Simeone not focused on leapfrogging Real Sociedad at LaLiga summit

By Sports Desk December 04, 2020

Atletico Madrid head coach Diego Simeone insists his focus is on beating Real Valladolid this weekend and not on the prospect of overtaking Real Sociedad at the summit of LaLiga. 

Atleti are the only side in the Spanish top flight to have not suffered defeat yet this season, a start which has them one place and a point behind leaders Real Sociedad, who have played two games more. 

Atleti have also conceded just two goals in their nine league games, the joint-lowest total at this stage of the season in LaLiga's history.

Given Atleti's superb recent record over Saturday's visitors to the Wanda Metropolitano – they have won nine of their last 10 games against Pucela – many expect Los Colchoneros to leapfrog La Real into top spot before Imanol Alguacil's men visit Deportivo Alaves on Sunday. 

Simeone is refusing to get carried away, though, and does not think his side will have it all their own way against Valladolid, who have picked up seven points from their previous three LaLiga games after earning just three points in their first eight outings.

"We understand that Real Sociedad are having a very good season," he told a media conference. 

"But now we are concerned about Valladolid. The coach has improved the team and found players who can do what he wants well and know how to play his game.

"The team has been representing him very well in the last three games."

Simeone will be able to call upon the services of Luis Suarez again after the Uruguayan returned a negative coronavirus test.

The former Barcelona forward missed Atletico's last four matches after he contracted COVID-19 while away on international duty last month.

Suarez had been in fine form for Atletico, with five goals in his first six LaLiga appearances.

The striker's 1.2 goals per 90 minutes is the highest of any player in the division to have played at least three matches, with Valencia's Manu Vallejo (1.02) next best.

Simeone will make a late call on the 33-year-old's fitness, but he is excited at the prospect of him linking up again with Atleti's array of attacking midfielders. 

"The characteristics of Luis are known to everyone," he said. "We have to maintain the form that we showed in recent games, which is to keep pressure on the goal. 

"We have players who are good at arriving from midfield and we will add Luis' characteristics to our team's play."

It remains to be seen if Yannick Carrasco will join Suarez in the squad after the Belgian suffered a knee injury in the midweek Champions League draw with Bayern Munich. 

The club released a statement on Friday saying he could not train and that his condition would continue to be monitored.

Related items

  • Atletico Madrid 2-0 Huesca: Correa and Carrasco return Atleti to the summit Atletico Madrid 2-0 Huesca: Correa and Carrasco return Atleti to the summit

    Angel Correa and Yannick Carrasco were on target as Atletico Madrid returned to the top of LaLiga with a 2-0 win over relegation-threatened Huesca.

    Correa struck twice in a 5-0 thrashing of Eibar on Sunday and he opened the scoring at the Wanda Metropolitano on Thursday with a deflected strike.

    Carrasco eased the nerves with a second goal - his third in as many matches - 10 minutes from time to put Atleti three points clear of Real Madrid with six games to go.

    Diego Simeone's Atletico side ought to have won by a more emphatic margin a day after they confirmed their withdrawal from the collapsed European Super League.

    Yet Dimitrios Siovas should have given Huesca a shock third-minute lead when he shot straight at Jan Oblak from close range after Atleti failed to deal with a free-kick from the left.

    Alvaro Fernandez produced a sharp double save at the other end to deny Carrasco and Saul Niguez, and then Correa opened the scoring six minutes before the break.

    The in-form forward turned sharply after taking a pass from Marcos Llorente and beat Pablo Insua before finding the back of the net with a deflected left-footed strike.

    Atleti picked up where they left off following the interval, with Fernandez making himself big to keep out Koke's effort from close range.

    The busy Huesca goalkeeper was called into action again to palm Renan Lodi's drive away for a corner as Simeone's men continued to dominate.

    Sergio Gomez came agonisingly close to equalising when his free-kick flashed wide of the post before Fernandez beat away another effort from Niguez.

    Carrasco gave Atleti breathing space, tapping in after Llorente unselfishly squared the ball as Huesca appealed for offside. The goal was awarded following a VAR check.

    Dani Escriche should have pulled a goal back in the closing stages when he stabbed wide from point-blank range, as Huesca's survival hopes suffered a blow.

  • NFL Draft: Trevor Lawrence has all the tools to get the Jaguars up to speed NFL Draft: Trevor Lawrence has all the tools to get the Jaguars up to speed

    The NFL Draft offers a stage for sporting drama, yet there is seemingly no suspense surrounding the identity of the player whose name will be announced first by commissioner Roger Goodell.

    Trevor Lawrence was the presumptive number one pick long before he wrapped up his college career after a third and final season with Clemson. There was no need to return for a senior year – the time has come to head to the next level.

    The Jacksonville Jaguars are waiting to select what they hope will be their long-term answer at quarterback, someone who can help turn around the fortunes of a team who finished the 2020 campaign with a dismal 1-15 record.

    Whether they were 'Tanking for Trevor' or not, their reward for consistently losing is a shot at one of the most talked-about prospects at the position in the past decade. For a franchise with just one winning season in the previous 13 years, the presence of Lawrence offers a fresh start and immediately changes expectation levels.

    New head coach Urban Meyer has not even bothered to try to hide the fact either: Lawrence will become a Jaguar on April 29.

    This will be a new situation for him, though, having lost just twice with the Tigers. Those defeats came in the 2020 National Championship against an LSU offense led by Joe Burrow, last year's first overall selection by the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Sugar Bowl in January, when Justin Fields – another signal-caller expected to be selected early – led scoring drive after scoring drive for Ohio State.

    So, can a serial winner live up to the hype and help the Jags move forward? Stats Perform data helps provide a picture of what Jacksonville - and indeed the league as a whole - can expect.

    Law in order with Tigers

    Lawrence threw for 10,098 yards in his Clemson career. There were 90 touchdown passes and just 17 interceptions in an impressive three-year run, while the average yards per attempt improved - 8.26 to 9.00, then 9.44 – in each of his seasons in South Carolina.

    His completion rate also continued to rise the longer he played at the college level. After hovering just above 65 per cent during years one and two, he was successful on 69.2 per cent of his attempts in 2020.

    That number barely dropped when it came to throwing in the red zone (68.5 per cent), ranking him second for quarterbacks in the FBS across the period of 2018-2020, though he completed on 56.8 per cent of his attempts in third-down situations during that span - only good enough to sit 78th out of those to have at least 100 attempts.

    Still, on third downs with eight or more yards to go in 2020, Lawrence was on target with 27 of his 43 passes. Taking into consideration just third-and-long circumstances when needing 11 yards or more, he was good with 12 out of 19 throws.

    There will undoubtedly be a need to learn quickly on the job, but wide receiver Amari Rodgers - one of Lawrence's main targets when lining up together for the Tigers - has no doubts about his former team-mate delivering on his promise once in the NFL.

    "I think he knows what he's walking into," Rodgers, who had 77 catches for 1,020 yards and seven scores in 2020, told Stats Perform News ahead of the draft.

    "He knows that it might take a little time to change the program around, but just because he came from that winning culture at Clemson and even in high school, he barely lost any games in high school, he just has that winning mindset.

    "He's going to do whatever it takes to change that program around and make them a winning team. I have no doubt he's going to do that."

    The key, though, will be getting enough opportunities to make plays.

    Coping with the heat

    Pressure is coming in many different forms for Lawrence, who prepared for his impending football marriage with the Jaguars by tying the knot with his long-time girlfriend.

    The 21-year-old will have to cope with not just the expectations of a new team's fanbase but also the national spotlight. Going first overall comes with added pressure in itself, but with an opening round set to see a bevy of young quarterbacks selected in the early stages, there will inevitably be comparisons to his fellow rookies.

    Then there is also the added focus awaiting him from NFL defenses. Jacksonville gave up 44 sacks in the 2020 season, one more than Lawrence endured in his entire career at Clemson.

    However, teams will be aware of the risks that come with sending extra rushers at Lawrence, who completed 63.8 per cent of his pass attempts when blitzed. That number ranked him eighth in the FBS across his three-year stint, making the message clear to opponents: get home or be prepared to pay the consequences.

    While not widely regarded as a running quarterback, Lawrence is also mobile enough to make plays with his legs; he rushed for 18 touchdowns in 40 games for Clemson, including eight in his final campaign.

    If not able to make use of his arm to counter a blitz, the QB's footwork and speed off the mark is capable of seeing him sneak out of trouble and exploit the sudden spaces available.

    'The ultimate competitor'

    Lawrence's athleticism allows him to rush for yards when the situation requires, but it is undoubtedly his capabilities as a passer that makes him so appealing to the Jaguars.

    In a campaign where little went right after a Week 1 win over the Indianapolis Colts, James Robinson's emergence as a dual-threat running back provides Lawrence - who completed 64.6 per cent of passes in play-action situations – a potential safety blanket to hit when coming out of the backfield.

    Accuracy is a key trait, too, and the signal-caller has demonstrated how he can go deep when the option is open. On throws of 20 or more air yards, he completed 42.1 per cent. 

    "He's the ultimate competitor, every time he steps on the field he's trying to be the best out there," Rodgers said of his former QB.

    "He's trying to win every single day. Every single rep, he's trying to be perfect, and if it's not, if you miss a ball in practice, we're doing it like three or five times afterwards just so we can have it on mind, that muscle memory that it actually works.

    "He's one of those that prepares like a pro. Ever since he got on campus his freshman year, he prepared outstanding and it showed on the field. I have no doubts he's going to succeed at the next level."

    Lawrence has the talent, temperament and tenacity required to prosper. Now he just has to wait for the formalities of getting picked before joining a franchise desperately in need of a superstar.

  • European Super League: Barcelona say not joining would have been an 'historical error' European Super League: Barcelona say not joining would have been an 'historical error'

    Barcelona said it would have been an "historical error" not to sign up for the European Super League and the club remains convinced structural reform is needed to protect the financial future of football.

    The Blaugrana were announced on Sunday as one of 12 founding members of the highly controversial breakaway league, which received widespread criticism due to the closed-shop nature of the competition.

    Less than 48 hours, all six of the Premier League teams that had agreed to sign up all withdrew their participation following a fierce backlash from fans, players, supporters, the Football Association and the UK government.

    Atletico Madrid and Serie A rivals Milan and Inter later followed suit, seemingly leaving the league dead in the water before it even took off the ground.

    But Real Madrid president Florentino Perez and Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli – leading figures in the Super League – both launched a staunch defence of a competition they remain convinced has to happen as clubs struggle to contend with the economic impact caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

    Newly re-elected Barca president Joan Laporta earlier said the lucrative Super League was "absolutely necessary" and a club statement struck a similarly pleading tone about their belief that change is a must.

    "FC Barcelona shares the view of most major European football clubs, and even more so given the current socio-economic climate, that there is a need for structural reforms to guarantee the financial sustainability and feasibility of world football by improving the product that is offered to fans around the world and by consolidating and even increasing the fan base on which this sport is sustained, which is its mainstay and greatest strength," the statement began.

    "In this context, the FC Barcelona Board of Directors accepted, as a matter of immediate urgency, the offer to form part, as the founding member, of the Super League, a competition designed to improve the quality and attractiveness of the product offered to the football fans and, at the same time, and as one of FC Barcelona's most inalienable principles, seek new formulas for solidarity with the football family as a whole.

    "The decision was made in the conviction that it would have been a historical error to turn down the opportunity to be part of this project as one of its founding members. As one of the world's top sports club, our intention shall always be to be at the forefront, this being an indispensable part of the club's identity and its sporting, social and institutional spirit."

    Despite the project seemingly being left in tatters, Perez insisted the project the Super League is "not dead" in an interview with Spanish radio station El Larguero.

    Barca said more analysis is clearly needed but said such examination must take place in the absence of "unjustified pressure and intimidation".

    The statement added: "Given the public reaction that the aforementioned project has generated in many and various spheres, there is no question that FC Barcelona appreciates that a much more in-depth analysis is required into the reasons that have caused this reaction in order to reconsider, if necessary, and to the required extent, the proposal as originally formulated and resolve all those issues, always for the good of the general interest of the football world. Such in-depth analysis needs time and the necessary composure to avoid taking any rash action.

    "We feel it is equally important to highlight the objective fact that a Court of Justice has already granted urgent legal protection as requested, thus confirming right of the initiative on the part of the founding clubs of the Super League project.

    "In this regard, FC Barcelona considers that it would be improper for the necessary process of reflection and debate to be established under criteria of unjustified pressure and intimidation.

    "Despite being perfectly aware of the importance and interest raised by this matter, as well as the need to always act with the utmost transparency, FC Barcelona shall act at all times with due prudence and asks for the utmost understanding, respect and most of all patience among FC Barcelona supporters and public opinion in general."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.