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The brilliant Benzema leads Real Madrid to the league title

Real Madrid's triumphant 2021-22 LaLiga season will be remembered for the exploits of striker Karim Benzema. (Author: Gardener)

BenzemaMADRID, April 30 (Reuters) - Real Madrid's triumphant 2021-22 LaLiga season will be remembered for the exploits of striker Karim Benzema. The marauding France international scored his 26th goal in 30 league games on Saturday, sealing Real's 4-0 home win over Espanyol that secured their 35th Spanish league title with four games remaining, extending the record. It was a stellar season that took some time for the 34-year-old French forward, who took his place as the undisputed leader and most influential player in a team in need of a talisman following the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo four years ago. Benzema became a deadly striker without losing his ability to backtrack and build moves from deeper positions. He has scored 35% of Real's 73 goals in LaLiga so far this season and also has 11 assists. Without Ronaldo, he was Real's attacking benchmark and top scorer in all competitions with 30 goals and 11 assists in 2018-19; 27 and 11 in 2019-20; and 30 plus nine in 2020-21. But he really excelled this season, with a career-best 42 goals in 42 games in all competitions, more than double any top player in Spain. In LaLiga, Benzema scored game-winning goals in 18 games and helped Real secure 43 of their 81 points by either scoring the goal or securing the wins. He overtook the great Alfredo Di Stefano (308) in Real's list of all-time top scorers earlier this season and is three goals ahead of Raul (323) in second place, while Ronaldo (450) sits at the top. In 13 seasons with Real, Benzema has won four Champions League and LaLiga titles, four Club World Cups, three European Super Cups, two Royal Cups and four Spanish Super Cups. The 'Cat' moniker stuck with Benzema, who now shines for Real and his country after returning to the French team last year after a six-year absence. But he is now back for club and country. It's becoming increasingly difficult not to campaign for Benzema to finally be voted the best player in the world. He scored a hat-trick that saw Real hold off Paris St Germain 3-1 and advance to the Champions League quarter-finals 3-2 on aggregate, followed by another treble win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and the crucial goal in a stunning Night the Londoners at the Bernabeu, who took his team to the semifinals. After scoring twice in the first leg of the semifinals in Manchester, Benzema overtook Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski to become this year's Champions League top scorer with 14 goals in 10 games. It was Benzema's season - and it's not over yet.

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How Real Madrid retook La Liga

A remarkable season, inspiring key players, tactical adjustments and a weaker than usual La Liga helped Real Madrid to clinch the title (Author: Gardener)

La LigaThe Estadio Santiago Bernabeu rocked when Karim Benzema scored the fourth goal in Saturday's straight 4-0 win against Espanyol as all the hard work in a season in which Carlo Ancelotti's side dominated all others in Spain was rewarded . Minutes later, the stadium was celebrating Madrid's 35th La Liga title as a mix of older minds and younger legs danced on the pitch with the trophy, and veteran coach Carlo Ancelotti amid the celebrations. On his return to Madrid last summer, the veteran Italian relied on a small core, veterans including Benzema, Luka Modric and Thibaut Courtois, new signing David Alaba and younger Brazilian trio Vinicius Junior, Eder Militao and Rodrygo Goes. He also showed a belief in getting rid of the long-time players who haven't kept up their faith and physical level - Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard and Isco all played little part in the title success. Not everyone agrees with all of Ancelotti's decisions, both inside and outside the Bernabeu dressing room and boardroom. Even after his side had built a seemingly unassailable lead by mid-season, there were still some critics inside and outside the club, particularly after March's embarrassing 4-0 smash against Barcelona in the Clasico. Ancelotti took full responsibility for that loss and his side won every one of their next five La Liga games, including Saturday's 4-0 at home to Espanyol that sealed the title with four games left. This isn't a classic Madrid squad - but they rose to every challenge. Sevilla were their closest challenger, beaten by late goals in every tie at the Bernabeu and Sanchez Pizjuan. Barca and Atletico were also both put in their place as Madrid more or less sealed the title by Christmas. Ancelotti's side could play in a variety of ways - defend deep and counterattack, hold the ball for long or step on the front foot and attack, and in general they've done more than enough to truly deserve the title. "They didn't have moments of brilliant football as regularly," says a dressing room source. "They are a very solid, very consistent team and have done their job in every game. They played some good games, with individual blitzes from Benzema and Vinicius.” Some outside the Bernabeu might grumble that this wasn't classic La Liga either. Barca really struggled without their late talisman Lionel Messi while Atletico's bid to defend their title never got off the ground. The fact that this title is not really worthy of celebration was refuted on Saturday by the joy on the pitch and in the stands. They still have to prepare for Wednesday's Champions League semifinals against Manchester City, but it's been 15 years since Madrid clinched a title at the Bernabeu and their players and fans were definitely ready to celebrate the occasion. Ancelotti was also delighted to become the first manager ever to win the title in each of Europe's five leagues, following successes in Italy with Milan (2003-04), England with Chelsea (09-10) and France with PSG (12th March). -13) and in Germany with Bayern Munich (16-17). The veteran Italian has at times been dubbed more of a cup specialist, but to take over a club that did poorly last summer and assemble a side so quickly to win the title so easily is a remarkable achievement. "Ancelotti deserves a big chunk of credit," says another source close to a veteran player. "The club didn't sign any superstars, but he reorganized the team and showed all his experience." When Zinedine Zidane stepped down as Real Madrid coach at the end of last season, Madrid were unprepared, despite the Frenchman's plenty of public warnings himself. Then Everton manager Ancelotti wasn't among the first substitutes analyzed - Mauricio Pochettino, Max Allegri, Antonio Conte and Roberto Martinez were considered first, as was the idea of ​​promoting former player Raul Gonzalez from the Castilla youth team, but out other reasons none worked . It was more than a week before Perez asked general manager Jose Angel Sanchez to call Merseyside and invite in a manager they decided to sack just 12 months after winning the 2014 Champions League. It wasn't because they realized the Italian was a perfect tactical fit for Madrid's current squad. He was clearly delighted to be returning to a city he had come to love during his early days and also escaping the debacle he saw coming at Everton. While Zidane had said publicly that Perez wasn't ready to shake up an aging squad, upon arrival Ancelotti made it clear he was happy to work with what he had. "I know the squad very well, a lot of experienced players that I know and also promising young players, plus those coming back from loans," said Ancelotti during his presentation. "We have the players to win trophies." Ancelotti also knew he had to work in a different financial reality than in his first term in 2013-15. Within weeks, Raphael Varane and Martin Odegaard were sold to the Premier League to raise funds, while Perez tried everything to win his 'obsession' Kylian Mbappe from Paris Saint-Germain. Ancelotti was happy to see David Alaba again, whom he knew from their time together at Bayern Munich. Italian fitness coach Antonio Pintus, who had led Zidane's side to three consecutive Champions League wins, had been personally reinstated by Perez to improve the team's fitness, intensity and injury record. Goalkeeping coach Luis Llopis, who worked at the Bernabeu from 2015 to 2018, also returned. Neither was Ancelotti's personal choice, but he did ensure his own son Davide got a permanent spot as his No. 2. 32-year-old Francesco Mauri, son of Ancelotti's assistant during his first tenure at Realbank Giovanni Mauri, was also hired as senior assistant. The new manager ticket was a mix of veterans and young up-and-coming talent, just like the roster. When he settled back into Madrid's Valdebebas training facility last July, Ancelotti was relaxed. He quickly re-established relationships with players, staff and reporters he knew from his first tenure, and joked that everything was more or less the same as when he left seven years ago. In a pre-season punctuated by European Championships, Olympics and nagging injuries, there was little time for group preparation. Many squad members also knew they were for sale as Perez tried to raise enough money to tempt Mbappe. In the end, Bale, Hazard, Luka Jovic, Dani Ceballos and Marcelo all stayed, and Ancelotti worked to bring a team together - particularly building the confidence of everyone he counted on throughout the season. During his first spell at the Bernabeu, Ancelotti's most used word during his media work was 'balance' as he needed the rest of his team to provide a counterbalance to his galactic attackers. Now he continued to use the word "intensity" - the roster no longer had multiple Superstars at the peak of their careers, so they all needed to work harder and be more focused. Looking rationally at the challenges he faced, the national championship was the most obvious thing attainable. "The priority has been to put together a strong and solid team capable of winning La Liga, which can then grow to challenge for the Champions League," a source told The Athletic in August. The opening day of La Liga on August 14 had a real back-to-the-future feel, with both Bale and Hazard in the starting XI for the trip to Alaves. Madrid won a very open game 4-1, with Benzema scoring two goals and Vinicius adding the fourth from the bench. Week two was a 3-3 draw at a Levante team that would struggle all year. It was immediately clear that this Madrid side can score goals, but they also have serious defensive problems. Renovations at the Bernabeu meant Madrid were only reunited with their fans in the fourth week. After Celta's slapstick defense allowed Santi Mina to score, Benzema scored a hat-trick in the 5-2 win. With traditional rivals Barcelona and defending champions Atletico Madrid stumbling almost immediately, Madrid were able to pick up the pace early on. Even as Ancelotti continued to work on how to get his team and squad in the best shape by trying different formations and lineups. The defeat to Sheriff Tiraspol in the Champions League and to Espanyol in La Liga within four days at the end of September brought the first serious criticism of the new season. "Madrid didn't look very prepared, there were holes in their defence," said a source close to a Los Blancos player the day after the 2-1 defeat at Espanyol. "Madrid are top of La Liga but they're not playing very well." Ancelotti admitted losing sleep thinking about how to get the mix he wanted to continue creating chances but without them sacrificing order in the background. The solution was to return to the 4-3-3 with Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric in the centre, which the team had used most of the previous seasons. That meant giving up the planned front game with a high defensive line and pressing in the opposing half. Instead, the team would sit deeper, not asking their older midfielders to run as much and leaving Vinicius spaces upstairs to exploit. Not for the first time in his career, Ancelotti showed that he could react to circumstances and take practical steps rather than clinging to an ideology. These tactical tweaks meant that Hazard, Bale, Isco, Marcelo and everyone else, unable or unwilling to put in the required intensity and effort, made little sense. The new approach quickly proved its worth in the first La Liga Clasico of the season at the end of October, when the 2-1 result didn't fully reflect Madrid's clear advantage. "We played an intelligent game," said Ancelotti that afternoon at the Camp Nou. That sparked a streak of seven consecutive La Liga wins - including victories over perceived title rivals Sevilla, Real Sociedad and Atletico. Julen Lopetegui's well-organised Sevilla was the biggest test but was beaten 2-1 by an absolute screamer from Vinicius Junior at the Bernabeu in late November. This was followed by a string of other notable goals from the 21-year-old against Levante and Elche. A player whose lack of a final product had frustrated everyone suddenly emerged as a true world-class talent. "I can't explain the move in Vini, it's a mystery," a source close to the dressing room told The Athletic in October. "Even Ancelotti himself was surprised." The youngster's form had ebbed and flowed over the months, but as the season progressed his finishing became top-notch. The real star of the show, however, was Benzema, who recorded 13 goals and seven assists in his first 16 La Liga games of the season. As he approached his 34th birthday, he was constantly involved in the game and consistently made crucial contributions. "Benzema gets the whole team playing," said a source close to an admiring teammate. The purple spot in the autumn when Madrid took the decisive lead in the title race propelled him to perhaps the best level of his entire career. The team's other key player was at the other end of the field. Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois also played phenomenally, with excellent reflex saves crucial in victories against Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao. But the team's overall form and pace of work meant few opponents could capitalize on it. "I liked how we were defensive," said Ancelotti in early December. "The deep defensive block suits us, we don't have any midfielders to defend in open spaces. You win by scoring goals.” But Madrid were eight points adrift of the leaders during the winter break. There need not have been any immediate concern; It was only their second La Liga defeat this season and they were still five points clear of Sevilla, while Barca and Atletico were far behind. But it brought up ghosts of past seasons, including under Ancelotti in 2013-14 and 2014-15 when the team ran out of breath in the second half of their La Liga campaigns. Alarm bells went off a few weeks later when Madrid were 2-0 down at the Bernabeu against relegated Elche and time was almost up. Luka Modric's penalty and then Militao's header in added time saved a point and calmed nerves. The biggest lesson from that game was Hazard, who made a rare start and confirmed he was no longer at the required level of competition. Ancelotti continued to trust only a relatively small core of players. For some critics, not rotating at all ran the risk of whipping older players like Modric, Benzema and Kroos too hard and running out of gas in the really crucial games. After Benzema's late goal gave Madrid a 1-0 win at Rayo Vallecano in late February, it was pointed out that despite such an expensively assembled squad, only one side in La Liga had given less playing time for substitutes. There were occasional incidents throughout the season where players expressed dissatisfaction with Ancelotti's selection. Dani Ceballos was publicly upset that he was only given a few minutes in a Copa del Rey game at third-tier Alcoyano in January. Bale was spotted laughing for the camera as Hazard warmed up but was not used in the Copa defeat at Athletic Bilbao a few weeks later. Even Kroos made his dissatisfaction clear when he was substituted off in the Champions League quarter-final second leg against Chelsea. Gareth Bale laughs at Eden Hazard after Hazard was sent on the bench in the 2nd half even though he's been warming up for 30 minutes 😔 Bale, Hazard, Isco, Marcelo, Mariano Diaz, Jesus Vallejo and the €60m Center forward Luka Jovic was not punished for anything in particular. The manager just didn't think they were able to help the team. The manager tried to motivate Hazard to work harder with public comments and gave Bale a chance with a start at Villarreal in February, but neither player responded with the required performances. "Carlo never ejects anyone when they're not on the team, it's up to those players themselves," a knowledgeable source told The Athletic mid-season. The Champions League first-leg defeat at Paris Saint-Germain in mid-February also sparked another debate among pundits close to the Bernabeu hierarchy. The tactical system that Ancelotti had already committed to in October, the low block and fast counterattack, was not exciting enough for everyone. "Maybe we would like to have more possession, but that's the coach's plan and we're satisfied," said Modric in December and didn't sound 100% convincing. However, this has been countered by the argument that Ancelotti tailored his plan to get the best out of the experienced players in his squad. "The way Carlo designed the tactical form of the team means the older players don't have to put in a lot of physical effort," a source said at the time. The low-block/high-block debate continued even as Ancelotti's side built a seemingly unassailable lead at the top of the La Liga table. There was also the thought that the team would over-rely on single brilliant moments with Benzema's amazing goalscoring form and Courtois' regular phenomenal saves. "It looks like Madrid are playing badly but they are 12 points clear in La Liga," said an amused source close to the dressing room in early March. The normally unflappable Ancelotti was so upset that he launched an unusually emotional defense during the press conference ahead of the second leg against PSG in early March. "Everyone can have their opinion on how our season is going," said Ancelotti, pouncing on a question he felt was unfair to him and his side. “People say we win games but without enough possession. I'm convinced we're going to have a good season and hopefully we can improve in the last few months.” With Sevilla also stumbling, it became clear to everyone that Madrid had more or less already won the title. Ancelotti's team needed to ensure they continued to earn points to keep their distance, but were aware that blowing the title now would be an historic embarrassment. "If they lose this La Liga they will be held responsible, they know that for sure," a source close to a longtime Madrid player said in mid-February. Between the two games against PSG, Ancelotti adjusted tactics again, asking his players to press higher, go up the pitch and push opponents back. Before heading to Paris, Madrid played 11 games in 44 days across four competitions, including an energy-sapping trip to Saudi Arabia to win the Spanish Supercopa. In the 22 days between the two Champions League round of 16 games, they have only played three times, all La Liga games. They won all three, scored eight goals and conceded just once, including an impressive 4-1 at home to Real Sociedad. "The team has improved a lot physically," said Ancelotti at the time. "We've been working really hard on it these weeks." Analysis by The Athletic shows that any idea of ​​Madrid as a pure counterattack team would be wrong - they make more passes per sequence than any other team in La Liga and are 18th of the 20 teams , because they play directly. Rather, Ancelotti and his team tend to adapt to different moments of the season and different opponents, figuring out what works best for each game. The comeback win over PSG has only added to the energy reserves and optimism surrounding the Bernabeu ahead of mid-March's La Liga Clasico against Barcelona. Madrid were scrambled in defense as new Barca coach Xavi got his tactical game plan spot on but Ancelotti's half-time change only made things worse. Then came what is probably the most important press conference of the 2021-22 La Liga season and Ancelotti once again put his own ego aside and delivered the message the team needed. "I didn't approach the game well," he told reporters. It hurts us a lot, but we have to move on and prepare for the coming weeks. Sources close to veteran players said after that game that the side lacked the necessary spark and motivation; there was no fear of what could go wrong. Everyone agreed that Ancelotti's public and private reaction to the debacle helped ensure that the Clasico defeat didn't bring their season to a complete halt. "In a dressing room like Real Madrid you can't start blaming your players or the fans," said a source close to a longtime player. The Clasico was followed by an international break during which Ancelotti contracted COVID-19. That meant his son Davide was in charge of the following La Liga game at Celta Vigo. Courtois was man of the match while Benzema missed a penalty at 1-1 before having another chance to convert from the penalty spot. The last real hope of their challenges came when Madrid visited Seville mid-April in the middle of their Champions League quarter-final game against Chelsea. But another thrilling comeback came in the 91st minute when Benzema headed in to make it 3-2. With that, the Frenchman has scored 25 LaLiga goals, most of them master strikes from narrow areas. "Everyone is waiting for Madrid to slip, but this team doesn't slip because they have heart, they have character and they have personality. ' Ancelotti said in the pressroom as his players celebrated nearby inside the stadium. Such strong finishes and late goals, which are equally important in La Liga and Europe, brought satisfaction to those at the Bernabeu who were particularly concerned about the team's physical fitness. A sign of how important this is for the club hierarchy came when fitness coach Pintus was called in for a rare interview with Real Madrid TV in mid-April. "The players deserve the recognition because they have a very good mentality and a strong heart and motivation to never stop believing in it until the end of the games," Pintus said. "The mentality makes the difference - the players have this ability to endure the very hard work that we put on them, how we push them to be at their peak to the end." There is no doubt that the work of Pintus has brought the team up to speed over the last few months. But it's also true that key players Benzema, Modric, Alaba and Casemiro missed all games due to muscle injuries and Ancelotti had to manage their workload carefully. "Madrid are ending the season very well," says a source, "but they've been playing at the limit and getting injured. Those absences have given other players opportunities to play a big part in winning the title. Fede Valverde only started in two La Liga games between early October and early February but the Uruguayan returned to form and fitness just in time. Camavinga has been substituted at half-time four times in his first nine La Liga starts but Ancelotti worked to capitalize on his youthful enthusiasm and the team has benefited from that. Ceballos' first La Liga start came in Week 33 when he excelled as a much-rotated team took another big step towards the title in form with a 3-1 win at Osasuna. A roster that's nowhere near as strong or as balanced as it was five or six years ago is focused on consistently winning games week in and week out throughout the season. Ancelotti and the team's great dressing room leaders have not allowed anyone to feel overconfident with their leadership or get distracted by their big midweek events in Europe. "The players don't experience the same roller coaster ride as the fans or the media," says a source close to a key first-team player. "They keep a very consistent line all season," says another dressing room source. "We didn't lose our heads after hammering Barcelona," Ancelotti said a few weeks after that game. Another important factor was the lack of a real challenge. After April's Clasico, many at the Camp Nou, right down to President Joan Laporta, spoke about their chances of reeling in Madrid. Defending champion Atlético was never in the race at all. Sevilla were the only team up for a challenge until a streak of just two wins in 10 La Liga games put them back in contention for the top four. "It's a pretty mediocre La Liga, the least competitive in a number of years," says a source. "But Barca and Atletico, who can't keep up, don't take anything away from Madrid's performance." In the last few months and weeks, many Blancos fans and pundits had looked at the game calendar and decided when they would like to celebrate the title win. Barcelona's recent defeats have pushed that date forward - and into a more awkward position between Madrid's UCL semi-finals against Manchester City. This week's focus has been entirely on that clash, especially after Tuesday's stunning first leg at the Etihad left the clash completely open ahead of Wednesday's return at the Bernabeu. All this made Saturday's La Liga game at home against Espanyol a strange event. A source close to Los Blancos' dressing room joked during the week that it would be better to lose as the players couldn't properly celebrate the title win under the circumstances. Ancelotti has none of it. It felt like the partying had already started in the streets surrounding the Bernabeu in the hours leading up to kick-off, as happy fans enjoyed the sunshine. Ancelotti definitely had City in mind, with a starting XI that only included Courtois, Casemiro and Modric of his most trusted players. Jesus Vallejo started as a central defender for the first time this season, while Mariano Diaz made his first La Liga start since October. However, there was no sign of Bale as the Welshman was eliminated from the squad on the eve of the game with a minor back problem. Modric seemed keen to clear things up early and set up two easy chances that Mariano missed. Rodrygo was much more sober as he completed a clean team move just after the half hour. A standing ovation was given to Modric as he rested and to Benzema as he continued running. Then there was hearty applause as Courtois made a couple of practiced saves - and the team's three most important players were recognized on the day. The end goal of the game was also fitting, as Vinicus and Benzema got back together as they had done so many times in the campaign. "We're going to Cibeles," chanted the happy fans, and the city council had been preparing the statue in the city center for a first title-winning party since 2017, with COVID keeping them away after Madrid's last title in 2020. Pique's good friend, Spanish FA president Luis Rubiales, presented the trophy to captains Benzema and Marcelo, who will leave this summer after winning 24 trophies, more than any other player in the club's history. After more fireworks and jigs on the pitch, the players boarded a bus to Cibeles to celebrate with their fans. However, there would be no late-night cocktails this time around as they were also due to train at Valdebebas on Sunday in preparation for their next friendly against City. “Winning the title so early is the result of hard work and sacrifice from everyone. We need to celebrate with our fans now as we couldn't last time. We have a big game ahead of us but there's nothing wrong with having some fun first.” For Madrid, their coach and that core of experienced players, there's always a new challenge around the corner. But that doesn't mean this La Liga title will be any less hard-earned or any less sweet than the previous ones.

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Mission accomplished for Ancelotti as Real Madrid reunion pays off

MADRID (AFP) - Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti might have thought his days of winning Europe's biggest leagues were over, but on Saturday he added La Liga to his glittering roll of honor. Madrid's triumph, sealed with a 4-0 win over Espanyol, ensured Ancelotti was the only manager to […] (Author: Gardener)

Real MadridMADRID (AFP) - Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti might have thought his days of winning Europe's biggest leagues were over, but on Saturday he added La Liga to his glittering roll of honor. Madrid's triumph, sealed with a 4-0 win over Espanyol, ensured Ancelotti is the only manager to have won all five major European league titles. And while Ancelotti's Chelsea overtook Alex Ferguson's Manchester United by a single league point in 2010, the others were all won at a gallop, with Real's latest success being another emphatic and long-awaited title win for Ancelotti to add to his resume. Madrid's win, and in particular the lead on the win - they were 17 points clear of Sevilla with four games to go on Saturday - is partly due to the fallibility of their rivals. This was Barcelona's first season without Lionel Messi and although the shocked Catalans improved following the appointment of Xavi Hernandez as manager in November, they remain a club in the midst of financial recovery and a side in the early stages of transition. Atletico Madrid, on the other hand, have never looked as comfortable as reigning champions than they do as challengers. They spent the first half of the campaign grappling with an identity crisis that put Diego Simeone back in the spotlight and ensured their title defense was over before it began. Sevilla have been Madrid's closest rivals for most of the season, but more in terms of points than pressure. Every time there was an opportunity for Julen Lopetegui's team to step forward, they blinked. But Ancelotti also deserves credit, not least because the gap Real Madrid had is a testament to their own consistency, focus and individual quality that no other side could match. At the forefront of Ancelotti's achievements this season was Vinicius Junior's transformation from an exciting but unpredictable young forward into one of the most reliable forwards in the world. If the Frenchman wins the Ballon d'Or later this year, which seems entirely possible, Ancelotti could feel entitled to claim some of the credit. Luka Modric was outstanding again, the 36-year-old Croatian providing the clearest response to early concerns about Ancelotti's lack of rotation. The departures of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane shattered a long-standing partnership, but the performances of Eder Militao and David Alaba have ensured neither has been overlooked. Most importantly, Ancelotti has done what the club hired him to do: stabilize a side that could easily have suffered the losses of a legendary captain in Ramos and a historic coach in Zinedine Zidane. When Florentino Perez agreed to bring Ancelotti back for a second term last year, many wondered if the appointment was too cautious, a step backwards in the group of superclubs with younger and more progressive coaches at the helm. But Ancelotti's gratitude for returning to levels he thought was no longer possible in the twilight years of his career has resonated at Real Madrid, his carefree demeanor creating a sense of a club sheltered from pressure and untouched by outside noise. "If the club is happy with me, great," said Ancelotti. "If not, I will always be grateful for the opportunity to manage Real Madrid again." Whether Ancelotti is the manager of the future remains to be seen. Xavi's Barca are likely to offer a much tougher challenge next season, while against the very best opponents in the Champions League there are signs Madrid need a more modern approach. The fact that they are so far ahead in Spain while also being a little behind in Europe raises questions of its own about the current state of Spanish football, financial benefits and the ongoing quest for a European Super League.

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Real Madrid win 35th Spanish LaLiga title and extend own record

Real Madrid extended their own league record on Saturday after beating... (Author: Gardener)

Real MadridReal Madrid extended their own league title record on Saturday after winning their 35th La Liga title after a comfortable 4-0 win over Espanyol on Saturday. Rodrygo scored twice and Marco Asensio and substitute Karim Benzema added a goal each to give Madrid their second league title in three seasons and their third in six years. There wasn't much time to celebrate, however, as Madrid return to host Manchester City in the second leg of the Champions League semi-finals at the Santiago Bernabéu on Wednesday. Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti rested Benzema and Vinicius Junior early on ahead of the Espanyol visit and Rodrygo capitalized on his chance with two goals late in the first half. Along with compatriot Marcelo, he put Madrid ahead in the 33rd minute when he fired in the far corner for his second league goal of the season. Eduardo Camavinga played in Asensio to score a third for Madrid in the 55th minute, Luka Modric then made way for Toni Kroos and Benzema replaced Casemiro on the hour. Benzema scored his 42nd goal in all competitions this season, sealing a stunning triumph for Madrid as Ancelotti became the first manager to win all five major European league titles. With the title, Ancelotti became the first manager to lift trophies in Europe's top five leagues. The Italian manager won with AC Milan in Serie A, Chelsea in the English Premier League, Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1 and Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga. Veteran Brazilian Marcelo also achieved a milestone with his 24th career title at Madrid, the highest in the club's history. Ancelotti, 62, has one of the most decorated CVs in world football and when he was lured back to Madrid for a second spell last June following the departure of great club Zinedine Zidane, he knew his only mission was the trophy haul real increase. Many thought Croatian midfielder Luka Modric, 36, and France striker Karim Benzema, 34, were well past their prime but under Ancelotti's calm leadership they have once again found success. Benzema is the league's top scorer this season with 25 goals - his tally is already more than his 2020-2021 campaign. At the other end of the spectrum, Ancelotti has also boosted the confidence of 21-year-old Vinicius Jr, who has become a fixture of the squad not only as a winger but also with his ability to score goals. Only Benzema has scored more goals for Real than the Brazilian this season in La Liga. His winning streak began when he led AC Milan to the Serie A title in 2004, before triumphing in 2010 with Chelsea in the Premier League, 2013 with Paris St Germain in Ligue 1 and 2017 with Bayern Munich. While winning La Liga would be considered a huge achievement for many clubs and managers, for Ancelotti it only means the job is only half done. Having already won the Champions League with Real in 2014 and helped Spain to their legendary "Decima" (10th) European Championship before being sacked 12 months later, he also stands on the cusp of becoming the most successful coach in the history of the club to become a tournament. Along with Bob Paisley and Zidane, Conte has won the European Cup or Champions League three times as a manager and also guided AC Milan to glory in 2003 and 2007. Real fought Manchester City in the semi-finals of the Tournament of the Year, the Italian will be determined to take that record alone. To do so, however, Real must first come from a 4-3 deficit against City on Wednesday as the Spaniards seek their 17th appearance in the final of Europe's premier club competition. It would be a remarkable achievement for a manager coming to Real under close scrutiny after three uninspiring seasons in charge of Napoli in Serie A and Everton in the Premier League. If Real Madrid president Florentino Perez had his way, Ancelotti wouldn't even have been at the club. If Ancelotti manages the LaLiga Champions League double this season, club loyalists will thank their lucky stars that their top 3 picks were unavailable.

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The new champions PSG gamble away the 2-goal lead in a draw against Strasbourg

STRASBOURG, France (AP) -- Kylian Mbappe scores two goals and an assist but Paris Saint-Germain are still feeling the hangover from a record-breaking 10th Frenchman (Author: Gardener)

StrasbourgSTRASBOURG, France (AP) -- Kylian Mbappe scores two goals and an assist, but Paris Saint-Germain are still feeling the hangover from a record-breaking 10th French league title as they take a two-goal lead in a 3-3 draw with Strasbourg destroyed. Mbappe leads the league with 24 goals and 15 assists. Strasbourg equalized in overtime.

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Conte discusses what decides his Tottenham future and responds to PSG links

Antonio Conte was very quick to rule out the possibility of becoming the next Pairs Saint-Germain manager, but there are still some uncertainties about his long-term future at Tottenham Hotspur (Author: Gardener)

TottenhamAntonio Conte was very quick to rule out that he could become Pairs Saint-Germain's next manager, but there is still some uncertainty about his long-term future at Tottenham Hotspur Tottenham Hotspur boss Antonio Conte admits Spurs' ambitions hierarchy will ultimately decide where its long-term future lies. Conte has recently been linked as a potential successor to ex-Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino at Paris Saint-Germain. Although a move to France was not on the cards, there are still some question marks over Conte's long-term future at the end of the season as the Italian is very open about his intentions for the post-season campaign. Conte is keen to have in-depth talks with chairman Daniel Levy and chief executive Fabio Paratici on how ambitious the club is willing to be in the summer transfer market. Conte is keen to make Tottenham title contenders but to do so he will need significant support in the transfer window as Spurs are currently struggling to finish in the Premier League's top four. "As I've said [to the media] many times, we'll talk to the club at the end of the season, but with pleasure and in a really good way," said Conte. "I repeat: don't forget I like to have ambition, not just fighting for a place in the Champions League or a place in the [Europa] League. It's going to be very important to understand how much time it takes to fight for something important [and] if we have the patience to wait, because that's a process for sure. Which club will Antonio Conte oversee next season? “I always tell you that we need time and patience. And we need to understand how much time we need and how much patience we need to have. First of all, fighting for the title and trying to win it is not easy. It's also important to understand how much time we need if we want to fight for the title." Since Conte's arrival in north London for Nuno Espirito Santo in November, Spurs have been among the best teams in the Premier League, their tally of 43 points of 23 league games under Conte is surpassed only by Manchester City (60) and Liverpool (57). However, Spurs currently sit fifth in the Premier League table with their final five games of the season, two points behind arch-rivals Arsenal , while the north London duo battle for the last place in next season's Champions League group stage.Tottenham have a challenging clash which begins on Sunday afternoon against Leicester City on home soil, a game that comes before a trip to Anfield for the Title chasers Liverpool and then a crunch derby at home against Newcastle The Conte side's last two games of the season will be played by Mann communities at the other end of the table. Their last home game of the season is against 17th placed Burnley before they face bottom Norwich City for a week later on the final day of the season. A top-four result for Spurs would be their first season in the Champions League in three seasons, having missed each of their last two terms.

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Antonio Conte advises Spurs future but calls PSG Link 'fake news'

The Italian has made it clear he wants to fight for honors. (Author: Gardener)

Antonio ConteBaker Mayfield isn't expected to be traded before Thursday night's draft begins, but a report Thursday afternoon suggests the Browns may not be long before treating the quarterback. Cleveland.com's Mary Kay Cabot reports that a handful of teams have expressed interest in a deal [more]

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Morocco's Hakimi scores as PSG give away a two-goal lead in a draw with Strasbourg

Moroccan international Achraf Hakimi scored as PSG conceded two goals in a 2-2 draw with Strasbourg in a Ligue 1 game. (Author: Gardener)

StrasbourgMoroccan international Achraf Hakimi was among the goals as Paris Saint-Germain squandered a two-goal lead in a Ligue 1 game at the Stade de la Meinau on Friday night, only managing a 3-3 draw with Strasbourg. It was Kevin Gameiro who put the home side ahead after just three minutes of play but the champions reacted when Kylian Mbappe equalized with a clean finish in the 23rd minute. Mbappe then converted the provider for the second time when he met Hakimi to put the visitors ahead in the 64th minute. It was Mbappe who scored the third in the 68th minute but a Marco Verratti own goal in the 75th minute gave Strasbourg hope and they earned part of the spoils thanks to a composed finish from Anthony Caci in the death. In the ninth minute, Strasbourg thought they had doubled their lead after Adrien Thomasson found the back of the net thanks to a deflection from Sergio Ramos when the ball went over Donnarumma, but the try was ruled offside against Ludovic Ajorque. It was Mbappe who equalized for the guests with a nice counterattack. The forward scored a good first touch in the left inside channel before getting his try between Matz Sels' legs to find the back of the net. The score was 1-1 at half-time and on the restart Hakimi scored for the champions, hitting a move initiated by Neymar and Mbappe to beat Sels and four minutes later Mbappe took the game from Djiku after a terrible mistake. The Strasbourg defender played a blind back pass to Sels and placed the ball straight into Mbappe's run, which hit him. Strasbourg, however, reduced the gap when Senegalese international Habib Diallo's header caught Verratti before sauntering past Donnarumma. Hakimi has played a total of 29 games and accumulated 2,306 minutes of game time. In last season's Serie A, Hakimi made 37 appearances for Inter Milan, scoring seven goals and providing eight assists.

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Carlo Ancelotti on Pochettino claims Mbappe stays at PSG '100 percent'

Carlo Ancelotti on Pochettino claims Mbappe stays at PSG '100 per cent': sometimes coaches can't tell the truth (Author: Gardener)

Carlo AncelottiKylian Mbappe's future has been a constant topic of discussion this season and with the French club almost ending their season, both the consistency and volume of talk have increased. Most reports in recent months have strongly suggested that Mbappe will leave PSG this summer after his contract expires and join Real Madrid on a free transfer. All the more surprising were the statements made by PSG head coach Mauricio Pochettino on Thursday, as there were violent rumors about his own future. Pochettino claimed he believes at this point that Mbappe is staying at PSG '100 per cent'. "One hundred percent in both cases," the former Tottenham Hotspur manager replied when asked if both he and Mbappe will stay at PSG beyond this season. "This is how I feel today. That's how I feel right now. But if I'm asked what I think today, that's my answer." When asked for an answer, Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti didn't shy away from expressing his own feelings, with a truthful response that media outlets sneered at MORE : Why PSG are reportedly sacking Mauricio Pochettino When Ancelotti was asked to respond to Pochettino's claim, Ancelotti giggled, took a moment to collect himself, exaggeratedly raised his famously expressive eyebrow and said: "Well , coaches at a press conference can't tell the whole truth." The smile then faded from his face and he dismissed the subject from that point. "Madridistas [Real Madrid fans] are focused on two things right now: Winning tomorrow and to win on Wednesday. That's what madridistas think. We're madridistas too, so that's what we're focusing on." don't always tell the truth.” — Luis Miguel Echegaray (@lmechegaray) April 29, 2022 From there, Ancelotti focused on discussing Real Madrid's chances of winning the La Liga title ahead of this weekend's game against Espanyol. "We're at match point and when the best tennis players get there, they make sure they win it," Ancelotti said. We need a point and we need to think about preparing as best we can for the game to try and get it to win." PSG and Real Madrid fans should both be excited about Kylian Mbappe's future at the French club until the end of the season, but with the Ligue 1 title secured and PSG no longer having to fight for more trophies the rest of the way, is it possible that he opens up a bit earlier.Mbappe has so far repeatedly refused to ask questions about his future, remaining professionally focused on his duties on the field until the end of the campaign.Nevertheless, rumors about Mbappes continue Intentions to sign for Real Madrid after his PSG contract expires, transfer guru Fabrizio Romano reported on his YouTube channel that Mbappe has a Real Madrid contract 'on hand', leaving Madrid fans 'confident and relaxed' but not finally decided on his future as PSG offer the 22-year-old 'crazy money' to stay in Paris.

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Morocco's Hakimi scores as PSG give away a two-goal lead in a draw with Strasbourg

Moroccan international Achraf Hakimi scored as PSG conceded two goals in a 2-2 draw with Strasbourg in a Ligue 1 game. (Author: Gardener)

StrasbourgMoroccan international Achraf Hakimi was among the goals as Paris Saint-Germain squandered a two-goal lead in a Ligue 1 game at the Stade de la Meinau on Friday night, only managing a 3-3 draw with Strasbourg. It was Kevin Gameiro who put the home side ahead after just three minutes of play but the champions reacted when Kylian Mbappe equalized with a clean finish in the 23rd minute. Mbappe then converted the provider for the second time when he met Hakimi to put the visitors ahead in the 64th minute. It was Mbappe who scored the third in the 68th minute but a Marco Verratti own goal in the 75th minute gave Strasbourg hope and they earned part of the spoils thanks to a composed finish from Anthony Caci in the death. In the ninth minute, Strasbourg thought they had doubled their lead after Adrien Thomasson found the back of the net thanks to a deflection from Sergio Ramos when the ball went over Donnarumma, but the try was ruled offside against Ludovic Ajorque. It was Mbappe who equalized for the guests with a nice counterattack. The forward scored a good first touch in the left inside channel before getting his try between Matz Sels' legs to find the back of the net. The score was 1-1 at half-time and on the restart Hakimi scored for the champions, hitting a move initiated by Neymar and Mbappe to beat Sels and four minutes later Mbappe took the game from Djiku after a terrible mistake. The Strasbourg defender played a blind back pass to Sels and placed the ball straight into Mbappe's run, which hit him. Strasbourg, however, reduced the gap when Senegalese international Habib Diallo's header caught Verratti before sauntering past Donnarumma. Hakimi has played a total of 29 games and accumulated 2,306 minutes of game time. In last season's Serie A, Hakimi made 37 appearances for Inter Milan, scoring seven goals and providing eight assists.

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