Xavi has told Barcelona they have "five finals" to play as they attempt to banish their April blues and make sure of a Champions League place.

A third consecutive home defeat has left second-placed Barcelona 15 points behind leaders Real Madrid, who should wrap up the LaLiga title on Saturday, needing just to avoid defeat against Espanyol to make sure.

While Barcelona's great rivals get set to celebrate, there is significant work to do for coach Xavi after his Blaugrana team were beaten 1-0 at home by Rayo Vallecano, who completed a league double over the Catalan giants.

Andoni Iraola became the first manager to beat Barcelona home and away in his first season in LaLiga since Quique Hernandez did so at Hercules in the 1996-97 season.

Alvaro Garcia scored with the only shot on target that Vallecano managed all night, and with a little luck Barcelona would have enjoyed a better outcome, but they are all out of luck just now.

A Europa League loss to Eintracht Frankfurt and LaLiga defeats to Cadiz and now Vallecano have been unexpected setbacks for a team who were on an immense high five weeks ago when they spanked Real Madrid 4-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Assessing the Vallecano setback and its impact, Xavi said: "I don't think it's a lack of personality on the part of the team. There are emergencies at the club, both football-wise and financially. It's a difficult situation and we have to face it.

"Now it's time to rest, disconnect and in the middle of the week we will get back on and prepare for the Mallorca game. We have five finals remaining, we've complicated it for ourselves."

 

Barcelona should still achieve a top-four finish, given they remain six points clear of fifth-placed Real Betis, but Xavi wants more than to see his side stumble over the line.

Their objective is to finish the season strongly and build momentum for the next campaign, and performances such as Sunday's disrupt the significant progress that has been made since Xavi's appointment in November.

Speaking to Movistar LaLiga, Xavi said: "In the first half we were not good, but in the second we improved, and the feeling is that we deserved much more. We had shots from all sides, from outside [the penalty area], from inside. But it didn't want to go in.

"In the first half it wasn't us, we didn't have the personality that we had to have in the game. Everything has been complicated for us today. It was a slow game, with interruptions."

He said Barcelona needed to show greater desire, and pointed to how Sunday's visitors capitalised on their big moment in front of goal.

The three shots that Rayo Vallecano attempted ranked as their lowest total in a LaLiga game this season.

"Rayo had one and a half chances," Xavi said. "We return to the issue of effectiveness.

"We are in a difficult situation. We are still in the Champions League places but we have complicated it for ourselves because if we had beaten Cadiz and Rayo it would have almost given us qualification for the Champions League."

Sergio Busquets admitted Barcelona are stuck in "a negative dynamic" after a 1-0 defeat to Rayo Vallecano that means they have lost three consecutive home games for the first time this century.

Alvaro Garcia's fine strike in the seventh minute condemned Barcelona to a Camp Nou loss, with Vallecano doing the double over the Catalan giants in LaLiga this season.

Barcelona had only suffered three straight losses at home once in their rich history, when Louis van Gaal's team experienced that disappointment in games spanning the 1997-98 and 1998-99 seasons.

Now they must pick themselves up from the bitter blow and go again next Sunday, when Real Mallorca will be their visitors.

Busquets said in a post-match LaLiga interview: "We're finding it really hard to win games at home at the moment. We've been conceding goals very early and that makes it even tougher for us, then you suffer a little bit more.

"Then the teams close up and defend the result. When you're not effective in both areas, it's a bit of a struggle as well."

 

Barcelona did not concede until early in the second half when losing 1-0 to Cadiz at home, but in their Europa League loss to Eintracht Frankfurt they were 2-0 down by the break, and it took two goals in second-half stoppage time to cut their deficit to 3-2 in that game.

Barcelona's latest defeat means they remain second in the Spanish top flight, albeit level on points with third-placed Sevilla, and Real Madrid's lead at the top is 15 points with five rounds of games remaining.

Madrid can clinch the title by avoiding defeat to Espanyol next weekend.

Captain Busquets said Barcelona attempted to add pace to their game in the second half, but they were largely flat and increasingly desperate as Vallecano manfully defended their lead.

Barcelona led the shot count 18-3, but only five of their shots hit the target. Their 71.3 per cent of possession counted for little come the final whistle as Vallecano became just the fourth promoted team to win both of their games against Barcelona in a LaLiga campaign, and the first since UD Salamanca in 1997-98.

"They were very well set up, we weren't effective," Busquets said. "When you don't score and the minutes go by, everything gets a lot tougher.

"We're in this negative dynamic at Camp Nou. We haven't been able to take advantage of the games we've had, and we've ended up level with Sevilla.

"Maybe in the second half we needed to put more attacking players on and go for the game. We had crosses in, we had chances, but it wasn't to be."

Barcelona suffered a shock 1-0 home defeat to Rayo Vallecano that means Real Madrid can step up plans for a title party.

This was a third consecutive home loss for the Catalans, only the second time that Barcelona have suffered such a fate in their history, with Alvaro Garcia's early strike the difference between the teams.

It means Real Madrid's lead at the top is 15 points with five games remaining, putting Los Blancos on the brink of being crowned champions.

That will be confirmed if Carlo Ancelotti's team avoid defeat to Espanyol next Saturday, while Xavi's Barcelona have slackened their grip on second place with this setback.

Vallecano, sitting 14th in LaLiga before their arrival at Camp Nou, snatched a seventh-minute lead when Garcia made a smart run into space to meet a chipped pass from Isi Palazon and fired sharply into the bottom right corner.

Jordi Alba curled a shot that flicked wide off the post as Barcelona chased an equaliser, then Gavi wanted a penalty when he slumped to the turf under a nothing challenge from Santiago Comesana. Referee Isidro Diaz de Mera Escuderos was unimpressed and booked coach Xavi for taking his complaints too far.

A clever floated shot from Gavi hit the crossbar shortly before half-time, and although Ferran Torres lobbed the ball into the net from the rebound, he had been in an offside position.

Jordi Alba had a shot deflect over as Barcelona pushed early in the second half, but the home side were horribly flat, with Ferran Torres and Frenkie de Jong replaced by Memphis Depay and Nico Gonzalez as Xavi looked to inject some energy.

Depay had a close-range shot blocked by Nikola Maras, and the Dutch striker saw a stinging 20-yard strike punched over the bar by Stole Dimitrievski, but the equaliser would not come.

 

What does it mean? Barca on the slide

Barcelona had won their last seven home games against Rayo Vallecano in LaLiga, and were seeking eight in a row against them for the first time in the competition, but this was poor from them.

This is a bad time of the season to get stuck in a rut, and Camp Nou defeats to Cadiz in LaLiga and Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League have been followed by another aberration. Barcelona led the shot count 17-3 here, but despite playing 14 minutes of second-half stoppage time, they could not put produce a clinical finish.


New boys slay Camp Nou

Vallecano, who came up through the Segunda Division play-offs last term, have become the fourth promoted team to win both of their games against Barcelona in a LaLiga campaign, and the first since UD Salamanca in 1997-98. They have also improved their record when leading at half-time in LaLiga this season to W8, D1, L0.

 

Famous night for Iraola

After his team's 1-0 win at home in October, Andoni Iraola has become the first head coach to beat Barcelona home and away in his first season in LaLiga since Quique Hernandez for Hercules in the 1996-97 campaign.

The home win in the autumn was a result that was followed by Barcelona sacking Ronald Koeman, leading to Xavi's appointment.

 

What's next?

Barcelona will have home advantage against next Sunday when Real Mallorca visit Camp Nou. Vallecano are also back on duty next Sunday, hosting Real Sociedad.

Xavi said his Barcelona team must fight for titles next season, as he acknowledged second place was the highest finish realistically available to them in LaLiga this term.

Barcelona earned a hard-fought 1-0 win over Real Sociedad on Thursday, and go into Sunday's home contest with Rayo Vallecano 15 points behind league leaders Real Madrid with just 18 points left to play for.

The Catalan giants' victory in the Basque Country, secured courtesy of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's first-half header, kept them six points clear of fifth-placed Real Betis as Xavi attempts to lead his team to Champions League qualification.

Xavi, however, recognises that improvements will be needed next season, acknowledging that while second place is the best Barcelona can hope for this term, "only winning" counts at Camp Nou.

"We are playing a lot, [qualification for] the Champions League and second place [are our targets]," he told reporters at a news conference on Saturday. "The league [title] is very difficult.

"We have dropped a little in terms of the game compared to a few weeks ago. If we recover, we will be closer to results. We must finish as high as possible, which realistically is second place.

"Since November in the league we've been fighting with Madrid. Next year we have to fight to win titles, here it is only worth winning. 

"Since November, we are one or two points behind Madrid, but they are up there on their own merits and so are we, we've gone from ninth to second [since Xavi replaced former boss Ronald Koeman]."

After suffering back-to-back home losses to Eintracht Frankfurt and Cadiz, Barcelona are looking to avoid losing three consecutive games at Camp Nou for just the second time in their history when they host Vallecano, having only previously done so under Louis van Gaal in 1998.

However, Xavi has undoubtedly made a positive impact since replacing Koeman at the helm, with the January arrivals of Ferran Torres and Aubameyang, LaLiga's top scorer in 2022 with nine goals, boosting their hopes of finishing second.

Rumours have linked several big names, including Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland, with summer moves to Camp Nou, but Xavi says the need for further additions must continue to be balanced with the club's finances. 

"We are planning for next year, but we depend on the club's economy," he added. "Let's see what we can do, and people have to go out. You have to do good planning and the idea is to have two competitive players per position.

"We have to start planning but what most concerns us is day-to-day, staying as high as possible, but let's see what economic situation we are in."

Meanwhile, Xavi revealed Gerard Pique, who has made headlines after leaked audio messages highlighted his involvement in moving the Supercopa de Espana to Saudi Arabia, is a doubt for Sunday's clash after playing through injury on Thursday.  

"We are managing it as best we can," Xavi said of his former team-mate's injury.

"He has had discomfort for two or three months, but he endured 80 minutes [against Sociedad] in a spectacular way. We will see tomorrow, he has not been able to train today."

Koke says Atletico Madrid's improved defensive showings are now being reflected by their results after the captain scored in a 1-0 win over Rayo Vallecano.

After Atletico had managed just a single attempt on target despite bossing the first half, Koke bent a delicate strike into the bottom-right corner after a neat one-two with Joao Felix, handing Los Colchoneros a fifth consecutive win in LaLiga.

Koke's first strike of the campaign also saw him join a select group, becoming just the fifth man to score in each of the last 12 seasons in LaLiga, after Karim Benzema, Raul Garcia, Iker Muniain, and team-mate Antoine Griezmann.

The victory, which Atletico claimed despite Angel Correa's late red card, put last season's champions third in LaLiga, three points clear of Barcelona and five clear of Real Betis in the top-four race.

After downing Vallecano with his first goal since January 2021, Koke hailed the team's concentration levels and emphasised the importance of keeping a clean sheet.

"We have found the key," the 30-year-old told LaLiga TV. "We have all increased the intensity, the concentration. That is why we are in this dynamic. 

"We are playing very good games and that is reflected in the results. We have found the key both offensively and defensively. 

"We have conceded a lot of goals [prior to this run] and [now] we are managing to keep a clean sheet, which is important for us and has given us victories."

The shutout win saw Atletico boss Diego Simeone become just the fourth coach to oversee 200 clean sheets in LaLiga. After reaching that landmark in just 393 games, the Argentine has done so quicker than any of the previous three, namely Luis Aragones, Miguel Munoz, and Javier Irureta.

"Jan is always the best in the world," Koke added. "He proves it in every match. To score a goal [against Oblak], you have to score a great goal or get lucky. 

"For us it is good news that we did not concede a goal and Jan is very important."

Atletico have now conceded just twice in their last five league games, having shipped 10 goals in their previous five matches in LaLiga.

Simeone, meanwhile, highlighted the team's recent growth, and emphasised the contribution of Koke after his match-winning intervention. 

"The team has grown as a whole, and the individuals are having a very good level," Simeone said. "Lodi, Reinildo, Llorente, the return of Koke has given us a lot, De Paul 's [had] two very good games…

"The team is very strong when they work like this. It is repetitive to talk about Koke, they [the players] know what I think of him. He goes through bad times, but he accepts them. Some criticise him more than others, but he always gives us a lot."

Koke's fine second-half strike earned Atletico Madrid a 1-0 derby victory over Rayo Vallecano on Saturday, though Diego Simeone's team finished with 10 men.

Antoine Griezmann and Joao Felix missed the best openings of a cagey first half, before visiting captain Koke finished neatly into the bottom-right corner in the 49th minute.

Jan Oblak made a fine left-handed save to preserve the lead, and Atleti held on despite Angel Correa's late red card, earning a fifth successive league win and boosting their hopes of a top-four finish. 

Griezmann's early volley forced Stole Dimitrievski into a reaction stop at his near post, before Joao Felix poked agonisingly wide after meeting Rodrigo de Paul's free-kick at the back post.

Joao Felix then sent a disappointing header over the bar from a right-wing corner on 34 minutes, but the fleet-of-foot Portugal international was Atleti's brightest attacker in a competitive first half.

Stefan Savic headed over from another set-piece at the end of a first half in which chances came at a premium, with both sides each registering just one shot on target each before the break.

Atleti went up a gear at the start of the second half, however, with Koke exchanging a neat give-and-go with Joao Felix before bending the ball into the bottom-right corner.

Mario Suarez drew a stunning save from Oblak on the hour and substitute Correa put his team in a difficult spot when he saw red on 85 minutes for shoving Alejandro Catena, but the visitors clung on.

Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui angrily bemoaned the state of Rayo Vallecano’s pitch, questioning whether their game on Sunday should have gone ahead after his side dropped critical points.

The 1-1 draw in Vallecas keeps Sevilla second but could see them end the matchday 10 points behind league-leaders Real Madrid, who are still to play Real Mallorca on Monday.

Despite the potential title implications, Lopetegui was seemingly more concerned with the pitch quality and how that reflects on LaLiga.

"In a scenario like this, you should not play this game in the Spanish league. I say this for ourselves and Rayo, which is a team that proposes to actually play football," he said post-match.

"It is not good for the league or for the competition and it is also not good for the health of the footballers. The state of the grass is unfortunate."

His criticism did not stop there, however.

The 55-year-old coach saved some for referee Juan Martinez Munuera, with a goal and penalty for Rafa Mir taken away following separate VAR interventions.

The overturned penalty in the 79th minute, with Sevilla chasing a late winner, was particularly contentious as Mir was brought down after apparent contact with Alejandro Catena.

"The referee's action has been decisive. He has annulled a goal and also the action for the penalty. The referees told us that grey areas in decisions are not re-arbitrated and that is why I do not understand," Lopetegui said.

"If we enter into that dynamic, VAR does not have an end. I am surprised by that decision that would not have happened in other games and I am confused by the criteria with VAR that it’s necessary to correct the black and white, but not the grey.

"I think it is an issue to be resolved clearly, but while the issue is being resolved we feel harmed."

Joaquin described the coming Copa del Rey final as "a beautiful thing" after he helped Real Betis seal a showdown with his old club, Valencia.

Manuel Pellegrini's side drew 1-1 with Rayo Vallecano in Thursday's semi-final second leg to progress to their fifth Copa final with a 3-2 aggregate win.

A stunning free-kick from Bebe looked to have sent the match into extra time, but Borja Iglesias bundled in an injury-time goal for Betis after substitute Joaquin had found Sergio Canales with a throughball.

Valencia had secured their place in the final on Wednesday, Goncalo Guedes' fine strike securing a 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao and a 2-1 aggregate victory.

Joaquin, who will turn 41 in July this year, will now hope to win the Copa for the third time in his career, having done so with Betis back in 2005 and Valencia three years later.

When asked about the prospect of facing his former side, Joaquin said: "My God, what a beautiful thing.

"We're going to enjoy ourselves because we deserve it. On Sunday, we have a difficult game to keep dreaming of the Champions League.

"I have already won a Copa with Betis and another with Valencia, and I've played a final with Fiorentina [in the Coppa Italia in 2014]."

There were wild celebrations inside and outside the Benito Villamarin, and Joaquin promised he would also honour the occasion – after he had seen his family.

"I'm not going out today," he said. "My wife said to me 'I'll wait for you', so I'll go home... to change. If we're kept here late then I'll have to go in the Betis tracksuit!

"But I want to see my wife and my girls, who have suffered like all Betis fans, and like I did. What a massive joy."

Real Betis will face Valencia in the Copa del Rey final after Manuel Pellegrini's men came through a semi-final against Rayo Vallecano.

Leading 2-1 from the first leg last month thanks to William Carvalho's winner, Betis controlled the second leg at the Benito Villamarin before late drama saw it finish 1-1.

The home side were content to keep possession and ensure Rayo had few chances to threaten, with Nabil Fekir mustering the first meaningful effort on target after 72 minutes had been played.

That was until the 80th minute, when former Manchester United forward Bebe unleashed a spectacular strike from a free-kick to level the aggregate scores.

However, in injury time, Borja Iglesias bundled home the equaliser to secure Betis' 3-2 aggregate win.

Betis saw a five-game unbeaten run end in a derby defeat to Sevilla last weekend, but almost put the tie beyond reasonable doubt after just six minutes, Juanmi seeing his header saved.

Isi Palazon fired narrowly wide for Rayo, and Pathe Ciss missed with a header, but there was little to trouble Betis goalkeeper Claudio Bravo in the first half.

Betis looked the more likely after the restart, with Sergio Canales and Carvalho each blasting shots over before Fekir at last produced an effort on target from inside the box, one that Luca Zidane held comfortably.

Andoni Iraola tried to provoke a late fightback, introducing Bebe from the bench, and he responded just three minutes later with a quite stunning strike from 35 yards out that left Bravo with little chance.

Just as extra time loomed, Betis snatched the decider. Bravo picked out Joaquin with a precise kick, the veteran slid the ball to Canales and, as his effort deflected towards the far post, Borja arrived to turn it home under pressure.


What does it mean? Betis on track for beautiful season

Betis have been a thrilling side to watch this season. They scored 47 times in their first 25 LaLiga games of the season, a figure they have only bettered twice in their history.

What Pellegrini's side showed here was nous and discipline. Although Bebe's stunner unsettled their plans, they responded well with late pressure to force Borja's goal and reach the final for a fifth time.

Hit me Bebe one more time

Bebe has had a penchant for the spectacular during his Rayo career, but did anyone truly see that goal coming?

It was an astonishing attempt, the swerve of the ball leaving Bravo clutching at thin air, and it was a goal worthy of at least forcing the extra 30 minutes.

Joaquin sets up dream date

Joaquin had just nine touches of the ball after coming on in the 82nd minute, but one of them was a perfectly weighted pass to release Canales for the equaliser.

The 40-year-old has won this competition twice before: once for Betis, and once with Valencia. He now has the chance to lift it for a third time, if he can beat his old club.

What's next?

Betis host LaLiga champions Atletico Madrid on Sunday, while Rayo head to Cadiz.

Carlo Ancelotti said Real Madrid's goalkeeper Andriy Lunin has an elbow injury after he withdrew from the matchday squad for their 1-0 win at Rayo Vallecano, but revealed he has understandably been affected by Russia's invasion of his home country of Ukraine.

Lunin, who is second choice to Thibaut Courtois, dropped out of the squad on Friday.

Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday, following weeks of rising political tensions in the region. The conflict escalated further on Friday, with the fighting reaching the capital city of Kyiv.

Several high-profile sports figures have publicly expressed their opposition to war, including Russia's Andrey Rublev who wrote "no war please" on a camera lens at the Dubai Tennis Championships, joining compatriot Daniil Medvedev in calling for peace.

In the Premier League, Manchester City and Everton showed solidarity with Ukraine ahead of their meeting at Goodison Park on Saturday.

City's Oleksandr Zinchenko and Everton's Vitaliy Mykolenko embraced during the warm-ups, the two Ukrainian players receiving a warm reception from fans inside the ground, with each appearing close to tears as more tributes were paid before kick-off.

Lunin was not present at Vallecas to receive any such support, with Ancelotti saying after the game: "He had a swelling in his elbow, he couldn't move it this morning. 

"It is a medical problem, but I cannot hide that the player is affected. He is thinking about what is happening there, he has people close to him in Kyiv."

Madrid left it late to secure all three points against their neighbours, Karim Benzema's 83rd-minute goal sealing victory.

Asked about the game, Ancelotti said in quotes reported by AS: "Satisfied with the work, with the commitment, we knew that it was going to be competitive in all facets. 

"We risked on the counter-attacks, we tried to combine up front and win the match. 

"We did, although I'm not very, very satisfied. It was a difficult field, because of the atmosphere, the rival, the grass that was not good... Nobody wins here by a large score."

Karim Benzema and Real Madrid left it late to go nine points clear at the top of LaLiga with a 1-0 win at Rayo Vallecano.

Madrid entered Saturday's contest with the chance to stretch their advantage over second-placed Sevilla but laboured for long periods against a side on a four-game losing streak.

Casemiro had the ball in the net late in the first half but saw his strike ruled out for offside.

Madrid struggled to exert dominance thereafter and were somewhat fortunate not to fall behind in the second half, but seven minutes from time Benzema tapped in to seal the points after an excellent one-two with Vinicius Junior.

Carlo Ancelotti has refuted suggestions that he could use Real Madrid's upcoming league games to prepare for their crucial Champions League second leg clash with Paris Saint-Germain, for which Casemiro and Ferland Mendy will be suspended.

Casemiro and Mendy picked up decisive yellow cards in the LaLiga leaders' 1-0 first-leg defeat to PSG, ruling them out of the crucial second leg in Spain next month. 

Brazil midfielder Casemiro has appeared in all seven of Real's Champions League games this season, while left-back Mendy has made five appearances, both establishing themselves as key parts of Ancelotti's attempts to bring the Spanish and European crowns back to the Bernabeu.

Speaking ahead of a trip to Rayo Vallecano, Ancelotti insisted that he will not use upcoming games to find the right balance for Real's reunion with PSG, highlighting the importance of their league fixtures.

"What can I tell you? It would be a good idea [to experiment] if we had friendly games," he said.

"But we have two really important games, finals, against Rayo Vallecano and Real Sociedad.

"Two victories would mean a lot in order to win LaLiga, [so] I will play my best starting 11 in the games before Paris Saint-Germain.

"Toni Kroos can replace Casemiro, but he doesn't need to get used to playing that [deeper] position, he has played it many times.

"I have experienced players, I don’t need to try new things. I Haven't thought yet about who will replace Casemiro and Mendy, as we have two really important matches before that."

Real Madrid will face Barcelona's conquerors Athletic Bilbao in the pick of the Copa del Rey quarter-final ties.

The one-legged fixture at San Mames is a repeat of last week's Supercopa de Espana final, which Madrid won 2-0 to secure the first silverware of Carlo Ancelotti's second spell.

Madrid will now look to take advantage of record 31-time winners Barca's last-16 exit to Athletic, with Iker Muniain's extra-time penalty eliminating the holders in a 3-2 defeat. 

Friday's draw, which was conducted by Spain legend David Villa, also pitted LaLiga high-flyers Real Sociedad and Real Betis.

Betis are third in the Spanish top flight after enjoying a sensational campaign thus far, while Sociedad are fifth and themselves in contention for a Champions League spot.

Valencia will take on Cadiz, meanwhile, and Rayo Vallecano are up against Real Mallorca in the other all-LaLiga quarter-final fixture.

All four ties will take place in two weeks' time, with the first leg of the semi-finals scheduled for the following week. 

Copa del Rey quarter-final draw in full:

Athletic Bilbao v Real Madrid
Real Sociedad v Real Betis
Valencia v Cadiz
Rayo Vallecano v Real Mallorca

Angel Correa scored both goals as Atletico Madrid got back to winning ways in LaLiga with a 2-0 victory over Rayo Vallecano on Sunday.

The reigning champions ended a four-game losing streak and leapfrogged their opponents, who failed to register a single shot on target at Wanda Metropolitano, into fourth place.

With Diego Simeone on the touchline having received authorisation from LaLiga following a recent positive COVID-19 test, Correa put the hosts ahead in the 28th minute with his first league goal since November 28.

The Argentina international doubled his tally and secured the points when he rounded off a neat move early in the second half.

 

Despite their poor form, Atletico were searching for a sixth successive win over Vallecano – and an eighth in the league on home soil.

The hosts squandered a great opportunity to take the lead in the 23rd minute when Luis Suarez robbed Esteban Saveljich of possession, but sent his attempted chip wide with only the goalkeeper to beat.

But they were not to be denied five minutes later. Mario Hermoso's blocked effort from a Yannick Carrasco cutback ricocheted kindly into the path of Correa, who drilled home through the legs of Luca Zidane.

Correa doubled the advantage within eight minutes of the restart, providing the finishing touch to Renan Lodi's cross from close range after a sweeping move by Atleti.

Thomas Lemar and Carrasco went close to increasing the margin of victory – the latter hitting the post for Simeone's side, who have now kept five clean sheets on the spin in this fixture.

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti expects Barcelona to bounce back from their poor start to the season under new head coach Xavi.

Xavi has been tasked with leading embattled LaLiga giants Barca out of their difficult period after his appointment as Ronald Koeman's replacement at Camp Nou.

Barca are 10 points adrift of Madrid after squandering a three-goal lead as Celta Vigo secured a dramatic 3-3 draw in the 96th minute on Saturday, while Ancelotti's league leaders edged Rayo Vallecano 2-1.

Ancelotti was asked about the return of Barca great Xavi to the Catalan giants – who are ninth in the standings – following Madrid's victory at the Santiago Bernabeu.

"Obviously I don't want to talk about Barcelona. I know they're in a tough situation, and I've said that on more than one occasion because I have a lot of respect for them as a club, and I respect Xavi as well," Ancelotti told reporters.

"I wish him the best because I can't say anything personally if Barca have any issues or not, but they have more than enough quality to get out of this tough situation."

Ancelotti added: "It's a surprise that we're 10 points clear of Barcelona, but I think Barcelona can very easily get back into the title race because the season is very long.

"And as I said, this is a very competitive league. You don't need 100 points to win this division. You need many less because it's that competitive."

Madrid continue to set the pace after Toni Kroos and Karim Benzema guided Los Blancos past Rayo in the Spanish capital.

Benzema has reached 10 goals in 11 of his 13 seasons in LaLiga (10 in 2021-22) – only Lionel Messi (15) has scored 10-plus goals in more campaigns in the competition in the 21st century than the Frenchman.

Madrid duo Benzema (10) and Vinicius Junior (seven) have scored 17 goals in LaLiga this term, a figure only surpassed by Bayern Munich (19) pair Robert Lewandowski (13) and Serge Gnabry (six) in the five major European leagues.

"I saw a team that played very well. For about 80 minutes, I think we played very well," Ancelotti said of his team's win. "We had a lot of chances and I think we had to score one more to kill off the game and we still kept creating chances and that third goal didn't come. And then when Rayo scored, we had a few minutes of fear.

"I haven't really got any other word to describe it, and we suffered, but I think we have to analyse everything as a team, and we suffered later on in the game. But we played very well during the majority of the match.

"We also did miss in front of goal, which is something that we don't normally do. It's something very strange that, for example, Karim [Benzema] misses in front of goal, but he scored a second, so he made up for that.

"But overall, I am happy because we picked up the three points and we got three points as well against a Rayo side that play well, they press well, they're very good playing out from the back. And we tried to be very dangerous on the counter when we had the possibility to, but I think the game was maybe over in the 80th minute. It was maybe one of our best performances of the season, but we had to work hard at the end."

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