Atletico Madrid captain Koke said Joao Felix can fulfil his enormous potential if he listens to Diego Simeone and his team-mates after making a goalscoring return from injury.

Joao Felix had been sidelined since January due to a muscle injury but Atletico's record signing came off the bench and scored in Sunday's 3-1 LaLiga victory over Villarreal.

The 20-year-old attacker arrived from Benfica in a €126million deal at the start of the season and has scored five goals across all competitions.

"Everyone can see what is expected of Joao, he's a young boy and he has lots of room for improvement," Koke said post-match.

"Many great players have had to adapt to Atletico and it's not easy, he's young.

"If he listens to the boss and his team-mates, he will be the player that everyone wants to see.

"He's not been lucky with injuries, but I'm sure that, in the future, we'll see the Joao we want to see."

Atletico came from behind in the Spanish capital, where Simeone's side trailed to Paco Alcacer's 16th-minute opener at Wanda Metropolitano.

Angel Correa, Koke and Joao Felix led the comeback as Atletico moved up to third in LaLiga, behind leaders Barcelona and city rivals Real Madrid.

"Speaking about Koke, our captain, our talisman and one of our longest-serving players [with] Saul [Niguez], [Jose] Gimenez, Thomas [Partey]," Simeone said.

"He knows what we're looking for, a tactical condition that lots of players don't have and a pass that seems slow but he knows where he is.

"He can play on the right, in the middle. He and Saul are the ones who can play in any position."

Simeone paired Correa with Alvaro Morata up front and the Atletico head coach added: "The two worked very well, they have lots of strength in their feet to go out and press people. Morata did a very good job and Correa is in fantastic form. We're very happy with the competition for places.

"The return of [Kieran] Trippier, Joao Felix... [Yannick] Carrasco is getting better, [Sime Vrsaljko] is very strong, Vitolo had a great game and the substitutes brought fresh legs."

Atletico Madrid came from behind to beat Villarreal 3-1 and move into third place in LaLiga, with Joao Felix scoring on his return from injury.

Suspended head coach Diego Simeone watched on from the stands as his players took full advantage of Getafe's 3-0 home defeat to Sevilla earlier on Sunday.

Goals from Angel Correa and Koke turned the game in Atletico's favour at the Wanda Metropolitano, cancelling out Paco Alcacer's first-half opener for the visitors.

A satisfying outing for the hosts was rounded off by a goal from Joao Felix, who found the net just 17 minutes after coming on as a substitute.

Fresh from a Champions League win over Liverpool in midweek, Atletico dominated the opening 15 minutes but were powerless to stop Alcacer's rasping half-volley from the edge of the box, the attempt flying into the net beyond Jan Oblak at full stretch.

Villarreal goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo made a superb double save to keep out a fierce volley from Alvaro Morata at first, followed by Vitolo's header from the rebound.

The visitors rediscovered their composure until the 40th minute when Raul Albiol inexplicably headed the ball to the feet of Sime Vrsaljko, allowing the full-back to lift the ball towards Correa, who poked a volley under the body of Asenjo to pull the hosts level.

Atletico sent on Kieran Trippier and Joao Felix – the duo back in action after recovering from injuries - to try and exploit the gaps appearing in the Villarreal defence, with both players making an impact.

Trippier broke down the Atletico right before cutting the ball back to Correa, whose floated cross was headed home by Koke after the captain arrived unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box.

Joao Felix wrapped up the victory, albeit his drive was aided by a deflection to beat Asenjo, as the 20-year-old scored his third league goal of an up-and-down debut campaign in Spain.

Virgil van Dijk put Liverpool's 1-0 Champions League loss to Atletico Madrid down to bad luck and warned the Spanish club there is still another 90 minutes of the last-16 tie to play.

Saul Niguez's early strike in Tuesday's Champions League clash gave Atletico a slender lead to take into the return fixture against holders Liverpool at Anfield on March 11.

Saul poked home from close range with four minutes played after a corner fell kindly into his path and Diego Simeone's Atletico kept their advantage intact in Madrid.

Reigning champions Liverpool dominated possession in the Spanish capital but failed to register a single attempt on target, with Mohamed Salah and Jordan Henderson squandering their best chances.

Despite the defeat at the Wanda Metropolitano, however, defender Van Dijk is remaining upbeat ahead of the second leg in a little over three weeks' time.

"We conceded the goal from the corner, first chance for them, not even a chance. Bit of luck," he told BT Sport.

"The message at half-time was to keep playing. We had the ball most of the game but unfortunately could not create massive opportunities. We still have another 90 minutes to set it right.

"It is the way they play. It is a bit of the Spanish football as well and you have to adapt but we knew it and I feel we handled it pretty well."

Echoing his team-mate's views, full-back Andy Robertson felt the wild celebrations in the stands at full-time were premature given Liverpool's impressive home record.

"We put in a decent performance and we know we can be better. We've got a second leg to put it right," Robertson said.

"They celebrated as if they won the tie after the game. They are coming to Anfield and we know our fans will be there.

"We gave them the best possible start and that get the fans behind them and then they start falling over and getting under the skin a bit."

Pep Guardiola's future at Manchester City continues to dominate discussions – and it seemingly still remains unclear.

Talk around the Spaniard has intensified after City were handed a two-season Champions League ban by UEFA for "serious breaches" of Financial Fair Play rules, although they deny wrongdoing and intend to appeal.

But will Guardiola, who is contracted at the Etihad Stadium until 2021, stay or go?

 

TOP STORY – GUARDIOLA TO STAY AT MAN CITY DESPITE BAN

Guardiola will remain at City next season whether they have their ban overturned or not, according to the Mirror.

However, Tuttosport reports the chances of the former Barcelona head coach leaving City are "70 per cent".

Guardiola has reportedly suggested previously he intends to honour his contract at City.

ROUND-UP

- Chelsea are making their move for Jadon Sancho. France Football reports the Premier League club have started talks with the Borussia Dortmund star, who has attracted interest from numerous European giants, including Manchester United.

- Staying at Stamford Bridge and Chelsea are set to pay £23million (€27.7m) for Inter midfielder Matias Vecino at the end of the season, according to the Daily Express.

- After strong links during the close season, Bayern Munich's interest in Manchester City attacker Leroy Sane has cooled, according to Kicker. Sane tore his anterior cruciate ligament in August.

- Staying at Bayern and Kicker reports the Bundesliga giants are keeping tabs on Liverpool's interest in RB Leipzig forward Timo Werner. Werner has been linked with the European giants after scoring 20 goals in 22 Bundesliga games this season.

- Alexander Isak's form for Real Sociedad this season is leading to interest, but Mundo Deportivo reports clubs wanting the forward at the end of the campaign must pay €70m. Former club Borussia Dortmund reportedly have an option to buy Isak for €30m, but that only comes into play in 2021.

- Real Valladolid defender Mohammed Salisu has impressed this season and the 20-year-old is on Atletico Madrid's radar, according to Marca.

Atletico Madrid dropped points for the fourth time in five LaLiga matches as they drew 2-2 at fellow Champions League hopefuls Valencia.

Diego Simeone's men could have moved level on 42 points with third-placed Getafe with victory but, despite taking the lead twice, they were pegged back, meaning Sevilla and Real Sociedad could overtake them this weekend.

Although quality was lacking, the first half certainly entertained and Atletico just about edged it at the interval, with Marcos Llorente and Thomas Partey scoring either side of Gabriel Paulista's equaliser.

Valencia eventually became the superior force in the second half after Geoffrey Kondogbia's 59th-minute goal tied the score, but they failed to make the most of their late dominance as Kevin Gameiro spurned a glorious chance to down his former employers.

The early proceedings were by no means thrilling but Atletico made the most of a rare goal-scoring opportunity, as Angel Correa's shot struck Gabriel and Llorente was on hand to prod past Jaume Domenech.

Valencia levelled with five minutes of the first half to play – Gabriel heading in from close range after Maxi Gomez's delivery.

Atletico still went into the break ahead, though, thanks to Thomas' 20-yard strike, the midfielder drilling into the bottom-left corner after Valencia allowed him to charge forward.

Both sides initially struggled to control a scrappy affair after the break, but Valencia restored parity for a second time just before the hour – Kondogbia converting from close range after Dani Parejo's free-kick delivery.

Former Atletico striker Gameiro was introduced from the bench and should have put the hosts in front 16 minutes from time, but he blazed over from eight yards out and Gomez followed suit from a little further out soon after as Atletico held on to a commendable point.

What does it mean? Atletico hand La Real and Sevilla the initiative

The only reason Atletico are still in the top four is because their poor recent form has been matched by their top-four rivals, with La Real, Sevilla and Valencia all wildly erratic over the past few weeks.

But this weekend, Sevilla host rock-bottom Espanyol and La Real face another of the strugglers in Eibar. Both will fancy their chances of wins that will see them leapfrog Atletico once again.

Partey time on Valentine's Day

It seemed clear that if Atletico were to get a late win, Thomas would have been involved in some way. The midfielder impressed with some fierce bursts through the middle, scored a fine goal and only narrowly missed the target with three decent long-range efforts.

Correa a bystander

Through Atletico's difficult patch, Correa has been arguably the only player to enhance his reputation. However, on Friday he was utterly anonymous bar his shot that was fortuitously deflected to Llorente for the opener. He touched the ball just 16 times – the fewest of all the Atletico players except their substitutes – and failed to create a single chance.

What's next?

Both sides turn their attention back to the Champions League next week, with Valencia facing Atalanta in San Siro on Wednesday and Atletico hosting defending champions Liverpool the day before.

Diego Simeone hailed Atletico Madrid's improved performance after they ended a five-game winless streak by beating Granada 1-0 and paid tribute to the club's supporters for instilling his players with "responsibility".

Atletico moved up to fourth place in LaLiga after Angel Correa's sixth-minute goal settled an entertaining contest at Wanda Metropolitano, where Simeone's men put a torrid run of results behind them.

The victory was the Rojiblanco's first in six games in all competitions and came courtesy of an energetic first-half performance that impressed Simeone.

"In recent league games we could not respond accordingly to what we needed to do," Simeone told Movistar.

"There was a lot of weight on this match, but the players solved it and I am very happy about it.

"The supporters' impact is extraordinary; they fill you with responsibility, with the need to get involved.

"We are working and we are improving little by little."

Simeone saw Koke deliver a fine display in behind his front two, the attacking midfielder making his first appearance since he sustained a hamstring injury in December.

Koke provided the assist for Correa's goal and linked up well with Saul Niguez throughout a game in which a recently goal-shy Atletico team attacked persistently before coming under some late pressure. 

"Yes, I am happy for him and the team," Simeone said of Koke.

"We were very agile in the first 25 minutes, we started very well, with pressure and presence in the opponents' half, but then we backed off and they began to grow.

"They [Granada] are very good, they showed it, it comes from progressing to the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey and they gave us a fight until the end.

"When you need to win, the minutes run slower."

Atletico Madrid's five-game winless run came to a halt as Angel Correa's early goal secured a 1-0 victory over Granada at Wanda Metropolitano.

With attacking talents Diego Costa and Joao Felix out injured, Diego Simeone started with Vitolo alongside Correa in a two-pronged attack and was rewarded when the latter scored his fourth LaLiga goal of the season after six minutes. 

Atletico went into the match having failed to score in their previous three top-flight outings but delivered a performance full of urgency and guile.

The poor form that hampered the Rojiblanco in the last month threatened to resurface as Granada rallied in the last 20 minutes of an entertaining contest but Simeone saw his charges dig in when it mattered to make sure of a sorely needed three points.

Atletico's goal drought ended when Koke, back in the team after almost two months out with a hamstring injury, played Correa into the box and the 24-year-old rifled a low shot past Aaron Escandell from 12 yards.

Vitolo dragged a shot narrowly wide from 20 yards as the hosts kept the pressure on and he had the ball in the net after 25 minutes only for his effort to be ruled out for offside.

Saul Niguez deserved a goal nine minutes into the second half when he met Correa's cross with a volley at the far post but Escandell was equal to it.

Yannick Carrasco replaced Renan Lodi and tested Escandell with a low drive from just inside the box before a spell of Granada pressure saw Ramon Azeez fire disappointingly wide when well placed. 

Having controlled the game for over an hour the home side's grip faltered and Jan Oblak had to be alert to save Roberto Soldado's close-range volley, the Atletico goalkeeper getting down smartly to parry it away.

Carrasco won a free-kick on the edge of the box seven minutes from time but Saul curled his shot just wide of the target as Atletico failed to add gloss to a satisfying result.

 

What does it mean? Huge relief for Simeone

A run of three winless LaLiga matches can be reframed as four wins in seven and Atletico are up to fourth in the table, three points behind third-placed Getafe.

Better call Saul

There were strong performances from Thomas Partey and Koke in the Atletico midfield but Saul was notably involved in most of their best play and his quick thinking at a throw-in started the move that led to the winner.

Big miss from Azeez

Granada were never going to get many opportunities on goal in this game and when they did they were let down by Azeez, who snatched at his shot when a cool head was required.

What's next?

Granada are in action on Wednesday as they take on Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey ahead of Atletico's difficult trip to Valencia in LaLiga on Friday.

Diego Simeone has challenged Atletico Madrid to show they are "alive" when they resume LaLiga duties against Granada on Saturday.

A miserable run of results, not helped by a number of key injuries, has left Atleti's season in danger of derailing a little over a month into the new year.

Five games without a win, including a penalty shoot-out defeat to Real Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana final and a shock 2-1 Copa del Rey loss to Cultural Leonesa, has left Simeone's side with only LaLiga and the Champions League as potential trophies.

They are far from favourites for success in either competition, given they sit 13 points off leaders Madrid in the top flight and must face holders Liverpool in the last 16 in Europe.

Simeone, who now considers every remaining match to be a final, wants his players to show their mettle over what could be a decisive few weeks of their season.

"We have all finals," he told reporters on Friday. "We have a challenge and an important responsibility. We are going to compete with very good teams.

"We don't go beyond taking things game by game – we've always believed in that. I expect a full stadium, understanding the situation of the team, and the team understanding the situation of the championship. That's the most important thing."

When asked about Madrid and Barcelona's Copa exits this week, he added: "I'm very respectful of every team and I don't give an opinion on situations that don't involve us. I just think about improving and getting out of this dynamic, which isn't so good. We have to show that we are alive."

The good news for Atleti is that striker Diego Costa and midfielder Koke are close to returning.

A back problem has kept Costa sidelined since November, while Koke has only played once since December 14 due to hamstring issues.

Simeone hopes the comeback of a proven goalscorer and a creative midfielder can give his attack the lift they need.

"He's coming back. We'll see if he can play from the start," he said of Koke.

"Technically, he's a different footballer, he sees more than the others and we have more opportunities to create chances when he is on the pitch.

"Diego Costa has joined in with training this week. He's looking forward to coming back and the doctors will determine his all-clear when it's appropriate.

"It's important for the group [to have him back] and when he returns, we'll have a player who has always given us a lot."

Eric Abidal's interview tipped Lionel Messi over the edge.

Normally quiet, especially on social media, Messi used Instagram to hit out at Barcelona director of football Abidal, who had earlier suggested some players were not working hard enough prior to Ernesto Valverde's sacking.

Barca superstar Messi is reportedly unhappy with how things are unfolding at Camp Nou.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI TIRED OF BEING BARCA SCAPEGOAT

Lionel Messi is tired of being held responsible for everything that happens at Barcelona amid doubts over his future, according to COPE and Marca.

Contracted until 2021, captain and six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi snapped back at Barcelona director of football Eric Abidal for bad-mouthing players at the club as he discussed Ernesto Valverde's exit.

It comes amid discontent towards the board and Barca's struggles on the pitch.

Clubs in China, the United States and the Middle East would all be interested should the Argentine opt for a change of scenery.

 

ROUND-UP

- Has Paul Pogba played his last game for Manchester United? The Red Devils are resigned to losing Pogba at the end of the season, reports The Mirror. Linked to Real Madrid and former club Juventus, Pogba has not featured since December due to an ongoing ankle problem.

- Staying at Old Trafford and The Mirror says United will prioritise signing Aston Villa star Jack Grealish as fellow midfield target James Maddison nears a new deal with Leicester City.

Atletico Madrid will consider Mauricio Pochettino as their next head coach if they move on from Diego Simeone, reports the Telegraph. Pochettino continues to be linked with United, who are struggling under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

- Standard Sport claims Chelsea will sign Lyon striker Moussa Dembele at the end of the season after failing to land the Frenchman in January.

- Lille defender Gabriel Magalhaes is a target for Arsenal, reports The Sun. Arsenal enquired about the 22-year-old Brazilian's availability last month.

Milan snubbed the chance to sign Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic in January, says Calciomercato. Matic is out of contract at season's end but is open to extending his time in Manchester.

Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic could make a surprise move to Atletico Madrid ahead of next season.

The Croatia international is reportedly unhappy at Camp Nou and has been linked with a move away since the off-season.

Now, a stay in LaLiga could eventuate, but away from Barcelona.

 

TOP STORY – ATLETICO BEGIN TALKS WITH BARCELONA'S RAKITIC

Atletico Madrid are already negotiating with Rakitic about a possible move at the end of the season, according to Cadena SER.

The 31-year-old is contracted at Barcelona, where he arrived from Sevilla in 2014, until 2021.

Rakitic admitted on Sunday he considered leaving the club in January, and it seems a move is likely come season's end.

ROUND-UP

- Amid reported interest from Manchester United and Arsenal, James Maddison is close to agreeing a new contract with Leicester City, according to The Telegraph. Maddison has starred for the Premier League club this season and is poised to sign a lucrative long-term deal.

- Frank Lampard is set to face a battle at Chelsea. The Mirror reports the head coach wants to sell Kepa Arrizabalaga – who became the world's most expensive goalkeeper when he arrived at Stamford Bridge from Athletic Bilbao for a reported £71.6million (€80m) in 2018 – but is set to face resistance from the board.

- Atletico Madrid and Roma are interested in Manchester United midfielder Jesse Lingard, according to ESPN. Lingard is coming out of contract in 2021 but also holds a one-year extension option at Old Trafford.

- Are Milan set for another coaching change? Bild reports Red Bull's head of international relations and scouting, Ralf Rangnick, is in advanced talks to become the Serie A club's head coach and sporting director once the season is over. Stefano Pioli only took charge of Milan in October, replacing Marco Giampaolo.

- Inter almost signed Islam Slimani, who is on loan at Monaco from Leicester City, last month, according to CalcioMercato, which reports the Serie A club's move came late in January before collapsing.

Zinedine Zidane accepted responsibility for Real Madrid's sluggish display in the first half of their derby victory over Atletico Madrid.

Karim Benzema's goal early in the second half secured a 1-0 win for Los Blancos at Santiago Bernabeu, extending Madrid's lead over second-placed Barcelona to six points.

However, Madrid were certainly second best before the break and were fortunate not to have gone behind, with Vitolo going close and Angel Correa hitting the woodwork.

Zidane made two changes at the break, introducing Vinicius Jr - who played a key part in Benzema's winner - and Lucas Vazquez, with Federico Valverde, who had started out wide, moving inside.

"I was not happy with what I saw on the pitch in the first half. But it was not the players' fault, it was my responsibility," Zidane told a news conference.

"So I changed Isco and Toni [Kroos], but it could have been another two. A change was needed.

"Five in midfield has worked before. But not today, we found it hard to get into the game, were not good with the ball. But in the end when things are not working, you must change it, I am here for that too.

"We began the second half in a different way, opening up the pitch, pressuring up high. We were better in everything, we deserved to win and take the three points. We cannot always play really well from the first minute."

Madrid are clear in LaLiga and also into the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey, while they face Manchester City in the last 16 of the Champions League.

Zidane, though, would not be drawn on any talk of a potential domestic and European treble.

"No. We are just happy to have won a difficult game today," ZIdane said. "We have many difficult games left, in the Copa, LaLiga and Champions League. We've won nothing yet, just the Supercopa, and the path is very long."

Atleti's defeat means they have now lost three of their last four matches in all competitions and are 13 points behind their city rivals in LaLiga.

"We are worried by the situation, for sure," Diego Simeone told a news conference.

"We know we need to work hard to turn things around. We will be getting back players soon, and need to keep competing in the league and Champions League."

Felipe dismissed the suggestion Atletico Madrid's players have any doubts about Diego Simeone after their derby defeat to Real Madrid left them 13 points behind LaLiga's leading side.

Karim Benzema's goal 10 minutes into the second half - his first at the Santiago Bernabeu in a Madrid derby - condemned Atleti to a third defeat in four matches in all competitions.

Simeone's side had their chances before the break, with Vitolo going close and Angel Correa hitting the post, though the visitors hardly threatened after going behind.

But defender Felipe insists the squad are fully united under Simeone, despite a dismal start to 2020 which has seen them fall well off the pace and drop out of the Copa del Rey.

"No, we're all united, all together in this," Felipe told a pitchside reporter.

"We do have things to correct, do have things to improve but we will do it. We'll do it game by game, little by little but count on us, we know that today we suffered but we are united and we worked hard.

"We know we've got things to change, winning is everything to Atleti. We've got to correct our errors as quickly as possible."

Zinedine Zidane made two changes at half-time, bringing on Lucas Vazquez and Vinicius Junior - who played a crucial part in Madrid's winner - and Felipe acknowledged the substitutions caught Atleti off guard.

"Yes, it was an aggressive change," he said. "It pushed us back onto our heels a bit. We knew how to work our way and stay in the game. Now we have to correct our position in the league quickly."

Vinicius, meanwhile, is hoping to grasp any opportunity he is given as he bids to become a regular starter for Madrid.

"Lucas Vazquez and I came on, changed the rhythm of the game first and foremost," Vinicius said.

"Zidane asked us to keep doing what we were doing and to do everything to go out and win. He's everything. He told us what we had to do and we did well.

"We've got such great players here. All I have to do, if I get a chance, is to win games like I did today."

After eight years, seven trophies, two Champions League finals and one shiny new stadium, the time has come for change at Atletico Madrid.

Saturday's 1-0 derby defeat to Real Madrid was only their fourth loss in LaLiga this season, but it leaves them 13 points behind the leaders and with no sign of that gap closing between now and May.

Madrid needed 56 minutes to break the deadlock through Karim Benzema, which is nothing new for Atleti – they remain redoubtable in defence, with only Los Blancos conceding fewer league goals this season – but their listlessness in attack is reaching crisis point.

Atleti have scored 22 goals in LaLiga, as many as fourth-bottom Real Mallorca. They have failed to score in four of their past five matches in all competitions, the exception being Angel Correa's goal in a truly disheartening Copa del Rey defeat to Cultural Leonesa. Most worrying of all is the fact they have won six times since October 29.

The typical ferocity with which they have played under Simeone since December 2011 is now seemingly exclusive to the head coach himself, who was booked in the first half at the Santiago Bernabeu after one too many furious marches from his technical area.

In short, Atleti are bereft of confidence, insipid going forward and with little obvious idea how to arrest their poor form. They are fifth in LaLiga, out of the Copa, beaten on penalties in the Supercopa de Espana final by their city rivals and with the daunting task of Liverpool to come in the Champions League. They are falling alarmingly short of expectations, especially given a pre-season investment of nearly €244million.

Simeone has not been helped by injuries. Joao Felix, the €126m man who devastated Madrid in the 7-3 International Champions Cup win in August, sat out Saturday's defeat due to a muscle injury, although his recent form means he would have been fortunate to start anyway. Diego Costa, who scored four against Madrid in that resounding pre-season success, has not started a league match in three months. Alvaro Morata, their one fit centre-forward, went off at half-time with an apparent muscular problem.

But excuses are running out for Simeone. The man who has worked miracles at times in turning Atleti from second-class citizens in Spain's capital to persistent LaLiga and Champions League contenders looks like his magic has worn off. The feel around the Wanda Metropolitano, the sparkling Atletico venue designed to reflect their modern prowess on the pitch, is much the same as the atmosphere at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in Mauricio Pochettino's final months in charge: how will anything change unless there's a new man in the dugout?

Atleti did at least start positively against Madrid and created the better chances in the first half. Angel Correa clipped the outside of the post and Vitolo brought a smart save from Thibaut Courtois from inside the box. That, though, was their only shot on target.

At half-time, Zinedine Zidane abandoned his plan to midfielder Atletico to death, bringing on Lucas Vazquez and Vinicius Junior. One timely pass from the Brazilian allowed Ferland Mendy to set up Benzema for the winner 56 minutes in.

Atleti's best attempt at a comeback was a solitary wayward shot from Thomas Partey with 20 minutes left – irrefutable evidence of the team's stagnation under Simeone. "Stay, Cholo!" came the ironic taunt from the home fans. How much longer will the Atleti faithful sing the same thing and mean it?

His legacy at the club is secure, but his future, and that of Atleti, is weakened with every passing miserable 90 minutes. A parting of the ways, now or before next season at least, might be best for all concerned.

Real Madrid moved six points clear of Barcelona at the top of LaLiga as Karim Benzema's goal proved enough to claim a 1-0 victory over Atletico Madrid.

Both previous derbies between the sides this season - one in LaLiga and one in the Supercopa de Espana final - had finished 0-0 but Saturday's encounter finally bucked the trend.

Having held out somewhat in the first half, Madrid, who were buoyed by a double change from Zinedine Zidane at half-time, broke the deadlock through Benzema's first home goal against Atleti.

Substitute Vinicius Junior went close to capping a fine performance with a goal late on, but Madrid's failure to add another did not prove costly as they ended Atleti's six-match unbeaten run at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Sergio Ramos scored the winning penalty in Los Blancos' shootout victory in the Supercopa final last month and Madrid's captain twice went close to opening the scoring in the first 10 minutes, but sliced over on both occasions.

Ramos had some defending to do in the 18th minute, reacting sharply to clear Madrid's lines after Thibaut Courtois had kept out Vitolo's strike.

Courtois was beaten soon after, yet Angel Correa's effort clipped the upright, before Casemiro was fortunate his desperate lunge on Alvaro Morata did not lead to a penalty.

Zidane rolled the dice at the break, introducing Vinicius and Lucas Vazquez in place of Toni Kroos and Isco, moving Federico Valverde inside and the decision almost paid immediate dividends as the midfielder forced Jan Oblak into a fine save with a superb long-range effort.

However, Zidane's changes did prove decisive in the 56th minute - Vinicius drawing three Atleti defenders in before releasing Ferland Mendy, whose cross was side-footed home by Benzema.

Oblak then denied Vinicius to keep Atleti in the game, though the visitors could not make it count as their dismal start to 2020 continued.

 

What does it mean? Madrid put the pressure on Barca

Quique Setien's Barca are in action against Levante at Camp Nou on Sunday and know they must respond to prevent Madrid - who are unbeaten in 13 LaLiga matches - from ending the weekend with an increased lead at the summit.

Atleti, meanwhile, have lost three of their four matches across all competitions since the Supercopa final.

Vinicius sparks Madrid

Zidane's experiment of playing Valverde in a wide role in the first half was a failure, but the Frenchman spotted his mistake. Vinicius came on, adding width, pace and skill to Madrid's attack and, ultimately, played a pivotal role in Benzema's winner.

Simeone's time at Atleti winding down?

Atleti's defeat leaves them 13 points behind Los Blancos and their main aim now will be securing Champions League qualification. Despite plenty of money having been pumped into the squad, it seems Diego Simeone's impact finally seems to be wearing off and perhaps a change may be needed ahead of next season.

What's next?

Real Sociedad await Madrid in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals on Thursday, while Atleti face Granada in their next LaLiga outing two days later.

 

Yannick Carrasco and Thomas Lemar have been included in Atletico Madrid's squad for Saturday's derby clash with Real Madrid.

Belgium international Carrasco has spent time training with Atletico and officially re-joined the LaLiga club on Friday in a loan deal until the end of the season.

Atleti boss Diego Simeone was unsure if the winger would be registered in time to feature at the Santiago Bernabeu, but he has been named as part of the 20-man group.

Simeone can also call upon Lemar this weekend as the midfielder - strongly linked with a January exit - has recovered from a hamstring injury that ruled him out of the club's last six matches. 

Club-record signing Joao Felix and fellow attacker Diego Costa remain absent through injury, while defenders Kieran Trippier, Santiago Arias and Jose Gimenez also miss out on selection.

Fifth-place Atletico are winless in their last two LaLiga matches, leaving them 10 points adrift of leaders Madrid, and were knocked out of the Copa del Rey by Cultural Leonesa last week.

Meanwhile, Madrid confirmed on Friday that Eden Hazard, Gareth Bale and Rodrygo Goes will play no part against Atleti, but Casemiro, Eder Militao and Isco have all returned to the squad.

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