a goal for the Austrian since he scored for Bayern Munich against Arsenal in November 2015.

He was replaced in the 64th minute by Nacho after suffering an injury, yet Ancelotti is hopeful he will be fit for Sunday's LaLiga clash with Sevilla.

"It's a little knee sprain," he said. "It doesn't seem worrisome because he doesn't have much pain. We hope he plays on Sunday."

Madrid need just a point against Inter in a fortnight to ensure they progress to the knockout stages as Group D winners.

Karim Benzema scored on the same day he was handed a one-year suspended prison sentence as Real Madrid swept aside Sheriff 3-0 to book their place in the last 16 of the Champions League.

France forward Benzema was also fined €75,000 after being found guilty of complicity in the attempted blackmail of former international team-mate Mathieu Valbuena.

It did not prove to be a distraction for Carlo Ancelotti's men, however, as they brushed aside their less illustrious opponents with the minimum of fuss – at odds with their shock home defeat in the reverse fixture.

David Alaba and Toni Kroos put Madrid two goals ahead at the break, and Benzema added a third before the hour mark to seal his side's place in the knockout stages with a game to spare in Group D.

Benzema saw an early goal ruled out for offside after Georgios Athanasiadis had parried Kroos' shot, and the Sheriff goalkeeper got down well to Rodrygo's strike before the midway point of the first half.

Madrid's dominance was rewarded in the 30th minute, though, when Alaba's free-kick from 20 yards was deflected past Athanasiadis for the Austria international's first Champions League goal for the club.

Kroos then doubled Madrid's advantage in first-half stoppage time, stroking in a sublime effort from 20 yards via the underside of the crossbar.

Benzema scored his fifth goal of this season's competition in the 55th minute with a cool strike into Athanasiadis' bottom-right corner from just outside the penalty area.

Sebastien Thill's cross crashed back off Thibaut Courtois' post as Sheriff rallied in the closing stages, yet Madrid held firm to ensure there was no blot on their copybook this time.

 

David Alaba said "everything is a shade bigger" at Real Madrid compared to former side Bayern Munich as he learns to cope with the increased expectation to succeed.

Alaba's 13-year association with Bundesliga champions Bayern came to an end in May after rejecting numerous contract offers at the Allianz Arena and joining LaLiga giants Madrid.

The Austria international has started 13 of Madrid's 14 matches in all competitions this season – only Eder Militao and Thibaut Courtois have started more often – totalling 1,170 minutes on the field.

Alaba has featured in multiple positions and has instantly made himself a fans' favourite with the opening goal in the 2-1 El Clasico victory over Madrid's fierce rivals Barcelona on October 24.

That made Alaba the fifth Madrid player to net on his Clasico bow this century after Brazilian icon Ronaldo (2003), Ruud van Nistelrooy (2006), Raphael Varane and Jese Rodriguez (both 2013).

Alaba has also assisted a couple of goals, meaning only Marco Asensio (four), Vinicius Junior (12) and Karim Benzema (19) have been directly involved in more. 

With five clean sheets to his name also, it has been a positive start to a new chapter for Alaba and one the versatile defender is taking in his stride.

"I felt this special aura and atmosphere from day one," he told Kicker. "You can tell the history of this club when you walk across the training ground or through the city."

Asked how Madrid compare with Bayern, Alaba added: "Both clubs stand for absolute success. Bayern are one of the biggest clubs in the world, Madrid too.

"There's not much to separate them. But here at Madrid, without being disrespectful to Bayern, everything is just a shade bigger still."

 

Alaba arrived at Madrid shortly before Sergio Ramos departed on a free transfer to Paris Saint-Germain, the long-serving captain having made 671 appearances for the club.

Ramos won four Champions Leagues and five LaLiga titles during his 16 years in the Spanish capital, but Alaba does not consider himself a direct replacement in defence.

"I came here to write my own story and play my game," he said. "I get the comparisons every now and then, but I don't really bother with them. 

"People accept that I'm here now and play my football. We are also different types of players who can hardly be compared with one another."

Alaba played a full part in Saturday's 2-1 win over Elche that places Madrid level with Sevilla and one point behind surprise leaders Real Sociedad, whom they have a game in hand over.

That was Alaba's 10th appearance in the Spanish top flight and he has already noticed a difference in style compared to the Bundesliga.

"Playing wise, LaLiga is somewhat different," he said. "Even teams like Levante and Alaves try to play football out from the back. 

"As a central defender I have fewer aerial duels after goal-kicks than in the Bundesliga. There it's played forward more directly.

"In Spain, on the other hand, a lot of stock is placed on ball possession, even by teams who are quite far down the table.

"It's hard to say which is tougher, but they're certainly different."

Real Madrid returned to the summit of LaLiga as David Alaba's stunner and Lucas Vazquez's late tap in saw Carlo Ancelotti's team beat Barcelona 2-1 in the season's first Clasico.

Sergino Dest squandered a golden chance for Barca at Camp Nou and Madrid made their hosts pay when Clasico debutant Alaba arrowed in a brilliant shot.

Karim Benzema should have added to Madrid's lead in the second half, though Vazquez was on hand to nudge in at the end of a stoppage-time counter.

That proved to be crucial, with Sergio Aguero's maiden Barca goal in the 97th minute not enough to inspire a comeback as Barca failed to win a fifth straight LaLiga Clasico, their longest winless run against any team in the competition since May 2008.

Barca seemed all set to take the lead after breaking clear from a Marc-Andre ter Stegen pass, yet with only Thibaut Courtois to beat, Sergino Dest lashed a close-range effort way over the bar.

Where one defender failed, another one made no such mistake. After getting Madrid on the counter by dispossessing Memphis Depay, Alaba continued his run to latch onto Rodrygo's pass and thump a wonderful finish into the top-right corner.

 

Alaba made a telling contribution at the other end before half-time, blocking Ansu Fati's goal-bound attempt after Gerard Pique had headed just wide.

Benzema snatched at a volley just after the hour, before he failed to turn home Vinicius' cross from close range, albeit the offside flag spared his blushes.

Pique and substitute Aguero both flapped at a cut-back in injury time and Madrid grabbed a second goal from the resulting counter when Vazquez tucked in on the rebound from Marco Asensio's shot.

Aguero, another Clasico debutant, gave Barca a glimmer of hope with a close-range strike, though the final whistle blew a minute later.

LaLiga has seen a lot of upheaval over the past few months, none more so than since the start of August as Lionel Messi's future unravelled.

This will be the first season that LaLiga has been without Messi since 2003-04, and as such there are plenty of people suggesting Spain's top tier has subsequently lost much of its appeal.

Be that as it may, even with spending significantly limited among clubs this year, there are still some interesting new arrivals to LaLiga.

Below, Stats Perform uses Opta data to look at five of them…

Memphis Depay, forward - Barcelona, free transfer from Lyon

Granted, Barcelona's rocky financial situation means it is yet to be confirmed if Depay will be registered for the start of the season.

But assuming Depay is involved as Barca begin the campaign against Real Sociedad, he will be under pressure to help make up for the loss of Messi.

His record at Lyon at least shows he should carry a threat, and in theory he will be surrounded by better players at Camp Nou.

Depay scored 76 goals in 178 appearances for Lyon after joining from Manchester United in January 2017 and enjoyed a particularly impressive final season in Ligue 1, finishing with 20 goals to trail only Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe (27).

 

The former PSV youth product's 12 assists and 94 chances created were more than any other player managed in France's top flight in 2020-21.

In all competitions, meanwhile, Depay scored 22 goals last term at an average of one goal every 141.5 minutes, making it his second-best season since arriving.

He massively exceeded his expected goals (xG) tally of 12.38, so perhaps he shouldn't be expected to be quite as prolific, but if he can reach double figures in goals and assists once again, Depay would have to be considered a shrewd signing.

David Alaba, centre-back - Real Madrid, free transfer from Bayern Munich

It has been a difficult few months for Madrid. While caught up in plenty of off-field controversy, they have also lost the centre-back partnership that guided them to so much success. Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, as well as their former head coach Zinedine Zidane, are no longer around.

The one signing Madrid have managed to bring in does at least offset one of those losses, as Alaba will offer experience, versatility and all-round quality at centre-back. After all, he made 298 Bundesliga appearances for Bayern, and a player does not reach such figures without being excellent.

 

He helped Bayern keep 111 clean sheets across those games, did not receive a single red card in the league, and made only two errors leading to goals in the competition, according to Opta data.

Bayern team-mate Thomas Muller is the only other player in Bundesliga history to have won 10 titles, and Bayern had counted on Alaba as their Mr Dependable. Carlo Ancelotti will hope he can form a great partnership with Eder Militao.

Rodrigo De Paul, central midfielder - Atletico Madrid, €35m from Udinese

While Diego Simeone has perhaps been a bit hit and miss when it comes to making the most of creative talents, De Paul appears to be ideal schemer for his new coach.

Providing creativity is De Paul's bread and butter, with his 82 key passes in 2020-21 bettered by only Hakan Calhanoglu (98) in Serie A.

Of those chances, 34 came from set-pieces, highlighting his prowess from dead-ball situations and ranking him fourth in Italy's top flight.

 

Only five players got more assists than his nine, but all of them massively out-performed their modest expected assists records, which ranged from 3.4 to 6.7. De Paul topped the charts for expected assists with 10.3 xA, evidence that his assists reflected the quality of his service rather than him getting lucky or benefiting from unusually good finishing by team-mates.

Yet the area which highlights a particular compatibility with Atleti is the fact he won more duels (294) than anyone else in Serie A in 2020-21.

Combine that with his league-leading completed dribbles (122) and it paints a picture of a hard-working player who also possesses the quality to get his team on the front foot.

Jose Macias, striker - Getafe, on loan (with purchase option) from Guadalajara

It is fair to say Getafe are not particularly one of LaLiga's most-fashionable sides. Under Jose Bordalas they were more renowned for their aggression and physical style of play, though new boss Michel has significantly different ideas.

In theory, that should immediately make them a more likable proposition for the neutral, and the signing of Macias will only add to the intrigue.

The 21-year-old Mexico international had been linked with numerous clubs with greater status than Getafe, such as Juventus, Borussia Dortmund and Sevilla, but Los Azulones pulled off something of a coup in bringing him to the Coliseum Alfonso Perez on loan with an option to buy.

 

Macias is the first forward that Guadalajara have sold to a European side since Javier Hernandez left for Manchester United in 2010 and he heads to Spain having netted 12 times in the most recent Mexican Apertura and Clausura campaigns.

His 20 shots on target in the 2021 Clausura was the most by a Mexican player, though it was during a loan spell with Leon where Macias really announced himself, netting 24 times in 38 Liga MX matches.

He didn't quite hit those heights again upon returning to Guadalajara, so the jury is still out to a degree, but there is lots of potential for Getafe to tap into.

Yusuf Demir, winger - Barcelona, €500k loan fee (€10m purchase option) from Rapid Vienna

Barcelona fans need not fear life without Messi, for they have signed the 'Austrian Messi'… or something like that.

Obviously that is a fair bit of pressure for an 18-year-old to have, particularly given he was initially signed for the B team, but he's produced some positive performances in pre-season for the senior side and arrived from Rapid with a burgeoning reputation.

While Demir only started in six of his 25 Austrian Bundesliga appearances (825 minutes) last season, he finished the campaign with a highly respectable seven goal involvements, which averages out at one every 117.9 minutes – only 10 players to play at least 825 minutes had a better record.

Despite only getting the one assist, Demir was a regular source of creativity when he did feature, as highlighted by the fact his 2.7 key passes per 90 was the sixth highest among those to play at least 825 minutes.

 

But arguably his most notable asset, and the one that inspires the comparison with Messi, is his ability on the ball.

A dynamic and exciting player, Demir attempted 6.3 dribbles per 90 minutes on average, a figure matched by no one who featured for more than 108 minutes last term.

Similarly, he was successful with 3.8 dribble attempts per game, which was also a league high. It was that kind of flair that helped him realise a childhood dream by moving to Camp Nou, and he could have a more prominent role than he may have initially predicted upon his arrival.

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