Xavi called on Barcelona to change their recent fortunes against Real Madrid, although he was unsure whether his side struggled with an "inferiority complex" against their Clasico rivals.

Barca are 15 points adrift of Carlo Ancelotti's runaway LaLiga leaders and have lost their past five games against Madrid in all competitions.

That streak has only been bettered once in meetings between the two rivals, with Los Blancos enjoying a seven-game winning run between April 1962 and February 1965.

However, since Xavi's arrival, Barca have climbed to third in the league, taking 34 points from 15 games in LaLiga, a record only beaten by Madrid in that period (39 points).

The Blaugrana head coach wants his side to call upon that recent form to right the wrongs of previous clashes with Ancelotti's team.

"I don't know if there was an inferiority complex, I wasn't in charge," Xavi told reporters at Saturday's pre-match news conference when asked about Barca's recent Clasico record.

"It's a great opportunity to change history, and a win would greatly support what we're working on.

"I don't know if we arrive with more self-esteem than previous years, but we do have good dynamics and enthusiasm against a rival who are in great form.

"We have to be brave, trying to impose our ideas, but also calm because there will be moments of everything. From my experience, I can transmit calm; it is just another chance for three points, and we have to try to enjoy the occasion.

"Luckily, I have very good memories of great victories and great feelings having played very good games there [at the Santiago Bernabeu] and also winning, something that does not always happen."

 

Barca will be boosted by the confirmed absence of Madrid talisman Karim Benzema, who limped off towards the end of Monday's 3-0 win over Real Mallorca.

The France international tops the LaLiga scoring charts this season with 22 goals, finding the net on average once every 93.6 minutes, and also leads the way with 11 assists.

Xavi acknowledged Benzema's injury will be a blow to Madrid's chances, with the striker having scored in two of his past three meetings with Barca in all competitions, as many as he had in his previous 16 appearances against the Blaugrana.

"Benzema is one of the best strikers in the world, it's a bad loss, but for us our approach doesn't change," Xavi said. "I suppose that for them it can change something.

"How to replace Benzema is a question for Ancelotti, but he has options."

Even with victory in the Spanish capital, Xavi acknowledges Barca's chances of a title push remain incredibly slim.

Asked if there was greater pressure to win against Madrid to spark a late surge, he responded: "I don't see it that way, the pressure is the same.

"If we win, we would be closer to the first objective, which is to be in the Champions League next season. But I see winning the league as complicated. We would be within 12 points, with a game in hand, it is complicated.

"If we win, I do see a parallel with 2004 [a 2-1 win at Madrid]. That victory didn't help us win the league either, but it did strengthen us and change the dynamic, as could happen now."

Olivier Giroud has been handed a recall by France and a chance to put himself firmly back in Didier Deschamps' World Cup plans.

The Milan striker has not featured in a match for France since Les Bleus exited Euro 2020 at the hands of Switzerland last June.

He has 46 goals for his country in 110 games, which puts him only five strikes behind Thierry Henry on the team's all-time list.

It appeared Giroud's international career might be over as coach Deschamps opted against calling him into recent squads.

However, a calf injury sustained by Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema, ruling him out of Sunday's game against Barcelona, has led to Giroud landing a summons to join up with France for the upcoming friendlies against Ivory Coast and South Africa.

The French Football Federation announced the news on its website, adding that the France staff wished Benzema "a swift recovery".

Deschamps spoke about Giroud after excluding him from a 23-player squad on Thursday, pointing to the 35-year-old's impressive form for Milan.

Giroud has helped Milan top Serie A, scoring eight goals in 20 games in the league, ahead of Saturday's trip to face Cagliari.

Assessing Giroud, Deschamps said: "It's going well for him at the moment. He's scoring important goals with Milan. I'm happy for him.

"I've got decisions to make. I know what Olivier is capable of doing with us. He remains available to France even if I haven't called him up for this get-together."

Now, though, Giroud comes into the picture once again, eight months out from the World Cup in Qatar.

France play Ivory Coast in Marseille on March 25, and South Africa in Lille four days later.

Xavi perfectly embodies the characteristics of Barcelona and has improved the Catalan giants since taking over, according to Real Madrid counterpart Carlo Ancelotti.

The pair are set to face off at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday in the third and final Clasico of the season, with Madrid boasting a 10-point lead at the LaLiga summit.

Barcelona are five points further back, albeit with a game in hand, in what has been a disappointing campaign on the whole for the club.

Results have improved over the past two months, however, with Xavi – appointed as Ronald Koeman's successor in November – steadily transforming his side's fortunes.

Since Xavi's appointment, Barcelona have taken 34 points from 15 games in LaLiga, a record only bettered by Madrid since then (39 points).

Thursday's 2-1 win over Galatasaray helped Xavi's side through to the quarter-finals of the Europa League, meanwhile, and extended their unbeaten run to 11 matches.

That is Barca's longest-such streak since January 2020 under Ernesto Valverde, giving Xavi's side some momentum heading into their showdown with fierce rivals Madrid.

And Ancelotti, whose three defeats in five LaLiga meetings with Barca is his joint-worst against any side in LaLiga, along with Atletico Madrid, has been impressed by Xavi's work.

"The identity of Barcelona has not changed," he said at Saturday's pre-match news conference. "They are a team with a very clear style and Xavi embodies it perfectly. 

"Barcelona have improved a lot and they are in a good dynamic. My opinion is that he is doing very well."

 

Xavi is still early in his coaching career, especially in comparison to veteran of the dugout Ancelotti, with Sunday's clash his second taste of this historic fixture as a manager.

The midfield legend is aiming to avoid becoming only the third Barca boss, after Ernesto Valverde and Ronald Koeman, to lose his first two Clasicos this century.

Defeat for Barca would see them fall 18 points behind the leaders, but Ancelotti insists the game in the Spanish capital is not make-or-break for the visitors.

"If we win we have three more points; if we tie, one; if we lose, none," he said. "I wouldn't rule out Barcelona in any case, whatever happens. Because they will fight until the end."

Should Barca avoid defeat, Xavi will become only the second Barca coach to go unbeaten in his first 10 LaLiga away games after Ernesto Valverde, who was unbeaten in 18.

Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti has confirmed that Karim Benzema will miss Sunday's Clasico clash with Barcelona.

The top scorer in LaLiga this season with 22 goals, Benzema will not be available to face the Blaugrana at Santiago Bernabeu.

The France international netted twice in Monday’s 3-0 victory over Real Mallorca, but limped off towards the end of the contest indicating a problem with his calf.

Ancelotti, who is also without Ferland Mendy, revealed that Benzema will also not link with Les Bleus during the forthcoming international break.

Addressing the media during his pre-match conference on Saturday, the Italian said: "Both [Benzema] and Mendy can't play and won't go to France either. They stay in Madrid.

"He hasn't trained with the group. He still has some discomfort.

"Karim is a very important part, because he finishes all the work, but without him, you have to keep that work and look for different solutions.

"It is already decided who is going to play [in his place]. But I'm not going to tell you."

Benzema's league goals have come at a rate of one every 93.55 minutes, while he also leads the assists standings with 11 to his name already.

Asked if he is concerned by Benzema's latest lay-off, Ancelotti said: "He is a player who is 34 years old and sometimes it can happen to him. 

"They are very minor annoyances and he has recovered very quickly. When he has come back, he has made a difference. 

"We have another two weeks to work with him and then he will make a difference again. 

"It doesn't worry me that he won't play tomorrow because we have time for him to play at the end of the season and make a difference."

Madrid sit comfortably top of LaLiga, armed with a 10-point lead over second-placed Sevilla. Barcelona, in third, are 15 points adrift of Madrid with a game in hand.

Karim Benzema is set to be ruled out of Real Madrid's plans for Sunday's Clasico clash with Barcelona.

The captain and leading goalscorer in LaLiga this season did not train on Saturday as head coach Carlo Ancelotti completed his preparation for the clash at Santiago Bernabeu.

Spanish news agency EFE reported Benzema would miss the game, with Ancelotti expected to confirm that at a news conference in the Spanish capital.

Benzema scored twice in five second-half minutes in a 3-0 win against Real Mallorca on Monday, but he looked in discomfort while celebrating Los Blancos' third goal.

Soon after, in the 85th minute, Benzema departed having indicated a problem with his calf, forcing Madrid to close out the match with 10 men having already used their five permitted substitutions.

It is the calf that continues to trouble the 34-year-old, who has scored 22 goals in LaLiga so far this season, eight more than his nearest challengers – team-mate Vinicius Junior and Enes Unal of Getafe.

Benzema's league goals have come at a rate of one every 93.55 minutes, while he also leads the assists standings with 11 to his name already.

Madrid sat comfortably top of LaLiga going into the weekend, armed with a 10-point lead over second-placed Sevilla. Barcelona, in third, were 15 points adrift of Madrid, with a game in hand.

Benzema has scored in two of his last three meetings with Barcelona in all competitions, the same number of goals as he did in his previous 16 appearances in El Clasico.

In 25 LaLiga games against Barcelona, his goal return is a modest seven, plus four assists. However, the loss of an in-form Benzema is undoubtedly a significant blow on the eve of Spanish football's biggest club clash.

Barcelona defender Sergino Dest has been ruled out of Sunday's El Clasico with Real Madrid and the United States' final batch of World Cup qualifiers.

The 21-year-old injured his left hamstring during the early stages of the second half in Barca's 2-1 Europa League last-16 second-leg win over Galatasaray on Thursday.

Dest has undergone a scan and Barca confirmed on Friday that he will not return to action until after the international break.

As a result, Dest has been replaced by Arminia Bielefeld left-back George Bello in USA's squad for their qualifiers against Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica.

Dani Alves is expected to slot in for Dest in a straight swap for the LaLiga trip to Madrid, but the veteran full-back is not registered for the Europa League.

Barca will face Eintracht Frankfurt in the quarter-finals of that competition, with the first leg scheduled for April 7.
 
Ajax academy product Dest has featured 20 times for Barca this term – the 10th most of any player – and has been capped 17 times by USA.

Barcelona travel to the Spanish capital to take on Real Madrid in El Clasico on Sunday, and for the first time in a long time, they do so with somewhat justified optimism.

As Bob Dylan said, "the times, they are-a-changin'".

That will perhaps be one of the many songs we will hear blaring out at Camp Nou after Barcelona signed a deal with music streaming giant Spotify for naming rights to the iconic stadium from next season.

This is a club that until 2006 thought it uncouth to even have a shirt sponsor, and when they eventually did, it was a philanthropic deal with UNICEF.

Eventually, the increasing need for vast sums of money in order to stay relevant at football's top table led to the Blaugrana signing a deal with Qatar Airways, though their financial situation has famously worsened in recent years.

That, of course, has been largely down to poor decisions in terms of contract negotiations and recruitment, with their transfer strategy on shuffle in the past five years.

On and off the field, it seemed like Barca were getting further and further away from their roots, though they tried to turn that around by bringing in former European Cup-winning defender Ronald Koeman.

The Dutchman replaced Quique Setien in August 2020 and led Barca to Copa del Rey success in his first season, but they finished third in LaLiga and suffered a Champions League last-16 exit, as well as losing the Supercopa de Espana final to Athletic Bilbao.

A shock 1-0 defeat at Rayo Vallecano in late October 2021 spelled the end for Koeman, but the decision to replace him with Xavi felt like it could have been a different colour of the same thinking, that you need someone who 'gets the club' rather than simply an elite coach.

Pep Guardiola had no affiliation with Manchester City before going to the Etihad Stadium, as with Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool or Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea.

However, while Koeman was a former player and European Cup winner, Xavi was a figure from the club's real golden generation, an era the club and their fans are eager to return to.

Barca felt at their lowest ebb after losing Lionel Messi to Paris Saint-Germain due to financial constraints at the end of last season. They were out of the LaLiga title race early on after winning just four of their first 12 games (D5 L3), before arguably the ultimate humiliation of Champions League elimination in the group stage for the first time in 21 years.

Xavi's first game in charge was somewhat appropriately a derby against Espanyol. It was nervy, it was uncertain, but it was at least a 1-0 win.

Ahead of the home game with Elche in December, the 42-year-old suggested part of the problem was some of his players' inability to grasp "juego de posicion" – "the position game" – a structured approach to play with and without the ball in which the great Barca sides thrived.

In a video for The Coaches' Voice while still manager of Al Sadd, Xavi outlined his philosophy, saying: "The most important, the most beautiful and the most precious thing in football is to have the ball, and to attack and dominate the game with the ball.

"It's clear to me that my team has to control the ball. I suffer when I don't have it. It happened to me when I was a footballer and now even more so on the bench.

"How do I set up the team? Regardless of the system, in the end, the most important thing is this philosophy that we talked about. Total control of the ball – it matters a lot to me. I'm obsessed with possession, and not just to have the ball for the sake of having it, but to attack and create chances and hurt the opposition."

Since Xavi's arrival, Barca have taken 34 points from 15 games in LaLiga (W10 D4 L1), a record only bettered by Real Madrid in that time (39 points – W12 D3 L1).

 

They have also not lost any of their nine away league games since the legendary midfielder was appointed (W5 D4), and should they avoid defeat at the Santiago Bernabeu, Xavi would become only the second Barca coach to be unbeaten in his first 10 away games in the competition after Ernesto Valverde.

Results have clearly improved, but what changes has Xavi actually made to the underachieving side he inherited?

Comparing his 24 games in charge so far with the 13 overseen by Koeman at the start of the season – it would be unfair to look at the Dutchman's entire record at the club given he had statistic monster Messi at his disposal last season – the improvements have been slight yet significant.

Interestingly, their average possession has only risen slightly, from 63.8 per cent to 64.5, while the average number of passes per game has gone from 604.4 to 625.8.

Given Xavi's insistence that possession must also lead to chances that "hurt the opposition", it is a slight surprise to see that Koeman actually saw marginally more big chances created (2.23 per game to 2.21), but Barca now have more shots on goal (15.0 per game, up from 11.2) and are averaging a goal every 47 minutes, drastically up from one every 73 under Koeman.

One thing that may cause some surprise is the apparent willingness to go long more often under Xavi, hitting 52.1 long passes per game compared to 43.6 under Koeman. This does not mean they are becoming a long ball team, rather that they appear to be more willing to play riskier balls to try to turn the opposition around with one pass rather than the possession for the sake of possession Xavi spoke of.

 

This could also be a result of the additions the coach has made to the squad, despite obvious limitations in terms of budget.

The former Premier League trio of Ferran Torres, Adama Traore and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang might all be used to playing more direct styles and have impressed since arriving from England.

The return of Dani Alves may have raised eyebrows, but the 38-year-old – while understandably not quite the Alves of old – has restored a certain energy and spirit, even contributing four goal involvements in his eight appearances so far (one goal, three assists).

Xavi no doubt also sees the benefits of having such an experienced head around young stars like Pedri and Gavi, who have both established themselves as vital components of the team being put together.

Another interesting sub-plot to Xavi's brief tenure has been Ousmane Dembele, who still looks like he will be leaving Camp Nou at the end of the campaign once his contract expires.

The club were desperate to move the France international on in January but unable to do so, and it seemed Dembele may just sit in the stands to see out the final months of his deal.

However, Xavi has decided to bring the enigmatic attacker back into the fold, and that call seems to be paying off, with Dembele putting in some star performances in recent weeks, registering five assists in his past four LaLiga appearances, as many as he managed in his previous 45 league games for the club.

The improvement seen at Camp Nou will be put to the test in the Clasico, with Madrid the team to beat in Spain for now.

Xavi will be seeking to change that fact in the coming seasons but first must ensure he continues to get a tune out of his players before the reported €280m Spotify deal kicks in – starting on Sunday.

Manchester United's hopes of silverware this season are officially over and focus is now turning towards the 2022-23 campaign.

The Red Devils are left focusing on their top-four battle in the Premier League following elimination to Atletico Madrid in the Champions League last 16 this week.

That has surely ended Ralf Rangnick's hopes of landing the managerial position full time, though it remains to be seen who will be in the Old Trafford hot seat come next term.


TOP STORY – UNITED RAMP UP MANAGERIAL SEARCH

The likes of Mauricio Pochettino, Erik ten Hag and Thomas Tuchel have each been touted as contenders to replace Rangnick, but another name may now be in the frame.

According to Spanish outlet Fichajes, Sevilla boss Julen Lopetegui is also being considered for one of the top positions in world football.

Lopetegui has previously managed Real Madrid and the Spain national team and is in his third season with Sevilla, whom he remains under contract with until 2024.


ROUND-UP

- Newcastle United intend to splash the cash when the transfer window reopens at the end of the season and, according to Fichajes, Paris Saint-Germain superstar Neymar is in their sights. The Brazil international was jeered by his own supporters during last week's win against Bordeaux.

- After two years with Tottenham, Fabrizio Romano claims that left-back Sergio Reguilon could be on his way back to Spain in the coming months. Barcelona are said to be monitoring his situation, while Madrid have a buy-back clause of around €40million.

- It could be a busy transfer window for Madrid, who have also been strongly linked with PSG forward Mbappe and Borussia Dortmund's in-demand striker Erling Haaland. However, Goal reports that Los Blancos are losing hope of beating Manchester City to the signature of the latter.

- Man City midfielder Rodri has another three years to run on his contract, but The Telegraph suggests that the Premier League leaders are eager to tie the midfielder down to an even longer deal, with talks between the two parties ongoing.

- La Gazzetta dello Sport reports that Nikola Milenkovic is on the radar of Inter and Man Utd. Inter are said to have made the Fiorentina and Serbia defender one of their primary targets, while United had scouts present to watch him against Bologna last week.

Thomas Tuchel sees no reason to leave Chelsea for Manchester United despite the continued uncertainty at Stamford Bridge.

Sanctions imposed on Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich – a Russian businessman who is claimed to have links to Vladimir Putin – in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine have impacted the club's day-to-day operations.

As they wait on a sale, the Blues cannot engage in contract negotiations or sell tickets or merchandise, while their spending in key areas such as travel is capped.

Meanwhile, United – one of the richest clubs in world football – are looking for a new manager for next season, prompting talk Tuchel could be targeted.

But the Chelsea coach, who confirmed his side would be able to fly to Middlesbrough for Saturday's FA Cup quarter-final, dismissed the suggestion.

Asked for his reaction to the reports, Tuchel said: "There's no reaction at all.

"Do you feel me [being] less committed to the club? Less involved in the club in my situation? I think absolutely not.

"I have said many times that I love to be here and I love to work for Chelsea, and this club has everything that it needs to make me happy. That's why there is no need.

"We have plenty of reasons to stay in the moment here, and that is what we're doing."

A move to Old Trafford would ensure Tuchel's ability to spend in the coming transfer window, which remains uncertain as long as he stays at Chelsea.

But the Champions League-winning coach is confident the London club will be able to stay competitive.

"Maybe players will decide something they would not have decided if the situation had been different. Okay, maybe," he said.

"But there are so many 'ifs' in this; if it comes to this, we will find a solution.

"I still believe Chelsea will stay strong, Chelsea will hopefully stay football first, will hopefully stay a team-first club. I have trust and I believe in our ability to adapt.

"We will find solutions once the situation has cleared, once we are hopefully able to act again."

Although Tuchel was previewing the Boro game – for which Reece James is a doubt, putting his England availability into question with Trent Alexander-Arnold already out – he was speaking moments after Chelsea were drawn against Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-finals.

A clash with Atletico Madrid's tie with Manchester City could prevent Chelsea playing away at the Santiago Bernabeu in the second leg, as was initially indicated, but no change had been made as Tuchel reflected on the draw.

"It's a tough one," he said. "The challenge cannot be much higher than playing the second leg in the Bernabeu with spectators.

"It's a big challenge, but there is also big excitement around this match, around this fixture. We know what's coming. It will be an exciting match and a tough challenge."

Real Madrid will face holders Chelsea in the Champions League quarter-finals, while Manchester City tackle Atletico Madrid.

The clash of 13-time winners Madrid and two-time champions Chelsea will be a repeat of last season's semi-final, which the English side won 3-1 on aggregate, and will mean Los Blancos boss Carlo Ancelotti goes up against his former team.

Madrid's Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois could also face their old club, who are in a state of crisis after owner Roman Abramovich was hit with UK government sanctions.

The winners of that standout tie will progress to a semi-final against City or Atletico, who meet in a tantalising clash that will see coaches Pep Guardiola and Diego Simeone at the heart of the narrative.

Atletico beat Manchester United at the last-16 stage and will return to the north-west of England in pursuit of another major scalp.

Villarreal, who sprung a surprise by knocking out Juventus, have been rewarded with a clash against Bayern Munich, who were 8-2 aggregate winners over Salzburg.

Benfica will face Jurgen Klopp's in-form Liverpool. The Reds are six-time European champions but lost to the Portuguese giants at the last-16 stage in the 2005-06 season, their last meeting in the Champions League.

The two-leg quarter-final ties will be played April 5-6 and April 12-13, with the semi-finals scheduled for April 26-27 and May 3-4.

The Stade de France will stage the final on May 28, after St Petersburg was stripped of the match due to Russian military action in Ukraine.

Quarter-final draw

Chelsea v Real Madrid

Manchester City v Atletico Madrid

Villarreal v Bayern Munich

Benfica v Liverpool

Semi-final draw

Manchester City/Atletico Madrid v Chelsea/Real Madrid

Benfica/Liverpool v Villarreal/Bayern Munich

Cristiano Ronaldo has been heavily linked with an early exit from Manchester United this season.

The Red Devils are out of the Premier League title race and struggling to make the top four.

There is said to be tension surrounding Ronaldo due to Ralf Rangnick's appointment as interim manager.

TOP STORY - RONALDO RE-COMMITS TO MAN UTD

Ronaldo will stay with United next season with interim manager Rangnick set to depart, reports AS.

The 37-year-old forward has committed to United, whom he joined in August on a two-year deal with the option for a third season, as he is confident they will show their ambition by making a major appointment with their new permanent manager.

United were eliminated from the Champions League this week by Atletico Madrid and are struggling to reach next season's edition, sitting fifth in the Premier League.

ROUND-UP

- Jesse Lingard has been offered to Italian clubs Milan and Roma as he prepares to leave United as a free agent, reports Nicolo Schira. West Ham  and Newcastle United are also interested in the 29-year-old England international.

- Benfica have slapped a £67million price tag on striker  Darwin Nunez , who is being pursued by Manchester United , Arsenal , Liverpool and Newcastle ,   according to The Mirror.

- Foot Mercato reports  Arsenal will enter the race to sign Real Madrid winger  Eden Hazard , with Chelsea previously linked to their former player.

- Fichajes claims  Atletico Madrid are considering a move for Athletic Bilbao head coach Marcelino should Diego Simeone opt to leave the Spanish champions.

While praising his side's win over Galatasaray in the Europa League, Barcelona coach Xavi says it can mean nothing with Sunday's El Clasico in mind.

The Blaugrana will have to back up quickly from Thursday's 2-1 win on aggregate, progressing to the quarter-finals in the process, with a trip to the Santiago Bernabeu against Real Madrid awaiting. 

"Today was an important game, because we are playing for a European trophy," Xavi told reporters after the match. "We want to go far in this competition, and we are very happy to be in the quarter-finals, as we deserve to be there.

"Yes, we are in good form at the moment heading into El Clasico, but that means nothing.

"I have experienced everything about those games, playing badly and then winning or playing well and then they beat us. Sunday will be a different story, a very difficult and complex one."

Barcelona's win in Istanbul was partly clouded by injuries to Sergino Dest and Gerard Pique, who both had to come off in the second half.

With Barca already leading 2-1, Dest produced a desperate but perfectly-timed sliding tackle on Muhammed Aturkoglu in the 55th minute, injuring his hamstring in the process.

Dest’s injury comes at an inconvenient time for club, with Sunday’s Clasico awaiting, and country, with Gregg Berhalter announcing Dest in the United States national team’s latest squad only hours after the final whistle.

Gerard Pique was also a second-half substitute, aggravating a groin injury coming into the match and coming off for Clement Lenglet in the 81st minute.

"In the end he told me that it was difficult for him to sprint and we decided to make the change," Xavi told Movistar+ post-match.

"We weren’t there to give it away. We only won with one goal, and Pique has had discomfort for a month."

Though Dest's status is questionable for Sunday, it is as yet unclear whether Pique will be fit in time for Barcelona's clash against their fierce rivals.

Real Madrid have donated €1million to help alleviate the needs of the displaced population of Ukraine amid the ongoing conflict with Russia.

Ukraine was invaded by Russia three weeks ago and almost three million citizens have now fled the country, according to the United Nations (UN).

European football governing body UEFA recently pledged €1m to assist Ukrainian children, and Los Blancos have matched that sum through the Real Madrid Foundation.

The Spanish club made the announcement on their official website on Wednesday, with the funds going to the Red Cross and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

"Real Madrid will donate 1m euros, within the framework of the 'Everyone with Ukraine' campaign, launched on March 5 by the Real Madrid Foundation," the statement read. 

Madrid also announced the 'Everyone with Ukraine' campaign will continue as long as necessary to support those in need.

Mohamed Salah is arguably the best player in the world on current form, though Liverpool have not yet tied him down to a new deal.

Talks over fresh terms for the 29-year-old have been ongoing for some time, but nothing is close to being agreed.

With his contract up in 2023, Salah could become one of the most sought-after free agents.

 

TOP STORY – MO HAPPY TO WAIT

According to Fabrizio Romano, Salah is perfectly happy at Liverpool and is not considering pushing through a move to Spanish giants Real Madrid or Barcelona.

However, there has been no further progress on the contract talks.

Salah, who has scored 28 goals already this season across all competitions, remains fully focused on Liverpool but could leave on a free transfer at the end of next season.

 

ROUND-UP 

- Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland will demand that a release clause is included in his contract should he sign for Manchester City, reports The Sun. The Daily Mail suggested a deal was close.

- Bundesliga reporter Jan Aage Fjortoft, however, has claimed that Haaland is of interest to Bayern Munich, who may be faced with the prospect of losing Robert Lewandowski.

- Bayern are also said to be interested in Barcelona full-back Sergino Dest. That is according to a report by Fichajes.

- Foot Mercato say that Neymar will be offered back to Barcelona, as Paris Saint-Germain prepare for a "shake up" ahead of next season.

- Juventus and Milan, meanwhile, are interested in Real Madrid midfielder Dani Ceballos, according to Calciomercato.

Barcelona star Sergio Busquets has labelled Karim Benzema as a "luxury" for Real Madrid and the "most decisive player in LaLiga".

Carlo Ancelotti's Madrid sit 10 points clear at the LaLiga summit after a 3-0 win at Real Mallorca on Monday, with their next fixture the small matter of hosting Xavi's in-form Barca in Sunday's Clasico.

The league leaders have largely been inspired by Benzema and Vinicius Junior, who have been involved in 18 of the past 22 Madrid top-flight goals - with 10 strikes and four assists for the France striker in this time, and four goals and four assists for the Brazilian winger.

Indeed, Benzema - whose hat-trick guided Madrid past Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League last-16 - has scored 32 goals this season in all competitions, his joint-highest tally for Los Blancos in a single campaign (also 32 in 2011-12).

He has also already equalled his best season in the Spanish top flight in terms of assists (11, as in 2012-13), and Busquets heaped praise on the forward in an interview with Vamos on Movistar Plus.

Asked whether Benzema was the best player in the league, Busquets said: "Yes, for sure, at a statistical level, in terms of goals, of confidence. For them, it is a luxury to have him."

Blaugrana midfielder Busquets also appreciates the quality of Casemiro, who leads Madrid in the league for both tackles won (47) and successful duels (206) while ranking fourth for completed passes (1,351).

"If he is not the best, he is among the best, you just have to look at the games and his career," Busquets said of Madrid's Brazil international.

"In the end, you look at the goals and assists. Our task is important, we are in the middle of the team, controlling everything and ordering. I admire him, really."

Barca moved up to third in LaLiga after a 4-0 thrashing of Osasuna, their fourth consecutive top-flight win, but Busquets is aware of the tough threat Ancelotti's Madrid will pose.

"Everything is different. The self-esteem, the state of mind, the confidence. A new coach arrived who made several changes and brought his philosophy that he gave us so many years ago," Busquets said.

"The new players have been understanding it little by little. We are a more complete team. We still have a long way to go, but this is the way.

"It will be a test [on Sunday] because Madrid are the leaders and compete with us to win all the titles. We have to be realistic, we are going to compete, but then hopefully the result will fall in our favour."

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