Diego Simeone accused Atletico Madrid of effectively conceding the first half in their 2-0 loss to Eibar on Saturday.

Atleti suffered only their third LaLiga defeat of the season at Ipurua, Esteban Burgos scoring after just 10 minutes before Edu Exposito made the points safe heading into second-half injury time.

It was the first time Atleti had lost a competitive game against Eibar since a meeting in the second tier in 2001, and it leaves them eight points behind league leaders Real Madrid.

Simeone felt they were punished for a slow start to the game, a habit that gave him great concern in the autumn and one he hopes does not continue in 2020.

"We started badly. We didn't play in the first half. In the second, we were okay we played a good game, with more chances for danger," he told Movistar.

"We lost a half. Back in October, we were losing halves and we've gone back to doing that. It's my responsibility.

"It's a very difficult pitch. We've won here 1-0 or 2-1. Today was a similar game. They take advantage of our inattentiveness in the first half and we could have scored in the second.

"We didn't control the game, nor was there any great dominance of the opposition, but we didn't play. They played as ever, with intensity, really clear ideas – the concepts a team needs. I congratulate them."

Saul Niguez, who played at left-back, also admitted concern about the way Atleti too often start matches slowly.

"We struggled a lot at the start. They created three chances and got the goal from the third," he said.

"There have been many times this season when we haven't started games well.

"I think the end of the first half and the beginning of the second were good, but they defended well. We didn't manage to create clear chances despite getting to the byline several times.

"After the good run we were on, it's a tough blow."

Diego Simeone fully expected Federico Valverde to be given only a short suspension following his crucial foul on Alvaro Morata in the Supercopa de Espana final.

With the score 0-0 in the final five minutes of extra time in Jeddah, Atletico Madrid's Morata raced through on goal only for Valverde to bring down the striker to halt his progress.

Valverde, who was later named man of the match, was sent off for the deliberate foul but went on to celebrate when Real Madrid won the penalty shoot-out 4-1.

Simeone had few qualms with the challenge at the time, insisting he would likely have done the same to win the match, and the Atleti boss was also not surprised to see Valverde earn only a one-game ban.

"I was clear after the match, saying that was what he had to do," Simeone said on Friday ahead of a LaLiga trip to Eibar. "I was also clear about what would happen.

"It doesn't make sense to wear myself out today on something that we already knew would happen. That's why I'm focusing on Eibar.

"We're in the middle of the season and there's still a lot of work ahead. There are things to improve. We worked well until September, then things were more difficult in November.

"Then we grew and we kept that up in the Supercopa. We're competing well and I'm proud to have competed well against a team like Real Madrid that is powerful in all senses."

The Supercopa final was another difficult game for €126million forward Joao Felix, but Simeone insists the Portugal international is learning all the time.

"The Supercopa was another step forward in the experience of a 20-year-old boy with incredible talent and skill. This road he's walking will be useful for the future," Simeone said.

"We believe in him; we need his skills. He has the ability to score. We hope that these experiences he's living in this new team help him to get stronger and grow day after day.

"We're the ones in charge to find their better version and find the better position so they can unlock their potential. I don't do things differently with Joao than with [Renan] Lodi, [Hector] Herrera, Koke or Saul [Niguez].

"We always try to do the best so players with that potential can put it to good use for the club and the team, so we're working with him and Lodi, the younger ones, so they can grow."

This weekend is the first round of LaLiga matches since Ernesto Valverde was sacked as Barcelona head coach in the wake of their 3-2 Supercopa semi-final loss to Atleti.

"I'm not the one to give an opinion about what happens to others," Simeone said. "Valverde is a really great coach. He left his team in first place in the league and still alive in the Champions League.

"He is a great person and has always been polite and exemplary as he managed the situation."

Diego Simeone was proud of Atletico Madrid's performance in defeat to city rivals Real Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana final as he suggested Federico Valverde only earned the MVP award for his crucial red card.

Atletico lost 4-1 in a shoot-out on Sunday but had a huge chance to settle the decider with five minutes of extra time remaining following a goalless 90 minutes in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Alvaro Morata raced through on goal, only for Madrid midfielder Valverde to charge back to cynically hack down the striker, receiving his marching orders but preventing what appeared a certain goal just outside the area.

Valverde was named man of the match at King Abdullah Sport City Stadium, leaving head coach Simeone frustrated, even if he recognised the 21-year-old Uruguayan had little option but to commit the foul.

"The MVP award for Fede Valverde was for the red card because he won the game," Simeone said.

"The most important play of the game was this action of Valverde. That play deprived us of a chance to score a goal that would probably decide the game.

"It was the most important play and I told him not to worry, that anyone would do the same in that position. I would do it."

After beating Barcelona 3-2 in the semi-finals earlier in the week, Simeone saw plenty of positives to take from the revamped four-team tournament.

"I am proud to know that we competed," he told Movistar. "In the space of three or four days, we faced two of the best teams in the world, along with Manchester City, Juventus, Liverpool.

"And we competed well. That is what generates enthusiasm to continue working. I am proud of the team for their competitiveness. If we follow the team plan, we are competitive."

Real Madrid won their 11th Supercopa de Espana title as Sergio Ramos tucked home the winning spot-kick to see off city rivals Atletico Madrid 4-1 in a penalty shootout after a dismal goalless draw.

With Atleti having failed to convert their opening two penalties, Madrid captain Ramos proved their nemesis again when he sent Jan Oblak the wrong way.

Federico Valverde and Alvaro Morata - against his former club - spurned the best opportunities of a dour 90 minutes at King Abdullah Sports City stadium on Sunday, though the quality did improve in extra-time.

However, a string of excellent saves from both goalkeepers, either side of Valverde's late red card, forced penalties, with Saul Niguez and Thomas Partey missing from the spot.

Ramos thkept his composure to take the title back to Santiago Bernabeu after Dani Carvajal, Rodrygo and Luka Modric also hit the target from 12 yards.

 

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone has saluted "absolute winner" Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid's winning mentality ahead of the Supercopa de Espana final.

Madrid and Atletico go head-to-head in Jeddah on Sunday as they tussle for the first trophy of the Spanish season.

The revamped Supercopa has received plenty of criticism due to it taking place in Saudi Arabia and including teams that otherwise would not have been involved in previous years, as the competition used to be contested between the winners of the Copa del Rey and LaLiga.

Neither Madrid nor Atletico won either competition last term, yet they will play out the final, with Simeone well aware of Los Blancos' obsession with winning.

Zidane may be without several high-profile players but, after they dispatched Valencia easily, Simeone does not think such absences will be a factor.

"Madrid are a team we know very well, they have a coach who is an absolute winner," Simeone told reporters on Saturday.

"Every time they play, they transmit that they have to win and they do win. They are without [Karim] Benzema, [Gareth] Bale and [Eden] Hazard, but that doesn't change a thing, they'll be looking to field their strongest side.

"Their distribution is excellent and they'll have players arriving to join the attack from midfield.

"They've got Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo [Goes], and if they play the team will have more velocity and more possession, so we will have to think about how we can attack those positions and punish them in the way we want."

In Zidane's pre-match news conference, the Frenchman insisted he is a better coach now than when he guided Madrid to three successive Champions League crowns – beating Atletico to lift the first of those in 2015-16.

Simeone has a similar feeling for his own abilities, convinced he is getting better with age.

"It's like life itself, we improve with age," he said. "All of the experience you build up with time helps you to develop.

"I think I've grown in life and in sport, and I'm a believer that you can't really separate the two."

Diego Simeone hailed Atletico Madrid for achieving the "almost impossible" to overcome Barcelona in the Supercopa de Espana semi-finals.

Atletico stunned Barca with two goals in the final nine minutes in a 3-2 victory in Saudi Arabia on Thursday.

Alvaro Morata's penalty and Angel Correa's strike saw Atletico into the final against rivals Real Madrid and the comeback was labelled as close to impossible by head coach Simeone.

"I think we must live it with calmness, that we qualified for the final. It is important for the supporters, it is important for the club, it is important for the players," he told a news conference.

"It was a very tough game against one of the best teams in the world. They are the best when it comes to possession, and to attack with it.

"We suffered quite a lot during the first half. I think the second half was different, they kept their intensity and had chances until the 75tth minute, when something appeared that will always distinguish Atletico Madrid – the heart, the strength and the belief.

"We faced a difficult situation, almost impossible. But, we had the feeling that if we could get an equaliser, we could win the game, and that's what happened."

Atletico face another huge test in the final, taking on Real Madrid in Jeddah on Sunday.

Simeone paid tribute to Atletico's rivals and their boss, Zinedine Zidane, ahead of the clash.

"I don't have any doubt that Zidane is a fantastic manager, suitable for Real Madrid," he said.

"The results speak for themselves. They have changed since the beginning of the season and that's reflected on the pitch despite the absence of [Eden] Hazard, [Karim] Benzema and [Gareth] Bale.

"They have five midfielders on the pitch. They can do it if they move and pass accurately. They showed this the other day [against Valencia] with a great performance.

"We'll face a potent and strong team as it is with Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City, Liverpool."

Ernesto Valverde admitted his future would come in for fresh scrutiny after Barcelona's dramatic defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana semi-final.

Goals from Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann looked set to send Barcelona into the final, as they recovered from conceding a Koke strike in the opening 20 seconds of the second half.

But Barcelona folded in the closing 10 minutes, and a penalty from Alvaro Morata was followed by a winner from Angel Correa as Atletico, second best for almost all of the match up to then, snatched a remarkable win.

It left Diego Simeone, Atletico's hard-taskmaster coach, jumping for joy on the touchline, while Valverde was left to reflect on a damaging defeat.

He has been repairing a reputation that took a battering with Barcelona's 4-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield in the Champions League semi-finals last term, when the Reds overturned a 3-0 first-leg deficit.

But this meek surrender will not help, and Valverde said afterwards, when asked about his position: "We know what football is like and there is always instability when you lose. We will talk about this, it is inevitable.

"But I'll do my thing, which is coaching."

He added: "Of course, it was a match which we dominated. It seemed we had it in hand. It was a complete performance except in specific moments"

Valverde said Atletico throwing their quickest players forward in the closing stages "surprised" Barcelona.

"I don't think it was an accumulation of situations, but two actions that cost us dearly," he said.

He said it had been an "intense" match and that Barcelona's two disallowed goals in the second half, both after VAR reviews, had given Atletico the lifeline upon which they capitalised.

Simeone sent on Marcos Llorente for the final 18 minutes and felt he made a difference in midfield.

"From there the team looked better. It seemed that if we equalised we would win," Simeone said.

"With the best teams like Barca, Madrid, [Manchester] City ... they are on a higher level and we have to be patient. We have to play a final now."

Diego Simeone says every player needs a different amount of time to adapt to the "feeling" of playing for Atletico Madrid, amid continued struggles for his record signing Joao Felix.

Joao Felix, a €126million addition from Benfica in July, has scored just twice in 15 LaLiga appearances, adding a solitary assist.

The Portugal international has gone 659 minutes in the top-flight without scoring a goal or providing an assist and, ahead of Thursday's Supercopa de Espana against Barcelona in Saudi Arabia, Simeone was asked about the 20-year-old.

"Each player has a different personality, every player needs a different amount of time," Simeone told reporters, preferring to answer generally than discuss Joao Felix at length.

"We try to succeed in getting each one of [the new players] to experience Atletico with enthusiasm and emotion, because apart from their talent they need commitment.

"When the feeling of playing for Atletico appears, things come naturally to everyone, just like [Stefan] Savic when he arrived and Koke.

"I don't speak of names, but of the way of living the football that we have had [at Atletico Madrid] for a long time."

Joao Felix's struggles aside, Atletico come into the game in good form after recording four consecutive victories.

However, they have not beaten Barcelona in nine attempts across all competitions.

Simeone added: "We know the rival's virtues, as they have always had them. Their attacking play and players' individual moves end up breaking any collective work of their opponent.

"We go into the game with good momentum, with things to improve. Playing against the best in the world makes you stronger because you have to turn on the alarms from the start and the team grows and improves.

"It will be different from the league games because there is a direct elimination and only one result, which is to win.

"We understand it as an opportunity to continue growing as a club and team and to make our fans excited."

So, 19 games in and the big three are exactly where you would expect them to be in the LaLiga table.

Saturday saw all three teams in action following the resumption of top-flight action in Spain, with leaders Barcelona conceding late to lowly Espanyol as they were held to a 2-2 draw in an entertaining derby.

While Barca remain on top, Real Madrid are now level on points with their rivals after a 3-0 triumph away at Getafe. As for Atletico Madrid, they overcame Levante 2-1 at home to make it four wins on the spin in all competitions, keeping them in touch with the top two ahead of what could be an intriguing battle (after all, Sevilla are level on points with Atleti, too).

There has not been a genuine title race in the competition since Real Madrid were crowned champions in 2016-17. After processions in the previous two seasons, Barca look to have a fight on their hands to retain the trophy.

We take a look at the state of play for all three of Spain's big guns as they prepare to halt league duties temporarily again at the halfway stage, this time to take part in the Supercopa de Espana in Saudi Arabia.

 

1. BARCELONA (40 PTS)

Positives: Lionel Messi, of course. The Argentina forward has, not for the first time, dragged his team-mates along in games. Luis Suarez continues to be productive – he brilliantly made one goal and scored the other against Espanyol – and Barca are comfortably the competition's leading scorers, even if Antoine Griezmann has, so far, failed to fully deliver since his big-money move to Camp Nou. The development of Ansu Fati, whose meteoric rise has helped cover for Ousmane Dembele's absences, has been an undoubted plus, too.

Negatives: What difference has Valverde really made to the team he inherited from Luis Enrique in 2017? Back-to-back league titles is an impressive achievement, obviously, but stunning Champions League exits to Roma and Liverpool in the previous two seasons weigh heavily on his shoulders. As for the team itself, the strong spine that has been a characteristic of Barca for many seasons is starting to feel the strain. Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets are no longer at the peak of their powers and they have already shipped 23 league goals. Valverde also needs to work out his best combination in midfield, though he may have to wait until Arthur is fit to settle on an ideal line-up.

2. REAL MADRID (40 PTS)

Positives:  It has not been plain sailing for Zidane in his second spell in charge, with the first half of the campaign including a hammering against Paris Saint-Germain in Europe and a humbling at the hands of Real Mallorca. Still, he has built from the back, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois regaining his form to back up a defence that has conceded just 12 times in LaLiga. At the other end, Karim Benzema continues to lead the way, scoring 12 times and also providing five assists, while Federico Valverde has developed into such a consistently strong midfielder that talk of signing Paul Pogba has quietened, if only a little.

Negatives: Benzema cannot be relied on to do all the heavy lifting. Eden Hazard has only been able to show flashes of his talent since joining from Chelsea, the Belgium forward hampered by injuries, while Gareth Bale has been in and out of the team. Rodrygo Goes has shown flashes of promise, seeing him overtake fellow Brazilian Vinicius Junior in the pecking order. It feels as if an era will soon come to an end at Madrid, but an ageing squad knows how to prevail in the big moments. This could well be the last hurrah for some big names in the Spanish capital – do they have the stamina to go the distance and finish as champions?


3. ATLETICO MADRID (35 PTS)

Positives: No matter who they buy, and no matter what happens in friendlies (remember Atleti stuck seven past Real Madrid in a pre-season fixture last July), this still has all the trademarks of a Diego Simeone side. Some of the familiar old faces may have gone but they remain solid in defence and workmanlike going forward. Simeone builds his teams from the back – and this current version have only given up 12 goals, even while bedding in new players. Alvaro Morata has stepped up in the absence of Diego Costa, who appeared to be in a state of decline prior to his current injury, and they do have a plethora of hard-working midfielders to rotate down the stretch.

Negatives: Goals. Well, a lack of them actually. Morata is their leading scorer in the league with nine, ahead of Angel Correa on three, and next on the list is Joao Felix with two, but the Portuguese forward has started 2020 stuck in a drought. Atleti have managed to find the net 22 times in 19 games, which perhaps explains why they have been linked with moves for Edinson Cavani and Paco Alcacer during the January window. Plus, for all their focus on keeping clean sheets, they still have to lean on the outstanding Jan Oblak at times to make key saves. The goalkeeper demonstrated as much against Levante, twice denying the visitors in the closing stages to preserve a slender lead at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Jan Oblak is the best goalkeeper in the world and Atletico Madrid have him to thank for ensuring they held on for a 2-1 victory over Levante on Saturday, head coach Diego Simeone said.

Slovenia international Oblak showed incredible reactions to keep out a header from Enis Bardhi in the 93rd minute of the clash at the Wanda Metropolitano.

The keeper has saved 14 of the past 17 shots on target he has faced in LaLiga, including the last two against Levante.

Atletico have now won four games on the trot in all competitions and Simeone was full of praise for Oblak, although he was frustrated to have to rely on the 26-year-old after a string of wasted chances at the other end.

"For us he is the best in the world. He's one of our captains. He was there when it mattered most, but the last save was one of a player that wins you games," said Simeone.

"He gave us the possibility of winning a match that we should have finished off before.

"The headline is Oblak saved Atletico, but we would have saved it if we'd taken our chances before.

"I do not decide who wins a prize or not. It is unfair to talk about other goalkeepers, but it's clear that for us he is the best goalkeeper in the world."

Felipe's first LaLiga goal helped in-form Atletico Madrid to a 2-1 home win over Levante.

Three goals during a manic five-minute spell in the first half settled the match but did not typify an otherwise tepid encounter at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Angel Correa scored for the second straight game and while Roger Marti's ninth league goal of the season pulled Levante level, Felipe settled it with a powerful header.

Atletico now have four consecutive victories across all competitions and moved back to within five points of city rivals Real Madrid, while the result ended a three-match winning streak for Levante.

The hosts almost scored in the first minute on Saturday when Correa's shot was saved, Joao Felix and Saul Niguez then unable to convert follow-up attempts.

But Atletico opened the scoring after 13 minutes when Thomas Partey found Kieran Trippier on the right and the defender's volleyed cross was converted by Correa's superb first-time finish.

Roger replied three minutes later when his volley deflected in off the arm of Alvaro Morata after he had latched on to Jose Campana's free-kick.

Atletico swiftly got back in front, though, Renan Lodi whipping in a left-wing delivery that Felipe impressively headed in from 12 yards out, his effort coming just 109 seconds after Roger's strike.

Correa's shot forced a good one-handed saved from Aitor Fernandez shortly before the break and the Levante goalkeeper also kept out an effort from Joao Felix just before the hour mark.

Joao Felix also fired wide from the edge of the area late on but Atletico were still able to hold on for victory in relative comfort, albeit Jan Oblak had to make two late saves to deny Enis Bardhi.

 

What does it mean? Atletico's poor run behind them

Atletico have won four straight games for the first time this season and have clearly overcome their dreadful run that saw them taste victory in just one of the previous eight.

Four straight wins and eight goals have Diego Simeone's men in better shape, but there remains plenty of work to do before the Madrid derby on February 1.

Felipe fabulous for Atletico

As well as scoring his first LaLiga goal, Felipe tested goalkeeper Fernandez with another aerial effort and recorded game-high totals for interceptions (4) and clearances (8).

Joao Felix frustrated once again

The Portuguese forward came into the match having played 572 minutes in LaLiga without scoring or providing an assist. Despite Simeone giving him 87 minutes, that dreadful run continued as he mustered only one shot on target and did not create a single opportunity for his team-mates.

What's next?

Atletico will take momentum into their meeting with Barcelona in the Supercopa de Espana in Saudi Arabia on Thursday, while Levante do not play until a Copa del Rey tie with Real Jaen on January 12.

Atletico Madrid winger Thomas Lemar has not lived up to expectations at the club, according to head coach Diego Simeone.

The 24-year-old, who joined in a €70million deal from Monaco in July 2018, has struggled for consistent form in LaLiga.

The France international has been heavily linked with a possible move to Arsenal this month, although a hamstring injury could complicate any potential mid-season transfer.

Speaking ahead of Saturday's league meeting with Levante, Simeone did not state whether Lemar could be allowed to leave in the January window but did admit the player's performances have been something of a disappointment.

"Facts speak better than words. Lemar is an important player who hasn't been able to develop his game but who has characteristics that others don't have," Simeone told a news conference. "Let's hope he has a good moment when he comes back from injury.

"Now, if Lemar can stay or not... we know that agents work in an exemplary way. Clubs work in terms of the needs of the clubs. But, as a footballer, every time he has been available, he's played a lot more than he hasn't played.

"His characteristics have always excited me. But he hasn't been able to live up to expectations."

Atleti have been linked with moves for striker such as Paris Saint-Germain's Edinson Cavani and Borussia Dortmund's Paco Alcacer, having found it difficult to score enough goals this season.

Simeone is open to transfers but is not prepared to discuss players who do not play for Atleti.

"Like every year, there is the possibility of players leaving or arriving in January," he said. "We've spoken to the club about this, about the situation that we have and when [the chances of signing players] happen, if they happen, we'll find out.

"What concerns me is what happens against Levante. Aside from the game we're playing, the club knows what we've been talking about and will work to bring the best to the club and the team."

When pressed on interest in Cavani, he added: "I don't talk about players who aren't in our squad."

Atleti are fourth in LaLiga after 18 games, seven points behind leaders Barcelona.

Diego Simeone was pleased to see Atletico Madrid round out 2019 by beating Real Betis, with a 2-1 win secured thanks to one of his substitutes, Angel Correa.

Having replaced Thomas Lemar just before the hour, Correa scored within two minutes of his introduction off the bench, giving Atletico a crucial lead at the Benito Villamarin on Sunday.

The forward also set up his side's second in the closing minutes, sending over a low cross for Alvaro Morata to tuck home at the near post.

Marc Bartra did cut the deficit in half during stoppage time, finding the net via a deflection, but Atletico held firm to record their first LaLiga triumph on the road since September 25.

"We are happy because we needed to win and continue the upward curve we've had in the last few games," Simeone said.

"The players made a great effort throughout the game.

"In the first half we were better but in the second the goals came, yet we did not have the peace of mind to close out the victory."

Correa has made a habit of making an impact off the bench; no player in LaLiga has scored more goals as a substitute since the start of the 2015-16 season.

Having seen it happen so often in recent years, Simeone was not surprised by the Argentine forward's match match-turning cameo.

"He trained very well and when he entered, he showed us the type of player he is," he said of Correa.

"He worked accordingly to what the team needed. He has something different, he has shown it [in the past] and it is no accident."

Betis coach Rubi felt the final scoreline was unfair on the hosts - who hit the woodwork twice during the game - as they slipped to a first loss since November 10, when they were beaten in the derby by rivals Sevilla.

"We deserved much more than the final result, but we knew that if we made a mistake, this team penalises you," Rubi told the media.

"It was very important to get ahead, because it is very rocky. They are a rival that penalises a lot of mistakes. We are leaving with a very bittersweet taste, we have had very good moments."

Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone has talked up the importance of Hector Herrera and backed the midfielder to fill the void left by injured captain Koke against Real Betis.

Koke has started 16 of his side's 17 LaLiga games this term, coming off the bench in the other, but is absent for Sunday's trip to Betis after straining his hamstring in last week's 2-0 win over Osasuna.

That opens the door for Herrera to return to the starting line-up at Estadio Benito Villamarin, and Simeone has faith the Mexican midfielder can step up.

"We have spoken a lot about Koke - he's really important for the tactics of the team," Simeone said at Saturday's pre-match news conference.

"But the replacement we have is ready. Hector is ready to do a great match."

Herrera has started just six league games since arriving from Porto on a free contract in July, most recently lasting 84 minutes of the goalless draw with Villarreal on December 6.

Simeone has been pleased with his performances of late, saying: "Hector is an important player. He has been participating a lot in our game over the past two months.

"He gives us hierarchy, personality, great plays coming from the midfield line. I hope he play a great game tomorrow."

Atletico returned to winning ways in LaLiga against Osasuna last time out following a three-match winless run that saw them lose pace with Barcelona and Real Madrid.

They are winless in seven away games in all competitions since early October, though, and Simeone is expecting another tough test against Betis this weekend.

"Every time we play we will do the best we can and we want to keep growing," he said.

"Betis are working great and have been playing good games since a few weeks ago, picking up some good results. 

"They are focused in attack and are heavily attack-oriented from the midfield and forward, so as usual we will have to play in a way we can hurt them."

The loss of influential skipper Koke is a blow for Atletico in their final match of 2019, but Renan Lodi has been confirmed fit after missing the Osasuna victory with a bruised ankle.

"This game is as important as every other game of the LaLiga season," Simeone said. "They are a difficult rival and play in a great stadium with fans that really carry their team. 

"As usual we will be focusing on one game at a time, looking to improve day after day."

Atletico Madrid captain Koke may miss his side's LaLiga clash with Real Betis on Sunday due to a hamstring problem.

The 27-year-old midfielder complained of discomfort in his right leg after Atletico's 2-0 win over Osasuna at the weekend.

Koke underwent a scan and medical staff have diagnosed a strained hamstring, Atleti confirmed in a short statement released on Tuesday.

The club have not put any timeframe on Koke's injury, with Atleti next in action away at Betis on Sunday, their final fixture before the mid-season break in Spain.

Diego Simeone's side sit fifth in LaLiga, while they were drawn to face reigning champions Liverpool in the last 16 of the Champions League on Monday.

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