The joined actions of some of the most powerful figures in modern football unwittingly created an ever mightier alliance on April 18, 2021.

The announcement of a new European Super League united Manchester, with fans and players of United and City joining those invested in the fortunes of Liverpool and the three London giants of Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham in opposition.

Although the reaction in Italy and Spain may not have been quite as damning, the protests that followed over the course of an extraordinary few days were enough to derail the plans.

A year on, Stats Perform looks back on one of the most controversial proposals in the sport's history and where it stands now.

What is/was the European Super League?

The past week has shown exactly what makes the Champions League great, whether Villarreal's upset of Bayern Munich, Real Madrid withstanding Chelsea's fightback, a thriller between Liverpool and Benfica in a tie widely considered over or the blood and thunder of Manchester City's defeat of Atletico Madrid.

But Arsenal and Tottenham did not qualify for the Champions League this season, while Barcelona and Milan failed to make it beyond the group stage.

In another season, another superpower – the clubs whose names and riches have made the Champions League what it is – might miss out on these great games.

That was the fear of a dozen leading sides, anyway. Barca had a prominent role, along with Real Madrid and Juventus, as the European Super League was launched.

The competition was to be backed by United States-based investment bank JP Morgan and managed by the owners of the founding clubs, who would be guaranteed entry to the competition.

Three clubs were hoped to join the initial 12, followed by five others qualifying each year to form a 20-team tournament, which would be split into two 10-team leagues prior to a knockout stage.

The idea was for the Super League to replace the lucrative Champions League, rather than domestic leagues – hence its inception on the eve of Champions League reforms. The interested parties even claimed the money raised would benefit "the wider football pyramid".

But the reception was widely critical, while there were notable absentees in the form of Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich, the previous campaign's Champions League finalists.

PSG had spent too much time – and, of course, money – establishing themselves among European football's elite to risk it all in the breakaway.

Meanwhile, Bayern, like most German clubs, are partly fan-owned. And it would soon become clear football fans in general were not enthused by the prospect of seeing Europe's best teams slog it out in a closed-shop tournament.

Then what?

The 12 clubs must have imagined some sort of response, but what followed appeared to stun those involved.

Their own players and coaches announced opposition, with many frustrated these plans had provided such a distraction at a key stage in the season. Notably, Jurgen Klopp fumed when Leeds United, Liverpool's next opponents, told the six-time European champions to "earn it" if they wanted to play in the Champions League.

The rest of football appeared united against those who had sought to cut loose, as former Manchester United captain Gary Neville called for the Old Trafford club to be relegated along with Liverpool and Arsenal.

Unsurprisingly, UEFA, FIFA and even the UK government railed against the Super League, too.

But most importantly, the fans – particularly in England – made clear they would not stand for this apparent betrayal of the sport and its roots.

Chelsea were the first team to back out of the European Super League while Petr Cech attempted to negotiate with furious supporters blocking the team's entrance to Stamford Bridge prior to a drab goalless draw against Brighton and Hove Albion.

With protests following at stadiums up and down the country, the Premier League clubs soon quit the breakaway competition, and they were joined by Inter, Milan and Atletico Madrid, as the Super League was declared dead mere hours after its birth.

Football had won, it was widely acknowledged.

And they all lived happily ever after?

Well, not quite. Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus have continued to pursue the European Super League, their owners refusing to relent.

The huge debts racked up during the coronavirus pandemic contributed to their desperation to land this lucrative deal, with Barca since forced to let club legend Lionel Messi leave on a free transfer due to their inability to afford a new contract for the 34-year-old.

Those who backed out of the controversial plans have at least returned to the European Club Association, in which PSG were huge beneficiaries of their reluctance to follow their elite rivals. Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the PSG president, now leads the ECA in a role that previously belonged to Juve chief Andrea Agnelli.

But even Barca, Madrid and Juve have been able to continue playing in UEFA competitions – those they have qualified for, anyway. Madrid have made the Champions League semi-finals as they bid for a record-extending 14th European crown.

And sceptics could be forgiven for wondering if the new Champions League format sounds a little 'European Super Leaguey'.

As of 2024-25, the group stages will be no more, replaced by – yes – a league. And although the competition is increasing in size to 36 teams, two of the additional four slots are reserved for clubs who have the highest UEFA coefficients but have qualified only for one of the organisation's lesser competitions.

Barca, who toiled in the early stages of this season, or Juve, facing a fight for a top-four finish in Serie A, would have to slump significantly not to be assured of a seat at the time.

The Super League is dead... but long live the Super League?

Rodrygo led a Real Madrid fightback for the second time in a matter of days before declaring only the LaLiga leaders were capable of such turnarounds.

Madrid capped a stunning week by beating title rivals Sevilla 3-2 at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan to move 15 points clear at the top of the table – albeit with Barcelona still to play on Monday.

Los Blancos had been two goals down at the break before Rodrygo responded five minutes after the restart, then late goals from Nacho and Karim Benzema completed a sensational comeback.

That result followed a 3-2 defeat to Chelsea, which was enough to secure Champions League progress.

Madrid were heading out when they trailed 3-0 to the reigning European champions but similarly rallied, again through a Rodrygo goal that set up extra time and a decisive Benzema header in a 5-4 aggregate success.

Rodrygo has scored in consecutive matches for the first time in his Madrid career and could hardly have done it at a better time.

The half-time substitute, who also assisted Benzema's winner in Sevilla, said: "We head away with an incredible feeling, we always fight until the end.

"We knew this would be a very difficult game, but I'm thrilled to have got on in the second half, scored a goal and provide an assist to help my team.

"We should really value these three points because nobody else has won here, but we've managed it. It's three points that edge us closer to our goal, which is to win LaLiga.

"The coach told us to play a bit more because we struggled in the first half and they were better than us.

"These are things only Real Madrid are capable of doing. I'm incredibly proud to be part of this team and to be involved in these comebacks."

This was the first time Madrid had won in LaLiga after trailing by two goals since another 3-2 victory over Villarreal in February 2017, but they have repeatedly recovered results this season, earning a league-high 17 points from losing positions.

Sevilla came into the match unbeaten at home in the league this season, while this was the first time they had lost at home in the competition after leading at half-time since a 4-2 reverse at the hands of Barcelona in February 2019.

In fact, they had not lost anywhere having led at half-time since a 2-1 loss to Athletic Bilbao in October 2020.

Not since September 2019 against Eibar, another 3-2 defeat, had Sevilla let slip a two-goal advantage in the top flight.

Christopher Nkunku has long been on the various of Europe's big clubs, but this season has been a breakout.

The 24-year-old France attacker has contributed an extraordinary 17 goals and 15 assists in 30 league appearances for RB Leipzig this term.

Investcorp's reported takeover of Milan from Elliott Management, and the consequent injection of funds, has reportedly put Nkunku in Milan's sights.

 

TOP STORY – NKUNKU ON MILAN RADAR

A change in ownership is allowing Milan to go after RB Leipzig's Cristopher Nkunku, the Gazzetta dello Sport is reporting.

Milan's Scudetto charges in recent years have fallen short up front despite the quality of their midfield, but the change of ownership can dictate a change in transfer strategy.

Meetings with Sassuolo for Gianluca Scamacca and Hamed Traore could be scuppered because the likes of Nkunku would become available.

Any such moves would reportedly not rule out a transfer for Liverpool striker Divock Origi that is already in the works, however.

 

ROUND-UP

– Liverpool have identified Barcelona's 17-year-old talent Gavi as a potential target in an attempt to bolster their midfield at the end of the season, Sport is reporting.

– The Reds are also prepared to offer a new contract to Sadio Mane, whose current deal expires at the end of next season, per Football Insider.

Arsenal are interested in signing Lille's Kosovo attacker Edon Zhegrova, according to Sky Sports.

– Newcastle United have shown renewed interest in Torino defender Gleison Bremer, who is also on Arsenal and Tottenham's radar, Tuttomercato reports.

Carlo Ancelotti acknowledged Real Madrid are "close" to sealing the league title after a dramatic comeback win over Sevilla on Sunday.

Sevilla looked to be breathing life back into LaLiga's race for first place when they found themselves 2-0 up thanks to goals from Ivan Rakitic and Erik Lamela.

However, referee Guillermo Cuadra Fernandez's decision not to issue a second yellow card and send off Eduardo Camavinga for a heavy challenge late in the first half would have significant ramifications.

Camavinga was withdrawn for Rodrygo at half-time and the Brazilian quickly made an impact, pulling one back with a smart finish early in the second half.

Nacho Fernandez levelled for a dominant Madrid eight minutes from time and then Karim Benzema sealed the win that surely puts them out of reach in stoppage time.

Even if Barca win their two games in hand, Madrid will be nine points clear and their run-in looks relatively kind, with only Atletico Madrid and Real Betis likely to cause them significant bother.

As such, head coach Ancelotti recognised Madrid are almost at the finish line.

He told LaLiga TV: "No, it's not over, but it's really close.

"Everyone is waiting for the defeat of Real Madrid, but we are still on fire."

Despite the drama of the contest, Ancelotti cut a composed figure at full-time – though he stressed that was more down to mental fatigue than being relaxed.

"It looks normal because I'm so tired! I suffered a lot," he said with a smile. "I need time to recover."

Madrid have made a habit of comebacks in recent months, particularly in the Champions League against Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea.

Sunday was the latest impressive example and, elaborating on what is leading to these turnarounds, Ancelotti added: "The history of this club, the quality of the players and their sense of belonging, they feel something special when wearing the shirt. It's nothing new for Real Madrid and I think this is the reason."

One moment of second-half controversy looked set to cost Madrid when Vinicius Junior controversially had an equaliser disallowed for handball as the ball struck the top of his arm.

While it ultimately mattered little in the grand scheme, Ancelotti was keen to reveal his bemusement at the decision.

"We thought the same," he replied when it was put to him that the decision was harsh.

"As a supporter, I didn't understand why the goal of Vinicius was disallowed, it was not handball.

"I know it's really difficult to judge this kind of situation, but I think it was quite clearly a goal."

Real Madrid fought back from 2-0 down to beat Sevilla 3-2 as Karim Benzema's stoppage-time winner took them a step closer to clinching the title.

Sevilla looked to be breathing life back in LaLiga's title race, but Carlo Ancelotti's side produced a brutal second-half performance to make a real statement.

Perhaps suffering something of a Champions League hangover, Madrid were sluggish and found themselves trailing to goals from Ivan Rakitic and Erik Lamela, both caused by defensive mishaps.

But the pattern of play was dramatically flipped on its head after the break, with Rodrygo pulling one back and fellow substitute Nacho Fernandez equalising, before king of comebacks Benzema sealed the turnaround.

Diego Simeone hailed 10-man Atletico Madrid for displaying their "personality, pride and hard work" in a dramatic 2-1 victory over Espanyol on Sunday.

Substitutes Matheus Cunha and Yannick Carrasco combined in the 52nd minute, with the latter opening the scoring with Atletico's first shot on target at the Wanda Metropolitano.

However, Geoffrey Kondogbia was dismissed for two bookable offences, with Raul de Tomas restoring parity immediately after by squeezing a free-kick under Jan Oblak.

Atletico's grasp on Champions League qualification was seemingly slipping until Carrasco converted a penalty in the 10th minute of stoppage time after De Tomas was adjudged by the VAR to have handled.

Victory moved the reigning LaLiga champions level on points, at least temporarily, with Sevilla and Barcelona and three clear of fifth-placed Real Betis, who were held at Real Sociedad on Friday.

Simeone's side have collected more points than any other LaLiga side this season with goals in the 90th minute or later (10 points), and the Atletico boss was delighted with his team's spirited response.

"With the sending-off comes fatigue, the goal, one less player, 20 minutes to go and the team kept looking, taking risks, with great effort from everyone," he told reporters after the game. 

"You come from the hit four days ago [after being eliminated by Manchester City in the Champions League] after playing a good game, it's not easy and these guys played with personality, pride and hard work.

"We then benefited from that penalty and Carrasco showed his courage to finish it."

Atletico have failed to score in the first half in their last four games in all competitions, having had just one shot on target in those halves, and Simeone acknowledged changes were needed at half-time.

He introduced Antoine Griezmann, Cunha and match-winner Carrasco, changes that offered Atletico the impact Simeone sought after.

"Carrasco scored a very important goal for our league position, we came from a very big effort and a bad game in Mallorca [1-0 defeat]. Today, the first half was a struggle but the second was more dynamic."

Carrasco expressed his delight to Movistar after the game but conceded Atletico have no chance of catching leaders Real Madrid, who could go 15 points clear at the LaLiga summit with victory at Sevilla.

"Very happy, it was a difficult game," he said. "We were winning, then 10 against 11 we have continued to push and very happy with the victory that brings us closer to the goal.

"[The title race] is over, we still have games left in LaLiga and we have to continue. This match is important for us for morale and to continue working."

Inaki Williams is Mr Reliable for Athletic Bilbao and has now not missed a single LaLiga match for a remarkable six years.

Williams started Sunday's clash with Celta Vigo, partnering Oihan Sancet up front.

That means that the 27-year-old – who seems set to stay at Bilbao for the majority of his career, given he is under contract until 2028 – has now played in 227 consecutive LaLiga matches, far and away a record in the competition.

Williams overtook previous record holder Juanan Larranaga when he played in his 203rd LaLiga match in a row earlier this season.

 

He last missed a league game on April 17, 2016, when Athletic beat Malaga 1-0.

Williams featured as a substitute in a 1-0 loss to Atletico Madrid four days later and went on to play in Athletic's final four top-flight fixtures of the campaign as they just missed out on Champions League qualification.

In each of the intervening seasons, the forward has featured in all 38 LaLiga games and his incredible run of appearances includes 189 starts.

His goal tally is not quite as impressive, with Williams managing 44 in the league since the start of 2016-17, including seven so far this term.

Yannick Carrasco scored twice, including a stoppage-time penalty, as Atletico Madrid boosted their hopes of Champions League qualification with a dramatic 2-1 victory over Espanyol on Sunday.

Diego Simeone's side succumbed 1-0 to Real Mallorca last weekend and were eliminated in Europe by Manchester City on Wednesday, before struggling again at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Atletico had to wait until the 52nd minute for substitute Carrasco to strike with their first shot on target, before Raul de Tomas levelled with a free-kick following Geoffrey Kondogbia's dismissal.

However, a late handball decision against De Tomas offered Atletico a penalty, which Carrasco converted in the 10th added minute to send Simeone's side level on points, at least briefly, with Sevilla and Barcelona, and three clear of fifth-placed Real Betis.

Atletico had defeated Espanyol in seven of their last nine home league games, but it was Vicente Moreno's visitors who started the brighter.

Leandro Cabrera's header from Darder's corner forced a sharp Jan Oblak stop just seven minutes in, while Joao Felix skewed over on the counter-attack at the other end.

Simeone responded by sending on Antoine Griezmann, Matheus Cunha and Carrasco at half-time and Atletico's fortunes soon changed.

Oblak reacted quickly to deny Darder and that save proved vital a minute later when Cunha and Carrasco combined on a clinical break.

Cunha raced towards the Espanyol goal before laying an inch-perfect pass for Carrasco to cut in and squeeze a right-footed strike under Diego Lopez to open the scoring.

Oblak then thwarted a low De Tomas volley but, after Kondogbia was shown a second yellow for handball, the Espanyol striker's resulting free-kick squirmed under the Atletico goalkeeper.

Carrasco snatched victory after De Tomas was adjudged to have handled an Atleti corner, allowing the home forward to fire into the bottom-left corner from 12 yards.

Barcelona face a fan boycott for Monday's LaLiga game against Cadiz after a group of supporters announced they would stay away in a protest over what they called "the greatest infamy at our home".

The massed ranks of Eintracht Frankfurt fans at Camp Nou on Thursday for the Europa League quarter-final second leg has incensed many at Barca.

Club president Joan Laporta has said he was "ashamed" with the ticketing situation against the Bundesliga side that allowed tens of thousands of away supporters into the stadium.

Head coach Xavi has said the matter is being investigated internally, with Barcelona's 3-2 defeat and exit from the competition having compounded the misery 

The Grada d'Animacio (Animation Stand) group, which provides considerable colour and noise at home games, announced its boycott on Sunday, issuing a statement on Twitter.

"Last Thursday we experienced a day that will be marked forever as the greatest infamy at our home," the group's statement said.

It added: "As fans and members of FC Barcelona we have experienced many victories and many defeats on the field of play, but as a fan group, we have experienced a social humiliation that we will never forget."

The group said the system that allowed Frankfurt visitors to acquire tickets for the game had failed Barca fans, adding that the mass buy-up should have been detected and prevented.

The fan body also questioned whether it had come as a surprise to Barcelona that so many German fans had attended, or whether it had been allowed to bring in money at the box office.

According to the Grada d'Animacio, there were more than 30,000 Frankfurt fans at the game.

The fan group also questioned what might have happened if the visiting supporters were spoiling for a fight.

"Who knows where we would be right now with another group of fans," the group's statement added.

"Our task is simple but very complicated, to set the mood and help cheer up the rest of the stadium to get victories, because we are very clear that as fans we are the 12th team player.

"However, the events that took place on Thursday meant that we were forced to take action, as we did during the match and on other occasions, and that is precisely why we will attend the next match between FC Barcelona and Cadiz.

"We are convinced that, as members and fans of FC Barcelona, ​​we cannot ever allow again a remotely similar situation, and we ask the parties involved to remember that not everything in life is a few million, especially if we talk about a club that has as a motto 'more than a club'."

Xavi urged Barcelona to "keep believing in the project" after his side crashed out of the Europa League on Thursday.

Barca stumbled in the Europa League quarter-final as they were eliminated by Eintracht Frankfurt, but their LaLiga form remains impressive and has guided them to second in the table.

The Blaugrana are 12 points behind leaders Real Madrid, who play third-placed Sevilla on Sunday, and are unbeaten in their last 15 Spanish top-flight games, winning their last seven.

Xavi insists his team must forget about the failure in Europe if they are to register eight straight league wins for the first time since January 2019 when they host Cadiz on Monday.

"When we started in November, we knew we needed to be more competitive, that five or six years ago we didn't compete well enough in Europe," he told reporters at a pre-match news conference.

"We have to keep believing in the project, we competed well in Napoli, not against Eintracht.

"It's a tough blow, they've eliminated us from the Europa League that we hoped to win to qualify for the Champions League and we haven't succeeded.

"We are encouraging the group, making them see where we have failed, also what we have done well. In short, it is to continue believing in what we are working on. Little by little, with patience.

"Now it's time to focus on securing the Champions League [via LaLiga]."

As for questions over his tactical methods, Xavi responded: "We have won five Champion League titles with this style. The style that [Johan] Cruyff imposed has given us much success.

"If we have doubts, we must improve this game system, what we must not do is rest on it. If we are making mistakes, we must improve it."

Barca will be hoping to have the Camp Nou filled by home fans against Cadiz, as opposed to the masses of away Eintracht fans – estimated to have been around 25,000 – that made it in for the Europa League.

Blaugrana president Joan Laporta acknowledged he was "ashamed" with the ticketing situation against the Bundesliga side, and Xavi confirmed the matter was being investigated internally.

"The club is working to solve it, as soon as they have an explanation, first they will tell us and then the media," he added.

"The players did not feel at home. It was a bad night in every way."

Lautaro Martinez was very close to joining Barcelona from Inter Milan two years ago.

The Blaugrana and the Argentina international had reached a personal agreement, but the financial consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic scuppered any possibility for the former to make any transfer happen.

As ever, though, circumstances in football change and according to reports, they have changed in a way that would allow Barca to finally get the Martinez deal over the line.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA IN FRAME FOR LAUTARO

Barcelona are back in the running to sign Inter's Lautaro Martinez, according to reports from Sport.

The 24-year-old is increasingly likely to leave the reigning Serie A champions, but it appears the club would be willing to lower their asking price in exchange for players as part of a package deal.

Inter have shown interest in Miralem Pjanic and Memphis Depay, two players who appear to be surplus to requirements in a rebuild under Xavi at the Catalan giants.

Martinez, who has provided 15 goals and three assists in 28 league appearances this season, is seen as a more affordable alternative to Erling Haaland and Robert Lewandowski.

 

ROUND-UP

– Liverpool are eyeing Aberdeen right-back Calvin Ramsey to provide depth for Trent Alexander-Arnold, the Sun reports.

Paris Saint-Germain are ready to part ways with Mauricio Pochettino in order to hire Zinedine Zidane as their head coach, per Le Parisien.

– Corriere dello Sport is reporting Roma would consider an offer of €60million (£49.6m) for highly-rated 22-year-old Nicolo Zaniolo, as interest from Serie A and Premier League clubs looms.

– Juventus are prepared to offer for Chelsea's Jorginho, with the Turin giants seeking to bolster their midfield next season, according to Tuttosport.

– Chelsea are willing to let 28-year-old striker Romelu Lukaku go with Inter and PSG interested, per 90Min.

Cristiano Ronaldo reached the remarkable landmark of 50 hat-tricks at club level as he propelled Manchester United to victory over Norwich City.

Ronaldo, who has managed 60 trebles when his goals for Portugal are added to the count, remains an arch predator at the age of 37, and his display at Old Trafford rescued an off-key United team in Saturday's encounter with the Premier League's bottom side.

After reaching 49 club trebles by hitting three against Tottenham last month, Ronaldo brought up a half-century with a close-range strike, a header from a corner and a 25-yard free-kick.

It was his third United treble (one in 2008, two in 2022). He hit three hat-tricks with Juventus and an incredible 44 during a stellar nine-year spell at Real Madrid.

Ronaldo moved to 21 goals for the season in all competitions, going through the 20 barrier for a 16th consecutive campaign, and he now has 99 Premier League goals in his career.

His goals can be broken down further, with all three of his hat-tricks for United coming in the Premier League, while with Juventus he hit two trebles in Serie A and one in the Champions League.

During his time at Madrid, spanning 2009 to 2018, Ronaldo hit 34 hat-tricks in LaLiga, seven in the Champions League, two in the Copa del Rey and one in the FIFA Club World Cup.

He managed five goals in a LaLiga game twice for Madrid, against Granada in April 2015 and against Espanyol in September of the same year, and also plundered five four-goals hauls in the same competition.

Ronaldo also hit four for Madrid in a Champions League game against Malmo in December 2015.

Carlo Ancelotti does not care if Real Madrid's critics pin their achievements on the prodigious scoring feats of Karim Benzema.

Goals win titles, and Madrid are well on their way to landing another LaLiga crown, while they are through to the semi-finals in the Champions League too.

Benzema has 38 goals from as many games this season, plus 13 assists, with those strikes coming at one every 85 minutes.

Madrid's next highest scorer is Vinicius Junior who has managed 17 goals in 43 appearances, with Marco Asensio next on the list after scoring 10 times.

This has been a career-best season for Benzema to date in terms of those goal numbers, with the 34-year-old Frenchman thriving on the responsibility of taking over the captaincy from Sergio Ramos.

Ancelotti sees Benzema's outstanding input as a major factor, but far from the only reason Madrid could end the season basking in trophy glory.

"We have a very important objective, and we are focused on this," Ancelotti told reporters ahead of Sunday's clash with Sevilla.

"I don't care if they say we played well or badly, I care that the team can compete until the end and fight to win titles.

"We are focused on that, which is reality. They can say that we are the top scorers because we have Benzema, and it's true, but that's only one of the truths.

"The reality is that we want to win, and we are fighting to win titles. The rest doesn't matter."

Ancelotti said Madrid have managed to recharge after the gruelling second leg of their Champions League quarter-final against Chelsea, when a 3-2 defeat after extra-time saw Los Blancos sneak through 5-4 on aggregate.

They tackle third-placed Sevilla at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan, with Benzema having often struggled to make a telling impact in this particular fixture.

He has scored eight goals in 21 LaLiga games against Sevilla but only one in 10 such fixtures away from home. Only at Camp Nou, where he has played 13 matches and managed just one goal, has Benzema played more away games with so few goals scored in the competition.

Ancelotti will hope he improves that record as Madrid, holding a 12-point lead at the summit, attempt to close in on the title.

"We need to win and add points, because LaLiga is not yet won," Ancelotti said.

"Everyone is waiting for Real Madrid to suffer a puncture, and hopefully that doesn't come, because LaLiga is not over. Every game can be a trap."

Carlo Ancelotti likened Luka Modric to Paolo Maldini as he declared the veteran midfielder would end his career at Real Madrid – also insisting he has no problem with Toni Kroos.

Ahead of a trip to Sevilla on Sunday, Ancelotti spoke glowingly about both midfielders who have put Madrid in a strong position to strike for LaLiga and Champions League glory.

There was a flash point between Ancelotti and Kroos in Tuesday's Champions League clash with Chelsea, when the former Germany international was substituted and was reported to have insulted the coach as he left the field.

Ancelotti stressed that was soon defused, meaning there seems no danger of Kroos and Modric not starting in tandem when league leaders Madrid tackle third-placed Sevilla.

With Madrid edging through to the European semi-finals after extra time, despite losing 3-2 at the Santiago Bernabeu, Ancelotti's decision to bring on Eduardo Camavinga in Kroos' place proved to be justified.

The change had come with Madrid 2-0 behind and facing possible elimination. Modric played the full 120 minutes, and the 36-year-old remains as influential as ever at the heart of the team.

Addressing the Kroos kerfuffle, Ancelotti said on Saturday: "His gesture didn't bother me. He was angry with the coach but not with the person.

"As well as in sport, he is a person with a very high level. I don't need to talk to him or ask for explanations. It's all over after the game."

Kroos, 32, and Modric have been the beating heart of the Madrid midfield, and that is set to remain the case into next season.

Although Modric is now in the veteran stage of his career, Ancelotti sees that as a positive rather than a weakness.

"I think he's going to finish his career here, I don't know when but that's everyone's idea," Ancelotti said. "There is no problem for the club, neither for us nor for him to renew, that is quite clear.

"He takes great care of himself, in his career he has not had any major injuries and that helps him a lot."

Making the Maldini comparison, Ancelotti said: "I had a football legend, who won the last Champions League at the age of 40. If I have to compare him with anyone, it would be with him: for the quality, for the seriousness, for how he understands football. They are legends."

Ancelotti coached Maldini at Milan, having previously played in the same team as the defender who went on to make 902 appearances for the Rossoneri.

Maldini was in fact 38 when he helped Milan to the fifth European Cup/Champions League of his career, but he played on until the age of 40.

Madrid head into Sunday with a 12-point lead at the top of LaLiga, with Barcelona and Sevilla their nearest challengers but both surely now playing for second place.

Ancelotti, appointed for a second spell at Madrid last June, has won six of his seven games as coach against Sevilla in all competitions (L1).

Sevilla, meanwhile, have failed to win any of their past six meetings with Real Madrid in LaLiga (D1 L5), their worst winless run since a 15-game stretch between May 1993 and April 2003 (D2 L13), which is the longest such barren sequence they have suffered against Los Blancos in the competition’s history.

Sevilla and Real Madrid were title rivals when they last met in LaLiga back in November.

Then, as is the case now, Madrid led the table, but Sevilla were just two points back in third having played the same number of games. Optimism was growing for a genuine title fight.

But the team the capital from behind to win 2-1 through a late Vinicius Junior goal and have since opened a significant gap to Sevilla.

Including the three earned at the Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid have collected 10 more points than Sevilla in the intervening period.

Now, as the sides prepare to face off again at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, Carlo Ancelotti's men – fresh from reaching the Champions League semi-finals – look to be coasting towards a 35th championship.

Even victory for Sevilla would only close the deficit to nine points with six games to play – and such a result feels highly unlikely based on recent history.

One-sided recent rivalry

Perhaps discussion of a tussle at the top earlier in the season was premature given Madrid's dominance of this fixture in the past few seasons.

Defeat at the Bernabeu was Sevilla's fifth in six league matches against Madrid, with their other encounter in that run a draw.

Indeed, this is their worst winless run against Madrid since a sequence of 15 games between May 1993 and April 2003 – 13 of which were losses. That was Sevilla's longest such streak against Madrid in LaLiga history.

 

Away day success in Andalusia 

This miserable stretch for Sevilla has included consecutive home defeats to Madrid, who are now bidding to win three in a row away from home in this fixture for the first time since a run of four ended in November 1996.

Those past two Madrid victories have been by 1-0 scorelines, meaning they could become only the third team in LaLiga history to win three in a row at Sevilla without conceding after Barcelona in March 1961 (three matches) and Celta Vigo in November 2003 (four).

Madrid have enjoyed recent trips to Andalusia as a whole, winning on their past seven visits. This is their best ever such run in LaLiga.

Los Blancos have scored in 31 of their past 32 league matches in the region (W24 D2 L6) for 78 goals in total at a rate of 2.44 goals per game.

Can ex-flop Lop stop the rot?

The match in November was Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui's 100th in LaLiga, but it should have come as no surprise that it did not come to plan. His career rarely has when Lopetegui has become entwined with Madrid.

His Spain tenure was ended prematurely when he agreed to join Madrid as coach on the eve of the 2018 World Cup – a decision that panned out for nobody.

Lopetegui oversaw just six wins in 14 matches in all competitions before he was sacked after a 5-1 defeat to rivals Barcelona. His win rate of 42.9 per cent was the second-lowest among all Madrid coaches to oversee multiple games.

As evidenced by the result in November, things have scarcely improved for Lopetegui where Madrid are concerned since his dismissal.

He has overseen five of the six matches in Sevilla's winless run in this fixture, with the four defeats tied for his most against any team in LaLiga – along with Barca, of course.

On the other hand, opposite number Ancelotti has won six of his seven games against Sevilla as a coach, including two victories in finals, winning the UEFA Super Cup with Milan in 2007 and Madrid in 2014.

Benz at his best while Martial flounders

It was hoped the January signing of Anthony Martial would boost Sevilla's title hopes, yet his only goal in their colours so far came in the Europa League against Dinamo Zagreb.

There has been just a single assist in LaLiga, too, meaning Martial is still waiting for his 100th goal involvement in Europe's top five leagues two months on from his 99th – that tee-up for Rafa Mir against Elche.

 

This underwhelming form stands in stark contrast to that of compatriot Karim Benzema, who has 38 goals in 38 games in all competitions this season, with only Robert Lewandowski matching his 51 goal involvements among players in Europe's top five leagues.

Benzema has eight goals in 21 LaLiga games against Sevilla, although he has scored just once in 10 visits to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan. Only at Camp Nou (one goal in 13 games) has he played as many games while scoring so few goals.

Of all the seasons to improve that return, though, this is surely the one.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.