Real Madrid ‘Still On Holiday’ In Getafe loss, Patched-Up Barca Beat Mallorca


Real Madrid’s Brazilian forward Rodrygo (C) and Getafe’s Turkish forward Enes Unal (Back) jump for the ball during the Spanish league football match between Getafe CF and Real Madrid CF, at the Col. Alfonso Perez stadium in Getafe on January 2, 2022.  JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

Carlo Ancelotti said Real Madrid were “still on holiday” in their shock 1-0 loss to Getafe on Sunday while Barcelona overcame their Covid chaos to sneak a tight victory away at Mallorca.

Madrid’s surprise defeat was their first in three months and gives fresh hope to the beleaguered chasing pack in Spain, after Eder Militao’s early error allowed Enes Unal to score the winner at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez.

“We were on holiday for an extra day,” said Ancelotti afterward. “The team was not the same team that played before Christmas — less commitment, less concentration.

“We didn’t deserve to lose but we ended up with a defeat that could be a wake-up call.”

READ ALSOUnsettled Chelsea Star Lukaku Dropped For Liverpool Clash – Reports

Barcelona were without eight first-team players who had tested positive for Covid last week while a further six were out through injury or suspension.

Xavi Hernandez said on Saturday it was “crazy” the game had to go ahead, with Jordi Alba, Ousmane Dembele and Gavi among those infected while Sergio Busquets was suspended and Pedri, Ansu Fati and Memphis Depay injured.

But a patched-up Barcelona team climbed to fifth, just a point behind Atletico Madrid, after Luuk de Jong’s header proved the difference in a 1-0 win over Mallorca.

“With all the absentees, the three points are hugely important for us,” Xavi said.

“The first objective this season is to be in the Champions League places and now we are close.”

Atletico Madrid claimed fourth spot after beating the high-flying Rayo Vallecano 2-0 to leapfrog Rayo, with Angel Correa scoring both of Atletico’s goals.

Atletico and Barca are still 14 and 15 points behind Real Madrid respectively but Sevilla in second will be only five adrift of the leaders, with a game in hand, if they win at Cadiz on Sunday.

Madrid have taken command of the Spanish title race after a superb run of form that included 10 consecutive wins and 15 matches without defeat, their last loss coming at Espanyol on October 3.

But Ancelotti’s side were woefully out of sorts in their first outing of 2022 and, aside from a brief spell in the first half, struggled really even to threaten the Getafe goal.

Eden Hazard came on at half-time but again failed to shake his team into life while Karim Benzema was unusually quiet up front. Madrid certainly missed the penetration of Vinicius Junior, who was absent after testing positive for Covid.

“To say we were still on holiday isn’t a criticism, it’s the same thing that I’ve said to the players,” Ancelotti said.

“We accept responsibility, because the coach was maybe still on holiday as well. We are still top, so we look forward.”

Getafe lost eight games in a row earlier in the season but came in on the back of an upturn in form under Quique Sanchez Flores, having gone five games unbeaten, including a pair of wins over Cadiz and Osasuna.

Unal gave them the lead in the ninth minute after the usually dependable Militao was caught napping. The Brazilian went to clear on the edge of his own area but instead took an extra touch, engaging in a tussle with Unal, who robbed the ball and finished past Thibaut Courtois.

Hazard and Marcelo both came on at half-time but neither made much of an impact, with Hazard unable to muster a single attempt on goal. Benzema had a shot blocked, Casemiro saw a half-volley saved and Mariano Diaz headed over, but Getafe deserved their victory.

De Jong has been linked with leaving Barcelona this month but it was his goal that secured a crucial victory over Mallorca, the Dutchman heading in Oscar Mingueza’s cross at the back post to make it four games unbeaten now under Xavi.

Barca also needed a stunning, reaction save from Marc-Andre ter Stegen, whose right arm denied Jaume Costa from volleying in an equaliser in injury-time.

Atletico had suffered four consecutive defeats in La Liga for the first time ever under Simeone but Correa’s double ensured they bounced back against Rayo, who drop to sixth.

AFP

Barca Begin Life Without Koeman At Home To Struggling Alaves

In this file photo taken on August 20, 2017, Armed Catalan policemen, known as Mosso d’Esquadra pass by the FC Barcelona logo with a black ribbon and a message reading “We are all Barcelona” before the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona vs Real Betis at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona.  LLUIS GENE / AFP

 

Barcelona begin life without Ronald Koeman against Alaves on Saturday as they look to close the gap on La Liga’s top four and restore confidence ahead of a Champions League trip to Dynamo Kiev.

Barca B coach Sergi Barjuan will be in charge at Camp Nou after Koeman’s sacking was confirmed on Wednesday night following a 1-0 defeat by Rayo Vallecano at Vallecas.

Xavi Hernandez is reportedly close to being appointed as Koeman’s replacement but the return of the club’s legendary midfielder is not expected to come before the weekend.

There should be a buzz of excitement nonetheless, with the prospect of Xavi coming back to the club he joined as an 11-year-old and left in 2015 enough to stir the players and fans.

Barjuan oversaw training on Thursday afternoon, when Barcelona president Joan Laporta also addressed the squad, explaining the decision to dismiss Koeman and emphasising the onus is now on them to spark a revival.

“We’re all in the same boat here,” Sergio Busquets said on Wednesday night. “It’s everyone’s fault. For good and bad, we’re a team and we have to show it on the pitch.”

READ ALSOBarcelona Sack Ronald Koeman As Coach

Two wins in seven league games have left Barca languishing in ninth, six points adrift of Real Betis in fourth.

The increasingly real possibility of failing to qualify for next season’s Champions League was likely a key factor in Koeman’s removal.

Finishing in the top four will be the top priority for Koeman’s replacement but the other immediate objective will be to reach the Champions League knock-out stage this season after consecutive 3-0 losses to Bayern Munich and Benfica left the team on the brink of an early exit.

Beating Dynamo 1-0 last week has given Barca hope but they will need another victory in Kiev on Tuesday against the bottom team in Group B to have any realistic chance of overhauling Benfica.

Frenkie de Jong, Ronald Araujo, and Pedri are all doubtful to face Alaves, who have enjoyed an upturn in form after two consecutive wins over Cadiz and Elche.

Ansu Fati could return after missing the defeat by Rayo, with Sergio Aguero set to continue upfront.

Real Madrid’s goalless draw at home to Osasuna on Wednesday was overshadowed by Koeman’s exit but Carlo Ancelotti’s team missed the chance to go two points clear at the top of the table.

“You might think I’m crazy but I liked the way we played,” said Ancelotti after being held by Osasuna.

“The first half, not so much, but in the second half, much better. I have nothing to criticise my players for.”

Instead, Madrid are three points behind Real Sociedad, who have lost only one of their opening 11 games. They host Basque rivals Athletic Club on Sunday.

Sevilla and Betis in third and fourth face each other next weekend in a much-anticipated Seville derby that for once should have a bearing on the top of the table.

Before then, Sevilla are at home to Osasuna and Betis play away at Atletico Madrid, who are five points off the top after being held to a 2-2 draw on Thursday by Levante.

Atleti face Liverpool at Anfield in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Fixtures (GMT)

Saturday

Elche v Real Madrid (1200), Sevilla v Osasuna (1415), Valencia v Villarreal (1630), Barcelona v Alaves (1900)

Sunday

Cadiz v Mallorca (1200), Atletico Madrid v Real Betis (1415), Getafe v Espanyol (1630), Real Sociedad v Athletic Bilbao (1900)

Monday

Rayo Vallecano v Celta Vigo (1630), Levante v Granada (1900)

Solskjaer Fights For Man Utd Job As Top Three Flex Muscles

Five Issues Barcelona’s Incoming Coach Must Address 

In this file photo taken on August 20, 2017 Armed Catalan policemen, known as Mosso d’Esquadra pass by the FC Barcelona logo with a black ribbon and a message reading “We are all Barcelona” before the Spanish league footbal match FC Barcelona vs Real Betis at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona.  LLUIS GENE / AFP

 

Barcelona were moving closer to appointing Xavi Hernandez on Thursday after the club sacked Ronald Koeman as coach. 

A 1-0 defeat by Rayo Vallecano on Wednesday left Barca ninth in La Liga, six points off the top four after winning only two of their last seven league games.

Koeman’s dismissal was confirmed almost three hours after full-time, with club president Joan Laporta reportedly flying to Qatar on Thursday morning to finalise an agreement with Xavi.

Xavi, Barcelona’s legendary former midfielder who won eight La Liga titles and four Champions Leagues with them as a player, left in 2015 for Al Sadd, where he has been coach since 2019.

READ ALSO: Barcelona Sack Ronald Koeman As Coach

Here, AFP Sport takes a look at five issues to address at the Camp Nou:

Cut the gap on the top four

Barcelona’s perilous financial situation means they simply cannot afford not to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

The club are 1.35 billion euros ($1.57bn) in debt and any attempt to rebuild both financially and on the pitch will depend on playing in Europe’s elite competition next season.

The situation is salvageable, with the gap only six points between Barca in ninth and Real Sociedad in fourth, but there can be no room for complacency given the form of a number of teams challenging at the top so far this season.

Sneak into Champions League last 16 

A 1-0 victory at home to Dynamo Kiev last week at least revived Barcelona’s hopes of reaching the last 16 after they began the group stage with consecutive 3-0 losses to Bayern Munich and Benfica.

But there is work still to do, with trips to Kiev and Bayern still to come, either side of a home game against Benfica.

Escaping the group after such a poor start under Koeman would give the new coach an early injection of credibility while the club would avoid missing out on 9.6 million euros in UEFA prize money for making the knock-out stage.

Improve the playing style 

One of the biggest criticisms of Koeman centred around his playing style, with too many performances lacking either creativity or a clear sense of a plan.

Barcelona may not have the talent anymore of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi but there is still room for improvement on recent performances.

Combining the club’s traditions of possession football with a modern, counter-pressing game would bring the fans back onside and give the players belief that a long-term vision was at least in place.

Blood the youngsters 

One of Koeman’s biggest achievements was promoting a talented group of youngsters and the challenge now will be to make of the most of their potential.

Ansu Fati and Pedri are the great hopes for the future but the likes of Ronald Araujo, Sergino Dest, Gavi, Nico Gonzalez and Alex Balde have also shown a lot of promise and need nurturing.

If they can thrive alongside more experienced players like Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, whose futures must also be managed, Barca can have an exciting team for the future.

Move on from Messi 

Messi’s departure to Paris Saint-Germain in August has left a gigantic hole at Barcelona, his absence exposing the cracks the Argentinian covered for so long.

They have struggled for goals this season, with Memphis Depay inconsistent and Luuk de Jong out of his depth, but there has also been a lack of belief.

Koeman constantly asked for realistic expectations but his downbeat assessment bordered on defeatist at times.

Barca may not be able to afford a star signing like Kylian Mbappe to fill the void but for now, the players just appear in need of some confidence.

AFP

Real Madrid Slip To Liga Defeat Against Espanyol


Espanyol’s Spanish defender Aleix Vidal celebrates scoring his team’s second goal during the Spanish League football match between RCD Espanyol and Real Madrid CF at the RCDE Stadium in Cornella de Llobregat on October 3, 2021. LLUIS GENE / AFP

 

Real Madrid slipped to a 2-1 defeat at Espanyol on Sunday as Carlo Ancelotti’s side followed up a shock Champions League reverse with their first Liga defeat of the season.

Real, who lost to Moldovan minnows Sheriff Tiraspol on Tuesday, blew a chance to pull ahead of Atletico Madrid, who beat crisis-hit Barcelona 2-0 on Saturday to draw level with their city rivals on 17 points.

Ancelotti said Real had played “our worst match of the season”.

“I agree, we played badly,” the Italian coach added.

“We now need to use the international break to think about why this team’s attitude has changed in the space of a week.”

Espanyol took the lead on 17 minutes at the RCDE Stadium in Catalonia when Raul de Tomas found the net.

Aleix Vidal scored a sparkling second goal after nutmegging Nacho and smashing the ball past Real ‘keeper Thibaut Courtois 15 minutes into the second half.

The defeat leaves Real without a win in three games after they were held to a goalless draw by Villarreal in their previous league match.

READ ALSOMessi Suffers First PSG Defeat In Loss At Rennes


Real Madrid’s French forward Karim Benzema (C) vies with Espanyol’s Spanish defender Sergi Gomez during the Spanish League football match between RCD Espanyol and Real Madrid CF at the RCDE Stadium in Cornella de Llobregat on October 3, 2021. LLUIS GENE / AFP

 

Karim Benzema had the ball in the net early in the second half but the goal was ruled out for Luka Jovic’s offside.

Just as Espanyol appeared to be about to extend their advantage again, Benzema pulled a goal back on 71 minutes, firing into the bottom corner after the Frenchman collected a pass from Jovic for his ninth league goal in eight games this season.

Espanyol had won just once in seven games this season but they hung on grimly in five minutes of added time to take all three points.

AFP

Under-Pressure Koeman Gets Two Match Ban After Red Card

In this file photo taken on October 13, 2019 Netherlands' coach Ronald Koeman looks on prior to the Euro 2020 football qualification match between Belarus and the Netherlands in Minsk. Sergei GAPON / AFP
In this file photo taken on October 13, 2019 ex-Netherlands’ coach Ronald Koeman looks on prior to the Euro 2020 football qualification match between Belarus and the Netherlands in Minsk. Sergei GAPON / AFP

 

Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman on Friday escaped with the minimum two-match ban as punishment for his red card the previous evening when Barcelona drew 0-0 at Cadiz.

The Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) disciplinary opted to hand the Dutchman the shortest permitted suspension after his sending off in the final minute for arguing with officials as 10-man Barcelona limped to a goalless draw.

Referee Carlos del Cerro Grande wrote in his report that Koeman was sent off for “protesting to the fourth official in an ostentatious manner, with his arms raised, shouting and leaving the technical area, complaining: ‘hey, the referee has to whistle, the referee has to whistle, dammit, he has to whistle’ even though he had already been warned by the fourth official to stop protesting at the referee’s decisions”.

Koeman wanted play stopped because there were two balls on the pitch.

“In this country you get sent off for nothing,” Koeman told the press conference after the match, explaining that “it was for telling the fourth official that there was a second ball on the pitch, that he had to stop the game.”

RELATED: Lewandowski Nets Brace As Bayern Outplay Barcelona Again

Koeman is under pressure because Barcelona are already seven points behind Liga leaders Real Madrid, although they have a game in hand, and have scored ust five goals in five league matches.

He will not be able to sit on the bench on Sunday as Barcelona host Levante and on October 2 when Barcelona visit champions Atletico Madrid.

The disciplinary committee also banned midfielder Frenkie de Jong for one match.

The Dutchman was sent off in 65th minute for his second yellow card in four minutes.

AFP

Boost For La Liga As Spanish Government Removes Ban On Fans

 

 

La Liga can take another step towards normality next season after the Spanish government confirmed on Thursday it has lifted its ban on fans attending stadiums. 

The exact capacity allowed in each stadium will be determined by regional authorities, with some restrictions still possible, especially in the north of Spain.

But the government giving permission for supporters to return is an important first step as La Liga clubs begin to recover financially from the Covid-19 pandemic.

La Liga president Javier Tebas said earlier this week he expects stadiums to be at least 70 per cent full at the start of the season in August.

“We can return let’s say to normality in terms of fans being allowed into stadiums,” Spanish health minister, Carolina Darias, said on Thursday, with the announcement applying both to La Liga and Spain’s ACB basketball league.

“It will have to be, as it was before, the regional authorities who determine the capacity,” Darias added.

Fans were allowed to return for the last two rounds of La Liga last season but in only five regions and with a limit of 30 per cent capacity and 5,000 people.

Spain is hosting four Euro 2020 matches in Seville at La Cartuja stadium, where a capacity of 30 per cent has been allowed.

Bilbao was Spain’s original host city but local authorities were unable to commit to supporters attending Athletic Bilbao’s San Mames.

The UK government announced on Tuesday the tournament’s semi-final and final will be able to be played in front of more than 60,000 fans at Wembley, which means the stadium will be at 75 per cent capacity.

Five Matches That Won Atletico Madrid La Liga

Atletico Madrid´s players toss Atletico Madrid's Argentine coach Diego Simeone after winning the Spanish league football match against Real Valladolid FC and the Liga Championship title at the Jose Zorilla stadium in Valladolid on May 22, 2021. CESAR MANSO / AFP
Atletico Madrid´s players toss Atletico Madrid’s Argentine coach Diego Simeone after winning the Spanish league football match against Real Valladolid FC and the Liga Championship title at the Jose Zorilla stadium in Valladolid on May 22, 2021. CESAR MANSO / AFP

 

Atletico Madrid won La Liga for the second time in eight years on Sunday as a 2-1 victory over Real Valladolid crowned them Spanish champions. 

Here, AFP looks at five matches that secured Atletico the title.

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Barcelona, November 21

Yannick Carrasco scored the winner as Atletico registered their first La Liga win over Barcelona in more than a decade and stretched their unbeaten run to 24 matches.

It would be this result that eventually gave Atletico a better head-to-head record over Barca, who were left 10th in the table and without the injured Gerard Pique for three months.

Elche 0-1 Atletico Madrid, May 1

Atletico were inches away from surrendering victory and their lead at the top of the table to Real Madrid as Elche’s Fidel Chaves missed a dramatic 91st-minute penalty.

Fidel’s shot struck the post as Atletico held on for a 1-0 win that kept them two points ahead of Real Madrid and also in front of Barcelona going into a crunch meeting at Camp Nou.

Barcelona 0-0 Atletico Madrid, May 8

Barcelona had the chance to shift the dynamic of the title race on their home turf but Atletico dominated the first half and Barca never did quite enough in the second.

The stalemate ended up being an even better result for Atletico after Real Madrid were held by Sevilla a day later, Atleti’s two-point lead preserved at the end of what many had circled as a pivotal weekend.

Atletico Madrid 2-1 Osasuna, May 16

With nine minutes left, Atletico trailed Osasuna 1-0 at the Wanda Metropolitano and Real Madrid were going top of La Liga, the title in their hands, with a win against Athletic Bilbao.

But Atletico pulled off an incredible turnaround, Renan Lodi equalising in the 82nd minute and Suarez scoring the winner in the 88th, with hundreds of fans celebrating outside in the stadium car park.

Victory kept Atleti top and left them one more win away.

Real Valladolid 1-2 Atletico Madrid, May 22

Atletico knew victory would win them the title regardless of how Real Madrid fared against Villarreal but they did it the hard way, coming from behind after Valladolid took a shock lead through Oscar Plano.

But Angel Correa equalised and then Suarez scored the winner, a nervy title race decided by a nail-biting victory.

La Liga Launches COVID-19 Probe After Messi’s Barcelona party

 

Spain’s La Liga is investigating whether a party organised by Barcelona players at their captain Lionel Messi’s home broke Covid-19 protocol.

“We’re looking into it,” La Liga sources told AFP on Tuesday.

Monday’s meal brought together Barca players, some accompanied by their partners, at the Argentinian star’s house, despite social distancing rules in the Catalonian capital outlawing groups of more than six to meet in private.

The party may constitute “a possible breach of Covid-19 protocols”, the source suggested.

The purpose of the get-together according to local media was to give the team a morale boost ahead of the season run-in, with Messi’s double in Sunday’s 3-2 win over Valencia leaving them two points adrift of Atletico Madrid with four games to play, and to celebrate last month’s Copa del Rey triumph.

Images carried in various media showed players like Sergi Roberto and the teenager Pedri leaving Messi’s house. In a video chants of ‘champions, champions’ could be heard.

“The public health agency will study this case and decide whether to take it any further,” Pere Aragones, vice-president of the regional Catalan government, said on Tuesday.

He added: “We call on everyone to respect the (social distancing) measures and urge those in the public gaze to be extra attentive as they can lead by way of example.”

-AFP

Tebas Confirms La Liga Is Investigating Valencia Racism Claims

Mouctar Diakhaby. Photo: [email protected] Valencia

 

La Liga are investigating allegations Valencia’s Mouctar Diakhaby was racially abused by Juan Cala of Cadiz during their game on the weekend, the league’s president Javier Tebas confirmed on Monday.

“We are already carrying out an internal investigation with the videos and images of the game we have to clarify what happened,” Tebas told Movistar.

“The accounts are contradictory but looking at the behaviour of the Valencia player you can see that something happened.”

Valencia’s players walked off during the first half of Sunday’s game in protest but later resumed, with the club claiming they were told they would be punished if they refused to return.

“Valencia has to do what the referee determines,” said Tebas. “Obviously the referee did not hear anything because if he had I have no doubt that he would have suspended the game. What Valencia did was follow the instructions of the referee.”

Diakhaby had been involved in a heated exchange with Cala before the Frenchman left the field and the fixture was stopped.

Referee David Medie wrote in his match report Diakhaby told him that Cala called him a “negro de mierda”, meaning a “sh**ty black”.

Medie wrote the insult had “not been picked up by any of the refereeing team”.

Cadiz coach Alvaro Cervera said after the game that Cala insisted he had not racially insulted Diakhaby.

 

A handout picture released by the Valencia football club shows players and staff showing their support to Valencia’s French defender Mouctar Diakhaby (C) as they protest against racism during a training session in Valencia on April 5, 2021. Lazaro DELA PENA / VALENCIA CF / AFP

 

“We returned to the changing room, we talked,” Cervera said. “Cala said that at no time did he insult the player. I believe in my player.”

Cadiz have announced Cala will also hold a press conference on Tuesday to give his version of events.

Valencia released a video on Monday afternoon of first team players and staff standing behind Diakhaby on the club’s training pitch.

Everyone pictured is making a stop signal with their hand while there is also footage of Diakhaby speaking to coach Javi Gracia and being hugged by team-mates.

“Today, tomorrow, always, stop racism,” the post read. “We’ll fight until the end to clarify what happened, defend our player and eradicate racism!”

Valencia initially indicated it had been Diakhaby’s request for the players to keep playing but the club released another statement on Sunday night saying the players had been “forced” to continue, under threat of punishment.

“In the changing rooms we were told if we didn’t return, we would be sanctioned,” said Gracia after the match.

“In that moment, we spoke with Diakha, about how he was, and he told us that he wouldn’t play but he understood perfectly we had to continue playing to avoid a possible sanction, so we returned.”

Valencia defender Jose Gaya told Movistar: “He (Diakhaby) told us he was insulted in a racist way. We went back out to play because they told us they could penalise us with three points and something more. He asked us to go back, he’s gutted, it was a very ugly insult.”

The club’s president Anil Murthy said on Monday it should not have been left to the players to halt the game.

“We are saddened that, following the incident, there was no reaction to stop the game, and that it was our players who were the ones to leave the field of play,” Murthy said. “There cannot be a lack of action in light of these types of situations.”

Diakhaby argued with Cala in the 29th minute following a tussle between the pair in Valencia’s penalty area. Diakhaby suddenly sprinted towards Cala, who was standing close to the halfway line.

Several players rushed over to separate them, with Valencia’s Gabriel Paulista among those shouting at the referee. Diakhaby was visibly distressed and his reaction earned him a yellow card.

After being escorted away, Diakhaby spoke individually with the referee before walking off, his team-mates following behind. The Cadiz players waited a few minutes before also leaving the pitch.

Around 15 minutes later, both teams returned and a further five minutes afterwards, the game restarted, this time without Diakhaby, who was replaced by Hugo Guillamon and watched the second half sitting in the stands.

Cala was substituted at half-time, having earlier scored the opening goal for Cadiz, who went on to win the match 2-1.

Marca’s front page on Monday carried a black background behind a photo of Diakhaby sitting in the stands, with the headline ‘You are not alone’.

AFP

La Liga: Benzema To The Rescue Again As Madrid Beat Elche

Real Madrid's French forward Karim Benzema celebrates after scoring a goal during the Spanish League football match between Real Madrid and Elche at the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium in Valdebebas, northeast of Madrid, on March 13, 2021. GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP
Real Madrid’s French forward Karim Benzema celebrates after scoring a goal during the Spanish League football match between Real Madrid and Elche at the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium in Valdebebas, northeast of Madrid, on March 13, 2021. GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

 

Karim Benzema saved Real Madrid for the second week running on Saturday, his two goals dragging his team to a 2-1 win over struggling Elche in La Liga. 

After Benzema’s late equaliser salvaged a draw against Atletico Madrid last weekend, the Frenchman came up trumps again, a brilliant shot flying in off the post in the 91st minute to snatch a crucial home victory at Valdebebas.

Real Madrid move five points behind Atletico in La Liga although Diego Simeone’s team can restore their advantage to eight by beating Getafe later on Saturday.

READ ALSO: Lewandowski Equals Goal Milestone As Bayern Power Past Bremen

Barcelona, who are six points back, face bottom club Huesca on Monday.

Benzema recovered from injury just in time to play Atletico and his three goals since have earned his team four points in seven days, while also denying Atletico a crucial win.

After heading in the equaliser against Elche, Benzema delivered a special winner, catching the ball in the air with a superb shot that found the far corner.

“It was a beautiful goal and it won us three points, so I’m happier than ever,” he said.

Sergio Ramos returned from a knee injury to make his first appearance since January, although the defender came off shortly after an hour, meaning his availability for Tuesday’s Champions League game at home to Atalanta is perhaps not guaranteed.

Eden Hazard, who has also been out since January, came off the bench in the second half and could play in midweek, when Madrid will start with a 1-0 advantage from the first leg.

Toni Kroos and Luka Modric were rested, perhaps with that game in mind, but both were needed by Zidane before the end.

And a change in system to three at the back was not an obvious success as Zidane’s team struggled to break down an Elche side that sit 17th.

“Against teams that sit back, it’s always difficult,” said Zidane. “We had to find a solution and in the end we found a gap.”

Madrid were the better team in the first half but there was hardly a chance to show for it, the only real opening falling to Benzema at the back post as Fede Valverde released Vinicius Junior down the right but his cross bounced awkwardly for Benzema, who shot wide.

Both sides wanted penalties early in the second half, with Elche’s Ivan Marcone fortunate to be awarded a free-kick when he looked more culpable in a tangle with Ramos.

Then Ramos escaped punishment for a challenge on Guido Carrillo.

Shortly after, Elche took the lead. Ramos shielded his eyes as if struggling with the sun and the corner found Dani Calvo, who climbed above Raphael Varane to head in off the crossbar.

Ramos, Isco and Fede Valverde made way for Modric, Kroos and Rodrygo, and 10 minutes later Madrid were level. Modric collected a short corner and swung a cross into the back post, where Benzema nodded in.

There were 17 minutes left to find a winner but it came in injury-time. Benzema scooped the ball up to Rodrygo on the edge of the area. He cushioned it back to the striker, who caught the ball in the air with a brilliant shot that flew in off the far post.

 

AFP

Atletico Madrid Forward Felix Tests Positive For COVID-19

File Photo: Graeme Robertson / AFP / POOL

 

La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid suffered a blow on Wednesday when the club announced that forward Joao Felix had become the third player in two weeks to test positive for Covid-19.

“Joao Felix has tested positive for Covid-19. The striker is isolating at home, in compliance with the health authorities’ guidelines and La Liga protocols,” Atletico said in a statement.

The 21-year-old Portuguese player joins teammates Yannick Carrasco and Mario Hermoso, who tested positive for coronavirus last week, on the sidelines.

Neither Carrasco nor Hermoso were allowed to play in the 4-2 Liga victory against Cadiz on Sunday that gave Atletico a 10-point lead over second-placed Barcelona.

La Liga: Atletico Madrid Game Postponed Due To Snowstorm

Atletico Madrid’s Spanish forward Alvaro Morata (3L) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the Spanish league football match between Deportivo Alaves and Club Atletico de Madrid at the Mendizorroza stadium in Vitoria on October 29, 2019. ANDER GILLENEA / AFP

 

Spain’s heaviest snowfall in decades has forced Atletico Madrid’s game against Athletic Bilbao on Saturday to be postponed, LaLiga announced.

“With the exceptional situation due to the storm over a large part of the peninsular which has forced the Madrid-Barajas airport to close for the day, and the impossibility of providing a pitch in ideal conditions LaLiga, after discussions with the two clubs, has postponed the game”, the federation said.

The fixture was scheduled for 1515 GMT at the Spanish league leaders’ Wanda Metropolitano stadium.

A new date for the encounter will be published in the coming days, LaLiga’s statement added.

Athletic were unable to land in Madrid because of the extreme weather brought by Storm Filomena on Friday and had to return to Bilbao early in the evening.

The blizzards have caused chaos in Spain, with the capital’s airport closed, hundreds of motorists stranded, and more snow forecast Saturday.

Diego Simeone’s Atletico lead the table by two points from city rivals Real with two games in hand.

 

 

AFP