This week sees the end of the group stages for this season's Champions League with honour, ambition and, yes, prize money on the line.

Two Spanish giants are being made to sweat on matchday six as Atletico Madrid need a win and a favour to stay in the competition, while Barcelona quite probably need to beat Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena to avoid dropping into the Europa League.

Atalanta and Villarreal will battle it out for second place in Group F, while Real Madrid and Inter face off at the Santiago Bernabeu to determine who will win Group D.

Group G will perhaps be the most dramatic, with all four participants in with a chance of finishing first or second, but what exactly does each team need from their final group game? Stats Perform has the answers for you here...

 

Group A

Manchester City have already secured top spot after beating Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 on matchday five, with the French side definitely finishing second, sitting four points behind City and four points ahead of both RB Leipzig and Club Brugge.

Leipzig, who sacked coach Jesse Marsch over the weekend, host City and need to match or better Club Brugge's result to clinch third place and a Europe League spot.

The Belgians must get something from their trip to Paris and hope that they achieve a better result than Leipzig.

 

Group B

Liverpool have had first place sewn up since they beat Atletico Madrid at Anfield on matchday four and now sit 10 points ahead of second place in what had been labelled a 'group of death' when the draw took place.

It's all to play for otherwise, though, with Porto second. A win for them at home to Atletico will confirm their passage to the knockout stage. A draw will also be fine as long as Milan do not beat Liverpool at San Siro.

Milan need to win against the Reds and hope the other game is a draw, while the Spanish champions have to beat Porto and hope that the Italians fail to beat Liverpool.

 

Group C

The most straightforward group of all as every position has already been confirmed, with Ajax top, Sporting CP joining them in the knockout stage as runners-up, while Borussia Dortmund will go into the Europa League and Besiktas are out.

 

Group D

Real Madrid and Inter have both qualified, with Carlo Ancelotti's men only needing to avoid defeat to the Italians at the Santiago Bernabeu to top the group. Inter need to beat Madrid to overtake them.

Sheriff will go into the Europa League having already been confirmed in third place above Shakhtar Donetsk.

 

Group E

Bayern Munich have won the group and Dynamo Kyiv will finish bottom, but the battle for second and third is going to the wire.

Barcelona have a two-point advantage in second place, but travel to Bayern, while Benfica host Dynamo, with the Portuguese side boasting the superior head-to-head record over the Catalans.

A win in Germany sees Xavi's men safely through, but should they draw or lose, they will be reliant on Benfica failing to win as well.

 

Group F

Manchester United sealed top spot with their 2-0 win at Villarreal on matchday five.

The Yellow Submarine are a point ahead of Atalanta in second, so only need to avoid defeat in Italy, while Gian Piero Gasperini's side must win to take the other qualification place.

Young Boys can still claim a Europa League spot if they beat United at Old Trafford and Atalanta lose.

 

Group G

The tightest of groups where it all comes down to the final round.

Lille sit top on eight points, and a win at Wolfsburg will secure that spot, while a draw will still see them qualify as they have a superior head-to-head with Sevilla.

Salzburg will go through if they avoid defeat at home to Sevilla, winning the group if they win and Lille do not.

Sevilla have to win in Austria to go through. They will at least secure third and a place in the Europa League if they lose and Wolfsburg also fail to beat Lille.

Wolfsburg actually cannot finish third but can finish first or second with a win against Lille.

 

Group H

Chelsea and Juventus have both qualified from the group, and Thomas Tuchel's side will secure top spot with a win at Zenit. Juventus must better Chelsea's result when they host Malmo.

Zenit have already confirmed their place in the Europa League, while Malmo are out.

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti insisted he does not "have to prove anything to anyone" as his side prepare to host Inter.

Madrid hold an eight-point advantage at the top of LaLiga, while they have already qualified through Group D in the Champions League.

The two top sides meet on Tuesday, with Ancelotti's team boasting a two-point lead over Inter, who have not defeated Spanish opposition in Europe since October 2004.

Madrid have also won their last three games in the Champions League against the Serie A outfit, though the pre-match focus was on the latter stages of the continental competition as the Spanish giants look for an unprecedented 14th title.

"I don't have to prove anything to anyone," Ancelotti responded to reporters at Monday's pre-match news conference.

"I have a very young coaching staff and also young footballers with a lot of enthusiasm and desire to learn. With this coaching staff, I feel very good because we can combine their enthusiasm and my experience well.

"I can't say if Madrid is the favourite or not to win the Champions League, but we can compete against any team. If you want to win this competition, you have to face the best. If you have the goal of reaching the final, you will have to beat strong teams.

"In the second year of my first stage, we were very close to success. The period between January and February did not go well, we suffered important injuries like [Luka] Modric's. But each year has its history and you cannot compare that with the current one.

"The history and tradition of this club, which is the best in the world, involves a requirement. When we won La Decima we enjoyed it and celebrated it, but we had to move on. This is what this club and this fans are asking for."

Inter head to the Spanish capital after a dominant 3-0 win over Jose Mourinho's Roma moved them within a point of leaders Milan in the league.

Simone Inzaghi's side also know a win will ensure top spot in Group D but Inter have not defeated Madrid away from home in European competition since March 1967.

Ancelotti, though, is expecting a great battle with the Nerazzurri, who have qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time since the 2011-12 campaign.

"It is a prestigious game for us," he added. "We play against a team that is doing very well, playing football well. 

"We play [for] first place and that is important. And we play in our stadium in front of our fans. It will be an interesting match."

Liverpool are in the market to add depth and quality to their midfield.

The Reds are currently second in the Premier League, after four straight wins.

Liverpool have scored a Premier League-high 44 goals in 15 games.

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL CHASING FABIAN RUIZ

Liverpool want to sign Napoli's Spain international Fabian Ruiz next off-season to bolster their midfield, reports Fichajes.

The Reds view the 25-year-old as an ideal player on an upward trajectory in his career.

Georginio Wijnaldum exited Liverpool for Paris Saint-Germain last off-season with no obvious replacement added.

 

ROUND-UP

- Fichajes reports that Atletico Madrid are considering a move for Ajax's Argentinean left-back Nicolas Tagliafico.

- Milan are interested in Fiorentina's Nikola Milenkovic and Real Madrid's Luka Jovic as they look to add depth to their squad reports Gazzetta dello Sport.

- Inter are tracking FC Zurich's 20-year-old Switzerland international defender Becir Omeragic claims Calciomercato.

- The Athletic reports that Southampton will sign ex-Chelsea and Manchester City goalkeeper Willy Caballero as emergency cover. Caballero, 40, is a free agent.

Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe admitted he was "disappointed" not to join LaLiga powerhouse Real Madrid after his failed off-season transfer.

With his contract expiring at the end of the 2021-22 campaign, Mbappe was heavily tipped to swap PSG for Madrid, who have made no secret of their admiration.

However, a transfer did not materialise as Ligue 1 giants PSG – still determined to re-sign the France international – refused to part with Mbappe.

Madrid are expected to sign Mbappe as a free agent at the end of the current campaign but the 22-year-old was asked about his frustration at the failed swich to the Santiago Bernabeu.

"Disappointed with not leaving? A little," Mbappe told Amazon while speaking to France great Thierry Henry.

"It's not easy, but whatever happened, I was going to play for a great club. I'm Parisian, I feel great, but I wanted to discover something else."

Speculation had mounted about Mbappe's future at Euro 2020, when the forward missed the decisive spot-kick in France's last-16 penalty shoot-out defeat to Switzerland.

Mbappe failed to score at the Euros and provided one assist as world champions France fell well short.

"During the Euros they asked me a lot of questions. I talked a lot with my parents, I knew I wanted to go out," Mbappe said. "My parents told me to concentrate on the pitch. Maybe I was putting too much energy into other things."

Mbappe, who joined PSG from French rivals Monaco initially on loan in 2017, has won three Ligue 1 titles with the capital club.

PSG top Ligue 1 this season, boasting an 11-point advantage over Rennes after 17 rounds.

Despite PSG's lead, Mbappe, Neymar and off-season signing Lionel Messi are yet to fully play a cohesive attacking brand of football.

"We are aware that the three of us must do more, we cannot hide, we assume it," Mbappe said.

"If I am the boss? It is difficult when you are in a team with Neymar and Messi, it would be audacious to say it, although it matters little."

Mbappe has been involved in 15 goals this season in Ligue 1 (seven goals, eight assists), with only Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski (17), Madrid forward Karim Benzema (19) and Liverpool star Mohamed Salah (22) doing better in the top five European league.

In the 1-1 draw against Lens, Mbappe was decisive in coming off the bench for the first time in the top flight since 5 December 2020 (goal against Montpellier).

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti insisted there is still a long way to go in the LaLiga title race after Los Blancos moved eight points clear ahead of next week's derby.

Vinicius Junior and Luka Jovic scored in the second half as leaders Madrid defeated Real Sociedad 2-0 away from home on Saturday.

After defending champions Atletico Madrid were stunned 2-1 by Real Mallorca earlier on Saturday, Ancelotti's men are now 10 points above their city rivals heading into the December 12 derby.

However, Ancelotti knows there is still plenty to play for after 16 rounds, with Atletico boasting a game in hand, while Sevilla – who have also played a match less – sit second in the standings.

"I think it was just a good day for us," Ancelotti told reporters. "The league continues and results have shown that we still know there are a lot of teams that are competing at a high level in this league, but they are very even matches, we're competing at a good level as well.

"Hopefully we can continue. And as for Karim [Benzema], he had a bit of pain early on in the game and he didn't want to aggravate any possible injury, so we opted to replace him. We'll see how he feels in the next few days, but I don't think he'll be able to play on Tuesday, but he could be fit for Sunday."

Pressed on people labelling Madrid champions already and whether it is exaggerated, Ancelotti replied: "Yes, because we are a team that's fighting for the league title and we are first.

"We're playing well, but it's far from over, and I do think we're playing well and we have another big exam in three days time. 

"So today's game is a good performance, but we have to work well in our next fixture. I'm thinking about our next game against Inter [in the Champions League]."

 

Madrid will welcome city rivals Atletico to the Santiago Bernabeu in their next league fixture and Ancelotti added: "We are confident because it's a special game as well, because a derby is always a special game, and in these kind of games there are no favourites.

"So we're going to show our quality against their quality. I think it's going to be a great game, a complicated game as well. And we'll see what happens."

Madrid are the first team from Europe's top five leagues to have two different players with 10 or more league goals this season – Karim Benzema 12 and Vinicius 10.

Vinicius scored the earliest second-half LaLiga goal (46:47) for Madrid away from home since December 2010, when Angel Di Maria netted at Real Zaragoza (46:36) thanks to an assist from Xabi Alonso, the current Real Sociedad B manager.

Meanwhile, Jovic – who replaced the injured Benzema – was also impressive after teeing up Vinicius' opener before scoring a goal of his own.

The last time Jovic had a goal and an assist in the same league game was for Eintracht Frankfurt against Hannover in the Bundesliga in February 2019.

It also meant the Serbia international forward scored and assisted in the same game for the first time in all competitions (41 appearances) and was involved in the same number of goals than in his previous 22 games (one goal and one assist in 462 minutes).

Madrid midfielder Luka Modric praised Jovic, saying: "He put in a very good performance. He provided an assist and scored after having gone a long time without playing. He showed that we can count on him. We're very pleased with his performance and his goal."

Karim Benzema is a doubt for Real Madrid's Champions League clash with Italian champions Inter on Tuesday but could be fit for their derby with Atletico Madrid.

The France striker limped out in the 17th minute of Madrid's 2-0 win over Real Sociedad on Saturday clutching his hamstring and grimacing before he was replaced by Luka Jovic.

When asked about the injury Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti suggested he would not be fit to face Inter at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Madrid have already qualified for the knockout phase of the Champions League but must avoid defeat to go through as winners of Group D.

That task will be made more difficult without Benzema who leads the goals (12) and assists (seven) charts in LaLiga and has scored five goals in the Champions League.

Ancelotti's side also host rivals and defending champions Atletico, who they have a 10-point advantage over, next weekend.

"The Benzema thing doesn't seem serious at all. But I don't think it will be available for Tuesday," Ancelotti told a media conference.

"Karim has had a problem, it bothered him a little and it don't I think it will be for Tuesday but maybe for Sunday, yes."

Benzema's replacement Jovic scored his first LaLiga goal of the season against Sociedad, and provided the assist for Vinicius Junior's opening goal.

It meant he scored and assisted in the same game for the first time in all competitions (41 appearances) and was involved in the same number of goals than in his previous 22 games (one goal and one assist in 462 minutes).

"For me, Jovic is a good striker," Ancelotti said.

"He is a very strong striker, he uses the ball very well. His first goal play is very much his style and I want to congratulate him. 

"Enjoy and take advantage of the opportunity. I congratulate him because he doesn't play a lot and he deserved to play. And there are others who deserve to play and this is my biggest problem."

Madrid defender Eder Militao made 10 clearances against Sociedad (nine headed clearances), the most by a player for Los Blancos in a match this season in all competitions.

Ancelotti hailed his partnership with David Alaba as one which brings the best out of both players.

"The quality of the two is extraordinary," he said.

"They are different. Militao is very strong, incredible, and Alaba adapts very well. They understand each other very well and complement each other very well."

Vinicius Junior capped a dazzling display with a goal as Real Madrid claimed a 2-0 win over Real Sociedad to restore their eight-point cushion at the top of LaLiga.

Brazil forward Vinicius opening the scoring two minutes after half-time following a fine piece of individual skill and some neat interplay with Luka Jovic.

It made the 21-year-old the first player born in 2000 or later to reach double figures for goals in a single LaLiga season.

Jovic added a second with his first goal of the season when he bravely headed in from close range. Madrid are comfortably ahead of second-placed Sevilla and have a 10-point advantage over defending champions Atletico Madrid who are down in fourth.

Sociedad began with intent, although Madrid had the best early chance when Vinicius saw his shot from the edge of the box saved by Alex Remiro.

Shortly afterwards Alexander Isak got his head on the end of Diego Rico's teasing delivery but Eder Militao was well positioned to clear the danger.

Madrid were dealt a blow in the 17th minute when striker and captain Karim Benzema limped out clutching his hamstring and was replaced by Jovic.

Isak fired wide from a good position before the break while the lively Vinicius and Rodrygo were both kept at bay by Sociedad goalkeeper Remiro.

Vinicius looked Madrid's most likely source of a goal and delivered moments after half-time when he jinked in from the left flank, exchanged passes with Jovic, and struck a low shot into the left corner.

Jovic reacted quickest to nod in Casemiro's knockdown in the box from a Toni Kroos corner 10 minutes later to increase Madrid's advantage.

Sociedad found it difficult to break down Carlo Ancelotti's side in the remainder of the game as Madrid chalked up their seventh league away win of the season.

Vinicius Junior ticked off another landmark achievement as the Real Madrid attacker became the first player born in 2000 or later to hit 10 goals in a LaLiga season. 

The 21-year-old Brazilian, born on July 12, 2000, continued his highly impressive start to the campaign with a classy opener against Real Sociedad on Saturday. 

He played a clever one-two with Luka Jovic before striking a powerful shot low into the left corner to put Madrid 1-0 up after 47 minutes at the Reale Arena. 

It was his 10th goal in 16 games in LaLiga this season, underlining the progress he has made under Carlo Ancelotti this term. 

In his first three seasons at Madrid, Vinicius scored a total of eight goals across 82 LaLiga appearances, albeit starting only 43 of those games. 

That includes three league goals last season when Zinedine Zidane was in charge. 

Vinicius, fast emerging as one of the most exciting talents in Europe, has scored four goals in his past three away games in LaLiga. 

Kylian Mbappe has had an extended flirtation with Real Madrid.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward is out of contract at the end of this season.

Mbappe has stalled on signing a new deal with PSG amid speculation of a move.

TOP STORY – REAL CONVINCED OF MBAPPE DEAL

Real Madrid are convinced they will win the race for Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe's signature, according to AS.

Los Blancos are certain the 22-year-old France international will join the club on a free transfer at the end of this season.

Mbappe has long flirted with Madrid and has decided he will not renew with PSG. The LaLiga giants are already planning Mbappe's arrival at the sporting and commercial level.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester City have joined the race to sign Fiorentina's hot property forward Dusan Vlahovic, claims La Repubblica.

- Barcelona have held discussions with Manchester City about the potential to sign Spanish forward Ferran Torres in January, according to ESPN.

- Fichajes reports that Liverpool are interested in signing Lille's Portugal midfielder Renato Sanches. Lille have valued him at £34m.

- Arsenal are homing in on Lille's Canada international forward Jonathan David, according to the London Evening Standard. David is currently Ligue 1's leading scorer.

- Calciomercato claims Christian Eriksen is close to terminating his deal with Inter, having been unable to play since his cardiac arrest at Euro 2020.

- Bayern Munich midfielder Marc Roca is in the sights of Roma who have considered a move for the Spaniard, claims Corriere dello Sport.

- Chelsea have opened talks with goalkeeper Edouard Mendy over a new deal, claims Football Insider.

- Everton have joined the race to sign Zenit striker Sardar Azmoun, according to 90min.

Raphael Varane learned a lot from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and has compared the recently departed Manchester United boss to ex-Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane.

France international Varane joined United from Madrid in August and spent three months working under Solskjaer before the Norwegian was dismissed by the Red Devils two weeks ago.

Solskjaer left Old Trafford having failed to win any silverware in his three years at the helm, which is in stark contrast to the 11 trophies lifted by Zidane across two spells as Madrid boss, with Varane a key player under his compatriot.

Despite appearing just nine times for new club United prior to Solskjaer's exit in what has been an injury-plagued start to his Old Trafford tenure, Varane was impressed by Solskjaer's coaching ability.

"I spoke with him before signing. He's a very good person and humble with important values and in the short time here he taught me a lot of things, values and a lot of things about the club, the mentality of the club," Varane told The Times.

"He represents a lot of things of this club: very respectful, humble. He always tried to do his best. Sometimes when you speak about something sensitive, it's like a bit negative because it's like a weakness. But it's not true. It's a strength.

"When he speaks with a player, he's honest. It's important for a manager to be honest with his players and especially this point it's similar with Zidane. Maybe that's why I like this feeling. It was a short time working with him but I learn a lot."

Varane won three LaLiga titles and four Champions League crowns among an array of other trophies during a decade-long spell at Madrid that saw him rack up over 350 appearances in the Spanish capital.

However, the 28-year-old says he and his Madrid colleagues could not always celebrate their triumphs as winning titles is what was expected of them, something that played a part in his decision to leave the club.

"After winning the Champions League, the fans don't congratulate you," he told The Telegraph. "It was 'OK, the next one' after the first one I won.

"Four Champions Leagues! And they tell me, 'OK, go to the next one'. I just want to say sometimes you have to enjoy what you have. It was good!"

Varane added: "Sometimes I wanted to push the pause button, find some time to celebrate. That's why Madrid are special. It's because of this special mentality too.

"It's different. That's why I wanted to change, not because I don't like this mentality or because it's bad. It's very good, but I just wanted to try something different."

Carlo Ancelotti says "children have to pursue the dreams they have" when asked about a comic book detailing Kylian Mbappe's love of Real Madrid in his teenage years.

In the autobiographical comic, Paris Saint-Germain superstar Mbappe recalls a visit to Los Blancos' Valdebebas training ground as a 14-year-old where he met his heroes Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The publishing of the story has only exacerbated rumours Mbappe will make the move to the Spanish capital, having been the subject of an unsuccessful deadline-day bid in the previous transfer window.

Mbappe is out of contract at the end of the season and has been largely tipped with signing a pre-contract agreement with Madrid, who are top of LaLiga.

Asked about Mbappe and the comic, Ancelotti replied: "Children have to pursue the dreams they have. 

"As a child I had the dream of playing in Serie A and I fulfilled it."

However, when asked which player he would like to be if he were to have a do-over in his playing career, Ancelotti name-checked another superstar striker in the form of Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland among his list.

"I would like to be a forward. Vinicius [Junior], [Karim] Benzema or Haaland," he said.

"What I lacked in my career are the goals."

Madrid battled to a 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday and face off against third-place Real Sociedad on Saturday.

As things stand, Ancelotti's side have a seven-point lead over rivals Atletico Madrid, who have played one game fewer.

The trip to San Sebastian begins a huge week that also sees Madrid face Inter in the Champions League and Atleti in LaLiga.

But Ancelotti says changes to his line-up will only be considered if players need a rest.

"We are not thinking about Inter and Atletico. I am going to put the best line-up to win the game against La Real," he added.

"Casemiro is going to play even though he has four yellow cards. We have no alarm, we are evaluating the squad. We have almost everyone. [Gareth] Bale has returned with the team, although he will not be in the squad. 

"Almost the entire squad is in good physical condition. I have looked a little at the statistics and only against Shakhtar [Donetsk] and Barca [did I] repeat the eleven."

Asked specifically whether his favoured midfield of Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos can cope with playing in all the games, he replied: "I don't know if they can play the three games in a row. 

"I have to think first if they can play against La Real. I have to think about it. If Modric doesn't sleep well or feels tired, I won't put him in there."

Cristiano Ronaldo reached yet another milestone when he scored his 800th career goal in Manchester United's clash with Arsenal on Thursday.

Ronaldo was reinstated to the United starting XI after being benched for the 1-1 draw at Chelsea, and he justified his return when he converted Marcus Rashford's cross early in the second half to put the Red Devils 2-1 ahead.

The strike takes Ronaldo to 11 goals in 16 appearances in all competitions in his second spell at United, having sensationally returned to Old Trafford in August when it initially looked as though he was heading to Manchester City.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner has scored a combined 685 club goals for Real Madrid, Juventus, Sporting CP and United, with the other 115 coming with Portugal – no one has more than him on the international stage in the history of the men's game.

 

Ronaldo was most prolific in Madrid, scoring an incredible 450 goals in 438 appearances to become the club's all-time leading scorer, also providing 132 assists.

His best club season also came with Los Blancos, netting 61 times from just 47.9 expected goals (xG) in 54 games across all competitions in 2014-15.

In that campaign, Ronaldo registered the best minutes-per-goal ratio (76.1) of any player from Europe's top five leagues to have scored at least 10 in all competitions.

The Portugal captain's favourite opponent is Sevilla, scoring 27 times in just 18 appearances against them, although he will also have fond memories of Granada and Espanyol, scoring five goals in a game against each of them in 2015.

Not only is the 36-year-old forward the highest-scoring player in international football, he also boasts the all-time record in the Champions League (140).

Ronaldo's effort against the Gunners was his first in the Premier League in over a month, last netting in the competition back on October 30 when United beat Tottenham 3-0 away from home.

Is Robert Lewandowski's time at Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich coming to an end?

Lewandowski has called Bayern home since arriving from Borussia Dortmund in 2014.

However, the 33-year-old Poland international is reportedly ready for a new challenge.

 

TOP STORY – LEWANDOWSKI SET ON MADRID MOVE

Bayern Munich star Robert Lewandowski has ordered his agent to finalise a transfer to LaLiga giants Real Madrid, according to Diario AS.

Lewandowski has repeatedly excelled for Bayern, where he has broken numerous records, while he was unfortunate not to win the 2021 Ballon d'Or.

Previously linked with a move to the Premier League, Lewandowski appears to be set on a switch to Madrid, where his former team-mate David Alaba now calls home.

 

ROUND-UP

- Tuttosport claims Fiorentina want to sell Dusan Vlahovic abroad but the Serbia international is not interested in Arsenal as he eyes Juventus. Vlahovic has also been linked with Manchester City, Manchester United, Inter, Atletico Madrid, Tottenham and Bayern. It comes as Sky Sport Italia says Fiorentina are close to signing Lille forward Jonathan Ikone.

- Interim United manager Ralf Rangnick will try to convince Erling Haaland to leave Dortmund for Old Trafford, per Bild. Rangnick and Haaland worked together at Salzburg. Haaland is a player in demand amid interest from Madrid, Barcelona, Juve, Bayern, City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain. Since Rangnick's arrival, United have also been linked with RB Leipzig pair Christopher Nkunku and Amadou Haidara, as well as Chelsea forward Timo Werner.

- Record reports Dortmund are keen on Benfica and Uruguay attacker Darwin Nunez amid uncertainty over the future of Haaland.

- Premier League champions City have scouted Bologna and Sweden sensation Mattias Svanberg, according to Nicolo Schira.

Carlo Ancelotti was pleased with Real Madrid's ability to grind out a 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao after acknowledging they were far from their best at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Karim Benzema, who also scored in the 2-1 win over Sevilla at the weekend, grabbed the only goal of the game in the 40th minute with his 12th strike of the LaLiga season.

The France international has now scored 35 goals in 46 games for Madrid across all competitions in 2021, equalling his best goalscoring tally in a single calendar year for Los Blancos (35 goals in 50 games in 2019).

The hosts had to work hard for a fifth consecutive LaLiga win, with the visitors taking 18 shots on Thibaut Courtois' goal.

Indeed, their expected goals against indicator of 2.7 was the highest Madrid have had in a match this season in all competitions.

"It is true that our opponents had more rest than us, and they are very good," Ancelotti told a media conference.

"In the first half, we did well. In the second we failed with more passes than in the first, and we suffered.

"The ability to suffer is a quality of the team. We know how to play football, and we know how to suffer when the football we want to play isn't happening.

"Real Madrid never give up. Our character and commitment is very strong. Sometimes when we can't use our quality, we are able to use other qualities.

"I liked the ending more than the first half – we were missing something then."

The result moved Madrid seven points clear of Atletico Madrid in second, although Diego Simeone's men have a game in hand.

Los Blancos are next in action on Saturday when they travel to third-placed Real Sociedad, and Ancelotti accepted he might be forced into making changes to his starting XI.

"The team has finished tired, and we will have to analyse it," he added.

"It is normal when you play against a fresher team that it costs you at the end a little. I must assess whether to make changes for the next game. We have three games very close [together], without time to rest.

"I have to think carefully about the decisions, but the streak is very good, and I am very satisfied with everyone: with those who play, those who play for five minutes, and those who do not have a minute.

"The atmosphere in the team is very good; I like it."

Real Madrid moved seven points clear at the summit of LaLiga as Karim Benzema's solitary goal sealed a 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday.

Benzema, who also scored in the 2-1 win over Sevilla at the weekend, struck in the 40th minute with his 12th league goal of the campaign – three more than anyone else in LaLiga. 

Athletic created enough chances to claim at least a point at the Santiago Bernabeu, yet they were unable to find a way past Thibaut Courtois. 

A fifth league win in a row lifted Carlo Ancelotti's side well clear of second-placed Atletico Madrid, although Diego Simeone's men have a game in hand.

Unai Simon twice denied Benzema from close range inside the opening 15 minutes as Madrid started brightly.

Athletic grew into the game, though, and twice went close before the half-hour mark, Inaki Williams seeing an effort deflected narrowly wide and an unmarked Raul Garcia heading straight at Courtois.

Madrid went ahead five minutes before the interval, Benzema sliding into an empty net from Luka Modric's mishit shot after Simon had thwarted Marco Asensio.

Toni Kroos whipped wide after a fine team move shortly after the restart, before Lucas Vazquez denied Dani Garcia a near-certain goal at the other end with a superb block. 

Unai Nunez inexplicably headed wide from an inswinging free-kick with 20 minutes remaining, while Courtois raced off his line to deny Oihan Sancet as Athletic ultimately fell short of finding the leveller they deserved.


What does it mean? Madrid pushed all the way

Athletic's tally of 18 shots is evidence that Madrid were far from their best, but Ancelotti's men did just enough to seal maximum points against their spirited opponents.

The result means Los Blancos are now unbeaten in their last 13 LaLiga games against Athletic – their best such run against them in the top flight.

Brilliant Benzema

The superb Benzema has now scored 35 goals in 46 games for Madrid across all competitions in 2021, equalling his best goalscoring tally in a single calendar year for Los Blancos (35 goals in 50 games in 2019).

Shot-shy Vinicius

He sealed all three points against Sevilla on Sunday with a sublime strike, but Vinicius Junior had no such luck in front of goal here. The Brazil international made a game-high five key passes, but failed to have a single shot as Madrid largely toiled in attack.

What's next?

Madrid travel to third-placed Real Sociedad on Saturday, while Athletic are next in action on Monday when they visit Getafe.

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