Atletico Madrid Welcome Back Griezmann As Real Sign Camavinga

File: Photo by BERNADETT SZABO / POOL / AFP)

 

France forward Antoine Griezmann has made a shock return to Atletico Madrid just two years after leaving to join Barcelona, on the final day of a hectic European transfer window.

Real Madrid also bagged a French international star as Eduardo Camavinga arrived from Rennes — but their attempts to sign Kylian Mbappe from Paris Saint-Germain failed.

World Cup-winning 30-year-old Griezmann, who scored 133 goals in his first spell with Atletico, has rejoined on a one-year loan deal with an option to extend by another year and an obligation to buy, the club said.

“Welcome back, Griezmann!” Atletico wrote on its website.

Barcelona have been struggling financially and had to allow six-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi to leave for PSG last month.

Midfield prodigy Camavinga, who is just 18, penned a six-year deal at Real, the club reportedly paying a fee of 31 million euros ($36.6m) plus nine million euros more in bonuses.

It is a considerable sum for the Angolan-born player, who was in the final year of his contract at Rennes.

Real had spent the last week trying to clinch a dizzying deal for 22-year-old forward Mbappe, making two bids, the last understood to be worth a total of 180 million euros.

But PSG’s Qatari owners do not need to sell and appear prepared to risk losing Mbappe for free at the end of the campaign in order to have the World Cup winner, Neymar and Messi together in attack for at least one season.

Real can come back in for Mbappe again in January, when they could sign him to a pre-contract agreement to move next summer without having to pay a transfer fee.

It has been an extraordinary summer transfer window in Europe, with Messi departing Barcelona for Paris and Cristiano Ronaldo on Tuesday finalising his sensational return to Manchester United from Juventus.

Apart from Messi, PSG have also signed Sergio Ramos from Real Madrid and one of the world’s top goalkeepers, Gianluigi Donnarumma, from AC Milan.

They also strengthened their midfield with Georginio Wijnaldum from Liverpool and signed flying Morocco right-back Achraf Hakimi, who shone for Inter Milan last season.

The latter cost some 60 million euros, with the rest all arriving as free agents.

On Tuesday, the club also announced the signing of teenage Portugal defender Nuno Mendes from Sporting Lisbon, on a season-long loan with an option to buy.

Ronaldo is the latest big-money signing in the Premier League, where the biggest deals have seen Manchester City buy Jack Grealish from Aston Villa for £100 million ($138m) and Romelu Lukaku return to Chelsea from Inter for £97.5 million.

– Belts tightened –

In contrast, PSG apart, leading clubs on the continent have not been as willing to spend big money as they continue to suffer from the economic impact of the pandemic.

Before adding Camavinga, Real’s only signing of note was David Alaba on a free from Bayern Munich.

Barcelona, mired in huge debts, could not keep Messi and spent deadline day selling off some of their talented youngsters.

Brazilian right-back Emerson Royal joined Tottenham Hotspur for 25 million euros after two seasons on loan with Real Betis, while teenager Ilaix Moriba headed to RB Leipzig for an initial 16 million euros.

Their only new permanent signings have been free agents, Eric Garcia and Sergio Aguero from Manchester City and Memphis Depay from Lyon.

They also announced a deadline-day deal to take Sevilla forward Luuk de Jong on loan.

In the Premier League, Chelsea secured the signing of Atletico midfielder Saul Niguez on a season-long loan, while Leeds signed Wales winger Dan James from Manchester United in a deal worth a reported £25 million ($34.3 million).

Early strugglers Arsenal signed Japan defender Takehiro Tomiyasu from Bologna for a fee worth a reported £19.8 million, and offloaded defender Hector Bellerin to Real Betis on a season-long loan.

In Italy, champions Inter replaced Lukaku and Hakimi with cheaper alternatives in Edin Dzeko and Netherlands right-back Denzel Dumfries.

They also signed Argentina’s Joaquin Correa from Lazio on an initial one-year loan.

Juventus offloaded Ronaldo and signed two Italy internationals in striker Moise Kean and midfielder Manuel Locatelli.

Both arrived on loans that will become permanent after two years, a way for Juve to spread out the payments to Everton and Sassuolo respectively.

In Germany, Bayern Munich splashed a total of 67.5 million euros signing France defender Dayot Upamecano and Austria’s Marcel Sabitzer from RB Leipzig.

Borussia Dortmund bought Dutch forward Donyell Malen from PSV Eindhoven and, crucially, have kept hold of Erling Haaland.

AFP

Five Matches That Won Atletico Madrid La Liga

Atletico Madrid´s players toss Atletico Madrid's Argentine coach Diego Simeone after winning the Spanish league football match against Real Valladolid FC and the Liga Championship title at the Jose Zorilla stadium in Valladolid on May 22, 2021. CESAR MANSO / AFP
Atletico Madrid´s players toss Atletico Madrid’s Argentine coach Diego Simeone after winning the Spanish league football match against Real Valladolid FC and the Liga Championship title at the Jose Zorilla stadium in Valladolid on May 22, 2021. CESAR MANSO / AFP

 

Atletico Madrid won La Liga for the second time in eight years on Sunday as a 2-1 victory over Real Valladolid crowned them Spanish champions. 

Here, AFP looks at five matches that secured Atletico the title.

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Barcelona, November 21

Yannick Carrasco scored the winner as Atletico registered their first La Liga win over Barcelona in more than a decade and stretched their unbeaten run to 24 matches.

It would be this result that eventually gave Atletico a better head-to-head record over Barca, who were left 10th in the table and without the injured Gerard Pique for three months.

Elche 0-1 Atletico Madrid, May 1

Atletico were inches away from surrendering victory and their lead at the top of the table to Real Madrid as Elche’s Fidel Chaves missed a dramatic 91st-minute penalty.

Fidel’s shot struck the post as Atletico held on for a 1-0 win that kept them two points ahead of Real Madrid and also in front of Barcelona going into a crunch meeting at Camp Nou.

Barcelona 0-0 Atletico Madrid, May 8

Barcelona had the chance to shift the dynamic of the title race on their home turf but Atletico dominated the first half and Barca never did quite enough in the second.

The stalemate ended up being an even better result for Atletico after Real Madrid were held by Sevilla a day later, Atleti’s two-point lead preserved at the end of what many had circled as a pivotal weekend.

Atletico Madrid 2-1 Osasuna, May 16

With nine minutes left, Atletico trailed Osasuna 1-0 at the Wanda Metropolitano and Real Madrid were going top of La Liga, the title in their hands, with a win against Athletic Bilbao.

But Atletico pulled off an incredible turnaround, Renan Lodi equalising in the 82nd minute and Suarez scoring the winner in the 88th, with hundreds of fans celebrating outside in the stadium car park.

Victory kept Atleti top and left them one more win away.

Real Valladolid 1-2 Atletico Madrid, May 22

Atletico knew victory would win them the title regardless of how Real Madrid fared against Villarreal but they did it the hard way, coming from behind after Valladolid took a shock lead through Oscar Plano.

But Angel Correa equalised and then Suarez scored the winner, a nervy title race decided by a nail-biting victory.

Suarez Scores As Atletico Madrid Win La Liga

Atletico Madrid's Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring during the Spanish league football match Real Valladolid FC against Club Atletico de Madrid at the Jose Zorilla stadium in Valladolid on May 22, 2021. CESAR MANSO / AFP
Atletico Madrid’s Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring during the Spanish league football match Real Valladolid FC against Club Atletico de Madrid at the Jose Zorilla stadium in Valladolid on May 22, 2021. CESAR MANSO / AFP

 

Atletico Madrid won La Liga and Luis Suarez found vindication, his goal securing the 2-1 victory over Real Valladolid on Saturday that clinched his team another remarkable Spanish title. 

Suarez began the season crying after being forced out of Barcelona but ended it with his 21st goal of the season earning Atletico a first league triumph since 2014, this one at the expense of Real Madrid.

Atletico knew victory would guarantee them the title regardless of what Real Madrid did at home to Villarreal but it was never comfortable, with Valladolid taking a shock early lead.

Real Madrid were behind too for most of the afternoon but Karim Benzema equalised in the 87th minute and Luka Modric even scored a late winner for 2-1 at Valdebebas, leaving Atletico hanging on at the end, as they were suddenly one goal away from squandering it all.

When the final whistle blew, the players ran onto the pitch, Suarez underneath a pile of red and white shirts, with Europe’s most nerve-wracking and unpredictable title race finally complete.

Just over a week ago, coach Diego Simeone said this was the “Suarez Zone” and so it proved, the Uruguayan scoring the winner against Osasuna last week to keep the title in Atletico’s hands and then again on the last day to put their name on the trophy.

This is only the second time in 17 years that a team other than Barcelona or Real Madrid have won the title, with Atleti claiming the other one under Simeone in 2014.

Atletico Madrid's Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez (C) celebrates after scoring during the Spanish league football match Real Valladolid FC against Club Atletico de Madrid at the Jose Zorilla stadium in Valladolid on May 22, 2021. CESAR MANSO / AFP
Atletico Madrid’s Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez (C) celebrates after scoring during the Spanish league football match Real Valladolid FC against Club Atletico de Madrid at the Jose Zorilla stadium in Valladolid on May 22, 2021. CESAR MANSO / AFP

 

Atletico went into the game having been top since December and on the back of beating Osasuna with two goals in the last eight minutes, a victory that was so dramatic it felt like it would prove decisive.

But Atletico have done nothing the easy way this season, with their 10-point lead in February cut to two in May and their position at the top of the table relying on numerous slip-ups from both Real Madrid and Barcelona.

So it was apt that faced with beating Real Valladolid, who were 19th in the table, they still had to scrape over the line.

Several hundred Atletico fans gathered in Valladolid’s Plaza Mayor in the hours before kick-off to sing songs and a similar number made it outside the stadium, where they were cordoned off in a cess-pit of nerves and anticipation.

Players screamed

Suarez had a couple of early openings but any hopes for a comfortable afternoon were dashed in the 18th minute when Valladolid took the lead.

It came from an Atletico corner as Yannick Carrasco lost the ball and Valladolid broke at speed, pinging passes through midfield and finally through to Oscar Plano, the former Real Madrid youngster who pulled away and fired past Jan Oblak.

There was plenty of time left and the other consolation for Atletico was Real Madrid fell behind too, Gerard Moreno’s poked pass causing confusion at the back, with Yeremi Pino prodding Villarreal into the lead.

Atletico pushed as Suarez’s effort curled wide and Felipe headed straight at Jordi Masip but they also looked for calm. Players screamed at Oblak to give the team a moment to regroup. Simeone told the substitutes to quieten down.

Atletico Madrid´s players toss Atletico Madrid's Argentine coach Diego Simeone after winning the Spanish league football match against Real Valladolid FC and the Liga Championship title at the Jose Zorilla stadium in Valladolid on May 22, 2021. CESAR MANSO / AFP
Atletico Madrid´s players toss Atletico Madrid’s Argentine coach Diego Simeone after winning the Spanish league football match against Real Valladolid FC and the Liga Championship title at the Jose Zorilla stadium in Valladolid on May 22, 2021. CESAR MANSO / AFP

 

Both title contenders were trailing at half-time but Atletico came out with renewed vigour and a crucial few minutes fell their way.

Real Madrid struck first, Benzema heading in Casemiro’s cross before Angel Correa levelled for Atletico as well, collecting on the edge of the area and firing through the legs of Jawad El Yamiq.

Atletico’s equaliser, though, was made all the more precious after Real Madrid’s was ruled out, Benzema’s left arm shown to be offside by VAR.

Valladolid might have scored again but Shon Weissman headed over with the goal gaping and then Atletico took the lead, a gift of a pass-back by Sergi Guardiola allowing Suarez to skip clear.

Suarez slid the ball past Masip before ending up under a pile of Atletico teammates.

Real Madrid equalised in the 87th minute, Benzema curving a delightful finish into the top corner and it was still not over, Modric scoring again to leave Atletico with some nail-biting final moments.

They got over the line.

Atletico On Cusp Of La Liga Glory But Real Madrid Ready To Pounce

Atletico Madrid’s Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez celebrates his goal during the Spanish League football match between Club Atletico de Madrid and CA Osasuna at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on May 16, 2021. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

 

 

Barely a week has gone by this season without Diego Simeone pronouncing his mantra of “one game at a time” and now it really rings true, with Atletico Madrid one match away from winning La Liga.

If they beat Real Valladolid on Saturday, they will be crowned champions for the first time since 2014 and few could argue given they will have been top of the table since December.

But Real Madrid are lurking, only two points behind, and ready to dip their neck over the line at the last moment. They have not led La Liga since October 17.

Real Madrid will have to win at home against Villarreal to have any chance but the omens looks good for Zinedine Zidane’s side, given their opponents may not be at full strength.

Villarreal are in a three-way battle to finish fifth and sixth, with the team that comes seventh dropping out of the Europa League and into the new and less lucrative Europa Conference League.

But Villarreal could do even better and qualify for the Champions League if they defeat Manchester United in the Europa League final, four days after their game at Valdebebas.

“We will have an eye on the Manchester United game,” said Villarreal coach Unai Emery on Wednesday.

A draw for Atletico could mean the top two are tied on points but that would see the trophy returned to Real Madrid, who would sneak it on head-to-head.

In some ways, Atletico might benefit from the situation being clear. They will almost certainly have win to claim the title and can look for victory from the start.

– Valladolid scrapping for survival –
Valladolid might have been relegated already had results gone against them last weekend but instead they are still fighting to be the one team out of three that survives.

Huesca and Elche are the others scrapping to finish 17th, with both of them two points ahead of Valladolid, the trio sandwiched between already-relegated Eibar and Getafe, who are safe.

It means only a win will give Valladolid hope, a scenario that could play into Atletico’s hands if it encourages their opponents to attack, opening the spaces that were denied by the defensive approach of Osasuna, who so nearly spoiled Atletico’s chances last weekend.

Luis Suarez’s 88th-minute winner, which completed a stunning turnaround after Renan Lodi equalised only six minutes before, had the feeling of a pivotal moment, a dramatic twist to prove decisive in who harnesses the prize.

Yet Real Madrid’s priority on Sunday was survival and they beat Athletic Bilbao at San Mames to take Atletico to the last day, when the tension will be at its highest.

Simeone admitted “anxiety exists” among his players but in 10 years in charge he has tried to expunge the fatalist tendencies that haunted the club for so long.

Real Madrid have benefitted before, when Atletico conceded in the 93rd minute in the 2014 Champions League final in Lisbon and lost in extra-time. Atletico went close in the 2016 final in Milan too, only to be beaten by Real Madrid on penalties.

Now Simeone’s team are within touching distance again, the difference this time that Real Madrid have no control, their own success now depending on what happens at the Jose Zorrilla stadium, 200 kilometres away.

Win or lose, it could be Zidane’s final game in charge and there are serious doubts around the future of Ronald Koeman as well, ahead of Barcelona’s last match against Eibar.

Barca’s disappointing end to the season means they could even surrender third place if they lose while Sevilla will hope for the chance to overcome a two-point gap when they face Alaves on Sunday.

Real Sociedad in fifth are a point ahead of both Real Betis and Villarreal, the tussle for the Europa League still alive. Betis travel to Celta Vigo and Real Sociedad are at Osasuna.

Elche host Athletic Bilbao and to stay up, they will have to better Huesca’s result against Valencia at Mestalla. Valladolid must beat Atletico and hope Elche and Huesca both lose.

Fixtures (times GMT)

Friday

Levante v Cadiz (1900)

Saturday

Celta Vigo v Real Betis, Eibar v Barcelona, Huesca v Valencia, Osasuna v Real Sociedad, Real Madrid v Villarreal, Real Valladolid v Atletico Madrid, Elche v Athletic Bilbao (all 1600)

Sunday

Granada v Getafe (1630), Sevilla v Alaves (1900)

Atletico Closing In On La Liga Title As Race Heats Up

Atletico Madrid’s Belgian midfielder Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco (R) celebrates his goal with teammates during the Spanish league football match Club Atletico de Madrid against Real Sociedad at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on May 12, 2021.
PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP

 

“If we didn’t suffer, we wouldn’t be us,” Atletico Madrid captain Koke said on Wednesday night but after 36 games and nine months, a 10-point advantage spurned and a two-point advantage left, the trophy was finally in sight.

With just two games left to play, a win on Sunday at home to Osasuna could be enough for the league leaders to clinch the title.

Koke was referring to Atletico’s 2-1 win over Real Sociedad when they had to hang on “unnecessarily” according to Diego Simeone, after missing chances for a third goal and then conceding one to set up a nail-biting finish.

But he could also have been talking about Atletico’s season, in which they would have won the title by now if it was not for a dramatic drop in form and might have seen it disappear completely if Barcelona and Real Madrid had not been so lacklustre in making them pay.

Instead, Atletico have clung on, neither losing hope nor put out of their misery, the belief growing that they might yet somehow find a way through.

In April, the gap had closed and Real Madrid had the wind behind them but draws against Getafe and Real Betis checked the momentum before another draw with Sevilla on Sunday meant the initiative was lost.

Barcelona were the best team in the league between February and May, a defeat in the Clasico just a blip until Granada scored twice in 16 minutes at Camp Nou.

Barca lost there and again away at Levante on Tuesday, their chances evaporating in less than two weeks.

Atletico have managed back-to-back wins only once since February but they have done just enough to keep their heads above water and now they could pull away once and for all.

Real Madrid’s 4-1 thrashing of Granada on Thursday night applied pressure but an Atletico victory against Osasuna will still mean the title is theirs, as long as Real Madrid fail to win away at Athletic Bilbao.

If Atletico and Real Madrid both win, the battle will go to the final weekend, although as a two-horse race instead of three. Barca would be out of the running regardless of what they do at home to Celta Vigo.

Sevilla, who briefly had an outside chance, have already conceded, their victory over Valencia on Wednesday not enough after Atletico overcame Real Sociedad at the Wanda Metropolitano.

In the car park outside the stadium, a group of around 50 Atleti fans had gathered to cheer the team on, their singing audible inside the ground and on the pitch too, where Koke said the players felt an extra push.

“We could hear them outside, especially when we needed them in the last 10 minutes,” Koke said.

But just as Atletico’s victory was not as comfortable as it should have been, the title race remains alive, with Real Madrid on their shoulder ready to pounce.

“We can only keep putting pressure on Atletico and hope they don’t win both of their games,” said Thibaut Courtois on Thursday. “We are close, there is no margin for error.”

Atletico’s fans would rather any other team be chasing them because if suffering is part of the club’s DNA, so is disappointment, a tendency to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

“There is fatigue and there is anxiety,” admitted Simeone, who had jogged up the tunnel, punching the air as he went. A day later at Los Carmenes, Zidane smiled. “We’re still in it,” he said.

Fans will be allowed inside some La Liga stadiums on Sunday for the first time in 14 months, with Valencia considered one of the regions ready to welcome back supporters.

It means Valencia against Eibar and Villarreal against Sevilla could both accept fans, albeit only at 30 per cent capacity and at a maximum of 5,000 according to the guidelines set by the Spanish government.

Eibar could be relegated if they fail to beat Valencia while Real Valladolid and Elche will also be hoping to extend their fight until the last day. Valladolid visit Real Sociedad and Elche play away at Cadiz.

Fixtures (all Sunday 1630 GMT):

Alaves v Granada, Athletic Bilbao v Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid v Osasuna, Barcelona v Celta Vigo, Real Betis v Huesca, Getafe v Levante, Cadiz v Elche, Real Sociedad v Real Valladolid, Valencia v Eibar, Villarreal v Sevilla

-AFP

Atletico, Barcelona Play Out Stalemate, Hand Advantage To Real Madrid In La Liga Race

Barcelona's Dutch midfielder Frenkie De Jong reacts to a missed goal opportunity during the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona against Club Atletico de Madrid at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on May 8, 2021. Josep LAGO / AFP
Barcelona’s Dutch midfielder Frenkie De Jong reacts to a missed goal opportunity during the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona against Club Atletico de Madrid at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on May 8, 2021. Josep LAGO / AFP

 

Barcelona and Atletico Madrid knew victory could fire them towards the La Liga title but Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Camp Nou handed Real Madrid the chance to go top.

Four wins from their last four games will now be enough for Zinedine Zidane’s side to retain their La Liga crown, with a crunch game at home to fourth-placed Sevilla up first on Sunday.

The first part of a blockbuster weekend in the Spanish title race pitched first against third but neither could take a decisive step forward, despite the best attempts of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, who faced each other for the first time since Suarez departed last summer.

A point each leaves Atletico three points clear of Real Madrid, who have a game in hand and also the superior head-to-head over both Atleti and Barcelona.

Barca remain two points off the top but their chances took the biggest hit, given they now need both Atletico and Real Madrid to slip up in the final stretch.

Yet Atletico will be disappointed too, given they spurned a number of chances in during a dominant first half, before Ronald Koeman’s side recovered in the second.

Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi leaves the pitch at the end of the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona against Club Atletico de Madrid at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on May 8, 2021. Josep LAGO / AFP
Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi leaves the pitch at the end of the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona against Club Atletico de Madrid at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on May 8, 2021. Josep LAGO / AFP

 

Jan Oblak had to deny Messi after a vintage run forward from the Argentine, who then had a well-placed free-kick in the last minute, only for Atletico to watch the ball spin inches wide.

Diego Simeone said on Friday Suarez had been “vindicated” since being forced to leave Barcelona, his 19 goals making him top scorer for the team.

Koeman admitted it would be “strange” for everyone, including Messi, who sent a heartfelt open letter to his former team-mate, neighbour and best friend last year.

Suarez ‘always welcome’

The pair shared a few words in the centre circle before kick-off after the Camp Nou stadium announcer had already beamed that Suarez “will always be welcome”.

But, in truth, the Uruguayan was not at his ruthless best as a handful of openings went unconverted in a contest full of chances but that lacked precision when it mattered most.

Messi was repeatedly knocked over in the opening few minutes before Gerard Pique went through the back of Suarez, both teams scrapping for control.

Atletico slowly took charge, helped by the departure of Sergio Busquets, who was replaced by Ilaix Moriba after a clash of heads that meant he had to be taken to hospital for tests.

Barcelona's Spanish defender Jordi Alba (L) vies with Atletico Madrid's Argentine forward Angel Correa (C) during the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona against Club Atletico de Madrid at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on May 8, 2021. Josep LAGO / AFP
Barcelona’s Spanish defender Jordi Alba (L) vies with Atletico Madrid’s Argentine forward Angel Correa (C) during the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona against Club Atletico de Madrid at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on May 8, 2021. Josep LAGO / AFP

 

Without Busquets, Barcelona were rudderless for a while and the Atletico chances came thick and fast.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen had to palm away Marcos Llorente’s shot and then stick out a foot to deny Suarez from the angle.

Suarez then tried to nod in the rebound after a winding run from Yannick Carrasco before claiming a penalty after feeling a flick of Ter Stegen’s hand across his head.

Barcelona were rattled, the usually steady Ter Stegen booting one ball straight into the stands, only for Messi to give Atletico a reality check, his driving run past six chasers opening the space for a shot, but Oblak tipped it wide.

Felipe fired over from a well-worked Atleti short corner before half-time but Barca were better after the break, with both Ilaix and Pique going close shortly after the hour.

Both coaches made changes, hoping to inspire a winner. Ousmane Dembele was one of them and he should have grabbed it with six minutes left but headed over from six yards in perhaps the best chance of the game.

Messi could have won it at the end, standing over the ball with a free-kick placed centrally and 25 yards out. Atletico held their breath, the ball whistling just wide of Oblak’s post.

 

AFP

Werner Returns For Chelsea’s Atletico Showdown

Chelsea’s German striker Timo Werner (L) vies with Everton’s French defender Lucas Digne (R) during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and Everton at Stamford Bridge in London on March 8, 2021. (Photo by Mike Hewitt / POOL / AFP) 

 

 

Timo Werner was back in Chelsea’s starting line-up for Wednesday’s Champions League last 16-second leg against Atletico Madrid.

Werner has endured a dismal first season with Chelsea following his move from Bayer Leverkusen last year.

The Germany forward has netted just 10 times for the Premier League club, with just two goals in his last 26 appearances in all competitions.

Werner was a substitute for Saturday’s goalless draw against Leeds.

 

Chelsea’s German striker Timo Werner (L) vies with Everton’s French defender Lucas Digne (R) during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and Everton at Stamford Bridge in London on March 8, 2021. (Photo by Mike Hewitt / POOL / AFP)

 

Despite his woeful run, Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel put Werner back in the team for Atletico’s visit to Stamford Bridge.

With Mason Mount and Jorginho suspended, Werner was one of five changes from the Leeds game.

Kurt Zouma, Marcos Alonso, Reece James and Mateo Kovacic also came in.

Zouma replaced Danish centre-back Andreas Christensen, who was absent from the squad due to a non-COVID-19 illness.

Atletico manager Diego Simeone made two changes to the side that drew with Getafe in La Liga on Saturday.

Mario Hermoso and Angel Correa dropped to the bench as Renan Lodi and Joao Felix started.

Starting line-ups for the Champions League last 16, second leg between Chelsea and Atletico Madrid at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday (2000 GMT kick-off, 1-0 agg):

Chelsea (3-4-3)

Edouard Mendy; Cesar Azpilicueta, Kurt Zouma, Antonio Rudiger; Reece James, Mateo Kovacic, N’Golo Kante, Marcos Alonso; Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz, Timo Werner

Coach: Thomas Tuchel (GER)

Atletico Madrid (4-4-2)

Jan Oblak; Kieran Trippier, Stefan Savic, Jose Maria Gimenez, Renan Lodi; Marcos Llorente, Koke, Saul Niguez, Yannick Carrasco; Joao Felix, Luis Suarez

Coach: Diego Simeone (ARG)

Referee: Daniele Orsato (ITA)

Simeone Confident Suarez, Felix Can Unlock Chelsea

A file COMBO of Luis Suarez and Joao Felix

 

Luis Suarez, despite his Champions League goal drought, and Joao Felix, whose future is in question, will start together as Atletico Madrid try to fight back in their second leg at Chelsea, coach Diego Simeone said on Tuesday.

“Only one objective: victory,” said Simeone, whose team face a 1-0 deficit in the last-16 tie after losing their ‘home’ game in Bucharest. “I must find the necessary tools to achieve this.”

Despite Covid-19 restrictions, Wednesday’s game will be played at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge home.

Suarez has not scored an away goal in the competition since he struck in the 21st minute of Barcelona’s opening group game at Roma in September 2015. Since then he has 17 goals in the Champions League, all at the Nou Camp for Barcelona.

He has yet to score in five appearances in the competition for Atletico.

 

Atletico Madrid’s Argentine coach Diego Simeone gestures during the Spanish league football match Club Atletico de Madrid against Real Madrid CF at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on March 7, 2021. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

“Now would be good time for him to snap the streak,” Simeone told a press conference on Tuesday. “Why not?

“Suarez is a very important player for us, a striker who has a lot of influence on our game, who has standing, for us and for our opponents.”

Felix’s recent form has been questioned in Spain even as he has been the subject of speculation in Britain that Manchester City want the 21-year-old Portuguese to replace former Atletico striker Sergio Aguero.

“Joao is a very important player, he started the season at a very high level, we need that player,” said Simeone. “All footballers go through different phases in their careers, especially when they are young.”

With Felix alongside him at the press conference, Simeone dismissed doubts about the striker’s defensive work-rate.

“We all want him to grow and for him to grow and get to where he wants to be, he has to be complete and have different facets, because all footballers want to work for the team.”

Felix echoed his coach.

“I’m happy at the club,” he said. “Like all players I have not so good phases, I don’t know if I’m going through one or not, but I’m sure it will pass.”

“I don’t know if I lack desire. There are many examples of players who had a lot of talent, but lacked something to reach the top.

“I don’t want to be one of them, so I try to apply my desire and my talent.”

Chelsea are unbeaten since Thomas Tuchel took over from the sacked Frank Lampard in late January.

“We are facing a team that is doing very well, that has not lost since the arrival of its new coach,” said Simeone.

“But tomorrow, we will be looking for one result: victory. And we’ll try to play the game the way we need to achieve that objective.

-AFP

Atletico Denied Derby Victory By Late Benzema Equaliser

Atletico Madrid’s Montenegrin defender Stefan Savic (L) and Real Madrid’s French forward Karim Benzema jump for the ball during the Spanish league football match Club Atletico de Madrid against Real Madrid CF at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on March 7, 2021. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

Atletico Madrid squandered the chance to inflict a heavy blow on Real Madrid’s La Liga title hopes on Sunday as Karim Benzema’s late equaliser earned the champions a 1-1 draw and kept them in the race at the top.

Luis Suarez’s flicked finish early in the first half looked to be enough to give Atletico a crucial win that would have put them eight points clear of their opponents, with a game in hand.

But they failed to make their authority count and Benzema punished them in the 88th minute, his goal earning Real Madrid a draw that ensures the gap between the two city rivals stays at five points.

It is still a considerable lead that Atletico can extend to eight points with 12 matches left if they win their game in hand at home to Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday night.

Yet at full-time, it was Real Madrid’s players who had smiles on their faces, while Suarez left the pitch shaking his head, with Atletico only too aware this was a huge opportunity missed.

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Instead, the title race remains very much in Atletico’s favour but still up for grabs, especially for Barcelona, who were perhaps the biggest beneficiaries of this result.

Barca, whose members were voting in the club’s new president on Sunday, now sit only two points behind Atletico, having played a game more. They also face Diego Simeone’s side at Camp Nou in May.

Kieran Trippier played his first game since January after serving his 10-week ban for breaking betting rules while Benzema proved his worth again, after being deemed fit enough to start following time out with a groin strain.

Atletico were far superior in the first half, stronger, more aggressive, better on the ball and with a clearer plan that restricted Real Madrid to one long-shot from Casemiro and a glancing Benzema header.

By then, Real were behind, the opening goal coming from a familiar combination down the right. Trippier played out from deep into the path of the excellent Marcos Llorente, who nipped the ball away from the diving Nacho Fernandez.

A poked pass behind Raphael Varane found Suarez and he flicked a superb finish with the outside of his foot around goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and into the far corner.

Atletico won every challenge and loose ball but missed a second goal. Madrid wanted a penalty at the end of the half after the ball struck Felipe on the hand but the referee was unconvinced, even after consulting the monitor.

(From L) Real Madrid’s French forward Karim Benzema, Real Madrid’s French defender Ferland Mendy, Real Madrid’s Brazilian midfielder Casemiro and Real Madrid’s German midfielder Toni Kroos jump for the ball during the Spanish league football match Club Atletico de Madrid against Real Madrid CF at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on March 7, 2021. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

Real Madrid rallied and for a while the game opened up. Nacho went close at the back post before Yannick Carrasco twice got the better of Lucas Vazquez, the second time pulling back for Suarez, whose finish was blocked.

Angel Correa scuffed when free from six yards out.

Atletico appeared to have regained their authority but they failed to give themselves a cushion and tension grew.

Benzema fired over and then Jan Oblak pulled off an incredible double save, denying the Frenchman from point blank before getting up to block the rebound.

Two minutes remained when Benzema finally struck. He bundled through, the ball cannoning through kindly for Casemiro, who capitalised with an ice-cold pull-back for his team-mate, who had an open net.

AFP

Atletico Madrid Stumble Again To Keep La Liga Title Race Alive

Atletico Madrid’s Spanish midfielder Marcos Llorente reacts to Levante’s second goal during the Spanish league football match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Levante UD at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on February 20, 2021. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

 

 

Atletico Madrid gave renewed hope to their La Liga title rivals on Saturday by losing 2-0 at home to Levante and missing the chance to extend their six-point lead at the top of the table. 

The defeat is only Atletico’s second in the league this season and their first at the Wanda Metropolitano in any competition since Barcelona beat them there in December 2019.

It means what could have been a commanding 11-point advantage at the top of the table is now just six, with Real Madrid, the closest challengers, up against Real Valladolid later on Saturday.

Due to rearranged fixtures, Atletico were facing Levante for the second time in four days, having already dropped two points against them in an away 1-1 draw on Wednesday.

 

Atletico Madrid’s players react to Levante’s second goal during the Spanish league football match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Levante UD at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on February 20, 2021. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

 

And Levante proved that was no fluke by going one better, their impressive victory inflicting another setback on Diego Simeone’s side, who will have to rediscover their rhythm for Tuesday’s Champions League last 16 first leg at home to Chelsea.

Luis Suarez will be up against English opposition again in midweek and the Uruguayan went closest to finding an equaliser, his bending free-kick in the second half coming back off the post.

Suarez has now gone three league games without scoring for the first time this season.

Jose Luis Morales had already put Levante in front after half an hour and while Atletico huffed and puffed for most of the second half, they could not find a way through.

With goalkeeper Jan Oblak up for a corner in injury-time, Jorge de Frutos made it two by launching into an open net.

 

Levante players celebrate their second goal scored by Levante’s Spanish forward Jorge de Frutos (4R) during the Spanish league football match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Levante UD at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on February 20, 2021. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

 

Atletico have now gone seven league games without a clean sheet, their longest run since Simeone became coach in 2011.

Another concern for Simeone will the fitness of central defender Jose Gimenez, who had to go off injured in the second half, making him a doubt to face Chelsea in midweek.

They were given an early warning by Levante when one long pass from Ruben Rochina was all it took to send Morales in on goal but despite a superb first touch, the striker dribbled his finish wide.

But Morales found the net after half an hour, this time with a bit of luck to help him. Geoffrey Kongodbia dangled a weak leg into a challenge on the edge of the area and the ball fell to Morales to finish after a deflection from Felipe.

Gimenez waved to the bench to come off but for 20 minutes, Atletico launched an assault on Levante’s goal.

 

Atletico Madrid’s Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez reacts to Levante’s second goal during the Spanish league football match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Levante UD at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on February 20, 2021. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

 

Suarez’s curling free-kick hit the post while Joao Felix twice failed to convert from crosses fizzed in from the right.

Correa thought he had an equaliser, poking in after a scramble in the box, but the goal was ruled out for a dubious foul by Suarez as he challenged for a ball in the air.

The chances dried up and Atletico grew desperate. Oblak ventured up for a last-gasp corner but the ball was headed away and De Frutos capitalised to confirm victory.

 

 

Levante players celebrate their second goal scored by Levante’s Spanish forward Jorge de Frutos during the Spanish league football match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Levante UD at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on February 20, 2021. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

 

 

Atletico Striker Dembele Tests Positive For COVID-19

Moussa Dembele PHOTO: AFP via Getty Images

 

Atletico Madrid’s new signing Moussa Dembele has tested positive for Covid-19, the club announced on Thursday.

The squad underwent testing on Wednesday, from which “Moussa Dembele had a positive result for Covid-19 in the PCR test,” Atletico said in a statement.

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“The striker remains isolated at his home, strictly complying with the recommendations of the health authorities and La Liga protocol,” the club added.

Dembele, 24, joined Atletico on loan in January from Lyon until the end of the season but the French striker is yet to make an appearance for the La Liga leaders.

AFP

Atletico Madrid Forward Felix Tests Positive For COVID-19

File Photo: Graeme Robertson / AFP / POOL

 

La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid suffered a blow on Wednesday when the club announced that forward Joao Felix had become the third player in two weeks to test positive for Covid-19.

“Joao Felix has tested positive for Covid-19. The striker is isolating at home, in compliance with the health authorities’ guidelines and La Liga protocols,” Atletico said in a statement.

The 21-year-old Portuguese player joins teammates Yannick Carrasco and Mario Hermoso, who tested positive for coronavirus last week, on the sidelines.

Neither Carrasco nor Hermoso were allowed to play in the 4-2 Liga victory against Cadiz on Sunday that gave Atletico a 10-point lead over second-placed Barcelona.