Ex-Real Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso believes his former arch-rivals Atletico can win La Liga this season.
This season's La Liga is set to go down to the wire as title holders and leaders Barcelona are level on points with second-placed Atletico heading into the remaining four rounds.Madrid are a point further back in the standings.
But Alonso - now plying his trade for German champions Bayern Munich and preparing to come up against Atletico in the Champions League semi-finals - feels Diego Simeone's men are well placed.
"The league has been exciting," Alonso said."The top three teams are so strong, but Atletico have a good chance to win it.
"They will be treating every game they have left as a final."Atletico edged Athletic Bilbao 1-0 on Wednesday to maintain the pressure on Barca, who dismantled Deportivo La Coruna 8-0.
Saturday will see Atletico host Malaga, which is followed by matches against Rayo Vallecano, Levante and Celta Vigo.
Radamel Falcao admits he would not be able to turn down a move to Major League Soccer, though he insists his current focus is on playing in Europe.
The Colombia international, who is still under contract with Monaco, has endured two difficult seasons in the Premier League, with both Manchester United and Chelsea.
Falcao has scored just five goals during his spell in England, but he has previously claimed that he is merely "waiting for his chance" to shine at Stamford Bridge; though he has not ruled out a move to north America.
“I never say no [to MLS] but in this moment I am thinking about Europe and my performances here,” Falcao told NBC Sports. “I think I have more years to fight in these leagues.”
Falcao admits he has been following MLS, a league which boasts the talents of Falcao's former club team-mates Federico Higuain and Diego Valeri, who currently play for Columbus Crew and Portland Timbers respectively.
“I follow the league. In England they are showing the games and I have some friends who play in there who I played with in River Plate or Porto like Higuain or Valeri,” Falcao said.
“Some other Colombian players are playing in Major League Soccer and obviously the big stars like Andrea Pirlo, Kaka or Giovani dos Santos. I think MLS could be bigger than now because they have everything they need to become an even stronger league and become even more competitive.”Falcao is currently under contract with Monaco until 2018.
Rafael Benitez can be convinced to stay at Newcastle United by combining the role with the Spain national team job, according to John Carver.
The former Real Madrid manager penned a three-year deal in March, with a break clause if the club are relegated at the end of the current season, with Newcastle in a fight to secure their Premier League safety.
Current Spain head coach Vincent del Bosque is set to retire following Euro 2016 and Carver, who narrowly avoided relegation with Newcastle last season, feels Benitez could take on both roles.
"I can't think of a better place to be than Newcastle. Rafa has been at Liverpool, he understands what passionate football is all about, and it would be a great opportunity for him," he told talkSPORT.
"They might even say to him: 'if you stay, you can still do the national team part-time'. That might be something they put into their heads.
"If I was the football club I would do everything to keep him here and get him to build something. We are crying out for structure right throughout, from the bottom all the way to the top.
"You can do it [manage Newcastle and Spain] if you have got a good staff around you. Usually when you do go away on international duty you have hardly got any players left at the training ground anyway.
"I remember [the FA] asked Sir Bobby [Robson] to do it when he came back to Newcastle but the club wouldn't let him do it. He wanted to do it because he had trust in the people around him that we could run the show when he wasn't here.
"It might be the best option for Newcastle [allowing Benitez to manage Spain] because what they can't afford to do is lose him – he is the ideal appointment."
Mauro Icardi has suggested that he could leave Inter this summer.The striker has been heavily linked with a move away from San Siro this summer, with clubs such as Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal all said to be interested in acquiring his services.
He had been adamant that he would remain in Italy, however, though he has now hinted that he may indeed seek a move.
"Will I stay at Inter if we don't qualify for the Champions League? I'm here to win with this club, but if any offers come in, then we have got to talk about them with the club or with whoever deals with it," Icardi told Mediaset.The striker, who joined Inter from Sampdoria in July 2013, has a contract until June 2019.
He has scored 15 goals in 30 Serie A appearances this campaign.
Diego Simeone has been the driving force behind Atletico Madrid's resurgence in recent years, sporting director Jose Luis Caminero believes.
An Atletico legend after captaining the club to a famous La Liga and Copa del Rey double in 1995-96, Simeone's hero status at the Vicente Calderon has grown further thanks to his achievements since taking over as coach in December 2011.
The Argentinian has guided Atletico to Europa League and Copa glory, as well as the league title and Champions League final in 2013-14.Simeone signed a new long-term contract with Atletico last year, but is consistently linked with managerial vacancies at major European clubs.
However, Caminero told Omnisport: "Simeone has a contract with Atletico until 2020 and everybody at the club and the fans hope he will be with us for a long time.
"He is the person who brings everyone together at Atletico, players, staff, fans and directors. "He arrived at the club at the best possible moment. He is making history and it is clear that we want him to stay for many years.
"We want him to keep the club going in the right direction and to do better year after year."Antoine Griezman and Fernando Torres have been in superb form in recent weeks as Atletico chase a remarkable Liga and Champions League double.
Caminero added: "Griezmann is still a young guy who is constantly improving. There is no doubt about his quality. He keeps on getting better each season, scoring more goals every year."He suits Atletico's style, he works very hard and is passionate about what he does. That shows he is happy here and he improves on his own stats each season.
"Fernando is on a great run. He has been scoring goals and that is the most important thing for us. Strikers live to score goals and go on goalscoring runs. That helps them to improve.
"Torres is on a goalscoring run now and that boosts his confidence. Strikers who were once able to score a lot of goals will always end up scoring again. His goals are important for us. We need Fernando's goals and we need Griezmann's goals."
Van Gaal: Manchester United have improved this season
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal believes his team have improved on their overall performance from last season, as his second campaign in charge nears completion.United – who finished fourth last season – are preparing to face Everton in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on Saturday.
They sit fifth in the Premier League with four matches to play, having crashed out of the Champions League at the group stage before losing to Liverpool in the Europa League and Middlesbrough in the League Cup fourth round.But Van Gaal believes his team's FA Cup progress is a sign of how far they have come after losing to Arsenal in the final eight last time around.
"We are further than last year," the Dutchman said."We were in the quarter-finals, now we are in the semi-finals. I believe that means we are better than last year.
"It is not for me to judge [how important this game is]. I have said this already. "I do my utmost best. We are in the semi-finals of the FA Cup and are in the race for the fourth position and that was our aim."
Van Gaal is relieved to have most of his squad available for selection against Everton and says it is tough to whittle his selection down to 18.He continued: "We have a squad of fit players. I must select 18 players and I have 24 who are fit, so I have to disappoint six of them.
"The squad is nearly fit. Only Bastian Schweinsteiger, Luke Shaw and maybe Adnan Januzaj – because he has not yet played for the second team – are unable to play."
Arsenal 2-0 West Brom: Sanchez brace fires Gunners two clear of City
Alexis Sanchez scored twice as Arsenal tasted victory in the Premier League for the 500th time with a 2-0 win over West Brom at the Emirates Stadium.
Sanchez made it six goals in his last six league games with a first-half double, his first a low drive from outside the box and the second a free-kick that deceived Albion goalkeeper Ben Foster.
Gareth McAuley hit the crossbar with a header in between the goals, but Arsenal were otherwise rarely troubled as they recovered from successive draws against West Ham and Crystal Palace to move above Manchester City into third place.
With four matches to play, Arsenal now hold a two-point advantage over City and are four clear of Manchester United in fifth on a night that saw them move closer to Champions League qualification against a backdrop of empty seats at the Emirates.
West Brom slip to 15th and have just one point and one goal from their last five league outings as their wait to mathematically secure safety from relegation goes on.
The Gunners took the lead inside six minutes when Aaron Ramsey – coming into the team along with Olivier Giroud and Per Mertesacker – fed Sanchez and the Chile international impressively turned Sandro before firing a fine shot into the bottom corner from outside the area.McAuley made a crucial block to deny Mesut Ozil – a notable omission from the PFA Team of the Year that was announced prior to kick-off – while Arsenal's sole inclusion in that selection, Hector Bellerin, fired wide midway through the half.
West Brom almost levelled when James McClean whipped in a corner and McAuley's deft header had Petr Cech beaten, but cannoned off the crossbar as the home crowd breathed a sigh of relief.
The Baggies were fortunate at the other end when Ozil collected Bellerin's cut-back and hit a rather tame shot that somehow slipped through the legs of Foster, with Craig Dawson well positioned to save his keeper's blushes with a block on the goal-line.
But Foster was punished for a mistake seven minutes before half-time. After Ramsey had been fouled by Claudio Yacob, Sanchez stepped up and struck a 20-yard free-kick that completely baffled Foster, who stepped away from the ball's path as the hosts moved into complete control.
West Brom made a double change at the break, with Salomon Rondon – the only player left out by Tony Pulis from the team that lost to Watford – and Jonas Olsson coming on.
McClean had a header saved for the visitors early in the second half, while Arsenal had penalty appeals from Alex Iwobi and Mohamed Elneny turned down by referee Jon Moss.The game was almost put to bed when Sanchez played in Ozil, but Foster got down sharply to deny the Germany international and Iwobi had an effort saved as Arsenal continued to press.
For West Brom, Rondon could not react quickly enough to a threatening Craig Gardner corner that deceived Cech – snuffing out any hopes of what would have been an unlikely comeback.
Arsenal came close to a third when substitute Joel Campbell struck just wide and Olivier Giroud was thwarted by Foster as they settled for a two-goal victory.
AC Milan 0-0 Carpi: Brocchi's men booed off in poor draw
AC Milan faltered further in the race for an Europa League spot next season after they could only draw 0-0 with Carpi on Thursday night.
Cristian Brocchi enjoyed a dream debut in the Rossoneri dugout last weekend, masterminding a 1-0 win at Sampdoria in his first game in charge after Sinisa Mihajlovic was sacked.
However, his men were unable to break down the wall erected by Carpi in front of goal despite the best efforts of Carlos Bacca and Mario Balotelli, with the San Siro voicing its displeasure at the performance and result by the end.
The fallen giants therefore missed the chance to close the gap on fifth-placed Fiorentina to four points in Serie A with four games remaining and will feel aggrieved not to have been awarded a late penalty for handball as Emanuele Suagher's block went unnoticed.Carpi played their part in what was a scrappy game, getting numbers behind the ball at all times with an organised structure.
Former Inter goalkeeper Vid Belec was tested inside six minutes when Kevin-Prince Boateng, in for the absent Keisuke Honda, was allowed to turn and fire goalwards.
There was another moment of panic for the visitors when Giacomo Bonaventura lashed a shot that was deflected wide by team-mate Bacca.Bacca was involved again moments later when he powered over from outside the box after nice link-up play.
Carpi were pinned back into their own half for most of the first 45 minutes, but they were far from easy to break down, dealing well with the quick football Brocchi's men were trying to play.
Alex headed a corner narrowly over from an unmarked position that the Brazilian would have hoped for better from two minutes before the interval.
Balotelli was booked in the last action of the half when he attempted to convert a byline cross at the near post but only succeeded in taking out Belec with both legs.
Carpi had a half chance at the start of the second period when Marco Crimi got in behind, but his shot from a narrow angle was wide of the mark.
Milan had a goal ruled out for offside 20 minutes from time when substitute Jose Mauri was adjudged to have strayed before bundling in from close range.
Mauri was again involved when he glanced an Ignazio Abate cross just wide of Belec's near post.Then came the huge penalty shout for the hosts as Andrea Poli had his cross blocked by the trailing arm of Suagher.
Alex had a late shot from close range well saved after Luca Antonelli's soft header was parried, and it was to prove to be a night of frustration for the San Siro crowd.
Carpi could have snatched all three points in the dying seconds when Crimi cut inside and sent an effort towards the top corner, though Gianluigi Donnarumma responded well and tipped over.
'Rashford one of the best starlets I have launched' – Van Gaal compares striker to Muller and Iniesta
Louis van Gaal has compared Manchester United sensation Marcus Rashford to the best players he has launched into stardom, saying the 18-year-old is on par with the likes of Thomas Muller and Andres Iniesta.
The current Red Devils boss has brought through some of the most promising names at clubs he has led including Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, with many going on to achieve worldwide recognition.
Van Gaal's latest discovery proved to be Rashford, who scored a double on his United debut after starting as an emergency substitute for Anthony Martial in a key Europa League round of 32 clash against Midtjylland.
The teenager has since gone on to add five more goals to his club tally in a remarkable first season at Old Trafford, and his manager is convinced his match-winning displays are further proof of his star quality.
"I can give a lot of other examples of the same thing. Muller at Bayern, Xavi and Iniesta and Barcelona," Van Gaal told reporters ahead of his club's FA Cup semi-final tie with Everton. "Age is not the issue, quality is more important. A good manager should always try to have a mix of young and experienced players in his selection.
"I believe in young players, and at all my clubs I have given them a chance, even when I started out at AZ Alkmaar. Then I went to Ajax and [Patrick] Kluivert, 18 years old, gave the same sort of performances as we are seeing from Rashford.Nevertheless, Van Gaal insisted his protege is capable of improving further, adding: "He is not yet ready and he knows that; he can still learn a lot.
"It is always a risk when you promote young players to the first team because it is such a step up. As a manager you always need guts to put youngsters in the squad.
"Of course, the Manchester United scouts and academy coaches deserve a lot of credit for finding these boys and preparing them.
"Compared to the hours they put in my part is only a little one. But that part is still very important because you need the guts to do it.”
Milan coach Cristian Brocchi has warned Carlos Bacca that his bad reaction to being brought off "must not happen again".
Milan were jeered off the pitch by the San Siro crowd as they were held to a 0-0 draw by relegation-threatened Carpi, after failing to break down a resilient opponent.
In Brocchi's home debut, the team lacked urgency and creativity but will feel frustrated not to have been awarded a penalty in the closing stages for a handball.
Adding to Milan's woes, Bacca was replaced by Jeremy Menez in the 70th minute and left the pitch angrily, much to the disappointment of the new boss.
"I am only disappointed he didn't shake Menez's hand," Brocchi told Sky Sport Italia and Mediaset Premium."At that moment he was in a trance for the match, he reacted badly and it mustn't happen again, but as I said the worst part was not shaking hands with his team-mates.
"At the end of the day we need to work for a single objective and focus on the team, not ourselves as individuals. That is a very important rule."I replaced Bacca at that moment because I needed a player who could help out in the one-on-one situations."
Brocchi scraped to a win thanks to a goal from the Colombian in his first game in charge as Milan kept alive their slim European chances.But those hopes were dealt a huge blow with the Carpi draw as they dropped points for the third-straight home game, with Brocchi rueing their profligacy.
"I think what we lacked this evening was the finishing. We put balls into the box and tried to create chances, but were missing some of the determination to finish them off," he said.
"I always ask the strikers to seek each other out and help each other.Unfortunately today they were close by, but only shook off markers trying to get the ball to feet."
Van Gaal: Martinez and I know the importance of youth
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal says he can see similarities between himself and Everton boss Roberto Martinez ahead of their FA Cup semi-final clash.
Van Gaal and Martinez, aside from both being under pressure for better results from their respective clubs, have shown they are not afraid to trust youth in their times of need.
The Dutchman has successfully blooded the likes of Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Tim Fosu-Mensah and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson from the youth academy throughout the season while he has also relied heavily on Anthony Martial since his arrival.
Since taking over Everton, Martinez has backed 21-year-old John Stones in defence, while Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku remain key figures in his team.
"What he is doing is the sign of a good manager because I believe in young players too," Van Gaal said."They are always a stimulus in the group and that is very important. I think also that you have to make a mix of older and younger players in your team."
Van Gaal said no-one should be surprised by his use of youth-team products having made a habit of it throughout his career, but admitted Rashford - who has scored seven goals since making his United debut - is not ready to be the main man for United up front."At Bayern it was [Thomas] Muller, at Barcelona it was Xavi and [Andres] Iniesta. I have lots of examples," he said.
"Rashford is not ready. He knows that. You need always guts to put youngsters in the squad and also in the line-up."Pressed on whether Rashford should be selected for Euro 2016, he replied: "That you have to ask to other people, not to me. I don't want to interfere."
Wenger praises Sanchez after impressive performance
Arsene Wenger thinks Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez is back to his best after his double downed West Bromich Albion in the Premier League on Thursday.
The Gunners recovered from recent draws against West Ham and Crystal Palace with a 2-0 win at an Emirates Stadium that featured a noticeable number of empty seats.Sanchez scored twice in the first half with a low strike from outside the box and a free-kick that broke through West Brom's wall to catch out away goalkeeper Ben Foster.
The result took Arsenal up to third place in the league, two points clear of Manchester City and four ahead of Manchester United in fifth, with Wenger hailing Sanchez's display after he made it six goals in as many league outings.
Asked if Sanchez was now back to his best, Wenger said to Sky Sports: "It looks like yes. "He is back sharper, more confident. Overall - especially in the first half - I think he was exceptional.
"We did the job in a serious way and technically we played very well. The only regret is we should have scored more goals but the quality of our game was good."It has been in other games as well where we did not always make the maximum points for the quality of our games.
"The early goal certainly helped us to focus more on the way we play rather than being anxious about the consequence of the result. I think it was important and overall it helped the team."
Gareth McAuley headed against the crossbar for West Brom in the first half, but Arsenal's 500th Premier League victory never seemed to be in doubt.Wenger accepted there was frustration to see his team perform so convincingly after a season that has seen them fall short in the title race.
"Of course we have regrets," he said. "In recent games we had two draws when we should have won the games several times. When you drop points like that you pay for it. "Of course it is frustrating but there are so many teams who can say that. When you are always looking at that, you don't focus on what is important - the next game.
"When you are manager you want your team to take every chance and be clinical. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work like that."Wenger, though, was thrilled to take another step towards Champions League qualification.
He added: "It was important for us to win and now we try to win the next one. Sunderland on Sunday will be another tough battle. Let's prepare well and go game by game. We know we have a good chance to do it but it's far from done."