Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti hailed Marco Asensio following his hat-trick performance in the 6-1 LaLiga rout of Real Mallorca.

Asensio scored three goals in his first start of the season against former club Mallorca as Madrid returned to the league summit at the Santiago Bernabeau on Wednesday.

After Karim Benzema opened the scoring in the third minute, Asensio took centre stage – the Spaniard scored on either side of Lee Kang-in's goal to give Madrid a 3-1 half-time lead.

Asensio completed his treble 10 minutes into the second half as he became the sixth Spanish player to score a hat-trick for Madrid in LaLiga this century and the first since Alvaro Morata in April 2017. 

Benzema and Isco added gloss to the scoreline, though Ancelotti heaped praise on Asensio post-match.

"I invest my experience in the team and look to give them my all, both in terms of experience and confidence," Ancelotti told reporters, with Madrid now boasting 16 points from their opening six league matches – their best start to a season at this stage since 2013-14, when the Italian boss was last in charge.

"I'm lucky to coach this brave team with a lot of quality and players who learn quickly. Asensio played very well. We knew that he can do a lot of damage and they had a lot of quality between the lines, he's a very good shot taker and he combines very well.

"Asensio has performed very well and during next week he can hopefully score three goals as well. I think this is the position.

"It can be sometimes that if we push with the full-back, defending, he can play more on the outside, but with the ball it's always the same position because he likes it. When he comes inside he has the ball on the left and he is very dangerous there."

Benzema also impressed in the Spanish capital – the in-form France international has been directly involved in 15 goals in LaLiga this season (eight goals and seven assists).

It is the best start in goal involvement of any player after the first six league games of the campaign in the 21st century.

"Karim is doing well," Ancelotti said. "He's scored eight goals and can make you forget that he is playing very well with the team, he gets behind, he contributes to the other players.

"He's a striker who doesn't just score goals. He is complete in every way.

"The day when he needs a rest weell play [Luka] Jovic, who has been doing really well. Jovic is up against really tough competition, but when he's played he's done well.

"He had two chances today and he also played extremely well against Valencia. He'll play when Benzema isn't available."

Marco Asensio scored a hat-trick against former club Real Mallorca to help Real Madrid to a 6-1 win that lifted them back above Atletico Madrid at the top of LaLiga. 

Mallorca youth product Asensio added to Karim Benzema's early opener and doubled his personal tally after Lee Kang-in had pulled one back for Mallorca in a lively first half to Wednesday's contest. 

Making his first start of the season, Asensio curled in a delightful third before Benzema – who also assisted a couple of goals – and Isco rounded off a thumping victory for Los Blancos at the Santiago Bernabeu. 

Madrid have now collected 16 points from their opening six matches, making this their best start to a season at this stage since 2013-14 when Carlo Ancelotti was last in charge. 

Benzema scored a late winner for Madrid in their victory against Valencia last weekend and opened the scoring inside three minutes, nicking the ball off Josep Gaya's toes before racing through and coolly sliding past Manolo Reina. 

Asensio put Madrid on course for a sixth successive home league win against Mallorca 21 minutes later with a close-range finish after Rodrygo's pass was deflected into his path. 

Mallorca took just 71 seconds to respond, however, as Matthew Hoppe picked out Lee and the South Korea international got the better of Thibaut Courtois. 

But Asensio raced through to restore Madrid's two-goal lead and nearly completed his hat-trick moments later with a shot that Martin Valjent blocked on the line. 

Benzema set up Asensio's second goal and thought he had further extended Madrid's lead early in the second half, only for VAR to rule it out for a push on Joan Sastre. 

It did not take much longer for the fourth Madrid goal to arrive, though, as Asensio curled a shot away from Reina into the bottom-left corner for his first Madrid treble. 

Madrid did not let up as Benzema controlled a David Alaba pass with his back and fired a deflected shot past Reina in the 78th minute. 

The Mallorca keeper had to pick the ball out of his net once again six minutes later when Vinicius Junior teed up Isco for a simple finish. 

Carlo Ancelotti sympathised with Ronald Koeman's poor start at Barcelona as Real Madrid prepare for the visit of Real Mallorca on Wednesday.

Madrid left it late against Valencia last time out, scoring twice in three minutes to win 2-1 and extend their unbeaten run to 23 LaLiga games.

Meanwhile, Barcelona have only won twice in the Spanish top flight so far, most recently being held to a 1-1 draw by strugglers Granada on Monday.

Reports from Spain on Tuesday suggest that Barca are considering sacking Koeman and replacing him with Belgium boss Roberto Martinez.

However, Ancelotti warned that teams will always go through difficult periods, with his side included in the anecdote despite their impressive 13-point haul from five games this term.

"You always have problems, now everything goes well for us, but surely problems will come to us," Ancelotti responded when asked about Koeman's difficulties.

"And a coach should focus on solving problems when they come.

"If we are able to maintain this attitude and with the quality that the team has, we will move forward. The spirit is the most important lately because we have always fought to the end.

"Winning comes first but if you play well you have a better chance of winning. But what does it mean to play well? For me the key is balance, playing well with or without the ball."

Los Blancos could record their best start to a league campaign since 2013-14 – also under Ancelotti – if they beat Mallorca, who have lost more top-flight games against Madrid than any other opponent (37).

But Ancelotti refused to be drawn on questions of how his side compares to his previous team from his first tenure in Spain's capital.

"I must take into account the characteristics of these players, different from those of 2014, learn and try to put them in a good position on the field," he continued.

"That's the job. At the club they know me well and we're having a good time now I think.

"It is very good, it is a honeymoon for me. We will live good times and bad times but I will never lose the respect that I have for this club.

"And the same way backwards. Difficult times will come but we will have a good time, just as it happened in my first stage here."

LaLiga is arguably harder to call than ever before heading into 2021-22 – Barcelona no longer have Lionel Messi to guide the way and Real Madrid have seen significant upheaval, so surely the smart money is on defending champions Atletico Madrid?

Diego Simeone's men won the title in 2020-21 after watching Barca and Madrid trade success for seven years and look in good shape given they've not lost any major players. But can you really write off the 'big two'?

Well, you shouldn't, according to Stats Perform predictions.

The Stats Perform League Prediction Model, created by Stats Perform AI using Opta data, has analysed the division ahead of the new season to assign percentages to potential outcomes for each club.

The model estimates the probability of each match outcome (win, draw or loss) based on teams' attacking and defensive qualities, which considers four years' worth of results, with weighting based on recency and the quality of opposition. The season is then simulated 10,000 times to calculate the likelihood of each outcome.

Without further ado, let's look at what could occur over the 2021-22 LaLiga season.

 

ANCELOTTI DELIVERS THE GOODS

Carlo Ancelotti's back at the Santiago Bernabeu, and so – it seems – will the Spanish title. The Stats Perform model calculates Madrid have a 42.3 per cent chance of taking the crown back from their local rivals.

In fact, if the model proves accurate, Atletico may not even finish in the top two, as their 18.7 per cent chance is a fair bit smaller than Barca's 30.4 per cent likelihood of winning LaLiga.

However, it's worth pointing out that, because the model is based on historical data points and results, the Barcelona that appears here is one that has had Messi in the team for past 17 years.

It's entirely reasonable to expect Barca to see a significant drop-off given they'll no longer have the greatest player of all time on their books – as such, a 30.4 per cent chance of winning the title might actually be quite generous.

THE BIG FOUR?

The 2020-21 season was the tightest LaLiga title fight in recent memory. Although Atletico were 11 points clear at one point, with five matches left there were just three points separating first from fourth.

In that respect, it was the closest title race LaLiga had ever seen in a 20-team campaign (1987-1995, 1997-present) and the least predictable since 2006-07, when Madrid, Barca and Sevilla could all win the league on the final day of the season.

Sevilla's challenge ultimately faded before that stage in 2020-21 but they've managed to keep Julen Lopetegui, their coach, and their squad is largely unaltered for the time being.

The prediction model makes them fourth favourites for the title (6.8 per cent) and far better placed to take the final Champions League spot (69.4 per cent) for the third year in a row than their likeliest challengers Villarreal (36.2 per cent).

There was a 15-point gap between fourth and fifth last season – this is the closest to a 'big four' Spain has had in years.

 

FOUR TIPPED FOR RELEGATION TUSSLE

Rayo Vallecano, Real Mallorca and Espanyol were the three to come up from the Segunda last season. While most people would ordinarily point to the promoted sides as the most likely to be relegated, the prediction model disagrees.

It gives Mallorca a 30.7 per cent likelihood of going straight back down, and Espanyol are at 17.6 per cent – neither of those are among the bottom three, though Rayo (45.9 per cent) are seen as the second favourites to head back to the second tier.

But it's Elche (57.9 per cent) who are the clear front-runners in this regard, and then it looks agonisingly close for the third and final relegation spot.

According to the predictor, it's likely to be neck-and-neck between Deportivo Alaves (41.1 per cent) and Cadiz (41.9 per cent).

Real Madrid prospect Takefusa Kubo has re-joined Real Mallorca on a season-long loan.

Kubo moved to Madrid on a five-year deal in 2019 before being loaned out in the last two seasons and his most recent temporary switch takes him back to Mallorca.

The 20-year-old played for Mallorca in 2019-20, appearing 35 times in LaLiga, though he could not help the club avoid relegation.

He ranked third in Mallorca's squad for chances created (35) and first for successful dribbles (64), netting four times.

Real Sociedad were reportedly interested but Kubo, who appeared for Japan at the Tokyo Olympics, settled for a return to newly-promoted Mallorca ahead of the 2021-22 season.

Kubo spent last season with Villarreal and Getafe.

He played just 291 minutes at Villarreal but managed eight starts and 802 minutes with Getafe – a more productive spell that he will want to develop upon with Mallorca.

A short club statement on Madrid's official website announced the deal and said: "Real Madrid C. F. and R. C. D. Mallorca have reached an agreement for a season-long loan for Takefusa Kubo, until 30 June 2022."

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