Thibaut Courtois made the decision himself to go up for the late corner that saw Real Madrid snatch a last-gasp draw with Valencia, according to head coach Zinedine Zidane.

Madrid were staring down the barrel of a second LaLiga defeat of the season courtesy of Carlos Soler's 78th-minute striker at Mestalla.

However, Belgium goalkeeper Courtois saw a late header saved by Jaume Domenech and Karim Benzema lashed home to ensure Madrid returned to the capital with a point.

"He decided to go up and this shows that we wanted more, that we never give up," Zidane told a news conference.

"The equaliser is something that we put a lot of effort into. This is Real Madrid, a team that never gives up. They believed they could do it and they did.

"With everything we did, I think we deserved to score a goal that compensated with the effort of the team.

"Football is like this and you can't complain. You have to accept what football gives you. A point is little reward. 

"In the end, we got a big result, but it's a shame because we had a very good first half. They were better going forward in the second half and it was even."

Madrid were without Casemiro, who was rested against Valencia - likely due to the defensive midfielder being one yellow card away from suspension ahead of a midweek Clasico against Barcelona.

Zidane explained: "He wasn't meant to play and those that did did very well. Casemiro had played lots of games and I'm very happy that we did everything without him.

"We drew, but I think we deserved a bit more. He'd played 21 matches and he had to rest, but I was only thinking about the Valencia game."

Karim Benzema said he wants to lead Real Madrid to LaLiga glory this season after rescuing Los Blancos at the death against Valencia.

Madrid salvaged a dramatic 1-1 draw at Valencia on Sunday thanks to Benzema's last-gasp equaliser.

After Luka Jovic had a goal disallowed for offside, Benzema slammed home the leveller at Mestalla, where Madrid stayed level on points with rivals Barcelona atop the table.

"I want to win this league title and, if I can help my team-mates with play and with words, I will do it," said Benzema, who is only one goal behind LaLiga's leading scorer Lionel Messi this season. "I'm the third captain and I have to help.

"I think it's a good point for us. It could be important for the rest of the league campaign as we look to do well.

"What has changed compared to other seasons is the number of goals. I always try to help the team on the pitch and I have a lot of confidence in myself. The help of my team-mates is also important to me because they give me the ball and set up chances for me to score more goals."

Benzema found the back of the net after goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois almost scored a stunning equaliser.

Courtois went up for a corner, with Madrid desperate to salvage a point, and his header was dramatically saved by Valencia counterpart Jaume Domenech before Benzema pounced.

"I took advantage of my height to meet the corner," Courtois said. "I'm two metres tall and opponents get nervous if I go up [for corners].

"Toni [Kroos] sends corners to the near post, I saw the ball coming at my height and I connected well. Then the ball fell to Benzema and he scored."

Real Madrid salvaged a 1-1 draw at Valencia on Sunday thanks to a late Karim Benzema equaliser that Zinedine Zidane believes is proof of the team's fighting spirit.

Valencia looked to be heading for a 1-0 win when Carlos Soler put the hosts in front with 12 minutes to go, then surviving a scare as Luka Jovic had a goal disallowed for offside.

But Madrid continued to plug away and eventually restored parity deep into stoppage time – Benzema slamming home after goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was remarkably denied when his header was saved by Jaume Domenech.

As such, Madrid go into Wednesday's Clasico against Barcelona with something of a morale boost, with Zidane suggesting the late goal highlights his team's mentality.

"This shows you what we are, we fight until the end. We fight and what we want is to get a good result," he told Movistar.

"We don't lower our arms. We got it [the equaliser] with the courtesy of Courtois and Karim. I'm glad for them because it has been a tremendous effort from everyone.

"You have to be proud of the game. When in such a difficult stadium, you concede a goal a few minutes from full-time, you can fall apart, but we still thought that something could be achieved, and we achieved it."

Club captain Sergio Ramos was less philosophical about dropping points, however, acknowledging he leaves Mestalla disappointed.

"Despite scoring at the end, it tastes a bit bitter despite adding a point. When you don't leave with the three points, you leave with that pity," he said.

"I think we've controlled the match well, with balance. We had in front of us a rival who came into the match in good form.

"We can't press for the full 90 minutes, but we've gone all the way. We've made a point that allows us to stay joint-top."

Karim Benzema rescued Real Madrid at the death with a stoppage-time equaliser that salvaged a 1-1 draw away to Valencia, but they missed the chance to go into El Clasico top of the table.

Madrid looked to be heading for a deserved defeat when Carlos Soler netted with 12 minutes to go, but Benzema smashed in from close range right at the end, meaning Los Blancos head into Wednesday's clash with bitter rivals Barcelona level on 35 points with them.

Madrid started with the greater purpose but failed to make the most of their opportunities, offering encouragement to Valencia, who threatened several times through Ferran Torres.

Much of the second half was cagier, with clear-cut chances less frequent, but Soler finished off a swift move to finally open the scoring, before Madrid avoided defeat with one of the last kicks of the game – Benzema saving Zinedine Zidane's men.

Cristiano Ronaldo passed the 10-goal mark for a 15th successive season on Sunday, making him the only player across Europe's top five leagues to accomplish the feat in the same period.

The Juventus star got a brace as the Old Lady comfortable brushed Udinese aside 3-1 in Turin, returning them to the Serie A summit for at least a few hours.

Ronaldo opened the scoring in the ninth minute, blasting home from just inside the area after the ball dropped kindly for him.

He then doubled their lead just past the half-hour mark, steering in following Gonzalo Higuain's incisive pass.

The goals took his tally to 11 for the campaign across all competitions.

Portugal star Ronaldo began his double-figure scoring streak in 2005-06 when he netted 12 across all fronts for Manchester United, following that up with hauls of 23, 42 and 26 before heading to Real Madrid in 2009.

With Los Blancos, the fewest goals he managed in a single season was 33 in his first year at the club.

In every other campaign at Madrid he scored 42 or more, with his best being a remarkable record of 61 in 2014-15.

Last term he got 28 in 43 matches for Juventus in his first campaign with the Italian side.

Manchester United could be set to land the most sought-after striker in Europe.

According to a new report, Erling Haaland has identified the Red Devils as his preferred choice from a long list of suitors containing Juventus, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig.

The teenager met with the two Bundesliga clubs in midweek, but United appear to have moved to the front of the queue.

 

TOP STORY – HAALAND SENDS MESSAGE TO SOLSKJAER

Salzburg star Haaland has told compatriot Ole Gunnar Solskjaer he wants to move to Old Trafford, according to the Mirror.

United have been linked with the 19-year-old for several months and the Norwegian connection could lead him to the Premier League.

However, Haaland's high-profile agent Mino Raiola reportedly wants to keep all options on the table as the January transfer window moves nearer.

The striker's father, Alf-Inge, was said to have visited United's training ground in November, while Haaland held talks with Bundesliga teams Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig this week.

 

ROUND-UP

- Inter's firm interest in Fiorentina winger Federico Chiesa could lead to a transfer tug-of-war with Serie A title rivals Juventus, according to CalcioMercato.

- The Nerazzurri have been linked Alessandro Florenzi, but Atalanta are now in pole position to sign the Italy international if he leaves Roma in January, says Gazzetta dello Sport.

- Rest time might be at a minimum for Kylian Mbappe when the club season winds down. According to Le Parisien, French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet will give the Paris Saint-Germain star the chance to compete at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, which begin less than two weeks after the Euro 2020 final.

- Chelsea are considering launching a January bid for Leeds United loanee Ben White, claims the Daily Mail. Brighton and Hove Albion, White's parent club, are reportedly willing to accept offers of £25million.

- Mundo Deportivo suggests LaLiga heavyweights Barcelona are monitoring Thiago Alcantara's situation amid rumours the midfielder has become unhappy at Bayern Munich. Thiago swapped Barca for Bayern in 2013.

- West Ham's victory over Southampton will not be enough to save Manuel Pellegrini from the sack, says the Daily Star. Carlo Ancelotti and David Moyes are among the possible replacements.

Diego Simeone believes there are few strikers in football with the ability of Atletico Madrid frontman Alvaro Morata.

Spain international Morata found the breakthrough in Saturday's 2-0 win over Osasuna – Atleti's first victory in four LaLiga outings that moved them back up to fourth in the table.

The former Chelsea, Real Madrid and Juventus forward scored in seven consecutive games for club and country as October became November but ended a six-game drought when he powered Kieran Trippier's free-kick past inspired Osasuna goalkeeper Sergio Herrera.

Simeone has been linked to making attacking reinforcements during the January transfer window, with Timo Werner, Edinson Cavani and Olivier Giroud all touted as possible Atletico targets, but he offered a ringing endorsement of his current number nine.

"Hopefully he'll return to the way he was before the [international] break," he told a post-match news conference.

"He was scoring in almost every game.

"There aren't many people like that in football and we want to make the most of him."

Manuel Sanchez made his Atletico debut at left-back and Simeone felt the 19-year-old's impressive showing was fitting as it came on the evening long-serving defender Juanfran bade farewell to the club's faithful before kick-off.

"I loved him," he said.

"It's not easy. He's young, growing and has been working a lot with us.

"He has to keep growing and this was an important moment for his career.

"Today, Juanfran said goodbye and another debuted. Someone new was born."

Alvaro Morata believes Atletico Madrid are moving in the right direction after they returned to winning ways in LaLiga with a 2-0 triumph over Osasuna.

Visiting goalkeeper Sergio Herrera turned in a stunning display that threatened to make it a fourth straight top-flight game without taking three points for Diego Simeone's men.

However, Morata powered home a 67th-minute Kieran Trippier free-kick – ending a six-game goal drought for club and country – before Saul Niguez made the points safe.

"It's our last game of the year here. It was important to win it," Morata said on the Wanda Metropolitano pitch afterwards, before talking up Atleti's recent performance.

"We had a lot of chances - not just me, the whole team. I think we're growing as a team.

"We came out well against Barcelona and Juventus and Villarreal and we've got to continue that way. We're playing well.

"Every team needs to win. We're in a good dynamic, we’ve got a lot of desire and, as I say, we're growing as a team. The results will come."

As Diego Costa remains on the sidelines with a neck injury, Atletico have been linked to a host of strikers ahead of the January transfer window.

Even if the likes of Edinson Cavani, Timo Werner and Olivier Giroud are under consideration, Morata insists that is none of his concern.

"No, I don't care," he replied. "We're a great team and great dressing room and that's the important thing."

Alvaro Morata ensured Atletico Madrid got back to winning ways in LaLiga as Diego Simeone's side battled to a 2-0 victory over Osasuna.

A month had passed since Atleti's previous top-flight triumph over Espanyol on November 10 and the brilliance of Osasuna goalkeeper Sergio Herrera looked like spelling another frustrating outing at the Wanda Metropolitano.

But Morata dispatched an emphatic header midway through the second half to break the deadlock and Saul Niguez doubled the advantage 15 minutes from time.

Los Rojiblancos move up to fourth in the table, six shy of Barcelona after the leaders were held to a 2-2 draw at Real Sociedad earlier on Saturday.

Herrera began a busy first half by thwarting Morata at close quarters before the former Juventus striker turned provider and played in Joao Felix in the 23rd minute – the Osasuna keeper saving with his boot.

A double stop from Herrera spared Jagoba Arrasate's side 10 minutes from half-time, parrying a shot on the angle from Thomas Lemar and getting back into position to repel Koke's follow-up drive.

The pick of Herrera's work came in the 39th minute when, at full stretch, he turned Joao Felix's header from teenage debutant Manuel Sanchez's left-wing centre onto the crossbar.

He was not done there, keeping out Thomas Partey's rasping long-ranger and frustrating Joao Felix once more to ensure parity at the interval.

Morata got behind the visiting defence only to miss his kick woefully and Herrera's masterclass continued as he saved with his foot from Sanchez.

Avila's sweetly struck volley kept Jan Oblak honest in the Atleti goal before Sanchez was finally beaten in the 67th minute.

Trippier delivered a typically threatening set-piece from the right and Morata put his earlier profligacy behind him to power home.

Saul sealed the points in style, darting forward from the unfamiliar position of left-back to dink over Sanchez – Simeone letting out a guttural roar on the touchline.

 

What does it mean? Simeone's spluttering stars stay in the title picture

Clear vulnerabilities at Barcelona and Real Madrid this season have thrown up opportunities an Atletico side also in transition have failed to capitalise upon. They have still drawn more matches than they have won in LaLiga this season, but the obvious room for improvement and their proximity to the top of the table should be cause for mid-season encouragement.

Heroic Herrera ill-served by defeat

It was easy to sense the belief draining from Atletico before Morata broke through, with much of that down to a truly phenomenal goalkeeping display in the visiting goal. Herrera's efforts as Atletico laid siege to the Osasuna area during the closing stages of the first half were out of the very top drawer.

Frustration for Joao Felix

To his credit, the prodigiously talented 20-year-old does not hide when things are not falling his way, but this became an increasingly frustrating outing for Joao Felix – the open spaces Atletico's record signing found earlier on turning into blind alleys before his 82nd-minute withdrawal. Nevertheless, his developing partnership with Morata could be a huge asset in 2020.

What's next?

Atletico travel to Real Betis for their final game of 2019 next Sunday, while Osasuna host Real Sociedad after taking on minnows Lorca Deportiva in the Copa del Rey.

A frustrated Sergio Busquets hit out at the inconsistency of referee Javier Alberola Rojas and questioned why Barcelona did not benefit from a VAR review, after they were denied an injury-time penalty in a thrilling 2-2 draw at Real Sociedad.

Fourth-placed Sociedad were good value for their point against the reigning LaLiga champions, which was earned through Alexander Isak's 62nd-minute strike after Barca had come from a goal down to lead.

However, the visitors felt they should have had a late spot-kick when Gerard Pique claimed his shirt had been pulled by Diego Llorente as the pair fell to the ground in the Sociedad box.

Barca's frustrations were heightened by the fact they had fallen behind to a Mikel Oyarzabal penalty, awarded when Busquets was ruled to have tugged the jersey of Llorente.

"If you set the bar so low for the first penalty, you have to give so many more penalties," insisted Busquets.

"VAR would have to have intervened in that final play. The penalty on Pique is so clear.

"I think the referee saw it, but he didn't want to blow the whistle. I don't know why VAR didn't intervene. I would like to know their explanation, but it's not going to happen."

Busquets was able to speak more positively about Antoine Griezmann, who marked his latest return to his first professional club with Barca's first goal, courtesy of a delightful chipped finish.

"We knew it was special for Antoine, because of his past," added Busquets. "He did not want to celebrate the goal, which is respectable, but for us that goal, and his work as usual, has been very good for us."

Griezmann said: "I will never celebrate a goal against Real. I have a lot of respect for everything they gave me."

Ernesto Valverde passed up the opportunity to berate referee Javier Alberola Rojas after two penalty decisions went against Barcelona in their 2-2 draw at Real Sociedad.

Barca were denied three points in the Basque Country on Saturday, having been outplayed for long periods by a Sociedad side for whom Real Madrid loanee Martin Odegaard impressed.

However, LaLiga's reigning champions felt they should have been awarded an injury-time penalty when Gerard Pique and Diego Llorente tumbled to the ground contesting a Luis Suarez cross.

Barcelona's frustrations were heightened by the fact Sociedad had taken the lead from a spot-kick of their own after 12 minutes, when Sergio Busquets was penalised for tugging Llorente's shirt in circumstances not dissimilar to those involving Pique at the end of the match.

Yet while sections of the Spanish media bemoaned the consistency of the officials, Valverde was more measured in his post-match comments.

"From the bench you see the game with the shirt of your team on," said the Barca boss.

"The penalty to Pique? I have not seen it repeated but I will say that it is a penalty and that the Busquets one was not. I guess the coach of la Real will say the opposite."

Barcelona's failure to win means Real Madrid can move two points clear at the top of the table by beating Valencia ahead of Wednesday's Clasico at Camp Nou.

Yet Valverde highlighted the fact his side had faced a stiff opponent in fourth-placed Sociedad, adding: "We had a great team in front of us that is having a great season. The game was very intense in every way."

The 55-year-old also firmly rejected suggestions his second-half changes, which saw Busquets, Jordi Alba and Ivan Rakitic withdrawn, had been made with the Clasico in mind.

"What do you think? We are dying here, on the bench, and are we going to think about the Clasico? You think about what you have in front of you," Valverde stated.

Barcelona suffered a potentially costly slip-up ahead of Wednesday's Clasico as they were held to a 2-2 draw at Real Sociedad.

Luis Suarez scored one goal and made another as Ernesto Valverde's men, who had won their previous six games in all competitions, came from behind to lead at Anoeta.

However, Alexander Isak's 62nd-minute strike earned fourth-placed Sociedad a deserved share of the spoils, meaning Real Madrid now have the chance to move two points clear at the top of LaLiga with victory at Valencia on Sunday.

Barca could have few complaints about their failure to win, having been outplayed for large parts of an entertaining contest, and Ernesto Valverde's men will know they must deliver an improved display against Madrid in their next match.

Sociedad moved ahead after 12 minutes when Sergio Busquets was penalised for tugging Diego Llorente's shirt at a corner and Mikel Oyarzabal calmly sent Marc-Andre ter Stegen the wrong way from 12 yards.

The hosts remained in the ascendancy for much of the first half, but Barca pulled level in the 38th minute courtesy of a devastating break. Sociedad were left short of bodies at the back after Llorente was caught under the ball near the halfway line and Suarez drove forward before slipping in Antoine Griezmann, who clipped a deft finish into the bottom-right corner in front of his former home fans.

Imanol Alguacil's men were again guilty of slack defending as Barca took the lead four minutes into the second half. A glorious lofted pass from the previously unimpressive Busquets put Lionel Messi clear and he selflessly squared the ball to leave Suarez with the simple task of finding an open goal.

Griezmann and Gerard Pique came close to adding a third for Barca, but Sociedad soon hit back, Isak converting a simple rebound after Ter Stegen had needlessly parried a Nacho Monreal cross into the striker's path.

Monreal required treatment and a new shirt after comically injuring himself celebrating the goal. He and Oyarzabal attempted to bump chests but instead collided face to face.

Neither side could find a winner thereafter, home substitute Willian Jose coming closest when he fired a close-range shot into Ter Stegen's legs with the keeper grounded, while Barca saw an injury-time penalty appeal waved away when Pique and Llorente tumbled to the floor together contesting a Suarez cross.

 

Zinedine Zidane vowed to respect Paris Saint-Germain's relationship with Kylian Mbappe amid rumours of disharmony at Parc des Princes.

Mbappe, 20, was publicly told by Thomas Tuchel to respect coaching decisions after seemingly ignoring the PSG boss when substituted late in last weekend's Ligue 1 win at Montpellier.

French newspaper L'Equipe then claimed the World Cup winner has at times questioned his importance and treatment in comparison to team-mate Neymar.

The report fuelled speculation Mbappe could seek a move to Real Madrid in future but Zidane, who recently admitted to being "in love" with the talented France forward, tried to avoid driving a wedge between player and coach.

"Mbappe plays for PSG. I can't comment on what goes on there behind the scenes," the Madrid boss said on Saturday ahead of his side's LaLiga game against Valencia.

"That would be a lack of respect on my part. You know that I know him very well, but I have to have respect."

Madrid's trip to Mestalla on Sunday marks their final match before El Clasico on Wednesday, a potentially pivotal encounter in the title race.

Zidane insisted his team was focused only on beating Valencia and would not be distracted by the upcoming match at Camp Nou.

"We don't even talk about it," he said. "We are not interested in what will happen on Wednesday. We are only interested in tomorrow's game.

"Valencia are playing very well, getting very good results, they're through to the next stage of the Champions League.

"What we want is to give the best version of ourselves and to try to continue growing as a team. That is what interests us."

Zidane offered no clues over his starting XI but promised Gareth Bale had not fallen out of favour after the winger went unused against Club Brugge in the Champions League.

"I don't think Gareth's role is less important now," he said.

"He is one of us and I will count on him, but I have 25 players and they are all important to me. I follow the squad's progress day by day and everyone puts in. Bale is as important as the others."

Arsenal appear to have strengthened their interest in Nuno Espirito Santo.

Just over two weeks after dismissing Unai Emery, the Gunners are reportedly ready to hold talks with one of the top contenders to take over at Emirates Stadium.

But the Portuguese is not alone when it comes to candidates with Premier League experience.

 

TOP STORY – GUNNERS STEP UP NUNO CHASE

Arsenal will ask Wolves for permission to conduct formal discussions with Nuno next week, according to the Daily Mail.

The north Londoners are reportedly ready to "set to accelerate their interest" in the 45-year-old former Valencia and Porto head coach.

Belgium boss Robert Martinez is also said to have been approached, while Mauricio Pochettino, Mikel Arteta and Patrick Vieira continue to be linked.

Freddie Ljungberg has overseen two draws, a defeat and a solitary victory since taking charge on an interim basis.

ROUND-UP

- Like his former employers, ex-Arsenal boss Emery will not be rushed into a decision on his next move. Marca says the Spaniard has turned down the chance to speak to two Chinese clubs and managerless Everton since becoming a free agent on November 29.

- Premier League champions Manchester City hope to bring wantaway winger Jadon Sancho back to the Etihad Stadium after losing him to Borussia Dortmund in 2017, reports the Daily Mail.

- On the outer at Chelsea, Olivier Giroud appears to be moving closer to the Stamford Bridge exit door. L'Equipe claims the France striker is close to agreeing personal terms on a January switch to Inter, where he would reunite with Antonio Conte.

- Serie A side Milan will be offered the chance to sign Luka Jovic on loan from Real Madrid in January, according to Tuttomercatoweb.

- Barcelona will listen to offers of €10million for teenage defender Jean-Clair Todibo, reports Mundo Deportivo. The Spanish newspaper claims Bayer Leverkusen, Milan, Monaco, Southampton and Watford have submitted bids.

- Real Betis have sealed a deal to sign former Atletico Madrid winger Yannick Carrasco from Chinese Super League side Dalian Yifang, according to Deportes Cuatro.

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