Koke has challenged Atletico Madrid to hit the ground running when the LaLiga season resumes, meaning they will have to quickly get used to playing behind closed doors.

On Monday it was announced top-flight clubs in Spain can go back to training this week for individual sessions as part of a staggered return following the coronavirus pandemic.

The season has been on hold since early March, though the target is for fixtures to be played again in June. LaLiga chief Javier Tebas has said "the return of football is a sign that society is progressing to the new normal" following the impact of COVID-19 on the country.

Atletico last played on March 11, when they triumphed 3-2 at Anfield to knock holders Liverpool out of the Champions League, with Koke hoping they can quickly get up to speed again.

"We are preparing at home trying not to lose too much intensity, or too much strength," the Atleti captain said in a media conference staged by the club. "What we will lose the most is the work with the ball. 

"When we start individual training and then with the rest of the group we will be taking it little by little. 

"It is a mini-season after we've come from competing at the highest level in Liverpool. We have to prepare in the best way and not think that it is a pre-season.

"This has been a break to start strong for the remainder of the season."

Atleti face a battle to secure a top-four finish this season; they sit in sixth place in the table, albeit only a point behind fourth-placed Real Sociedad with 11 rounds remaining in the 2019-20 campaign.

However, with games set to be staged behind closed doors, Diego Simeone's squad will not have the added bonus of their fans being present inside the Wanda Metropolitano – something Koke admitted will be "odd".

"It seems that we are going to play without an audience," the Spain international said.

"Playing at home without our people is going to be odd because they are always supportive, especially in the most difficult moments. 

"Hopefully it will be as short [a time] as possible [without them] and wherever they are, we will feel your support."

Atletico Madrid flew flags at half-mast on Sunday in honour of former defender Jose Luis Capon and youth team player Christian Minchola.

Capon, who won Spanish league titles with Atletico in 1973 and 1977 and the 1976 Copa del Rey during a 10-year spell at the club, died at the age of 72.

His passing came just 24 hours after the death of 14-year-old Minchola – a member of the club's youth team.

"Today is a sad day for the rojiblanca family," the club said in a statement.

"Atletico de Madrid is in mourning for the death of our former player Jose Luis Capon Gonzalez. The former rojiblanco defender died at the age of 72 in his hometown.

"To remember Capon, the flag honouring our fans located in the Wanda Metropolitano will fly at half-mast for 24 hours in honour of our legendary player.

"With the departure of Capon, the Atletico family loses another of the symbols that gave everything for this club on and off the pitch. From the club, the president, chief executive officer and our board offer their sincere condolences to all his family and friends."

Commenting on the death of Minchola, the cause of which has not been revealed, head coach Diego Simeone said: "With all my heart I send my condolences to Christian's family and friends. Rest in peace."

Club captain Koke added: "Anger and pain for having to say goodbye to Christian Minchola. Life is very unfair.

"Proud that you wore this shirt. Much encouragement to colleagues, family and friends. Rest in peace."

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.

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."

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.

Atletico Madrid head coach Diego Simeone said anxiety prevented his team from scoring in their goalless draw at Villarreal.

Simeone's Atletico failed to win for the third consecutive LaLiga match following Friday's stalemate away to Villarreal.

It was another toothless showing by sixth-placed Atletico, who have only scored 16 goals through as many league games this season.

"It is normal that when you generate so many chances and do not convert, anxiety appears," Simeone told reporters. "And more anxiety, less precision. 

"When anxiety disappears, tranquillity and precision will come from the players we have. Today we had clear occasions, Joao Felix and [Renan] Lodi's, but we did not define them correctly."

Atletico could end the weekend seven points adrift of third-placed Sevilla and eight behind leaders Barcelona.

"At the moment, what worries me is to win a game and everything will be looked after in a different way," Simeone said.

Atletico captain Koke added: "In front of goal we have no fortune, precision or I do not know what is missing. To win you have to score goals.

"The team defends well, gives everything, but we need to be more precise to all, the strikers, the midfielders, the defenders..."

Diego Simeone insists his faith in Diego Costa is unwavering due to the striker's work rate, even as a missed penalty cost Atletico Madrid two points at Sevilla.

Atleti recovered from a first-half deficit to draw 1-1, thanks largely to the introduction of Costa and his nuisance factor from the bench at half-time.

The former Chelsea star had a goal disallowed shortly before Alvaro Morata equalised, but he then passed up the opportunity to clinch victory and send Simeone's men top of LaLiga.

Tomas Vaclik denied Costa from 12 yards, meaning he has still scored just twice in all competitions this season.

Simeone came to his player's defence, though, saying: "Diego is at his best physical moment, taking care of himself, training, working. He works but can't find the goal.

"When someone works like Diego, there are two options: either you are with Costa or not with Costa. If you give your all, like Costa, I trust him."

Sevilla likewise could have moved to LaLiga's summit with a victory, with Barcelona beaten at Levante earlier in the day, and Simeone believes Julen Lopetegui's side can be a threat this season.

"I see them doing very well. They always compete well," he said. "They have many players, a deep squad, which means they can make changes.

"They had two injured midfielders. Fernando did not play today. If they are consistent, they will compete."

However, midfielder Koke was frustrated Atleti were not able to beat Sevilla, believing their second-half performance – with Costa in the side – deserved to be rewarded.

"Especially in the second half, we did enough to win the game," he said. "There was a goal disallowed, we had a penalty, we created chances. We left two points on the field in such a complicated game.

"We have to continue working as we did in the second half. We recovered from the Sevilla goal and, in the second half, they had absolutely nothing. This is the standard – we have to keep working.

"We want victories because LaLiga is a bit strange, the big teams are not winning games, but we have to keep working."

Diego Simeone came to Koke's defence after the Atletico Madrid midfielder was singled out for criticism from sections of the Wanda Metropolitano support.

Club stalwart Koke was jeered for his performance during the narrow Champions League win over Bayer Leverkusen in midweek, although he later insisted he has "total confidence" in himself.

Atletico coach Simeone had some words of comfort as they prepared to face Athletic Bilbao in a third consecutive home match, suggesting even he has had to overcome boos at times.

"Of course the fans have jeered me, in the Calderon itself in some games," he told a news conference. "I remember being whistled just because I wasn't doing a good game.

"People are spontaneous, they say what they feel. They are used to a type of situation and that is what they want.

"It is us who have to strive to improve and not have that tension. It's not just Koke - it's everyone's responsibility."

Asked why Koke might now be targeted by fans, Simeone acknowledged the midfielder may need to go back to basics.

"He is occupying too many positions," the coach said. "Maybe he should focus more on his own.

"Often he wants to fix a lot with his tactical ability. He wants to do more than he is responsible for and ends up paying for what is not his responsibility.

"He wants to fix problems in other parts of the field which are not fixable. With the tactical ability he has and the information he has gathered over the years, this makes him want to do more than he has to do.

"He is a great professional and a great player."

As Simeone reflects on criticism of himself and his team, one issue for which Atleti regularly face scrutiny is a lack of threat in the final third.

Asked if this could ever complement the usual defensive stubbornness of his side, Simeone claimed "creativity" was not Atleti's problem.

"I believe that what we need is to be more practical, not to have more creativity," he said. "Creativity is not the only factor that improves you. Creativity is good and practicality is better."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.