Where will Kylian Mbappe be playing next season is a question being asked across Europe.

The Paris Saint-Germain star has been tipped to join Real Madrid.

Should Mbappe depart Paris, PSG are reportedly drawing up a list of replacements.

 

TOP STORY – KANE AND SALAH WANTED IN PARIS

Paris Saint-Germain have set their sights on Tottenham forward Harry Kane and Liverpool star Mohamed Salah as possible replacements for Kylian Mbappe, according to Telefoot.

Mbappe has been heavily linked with LaLiga champions Real Madrid, though PSG remain in negotiations over a contract extension.

While PSG are still hopeful, the Ligue 1 holders are eyeing the Premier League should Mbappe leave the French capital.

Kane is reportedly wanted by Manchester United and Manchester City, while Salah has previously been linked with Madrid and Barcelona.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato reports Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid are chasing Inter midfielder Nicolo Barella. The Sun adds Chelsea are also interested in the Italy star.

Juventus and PSG could exchange Mauro Icardi and Paulo Dybala in a swap deal, says Corriere dello Sport. Icardi's future is up in the air, despite only joining PSG permanently from Inter last year, while countryman Dybala is reportedly nearing an exit.

- AS Diario claims United are keeping tabs on Villarreal centre-back Pau Torres, who has also been linked with neighbours City. United have also been credited with interest in Sevilla defender Jules Kounde, RB Leipzig's Liverpool target Ibrahima Konate as well as Madrid captain Sergio Ramos and team-mate Raphael Varane.

- Eintracht Frankfurt boss Adi Hutter is set to replace outgoing boss Marco Rose at Borussia Monchengladbach, reports Kicker. Rose is poised to take charge of Borussia Dortmund.

On many a Sunday, I realize that people have looked at the stories they have seen throughout the week with different lenses. I have my own personal take on some of these trending issues and I will share them with you. Welcome to #INCASEYOUMISSEDIT the 2021 edition with Mariah.

   A 2021 risk-free IPL sets the stage for T20 World Cup.

The 14th edition of the Indian Premier League, IPL is off to a competitive start despite concerns over spikes in Covod-19 infections in India. India has averaged 90,000 new infections daily but the richest T20 tournament has proceeded with eight teams playing 52 games at six venues.

On April 1, India became the second country after the U.S to report 100,000 new cases in a single day.

Before the start of the tournament, four cricketers and a team consultant tested positive for Covid-19 and were isolated. In addition, 10 members of the ground staff at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium tested positive.

The stadium has been earmarked to host 10 games, and as such, the number of infected grounds men raised questions regarding the tournament being played in six cities when spectators are not allowed.

There is no doubt that managing these bubbles will be difficult but once executed properly it will go some way into reassuring organizers of the ICC men’s T20 World Cup scheduled for October.

Cancelling the tournament would cause massive financial losses and have a potentially disastrous ripple effect if a large number of players become infected. The spillover could significantly impact India’s cricket calendar which includes 14 tests, 12 ODI’s, 22 T20’s as well as the World T20.

What is making a difference are the vaccines that are now available.

  Real Madrid looks dangerous.

Saturday’s El Clasico had a bit of everything as defending La Liga champions Real Madrid beat Barcelona 2-1 at the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium to move to the top of the table.

There was controversy, yellow cards, goals, rain, and a thrilling end.

Los Blancos, fresh of their 3-1 Champions League win over Liverpool on Tuesday, went into the match with similar energy. When Karim Benzema scored the opening goal, his ninth in the last seven games, he became one of four Real Madrid players to ever score in consecutive El Clasico encounters joining Ruud van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.

Toni Kroos doubled the lead before half-time and even though Óscar Mingueza García pulling one back late in the second half, Real Madrid was simply tactically superior.

 The firepower and finesse displayed by Real Madrid clearly demonstrate that they are not ready to concede the title without a fight.

  Draymond Green knows better and should do better.

Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green last Thursday said his tweets about the pay disparity between men and women’s sports have been “misconstrued”. “I am on their side,” he declared.

His response came after U.S women’s soccer team star Megan Rapinoe lashed out saying Green’s tweets were “unfortunate” and that she expected he would have had a more informed opinion.

In his tweets posted on March 27, Green blamed women for making “complaints rather than taking action to reduce the pay gap between men and women playing the same sport.  Green’s response that they want the same thing is not enough.

Initially, I found his tweets quite alarming, especially his use of the word “complaints” because he comes from a household where his mother Mary Baker is very expressive and he has been cited saying he has adopted that quality from her. There is no doubt that Green wants to see the women thrive but he can do better.

The first step to allyship is listening and then assisting. The first response of posting on Twitter did more harm than good.  The fact that he is now the centre of the conversation shifts the focus from the issue of wage parity. It would be only fair that Green use his political capital and resources to assist where he can.

 

 

 

Lucas Vazquez is set to miss the rest of the season after suffering a knee injury in Real Madrid's 2-1 Clasico win over Barcelona.

The 29-year-old, who started at right-back in Saturday's LaLiga clash, was hurt by a challenge with Sergio Busquets and was substituted with two minutes left of the first half.

Madrid announced on Sunday that medical tests have shown Vazquez has strained the posterior ligament of his left knee.

The injury is almost certain to keep Vazquez out of action for the rest of 2020-21.

The loss of Vazquez, who has made 34 appearances in all competitions this term, is a blow to Zinedine Zidane's hopes of sustaining a LaLiga and Champions League challenge.

Dani Carvajal remains sidelined with a hamstring problem after playing only twice since the turn of the year, leaving Alvaro Odriozola as Madrid's remaining option at right-back.

Los Blancos went top of the table with their Clasico win, although Atletico Madrid will return to the summit if they avoid defeat to Real Betis.

They face Liverpool at Anfield on Wednesday in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie, leading 3-1 from the first leg.

What does the future hold for Kylian Mbappe and Cristiano Ronaldo?

Mbappe has been heavily linked with Real Madrid, while Ronaldo's future at Juventus is far from certain.

A possible switch to the Spanish capital could reportedly impact Ronaldo.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE OUT, RONALDO IN AT PSG?

Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo could join Paris Saint-Germain if Kylian Mbappe leaves for Real Madrid, according to Tuttosport.

Mbappe has long been tipped to swap Ligue 1 holders PSG for LaLiga champions Madrid, who have been linked with Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland and Inter forward Romelu Lukaku.

If Mbappe makes the move to the Santiago Bernabeu, it could send Ronald to Paris as Juve look to reduce their wage bill in Turin.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Athletic reports Harry Kane will ask to leave Tottenham if they do not qualify for next season's Champions League. The Spurs star has been linked with Manchester United, Manchester City and Madrid.

Barcelona are eyeing Tottenham defender Davinson Sanchez, claims Mundo Deportivo. The LaLiga giants are not rumoured to be interested in Bayern Munich's Jerome Boateng, who is set to depart Bavaria at season's end.

- The Mirror says Liverpool are interested in signing Barca star Pedri, who reportedly has a release clause around £70million (€81m).

United have been warned West Ham will not accept an offer to include Jesse Lingard as part of a deal to prise Declan Rice to Old Trafford, claims The Sun. United are also keen to bring back Sam Johnstone from West Brom if David de Gea or Dean Henderson leave.

- Bild says Liverpool are entering the final stages of a deal for RB Leipzig defender Ibrahima Konate. Premier League rivals United have also been linked.

Ronald Koeman insisted Barcelona remain upbeat and optimistic in their pursuit of the LaLiga title, despite suffering Clasico pain at the hands of Real Madrid.

Barca left the Spanish capital emptyhanded after Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos guided defending champions Madrid to a 2-1 win on Saturday.

Oscar Mingueza set up a dramatic final half-hour with his second goal of the season for Barca, while Madrid midfielder Casemiro was sent off in the 90th minute.

But Madrid held on at a sodden Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium to seal a third consecutive win against Barca in all competitions for the first time since 1978 as they provisionally moved top of the table, with Atletico Madrid in action on Sunday.

Barca are third and a point off the pace, though they could fall four points adrift if Atletico beat Real Betis.

"Of course we're still upbeat and optimistic because we've produced a serious performance," Barca head coach Koeman told reporters. "We are fighting.

"We lost a match against a team who are fighting to win the league but there are nine matches and all the matches are important for the three best teams.

"It's difficult for all three of us. We will come back, we will fight until the last match."

Barca attempted 12 shots in total in the second half, three of those on target, and nearly snatched a point when Ilaix Moriba struck the crossbar in the 94th minute.

But, Koeman became the first Barcelona coach to lose his first two LaLiga games against Madrid since Joaquim Rife in 1980 (also the first two).

Koeman could not hide his frustration post-match, having felt his side should have had a penalty when substitute Martin Braithwaite went down in the box under pressure from Ferland Mendy.

The former Netherlands boss said: "I'm not the only person who's upset about the decision, or lack of decision.

"The players feel disappointed because of this decision by the referee to not give the penalty and there's players who have been playing for years for Barcelona, so I know. But once again not all decisions were right.

"You should ask the players but I would like to include myself. We know that we've played a good match football wise, the first part, the first half, ok, we were not up to our standards. Real Madrid defended very well in the first half.

"There's no [league] match next week and the title [Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao] is at stake. We have a week to prepare for a difficult match so we'll carry on and we are strong."

Lionel Messi, meanwhile, failed to score in seven consecutive Clasicos in all competitions for the first time in his career.

Barcelona are hopeful superstar captain Lionel Messi has not played his last El Clasico for the LaLiga giants, said director Guillermo Amor.

Messi is out of contract at the end of the season and his future with Barca is far from certain amid strong links to Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City.

New Barca president Joan Laporta remains determined to re-sign Messi, who has spent his entire senior career at Camp Nou.

Amor was asked about Messi's future after Barca lost Saturday's Clasico 2-1 at Real Madrid.

"We hope not," Amor told reporters following the match when asked if it was Messi's final Clasico showdown.

"We hope he decides to stay at Barcelona and plays many more Clasicos with Barcelona." 

Messi had seven attempts on goal against Madrid, including when he hit the post with an audacious effort directly from a corner towards the end of the first half.

No Barcelona player had more shots, but Messi could not find a way through in what could potentially be his final tangle with Madrid in this famous fixture.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner has now gone seven Clasicos in all competitions without scoring – the longest drought of his career against Los Blancos.

Barca missed the chance to move top of the league standings on Saturday – Ronald Koeman's men left in third position and a point adrift of Madrid and Atletico Madrid.

Real Madrid prevailed 2-1 over Barcelona in a rain-soaked and chaotic Clasico in the Spanish capital.

Saturday's showdown proved a contrasting story for the two star forwards on display as Zinedine Zidane's men replaced city rivals Atletico Madrid at the top of LaLiga.

There were also a couple of moments of history before a red card in a frantic finale.

Here, we look at some of the standout statistics to emerge from the latest chapter in the eternal rivalry.

 

Seven not heaven for Messi

Lionel Messi had seven attempts on goal, including when he hit the post with an audacious effort directly from a corner towards the end of the first half.

No Barcelona player had more shots, but Messi could not find a way through in what could potentially be his final tangle with Madrid in this famous fixture.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner has now gone seven Clasicos in all competitions without scoring – the longest drought of his career against Los Blancos.

Simply the Benz

At the head of Madrid's attack, Karim Benzema simply cannot stop scoring, irrespective of the opponents.

His sensational backheel flick to convert Lucas Vazquez's 13th-minute cross was a finish that is sure to be cherished for years to come.

Benzema has now scored in his past seven LaLiga games, netting nine times overall during this period.

The Frenchman is the fourth Madrid player in the 21st century to have scored in seven consecutive top-flight outings after Ruud van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.

Kroos ends dead ball torpor

From Ronaldo to David Beckham, Madrid have rarely been shy of free-kick specialists.

It comes as a surprise, therefore, that Toni Kroos' strike on Saturday made him the first player in white to score a direct free-kick in El Clasico this century.

Sure, it deflected off Sergino Dest and bounced off Jordi Alba's head on the goal line, but they all count. Right, Toni?

Mignueza opens his account

Oscar Mingueza endured a torrid first half as Vinicius Junior ran him ragged, but the Barcelona defender bounced back after the break.

Mingueza appeared in the Madrid penalty area to convert when substitute Antoine Griezmann dummied Alba's cross.

The previous Barca defender to score on his first appearance in El Clasico was Marc Bartra in the 2014 Copa de Rey final.

Ref on Casemiro's case

Mingueza was also involved in another key moment, when Casemiro fouled him outside the Madrid box in the final minute of normal time.

That earned the combative Brazilian his second booking and only the second sending off of his Madrid career.

During this time, Casemiro has committed 478 fouls in all competitions. All in all, not a bad ratio.

Nacho was delighted to pick up three pivotal points in the LaLiga title race as Real Madrid demonstrated their strength in depth with a 2-1 triumph over rivals Barcelona on Saturday.

Zinedine Zidane's Madrid moved to the top of the table in Spain – albeit potentially for only 24 hours with Atletico Madrid playing on Sunday – by completing the league double over their Clasico rivals Barca for the first time since the 2006-07 season.

Reigning LaLiga champions Madrid scored both of their goals in the first half, Karim Benzema getting the first with an audacious back-heeled finish before Toni Kroos doubled the lead, albeit his free-kick took a deflection to beat goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

While Oscar Mingueza halved the deficit on the hour mark, Madrid's centre-back pairing of Nacho and Eder Militao helped make sure Madrid retained their advantage through to the final whistle.

"They're three very important points in terms of the title race," Nacho said. "We now have to push on because there's still a long way to go.

"Winning a Clasico is always special and a nice thing, especially with the way the league table is so tight, with everyone fighting to win the league, it's a very important win."

Madrid finished the contest, which saw the second half played out amid heavy downpours, with 10 men – midfielder Casemiro dismissed in the 90th minute.

On the game itself, Nacho said:  "We were very comfortable on the counter-attack. Barcelona like to have a lot of the ball, they can hurt you and you have to defend well and we had to dig in, but we got a two-goal lead which helped us to grow in to it.

"We had to work hard, but we got the win, which is the most important thing."

The home team were once again without captain Sergio Ramos – who missed his first LaLiga Clasico game having appeared in 31 consecutive showdowns – due to injury, while fellow centre-back Raphael Varane is still isolating after a positive COVID-19 test result.

However, having performed admirably in the 3-1 Champions League win over Liverpool in midweek, the combination of Nacho and Militao again impressed at the heart of the Madrid defence.

Lionel Messi could not help Barcelona rescue a point in an eventful finish; he has now failed to score in seven successive games against Madrid in all competitions for the first time in his career.

"We have a very strong squad, we're all contributing in big games like today and the other day against Liverpool," Nacho said.

"The coach believes in all of us and we're at 100 per cent. We still have a lot of really big things left to keep fighting for."

Barca felt aggrieved they were not awarded a penalty after substitute Martin Braithwaite tangled with Madrid full-back Ferland Mendy. 

"I was just the wrong side of Mendy and I don't know what to tell you know. When I've seen it, I'll be able to have an opinion on it," Nacho said of the incident.

Zinedine Zidane rejected Ronald Koeman's complaints about the officials after Real Madrid beat bitter rivals Barcelona 2-1 to go top of LaLiga.

Madrid were in scintillating form before half-time, with Karim Benzema's ingenious opener followed by a deflected free-kick from Toni Kroos.

Federico Valverde hit the post as Madrid threatened to run riot but, after Lionel Messi tested the upright directly from a corner, Barca improved and Oscar Mingueza reduced the arrears with an hour played.

Referee Jesus Gil Manzano and his colleagues drew Koeman's ire during a frantic finale, first when Martin Braithwaite had a penalty appeals rejected and his tangle with Ferland Mendy was not examined on the pitchside monitor.

Also, amid torrential rain, Gil Manzano had to change his radio set and Koeman did not feel adequate stoppage time was added as a result.

Nevertheless, Zidane preferred to focus on the performance of his players.

"As always, it's an interpretation of everyone. Everyone has their own opinion whether it's a penalty or not," he told LaLiga TV.

"Of course, the stoppage time, that's a different case completely. Whether it's four, five or six it's the referee that makes the decision.

"I don't have much more to say in that regard.

"It's an important victory for us and we did our job. We had more than enough chances to kill off the game a lot earlier.

"Barcelona are a very good side and we still managed to play our own game and were in the lead for the entirety, basically.

"We can be very happy with that. But I'm not going to go into any other details in the game.

"We can't just talk about the referees. We played our own game and it’s a very important victory for us."

Zidane lost Lucas Vazquez to injury before the break and substituted Benzema, Valverde, Kroos and Vinicius Junior during the second period despite the fraught nature of the contest, with Casemiro earning a second booking for a foul on Mingueza.

Madrid face Liverpool at Anfield on Wednesday, eight days on from their 3-1 Champions League quarter final first-leg win over the reigning Premier League champions.

"They have been two very demanding matches. We have to rest well, the players are exhausted again," Zidane added at a post-match news conference.

"Physically we are at our limit. It's clear we are at our limit. We're struggling to finish our matches but we're alive."

Barcelona forward Ousmane Dembele said he is upbeat over his future with the LaLiga giants amid ongoing speculation.

Dembele is out of contract in 2022 and reports claim the Frenchman is nearing a three-year extension at Camp Nou.

The 23-year-old, who has been hampered by injuries since arriving from Borussia Dortmund in 2017, was heavily linked with Manchester United prior to the 2020-21 campaign.

Asked about his future before Saturday's 2-1 Clasico loss to bitter rivals and reigning LaLiga champions Real Madrid, Dembele told beIN SPORTS: "I still have a year of contract left.

"There hasn't been a discussion with the club yet, I'm happy, and I feel good.

"There is the new president who has arrived and whom I do not know too well, but he is very close to the players. We'll see how it goes."

Dembele has scored five goals in 24 LaLiga appearances this season and 10 across all competitions for Barca.

But the France international struggled as Barca missed the chance to move top of the league standings on Saturday – Ronald Koeman's men left in third position and a point adrift of Madrid and Atletico Madrid.

Koeman became the first Barcelona head coach to lose his first two LaLiga games against Real Madrid since Joaquim Rife in 1980.

Barca captain Lionel Messi, meanwhile, has failed to score in seven consecutive Clasico showdowns in all competitions for the first time in his career.

Ronald Koeman insisted Barcelona were denied a "clear penalty" in their 2-1 loss to Real Madrid as he hit out at the officiating in Saturday's dramatic El Clasico.

Barca fell to a third consecutive defeat to bitter rivals Madrid in all competitions for the first time since 1978 as they missed out on the chance to move top of LaLiga.

Oscar Mingueza set up a thrilling final half-hour at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano when prodding in to halve the deficit following first-half strikes from Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos. 

The visitors attempted 12 shots in total in the second half, three of those on target, and nearly snatched a point when Ilaix Moriba struck the crossbar in the 94th minute.

However, Koeman felt his side should have had a penalty when fellow substitute Martin Braithwaite went down in the box under pressure from Ferland Mendy.

And the Dutchman also questioned why more time was not added on at the end as a portion of the four allotted minutes was taken up by the officials resolving a technical issue.
 
"If you're a Barca fan or a Barca player, you're very unhappy with the result because I think there were two clear decisions that the referee didn't make that would have changed the game," he told LaLiga TV.

"I think we weren't good at all in the first 45. We weren't good in attack and we weren't good in defence.

"In the second half we improved but I only ask for a bit better when making key decisions because they are decisions that could have cost us the game and eventually they did.

"I think the added time as well was four minutes and it should have been added on. 

"He only added two minutes because of the issue with his microphone and there were quite a few more stoppages, also with the possible penalty towards the end. Once again, we have to accept it and shut up."

Defeat for Barca was their first in 20 league games since early December and saw them drop to third in LaLiga, a point behind Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, the latter of whom play their game in hand against Real Betis on Sunday.

When asked by reporter Ricardo Sierra if the two decisions that went against his side were defining moments, Koeman said: "Yes, of course. 

"The issue with the referee's microphone is a different issue completely. Obviously there were many things on the pitch that affected the result overall

"But I do think we should have gotten a clear penalty towards the end and I don't know why it wasn't reviewed by VAR.

"The linesman is there, he should assist with the decision. Everyone probably thinks it's a penalty. Do you think it's a penalty?"

Sierra failed to respond to Koeman's question, prompting the Barca boss to cut short the interview.

With this defeat, Koeman is the first Barcelona coach to lose his first two LaLiga games against Madrid since Joaquim Rife in 1980 (also the first two).

To borrow a line from Meatloaf, two out of three ain't bad for Real Madrid. 

A 2-1 triumph over Barcelona sees Zinedine Zidane's side take over at the top of the table. Their stay at the LaLiga summit could only last 24 hours - long-time leaders and noisy neighbours Atletico can go back above them if they take a point from their game in hand - but, make no mistake, Los Blancos are in the thick of a three-way title race.

A Clasico win - meaning they have won both league meetings in a season for the first time since 2007-08 - followed on from a 3-1 result against Liverpool in the Champions League. 

Just like in their midweek success in European action, Madrid scored twice before half-time to seize control. Barca will rue the deflection on Toni Kroos' free-kick that doubled the advantage, but they were undone for the opener by an audacious finish that capped a flowing attack.

Karim Benzema's 13th-minute goal continued a hot streak for a striker who keeps on scoring while seemingly waiting to see which rival will turn up to try and take his job.

His back-heeled finish to beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen at the near post made it seven league games in a row where he has found the net. He becomes the fourth player for the club to manage such a streak in LaLiga: Cristiano Ronaldo achieved the feat four times, while Ruud van Nistelrooy (2007) and Gareth Bale (2018) are the other names on the list.

Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland have been heavily linked with Madrid, but Benzema remains the man right now.

Since Ronaldo departed the club in 2018, the Frenchman has stepped up to become the focal point in the front line. He has scored 21 LaLiga goals in each of the previous two seasons, while this term he is already up to 19. With plenty of games remaining, his career-best tally of 24, managed in 2015-16 despite making just 27 appearances, is well within his sights.

If Madrid were to retain their title, his role was always going to be significant, despite the transfer speculation. Hopes of a second successive crown appeared distant, however, when they suffered a 2-1 defeat to Levante on January 30, at which stage the champions sat seven points behind Atleti, who also had two games in hand.

Eder Militao was sent off in that Levante loss, dismissed after just eight minutes and 12 seconds. It was a short-lived third start in LaLiga this term, while the Brazilian defender had also been in the Madrid team that suffered a shock Copa del Rey exit to Alcoyano 10 days earlier.

The big-money signing from Porto in 2019 had yet to convince in the Spanish capital, to put it nicely.

His role may have remained as someone on the periphery of the first-team picture, too, had Zidane not suddenly been faced with a shortage of options to line up at the heart of his defence. However, with captain Sergio Ramos again sidelined and Raphael Varane self-isolating after testing positive for COVID-19, Militao stepped up to show his value during a critical stretch for his club.

The centre-back made a game-high six clearances on Saturday, as well as three blocks. Forget the heavy rain that beseiged Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano throughout the second half; a Barca tide came his way, yet - alongside Nacho - he made sure Madrid did not go under.

Just like against Liverpool, the makeshift pairing defied expectations. A potential point of weakness has instead helped fortify the team, with a partnership born out of necessity helping to change the outlook ahead of the run-in. If they can do something similar in the second leg at Anfield on Wednesday, a double remains distinctly doable.

Perhaps, too, Militao has shown that there can be life after Ramos, whose contract is fast running out at Madrid, just as there has been since Ronaldo said his farewells and headed for Turin.

At half-time in Saturday's Clasico, Barcelona had out-passed Real Madrid by 390 to 172 and enjoyed 69 per cent of the possession. A fat lot of good it did them.

Madrid were 2-0 up having had more shots on goal, with eight to Barca's six and more on target (3-1). Federico Valverde had also hit the post as things threatened to get truly ugly for the Blaugrana.

Ronald Koeman has seen a remarkable turnaround since the new year, with Barca transformed from also-rans to many people's title favourites heading into this 2-1 defeat to their bitter rivals.

But against elite opponents, as in painful reverses earlier this season at the hands of Madrid, Atletico, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain, they again came up short. For that, their coach must take his share of the blame.

During a prior run of 13 wins and one draw in LaLiga in 2021, Koeman frequently deployed a 3-4-2-1 formation and the result was some swashbuckling performances, most notably a 6-1 routing of Real Sociedad before last month's international break.

This week's last-gasp 1-0 victory against Real Valladolid was far more laboured and Koeman blinked. Antoine Griezmann, having formed a free-flowing forward trident with Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembele, was consigned to the bench at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano.

Dembele was the match-winning hero against Valladolid but here cut an isolated figure as a lone striker, with Messi dropping deeper and deeper into midfield, trying to make something – anything – happen.

For all their numbers in the middle, Barcelona could not turn their possession into clear chances, nor could their apparent control prevent them from being eviscerated time and again on the break.

Karim Benzema's backheel finish for the opener was of the highest class, but Barca looked clueless as the white shirts rushed towards them.

Perhaps mindful of his poor record in big games this season, Koeman abandoned his successful formula for an approach that left Barca painfully between two stools.

 

Messi audaciously shot directly from a corner just before half-time, outfoxing Thibaut Courtois with vicious dip to hit the post. It was the latest of countless demonstrations of his genius in this fixture, but it was also a shocking indictment of Barca's overall play that it felt like a legitimate ploy.

The enduring and repeated image of the first period was Oscar Mingueza sprinting back towards his own goal wearing an anguished look as the effervescent Vinicius Junior showed him a clean pair of heels. Madrid's Brazilian forward enjoyed a career-best outing against Liverpool this week and was in no mood for the fun to stop.

Mingueza tired of that torment and took himself off to the Madrid box in the 60th minute to shin one in after Griezmann – on at half-time – dummied a cross from Jordi Alba, the full-back who was all at sea on the first goal before failing to head Toni Kroos' deflected free-kick off the line

Having made defenders look silly earlier on, it was Vinicius' turn to revert to slapstick as he broke clear with a chance to seal the points, only to botch a pass to Benzema where the idea was bad and the execution was worse.

To add to a mounting sense of chaos in torrential rain, Zinedine Zidane started taking off all his best players with an eye on Anfield.

The concluding moments were an encapsulation of this undulating LaLiga title race – hard to predict, full of errors and utterly captivating. Martin Braithwaite had a soft penalty appeal rejected amid great fury, Casemiro clumped into Mingueza and his perpetual mayhem to earn a second yellow card.

Top since November, Atletico Madrid will go back above their neighbours at the summit if they beat Eibar on Sunday. All three heavyweights will still fancy their chances, including Barca on account of their form leading into this weekend.

That is why this felt like such a missed opportunity for Koeman. His team have been the best in the country since January but he decided not to be bold when the stakes were highest.

For all the bridges built with a distant fanbase, turbulent boardroom and a star player whose future remains in the balance, this was a damaging backwards step.

And what of Messi? As things stand, his last act in this eternal rivalry will be delivering a free-kick for Illaix Moriba to hit the crossbar before a roving Marc-Andre ter Stegen hacked away at the rebound and booted the ball up Trincao's backside.

Perhaps he'll hang around after all.

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

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

Oscar Mingueza set up a dramatic final half-hour with his second goal of the season and Casemiro was sent off in the 90th minute, but Madrid held on at a sodden Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium to seal a third consecutive win against Barca in all competitions for the first time since 1978.

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

Jurgen Klopp feared Liverpool were living the "same old story" against Aston Villa, but hopes his side's response to falling behind can help them against Real Madrid in the Champions League.

The Reds finally recorded a first home win in the Premier League in 2021, though the champions had to rally from a goal down at half-time following Ollie Watkins' opener at Anfield.

Mohamed Salah drew Liverpool level before Trent Alexander-Arnold struck a superb stoppage-time winner, the full-back's goal coming with England manager Gareth Southgate watching on inside the stadium.

Klopp was particularly pleased with the spirit shown by his players, with Liverpool ending a six-game losing streak at Anfield in the league. The 2-1 triumph aids their hopes of a top-four finish this season, while it also offers a timely boost ahead of hosting Madrid in midweek.

"Obviously, the other game [against Arsenal] was really, really good, but today seemed to be the same old story, if you like," the Liverpool boss said.

"We played well but we made one mistake – which is not the biggest mistake in the world – to give them the opportunity to score, and they do. We score an equaliser, which was a great goal – a great pass, great link-up play, all these kinds of things – and then you get the information it is offside.

"We go in at half-time and it's a little bit like the same story again. But it was decided long ago and we have accepted that it’s going to be a bumpy season for us, we have to strike back again, and again, and again.

"The boys did. It took a while until we scored, but we scored a really nice goal. Then, in our situation, we had to increase a little bit the risk, took off a centre-back [Ozan Kabak] for [Xherdan] Shaqiri.

"Then we scored this wonderful goal for 2-1. It was the best goal for ages, emotionally. I'm really happy for the three points."

Liverpool ended an eight-match winless run in the Premier League at their own ground. In doing so, they scored as many goals against Villa as they did across that shocking streak.

Klopp said in his media conference: "It's no secret that it's quite a bumpy season for us. We have to fight through and if, in the end, we finish in a Champions League spot, then great.

"But it's tricky. I'm not surprised any more when things like the first half happen, I'm interested in the reaction. I liked the reaction. If we didn't turn the situation around previously, that's why we lost six games in a row at home, which should not happen - but it happened."

Next up is the return fixture in the quarter-final tie with Madrid, who triumphed 3-1 in the opening leg on Spanish soil.

While making clear his players will give it their all in attempting to turn the situation around, Klopp appreciates they face a tall order against opponents who were so clinical in the first meeting.

"We need a perfect performance on Wednesday if we want to have a chance – just a chance," Klopp said.

"I really think that with the way we played – and the way Real Madrid played there – it doesn't look very promising, but the good thing is we can play better.

"Real Madrid doesn't come here and think they are already through. It's going to be a tough one, but we will give it a try, I can promise.

"This helps, of course. When you are in the moment and win everything, you don't feel the intensity, you just want to play the next game – you would play the next day if you could. 

"Obviously, for us in the moment, it's not that easy. We have to work really hard. We have to create five chances to score a goal, or 10 to score. You have go through that, you cannot change it just because you want to. You have to work for it. We did that against a strong opponent, a very important three points.

"Whatever it gives us for Wednesday, we will use."

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