Real Madrid captain Marcelo became Los Blancos' most decorated player in history after securing the Spanish title on Saturday.

A first-half brace from Rodrygo coupled with second-half strikes by Marco Asensio and Karim Benzema sealed the top-flight crown for Madrid with a 4-0 win over Espanyol.

Madrid wrapped up LaLiga with four games to spare, their earliest domestic crown since the 1988-89 campaign (also four), while their 35 titles are more than any team in Europe's top five leagues.

Carlo Ancelotti created his own piece of history as he became the first coach to lift top-flight trophies in Europe's top five leagues (Spain, England, Germany, France and Italy).

Brazil international Marcelo also claimed a personal landmark with Madrid's success, the veteran full-back boasting the most trophy wins of any player for the club after his 24th triumph.

Marcelo's cabinet includes four Champions League crowns, four Club World Cups, three European Super Cups, six league titles, two Copa del Rey trophies and five Supercopas de Espana.

"It's the most incredible thing that a player can experience," said Marcelo, who has managed 545 appearances and scored 38 times for Madrid.

"We've won LaLiga as a result of the hard work from the whole team. We have to keep winning. This is the result of hard work, enjoyment, sacrifice... We've managed to win it by combining all the factors.
 
"It's the best thing there is to be able to celebrate with the fans after playing at home. It's the most incredible thing that a player can experience.

"It's a day to celebrate, even though we're aware that we've got an important game coming up, but it's OK to celebrate and remain focused and motivated for Wednesday."

The attention of Madrid will now turn to a Champions League semi-final second leg at home to Manchester City on Wednesday, with Pep Guardiola's side holding a slender 4-3 lead heading to the Spanish capital.

Despite wrapping up their 35th LaLiga title and retaining a chance of winning the Champions League this term, Real Madrid find themselves at something of a crossroads.

The individual brilliance of Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior may have fired Los Blancos to a dominant triumph in LaLiga, but attention will soon turn to Madrid's attempts to defend the title for the first time since 2007-08.

With the potential arrival of a true global superstar and one of the Premier League's best defenders, as well as the matter of refreshing a brilliant but ageing midfield, it promises to be an interesting few months at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Here, Stats Perform analyses what Carlo Ancelotti's men could do to fend off the potential challenge of an improved Barcelona next season.

 

The Mbappe conundrum: How would the superstar fit in?

For months, if not years, Real Madrid's plans for 2022 seem to have revolved around one name: Kylian Mbappe.

While recent reports have suggested the 23-year-old could yet remain at the Parc des Princes, a move for the talismanic attacker – who will be a free agent in June – cannot yet be ruled out.

Having scored 35 goals and provided 19 assists in 43 appearances in all competitions for Paris Saint-Germain, Mbappe would clearly be an asset to any team in European football, but the question remains as to how Mbappe will complement another free-scoring Frenchman in the Spanish capital.

Benzema has become just the fifth Madrid player in history to score 40+ goals in a single season for the club (after Cristiano Ronaldo, Ferenc Puskas, Alfredo Di Stefano and Hugo Sanchez), and is being touted for the Ballon d'Or after driving Madrid's Champions League run. Benzema has scored 14 goals in 10 European appearances this term, averaging a goal every 65.1 minutes in a stunning campaign.

Mbappe and Benzema are no strangers to playing together, but the PSG forward failed to score and only provided one assist when doing so during France's disappointing Euro 2020 campaign. The Madrid man, meanwhile, finished just one goal short of the golden boot after netting four times.

Matters are complicated further when taking into account the form of Vinicius, who has formed a lethal partnership with Benzema this season, registering 33 goal involvements of his own in all competitions (18 goals, 15 assists), and Mbappe's preference to play from the left could infringe on Vinicius. 

However, Mbappe's development into a more well-rounded attacking talent should ensure he at least provides a threat, whichever flank he starts from. 

As well as improving on his 11 assists from last season, Mbappe has completed more dribbles (138) at a higher success rate (50.74 per cent) than Vinicius this term (130, 41.4 per cent), and could join him in playing a more creative role supporting Benzema.

Upgrading in defence: The arrival of Antonio Rudiger

Having announced his intention to leave Chelsea at the end of his contract, Antonio Rudiger is another player strongly linked with a move to the Bernabeu ahead of next season.

The German defender has been one of the Blues' outstanding players under Thomas Tuchel, starring in their Champions League triumph last year and enjoying another fine campaign this season.

Rudiger has been a key component in the Premier League's third-best defence this season, with Chelsea keeping 15 clean sheets and conceding just 28 goals despite falling out of title contention after a promising start.

The 29-year-old appears to be an upgrade on Madrid's current defensive options after last year's departures of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, offering more physicality than David Alaba and greater defensive steel than Eder Militao, a partnership that was frequently exposed by Manchester City recently.

Rudiger would also offer a threat at the other end of the pitch, with his three league goals this season bettered by just one other Premier League centre-back (Jan Bednarek, four), and his ability to step out of defence was on display when he scored a 39-yard stunner against Brentford in early April – Chelsea's longest-range Premier League goal since January 2007

However, Rudiger has been accustomed to playing in a back three at Chelsea and would be most likely to play as a right-sided centre-back in a back four for Madrid, unless Ancelotti opts to shift Alaba to left-back.

Rudiger would likely have to curb his attacking enthusiasm if paired with the naturally forward-thinking Alaba, but he appears a smart choice to further solidify a defence that has been the second-strongest in LaLiga this term (only Sevilla have conceded fewer goals).

The case for Camavinga: Time to look to the future?

The midfield trio of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric will go down in Madrid history: they started together in three consecutive Champions League final wins between 2016 and 2018, with the Croatian also starring in 2014's victory.

Nobody can question their quality or longevity. All three have made at least 35 starts this season, while Modric in particular has produced several sumptuous contributions in big games that have helped him to an assist haul of nine, six more than any other Madrid midfielder.

 

However, given they occasionally appear to lack a certain dynamism when out of possession, could Madrid benefit from some extra mobility in the engine room?

The signing of Eduardo Camavinga, who has made 35 appearances this term, was clearly made with such a move in mind, but the French youngster has only started 14 times in all competitions and would benefit from more playing time next season as he looks to improve his all-round game.

However, neither Camavinga nor Federico Valverde possess the kind of metronomic abilities of Modric or Kroos, and the younger pair also average fewer passes into the final third per 90 minutes than their more experienced peers (6.25 and 6.1, respectively).

As such, with the rumoured arrivals of Mbappe and Rudiger involving no transfer fees, Madrid could yet benefit from dipping into the market to acquire another young, progressive midfielder in a move that might also help to prolong the excellence of Modric and Kroos.

Carlo Ancelotti outlined his desire to win more trophies with Real Madrid after Los Blancos secured the LaLiga title with 4-0 victory over Espanyol.

A first-half Rodrygo double set Ancelotti's men on their way before strikes from Marco Asensio and Karim Benzema finished off the job in style at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday.

Madrid claimed their 35th Spanish top-flight crown with four games to spare, their earliest title since the 1989-99 campaign.

Ancelotti became the first coach to win each of Europe's top five leagues and the Italian is hungry for further success in the Champions League, with Madrid 4-3 down in the semi-final heading into the second leg at home to Manchester City on Wednesday.

"A lot of emotion, we have met a challenge," he said on the pitch after Madrid sealed the title.

"The season has been spectacular. Lots of consistency. I have to thank the players for their work and their attitude. 

"Today we have to celebrate, not talk. I want to celebrate. It fills me with pride to win in the five major leagues. I can say that I like what I do. It means I've done pretty well. 

"I'm proud. I want to continue winning titles with Real Madrid. See you on Wednesday. I tell the fans on Wednesday we need this atmosphere."

Madrid captain Marcelo also expressed his pride as he dedicated the triumph to the Los Blancos faithful.

"An immense joy," the veteran full-back said. "We have won it as soon as possible and that is everyone's job. Very happy and we need to keep adding. It is the fruit of work, joy, sacrifice and many things. 

"That's why we've won before. Celebrating it with the fans is the best. Before we couldn't but today we can. The party is theirs. 

"It is the greatest joy, celebrating at the home of the best club in the world. Today we have to celebrate. We have an important game ahead, but nothing happens to celebrate well."

Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois echoed his skipper Marcelo's sentiments.

"It is incredible to win the league with so many games remaining," the Belgium international said. "We made a great effort this year and we are very happy. 

"We have had a very important consistency in key games, but above all how we got through the difficult games we had after the Clasico [a 4-0 defeat at home to Barcelona]. 

"We beat Celta and Sevilla at their stadium, Getafe here at the Santiago Bernabeu... Many thanks to the fans for everything. Today the atmosphere was great. 

"We really wanted to celebrate it, because two years ago we couldn't celebrate it with the fans due to the pandemic. Go Madrid!"

Real Madrid are LaLiga champions for the second time in three seasons – and a 35th time overall – after beating Espanyol 4-0 on Saturday to clinch top spot.

Los Blancos have led the way pretty much throughout a campaign that has seen erstwhile champions Atletico Madrid and a Lionel Messi-less Barcelona struggle for consistency.

Indeed, Sevilla proved Los Blancos' biggest threat for large parts of this season, but Carlo Ancelotti's men never truly looked in danger of relinquishing their grip on another title.

Madrid's latest triumph came in Ancelotti's first season back at the club, with the Italian becoming the first head coach to win each of Europe's top five leagues.

While Ancelotti deserves plenty of credit, the title stroll would not have been possible if not for Karim Benzema and Thibaut Courtois at opposite ends of the pitch.

Here, Stats Perform looks at the numbers behind Madrid's latest title romp, which they could still yet add to with the Champions League in the coming weeks.

 

Madrid masterclass

Not only have Madrid won more European Cups than any side, their 35th LaLiga crown sees them overtake Juventus for the most titles among the top five European leagues.

Their two titles in three seasons, with the other coming under Zinedine Zidane in 2019-10, is as many as they won in the previous 11 campaigns.

Ancelotti's men have done so in style, too, having clinched top spot with four matchdays left, surpassing 2007-08 (three matchdays) for their earliest title win this century.

 

Carlo completes the set

Ancelotti won five trophies during his previous spell in charge of Madrid but the LaLiga title eluded him.

However, the 62-year-old can now lay claim to having won the title in Italy, England, France, Germany and indeed Spain – the first head coach to have ever achieved a sweep.

He is also the oldest coach to have won the Spanish top flight, some two years more senior than Fabio Capello was when also tasting success with Madrid in 2006-07.

Incidentally, Ancelotti and Capello are the only two Italian coaches to have reigned in Spain, with the latter having done so twice.

 

Karim the Dream

Benzema has led the way for Madrid with this his fourth LaLiga conquest, adding to the titles won in 2012, 2017 and 2020.

The France international has scored 26 goals in 30 league games this season, making this his most prolific campaign across his 13 years in Spain's top flight.

Not only does Benzema lead the LaLiga scoring charts, his 11 assists are also level with Barcelona's Ousmane Dembele as the most in the division.

Just to further underline the striker's importance this season, with 37 direct goal involvements he has played a part in 51 per cent of Los Blancos' 73 league goals.

Courtois a calming presence

For all of Benzema's goals, Madrid have so often called upon goalkeeper Courtois to rescue them this campaign.

The former Chelsea stopper has conceded 29 goals across 34 matches, keeping 14 clean sheets in the process.

Real Sociedad's Alex Remiro (18) can hold claim to keeping more shutouts, but a separate metric shows just how good Courtois has been in 2021-22.

The 29 goals Courtois has conceded have come from 33.4 expected goals on target conceded, meaning he has prevented 4.4 goals based on the quality of his shot-stopping.

To put that in some perspective, no goalkeeper in LaLiga has prevented more goals this season, while only five others across Europe's top five leagues have prevented more.

Benzema and Vinicius Junior may get most of the plaudits, but Courtois' influence has undoubtedly been significant.

 

Real Madrid secured the title with four LaLiga fixtures remaining thanks to a commanding 4-0 win over Espanyol.

Carlo Ancelotti's team went into Saturday's game at the Santiago Bernabeu knowing a point would be enough to wrap up the 35th LaLiga title of the club's prestigious history.

But anything other than a home win never looked likely after Rodrygo opened the scoring in the 33rd minute, with Los Blancos cruising to a comfortable victory despite significant squad rotation.

Rodrygo made it 2-0 10 minutes later, before Marco Asensio and substitute Karim Benzema added to the score in the second half.

Success this season represents a maiden LaLiga title for Ancelotti, who has become the first coach to win all of Europe's top five leagues, having previously triumphed in England, Germany, France and Italy.

Madrid have led the way for much of the season as Atletico Madrid struggled to defend their title and Barcelona initially floundered without Lionel Messi.

Sevilla represented Madrid's closest rivals for a long stretch but fell off the pace, while Barca's recent poor run ended their slim hopes of a title challenge.

Madrid's full focus will now switch to the Champions League. They trail 4-3 on aggregate heading into the second leg of their semi-final clash with Manchester City next week.

After a third successive Champions League title, Cristiano Ronaldo's departure for Juventus was meant to signal the end for a team that had scaled the heights of European football.

The annus horribilis of the 2018-19 season seemed to reaffirm such sentiment, but with Real Madrid now claiming a second LaLiga title and sitting another hair's breadth from the Champions League final since that departure, it seems even more irrational in hindsight.

How have Madrid been able to sustain their level among the best in European football and keep fighting for silverware on multiple fronts despite such a seemingly transformative absence? How have they won this season's LaLiga title with such ease?

Despite a severely weakened Barcelona and a supposed closing of the gap to the rest, Madrid can still reach 90 points this season.

 

In reality, their three successive Champions League triumphs during Zinedine Zidane's first spell in charge were largely due to the ideal balance of their midfield, comprising of Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Luka Modric.

To use but one example, bring into perspective how could they nullify Liverpool's ability to press in both the 2017-18 final and then again in the 2020-21 quarter-final over two legs, with Zidane in charge for a second time.

It bears repeating. Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp – a great pressing team that squeezes the opposition into submission, consistently forces errors and is tactically transforming football before our eyes – were eventually rendered inert on multiple occasions.

At Madrid's core though, the collective did and continues to flourish via the creative and incorporative link between Modric and Karim Benzema, both with and without the ball. In a burgeoning era of automation and systems, they are the system.

 

The thing that maximises the duo's technical proficiency is their ability to improvise and embrace risk in the exploitation of space. If automation was football's equivalent to the legend of developing a pen in space, the link between Modric and Benzema is the comparative pencil – just as effective, far more practical.

Granted, that reliance on them creates volatility. When the two are on the pitch, they give Los Blancos a distinct flexibility. When they're not together, the collective is without a reference point and their relationship between defence and attack is compromised – as it was in their thumping in El Clasico in March or even going back to the 2016-17 season and their Copa del Rey elimination in the quarter-final over two legs to Celta Vigo.

 

Viewing Madrid through this prism makes a lot of other aspects relating to them clearer – the ability to feasibly play Lucas Vazquez at right-back in Dani Carvajal's absence, the varying shifts in form from the likes of Vinicius Junior and Kroos this season, or the differing fates of Eduardo Camavinga and Martin Odegaard upon attempting to integrate them into the midfield.

On that latter point, within this context, Camavinga earning more scope at Kroos' expense instead of Modric does not become much of a surprise – because while Benzema has elite comparisons in the form of Robert Lewandowski and Harry Kane in terms of profile, Modric has always been one of a kind.

Midfielders as complete as Modric, possessing the effortless ability to blur the line between the elegant and the practical, simply did not exist before him – at least as a deep-lying player and not deployed higher up the pitch.

At the incomprehensible age of 36, the Croatia international is still unique, still elite. Ahead of Saturday's match, he led Madrid's midfielders in all competitions this season for chances created in open play per 90 minutes (1.1), expected assists (0.17) and trailed only Camavinga (1.5) for dribbles completed (1.4).

Only Kroos (12.5) bettered Modric (9.5) for passes into the final third per 90 in all competitions, but the German's passing represents an increasingly singular role in Madrid's midfield. He is a world-class distributor, but it is maximised as a result of the spaces that Benzema and Modric create.

No player is more relevant in this regard, however, than Vinicius. His own progression has also accelerated upon that basis. Benzema and Modric's ability to collapse opposition defences leaves the opposition full-back on Vinicius' side isolated, and the 21-year-old can be destructive when he has momentum to dribble.

This all matters because it creates a cumulative impact on how Madrid score their goals. In all competitions ahead of Saturday's game, Vinicius topped the team for dribbles completed per 90 (3.0), chances created from open play (2.3) and expected assists (0.23). 

This goes some way to explaining Benzema's dramatic increase in rate of goal scoring, especially comparing 25 goals in 29 league appearances heading into the weekend to his tally of five LaLiga goals in 2017-18.

Much like Modric, 34-year-old Benzema has the capacity to be flexible as that central striker, and to do what the game requires of him in any given moment. 

 

The reference point Benzema and Modric provide has been the primary dynamic in this season's title win – Carlo Ancelotti's first LaLiga success. They can win games in an instant but collectively, the consequent ability to manage games and keep applying pressure from either winning or losing positions, on the back of both territorial and positional superiority, has been critical.

Ultimately, intelligent footballers gravitate towards one another and it is one of most profound and beautiful aspects of the sport. While Madrid will eventually go on without Benzema and Modric, their interaction and how it has built a worthy title winner this season has only underlined that.

Real Madrid clinched the LaLiga title in style as Rodrygo scored twice in a 4-0 thrashing of Espanyol.

Los Blancos needed only to avoid defeat to give third-placed Barcelona no chance of producing a remarkable turnaround in the title race.

And they made no mistake against Barca's city rivals on Saturday, Rodrygo doing the damage in the first half with a well-taken brace.

Marco Asensio made it 3-0 and Isco had a goal disallowed before Karim Benzema fittingly had the final say as Madrid claimed a 35th LaLiga title. They will now turn attention to trying to overturn a 4-3 deficit to Manchester City in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final on Wednesday.

Espanyol started brightly with plenty of energy but they were fortunate not to go behind in the 13th minute when Mariano, playing as the central striker in place of the rested Benzema, hit the post with a header from point-blank range.

Mariano headed wide from Luka Modric's pass nine minutes later before the deadlock was broken by Rodrygo, who received Marcelo's cutback and stroked a side-footed effort into the bottom-right corner.

Ten minutes later, Rodrygo doubled their advantage, wrong-footing Diego Lopez with a clever finish after Espanyol lost possession deep in their own half.

Asensio effectively made sure of the points and the title 10 minutes into the second half, when he confidently finished off a rapid counter-attack led by Eduardo Camavinga.

Substitutes Benzema and Isco combined for what looked a fine fourth goal, only for VAR to intervene with Lopez's vision apparently impeded by an offside player.

It mattered not as Madrid regained the title they lost to Atletico Madrid last season, Benzema's 81st-minute effort too strong for Lopez to put the icing on the cake.

 

Real Madrid secured the title with four LaLiga fixtures remaining thanks to a commanding 4-0 win over Espanyol.

Carlo Ancelotti's team went into Saturday's game at the Santiago Bernabeu knowing a point would be enough to wrap up the 35th LaLiga title of the club's prestigious history.

But anything other than a home win never looked likely after Rodrygo opened the scoring in the 33rd minute, with Los Blancos cruising to a comfortable victory despite significant squad rotation.

Rodrygo made it 2-0 10 minutes later, before Marco Asensio and substitute Karim Benzema added to the score in the second half.

Success this season represents a maiden LaLiga title for Ancelotti, who has become the first coach to win all of Europe's top five leagues, having previously triumphed in England, Germany, France and Italy.

Madrid have led the way for much of the season as Atletico Madrid struggled to defend their title and Barcelona initially floundered without Lionel Messi.

Sevilla represented Madrid's closest rivals for a long stretch but fell off the pace, while Barca's recent poor run ended their slim hopes of a title challenge.

Madrid's full focus will now switch to the Champions League. They trail 4-3 on aggregate heading into the second leg of their semi-final clash with Manchester City next week.

Ansu Fati will feature for Barcelona against Real Mallorca for the first time in three months after sustaining a hamstring injury, Blaugrana coach Xavi confirmed.

Barca have lost their last three home games in all competitions for just the second time in history, last doing so under Louis van Gaal between the 1997-98 and 1998-99 seasons.

Defeat against Rayo Vallecano, who became the first promoted team to complete a LaLiga double over Barca since Salamanca in 1997-98, left Xavi's side in third – 15 points behind leaders Real Madrid.

While Madrid need just a point against Espanyol on Saturday to secure the title, Barca will be boosted by the return of Fati against Mallorca on Sunday.

The 19-year-old has suffered an injury-hit campaign, last featuring in January – and not at all in LaLiga since November – managing just five league appearances this season for his 213 minutes of action.

"We will give the squad list and Ansu will be there," Xavi told reporters at a pre-match news conference. 

"He feels very comfortable and is making efforts to return. He will play at least a few minutes. He is happy, he is smiling, a special player.

"We take great care of him, we know he is a special player. For now the feelings are very good, peaks of speed, physically very good."

Fati will return to a Barca side that has scored with only one of the last 46 shots they have attempted in LaLiga, and with one of their last 57 at Camp Nou in the competition.

However, Xavi insists his side need to collectively respond instead of relying on the teenager to make things happen when he features.

"The focus has to be on the team. I understand football as a collective game. If it's only one player, when he fails the team doesn't shoot," he added.

"Everyone has to shoot. Ansu is a different player, he has to be very important from now on.

"But there is no specific focus on him or anyone, I have never understood it that way."

Barca will be without midfielder Pedri as the talented youngster continues to recover from a hamstring injury sustained against Eintracht Frankfurt earlier in April.

The Blaugrana have won eight of 10 LaLiga games that Pedri has started, in comparison to just 10 victories in 23 league games without the Spain international in the starting line-up this season.

Xavi provided a positive update on Pedri as he suggested he may be without centre-back Gerard Pique against Mallorca.

"Pedri is training separately and has a good feeling," he added. "Pique has a tendon problem. We'll see tomorrow, today he was more sore.

"Nico [Gonzalez] broke his finger in a collision with Ansu. A shame because we don't have plenty of midfielders, but that's football."

One midfielder that could leave his mark, though, is the out of favour Frenkie de Jong, who was seemingly unhappy after his substitution in Barca's last game.

"We had a very good face-to-face talk," Xavi said of De Jong. 

"It's obvious that this change frustrated him, but I have to look out for the team. He's had excellent games, but he has to be constant.

"He's capable and is here to make a difference. He's a very important player for the present and for the future".

David Silva has signed a one-year contract extension with Real Sociedad, the club announced on Friday. 

The veteran playmaker arrived in San Sebastian on a free transfer in August 2020 after leaving Manchester City, where he won 11 major titles – including four Premier League crowns. 

In April of last year, Silva helped La Real overcome local rivals Athletic Bilbao in the delayed 2019-20 Copa del Rey final and lift their first piece of major silverware since 1987. 

His contract was due to expire at the end of the season, but the 36-year-old World Cup winner has signed on for another campaign with the club. 

"I'm very happy. The truth is that I've been here for two very good years. Let's hope it ends up like last year with us getting into Europe," Silva said in a club interview. 

"We are playing great games and it's good to continue for another year. Before signing I knew the team was playing well and I was playing good football. 

"It is good the club is growing and being there every year to fight for Europe." 

Silva has scored three goals and supplied eight assists in 56 games across all competitions for La Real, with injuries limiting his playing time. 

La Real sit sixth in LaLiga, six points adrift of the top four with five games remaining.

A statement from La Real said: "He is necessary both on the field and in the dressing room and a role model for the younger players. 

"David Silva will continue to wear the txuri urdin colours that suit him so well. His control, dribbling, vision and assists will continue to amaze the Real Sociedad family. 

"His football and magic will continue for at least one more season." 

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone backed "one of the best in the world" Antoine Griezmann to return to form, while he offered his support for Luis Suarez amid a lean spell.

Simeone's side sit fourth in LaLiga, four points clear of fifth-placed Real Betis and appear set to secure Champions League qualification.

However, the form of forward Griezmann and the out of favour Suarez has come under scrutiny in the absence of the injured Joao Felix.

Griezmann has just three LaLiga goals in 21 appearances this season, finding the net once every 448 minutes on average, and has not scored in his last eight league games.

But Simeone insists the France international needs just one strike to regain his confidence as Atletico prepare to visit Athletic Bilbao on Saturday.

"Antoine is not converting goals in recent games, his performances have not been what he is accustomed to," Simeone told reporters at a pre-match news conference on Friday.

"He is one of the players with the most goals in the history of Atletico... He always works, he is always committed to the collective work of the team, I have no doubt that he will come out of this situation. 

"It's Griezmann, one of the best in the world, what he needs is to find a goal, which will give him confidence. From that, we will see the Griezmann who we were used to in previous years."

Only Fernando Torres (102 in 281 games) has more goals than Griezmann for Atletico in LaLiga history, the latter scoring 97 times in his 201 appearances for the club.

 

Suarez's form has also been a concern for Simeone, with the Uruguay international limited to appearances from the bench and scoring just twice in his last seven league games (both against Alaves).

The former Liverpool and Barcelona talisman is still Atletico's joint-top scorer this season, his 11 LaLiga goals only matched by Angel Correa, and Simeone hopes Suarez will soon find his feet again.

"I have no doubt that Luis will always score goals, with his team-mates, when he plays, in the Uruguayan team... because he has the ability to score," Simeone added.

"Hopefully if he comes in from the start or comes on in the game, he will make his mark on them. It's what he wants, what he feels, and what he lives off."

Suarez has failed to score in his last five away games against Athletic in the Spanish top flight, having previously netted on his first two visits to San Mames in LaLiga – both in 2015 with Barcelona.

Whether Suarez can regain his confidence against Marcelino's side remains to be seen, but Simeone knows the Basque side will pose a tough task.

"Marcelino is a very good coach, he makes his teams play well and that makes them complex to face," he continued.

"Also, whenever we have faced him he has very good teams, which usually have very good footballers. 

"This means that the matches are tight due to the characteristics of the team that Marcelino creates. I can't imagine a match that isn't tight."

Barcelona will return to their revered footballing blueprint under Xavi and the Blaugrana faithful should be excited over a "team to dream about", according to Ronald Araujo.

The Uruguayan was speaking at Camp Nou on Friday after committing his future to the club until the end of the 2025-26 campaign, with the 23-year-old set to play a big part in Barca's future.

Araujo has emerged as a key player this season, particularly since the arrival of Xavi following the dismissal of Ronald Koeman in October.

Xavi has overseen an upturn in fortunes with Barca climbing from ninth at the time of Koeman's sacking up to second in LaLiga, despite falling to three consecutive home defeats across all competitions in April.

Defender Araujo was quick to back Blaugrana boss Xavi as he suggested the Spaniard will restore Barca's principles to help them compete with LaLiga champions-elect Real Madrid, who need just a point to reclaim the title.

"I always work hard," he said. "I watch videos and talk a lot with Xavi about learning the Barca style. I believe in the project and we will get back up and start winning trophies again.

"I want Barca fans to feel excited about the team, because we are going back to the Barca DNA and we have a solid base of young and veteran players. We have a team to dream about."

 

Araujo's 39 appearances this term can only be bettered by Jordi Alba (40), Gavi (42), Frenkie de Jong (43) and Sergio Busquets (47) among Barca's outfield players.

The Uruguay international has made 78 appearances in total since joining from Uruguayan side Boston River in August 2018, contributing to 13 clean sheets across those games.

Araujo is keen to continue his progression with the Catalan giants as he looks to learn alongside the evergreen Gerard Pique and experienced Alba.

"I feel such immense joy," he said of his new contract.

"I have matured a lot. I couldn't pick any single moment from my time here, all I wanted was to renew my contract and be able to stay at Barca for a long, long time."

Barca president Joan Laporta also heaped praise on Araujo as he spoke alongside him on Friday.

"We want to thank Araujo for his character and commitment," Laporta said. "He has opened his heart.

"He is a footballer of the immediate present, but this also helps us to consolidate our short- and long-term plans. He is a very talented player who will help us to build a winning Barca."

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti jokingly questioned whether his Paris Saint-Germain counterpart Mauricio Pochettino was telling the truth when the Argentine claimed Kylian Mbappe will "100 per cent" be in Paris next season.

Mbappe is out of contract at the Parc des Princes at the end of the campaign and has been strongly linked with a move to Madrid.

Ancelotti was asked at a media conference on Friday ahead of Los Blancos' LaLiga clash with Espanyol what he made of Pochettino's comments a day prior.

"Pochettino said Mbappe will 100 per cent stay? Sometimes coaches at a press conference cannot tell the whole truth," he said, laughing.

"I think all the Madridistas are thinking about LaLiga and the Champions League right now. Only about that."

Madrid could clinch the title when they host Espanyol at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday, needing just a point to win what will be the 35th LaLiga triumph in the club's illustrious history.

Ancelotti would not confirm if Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr will play any part, but did say he would not risk any player who needs a rest ahead of next week's Champions League semi-final second leg against Manchester City.

"I think that Benzema and Vinicius can rest, but I am in favour of the fact that if they are well, they have to play," he said. 

"If someone needs rest, I will give it to them, but not because the game is easy. If there is a risk of injury, they rest."

The former PSG and Chelsea boss did admit he will have a selection headache in defence for the game, with none of David Alaba, Eder Militao or Nacho available.

"We have problems in defense. I have to put [Jesus] Vallejo, who has played very little. We have to choose another central defender, which could be Casemiro.

"In midfield I have options, with fresh players like [Eduardo] Camavinga and [Dani] Ceballos. [Marco] Asensio is up there fresh and then let's see if Karim is fresh tomorrow. I have to prevent any tired player from getting injured."

Although Alaba will not be available, Ancelotti did not rule him out of returning for the match against Man City, which the English side lead 4-3 from the first leg.

"Alaba is not going to be here tomorrow. We'll see on Wednesday," he added.

Ronald Koeman has called on former club Barcelona to show Xavi more support than he received in the Camp Nou dugout and defended his own record with the Blaugrana.

Koeman spent just over a year in the Camp Nou dugout before being sacked in October 2021, winning the Copa del Ray last season but overseeing a third-place finish in LaLiga and the departure of legendary attacker Lionel Messi.

Barca sat ninth in the top flight when the Dutchman departed, but are now favourites to secure Champions League qualification after Xavi oversaw an upturn in results. 

However, the Catalan giants recently lost three successive home games for just the second time in their illustrious history, and Koeman says club president Joan Laporta must show Xavi more support than he was granted during his own spell in charge.

"The situation of Barca, of the team and of the club, is the same as when I was [there]," he said at a golf event in Barcelona. "It means that changing the coach does not always mean being able to improve. The situation of the club hurts me.

"From January I will be the coach of the Netherlands, but I ask for maximum support for Xavi. He is a good coach, a legend at home and it is not his fault that Barca is in this situation.

"The only thing I ask is support for Xavi, I haven't had the full support of a president, I hope he [Laporta] has learned and does support Xavi. I didn't have support from the club and I hope Xavi does.

"Internally, you can say you have doubts, but on the outside there has to be support." 

Barca enjoyed an upturn in results after the January arrivals of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ferran Torres but rivals Real Madrid are now 15 points clear at the top of LaLiga.

Los Blancos will secure their 35th title by earning a point at home to Espanyol on Saturday after winning eight of their last nine league games (one loss), and Koeman says that gap is evidence that his time in charge was not a complete failure, highlighting financial difficulties and presidential elections as having a severe impact throughout his tenure.

 

"When I left, Madrid was eight points ahead and now the difference is almost double," he added. "I don't feel like a failed coach, far from it. 

"In January we were twelve points behind Atletico Madrid, we had the opportunity to be first against Granada and we failed. We kept the Copa and if you win a title it's not a failure.

"I spent many months without a president, I had to make statements about the club's situation, there was financial fair play [issues]. Then Messi and [Antoine] Griezmann left on the last day of the market. 

"I was heavily criticised for signing Luuk Jong, who is very good when you need a finisher. Luckily his goals have given five or six points in the last few minutes. I think that one person or a coach cannot be blamed for the loss of [the club's] DNA."

Koeman will reclaim his former position as Netherlands head coach after the 2022 World Cup in Qatar when he takes over from Louis van Gaal and will be reunited with Blaugrana midfielder Frenkie de Jong.

De Jong has come in for some criticism for his recent displays and has been linked with a move to Manchester United, but Koeman believes the 24-year-old will prove any doubters wrong.

"I don't think Barca wants to sell Frenkie, Xavi doesn't want to either," he added. "You don't have to doubt Frenkie de Jong, I don't doubt him and he's a starter in the national team. We put a player on top of everything and two weeks later we criticise him."

Barcelona will play their home games at the city's Olympic Stadium during the 2023-24 campaign as redevelopment of Camp Nou gathers pace.

Modernisation work at Barcelona's home ground will start at the end of this season, it was confirmed on Thursday, with Barcelona's city council giving the green light.

Initial work will focus on the first and second tiers of the stadium, along with exterior urbanisation and matters such as technology improvements.

Demolition of the third tier will take place a year later, ensuring Barca can operate at almost full capacity for their fixtures next season.

Club president Joan Laporta had stated that uncertainties over cost and availability of materials due to the war in Ukraine must be taken into consideration when planning the project, so Barca have opted to minimise risks and protect next season's revenue by delaying work on the third tier.

With the majority of the redevelopment taking place during the 2023-24 campaign, the Blaugrana will play home matches in Montjuic rather than at Camp Nou, relocating to the stadium that was the centrepiece of the 1992 Olympic Games. The Olympic Stadium can house around 60,000 spectators.

Barca will be able to play at Camp Nou in the 2024-25 season, but capacity will be reduced by around 50 per cent. The building project is due to be completed during the 2025-26 campaign.

Barcelona said in a statement: "The club has the funding to invest in this work and is continuing its efforts to ensure the best general financing operation for the Espai Barca project for an amount that will never be any more than 1.5 billion euros, as approved by a large majority at last December's referendum, and further ratified by the delegate members at the assembly held on 17 and 23 October."

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