Real Madrid prepare for Champions League final against Liverpool with Atlético derby


By Associated Press

BARCELONA: Real Madrid begins its countdown to the Champions League final against Liverpool by facing Atlético Madrid in a derby in the capital in the Spanish league.

Carlo Ancelotti’s Madrid are especially proud to play on Sunday after winning the title of national champion in the last round.

With four league games remaining in Madrid, the veteran Italian manager must perform the delicate balancing act of keeping his side in peak competitive form while hoping to avoid any injuries to first-choice players heading into the final. of the Champions League on May 28 in Paris.

With the league title still on the line last weekend against Espanyol, Ancelotti launched several players from the bench like the rarely used striker Mariano Díaz and defender Jesús Vallejo. Madrid had no problem routing Espanyol 4-0 to wrap up a record 35th league title.

Madrid fans are still relishing in their side’s dramatic 3-1 win over Manchester City in the Champions League semi-finals on Wednesday to win 6-5 on aggregate. Rodrygo, a 21-year-old striker, became the team’s savior with two goals in the final minutes to force extra time and give Karim Benzema the chance to win and convert the winning penalty.

“In this shirt we learn to always fight until the end and that’s how it is,” Rodrygo said after etching his name in Madrid’s long history of comebacks, including three in a row in the Champions League this season against Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea. and now City.

“From now on we turn our attention to Liverpool,” Rodrygo said, with Madrid using their league matches “to prepare for the final”.

It’s unclear whether the Atlético players will host Madrid with an honor guard for the new league champions before kick-off.

Atlético have something to play for beyond the pleasure of beating their rival. Diego Simeone’s side remain in a fight to secure a top-four place to ensure they remain in the Champions League next season.

Atlético, who have never mounted a convincing defense of the league title this campaign, have won only once in the last four rounds. This crisis allowed Real Betis to come within just three points of fifth place.

Barcelona and Sevilla are hoping to cement their place in the Champions League.

Second-placed Barcelona have a tough game at Betis on Saturday. Coach Xavi Hernández will be without defender Gerard Pique after injuring his left thigh in his last game, a 2-1 win over Mallorca.

Third-placed Sevilla are having a tough outing at Villarreal on Sunday. This will be Villarreal’s first game since being knocked out of the Champions League by Liverpool. Unai Emery’s side are fighting for a place in the Europa League, a competition they won in 2021.

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