Karim Benzema has received a sensational recall to the France squad for Euro 2020, over five years since he last represented his country.

The Real Madrid striker scored twice in a 4-0 win over Armenia in October 2015, taking his tally to 27 international goals. 

Benzema then became embroiled in a blackmail scandal involving Les Bleus team-mate Mathieu Valbuena in the weeks after that game and has been subsequently overlooked by national team boss Didier Deschamps, despite his outstanding form at club level.

However, the 33-year-old - who has scored 29 goals in all competitions for Madrid this season - is undoubtedly the eye-catching name in France's 26-man party for the upcoming tournament, adding further depth up front for the reigning world champions.

"We met, we spoke at length, I then thought very hard and came to make this decision," Deschamps said of the decision to bring Benzema back in from the cold.

"I needed this chat, he needed this chat. I don't want to make this a specific case. As national team boss, I have always look beyond my personal case. My responsibility is important, but it is bigger than me."

There is also a place for Borussia Monchengladbach forward Marcus Thuram, as well as Sevilla defender Jules Kounde.

Anthony Martial, however, misses out due to fitness concerns. The forward suffered a knee injury while playing for France in March, though could make a return to action for Manchester United before the end of the season.

"Anthony Martial would have been here but he is not available. His condition does not allow it," Deschamps revealed during a press conference.

Teenage midfielder Eduardo Camavinga - heavily linked with Madrid - is another notable absentee, along with Rennes team-mate Steven Nzonzi. There is also no place for Madrid left-back Ferland Mendy.

France will play friendly fixtures against Wales and Bulgaria ahead of the delayed European Championship, which was pushed back a year due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Deschamps' side start their Group F campaign against Germany on June 15, followed four days later by a clash with Hungary. They complete their round-robin campaign on June 23 by taking on Portugal, the nation who defeated them in the Euro 2016 final in Paris.


France squad: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Steve Mandanda (Marseille), Mike Maignan (Lille); Benjamin Pavard (Bayern Munich), Leo Dubois (Lyon), Raphael Varane (Real Madrid), Kurt Zouma (Chelsea), Presnel Kimpembe (Paris Saint-Germain), Clement Lenglet (Barcelona), Jules Kounde (Sevilla), Lucas Hernandez (Bayern Munich), Lucas Digne (Everton); N'Golo Kante (Chelsea), Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Adrien Rabiot (Juventus), Corentin Tolisso (Bayern Munich), Moussa Sissoko (Tottenham), Thomas Lemar (Atletico Madrid); Marcus Thuram (Borussia Monchengladbach), Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich), Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain), Antoine Griezmann (Barcelona), Olivier Giroud (Chelsea), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Wissam Ben Yedder (Monaco), Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona).
 

Karim Benzema has added the France national team's handle to his Twitter bio amid mounting speculation his international exile is about to end.

France boss Didier Deschamps is expected to include the Real Madrid striker when he names his Euro 2020 squad on Tuesday.

It will be the first time since October 2015, when he scored a brace in a friendly against Armenia, that Benzema has featured for Les Bleus.

His new Twitter bio simply reads: "Football player - @equipedefrance @realmadrid"

In the weeks following the Armenia match, Benzema became embroiled in blackmail scandal involving international team-mate Mathieu Valbuena.

Benzema will stand trial on the charge of complicity in attempted blackmail in October and denies any wrongdoing.

Even though his form for Real Madrid has often been exceptional, landing him three Champions Leagues and two LaLiga titles in the interim period, the apparent reconciliation with Deschamps still comes as a huge surprise.

At the height of publicity surrounding the alleged sex tape extortion attempt on Valbuena, when France's then Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Benzema had "no place" in the national team, the forward hit out at Deschamps and claimed he had "bowed to the pressure of a racist part of France".

 

Dream team? Benzema set to join Mbappe and Griezmann in formidable frontline

Deschamps said he would "never forget" those words, but now the world champions look set to line up with a fearsome forward line combining Benzema, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe.

In the time since Benzema's 81st cap – he has 27 goals at international level – all three have established themselves among the leading attacking talents in Europe.

Benzema has 138 goals in 269 Real Madrid outings, placing him 13th among players from across Europe's top five leagues in all competitions. Over the same period, Griezmann has 137 (293 matches) and Mbappe 157 (229 matches) – hauls split across respective stints with Atletico Madrid and Barcelona, and Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain.

Mbappe (€180million) and Griezmann (€120m) are the second and fifth most expensive players of all time, with compatriots Paul Pogba and Ousmane Dembele also moving in €100m deals since Benzema last played internationally – further underlining the enviable level of talent Deschamps has at his disposal.

Benzema is often noted for his selflessness and ability to combine well with team-mates. Since October 8, 2015, he has 54 assists from 375 chances created at Madrid. Mbappe has 68 assists – placing him fourth among players to have scored 100 or more goals in this time, behind Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez – from 326 chances created, while Griezmann has laid on 397 opportunities for 55 assists.

This is firepower Deschamps will be glad to call upon in a tough Euro 2020 group alongside Germany, Hungary and Portugal – the reigning champions and their conquerors in the 2016 final.

Real Madrid kept alive their LaLiga title hopes with an emphatic 4-1 win over Granada at Nuevo Estadio de Los Carmenes on Thursday. 

The result moved Zinedine Zidane's side above Barcelona into second, two points behind leaders Atletico Madrid with just two games remaining in the season.

Luka Modric got them on their way early on with his fourth league goal of the campaign – the first time he has achieved that since 2011-12 with Tottenham in the Premier League – before Rodrygo doubled their advantage on the stroke of half-time.

Jorge Molina threatened to set up a dramatic finale with a goal 19 minutes from time, but Los Blancos comfortably sealed an 18th win in their last 19 games against Granada thanks to goals from Alvaro Odriozola and Karim Benzema.

Madrid started on the front foot and almost went ahead after 14 minutes, Benzema's header forcing a smart stop from Rui Silva. 

Zidane's men opened the scoring three minutes later, though, when Modric latched onto Miguel Gutierrez's sumptuous flicked ball over the top and rolled through Silva's legs from a tight angle. 

The visitors' dominance was rewarded again in first-half stoppage time when Rodrygo powered into the penalty area down the right-hand side and fired across Silva for his first LaLiga goal of a frustrating campaign.

Granada reduced the deficit inside the final 20 minutes, Molina stroking into an empty net after Thibaut Courtois had parried Luis Suarez's strike into his path. 

Substitute Odriozola settled any Madrid nerves, though, powering home after Eden Hazard's cross had fallen kindly to him in the 75th minute. 

Benzema added gloss to the scoreline a minute later, expertly  into an unguarded net from 35 yards after Silva's slapstick attempt to cut out Casemiro's long ball over the top.

Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane praised Karim Benzema but insisted he is not surprised by the star forward following his goalscoring performance as Los Blancos battled to a 1-1 draw with Chelsea in the Champions League semi-finals.

Benzema rescued Madrid on Tuesday – the Frenchman cancelling out Christian Pulisic's 14th-minute opener just before the half-hour mark in the opening leg of the semi-final tie in the Spanish capital.

Madrid's Benzema once again showcased his importance as he drew level with Raul as the joint-fourth leading scorer in Champions League history after netting his 71st goal.

Only Lionel Messi (36) and Cristiano Ronaldo (35) have scored against more different opponents in the Champions League than Benzema (33, level with Raul).

Benzema, meanwhile, has scored six goals in this season's Champions League. In only one of his 16 seasons in the competition has he scored more (seven in 2011-12).

"Karim is amazing and I am happy for him, but I am not surprised for what he is doing every game," Zidane told reporters.

"It is the same with all of my players. They are the most important. They have done again a great effort tonight and keeping the faith in what we are doing.

"There are difficulties, of course, because we have an amazing team in front of us and they are Champions League semi-finals. We have suffered.

"But I am very happy for all of the players, because we are alive. We know we have to go to London and score goals in order to win the game."

Los Blancos were unable to find a winner in a cagier second half. They have faced Chelsea more often than any other side in all competitions without winning in their entire history, failing to do so in four matches (D2 L2).

Benzema's goal was Madrid's solitary shot on target against Chelsea. Only versus Paris Saint-Germain in September 2019 – when they had none – have they had fewer in a Champions League game since Opta began collecting such data in 2003-04.

Meanwhile, this was the only game in which Madrid have not scored at least two goals at home this season in the Champions League, though they have still scored the most home goals so far in the competition (14).

"We were much better in the second 45 minutes. We were much more organised. They started strongly and quickly, but I think it's a fair result," said Zidane.

"We wanted to press high one on one, but when you don't carry it out well, things are tough. Once we scored, we were better and controlled play a lot more.

"We're alive and we're going to the second leg with the idea of winning. In general, we're happy with tonight."

Madrid were without captain Sergio Ramos due to a calf injury but he could return for the second leg in London, with Zidane adding: "I wish he could be with us. I cannot tell you now.

"Sergio has not had any training with the group, so we are waiting for him. We wish he could be as soon as possible.

"All the players, Sergio, and the rest. Lucas [Vazquez] is a bit more complicated due to his injury, but also Ferland [Mendy], Fede [Valverde]. All of them. I want all of my players with me, sure."

Raphael Varane said Chelsea's pressing game proved problematic for Real Madrid, though he remains optimistic about his club's Champions League chances.

Karim Benzema rescued Madrid on Tuesday as Los Blancos rallied from behind to draw 1-1 at home to Chelsea in the opening leg of the semi-final tie in the Spanish capital.

Madrid made a sluggish start at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano, where Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea led after 14 minutes thanks to Christian Pulisic, though Benzema restored parity 15 minutes later.

Zinedine Zidane's Madrid were unable to find a winner in a cagier second half and the Spanish powerhouse have now faced Chelsea more often than any other side in all competitions without winning in their entire history, failing to do so in four matches (D2 L2).

Reflecting on the match, Varane – who has been linked with a move to Los Blancos' Tuesday opponents – told Movistar: "I think we saw two games between the first half and the second.

"They started well with a lot of intensity and they pressed us well, and they broke our first line of the press with some very vertical play. With Karim's goal we got into the game and the second half was a lot better.

"We couldn't break their lines with our passing. Their press was annoying for us and we'll need to learn from the start of the game for the second leg."

Benzema once again showcased his importance to Madrid – the Frenchman drawing level with Raul as the joint-fourth leading scorer in Champions League history after netting his 71st goal.

Only Lionel Messi (36) and Cristiano Ronaldo (35) have scored against more different opponents in the Champions League than Benzema (33, level Raul).

Benzema, meanwhile, has scored six goals in this season's Champions League. In only one of his 16 seasons in the competition has he scored more (seven in 2011-12).

"In a game like this, Benzema makes the difference – he changed the dynamic of the game. We know his quality and he helps us a lot," Varane said.

"At this stage of the competition, our fitness will be important physically and also mentally. We need to go out to win the return leg."

Benzema's goal was Madrid's solitary shot on target against Chelsea. Only versus Paris Saint-Germain in September 2019 - when they had none - have they had fewer in a  Champions League game since Opta began collecting such data in 2003-04.

Meanwhile, this was the only game in which Madrid have not scored at least two goals at home this season in Champions League. Still, they are the team who have scored the most home goals so far in the competition (14).

"We came in with a plan to do things and we couldn't do it," Marcelo told Movistar. "But when we started to do what we wanted, it was totally different.

"They run a lot, we knew it could happen, but there is another game as well. We know what we have to. It will be different at Stamford Bridge.

"We do not choose the rhythm of the game, we have to adapt to what there is. It was a difficult game, as they all are, but we are fine, we are calm because we are going to play a good game there [at Chelsea]."

"We left with our heads high. Now we are going to rest and see what we will have to do there, but it will surely change."

Thomas Tuchel was left frustrated by Chelsea's finishing in Tuesday's 1-1 Champions League semi-final first-leg draw with Real Madrid, adamant they would have been deserved winners had they shown more "composure and precision".

Chelsea took the lead in Madrid thanks to Christian Pulisic's fine individual work in the 14th minute, though they should have already been in front.

Just a few moments earlier, Timo Werner latched on to a Pulisic header across goal but shot at Thibaut Courtois from close range when he seemed destined to score.

The German also missed a decent chance late in the first half, with Karim Benzema having equalised in the interim period.

But that Benzema strike was Madrid's only shot on target, the first time since at least 2003-04 that Los Blancos have had so few in a home Champions League match.

Madrid have progressed from their two previous Champions League knockout ties with English opposition when drawing the first leg at home, though, and Tuchel rued his side's inability to finish them off at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano.

"We started very well, very aggressive with courage and quality. We deserved to win the first half," he told BT Sport. "We had lots of chances and half-chances where we missed precision with the last ball.

"Unfortunately they scored from a set piece – nothing else normally for us to defend, we didn't allow any chances – so it was a disappointing result at half-time.

"It was important that we stayed calm, didn't lose confidence and we fought back into the game.

"I felt the second half was a tactical game and the speed and intensity dropped. You could feel that we were a bit tired with only two days between two away games. We suffered today from that.

"If we had one more day to recover we would have had a big chance to keep the intensity up and maybe hurt Madrid also in the second half. This was not possible and we have to live with 1-1."

Tuchel felt their initial one-goal lead was more than justified and reiterated his opinion Madrid were fortunate to be level at the interval.

The German, who is the only Champions League coach to face Madrid five times without losing, then allowed a little frustration at his team's finishing to come to light.

"It was well deserved [Pulisic's goal] and, like I said, we should have won the first half," he continued.

"We should have scored a minimum one more goal. The chances were there, the half-chances were there, we had many ball wins, good control, good attacks. We were very confident, looked very strong.

"The goal came more or less out of nothing but that can always happen when you are faced with individual quality from Real Madrid.

"A bit more composure and precision in front of goal and we could have won the first half and been a deserved winner. It's not like this, so we live with 1-1 and try to win the next game."

The two teams meet again at Stamford Bridge next Wednesday, with Tuchel aiming to reach a second successive Champions League final having lost in last season's showpiece with Paris Saint-Germain.

Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta rued missed chances in the first leg of their 1-1 Champions League semi-final draw against Real Madrid.

Thomas Tuchel's men dominated the opening exchanges at Valdebebas, with Christian Pulisic's splendidly taken goal giving them a 14th-minute lead.

But the Premier League side arguably let the 13-time European champions off the hook, with Timo Werner once again the chief culprit when it came to being wasteful in front of goal.

Karim Benzema gave the Germany international and his Chelsea team-mates a lesson in clinical finishing when he swivelled to volley a stunning equaliser against the run of play before the half hour. That remained Madrid's only attempt on target over the course of the 90 minutes.

"I think we started really well in the first 20 or 25 minutes. We got the goal and could have got more goals," Azpilicueta told BT Sport.

"They came back from a set play. After that, some moments we controlled and others we suffered.

"It is just the first half, we knew against Real Madrid it would be tough.

"We started with courage, we had to perform at our best level. The semi-final of a Champions League asks you to play your best. We missed that little last pass where we could choose the best option.

"I think in the overall analysis we performed well."

Pulisic was electrifying during the opening exchanges and Azpilicueta marvelled at the 22-year-old's coolness under pressure after he rounded Thibaut Courtois and lined up an unerring finish as Madrid defenders scampered back towards their own goal line.

"It was a great finish, great composure. When he was in front of the goal he took the best decision," he added.

"With and without the ball he makes difficult runs to defend.

"He is a young player, growing and improving. I'm very pleased with his goal. He is a very important player for the team."

Although Benzema's athleticism and clever movement caught the eye, Azpilicueta was frustrated to see Casemiro and Eder Militao win headers in the Chelsea box to make the equaliser possible.

"It was a set play, they win two headers in the box," he lamented.

"He scored a great goal, he is a very good striker.

"He dropped, he got the ball for the goal. We have to be aware. Wednesday is a decisive game and we have to be ready for it."

Worried about football's global appeal to the younger generation? Fearful the Champions League has lost its lustre beyond the core of 'legacy' (urgh!) fans in its traditional markets?

Perhaps what you need is a dazzlingly skilful 22-year-old becoming the first player from the United States to score in the semi-finals of Europe's top competition, while generally wreaking havoc every time he has the ball.

Florentino Perez must have loved Christian Pulisic taking his Real Madrid apart. The Chelsea forward made the 13-time winners of the competition Perez sought to torpedo last week look more non-league than Super League.

Pulisic was at the heart of an utterly dominant opening for Chelsea – themselves foolhardy signatories to the not-so-brave new world last week – nodding down for his beleaguered attacking colleague Timo Werner to volley too close to Thibaut Courtois between the Madrid posts.

Shortly afterwards, Pulisic took matters into his own hands, darting across a static Los Blancos backline to collect Antonio Rudiger's raking pass. His first touch was poor, but everything else from that point was perfection.

Madrid's defenders scattered and then cowered towards their goalmouth. Werner found himself demoted from strike partner to spectator at The Christian Pulisic Show. The American rounded Courtois and took aim high into the net.

Just after that, Nacho should have been booked for bringing down the goalscorer, with Eder Militao having also escaped censure for clobbering through the same player. Pulisic was everywhere.

If Perez was worried about addled young minds missing all this, no problem. It all happened inside the first 15 minutes. Plenty of time to watch, absorb, enjoy and then stick Fortnite on.

Amid his compilation of violent brain vomits last week, Perez suggested football matches should be shorter to appeal to fans more than 50 years his junior – a demographic with whom he appears to feel he is completely in tune.

Of course, it's an awful idea. And it is hard to think of many teams who would suffer more in a world of fast food football than the aging Real Madrid team he no longer has the bank balance to reupholster.

Zinedine Zidane opted to match Chelsea's shape, only to find a reinforced five-man backline somehow riddled with holes as Pulisic and Werner made merry early on.

Much is made of the esteemed midfield trio of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric having a combined age of 95. As N'Golo Kante jackhammered around them, each one of them looked about 95.

Collectively, they needed 20 minutes or so to click into gear. Even then, they negotiated the rain-lashed terrain of Valdebebas tentatively.

The one exception was Karim Benzema, Madrid's talismanic centre-forward who nodded and licked his lips with menace during the pre-game anthem, before basically playing Chelsea on his own for a good while.

At a time when Madrid's superstars have moved on from either the club or their peak playing days, Benzema stands tall week after week.

Against the run of play, he had his 71st Champions League goal, drawing level with Madrid great Raul in fourth on the all-time list. Inside a crowded penalty area, he controlled the ball with his forehead before swivelling to detonate an unstoppable volley.

Benzema's goal was one that beautifully combined the cerebral and the visceral and would have been at home in any of Madrid's previous great eras in this competition, eras that are connected to the present by such moments of brilliance.

Goals like Benzema's shimmer brighter through their link to past context. A great Real Madrid goal in a European Cup semi-final really means something.

From that moment, Chelsea's more nimble operators became engaged in an arm wrestle that was more to Madrid's liking. Even when Thomas Tuchel introduced Kai Havertz, Reece James and Hakim Ziyech in a triple change after the hour, the hosts remained upright on weary limbs.

Having seen his team be so inept in the initial exchanges, Zidane was able to play with Chelsea's tensions and emotions by sending on Eden Hazard.

It remained 1-1, a result most teams would be delighted to take into a home second leg. But Madrid do funny things in this tournament. They defy logic to find reserves that should have long run dry. They are propelled by purpose and history.

Above all the others, simply wanting to take his team away from the Champions League might have been Florentino Perez's most stupid idea of all.

Karim Benzema spared Real Madrid but Christian Pulisic's away goal gives Chelsea the advantage after their Champions League semi-final first leg ended 1-1 at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano.

Zinedine Zidane's side were guilty of a sluggish start in Valdebebas and, although they managed to restore parity, rarely did Los Blancos look likely to take a win to Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea were good value for their 14th-minute lead as Pulisic added the finish to fine individual work, though Benzema – arguably Madrid's only threatening player in the match – netted to draw level with Raul as the joint-fourth leading scorer in the Champions League with 71.

A significantly cagier second period followed and Madrid were even less of a danger to Edouard Mendy's goal, while Chelsea largely seemed content to settle for their away-goal advantage.

Madrid looked to be in for a long night amid a rocky start that almost saw them fall behind after just 10 minutes, as Timo Werner inexplicably shot straight at Thibaut Courtois from close range.

The visitors did not have to wait much longer for another chance, however, and Pulisic took full advantage as he raced on to Antonio Rudiger's long pass, coolly evaded Courtois and then shot between two defenders on the line.

But a few moments after hitting the post from distance, Benzema brought Madrid level in the 29th minute with an emphatic volley roughly six yards from goal following a lovely first touch with his head.

The tempo of the match changed considerably in the second period, however, with neither side much of a threat to the opposing goal.

A triple change by Chelsea just past the hour seemed to increase their control over Madrid, who themselves brought on former Stamford Bridge favourite Eden Hazard.

The final chance fell to Madrid in the 89th minute but Varane's deflected header went just wide, meaning Zidane's men will need to score in London next week.

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has heaped praise on Karim Benzema after his double in Wednesday's 3-0 win at Cadiz lifted Los Blancos into top spot in LaLiga.

The France international striker took his LaLiga season tally to 19 goals, closing within four strikes of league top scorer Lionel Messi.

Benzema converted a penalty on the half hour, before adding Madrid's third in the 40th minute.

"I’m delighted with how he’s performing," Zidane said post-game. "We know how important he is to our game and not just because of his goals.

"He makes the guys around him play, we enjoy watching him and I hope Real Madrid can continue enjoying him for a long time to come."

Madrid's win moves them ahead of Atletico Madrid on goal difference for the time being although Atleti are due to play on Thursday against Huesca.

Zidane was delighted to see his side sitting top of LaLiga albeit temporarily while also being through to the Champions League semi-finals.

"We’re still alive in both competitions and we keep going," Zidane said.

"We’ve picked up three very important points to keep us in the race, but there’s still a long way to go."

Zidane also praised his side's defence, having only conceded twice in their past six matches in all competitions.

He deployed a three centre-backs against Cadiz, with Marcelo and Odriozola getting up and down the flanks as wing-backs to good effect.

"We haven’t conceded a goal for three games and that’s pleasing for me," Zidane said.

Luka Modric was absent for the game with a back issue although Zidane was hopeful he would be in contention for the weekend's league game against Real Betis.

"He felt something in his back but I don’t think it’s anything serious," Zidane said.

"We’ll see how he feels tomorrow and I hope he can be back with us straight away."

Karim Benzema delivered a sensational performance as Real Madrid beat Cadiz 3-0 to move top of LaLiga.

Madrid president Florentino Perez was perhaps in need of a distraction after spearheading widely condemned plans for a proposed – and now suspended – European Super League in recent days.

Zinedine Zidane refused to comment on the issue during his pre-match news conference and, though Madrid's off-pitch troubles look set to rumble on, they were superb on the field on Wednesday.

Benzema starred, scoring twice in the first half either side of Alvaro Odriozola's header to secure a convincing win which sees Los Blancos leapfrog would-be Super League rivals Atletico Madrid.

Perhaps inspired by Leeds United's act of defiance before Monday's Premier League clash with Liverpool, Cadiz's players wore t-shirts protesting the premise of a Super League prior to kick-off.

Yet Madrid hardly seemed affected, and their quality told in the 30th minute.

Referee Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz initially failed to spot Isaac Carcelen's foul on Vinicius Junior, but changed his decision after consulting with VAR, and Benzema buried the resulting penalty before turning provider for Madrid's second goal when he crossed for Odriozola to head in. 

Benzema should have had his second assist when he cushioned a header down for Casemiro, only for the midfielder to blaze over.

However, Benzema made no such mistake when Casemiro returned the favour with a delicate cross – the Frenchman glancing a deft header into the left-hand corner.

Anthony Lozano, who scored in the reverse fixture, should have pulled one back for Cadiz before the hour, but headed wide from three yards out.

Benzema's sublime flick through to Marcelo almost crafted another Madrid goal, but the visitors settled for three as Zidane claimed a win which means he has now beaten all 28 LaLiga teams he has faced as Madrid boss.

Erling Haaland might be too expensive a purchase for some of football's richest clubs. 

The Borussia Dortmund sensation is on everyone's wish list.

The question is who will be willing to meet his reported demands?

 

TOP STORY - LALIGA GIANTS PRICED OUT OF HAALAND MOVE?

Haaland's apparent desire for a €35million annual salary has the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid thinking twice about a potential move, Goal reported. 

The prolific 20-year-old's agent, Mino Raiola, has held informal discussions with both LaLiga stalwarts but the sides did not get into specifics about finances. 

For now it appears Barca and Madrid are content to wait it out and see how Haaland's market unfolds. 

That is not the case for another potential suitor. According to Goal, an unnamed English club that made inquiries about the Leeds-born striker earlier this year has backed away from talks due to that salary figure. 

The mystery team is not Chelsea, who consider Haaland their top target according to an Evening Standard report. 

 

ROUND-UP

- While the Blues can hope to land the high-flying Norwegian, Timo Werner may be on the way out. Though the Evening Standard reports Chelsea have not yet seriously discussed selling him, it is not clear how he fits into the Blues' strike force at the moment.

Gianluigi Donnarumma is out of contract with AC Milan this summer and has had talks with Juventus, per La Gazzetta dello Sport.

- Manchester United have coveted Nikola Milenkovic and may be ready to make a move for the Fiorentina defender, though The Sun says United would not be interested at the rumoured £38m fee. 

- United also want Edinson Cavani to have another season at Old Trafford, but at age 34 he might want to move closer to home. Boca Juniors would offer him a two-year deal, says Fabrizio Romano. 

- Watford are prepared to bring Ashley Young back to the club should they return to the Premier League next season, the Daily Mail says. Young's contract with Inter is expiring.

- After a loan spell with Paris Saint-GermainAlessandro Florenzi could be in line to play in Italy with Inter next season rather than returning to Roma, La Gazzetta dello Sport reported. 

- Luis Suarez appears likely to remain with Atletico Madrid, but there is a possibility he could rekindle last year's reported talks with David Beckham's Inter Miami. The American side's interest in the Uruguayan "has not stopped," according to Mundo Deportivo. 

- One player not headed anywhere is Karim Benzema, who Marca reports will sign to remain with Real Madrid through 2023.

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.

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.

Real Madrid moved top of LaLiga for the first time since November as goals from Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos sealed a 2-1 win over Barcelona in El Clasico. 

Fresh from their Champions League quarter-final first-leg triumph over Liverpool, Zinedine Zidane's side started in blistering fashion and were two up inside the opening 30 minutes thanks to a sublime Benzema flick and deflected Kroos free-kick. 

Oscar Mingueza set up a dramatic final half-hour with his second goal of the season and 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.

The result means Los Blancos leapfrog Barca and neighbours Atletico Madrid to the league summit, although Diego Simeone's side can reclaim top spot with just a draw against Real Betis on Sunday.

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