Carlo Ancelotti recognised Real Madrid had no answer to Kylian Mbappe in Tuesday's defeat to Paris Saint-Germain, acknowledging the match-winner was "unstoppable".

PSG claimed a slender 1-0 win over Madrid at the Parc des Princes to take a first-leg lead to the Santiago Bernabeu next month.

Mbappe got the decisive goal right at the end, skipping between a couple of defenders before firing through Thibaut Courtois' legs.

But Mbappe had terrorised the Madrid defence throughout, managing seven shots in total, drawing some vital saves from Courtois.

Mbappe also won the penalty that Lionel Messi had saved, with the France striker rising to the occasion against the club many expect him to join at the end of the season.

Ancelotti has rarely shied away from declaring his admiration for Mbappe, and he saluted the 23-year-old's show-stopping display.

"Mbappe is unstoppable," Ancelotti was quoted as saying by Marca.

"We have tried to control him. [Eder] Militao has done very well but [Mbappe] can always invent something out of nothing, and he created at the last minute."

In contrast to Mbappe's, Madrid's performance was significantly lacking in purpose, almost appearing to play for a draw from the outset.

They failed to get a shot on target for only the second time in a Champions League game since Opta records began (2003-04).

In fact, their 0.14 expected goals (xG) is Madrid's worst in a Champions League match since registering just 0.05 xG against Borussia Dortmund in April 2013.

Explaining their issues, Ancelotti continued: "We've done quite well in defence but we haven't been very aggressive.

"We lacked something with the ball, we've missed many passes and it took a lot to get out of their pressure.

"[Marco] Asensio and Vini [Vinicius Junior], [Karim] Benzema as well, they didn't get many balls. With the ball we didn't do as we wanted.

"We tried to start from the back but it didn't work out. The low block had to be more aggressive, but it wasn't a conservative approach. It didn't work out for us, getting the ball as we know."

Benzema was withdrawn in the second half after making his comeback following over three weeks on the sidelines with a hamstring injury, though Ancelotti assured he was not substituted due to that problem.

"Benzema's problem was not physical," he said. "I changed him just before the end, the problem is that the balls we wanted did not reach him.

"I'm optimistic, although we have to do better in the second leg. We have the game at home and we don't have to worry about the away goal.

"It's clear that PSG have a good advantage but hopefully it won't be enough."

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti has confirmed that Gareth Bale will exit the club when his contract expires at the end of this season.

The 32-year-old Wales captain, who spent last season on loan at Tottenham, has started only four LaLiga games this season.

Bale returned to the Madrid starting line-up for Saturday's 0-0 draw with Villarreal and after that game Ancelotti surprisingly threw him into the selection mix for Tuesday's Champions League last-16 clash with Paris Saint-Germain.

The Madrid boss was asked about Bale again on Monday and revealed his time with the club was winding down.

"I have a good relationship with him and the rest of the players," Ancelotti told reporters. “Personal relationships are strong when everyone shows respect and he has always done that and has never let me down in that regard.

"In the past, he hasn't had great motivation, but he wants to end things here in a good way.

"Bale has helped this club to win the Champions League, Copa del Rey and signing off on a high here would be good for his career."

Bale joined Los Blancos in 2013 and has had a indifferent time at the club, helping them to two LaLiga titles along with being crowned European champions four times, while having periods out of the side due to injury and selection.

Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema feels ready "in my head" to face Paris Saint-Germain after his recent injury absence but stressed he will not risk further problems if he does not feel right in training.

The France international has been absent since suffering a hamstring strain on January 23 against Elche.

Madrid have sorely missed their 24-goal top-scorer, managing to net just once in three full games since he sustained his injury, drawing a blank most recently on Sunday in a 0-0 draw at Villarreal.

Fears that he would also miss their Champions League last-16 first-leg trip to Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday were eased when Madrid's Sunday squad announcement included Benzema.

But while that was undoubtedly a positive step, Benzema insists his participation at the Parc des Prince is by no means guaranteed.

"There's been many hours of work and I feel much better," he told reporters. "Now we have a training session to see if I can play, but I have to get more feeling [of his condition] on the pitch.

"Being 100 per cent, the most important thing is in your head. But you have to recover and have good sensations on the pitch.

"It's a difficult time when you're off the pitch. I've done work in Valdebebas [the training ground] and at home to get there.

"In my head I'm ready, but now I have to see on the pitch. It's a great game and if I have to play tomorrow, I will give everything.

"The team knows how to win without me, but I've done everything to get there. I hope I'll be fine but we don't have to risk it because the season is very long."

Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti was on the same page as Benzema but left no doubt as to the importance of the striker – if he is fit, he will play.

"I have to listen and make the decision," he added. "He already has the medical discharge.

"He has trained by running and sprinting, but you have to see the feeling [on the pitch]. The coach has to wait to see what he says.

"The player has not played for a month, but it's Karim. If he's okay, he has to play."

Karim Benzema trained with Real Madrid on Sunday and could make a dramatic return in the Champions League clash with Paris Saint-Germain.

The France international, who is one of Madrid's club captains, has been absent since suffering a hamstring injury on January 23 against Elche.

However, he has been named in Carlo Ancelotti's 26-man squad for the trip to Paris, where the first leg of the last-16 tie takes place on Tuesday.

Benzema has scored 24 times for Madrid already in 2021-22, and without him the goals have dried up.

The team have managed just one goal in their three full games since Benzema joined the injured list, drawing a blank most recently on Sunday as they drew 0-0 at Villarreal.

Gareth Bale was deployed as a central striker in that game, and after a slow start he became the chief attacking threat, having a game-high six shots and drawing three fine saves from goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli.

That came as a pleasant surprise to Ancelotti, who nonetheless indicated Bale was only one of several options for the role against PSG, and he remained hopeful Benzema could be involved.

The fact Madrid were able to send 34-year-old Benzema onto the training pitch with team-mates on Sunday augured well for his prospects, and Ancelotti will now closely monitor the former Lyon frontman ahead of the game at the Parc des Princes.

Speaking on Friday, Ancelotti had been positive about Benzema's prospects, although the fact he played no part against Villarreal indicated Madrid are being ultra careful about his fitness.

Ancelotti said on Friday: "We have good feelings, he is having good feelings. The most important thing is the player's health. If there is a risk, we are not going to take it. We have to evaluate but if he plays on Tuesday, it is because there is no risk."

The match offers the tantalising possibility of Benzema and France team-mate Kylian Mbappe leading the respective attacks.

Mbappe is a known transfer target for Madrid, who failed with a big-money move for the PSG forward in August but could land him on a free transfer at the end of this season, meaning he and Benzema may soon be club-mates as well as colleagues with Les Bleus.

Carlo Ancelotti is considering throwing Gareth Bale into the Champions League clash with Paris Saint-Germain after the forward showed he still has plenty to offer Real Madrid.

Bale made a vexingly quiet start to Saturday's LaLiga game at Villarreal before springing to life and proving the biggest goal threat on the pitch.

The Wales international had a game-high six shots and was denied by three smart saves from Geronimo Rulli in the goalless draw, Madrid's fifth successive away draw at Villarreal. From one of those opportunities, goalkeeper Rulli flicked a Bale strike against the crossbar.

Considering it was Bale's first game since August for Madrid, after an injury lay-off, what started off inauspiciously turned into a statement performance.

Now Bale could be thrust into the same role, as a central striker, when Madrid travel to take on PSG at Parc des Princes in the first leg of their last-16 tie on Tuesday.

There might be a chance of Karim Benzema being back from his hamstring injury for that game, while Luka Jovic is another option after he almost grabbed a last-gasp winner against Villarreal, hitting the bar with a chip after replacing Bale.

Ancelotti is being non-committal for now, but Bale is in the conversation, and that is a tribute to how well he performed in this comeback game.

Asked if Bale might lead the attack in Paris, Ancelotti said: "I don't know, we have to wait and see what happens in the next few days. Hopefully we can get everyone back.

"He has had the opportunity and he has delivered. He could have scored, he was dangerous. [He has done] everything we ask of him."

Bale had only nine touches in the first half and 19 in all, before he was substituted in the 74th minute. When he got on the ball, however, there was a reassuring quality about his play.

"He had a major injury in September, when he had already started playing," said Ancelotti, who took charge of his 100th LaLiga game as Madrid boss.

"Then it was difficult for him to pick up the pace to avoid problems. Today he has shown that he can be with us, that he is committed."

Madrid have scored just once in their past three games, which is a worry heading into the tussle with PSG, who won 1-0 against Rennes on Friday.

"We need more effectiveness," said Ancelotti, "but I was more worried about the team in the first half when they were not very committed.

"It's clear what we were missing. In the first half, we had a low block, almost too low. We weren't aggressive enough in duels and one-on-one situations.

"That's why Villarreal had more control. In the second half, we were more aggressive without the ball. That was key."

Carlo Ancelotti said "everyone's feelings are positive" regarding Karim Benzema's availability for Real Madrid's Champions League last-16 tie against Paris Saint-Germain next week.

Benzema has missed Madrid's last two games after picking up a muscle injury against Elche last month, and remains a doubt for Saturday's LaLiga trip to Villarreal.

However, speaking at a media conference ahead of that game, Ancelotti indicated that the 34-year-old – who has scored 24 goals in 28 games in all competitions this season – could be fit for Tuesday's clash in the Parc des Princes.

"We have good feelings, he is having good feelings," he said. "We will see if he will train on Sunday or Monday with the team. Everyone's feelings are positive, but it will be decided on Sunday or Monday.

"The most important thing is the player's health. If there is a risk, we are not going to take it. We have to evaluate but if he plays on Tuesday, it is because there is no risk."

Ancelotti also said he hopes PSG star Neymar will be fit for the Champions League fixture, adding: "I hope Benzema and Neymar can be there, the best players. If the best are there, we'll have the most entertaining game possible."


The former PSG boss was also asked about Gareth Bale. The Wales international has played just three times this season after returning from a loan move from Tottenham, and has not featured since playing in a 1-0 win at Real Betis in August.

"We have a very good working relationship," Ancelotti explained. 

"He's training hard. He's committed to the cause. He has not been playing of late, but seeing him in training I can confirm he is ready to play, and I do know that when he gets that opportunity, he will produce the goods.

"I'll be asked now 'why hasn't he played?' Looking back, he's had some trouble to be fully match fit after having picked up an injury. But these last 15 days or so the intensity has increased and I'm sure he's ready to play. Obviously it is my call to decide when."

It took a 74th-minute goal from Marco Asensio for Real Madrid to see off Granada on Sunday, as Carlo Ancelotti's side capitalised on Sevilla's slip-up against Osasuna.

A 0-0 draw in Pamplona meant Madrid's victory saw them move six points clear of their nearest rivals in the title race. Both Los Blancos and Sevilla have played 23 games.

Ancelotti's team remain favourites to clinch the crown, though last week's defeat to Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey, and a previous 2-2 draw at home to Elche, showed they are far from infallible.

The former Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain boss made six changes for the Granada match (the most for Madrid from one game to another this season), which came hot on the heels of the defeat to Athletic, but by and large he has chosen to rely on a core group of players so far this term. 

However, with the return of the Champions League this month and LaLiga matches set to come thick and fast between now and May, might fatigue catch up with Madrid as the run-in approaches? 

The key performers

In total, 13 players have started 10 or more of Madrid's league matches. Of the teams placed second to fifth in LaLiga, Atletico Madrid (15) and Real Betis (14) have had more players start at least 10 games, while Barcelona and Sevilla have both used fewer (11) from the off.

Thibaut Courtois, unsurprisingly, has played in every top-flight game. He has kept eight clean sheets (five goalkeepers in LaLiga have kept more) and recorded a save percentage of 74.4 – among goalkeepers with at least 16 saves, only two have a better record than the Belgian.

 

He has played 2,070 minutes, conceding 20 times from 78 shots on target faced, while his expected goals on target (xGOT) conceded figure of 20.9 suggests he has not overly exceeded expectations when it comes to shot-stopping. Essentially, Courtois has conceded as many goals as would be expected given the quality of efforts he has faced.

Eder Militao has played (and started) 22 times, with David Alaba featuring on 21 occasions (also all starts). The defenders have accumulated 3,863 minutes between them in the league, and have contributed to the attack too, with seven direct goal involvements combined.

Karim Benzema has scored 17 goals from his 21 LaLiga appearances, while Vinicius Junior has been a real success story of Ancelotti's second spell so far. The Brazil winger has directly contributed to 17 goals in 1,694 minutes, averaging a goal or an assist every 99 minutes.

Fringe players to step up?

Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Ferland Mendy, Asensio, Lucas Vazquez, Federico Valverde and Dani Carvajal have also reached double figures for league starts, while back-up options Rodrygo, Nacho Fernandez, Eden Hazard, Eduardo Camavinga, Isco and Luka Jovic have at least featured in a minimum of 10 games.

Hazard's time at Madrid has been plagued by injuries, but when called upon he has proved useful, creating 3.3 chances per 90 minutes played, which ranks highest out of the players to have played at least 25 minutes.

 

Isco's troubles from last season have continued but the playmaker still has guile and craft, with 2.4 chances created per 90 minutes suggesting he too can make an impact in the run-in. Gareth Bale, though, has made only three appearances in LaLiga, scoring just once, and it does not seem like he will be a man Ancelotti calls on too often even when fit.

With Vinicius suspended on Sunday, Ancelotti handed Rodrygo a chance to shine on the left flank. The youngster had three shots – second only to Asensio (eight) – but crafted just one goalscoring opportunity. Indeed, across his 18 LaLiga games this season, he is yet to score and has provided a solitary assist.

Jovic, meanwhile, has never hit the heights he previously did at Eintracht Frankfurt, though the Serbia forward does of course play second-fiddle to the evergreen Benzema. He has scored just one league goal from 12 substitute appearances this term.

Only Benzema and Vinicius have reached double figures for LaLiga goals so far in 2021-22, while the same pair are also the only Madrid players with five or more assists. Given the lack of end-product from his back-up brigade, it is no surprise Ancelotti wants to stick with the tried and tested.

But, has there been any drop-off?

Let's take a look at Madrid's most-used attackers in LaLiga this term, starting with Benzema.

The 34-year-old has kept scoring consistently through the season. However, despite being Madrid's top assister (seven), all of those came before the end of September.

There's an argument that his game time should have been managed better as well. Prior to the start of November, he completed the full 90 minutes of eight of Madrid's 10 league games – he clocked up 80 and 88 minutes in the other two.

Since that period, although he has technically only played a full league game four times, on two other occasions he played 89 minutes – it's worth noting that he was apparently suffering with his current muscular injury as far back as December and now appears a doubt for their upcoming Champions League clash with Paris Saint-Germain.

 

Vinicius, on the other hand, has been a consistent creator of chances, if not always providing assists. His last appearance, against Elche, saw him have 97 touches (his highest tally this season), craft four opportunities (his second-best effort of 2021-22) and engage in 25 duels, another season-high. He has registered over 1.0 xG twice in his last six games and against Elche attempted 13 dribbles, one shy of his season-best from August, showing his attacking output is not suffering as the season goes on.

As a team, Madrid have made seven, 12 and eight high turnovers across their last three league games respectively, up from a slight drop-off (five and three) in their previous two outings. Indeed, that figure of 12, achieved against Elche, is their highest of the campaign, suggesting any fatigue is not impacting Madrid's ability to press just yet.

If anything, Madrid are pressing more efficiently as the season has gone on. Their passes allowed per defensive action (PPDA – a metric that can quantify the extent and aggression of high presses) has dropped from an average of 19.6 in a six-game span between November 6 and December 12, to a median of 11.6 across the six fixtures since.

This is reflected by their high turnover total improving from 31 to 46. Madrid rank joint-10th in LaLiga for high turnovers (147), but no team has had more shots from such situations (37) and only two teams (Getafe and Celta Vigo, both on six) have scored more goals than Los Blancos (four) from these scenarios.

Ancelotti is not renowned for employing a high press, but when his team do hunt the ball in their opponent's territory, they continue to be highly efficient, a scary thought for their rivals.

Even if Madrid have relied on a select group of players more than others, they are not showing many signs of dropping off the pace.

 

Marco Asensio has been singled out for individual praise by Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti after his match-winning display in Sunday's 1-0 triumph over Granada.

Asensio proved to be Madrid's most likely attacking outlet in the absence of the injured Karim Benzema and suspended Vinicius Junior.

The Spanish forward, who has netted six LaLiga goals this term, scored the 74th-minute winner and was denied another by an outstanding save from Granada goalkeeper Luis Maximiano.

"He's a very important player," Ancelotti told reporters after the game. "He's scored a lot this season, he's made a lot of goals, and is very committed defensively, which is important for us.

"I don't know if he's a starter, but he's an important player. He is reliable, he works hard and we won the game today thanks to his best quality, his shooting.

"He returned from a difficult period of injuries full of confidence."

The hard-fought victory keeps Los Blancos top of LaLiga by six points from second-placed Sevilla, following a difficulty with availability down.

Madrid had drawn 2-2 with Elche in their last league game while they were knocked out of the Copa del Rey by Athletic 1-0 in midweek.

"This is an important week for us because we've had a really tough period with some long trips and we didn't come into this game at 100 per cent," Ancelotti said.

"We had six players out for tonight’s match and I hope to have them all back for our next game."

Madrid face Villarreal in LaLiga on Saturday before returning to the Champions League against Paris Saint-Germain in the last-16.

Karim Benzema will not be fit to return for Real Madrid's clash with Granada on Sunday, while head coach Carlo Ancelotti insists he has no personal issue with Eden Hazard.

LaLiga top scorer Benzema missed the midweek Copa del Rey defeat to Athletic Bilbao with a hamstring complaint.

He was pictured training on Friday, but the France striker will once again miss out for the league leaders, who are without Vinicius Jr through suspension..

"Benzema won't play. He's improved, but he's not 100 per cent yet. He trained yesterday but not today, we've got to wait two or three more days," head coach Ancelotti told a pre-match news conference.

"The team are ready, we know Vinicius and Karim are both out."

Ancelotti acknowledged the importance of Benzema to his team but dismissed the notion Madrid are overly reliant on their talisman.

"Of course we're missing Benzema, he's the top scorer in the league, scoring lots of goals this season for Real Madrid," Ancelotti said.

"I think you look at teams and their Benzemas [star player], if they miss that player of course it's a big loss, it's a blow. 

"Without Benzema it's tougher, but without Benzema we've won games. I think we've done well without Karim Benzema."

Hazard's form has flattered to deceive since joining in a big-money move from Chelsea in 2019, though a star turn in a 2-1 win at Athletic back in December prompted praise from Ancelotti.

Since then, though, minutes have been hard to come by for the Belgium forward, who was an unused substitute for the Copa setback.

Asked about Hazard, Ancelotti replied: "There's no issues between myself and the player, he's training, he's now fit.

"But then I have to decide who I think is the best team. But I just preferred a different player. Hazard played against Elche [in the previous round of the Copa], scored after he came on, it's not as if he's not playing. He has been playing.

"There's not a personal issue with him, there's not a physical issue either, there's no issue we're not sharing about Hazard. No secrets."

Team-mate Gareth Bale was also not utilised in the Copa fixture and was filmed seemingly chuckling when Hazard was told to sit back down with 18 minutes remaining having gone out to warm up.

Ancelotti said he did not see the incident.

"I didn't see it, I don't know why he laughed, and it doesn't seem important to me," the Italian said.

"We wanted to put Hazard on in extra time and that's why he warmed up. Three players have to warm up, that's the maximum. I wanted my players warming up, taking turns, I couldn't send six players to warm up."

Madrid's Copa exit followed a come-from-behind 2-2 draw against Elche in LaLiga last week, with Los Blancos enduring a dip in form.

Ancelotti, though, says he has no issue with any criticism that comes his way.

"I'm not hurt, I'm used to this, to living these moments. It's a confirmation that I'm the coach of Real Madrid and you always have to make decisions, and sometimes you're right and you're wrong. Nothing new," he said.

"I'm so happy that I'm manager here, I don't mind criticism. It keeps me on my toes. It also makes you think things through a bit more."

Carlo Ancelotti admitted Real Madrid missed the quality of Karim Benzema as he claimed their Copa del Rey exit to Athletic Bilbao was not a surprise.

The LaLiga leaders were beaten 1-0 at San Mames on Thursday, Alex Berenguer scoring a brilliant winner in the 89th minute to send Athletic into the semi-finals.

It was a measure of revenge for Marcelino's men, who lost 2-0 in the Supercopa de Espana final to Madrid last month, in which Benzema scored the second goal.

Los Blancos were without their talisman in the Basque country, though, as he had not recovered from a hamstring injury sustained in the 2-2 draw with Elche.

In the absence of Benzema, who has scored 24 goals in 28 appearances this season, Madrid managed just two shots on target against Athletic, while their first-half expected goals figure of 0.1 was their lowest since January 2020.

Ancelotti accepted the decision not to rush Benzema back into action left his side without enough of a threat going forward.

 

"We're hurt because we want to win everything. I don't think it will have consequences. I only hope that it makes us stronger," he said of the defeat, as quoted by Marca.

"We don't have players of Karim's quality. We didn't change the plan. We tried to play from the back, and we couldn't. Athletic's pressing was really great until the 70th minute.

"I think in extra time we would have had the advantage, but they scored in the last minute. We played too much on the wings. We should have used [David] Alaba and Casemiro more. It didn't go the way we wanted.

"It's not the worst game of the season. It was even until the end. I'm not surprised with how the game went."

Even as Madrid's attack laboured, Ancelotti left Eden Hazard, Gareth Bale and Luka Jovic on the bench, his only changes being Isco for Toni Kroos and Eduardo Camavinga for Vinicius Junior.

It was put to Ancelotti that the trio were being punished by being kept among the substitutes, but he replied: "I have nothing to say. Nobody is punished. [Dani] Ceballos and [Jesus] Vallejo didn't play, either. They're at the same level as the others who didn't play. You have to be fair.

"Kroos was taken off due to fatigue, as was Vinicius. We were thinking of changes for extra time and there wasn't time."

Madrid's next match is at home to Granada in LaLiga on Sunday.

Karim Benzema has been left out of Real Madrid's squad for the Copa del Rey quarter-final against Athletic Bilbao on Thursday due to a hamstring injury. 

The fitness of France international Benzema has been a source of concern since he hobbled off in the second half of Madrid's 2-2 draw with Elche in LaLiga on January 23. 

During his pre-match news conference, Carlo Ancelotti was hopeful the striker, who has been in sensational form this season with 24 goals in 28 games in all competitions, would be fit for the trip to San Mames but insisted no risks would be taken. 

Benzema's name was not in the 22-man squad for the match against Athletic that was released later on Wednesday, prompting concerns about his fitness for the Champions League last-16 meeting with Paris Saint-Germain in less than two weeks. 

Mariano Diaz and Ferland Mendy also miss out through injury, while Marcelo is ineligible due to suspension. 

However, Marco Asensio could make his return from a hamstring injury sustained in the Supercopa de Espana success against Barcelona 

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti has said Karim Benzema could be fit for Thursday's Copa del Rey quarter-final against Athletic Bilbao at San Mames, but warned he will not be risked unnecessarily.

The France striker – who sustained a hamstring strain in the 2-2 draw with Elche on January 23 – will train with his team-mates on Wednesday, according to Ancelotti, but the coach said he will only play if he is at "100 per cent".

Benzema has been in excellent form for the LaLiga leaders, scoring 24 goals and assisting a further nine in 28 appearances in all competitions this season.

Speaking at a media conference ahead of Thursday's game, Ancelotti said: "We don't know yet [if Benzema will play], because he's only been able to do individual work.

"He has good feelings, and now he is going to train with the group. At the end, we will make a decision. We're not going to risk it. If he has the medical discharge, he will play; if not, no."

Asked again about Benzema, Ancelotti reiterated: "The decision is simple. If he is well, he will play; if not, he will stay at home. If he is not 100 per cent, it makes no sense to put him in a game that is going to demand a lot from us."

The Italian also suggested his South American players may be able to play some part, despite only now returning from international duty after yesterday's CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers.

Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo both played in Brazil's 4-0 win against Paraguay, with Casemiro an unused substitute, while Federico Valverde featured in Uruguay's 4-1 win against Venezuela. Eder Militao was allowed to return to Madrid by Brazil a few days early as he was suspended for the Paraguay game.

"We also have to assess the status of the players who have played with their national teams," Ancelotti added. "If they are just tired, they will travel. They may not start the game, but I may need them throughout the game, especially if we get to extra time.

"Vinicius and Rodrygo come back from playing, but they are 20 years old, not 60 like me. I think they can get back."

Madrid have faced Athletic three times already this season, twice in the league and once in the recent final of the Supercopa de Espana, with Los Blancos winning all three – including a 2-1 victory at San Mames just before the mid-season break.

"It's a very important match," Ancelotti added. "It's a competition in which we are very excited. It is a difficult match, against a strong opponent and a very difficult environment such as San Mames.

"We've played well the previous three games against them, but it will be a very close game. To win in San Mames, you have to get the best"

Ancelotti said he still did not know if he was going to start Thibaut Courtois or Andriy Lunin in goal, but a more pressing selection issue will be a left-back, with both Ferland Mendy and Marcelo unavailable.

"There are two options, [David] Alaba or Nacho," he said. "I've already decided, but I'm not going to say it.

"The evaluation does not depend on whether Nico Williams or [Alex] Berenguer plays. Nacho is more defensive and less used to it. Alaba gives us a lot of options with the ball and he's used to playing there."

Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) director Juninho has confirmed Brazil will not release Real Madrid players before the end of the international break.

South American teams are in World Cup qualifying action over the coming week, with FIFA having inserted an extra international window into this season's calendar to make up for time lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brazil have already qualified for this year's World Cup in Qatar and sit top of the CONMEBOL standings on 35 points.

They face Ecuador on Thursday and Paraguay on February 1. 

Madrid, meanwhile, have a Copa del Rey quarter-final against Athletic on February 3.

Four Madrid players – Casemiro, Eder Militao, Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior – have been called up for Brazil.

However, Juninho insisted that even if the players do not feature in each of Brazil's games, they will remain with the national team until February 2 when the international window ends, meaning there is little chance of Los Blancos having the quartet available for the trip to San Mames.

"We are not going to release the players," Juninho told Spanish radio show El Larguero.

"The players have to be with us until the end of the FIFA period, on February 2. Depending on how they play the first match [we will] discuss whether or not they play the second.

"They will be with us until the end. We are not willing to release them. We cannot set a precedent. We have had requests from other clubs.

"We have a few days with the players. We must take advantage of this year now that the preparation for the World Cup has begun."

Juninho stressed Brazil have turned down Madrid's requests on the grounds of fairness to other teams.

"We can't, it's not that we don't want to," he added.

"In Tite's management it has never happened. That is not the situation, we understand the situation of the clubs. It has happened because of the pandemic. Before, there was no January date. It is the situation that was forced on us.

"We have a very good relationship with the clubs. We always talk cordially. [Brazil coach] Tite has explained the situation to Ancelotti. 

"It was in a good tone. They understood our situation and I think they haven't had any problems."

Asked if Tite had discussed the issue with the players in question, Juninho said: "I guess Tite has talked to them and made the situation very clear.

"The October [2022] dates were cancelled and we only have a week to prepare for the World Cup [in November]. There is only one week for Tite to be with the players and see how they are. The clubs understand that.

"I also spoke with [Paris Saint-Germain director] Leonardo and the English clubs on other occasions with the same problems."

Carlo Ancelotti suggested "small details" cost Real Madrid in a 2-2 draw with Elche that required a spirited late recovery.

The LaLiga leaders missed the chance to move six points clear at the top of the table as they were held by their 15th-placed opponents, who took a surprise 2-0 lead at the Santiago Bernabeu.

After Luka Modric's penalty gave them hope – his first spot-kick for Madrid after Karim Benzema, who earlier missed from 12 yards for the first time in LaLiga, went off injured – it took a stoppage-time header from Eder Militao to spare Madrid's blushes and extend their year-long unbeaten home run in the Spanish top flight.

While Madrid were waiting to discover the extent of Benzema's injury, Ancelotti said he was disappointed with the manner in which Elche scored – netting twice away at Madrid for the first time since January 1989.

But the coach was at least encouraged by his team's response, remaining unbeaten against Elche since 1978, having now scored at least two in 10 of the 12 games in that span.

"They scored a goal with a centre. For the second goal, we could have been more compact," Ancelotti said. "They are small details that have cost us two points

"We are not happy, but there are many things we have to consider. 

"We conceded two goals and we reacted well. Usually these games are lost, but it speaks very well of the squad."

There are 11 days until Madrid return to action when they face Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals, 12 days before taking on Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League round of 16.

"We have a small break, and we arrive well-positioned in all three competitions," Ancelotti added. "That's what we wanted to do. 

"We are there, now comes the most important period of the season."

Carlo Ancelotti says Eden Hazard is in his Real Madrid plans for next season as the Belgium star shows signs of finding form at last.

Hazard scored an extra-time winner to send Madrid into the Copa del Rey quarter-finals at Elche's expense this week, having assisted Marco Asensio in the 3-1 win at Alcoyano in his previous appearance.

It means the 31-year-old has been involved in as many goals in his past two games as he was in his previous 17, suggesting he is starting to find his feet at last in LaLiga.

Hazard has reportedly already rejected approaches to leave this month, including from Newcastle United, and Ancelotti seems keen to keep him for the longer term.

"Yes, he's in the planning for next season," the Madrid coach said ahead of Sunday's league game with Elche.

Asked if it might be a good day for Hazard to be in the starting line-up, Ancelotti replied: "Yes, it's a good day. Hopefully, it will be a good day."

 

Isco also got on the scoresheet against Elche to underline his value as another option for Ancelotti, while the Italian says Gareth Bale, who has not played for the club since August, is also close to a return.

"Isco doesn't have injuries, but Bale has been out for longer than Hazard. Each one is a different case," he said.

"Gareth is getting back to having a good physical condition, he's improving, he's starting to train every day with the team."

Dani Ceballos has also returned to the Madrid set-up after a long injury absence, playing three times this month, and Ancelotti hopes he will prove a useful player for the rest of the campaign.

"He's starting to be well, to improve his physical condition," he said. "I like him on a personal level, for his character, for his lack of fear in playing games and making plays.

"He'll certainly have an important role in the second part of the season."

Madrid head into the weekend with a four-point lead over Sevilla at the top of the table, while champions Atletico Madrid are 13 points adrift in fourth and Barcelona down in sixth.

Ancelotti accepts it is a surprise to see their biggest rivals struggling.

"Of course, we can talk about them, what two great teams, two great clubs are doing, and of course we're surprised they're having more difficulties than normal," he said.

"They're still both great rivals, with sufficient quality to get out of any complicated situation."

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.