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.

The Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool will be refereed by Clement Turpin, UEFA has announced.

Liverpool overcame Villarreal in the semi-finals, while Madrid edged past Manchester City in dramatic fashion to reach the showpiece of UEFA's flagship club competition in Paris on May 28.

Turpin, who has been an international referee since 2010, will officiate his first Champions League final.

The Frenchman previously served as fourth official in the 2018 showpiece in Kyiv, where Madrid defeated Liverpool 3-1.

Turpin, who refereed last season's Europa League final in which Villarreal defeated Manchester United on penalties, will be joined by compatriots Nicolas Danos and Cyril Gringore as his assistants.

Continuing with the French theme, Benoit Bastien will be fourth official and Jerome Brisard will lead the VAR team, which also includes Frenchman Willy Delajod and two Italians, Massimiliano Irrati and Filippo Meli.

In the Europa League final between Rangers and Eintracht Frankfurt in Seville on May 18, Slovenian Slavko Vincic will be the man in the middle with compatriots Tomaz Klancnik and Andraz Kovacic on the line.

Meanwhile, Romanian Istvan Kovacs will take charge of his first UEFA club competition final when he officiates the Europa Conference League final, which sees Roma face Feyenoord at Arena Kombtare in Albania on May 25.

Kovacs will be joined by fellow countrymen Vasile Florin Marinescu and Mihai-Ovidiu Artene.

Aleksander Ceferin has defended UEFA's allocation of Champions League final tickets following criticism from Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp.

The Stade de France has a capacity of 75,000, but less than 20,000 tickets apiece will be allocated to Reds and Real Madrid fans for the showdown on May 28.

Liverpool manager Klopp made his feelings about that perfectly clear after his side beat Villarreal at the semi-final stage.

He said: "It is absolutely not right, but it happens everywhere. It doesn't make it better, just in this specific case you are not only paying more than last time for a ticket, but you only get 50 per cent of the tickets and the rest goes to people who pay thousands and thousands for the tickets."

Klopp added: "When you see the ticket prices and all this kind of stuff, the amount of tickets you get only... did I read, is it right that we only get 20,000, they get 20,000, [but] 75,000 in? That makes 35,000, what? Where are these tickets?

"I cannot be more appreciative, more thankful for what [the fans] are doing. Unbelievable... It is the only bad thing about the journey [fans struggling to obtain tickets]. I really hope they all can make it somehow and can create an incredible atmosphere.

"That is what I love about this game, really. The world will be red or white, but everybody will be either or, so that's really cool."

UEFA president Ceferin responded by stating that the system works.

He said: I explained the same thing to one of the coaches of the two teams [Liverpool and Madrid] a couple of days ago and I can do it here. I explained it to him a bit more and took much more time because I went through every single number.

"From the revenues from the finals, UEFA gets 6.5 per cent and 93.5 per cent goes to the clubs. From the other matches 100 per cent of the revenues goes to the clubs.

"Fans of both teams get 20,000 tickets each. If sponsors that pay 100 or more million euros sponsorship – of which 93.5 per cent goes to the same clubs – get some tickets, it's part of a contractual obligation that we have.

"UEFA doesn't get more tickets than the others. Some tickets go to the market, some tickets go to the fans and some go to the partners. It's not UEFA. I'm not giving tickets for free to my friends or selling to my friends.

"It's the system that works, and clubs couldn't function differently. For us, not much will change if all the tickets will be €10, but it will change a lot for the clubs. A lot."

Erling Haaland is a "great player" who is joining a "great club" in Manchester City, but Carlo Ancelotti suggested he is not overly upset at missing out on the much-coveted striker.

City confirmed on Tuesday they have reached an agreement to sign Haaland, who had been linked with an array of clubs across Europe – Ancelotti's Real Madrid among them.

Haaland's 85 goals in 88 games since joining Dortmund in January 2020 is bettered only by Robert Lewandowski (122) and Kylian Mbappe (89) across Europe's top five leagues.

But Madrid already boast a prolific striker of their own in Karim Benzema, whose 57 direct goal involvements in all competitions is unmatched in the continent's major divisions.

While Ancelotti has made no secret that he is a fan of Haaland, he is happy with his current squad, having already wrapped up his first LaLiga title and reached the Champions League final thanks to their sensational comeback against City last week.

"I don't really like to talk about this," Ancelotti said at a news conference on Wednesday when asked about Haaland's imminent switch to the Premier League leaders.

"He's a great player, City's a great club. But I'm sticking with my squad, which has led me to enjoy another Champions League final."

Madrid set up a showdown with Liverpool in Paris by overcoming City in a remarkable semi-final tie that they trailed 5-3 with a minute of normal time remaining.

Los Blancos followed that up with a 1-0 loss to rivals Atletico Madrid last weekend in a game that saw Ancelotti make seven changes to his starting line-up.

Ancelotti confirmed the likes of Thibaut Courtois, Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior will each return for Thursday's visit of Levante, who have lost just one of their last four trips to face Madrid in LaLiga.

Despite the title being secured with four games to spare, Ancelotti insists his side are not yet focusing on their upcoming clash with Liverpool at the Stade de France on May 28.

"The time we have spent together since the Atletico match has been looking only at tomorrow's game," he said. 

"It's important we give minutes to those who didn't play against Atletico, and then we have another game on Sunday. We are not preparing for the final.

"Tomorrow is a game that we have to play well to win. The objective is the same: keep a good rhythm, play well with the ball and win the match.

"If you lose competitiveness, you will not do well. They must rest, but also play in order to reach 100 per cent. 

"All this time it has been said that Ancelotti did not rotate and now that he does, nobody is happy. You have to give minutes to players."

Even with Haaland no longer on the market, Madrid are expected to strengthen in attack, with Mbappe their main target.

But Ancelotti was once again unwilling to discuss any potential targets, with Chelsea's Antonio Rudiger another rumoured to be on Madrid's radar. In fact, reports on Tuesday suggested the deal had been done to bring the Germany defender to Santiago Bernabeu on a free transfer.

"After the final there will be time to talk about this. For now, we are just aiming to finish the season well," he said.

"Talking about the future transfer window is not correct, I don't want to. I want to talk about tomorrow's match. It is the day to talk about this, not about alleged new signings."

Ilkay Gundogan will find other ways to keep himself occupied when Liverpool face Real Madrid in the Champions League final as he is still "angry" at Manchester City's exit.

City were eliminated at the semi-final stage last week with a remarkable 6-5 aggregate defeat to Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Last season's beaten finalists, who have yet to win UEFA's showpiece competition, were ahead 5-3 in the tie with less than a minute of normal time remaining in the Spanish capital before Rodrygo scored twice and Karim Benzema netted an extra-time penalty.

And while he openly admits to being obsessed with all things football, Gundogan has no intention of tuning in to watch City's conquerors Madrid take on Liverpool in Paris.

"If I think about the final in Paris then I get very angry," he told the Daily Mail. "Frustrated, disappointed. I'm definitely not going to watch it. 

"I will definitely try to do something else that day. Nothing is going to really help; the only thing that will is time. 

"It's becoming a little bit easier, even though you know – yet again – you've missed a big chance to lift a possible trophy."

He added: "Maybe there's not much we can tell ourselves that we did wrong but at the end of the day, we conceded two goals in two minutes. 

"We were not there when it was necessary and we were not focused enough. It was not enough. That is the blame we give ourselves."

Gundogan, a second-half substitute in the second leg against Madrid, has won eight major trophies with City – but European silverware continues to elude him and the club.

That could soon become nine trophies as City will be crowned Premier League champions for a fourth time in five years if they win their remaining three matches.

City have been pushed all the way by Liverpool, who they have battled it out with for domestic honours over the past few seasons, though the rivalry remains relatively peaceful.

That is a far cry from the days when matters would often boil over both before and after matches between title rivals Manchester United and Arsenal.

Gundogan, who also won the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund in 2011-12, insists football has moved on in recent years.

"Those kind of rivalries don't really exist anymore in modern football," he said. "For some people who are more old school you know, that might be bad. 

"The game is not like, I don't know, 20-30 years ago, with people on the pitch killing each other and intentionally trying to injure. 

"That's not how we want the game to be. I want fairness. I want respect. Just because there's a rivalry we don't need to kill each other on or off the pitch."

Sadio Mane has been speculated as a potential Ballon d'Or winner in recent weeks.

And the Liverpool forward is also gathering speculation about his club future.

The 30-year-old helped Senegal win the Africa Cup of Nations in February and has netted 15 goals in Liverpool's Premier League title challenge.

TOP STORY – BARCA TO SWOOP FOR BAYERN TARGET MANE

Barcelona are ready to swoop in to sign Liverpool's Mane amid reported interest from Bayern Munich, Mundo Deportivo claims.

The Senegal international is reportedly interested in a switch and is moving into the final 12 months of his Liverpool contract.

Barcelona have missed out on Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland who will join Manchester City and are determined to land an elite forward this off-season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Bayern Munich's Serge Gnabry is drawing attention from several clubs, with Real Madrid among the clubs interested, according to Fichajes.

- Newcastle United have made contact with Philippe Coutinho about a move, reports Goal. Coutinho is currently on loan with Aston Villa from Barcelona.

- The Guardian claims that West Ham United are plotting an off-season move for Aston Villa's Ollie Watkins. Villa would demand a £50m fee for the forward.

- Manchester United and Newcastle are both interested in signing Napoli's Victor Osimhen, claims Calciomercato. Napoli want 100m euros (£85.5m) for the Nigerian forward.

- Super Deporte claims that Sevilla are interested in a transfer for Arsenal's Nicolas Pepe.

Raphinha has been a bright spark for Leeds United as they have battled relegation from the Premier League this season.

Following the weekend's results, the Whites are in huge danger of going down after they dropped into the bottom three. As is the case in football, the vultures will circle in that eventuality.

The Brazil international has long been on the list of targets for Barcelona and the winger looks likely to move on at the end of the season, when Leeds could find themselves back in the Championship.

 

TOP STORY – LEEDS RELEGATION TO SPEED UP RAFINHA'S BARCELONA MOVE

Leeds United's potential relegation from the Premier League could help force Raphinha's move to Barcelona, according to Mundo Deportivo.

Even if Ousmane Dembele signs a new contract, the Catalan giants are keen to land another winger.

While Dembele's future has reportedly depended on Barcelona's qualification for the Champions League, the desire to sign Raphinha has been clear regardless. 

Leeds' relegation would reportedly allow the the 25-year-old to leave for €25million (£21.4m), though there is no clause in his contract that establishes an exact price.

ROUND-UP

- Arsenal's bid to sign Lautaro Martinez could be scuppered with Inter Milan not looking to sell the 24-year-old, per the Gazzetta dello Sport.

- Manchester City's deal with Borussia Dortmund for Erling Haaland could be finalised and announced next week, the Sun is reporting.

- Liverpool are ahead of Real Madrid and Chelsea in the race to sign Monaco midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni , according to Marca.

- Bayern Munich are preparing to begin talks with RB Leipzig over midfielder Konrad Laimer , Fabrizio Romano reports.

Diego Simeone insists Atletico Madrid still have plenty of work to do if they are to finish in LaLiga's top four and qualify for the Champions League.

Atleti beat fierce rivals Real Madrid 1-0 at Wanda Metropolitano on Sunday to move six points clear of fifth-placed Real Betis with three games to go.

Yannick Carrasco's 40th-minute penalty, awarded for Jesus Vallejo's barge on Matheus Cunha, was enough for Atletico to snap an 11-game winless run in this fixture.

Los Rojiblancos can seal a 10th straight season of Champions League football with three points against Elche on Wednesday, but Simeone is taking nothing for granted.

"There are three games left. Everyone is competing to finish fourth and it will not be easy," he told Movistar. "But of course this is a strong and decisive step for us.

"We played the game we wanted to play. We had many chances but couldn't be forceful and that pushed us to the limit against a rival that improves as the minutes go by."

Atletico hit the post through Carrasco late on and outshot their opponents 16 to 15, but just two of those attempts were on target – one of those being Carrasco's penalty.

Madrid had six shots on target by comparison – only against Cadiz have they tested the opposition goalkeeper more times in LaLiga this season (nine) without scoring.

Jan Oblak has struggled for form this season but produced a number of fine saves to help Atleti to their first ever win over Madrid at Wanda Metropolitano.

Indeed, those six saves are the most he has made in a single LaLiga match this campaign, surpassing the five he registered in March's 3-1 win against Betis.

 

Like head coach Simeone, though, the Atletico goalkeeper is not thinking of Champions League football just yet.

"We're still not sure of that," he said. "Until it's secured then the weight is going to be on us. On Wednesday we have to come out in the best way and get the three points.

"There are three games left, which is a lot. Hopefully we're not made to suffer until the last minutes."

Following their midweek trip to 14th-placed Elche, Atletico host Sevilla and then travel to Real Sociedad on the final day.

Carlo Ancelotti intends to continue rotating his Real Madrid side across their remaining LaLiga matches with all focus on the Champions League final against Liverpool.

Madrid were beaten 1-0 by fierce rivals Atletico Madrid in Sunday's El Derbi after making seven changes from their dramatic midweek European win against Manchester City.

While the likes of Luka Modric and Vinicius Junior were brought on at the second half, Karim Benzema and Thibaut Courtois remained on the bench at Wanda Metropolitano.

Los Blancos have already sealed the title and can afford to chop and change with three more LaLiga outings to come before their May 28 showdown with Liverpool. 

Ancelotti's side host Levante on Thursday and round off their domestic campaign with games against Cadiz and Real Betis.

Asked if he will continue to make changes to his side, the Italian coach told Movistar: "Yeah. Those who played less today will now play on Thursday.

"But the team that plays against Betis will more or less be the team that will play the [Champions League] final. The aim is to reach the final with everyone available.

"We still expect to compete, play with a high intensity and good rhythm. In the second half today the rhythm was good."

 

Madrid's defeat was their first against neighbours Atletico in 12 matches in all competitions in a run stretching back to 2018.

The visitors fired in 15 shots against Atleti, six of which were on target – only against Cadiz have they tested the keeper more times in LaLiga this term without scoring (nine).

Yannick Carrasco's penalty shortly before half-time proved the difference for Atleti, who ended the game with an expected goals (xG) value of 2.33 compared to 1.26 for Madrid.

"It was a good, competitive match," Ancelotti added. "We played much better in the second half and couldn't have asked for more in a match that comes after an exciting week.

"I didn't really expect any more from my side."

Atletico's penalty was awarded two minutes after Jesus Vallejo felled Matheus Cunha in the box, with VAR instructing referee Cesar Soto Grado to check the pitchside monitor.

That was the first spot-kick Los Rojiblancos have scored against Madrid in LaLiga since Diego Forlan converted from 12 yards in March 2010.

Ancelotti was surprisingly not asked about the contentious incident and joked "aren't we talking about the penalty" as he exited his post-match news conference.

Atletico Madrid took advantage of Carlo Ancelotti's decision to rotate as they edged out fierce rivals Real Madrid 1-0 on Sunday to tighten their grip on fourth place in LaLiga.

Four days on from their stunning comeback win over Manchester City in the Champions League semi-finals, Madrid made seven changes for their trip to Wanda Metropolitano.

That told as Madrid, who were crowned Spanish champions last week with four games to spare, fell behind to a 40th-minute Yannick Carrasco penalty that was awarded after a VAR check.

Despite the introduction of Luka Modric and Vinicius Junior, Madrid could not find a leveller in the absence of top scorer Karim Benzema as they fell to a rare El Derbi defeat.

 

Much was made of Atleti's decision to not give Madrid a guard of honour ahead of kick-off in their neighbours' first league outing since sealing a 35th league crown.

The home side were far more fired up for the match and twice went close in the opening eight minutes, with Angel Correa and Carrasco firing wide from good positions.

Carrasco made the breakthrough from the penalty spot before half-time, though, after Matheus Cunha was barged over by Jesus Vallejo just inside the box.

The referee had initially allowed play to continue for a couple of minutes, but he was instructed by the VAR to check the pitchside monitor and reversed his initial decision.

Luka Jovic was denied by Jan Oblak and Casemiro should have done far more with a tame shot that was curled straight at the Atletico keeper as Madrid pushed for a leveller.

Atleti wasted chances of their own as Carrasco fired over and Cunha could not convert past Andriy Lunin when played in by substitute Antoine Griezmann, who also went close.

Carrasco nearly sealed things when hitting the post 14 minutes from time, but his earlier penalty proved enough in the end thanks to another Oblak save to keep out Vinicius and a bad miss from Nacho.

Erling Haaland looks set to announce his exit from Borussia Dortmund within days as the club prepare to lose their star striker. 

Dortmund's Sebastian Kehl, who will step up from his player licensing role to become sporting director at the season's end, said on Sunday that the club were braced for the 21-year-old to move on. 

Manchester City are reported front-runners for the signature of the Norway international, who joined Dortmund in late December 2019 after catching the eye at Salzburg. 

Kehl told German broadcaster Sport1: "I think we will have clarity next week. I wouldn't be surprised if he moves on in the end." 

Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona have also been heavily linked with Haaland, but the prospect of a move to LaLiga has seemed to cool in recent months. 

Haaland's father, Alf-Inge, had a playing stint at City and the Dortmund striker was born in Leeds, so a move to England may hold particular appeal. 

Pep Guardiola, the City manager, has repeatedly declined to discuss the prospect of bringing in Haaland. 

However, with Champions League trophy success again proving elusive for City this season, acquiring a striker of Haaland's pedigree looks imperative for Guardiola. 

Dortmund are expected to sign Karim Adeyemi from Salzburg as Haaland's replacement, with Kehl also expecting movement in that direction in the coming week. 

Haaland has scored 28 goals in 29 games across all competitions for Dortmund this season, proving prolific despite his campaign being disrupted by injuries. He scored 41 times in 41 matches last term, his first full season in Germany. 

Kylian Mbappe will be making the right choice if he leaves Paris Saint-Germain for Real Madrid, according to Bixente Lizarazu. 

France international Mbappe is set to be out of contract at PSG at the end of the season and has been heavily linked with a move to Madrid. 

The Ligue 1 champions hope to convince the 23-year-old to extend his stay at the Parc des Princes, though.

According to Spanish newspaper El Pais, Madrid want 50 per cent of Mbappe's image rights and that is making the attacker seriously consider a renewal in the French capital. 

However, Lizarazu thinks a move the Champions League finalists and the possibility to link up with international team-mate Karim Benzema would be ideal for Mbappe. 

Asked where he would like to see Mbappe playing, Lizarazu told Telefoot: "Real Madrid – it seems clear to me. 

"The Champions League culture, the electricity there is in the stadium, and on top of that the team is perfect. He would do well there. The combination with Benzema would be great. 

"Now, if he's taking so long to decide, it's because he's waiting for an answer from PSG. The answer on the structure, the organisation, the mentality. The team, collectively, will it respond? 

"There are a number of factors, so maybe he is waiting for that and changes at the level of certain directors." 

Following their exit at the hands of Roma in the Europa Conference League semi-finals, Leicester City are at the fork in the road that faces every club their size following some success.

History says that sustainable progress will have to come at the expense of selling the players who got the club to such heights.

While James Maddison and Wesley Fofana have long been on the wish lists of bigger clubs, Youri Tielemans reportedly looks set to leave also.

 

TOP STORY – ARSENAL, REAL MADRID SET ON TIELEMANS

Arsenal are closing in on a £40million transfer for Leicester City and Belgium midfielder Youri Tielemans, The Sun is reporting.

Real Madrid are waiting to pounce, however, if Arsenal fail to qualify for the Champions League this season.

Leicester are now reportedly resigned to selling the 25-year-old, whose goal won the Foxes the FA Cup last term. 

Tielemans has made no secret of his desire to play Champions League football, meaning Manchester United have dropped out of the race.

ROUND-UP

- Fernandinho appears set to leave Manchester City, despite having a year remaining on his contract, citing a personal decision, per Fabrizio Romano.

Tottenham are looking to sign Villarreal's Pau Torres for a fee below his release clause of £55million (€64.3m), Football Insider reports.

- The Daily Star are reporting Nemanja Matic, who will leave Manchester United at the end of the season, is set to join Juventus.

- West Ham are leading the race to sign 23-year-old Chile international Ben Brereton-Diaz from Blackburn Rovers, according to The Sun.

Joey Barton had cited Real Madrid's remarkable Champions League fightback against Manchester City as an example to Bristol Rovers before Saturday's promotion decider, but even he might have struggled to imagine the "footballing miracle" that unfolded.

Former City and Newcastle United midfielder Barton led Rovers into their final match of the League Two season outside the automatic promotion places on goal difference and so needing to better Northampton Town's result by five goals.

Still, boss Barton's focus was on what Rovers could achieve against already-relegated Scunthorpe United, rather than worrying about Northampton's result at Barrow.

"If we win 10-0, we're up, aren't we? It is in our hands in that way," he said, adding: "It's very rare you do someone by 10, but who knows?"

As it was, seven would do – tying a club record.

At half-time, Rovers were 2-0 up, but Northampton also led by two, 3-1 in front and coasting towards League One.

Having scored four in the second half of the previous week's sensational 4-3 win at Rochdale, Barton's side this time needed five in the same period.

But the one-time England international was not daunted by the challenge, having pointed to Madrid's turnaround that secured a Champions League final place.

"Madrid thought they were out of the Champions League, then they scored two goals in stoppage time," he had said. "It only takes a second to score a goal."

Rovers certainly did not lack ambition in pursuit of their unlikely aim, attempting 34 shots – the second-most by a team in a single League Two game this season.

Elliot Anderson, the Newcastle loanee dubbed 'the Geordie Maradona' following a comparison from Barton to the late Argentina legend, contributed to 15 of those efforts, taking eight shots himself and creating seven chances.

Following his signing, winger Anderson – who only ended up at Rovers after a Championship loan collapsed – led League Two in shot involvements (133) and ranked second for goal involvements (13).

It was no surprise then that the teenager, having supplied two assists, scored the decisive seventh goal in a 7-0 win while Northampton failed to add to their lead. Even Madrid would surely have been impressed.

"Incredible," Rovers owner Wael al-Qadi told BBC Sport. "It was fantastic to have experienced such a moment.

"The plan was to go for it. I never doubted this bunch of players. They went for it and look what happened. It's a footballing miracle."

Both the owner and Barton had taken to the pitch to plead with Rovers fans to return to the stands and allow the match to finish after Anderson's header.

"I can't describe it," Barton added. "It's probably something when I'm in my rocking chair, and the fact I've headed a lot of balls out at the near post area has caught up with me, I'll remember this favourably with Weetabix running down my chin.

"I'll be thinking of the scenes at the Mem on this day."

Real Madrid talisman Karim Benzema is "one of the most underrated players in history" according to UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin.

Benzema has produced several incredible displays to fire Real Madrid to their 17th European Cup/Champions League final, scoring hat-tricks in last-16 and quarter-final ties with Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea, before netting three goals across a 6-5 aggregate win over Manchester City in the semi-finals.

The 34-year-old has been touted for the Ballon d'Or after scoring 43 goals and providing 14 assists in all competitions for Los Blancos this term, with Carlo Ancelotti's team also wrapping up the LaLiga title last week.

The France international has scored 10 goals in the Champions League knockout stages, the joint-most recorded by a player in a single campaign, along with Cristiano Ronaldo in 2016-17, also for Madrid.

Speaking to AS, Ceferin rejected suggestions Madrid had been fortunate in the competition this season, hailing the contributions of Benzema and midfielder Luka Modric and labelling the former "awesome".

"For me, one of the most underrated players in history is Benzema. He is an amazing player. And they have Luka Modric, who the older he gets, the better he plays," Ceferin said.

"Now [Benzema] is becoming more and more recognized. He has always been in someone's shadow. 

"It's amazing how this footballer can score goals. He finds a way, even when it seems impossible to score. He is an awesome player.

"We will have to ask them [Madrid] how it is possible. They are an experienced team. You could say that they have been a bit lucky in some matches, but you can only be lucky in one, not all."

After scoring an extra-time penalty to send Los Blancos to the May 28 final at City's expense, Benzema has scored seven Champions League goals against English teams this season, the most by a player in a single campaign in the competition's history.

He will have the opportunity to build on that record when Ancelotti's men face Liverpool in the final in Paris, and Ceferin believes the removal of the away goals rule has contributed to this Champions League season being one of the most exhilarating in recent history.

"That's the Champions League. The biggest football promotion and the best sports competition in the world," he added. "And when you watch these games… it's amazing. 

"I am happy that we have changed the away goals rule. When I told some of my team-mates that, they told me that there would be more penalty shoot-outs. 

"But it is not true and that is how it has been seen. The matches, in my opinion, are more interesting.

"The clubs in the Champions League are the best and playing away is almost the same as playing at home. I'm looking forward to the final."

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