Robert Lewandowski anticipates swift progress after he asked to leave Bayern Munich, a shock to the system for the Bundesliga champions.

The 33-year-old striker, who reached 50 goals for the season by netting a header in Bayern's final match of the campaign on Saturday, has made it clear he does not see his future at the Allianz Arena.

All involved at Bayern are aware of Lewandowski's stance, which was confirmed before the 2-2 draw at Wolfsburg by sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic.

They must either sell him and bring in useful funds or face losing the Poland striker on a free transfer in 12 months' time. Keeping a disenchanted player would be a risk and Lewandowski urged all parties to find a positive outcome.

"I spoke to Hasan Salihamidzic and told him that I had made a decision not to extend my contract with Bayern," Lewandowski told Polish broadcaster Viaplay.

"Both sides must think about the future. I informed the coach of my decision. I am not renewing the contract, and now the most important thing for both parties is to find a good solution.

"It is very possible that this was my last game for Bayern. I have one more year on the contract, everything will be clarified in the near future."

According to Polish newspaper Przeglad Sportowy, Lewandowski added: "We want to find the best solution for me and the club. Both sides want the decision to quit in the summer or stay for the final season as soon as possible."

Lewandowski finished as the Bundesliga's leading scorer for a seventh season, matching Gerd Muller's record to secure the league's cannon trophy once again. In the league alone, he managed 35 goals, and that form has seen him strongly linked with LaLiga giants Barcelona.

The former Borussia Dortmund star is the top scorer among players from Europe's top five leagues, ahead of Real Madrid's Karim Benzema, who came into the weekend on 44 goals across all competitions.

Madrid could yet bring in Kylian Mbappe from Paris Saint-Germain to pair up with Benzema, and that would add to the onus on Barca to make their own statement signing.

Barca have financial issues to iron out before any deal could go ahead, as head coach Xavi pointed out on Saturday.

He has not spoken directly about Lewandowski to confirm Barca's interest, but Xavi could use a prolific goalscorer if his team are to challenge Madrid for domestic silverware next season.

Xavi explained he would not be averse to signing a veteran player, having noticed how stars in their mid to late thirties are increasingly staying in good shape, pinpointing the likes of Luka Modric, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Barca's own Dani Alves.

Bayern boss Julian Nagelsmann said after the Wolfsburg game that a busy week awaits him at the club's headquarters, even with the season at an end.

"Next week is going to be a lot of time for me at Saebener Strasse," Nagelsmann said.

"Lots of appointments, with the players as well, just to work on the future, so we'll hopefully be more successful than we are currently."

Robert Lewandowski has asked to leave Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich, sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic said on Saturday.

The record-breaking striker wants a new challenge at the age of 33 after eight years with the Bundesliga giants.

His intentions had been mooted in recent days but have now been confirmed, with Salihamidzic telling Sky television the Poland international has made his position known.

In response, Bayern have told Lewandowski he remains under contract until the end of next season.

It means there could be months of uncertainty ahead as Lewandowski seeks to leave and Bayern look to convince him his future remains in Munich.

Barcelona have been strongly linked with a move for the striker, but their head coach Xavi would not be drawn on Lewandowski when he spoke on Saturday.

Salihamidzic explained his conversation with the player, who hit a record 41 goals in last season's Bundesliga.

"He said that he would like to do something else. But our attitude hasn't changed: Lewa has a contract until June 30, 2023. That's a fact," Salihamidzic said.

"I spoke to Lewa. In the conversation he told me that he did not want to accept our offer to extend the contract and that he would like to leave the club."

Salihamidzic declined to entertain the question of what might change to alter the stand-off, saying: "I don't deal with that because our stance has always been clear."

The announcement regarding Lewandowski came in the minutes before kick-off in Bayern's final game of the season at Wolfsburg.

Predictably, he scored in the 40th minute to take his goal tally to the season to 50 across all competitions.

Barcelona defender Ronald Araujo is a shock contender to face Getafe on Sunday – just five days after suffering a head injury that caused him to spend a night in hospital.

The 23-year-old Uruguayan suffered a heavy blow in Tuesday's 3-1 LaLiga win against Celta Vigo, clashing heads with team-mate Gavi shortly after the hour mark.

Both sets of players urged medical staff to come onto the field, and Araujo received around 10 minutes of treatment before leaving the pitch in an ambulance.

Xavi said after the match that Araujo was "conscious and out of danger", and his discharge from hospital was confirmed on Wednesday.

Barcelona stated on Tuesday that Araujo had suffered concussion, which is a brain injury.

In England, Football Association rules stipulate that any player with concussion should not be allowed to play again for at least six days; however, Barcelona believe Araujo could be ready to feature in Spain's LaLiga after coming through training with team-mates.

"Araujo wants to play," Xavi said on Saturday. "For us that means a lost. At no time was he unconscious, and he wants to play. He wants to be with us.

"I am moved by the commitment he has. The feelings on the training field are very good. He was not unconscious and in that sense it is important so that he can be there tomorrow."

Araujo posted on Twitter on Friday: "Thank God everything went well and it was nothing serious. Thank you all for your support. Blessings!"

The Uruguay international has played 42 times this term, totalling 3,181 minutes on the field – only Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Frenkie de Jong have played more minutes among outfield Barca players.

Xavi insisted age would not be a barrier when Barcelona rebuild in the close season as the Catalan giants continue to be linked with 33-year-old Robert Lewandowski.

The Barcelona head coach said he had not concluded discussions with club power-brokers over transfer plans, and had not spoken to the team's current players about plans.

Bayern Munich frontman Lewandowski is reportedly keen on joining Barcelona, while Xavi did not rule out an exit for Frenkie de Jong, who has been linked with Manchester United.

Uncertainty lingers over whether Barcelona will have much financial clout in the transfer window, as they attempt to come through an economic crisis that has hit Camp Nou hard.

It may be that the likes of De Jong – in what should be their prime years, at the top of their market value – have to be sacrificed in order to bring in the quick-fix solution that a player such as veteran goal-getter Lewandowski might provide.

Xavi told a news conference: "The circumstances of the club are what rule. I have an important part in decision-making. From here on, we depend on the economic situation.

"In a few days we should know where we are in order to plan for next season. The economic situation keeps us at bay, it is obvious that marks the present and the future of the club."

Asked about Dutch midfielder De Jong, Xavi said: "For me, he is a very important player. He has been a starter almost always, except when he has been rotated.

"He is a fundamental footballer, but then there is the financial situation of the club. He is a player that I like very much, but we are going to see how the situation is."

Xavi said Barcelona have "untouchables" in their ranks who must not be transferred, and although he did not name such players, the growing number of youngsters coming through the ranks such as Ansu Fati, Pedri and Gavi likely fall into that category.

Lewandowski, who has scored 49 goals in 45 games for Bayern this season, could be the player that allows Barcelona to bridge the gap to Real Madrid next season. Barcelona have moved far closer to Madrid's standards since Xavi was appointed in November, after a dismal start to the campaign under Ronald Koeman, but Los Blancos have carried off the LaLiga title with a comfortable cushion.

In light of the Lewandowski reports, Xavi was asked whether he could sign veteran players and was adamant he would, contingent on whether such stars kept themselves in good shape.

"I signed Dani Alves at 38," Xavi said. "It's not age, it's performance. Players take care of themselves so much and every year they are more professional.

"Ibrahimovic, Modric, Dani Alves, they all have a very high performance at important clubs. Cristiano [Ronaldo] and [Lionel] Messi too. Age is not a priority. If it improves us, that's the important thing."

Xavi declined to say whether Barcelona would be targeting a goalscorer, declaring it was "not the time to talk about this".

However, he said: "The club knows what we need to be competitive. The board will demand titles from us, and we have to improve."

Xavi, whose side face Getafe in LaLiga on Sunday, explained: "We're talking a lot about players for next year, but we still haven't met the goal of finishing second. There are two games left to finish with a good feeling. Then we'll plan and decide."

Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti has agreed with Mohamed Salah that the Liverpool star is the best player in the world in his position.

Ancelotti's Madrid face Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool in the Champions League final on May 28 in Paris, with two contenders for the Ballon d'Or lining up against each other in Salah and Karim Benzema.

Salah has been in fine domestic scoring form once again this season, on course for the Premier League's Golden Boot award with 22 strikes, while he has been directly involved in 35 goals in 34 league games.

The Egypt international, speaking after winning the Football Writers' Association Player of the Year in England, declared himself as the best forward in the world at present.

"If you compare me with any player in my position, not only in my team but in the world, you will find that I am the best," he told BeIN SPORTS.

"I always focus on my work and do my best, and my numbers are the best proof of my words."

Indeed, only five players – Ciro Immobile (156), Kylian Mbappe (167), Cristiano Ronaldo (169), Lionel Messi (174) and Robert Lewandowski (232) – have scored more than Salah (154) since his Liverpool debut in August 2017 across Europe's top five leagues in all competitions.

Meanwhile, Lewandowski (49), Benzema (44), Mbappe (35), Christopher Nkunku (34) and Immobile (32) are the only players from the same group to outscore Salah (30) this season.

The debate continues over who should win the next Ballon d'Or with Benzema, who could deliver World Cup glory for France in Qatar to aid his cause, and Salah among the front-runners for the personal accolade.

Ancelotti, addressing a pre-match news conference ahead of a LaLiga clash at Cadiz on Sunday, admitted that no player comes close to Salah in his position at the minute.

"Salah has said that in his position he is the best in the world and I think he is right," Ancelotti told reporters.

"I agree with him. In his position, yes, he is the best in the world."

Eden Hazard has no other plans than to stay at Real Madrid, Los Blancos manager Carlo Ancelotti has said.

Belgium international Hazard has struggled at Santiago Bernabeu since completing his reported €100million move from Chelsea in June 2019, with injuries and fitness issues hampering the forward.

Hazard has managed just seven starts for his 17 LaLiga appearances and 688 minutes this campaign as Madrid cruised to their 35th league title.

However, the 31-year-old appears to be a favourite with his team-mates in the Spanish capital after being seen to be encouraged to join in with celebrations after both LaLiga success and the Champions League semi-final victory over Manchester City.

Ancelotti, speaking before a trip to Cadiz on Sunday, has made it clear he intends to keep Hazard at Madrid.

"I have not talked about continuity. He stays and with a lot of motivation because he has not had a good time. He wants to show his quality. Hazard's plan is clear: he stays," Ancelotti said.

Asked if Hazard is likely to feature at Cadiz as Ancelotti rotates ahead of the Champions League final with Liverpool on May 28, the Italian responded: "I think so. In a squad like Madrid's there are many games. 

"There will be rotations. With a more complete squad you can rotate more and everyone can have opportunities. Being a starter in a great team is very complicated. For all, not only for those who play less.

"I think it is a locker room of a very high level. Professional, first, there are no arrogant people. Everyone is very humble and very respectful. It is a locker room that has a lot of quality of character. 

"It hasn't been easy to find changing rooms like this in my career.

"The number of minutes is not important. We have the example of Rodrygo. He has not played many minutes, but they have been quality when he features."

Ancelotti also confirmed he plans to rest Karim Benzema again, with Vinicius Junior and Thibaut Courtois also in line for a break.

"I have given him rest because he deserves it," he said of Benzema. "I have given him two days. Tomorrow I will also rest Vinicius and Courtois. They will be back on Tuesday. 

"[Dani] Carvajal, [Dani] Ceballos, Hazard are back... We're doing the plan well and next week they'll all be back."

As for the future of captain Marcelo, Ancelotti promised to open talks at the end of the season, while he heaped praise on the likes of Federico Valverde, Rodrygo and Eduardo Camavinga.

"Everyone has done their job. The ones I knew less about have surprised me: Valverde, Rodrygo, Camavinga. Vinicius has not surprised me because he has that talent," he continued.

"He has been more successful in finishing. I would say Rodrygo, Camavinga and Valverde are the three, though."

Madrid have won both of their last two visits to Cadiz in LaLiga (2-1 in August 2005 and 3-0 in April 2021), and could record three such straight away wins for the second time in the competition (three between 1987 and 1990).

Bayern Munich are determined to keep Robert Lewandowski away from Barcelona's clutches as speculation mounts that the Polish striker will request a transfer.

After clinching a 10th consecutive Bundesliga title, Bayern were bringing down the curtain on their season as they travelled to face Wolfsburg on Saturday.

Lewandowski has been champion eight times with Bayern and twice previously with Borussia Dortmund, having left Lech Poznan in 2010 to try his luck in Germany.

Now he is reportedly keen on moving to Barcelona, and with only one year remaining on his contract Bayern are facing a quandary.

They could make fresh attempts to persuade him to sign an extended deal. If it has already passed that point, they could dictate to Lewandowski that he must stay for the next 12 months before leaving on a free transfer. That would risk Bayern going into a new season with a disgruntled senior player.

The alternative is that they cash in on him now, when, at the age of 33, he would still bring in a hefty transfer fee.

Lewandowski has netted 49 goals in 45 games this season, making him the leading scorer across all competitions among players from Europe's top five leagues (Bundesliga, Ligue 1, LaLiga, Premier League, Serie A).

Bayern president Herbert Hainer told German newspaper TZ: "Robert Lewandowski has a contract with FC Bayern until June 30, 2023. And he will fulfil it."

The Wolfsburg game could turn out to be Lewandowski's final match for Bayern, if he is serious about wanting a move.

Bayern head coach Julian Nagelsmann said the striker had shown professionalism in training but deferred to more senior club officials regarding Lewandowski's future.

"He has been training very well, showing good commitment and scoring great goals," Nagelsmann said in a pre-match news conference on Friday.

"He will be in the starting line-up [on Saturday]. His contractual situation is known and I won't give any information about anything else."

Speaking last month, Bayern chief executive Oliver Kahn considered Lewandowski's situation, saying: "We are in contact with Robert and want him to stay with FC Bayern for as long as possible."

Kahn added: "Of course, at some point players like this get the idea: I've achieved everything here and won everything. Then it takes time to convince him to stay here."

Philippe Coutinho will go up "another level" after agreeing a permanent transfer from Barcelona to Aston Villa, manager Steven Gerrard has said.

Villa announced on Thursday that Coutinho will complete a £17million (€20m) move at the end of the season, having impressed in his half-season loan spell at the Premier League club.

The Brazil international has created the most chances among Villa players (24) since scoring and assisting on his debut against Manchester United on January 15.

Coutinho has also crafted the most 'big chances' – from which Opta would expect a player to score – in that period (five) to go along with his four goals and three assists.

Villa boss Gerrard expressed his delight at securing Coutinho's signature and suggested the 29-year-old will develop in the knowledge he has the full backing of Villa Park.

Asked why he thought Coutinho made the swap from Barcelona to Birmingham, Gerrard joked with reporters: "Probably my banter and my company to be honest!"

He added: "I was aware a little bit before it was announced, and I think it's fantastic for everyone connected with the club.

"You've seen the reaction from the supporters, it's very positive, they've seen him over the last five or six months play ever so well.

"He's still got loads left in him, in our opinion. To have him here full time and settled, I think he'll come again and go up another level because of that feeling of knowing where he's going to be playing for the next four years.

"I think he is a player that needs to feel wanted, he needs to feel support. Everyone at Villa is playing their part… the owners especially have made him feel really special.

"He feels really happy here, and it's fantastic that he wants to be part of this journey.

"I think you can't underestimate football happiness. In any walk of life, in any job, you've got to get out of bed with a purpose and with a drive and energy to enjoy your role. In football terms, that is to feel support from your team-mates, from your staff, but also from your supporters.

"If you get out of bed every morning and you're playing for an ambitious club where there's a journey and everyone is pushing to move it forward and improve it, and you're a big part of that and you're made to feel welcome and people want to build around you, that's very important in Phil's situation."

Pep Guardiola's departure from Barcelona was influenced by his hostile relationship with then-Real Madrid head coach Jose Mourinho, according to Blaugrana defender Gerard Pique. 

Guardiola won 14 trophies – including three league titles and two Champions Leagues – in a four-year spell at Camp Nou, developing a legendary side featuring academy graduates including Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Pique.

However, Guardiola's final season at the helm saw the Catalan giants finish second to Los Blancos in LaLiga, as Mourinho's side broke the league's points tally record by earning 100 points in 2011-12, also scoring a yet-to-be-matched 121 league goals. The points tally was equalled by Tito Vilanova's Barcelona in the following season.

The two coaches clashed repeatedly after the Portuguese coach arrived at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2010, and Pique believes the rivalry "got too much", contributing to Guardiola's decision to leave.

"We were winning everything at the time and I remember that the first time Mourinho came to Camp Nou he lost 5-0 against us [in November 2010]," Pique told Gary Neville on The Overlap. 

"It was a shock of reality that these guys are going hard, but in the press conferences every time he was… you know his style, I think that for Guardiola at some point it was too much.

"It was more important sometimes what happened off the pitch than on the pitch.

"Guardiola left. Madrid won the league that year and all of a sudden, he decided to leave for so many reasons, but I am sure part of it was because with Mourinho it got too much."

After Guardiola's Manchester City team fell to a stunning 6-5 Champions League semi-final defeat to Real Madrid earlier this month, he is tied with Mourinho as the two bosses with the most semi-final eliminations from the competition (six each), while the duo are also the two managers with the most wins in their first 100 Premier League games (both 73).

Pique claimed Mourinho's confrontational style also affected relationships between Barcelona and Madrid players in the Spain international set-up, despite the team winning three consecutive major tournaments between 2008 and 2012.

"Since he arrived, he knew that on the pitch they were weaker than us," Pique said of Mourinho's time with Madrid. "We had a better team for sure, and even the relationships between players [were better].

"I remember going to the national team, and after those games it was tough because Mourinho goes to the mind of the player and he says, 'These guys hate you', then you believe that.

"I was in the dressing room of the national team and said to [Madrid goalkeeper] Iker Casillas, 'Hey Iker', and the guy did not talk to me. At that time, I did not know, but it was the coach, he really knows how to go into the mind."

Asked whether Guardiola enjoyed the rivalry with Mourinho, Pique added: "I don't think so. I remember the semi-final of the Champions League in the Bernabeu [in 2011], he did an amazing press conference, but it was not about football.

"He enjoys talking about what is happening on the pitch, and here there was a moment where the press was focusing on what was happening outside the pitch."

Gerard Pique was left in tears following Lionel Messi's Barcelona exit, but the centre-back says he can understand why his former colleague joined Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi's 21-year association with Barcelona, 16 of those spent as part of the senior squad, came to an end last August when he signed for PSG as a free agent.

The Argentina international won every trophy available with Barca and departed as the club's all-time record scorer with 672 goals across 778 appearances.

Last year's departure came as a huge shock at the time, with the Catalan giants' financial situation meaning they could not agree fresh term under LaLiga's salary restrictions.

Pique and Messi came through Barca's La Masia academy together and spent 13 seasons as first-team regulars after the defender returned from a spell at Manchester United.

In an interview with former United team-mate Gary Neville, Pique opened up on just how tough he found it seeing his close friend move to another club.

"I cried when Messi left. I cried for him," Pique said on The Overlap podcast. "For the career he had at Barca, it would have been great if he had stayed until the end of his career.

"I can understand why he couldn't renew. The club was suffering a lot economically because of the past president and how he managed the club.

"At the end of the day, these are things that happen in life. Sometimes you make a decision and things don't work out.

"For Barcelona and the fans, Messi was like a god. It would have been great if he stayed."

 

Messi was directly involved in 937 goals for Barcelona, with his most prolific season coming in 2011-12 when scoring 73 goals in all competitions and assisting a further 28.

But while the record seven-time Ballon d'Or winner was very much the poster boy for Barca's trophy-laden period, Pique insists Messi could not have done it alone.

"Lionel Messi is the best player in the history of the game," he said.

"Messi was Barcelona's best player. I've always said that we had Messi to win titles, but we also had to have a good team. A single player cannot win titles."

Carlo Ancelotti has challenged his Real Madrid side to maintain their intensity ahead of the Champions League final with Liverpool on May 28.

Los Blancos, who were crowned LaLiga champions a fortnight ago, condemned Levante to relegation on Thursday following a 6-0 thumping at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Vinicius Junior scored his first hat-trick for the club in his 168th appearance, with Ferland Mendy, Karim Benzema and Rodrygo also finding the back of the net.

Benzema's header saw him move level with Raul as Madrid's second-highest all-time top goalscorer on 323 goals.

The emphatic win followed Sunday's El Derbi defeat to Atletico Madrid, and Ancelotti said he expects his players to give 100 per cent in their remaining two league games before the showdown with Jurgen Klopp's side.

"We are playing well and our self-esteem has grown a lot," he told a media conference.

"We have this challenge of playing in the final after winning the league. We know that there is a lack of time and that we have to have intensity.

"The team are showing very good signs. We work very well in the field. We have done well, with rhythm and intensity. It's what we wanted, high intensity for team dynamics."

Asked what his side's formation will be for the game against Liverpool, Ancelotti revealed he will not deviate from his trusted 4-3-3.

"It will be the 4-3-3," he said. "That sometimes can be a 4-4-2. I think there is no defined system. Sometimes to put pressure on the pivot, as we did against Manchester City, you go from 4-3-3 to 4-4-1-1. 

"The idea does not change much, just a little the way of defending the rival, of putting pressure on him."

Ancelotti has received plaudits from across Europe in recent weeks after masterminding Madrid's dramatic run to the Champions League final, yet the Italian would not be drawn on whether he is the best on the continent.

"It is difficult to answer that," he said. "I don't like to give myself votes, others give them to me. 

"I like to live a happy moment. I hope I can continue like this for a long time. We have a very big goal, we are going to give everything."

Madrid face Cadiz and Real Betis before doing battle with the Reds in Paris at the end of the month.

Karim Benzema moved level with Raul as Real Madrid's second-highest all-time top goalscorer and Vinicius Junior scored a hat-trick as the LaLiga champions relegated Levante with a 6-0 hammering.

Ferland Mendy got Carlo Ancelotti's side, who were crowned champions a fortnight ago, on their way early on, before Benzema joined Madrid icon Raul on 323 goals soon after.

Rodrygo and Vinicius added further goals before the interval, with the latter completing his treble in the second half at the Santiago Bernabeu on Thursday.

While the rout restored Madrid's 12-point advantage over Barcelona at the summit, it condemned Levante drop with two games to play.

Any hopes Levante had of causing an upset were dispelled in the 13th minute when Mendy powered into the penalty area and slotted past Daniel Cardenas.

Federico Valverde then steered a volley against the post, before Benzema doubled his side's advantage with a close-range header from Vinicius' cross after 19 minutes.

Rodrygo slid home Luka Modric's cross to make it three in the 34th minute, while Cardenas twice pushed Valverde drives onto the crossbar as Madrid dominated.

They made it four in the 45th minute, when Vinicius collected Modric's pass and curled past Cardenas from a tight angle.

Cardenas pawed away Modric's whipped effort and Vinicius saw an effort ruled out for offside after the interval. 

The Brazil international was not to be denied in the 68th minute, though, tapping into an empty net after Benzema had rounded Cardenas.

He had his hat-trick seven minutes from full-time courtesy of a cool finish from 10 yards out after breaking through Levante's dispirited backline. 

Philippe Coutinho will complete a permanent £17million (€20m) move to Aston Villa from Barcelona at the end of the season, it has been confirmed.

The Brazil international has enjoyed a resurgent half-season loan spell at Villa Park since January and has signed a contract until June 2026 after being effectively frozen out of starting contention at Camp Nou.

The deal, which will see Barca paid 50 per cent of any future sale of the player, brings to a close an unhappy four-and-a-half year tenure with the Blaugrana, who originally signed him in 2018 from Liverpool for a club record nine-figure sum.

Despite success in La Liga in terms of trophies, winning two titles and two Copa del Reys, the playmaker struggled to slot in with the Catalan outfit and spent the 2019-20 season on loan with Bayern Munich, where he won a Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and Champions League treble, although the German giants declined to make the move permanent.

It has been his return to England under former Reds team-mate Steven Gerrard that has arguably seen him hit his best form since leaving Anfield, though.

Coutinho has played more than twice as many minutes with Villa than he did with Barca this season, and has notched four goals in 16 appearances for the Midlands club.

Gerrard said: "This is a brilliant signing for Aston Villa. Phil is a model professional and his impact on the group has been very clear since he joined in January. 

"With the way he conducts himself on and off the pitch, he's also a valuable role model for our younger players who can only benefit from his experience. 

"As we look to build towards next season, it is incredible to work at a club that executes its business so decisively and smoothly." 

Isco's time at Real Madrid may be winding down, but the playmaker at least was able to see the funny side as he wished team-mate Marcelo a happy birthday.

Marcelo turned 34 on Thursday. The left-back joined Madrid in 2006 and has gone on to enjoy five LaLiga titles, two Copa del Rey triumphs and four Champions League crowns.

Isco, meanwhile, swiftly established himself as a key cog in Carlo Ancelotti's system upon joining Madrid from Malaga in 2013. 

However, the 30-year-old has struggled with injuries and was used sparingly by Zinedine Zidane in 2020-21.

Isco's struggles have persisted in Ancelotti's second spell in charge and he has been restricted to just 386 minutes of action this season, across 16 appearances in all competitions.

 

Just three of those have been starts, while Marcelo has played 17 times, totalling 790 minutes.

Isco, though, managed to see the humour in the situation while celebrating Marcelo's birthday.

"Happy birthday legend," a photo of Marcelo and Isco on the latter's Instagram story was captioned. "It was hard for me to find a photo of when we played!"

That being said, it should not have been too difficult for Isco to find a photo of the pair playing together.

Only last month, Marcelo started and Isco came on as a substitute in a victory over Espanyol, one that clinched the title. Both players seem unlikely to be at Madrid to help push for more trophies next season, though.

A relieved Diego Simeone credited the work of his players after Atletico Madrid marked his 400th LaLiga game in charge with a 2-0 win away to Elche on Wednesday.

Atleti also secured Champions League qualification with the victory, opening up a six-point gap to fifth-placed Real Betis via goals from Matheus Cunha and Rodrigo de Paul.

In Simeone's 11 years at the club, Atleti have been able to disrupt the hegemony of Barcelona and Real Madrid, winning LaLiga, the Europa League and the UEFA Super Cup twice, as well the Copa del Rey.

Simeone showed humility after the win, saying the support he has at the club is rare, allowing for such an uncommonly long tenure.

"It's an important moment because if it weren't for all the players who have passed through the club it would be impossible," he said post-match. "I am grateful and lucky because the club has always supported me. The back and forth is there, but I thank all the players that were here over this time and allowed me to have this possibility.

"I'm happy for the players, who had an irregular season. We competed very well in the Champions League and in LaLiga we couldn't maintain regularity.

"The goal has already arrived. Deserved, we worked hard and that makes us return to the Champions League for another year. This is very important for the club."

As noted by Simeone, it has been an irregular season by Atleti's notoriously conservative and defensive standards on the pitch.

The 41 goals the Colchoneros have conceded this term in the league make for the most over a full season since he took over as coach in December 2011.

Tensions have simmered in that respect and it was apparent again at the Estadio Manuel Martinez Valero, with Jan Oblak and Renan Lodi sharing a heated exchange before Cunha's opener.

After Wednesday's win, the 52-year-old conceded the defensive decline has been a difficult trade-off for stronger potency in attack, but had no issue with the Oblak and Lodi argument.

"If there are discussions, it's good because the players are in the game and they're alive," he said. "I like this kind of thing because I feel that the players are in the game.

"I think this the year we've scored the most goals since I've been at the club. Also opponents have scored the most on us.

"That's the balance that it cost us to find. We had Savic and Gimenez out, Reinildo did us a lot of good. He works very seriously and with humility. In front of goal we scored a lot of goals"

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