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REAL MADRID

Tello’s hat-trick brings Barça close to Cup semis

Lionel Messi marked his 400th appearance for Barcelona by setting up three goals for Cristian Tello as the Catalans moved towards the Copa del Rey semi-finals with a 4-1 win away to Levante on Wednesday.

Tello's hat-trick brings Barça close to Cup semis
Cristian Tello (R) celebrates his second goal with Lionel Messi. Photo: Jose Jordan/AFP

Nabil El Zhar had fired the hosts into a shock lead midway through the first-half.

However, after an unfortunate Juanfran own goal had levelled matters just after half-time, Tello then sped onto Messi's through ball to fire home on the hour mark.

The two combined once more 10 minutes from time and another lovely Messi pass allowed the 22-year-old to volley home his hat-trick five minutes later to leave the second-leg at the Camp Nou next Wednesday a formality.

And Barça boss Gerardo Martino hailed his side's patience as they all but killed the tie off in the second-half after a difficult opening period.

"In the first-half I was worried, but I also expect that in these type of games we will find more spaces in the second-half," he said.

"The opponent in front of us was making a huge effort and what I want is Barcelona to keep circulating the ball to make the other team tire.

"Thanks to that we found spaces in the second-half and Leo has taken advantage of them very well."

However, just as at the weekend, it start positively for the visitors as Levante took the lead from a set-piece when El Zhar prodded home from close range after Jose Manuel Pinto had parried his first effort.

Barça were handed a huge slice of luck to equalise eight minutes after half-time when Loukas Vyntra fired the ball off teammate Juanfran and the ball rebounded past the helpless Javi Jimenez into the net.

Thereafter, though, it was a procession as Tello thundered home his first moments later from Messi's first assist.

The winger then curled home his second of the evening after the defence had again been attracted towards Messi.

Tello sealed a memorable evening five minutes later with a another thumping finish from Messi's clipped ball over the top.

And Martino hinted that with Neymar sidelined, Tello's calm finishing would be rewarded with more game time in the coming weeks.

"Some players get the chance to show what they can do in 90 minutes and some only get 15 minutes.

"Until now Cristian has only been getting 15 minutes and that is very difficult.

"We will see how all the players develop in the next few weeks, but he is improving week by week. He is growing in confidence and becoming more explosive."

Barça will most likely face Real Sociedad in the last four after they beat third-tier side Racing Santander 3-1 at home in their quarter-final, first-leg.

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FOOTBALL

Black Lives Matter: Marcelo ‘takes the knee’ to celebrate Real Madrid win

Marcelo celebrated by taking a knee as Real Madrid returned from three months away following the coronavirus suspension by beating Eibar 3-1 on Sunday.

Black Lives Matter: Marcelo 'takes the knee' to celebrate Real Madrid win
Real Madrid's Brazilian defender Marcelo kneels on the field to celebrate his goal. Photo: AFP

After scoring Madrid's third goal in the 37th minute, Marcelo dropped onto his left knee and raised his clinched right fist into the air, apparently in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Madrid's win may have come at a cost as Eden Hazard and Sergio Ramos were both substituted early in the second half and were seen with ice packs strapped to them while sitting in the stands.

Hazard was making his first start since February and his ice pack appeared to be around his troublesome right ankle, which he injured in November and February, before undergoing surgery in March.

“We knew Eden would lack a bit of rhythm playing the whole game,” coach Zinedine Zidane said.

“He played well for an hour, he took a knock which was a scare but at half-time he said he was fine. He is happy with what he has done and we are happy with him.”

Madrid's win means they reduce the gap behind league leaders Barcelona back to two points after the Catalans thrashed Real Mallorca 4-0 on Saturday.    

Madrid struck in the fourth minute after a superb strike from Toni Kroos before Ramos tucked away Hazard's pass on the counter-attack.    

Eibar pulled one back in the second half through Pedro Bigas but never found the second to make Madrid nervous, despite a brief spell of pressure.    

Before going off, Hazard was busy, the Belgian involved in all three goals.    

His weaving run through midfield led to Kroos' shot and it was his effort that was cleared out to Marcelo, who drove into the corner.    

After a miserable opening season in Spain, it was a bright start for Hazard, who could now redeem himself by playing a crucial role in the run-in, if he can stay injury-free.

Perhaps even more impressive though was Karim Benzema, who linked up brilliantly with Hazard and was unfortunate not to get the goal an excellent all-round performance deserved.

Gareth Bale started on the bench but came on and could start against Valencia on Thursday.

Zidane is likely to rotate heavily over the next few weeks, with the games coming thick and fast.

New surroundings

Madrid's coach will also have been pleased to get off to a positive start in their new training ground home, which was the 100th different stadium to be used in La Liga.

They will be playing all their remaining home matches at the Alfredo di Stefano Stadium to allow renovation work at the Santiago Bernabeu to continue this summer.

“We know the situation, it's all a bit strange,” said Zidane. “But the players are all champions and we have to get our heads around it.”    

Barca had needed less than two minutes to score against Mallorca and Madrid were only slightly later, as Hazard broke through Eibar's midfield and Casemiro set Benzema free.

The ball was cleared to Kroos on the edge of the area, who struck first time, sidefooting perfectly into the far top right-hand corner.   

Ramos doubled their advantage after starting, and finishing, a ruthless counter-attack. In between, Benzema and Hazard were involved again, the former picking out the latter, who generously gave Ramos an open goal.

Marcelo put Eibar all but out of sight before half-time as Benzema played through for Hazard and his shot spilled out to Marcelo to lash into the corner.

Eibar were better after the break as Edu Exposito forced a full-stretch save from Thibaut Courtois and then Sergi Enrich headed against the crossbar. 

Bigas did score after diverting in Pedro Leon's shot but Madrid held on.    

Earlier, Diego Costa scored his first goal since October but Atletico Madrid missed the chance to move into La Liga's top four by drawing 1-1 away at Athletic Bilbao.

Costa celebrated by holding up the shirt of Virgina Torrecilla, a player from Atletico's women's team, who underwent surgery on a brain tumour last month.

His equaliser came two minutes after the excellent Iker Muniain had given Bilbao the lead towards the end of the first half and neither side could find a winner at the empty San Mames, with Atletico defender Santiago Arias missing the best chance late on.

Diego Simeone's side stay sixth, level on points with Getafe and one behind Real Sociedad, who were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Osasuna.

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