Saul Niguez has praised Hector Herrera's attitude but acknowledged he has work to do to earn a starting place at Atletico Madrid.

Herrera has started just one LaLiga match since his arrival from Porto in July, featuring from the outset in the side's goalless draw with Celta Vigo in September.

That game came three days after Herrera scored his first goal for Atleti as a substitute with a timely equaliser in the last minute of 2-2 draw with Juventus in the Champions League.

Meanwhile, Saul has played every minute of the team's league campaign.

But the Spain international pointed to Herrera's appearance as a substitute for striker Alvaro Morata in Sunday's draw at Real Valladolid as evidence of the new man's positive approach.

"I think he's amazing," Saul told LaLiga's official website. "People are surprised that he hasn't been getting game time but, at the end of the day, you have to earn it.

"We saw the other day when he played in a different position. We have always set an example for him, because he keeps training very well and, as I said, he wants to listen and to learn.

"And despite the fact he's an experienced player, he's open-minded. In the dressing room, he's a very good guy."

Saul also gave a positive assessment of Atletico's other new arrivals for 2019-20, including forward Ivan Saponjic, who joined the club from Benfica in July but is yet to feature.

"Renan Lodi and Kieran Trippier, they're great at getting up and down the wing," Saul said. "They're top players and they pose a real threat because they're excellent at crossing.

"As for Felipe and Mario Hermoso, both of them are very experienced and top-class centre-backs, but their most salient and important feature – as with the rest of the signings – is that they have a willingness to learn and to listen, regardless of how experienced they may be.

"Joao Felix is getting more playing time than Saponjic but the same goes for him as the other lads. He's always working hard in training, he's a very strong guy when it comes to holding off defenders and creating space, and he has great movement in the box."

Diego Simeone backed his Atletico Madrid forwards to come good in LaLiga but said they need "more forcefulness and anger" to find the net.

Atletico were held to a second consecutive goalless LaLiga draw when they failed to break down a resolute Real Valladolid side at Estadio Jose Zorrilla on Sunday and Simeone admitted his side were slow to get going.

The Rojiblancos improved in the second half but the closest they went to scoring was an Angel Correa shot that hit the post, leaving them with just one win from their past five league games, with Atleti failing to score in four of those.

Simeone gave credit to Valladolid, who missed a first-half penalty, saying: "The opponent was better in the first half. We did very little.

"In the second we were much better, it was more intense, we were more keen to show danger and we created a situation to win. The second half was closer to how we wanted to play from the start."

Asked about his side's problems in front of goal, after a third 0-0- draw in four LaLiga matches, Simeone said: "We need more precision, more forcefulness and anger.

"I see [Alvaro] Morata and [Diego] Costa have the intent, enthusiasm and desire to do things well and they have all my support.

"We have to wait, because they will find the answer for sure."

Morata, who went close to scoring when his second-half shot hit the face of Valladolid goalkeeper Jordi Masip, said he felt his team-mates were affected by their midweek trip to Moscow in the Champions League.

Atletico beat Lokomotiv Moscow 2-0 five days before their trip to Valladolid, with Joao Felix and Thomas Partey on the score-sheet.

"It is not easy to play after having played a game so far [Moscow]," said Morata.

"We are tired but there is no excuse.

"We are fine, it is not easy, LaLiga is more difficult than a few years ago. If we continue along this line we will be up there."

Atletico Madrid's stuttering season continued as they were held to a third goalless draw in four LaLiga matches by Real Valladolid, who remain unbeaten at home in LaLiga this season.

Diego Simeone's men were let off the hook when Sandro Ramirez ballooned a penalty over the crossbar in the first half at Estadio Jose Zorrilla but failed to impose their authority in a game they were expected to win.

Atleti went into the match with a record of seven goals in seven LaLiga matches this season and their attack was turgid again here, with strike partners Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata receiving scant service.

Valladolid had lost all of their previous eight league matches against Atleti but held firm to claim a valuable point in their push for the top half of the table.

Sandro Ramirez fired a warning shot into Jan Oblak's body as Valladolid tried to unsettle the visitors but Diego Simeone's men dominated the ball early on and slowed the game down.

Chances were few and far between until Thomas Partey tripped Sandro in the box and, after a lengthy VAR review, the referee pointed to the penalty spot.

Sandro stepped up in the hope of scoring his first goal for the club but got his penalty all wrong, sending the ball curling high over the crossbar.

Saul Niguez fizzed a shot narrowly wide from 25 yards as Atletico adopted a more direct approach after half-time.

Morata got in behind the hosts' defence and fired a shot that hit goalkeeper Jordi Masip in the face before Valladolid countered and Sandro went close with an effort on the turn.

Kieran Trippier's cross created a chance for Angel Correa with 10 minutes left but the substitute's powerful shot pinged back off the post to the relief of the home crowd, who will have been delighted with a point against one of the title favourites.

 

What does it mean? One win in five for Simeone's men

While it is too early to start ruling Atletico out of the title race, Simeone will be concerned by a lack of cutting edge in attack that has contributed to a run of one win, three draws and one defeat in their last five league games.

They are second in the table but three points behind leaders Real Madrid.

Morata more lively

While Costa was largely a bystander, Morata provided Atleti with an outlet and battled through some heavy challenges to keep his side on the front foot.

Sandro's struggle

Three seasons ago, Sandro scored 14 LaLiga goals in 30 appearances for Malaga and looked a star in the making. Now, at the age of just 24, he looks a spent force and the way he hung his head after blazing Valladolid's penalty over the crossbar suggested he feels like one, too.

What's next?

Valladolid travel to Athletic Bilbao after the international break, while Atletico Madrid will hope to pick up their first home win since September 1 when they entertain Valencia in 13 days' time.

Diego Simeone believes the defensive commitment of his Atletico Madrid side is a gift.

Atleti have always been renowned for their stoic defensive displays under Simeone, which have been the basis of their development into one of Europe's elite clubs.

A video that went viral on social media in midweek proved the perfect example - the clip showing a glut of Atleti players flooding back at full pace after they were caught on the counter against Lokomotiv Moscow.

Asked about the video, Simeone hailed his side's desire not to concede, adding it is emotional to see their commitment on full display.

"The incident from the other day is something else, something of a team," Simeone told a news conference ahead of Sunday's LaLiga match against Real Valladolid.

"They come back desperately, so you can't score against them. It's an emotional gesture, a different gift, because not everyone feels the same way.

"It's emotional. When you play with your friends, and you are going to concede, everyone runs so you don't.

"The most wonderful thing is that I don't want them to concede."

Diego Simeone was encouraged by the performance of Joao Felix in Tuesday's 2-0 Champions League win at Lokomotiv Moscow, convinced that will help him further his improvement.

Joao Felix joined Atletico for €126million in pre-season, coming in as the replacement for Antoine Griezmann after his move to Barcelona.

The 19-year-old attacker impressed in the close-season, particularly when getting a goal and two assists in the remarkable 7-3 friendly win over rivals Real Madrid in July.

He has had a slightly slower start to life in competitive action for Atletico, scoring twice and setting up one goal in seven LaLiga outings, but Simeone was impressed with his display in Moscow.

The Portugal international scored Atletico's first goal from close range after chasing up his own effort that rebounded back off the goalkeeper, before then playing a key role in their second – winning the ball back and picking out Diego Costa, who squared to Thomas Partey for the finish.

"It was the match in which he was most involved, possibly, in the rhythm of the game," Simeone told reporters ahead of Sunday's trip to Real Valladolid.

"For a player who likes to have the ball, participate in the game of his team, it [the performance] generates more enthusiasm.

"The other day this happened, he was active in the two goals of the team. That will lead him to continue growing.

"What I liked most was when he threw himself on the floor and retrieved a ball near the bench and showing that he understands what football is."

Simeone has been rotating his options in attack this season, opting to play all three of Joao Felix, Costa and Alvaro Morata on Tuesday.

And, according to the coach, that is advantage Joao Felix brings; he can feature either out wide or in a support role behind two main strikers.

"Due to his characteristics, he can play accompanied by a striker or with two striker references," Simeone said. "He has a great vision of the game and the team has more possibilities playing with two strikers and plus Joao, but the work balance of the rest of the team rises and will depend on the players.

"I think he can play in both versions. When he arrived I think he came with chances to play as a second striker. Now, when he participates most is with Costa and Morata, he has more vision to participate."

Champions League holders Liverpool face Salzburg for the first time in their history on Wednesday as Jurgen Klopp aims to extend his unbeaten record at Anfield.

The Reds lost 2-0 to Napoli in their opening group fixture, increasing the importance of a result against a Salzburg side that thrashed Genk 6-2.

Exciting teenager Erling Haaland – son of former Premier League defender Alf-Inge Haaland – scored a first-half hat-trick in that match and should be ready for the trip to Merseyside after battling illness.

Barcelona, meanwhile, could have the fit-again Lionel Messi available for their date with Inter, a chance for the star forward to break his duck against the Serie A side.

Elsewhere, Frank Lampard heads to France in search of his maiden Champions League win in charge of Chelsea, while last season's semi-finalists Ajax visit Valencia.

Here is the pick of the key Opta facts for Wednesday's eight matches.

 

Genk v Napoli

6 - Napoli are without a win in their past six away games in the Champions League group stage (W0 D2 L4), last prevailing on the road with a 2-1 defeat of Benfica in December 2016.

13 - Genk have won none of their 13 Champions League matches (W0 D7 L6). Only Irish side Shamrock Rovers and Maltese outfit Floriana have played more games without winning (14 each) in the competition's history.

 

Liverpool v Salzburg

19 - Reds boss Klopp remains unbeaten after 19 matches at Anfield as Liverpool manager (W15 D4 L0). His streak is 10 games shy of Bob Paisley's club record.

2 - Salzburg striker Haaland will attempt to become the second player to score more than once in each of his first two Champions League appearances, Diego Simeone having done so for Atletico Madrid in September 1996.

 

Slavia Prague v Borussia Dortmund

13 - Czech champions Slavia handed out 13 Champions League debuts in their Group F opener, a 1-1 draw at Inter. The only player to feature who had previously appeared in the competition was Nicolae Stanciu.

68 - Dortmund have scored with just two of their past 68 attempts at goal in the Champions League and have been held goalless in five of their six most recent outings.

 

Barcelona v Inter

3 - Barca captain Messi has been directly involved in 15 goals in his past 17 games against Italian teams (12 goals, three assists), but has failed to score in any of his three Champions League meetings with Inter.

2003 - Inter boss Antonio Conte was an unused substitute for Juventus the last time an Italian coach won a Champions League match at Camp Nou, a quarter-final clash in 2003. Marcello Lippi was in charge of the visitors.

 

RB Leipzig v Lyon

5 - Each of Timo Werner's five Champions League goals have been scored away from home. No player has hit more on the road without scoring in their own stadium.

18 - Lyon striker Moussa Dembele is one game away from equalling former AEK Athens midfielder Vassilios Tsiartas' unwanted record for most Champions League appearances without winning, which stands at 18 (set between 1994 and 2003).

 

Zenit v Benfica

9 - Artem Dzyuba has been involved in nine goals in nine Champions League matches for Zenit, scoring six times and registering three assists, including one for Sardar Azmoun in his side's 1-1 draw against Lyon.

10 - Since the start of the 2017-18 season, Benfica have lost more Champions League group stage games (10) than any other team.

 

Lille v Chelsea

8 - Ligue 1 side Lille are winless in eight Champions League home matches since a 3-1 victory over AEK in October 2006, having gone undefeated in their first eight at home.

2 - Frank Lampard is in danger of becoming the second Englishman to lose his first two matches as a manager in the Champions League, after Ray Harford with Blackburn Rovers in September 1995.

 

Valencia v Ajax

2 - Valencia, 1-0 winners at Chelsea in their Group H opener, are looking to start a Champions League campaign with two consecutive victories for the first time since 2006-07, when Quique Sanchez Flores was in charge.

41 - Ajax captain Dusan Tadic has created 41 chances in the Champions League since the start of last season, more than any other player in the same period.

Atletico Madrid head coach Diego Simeone was pleased with how his trio of forwards performed against Lokomotiv Moscow after Joao Felix stole the show in a 2-0 Champions League win in Russia.

Joao Felix started in the same team as Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata as Simeone opted for an attacking line-up for his team's second fixture in Group D on Tuesday.

Atletico endured a frustrating first half as they failed to make their dominance tell, though Joao Felix found a way through Lokomotiv's stubborn defence three minutes after the break when he converted a rebound.

The 19-year-old's goal saw him become the Spanish club's youngest scorer in the competition - and he was also involved in Atletico's second, scored by midfielder Thomas Partey.

Simeone praised the combination play between Joao Felix, Costa and Morata, though made clear they also have to work cohesively when their team do not have the ball.

"The three of them worked really well. The important thing is how they work in a defensive sense because we need balance in the side," Simeone told reporters.

"We all know how potent they are in an attacking sense but we always need to maintain our structure."

On the game itself, Simeone felt the key to success was finding a cutting edge in the final third, something they had lacked in the opening 45 minutes.

"Lokomotiv Moscow defend very well. We had good chances in the first half that the keeper did well to save," he said. "We were clinical in the second half and managed to score twice early on."

Joao Felix's 48th-minute strike was his first in the Champions League, putting Atleti on course for victory on the road following a 2-2 home draw with Juventus in their opening game in this season's competition.

"I'm delighted to score my first Champions League goal," the 19-year-old said, according to UEFA.com. "It was a great game, and the important thing was that we came away with the three points."

Diego Simeone praised Lokomotiv Moscow's experienced head coach Yuri Semin ahead of his Atletico Madrid side's trip to the Russian capital.

Lokomotiv produced one of the shock results of the opening round of Champions League fixtures, winning 2-1 away to Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen.

They therefore lead the way in Group D after Atletico came from two goals down late on to draw 2-2 at home to Juventus in their first game.

Semin, 72, is in his fourth spell in charge of Lokomotiv - who he also represented as a player - and he won his third Russian Premier League title with the team in 2017-18.

Atleti head to Moscow with one win from their past five games in all competitions after holding rivals Real Madrid to a 0-0 derby draw in LaLiga at the weekend.

While his side will likely be favourites having hit 11 goals in their three previous games against Lokomotiv, Simeone is taking nothing for granted.

"You see a team that works together, with continuous help in all the spaces of the game," Simeone told a news conference. 

"In Leverkusen they had little possession and led the game forward. They work very well in the spaces.

"It is a team that knows what he wants, a coach with a wonderful history and a strong personality. The team reflects what he wants on the field.

"No one owns the truth in football. All coaches have better ideas, the most beautiful and valuable thing about this game is that we are all right and we don't have it. In this game, winning or losing takes you to one side or another.

"Teams that have a clear idea of ​​the game like Lokomotiv are dangerous. They know how they play and that is a reference."

Koke and Saul Niguez have received some criticism in the opening weeks of the season but Simeone defended the midfield duo.

"It is very difficult to speak with words, we must refer to the facts. After opinions there is everything," he added.

"But the work, the space they cover, we can then be more successful or not, but they know what it is to play at Atletico Madrid and they are two of the most important players for us."

Atletico Madrid head coach Diego Simeone claimed the "linesman knows" what Sergio Ramos said as the Real Madrid captain found himself at the controversy.

Ramos reportedly insulted the linesman during Saturday's 0-0 El Derbi between rivals Atletico and Madrid at Wanda Metropolitano, where no action was taken amid the allegations.

Atletico's Diego Costa received an eight-game ban for abusing referee Jesus Gil Manzano in the club's loss to Barcelona last season.

Asked about Ramos' comments, Simeone told reporters: "What happens on the pitch stays on the pitch, but the linesman knows what he said."

Neither Atletico nor Madrid could find a way through in the Spanish capital, where the points were shared.

The result left Madrid a point clear atop the table after seven games, ahead of neighbours Atletico.

"In the first half we were dominating the game and we couldn't find any solutions [in finding a goal] at the end," Simeone said.

"We're having a hard time in that aspect. In the second half, [Jan] Oblak saved [Karim] Benzema's header. It was a tight game, with both of us missing what it takes to win the match."

Karim Benzema nearly snatched the victory for Madrid with his headed effort 15 minutes from time, forcing a great save out of Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak.

Oblak added: "We didn't risk much and neither did they. Neither of us wanted to lose, so I think a draw is the fair result.

"We'll improve in the next matches."

Diego Simeone is certain Saturday's Derbi with Real Madrid is in the balance despite Atletico Madrid crushing their bitter rivals 7-3 in pre-season.

The teams met two months ago in New Jersey and Atletico inflicted a humiliating defeat on Zinedine Zidane's men.

Diego Costa scored four goals and Joao Felix caught the eye, with Atletico surging 6-0 up by the 51st minute.

Madrid then endured an initially indifferent start to the season, though three successive wins have elevated them to LaLiga's summit, with Atletico a point adrift.

Simeone was asked in Friday's pre-match news conference whether July's remarkable win combined with Atletico being at home made Los Colchoneros favourites, but the coach is wary of a Madrid side who have shown significant signs of improvement in recent weeks.

"In this type of game, things are usually tight," Simeone told reporters. "They are defined by small details, which balance the matches on one side or the other.

"In the last games they have improved against Sevilla and Osasuna, where they had many changes and continued with the level shown in Seville.

"They have a great squad, a great coach, and we want to take the game where it suits us best.

"They've really good players and they're very dangerous when given space. [Gareth] Bale is improving, [Karim] Benzema is in great form and [Eden] Hazard has incredible attributes.

"They've a strong spine as well. Very little has changed in the players who have been key for years and maintained their place in the team.

"That centre of Casemiro, Sergio Ramos and Benzema, they're important players."

Atletico Madrid host LaLiga leaders and city rivals Real Madrid this weekend with Joao Felix still feeling his way in to life as their club-record signing.

Brought in as a direct replacement for Antoine Griezmann following the France forward's controversial switch to Barcelona, Joao Felix has shown flashes of the brilliance that persuaded Atleti to pay his €126million release clause to buy him from Benfica.

The teenager exploded onto the scene with 15 Primeira Liga goals last season, while he hit a superb hat-trick against Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League quarter-finals.

The expectations on his shoulders at Atletico are a different story, however, with Joao Felix having two goals and an assist to show for his six LaLiga appearances at his new club.

With Zinedine Zidane's unpredictable Madrid visiting the Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday and Atleti having not won a home LaLiga derby since 2015, Joao Felix will face the biggest test of his club career to date.


PARTNERSHIP WITH COSTA NEEDS WORK

On paper, Diego Costa looks like an ideal partner for Joao Felix, with his street smarts and aggressive nature aspects the teenager is undoubtedly lacking.

Costa's experience should be invaluable too, with the Brazil-born Spain international having fired Atletico to their most recent title in 2013-14 when he scored a career-best 27 league goals.

But the 30-year-old's form has been a concern for some time, dating back to his return from Premier League side Chelsea, and his opener in Tuesday's 2-0 victory at Real Mallorca was only the second competitive goal he has managed in 2019.

Data from Opta shows Joao Felix has only passed to Costa seven times during their 279 minutes on the pitch together in LaLiga this season, with the ball going in the other direction on just six occasions. Linking up effectively has been a challenge with Joao Felix typically drifting out to the right, where he combines with Koke.

Although Joao Felix also netted in the Mallorca win to send Atleti into the derby on a high note after they drew a blank in back-to-back league games, this must be an area of concern for Diego Simeone, who is without Alvaro Morata through suspension this weekend.

Costa and Joao Felix will surely develop their understanding in time and the duo were extremely effective when Atletico destroyed Madrid 7-3 during the International Champions Cup in pre-season, a game in which Costa scored four goals and was twice assisted by the Portuguese.

Only once have they combined for a goal in LaLiga this term, Costa setting up Joao Felix to spark Atleti's 3-2 comeback win at home to Eibar on September 1, and this needs to improve.


FITNESS ANOTHER POTENTIAL ISSUE

Adapting to a new league physically, as well as making the step up in class, was always going to be a challenge for Joao Felix.

His slight figure is in sharp contrast to the imposingly barrel-chested strike partner Costa, who can bounce defenders out of his way.

Although he produced a brilliant solo run from inside his own half to win a penalty against Getafe on his LaLiga debut, occasionally Joao Felix has been pushed off the ball too easily.

Perhaps this has led to frustrations for the teenager as he has committed seven fouls in his six LaLiga appearances to date, while he has been brought down on eight occasions.

The rough and tumble nature of some matches has also posed a problem. Joao Felix was taken off in the first half of a friendly against Numancia after taking a bang to his hip and some opposition players have seemingly targeted him.

Although Simeone has selected the Portugal international in all six of his LaLiga line-ups this term, while he also started against Juventus in the Champions League, he has been substituted five times.

Confidence is not an issue for Joao Felix, but he has fired more shots off target (six) than on target (five) in the top flight for Atleti, while he has lost possession at an average of 9.83 times per match. Indeed, he has completed 84 passes and 25 have gone astray, a far from impressive ratio, with just two chances created.

Time is on Joao Felix's side, however. At the same stage of the 2018-19 season, Griezmann's last for the Rojiblancos after winning the World Cup with France, he had only scored twice in LaLiga. Joao Felix has matched that tally already.

Diego Simeone hailed the importance of Diego Costa after the striker ended his six-month wait for a goal in Atletico Madrid's 2-0 win against Real Mallorca.

Spain international Costa headed home Koke's cross 26 minutes into Wednesday's LaLiga clash at Son Moix and Joao Felix added a second after the break as Atleti ended a three-match winless run in all competitions.

Costa had not netted since a 4-0 victory over Deportivo Alaves in March, but Simeone started him for a fifth straight game and hoped the goal boosts the 30-year-old's confidence.

"We know that strikers live on goals," he said at his post-match news conference. 

"It's very good for him and for the team. I'm happy because he needed the goal. He's one of our most important players in attack and if our forwards play well then it's easier to win."

A 2-0 loss to Real Sociedad and 0-0 draw with Celta Vigo saw Atletico slip down the table, but victory over Mallorca moved them back into second.

"We're improving the balance of the team," Simeone said. "We had a good first half and in the second half Mallorca attacked but we defended well."

It was not all good news for Atletico, however, as substitute Alvaro Morata was sent off for two yellow cards in quick succession eight minutes after replacing Costa.

Morata, who clashed with Mallorca skipper Xisco Campos and rowed with the referee to earn his dismissal, will miss Saturday's derby against his former side and LaLiga leaders Real Madrid.

Asked if the sending off was fair, Simeone replied: "I did not see what happened well. 

"For some reason he reacted. I cannot anticipate what happened. I saw that he was arguing with one player and thought they'd both be dismissed."

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone suggested Joao Felix, Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata could be set to start together in LaLiga for the first time.

Morata started the campaign alongside record signing Joao Felix when Costa was sidelined by an adductor injury.

After Morata succumbed to a knee problem, Simeone then opted to field Costa with Joao Felix in Atleti's attack.

With Morata fully fit and Atletico having failed to score in successive LaLiga games against Real Sociedad and Celta Vigo, Simeone could select the trio together for Wednesday's trip to Real Mallorca.

"As I always said, and I said it before in some other press conferences, when Alvaro and Diego are both strong and in shape it's very likely that they will play together," he told reporters.

"They have physical strength, increase our chances of scoring goals and open the possibility of other players coming in to play just behind them.

"Alvaro is back and Diego has played already a few times, we hope they can stay in good shape so they can play together.

"Alvaro has always been related with goals, he's a great reference in the area. [A lack of goals] wears down strikers a lot, so if Costa plays alongside him we will have opportunities to generate or attempt danger.

"And if it's Joao or [Angel] Correa playing behind them we will try to share the efforts during the 90 minutes tomorrow."

Costa has only scored once in competitive action this year but Simeone again backed the Brazil-born Spain international to recover the form that fired Atleti to LaLiga glory in 2013-14, when he hit 27 top-flight goals.

"It's true that not getting frequent chances to score is worrisome for a striker," Simeone said. "We work alongside Diego, listening to what he sees and feels and telling him what we think he has to improve.

"And as I said after the last game he has a great challenge to face individually, of course he helps the team a lot, but individually he has to rebel against a situation that's not usual for him."

Atletico Madrid head coach Diego Simeone will continue to put his faith in Diego Costa despite the striker's LaLiga goal drought continuing against Celta Vigo.

Simeone's side endured a frustrating time in front of goal at the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday as they were held to a goalless draw.

Costa, 30, was booked after the final whistle for his part in an ugly fracas with the Celta Vigo players.

When asked a question about Costa's attitude for his role in the aftermath, Simeone claimed he "didn't see" the incident.

However, the Argentinian has backed Costa to come good even though the ex-Chelsea forward has not found the net in a competitive match since he scored against Alaves in March.

"The numbers are what you say, it's the reality, but I trust Costa," Simeone said.

"I know he'll be fit again and it's a challenge for him. The championship is long and the team needs him."

Simeone called on Costa and the club's other strikers to become more ruthless after Atletico's return of just seven goals in five LaLiga matches in this season so far.

"I think we started the pre-season at a great level, especially for strikers," added Simeone.

"The team looked good and it gives me the feeling that it is normal, when the season starts there are spikes and immediately the goals appear and in others they disappear.

"Hopefully we can get the focus to play back because the situations are there.

"If we do not, we must try to increase the offensive intensity because the goal comes from the rage of wanting to make a goal."

Diego Simeone dodged questions relating to Antoine Griezmann on Friday after reports claimed the France international negotiated a €14million signing-on fee with Barcelona while still an Atletico Madrid player.

Griezmann joined Barca in July when the Catalan club deposited the €120m to activate his release clause, which had dropped from €200m at the start of that month.

It brought an end to prolonged speculation about the attacker's future, though Atletico were adamant Barca and the player had struck some form of deal before July, meaning they felt they were owed a further €80m.

Barca insisted they only began negotiations in July, but Spanish newspaper El Mundo claimed on Thursday they had obtained evidence suggesting Griezmann discussed a commission in March.

Simeone was unwilling to address the matter in his pre-match news conference ahead of Saturday's visit of Celta Vigo, however.

"I'm thinking about Celta, I'm not interested in anything else," he told reporters.

"With all due respect to you, I understand the questions, but honestly, after playing on Wednesday we use the time to think about Celta.

"They have a reinforced team, the talent they have, the arrival of Rafinha, the presence of [Santi] Mina that creates an important attack. We are more focused on that.

"I understand your objective, but I've got mine."

New Atletico signing Renan Lodi received his first senior Brazil call-up on Friday, with the left-back having caught the eye during his early days at the club.

Although he was shown a red card on his LaLiga debut, he appears to have made the spot on the left of defence his own and Simeone is pleased with the 21-year-old's impact.

"He has been doing a great job since the first day he arrived," Simeone said. "He has extraordinary attributes that will grow with work.

"Hopefully he can maintain this situation of wanting to improve and I'm happy he's been selected by the national team."

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