Diego Simeone praised the development of Marcos Llorente after the midfielder helped Atletico Madrid secure a 2-1 victory over Granada. 

Atleti extended their lead at the top of LaLiga to eight points thanks to Angel Correa's deflected winner on Saturday. 

Llorente provided the assist for Correa having opened the scoring himself with a neat finish in the 63rd minute, taking his tally of league goals for the season to seven. 

The 26-year-old – signed primarily to play as a defensive midfielder in 2019 from rivals Real Madrid – scored his first goal for Atleti in a 2-2 draw with Valencia on February 14 last year. 

He has now netted 13 times in all competitions in total for the club, while his tally of 10 league goals since getting off the mark puts him behind only Luis Suarez (16) for Simeone's squad. 

Llorente has averaged a goal every 237 minutes in LaLiga over the last 12 months, as well as providing 10 assists and creating 35 chances. Only Koke, who moved level with Tomas Renones for second place on the list for appearances in all competitions for Atletico, has created more (41).

With his opener against Granada, Llorente became the midfielder in LaLiga with the most direct goal involvements so far this season, so it was hardly surprising when Simeone spoke glowingly of the Spain international's desire to transform himself into an all-round attacking threat. 

"As coaches, titles are wonderful, because they fill you with excitement and glory," Simeone told a news conference. 

"But when you work with a footballer and see his growth reflected, you feel more joy and more enthusiasm to continue advancing in this profession.  

"When we see a footballer with the ability to do different things than what he had been doing in his career, we jump into it. It happened to us with Griezmann, with Saul, with Juanfran. 

"Why is it happening? I would like to look for the images of Marcos training when he was not even playing, when in practice he scored a lot of goals, we joked that he was going to have to play higher [up the pitch]. 

"We put him up front and now I think in the middle is where feels more at ease." 

While Llorente delivered the goods on Saturday, LaLiga's leading scorer Suarez had an off day in front of goal, landing only one of his four attempts on target, though he was unfortunate to hit the crossbar in the second half. 

"We always ask all the boys who have played as strikers in our team for collaboration and effort for the team," Simeone said. 

"Luis, beyond what he generates with his goals, has a lot of intelligence. He knows where to apply pressure, where to bother the rival, generate doubts and we need everyone."

Atletico Madrid got their LaLiga title tilt back on track as Angel Correa's fortunate goal secured a hard-fought 2-1 win over Granada.

Diego Simeone's team saw an eight-match winning streak in the league come to an end when they were pegged back by Celta Vigo on Monday.

Real Madrid and Barcelona looked to be getting another favour when Granada substitute Yangel Herrera cancelled out Marcos Llorente's 63rd-minute opener on Saturday.

The unusually profligate Luis Suarez had gone close to breaking the deadlock numerous times, hitting the crossbar and finding Rui Silva in fine form, but a fifth successive away win seemed set to evade Atleti.

However, a huge slice of luck went Atleti's way when Correa's strike deflected in off Jesus Vallejo to settle the contest and move the visitors eight points clear.

Correa let Granada off the hook when he poked a one-v-one straight at Silva, before German Sanchez headed Granada's first opportunity wide.

Geoffrey Kondogbia's surging run resulted in an opening for Suarez three minutes later, but LaLiga's leading scorer could not generate enough curl to pick out the far corner.

Kondogbia and Suarez combined again 30 minutes in, yet Silva was equal to the latter's powerful effort, with Granada's goalkeeper denying Atleti's number nine again soon after.

Suarez went closer after the restart – a half-volley clipping away off the bar.

Another opportunity fell Suarez's way before the hour, but the former Barca star could not take the ball under control in the six-yard box.

Llorente finally found the opener when he drilled in from the edge of the box for his seventh league goal of 2020-21, but despite creating little of note, Granada snatched a swift equaliser three minutes later as Atleti failed to clear a corner and Herrera's effort deflected beyond Jan Oblak.

Yet Atleti had a deflection go in their favour 16 minutes from time, Silva helpless to prevent Correa's shot from looping in after Vallejo's attempted block.

Diego Simeone insisted he had "no problem" with Atletico Madrid's Champions League home clash against Chelsea being moved to Bucharest.

The first leg of the last-16 tie will be played at the Arena Nationala on February 23 due to coronavirus restrictions.

Atletico coach Simeone had no complaints, saying his team were prepared to play anywhere.

"I don't think it's important to give an opinion because the opinion we might say won't influence on what the reality is. And because we are living a complex moment globally, from a social point of view, it is already difficult to compete and do our job," he told a news conference.

"We will prepare and enjoy what we have. To play anywhere, any time, the day they want.

"There is no problem."

Atletico are five points clear atop LaLiga and have played two fewer games than second-placed rivals Real Madrid.

They are unbeaten in their past 20 LaLiga games (15 wins and five draws) against Granada, who they visit on Saturday.

Simeone has managed 14 LaLiga games against Granada without defeat. Only against Getafe (16) has he managed more in the competition without defeat.

But Simeone is wary of Granada, who are eighth in the table and have lost just two of their 11 LaLiga home games this season.

"We play against Granada and the only thing that keep us busy is to resolve this match. Granada is a team that does very well at their stadium," he said.

"They compete really well as everyone could see in the Copa del Rey and Europa League. It's a combative team and their coach has his ideas very clear. He can play with different systems. That is what keep us busy today."

Kalidou Koulibaly tested positive for coronavirus ahead of Napoli's Coppa Italia semi-final second leg with Atalanta and Serie A meeting with Juventus.

The centre-back returned a positive result on Friday and began self-isolating ahead of Saturday's league game against struggling Genoa.

Napoli are scheduled to face Atalanta for a place in the Coppa Italia final on Wednesday and Juve – who sit two points ahead of them in fourth in Serie A – the following Saturday.

A club statement read: "After the swabs carried out this morning, Kalidou Koulibaly tested positive for COVID-19.

"The player is asymptomatic and will observe a period of self-isolation at home."

Napoli are already without Faouzi Ghoulam for their trip to Genoa after the full-back tested positive for coronavirus.

After taking on Juventus, Napoli travel to Granada for the first leg of their Europa League last-32 tie on February 18.

Barcelona have been drawn away to Granada in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals.

Ronald Koeman's team fought back to defeat second-tier Rayo Vallecano 2-1 on Wednesday, earning their place in the last eight after a major scare.

Barca will now have to face a LaLiga team in Granada, a side they defeated 4-0 at Los Carmenes earlier this month.  

Sevilla, who have not won the competition since 2010, will play away to Almeria, the last team from outside the top flight left in the tournament.

Real Betis will take on Athletic Bilbao, who are yet to play Real Sociedad in the final of last season's Copa, while the other match will see Levante host Villarreal.

Ties will be played across next week from Tuesday to Thursday, with Barca favourites to win it after Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid were eliminated against lower-league opposition.

Even in these extraordinary times, Barcelona letting Luis Suarez go to Atletico Madrid is starting to look like the oddest decision of the season.

Suarez's double over Eibar on Thursday secured a 2-1 victory for the league leaders, who are seven points clear at the top with a game in hand over champions Real Madrid in second.

The Uruguay star, who has netted six in his past six league games for Atleti, is joint-top of the division's scoring charts alongside former team-mate Lionel Messi.

It seems increasingly likely that Suarez, and certainly Atletico, will be at the top of the tree come the end of 2020-21.

With the majority of sides having now played half of their matches, the Stats Perform AI team have run the numbers to simulate how the rest of the LaLiga campaign will play out – and it's good news for Diego Simeone.

 

The data model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team's attacking and defensive quality.

Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly.

All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model – with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.

 

ATLETICO WIN AT A CANTER

Atletico have been given a 75.1 per cent chance of winning LaLiga, according to the model.

Simeone's men are predicted to finish on 86 points, nine clear of the rest of the field. They are given just a 17.8 per cent chance of coming second and dropping outside the top four is considered practically impossible.

Barcelona and reigning champions Real Madrid are predicted to end with 77 points apiece, with just a 12.4 per cent chance each of pipping Atleti to the title. Madrid have a 41 per cent chance of finishing second, slightly above Barca's 39.4, having beaten Ronald Koeman's side 3-1 in the first Clasico of the season at Camp Nou last October.

Those two are, at least, very likely to end up in a Champions League place. They are expected to be joined there by Sevilla, who have a 47.8 per cent chance of finishing fourth on 65 points, just three above Villarreal and six clear of Real Sociedad. The remaining European spot is predicted to be a close battle between Granada, Getafe and Real Betis, with Diego Martinez's men odds on to snatch it.

Valencia fans might be enduring a difficult time (again), and our sim has Los Che missing out on European football once more, if only by four points. That said, they still have a 3.6 per cent chance of a Europa League spot, which is better odds than those given to Supercopa de Espana winners Athletic Bilbao.

 

WOE FOR HUESCA

At the other end of a relatively tight table, in which just 11 points will separate seventh from 16th, it looks like Huesca are in for a tough run-in. They are given a 59.7 per cent chance of finishing bottom of the pile and just a 5.1 per cent shot at avoiding relegation, having won only once so far this term.

Osasuna are predicted to end up just four points above them, with the bottom three likely to be completed by Deportivo Alaves, although Elche will also be right in the mix. In fact, with those two tipped to finish level on 39 points, survival could come down to their head-to-head record, making their showdown on May 11 potentially decisive. Elche have the advantage there, having won the reverse game 2-0 away from home.

Real Valladolid are expected to have just enough to stay out of trouble, although they have scant room for manoeuvre, with our predictor giving them an equal 15.1 per cent chance of finishing 17th and 18th.

Eibar and Cadiz are looking likely to stay safe; indeed, Jose Luis Mendilibar's men, along with Celta Vigo and Athletic, are given a 0.1 per cent chance of gatecrashing the top four. They might well have boosted those odds this week were it not for that pesky Suarez.

Antoine Griezmann and Lionel Messi combined to devastating effect as Barcelona thumped Granada 4-0 to claim their fourth consecutive away LaLiga win.

Ronald Koeman's team continued their recent revival as Messi scored twice for the second straight game, with Barca taking a three-goal lead into half-time.

Griezmann also netted a double and assisted one of Messi's strikes in one of his finest showings in a Barca shirt after what has been a difficult spell since joining from Atletico Madrid in 2019.

The victory moves Barca up to third and within four points of Atletico Madrid and two of rivals Real Madrid, who are at Osasuna later on Saturday. 

Marc-Andre ter Stegen was called into action inside two minutes, making a superb one-handed save to keep out Antonio Puertas' drive from outside the box.

That proved key when Barca moved into a 12th-minute lead, with Griezmann reacting sharply and comfortably beating Granada goalkeeper Rui Silva after Sergio Busquets' pass had deflected into his path off Roberto Soldado.

Ousmane Dembele shot wide but Barca did double their lead after 35 minutes. Griezmann led a counter-attack and fed Messi, who set himself before dispatching a wonderful finish into the top corner from 18 yards. 

The hosts complained Busquets – who was making 600th Barca appearance in all competitions – had handled much earlier in the move, but the goal stood.

Messi then struck again three minutes before the break, arrowing a free-kick from the edge of the area into the bottom corner after Yan Eteki had blocked off Pedri in a dangerous position.

Barca made it four when Griezmann struck again shortly after the hour mark, the France forward controlling Dembele’s chip and sending an excellent right-footed finish beyond Silva.

With the result beyond doubt, Koeman promptly took the opportunity to give Messi, Dembele, Pedri and Frenkie de Jong a rest.

And Granada rounded off a miserable day when Madrid loanee Jesus Vallejo was sent off 12 minutes from time for tugging back Barca substitute Martin Braithwaite as he bore down on goal.
 

Ronald Koeman backed Antoine Griezmann but said goals would be the "best medicine" to boost the Barcelona forward's confidence.

Griezmann's last goal came against Ferencvaros in the Champions League on December 2, and he has just three in 16 LaLiga appearances this season.

A trip to Los Carmenes to face Granada on Saturday could help the France international, who has been involved in four goals (three goals and one assist) in his past five visits to the ground in LaLiga.

Barcelona coach Koeman said while Griezmann was working hard, goals would be best for the 29-year-old.

"Any player needs confidence in himself, his team-mates and the place where he plays. This starts with the player," he told a news conference.

"As a coach, I can communicate with [Griezmann], show him things and footage of potential things to improve, but at the end it's the player who has to show his quality and give effectivity to the team.

"It's not the case that Antoine doesn't work, he works a lot in any position. The other day he recovered a lot of balls, he gave an assist to Leo [Messi].

"But it's time that he scores, because scoring goals is the best medicine to have total confidence in yourself."

Griezmann has converted just 22.2 per cent of his big chances in LaLiga this season, his lowest in any campaign since at least 2012-13.

 

Barcelona are fourth in the table, seven points behind Atletico Madrid but having played two more games.

Ronald Koeman is keen to bolster his options at Barcelona with some January additions, but he acknowledges the club's financial situation may make it too difficult.

Philippe Coutinho last week joined Ansu Fati, Sergi Roberto and Gerard Pique on Barca's long-term injury list, while Carles Alena was allowed to leave for Getafe on loan until the end of the season.

Koeman has already expressed his desire to add a striker to his ranks, with the club having let Luis Suarez leave in the close season without signing a replacement, and they continue to be linked with Memphis Depay.

However, Barca's finances have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, so much so that they have delayed the biannual wage payment due to players in January.

Koeman consequently accepts it may not be possible for Barca to fulfil his wish to bring in new faces.

"It is important for our short-term future. We want to improve the squad. I still think some positions need more competition and effectiveness," said Koeman on Friday.

"But I understand the situation of the club. If it is not possible, it is not possible, and we will wait for the next window."

Koeman suggested Alena may not be the only young player to leave Camp Nou this month, though he revealed 17-year-old midfielder Ilaix Moriba could be in line for a first-team debut against Granada on Saturday.

"We have told the players that I think it is better for them to find a way out so they have minutes, predominantly [these suggestions have come from] Ramon Planes [club technical secretary] because I am more focused on the games," said the Dutchman.

"Once again it is the player's decision. I think that for some, without mentioning names, because of their youth it is best to seek the best as a player. A young man cannot go a year without playing. It's not good for improving as a young player.

"We know that with Alena's loan we are missing a player, and Ilaix was with us in pre-season. Sometimes he trains with the first team. It is a possibility he will be called up for tomorrow's game."

Barca will be without the suspended Clement Lenglet at Nuevo Los Carmenes and Koeman indicated Samuel Umtiti could make his first start of the season in his fellow Frenchman's stead.

"He has been out for a long time and has recovered from his injury. It's a long path for him to be as he was before," said Koeman.

"He has had some minutes and we have to make a decision. Without Lenglet, he and [Oscar] Mingueza can deliver. We will make a decision after training today."

Following their meeting with Granada, Barca will compete in the Supercopa de Espana and the Copa del Rey.

In the latter competition they were drawn against fellow Catalan side Cornella, who remarkably knocked out LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid on Wednesday.

"I am not surprised. There are surprises like this in all countries," Koeman said of Atleti's defeat.

"It can be a complicated game. They deserved to win against Atletico, who played with a strong team. If it's not your day, a lower team with motivation and dedication can make things complicated for you.

"It's a nice tie because we don't have to travel, but we have to adapt to the artificial pitch. There are other games that we have to have maximum attention on first, though."

Casemiro and Karim Benzema struck as Real Madrid beat Granada 2-0 to claim their sixth consecutive victory in all competitions and keep pace with LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid.

Zinedine Zidane's men have lifted the gloom that hung over the club during a torrid run of results in November and they ensured their fans a merry Christmas with a hard-fought win over a dangerous Granada side.

Madrid survived a number of early scares as Granada attempted to extend their three-game unbeaten LaLiga streak but improved dramatically after half-time, when Casemiro broke the deadlock with a fine header.

Karim Benzema added further gloss in stoppage time, ensuring Madrid moved level on points with rivals Atleti, but Diego Simeone's men have two games in hand.

Antonio Puertas squandered a chance to give Granada the lead in the opening minute, firing high and wide following Raphael Varane's error

Karim Benzema hit the side netting at the other end, but Thibaut Courtois' fumble almost gifted Kennedy an easy finish, only for the winger to hesitate and hit tamely into the goalkeeper's arms.

A difficult first half for the champions was capped off in the 35th minute – Rodrygo Goes having to be taken off on a stretcher after pulling up through injury.

Madrid laid siege to the Granada goal early in the second half, Marco Asensio hitting the post before Toni Kroos and Federico Valverde drew good saves from Rui Silva.

Yet the breakthrough came 12 minutes into the half when Asensio delivered a floated cross which Casemiro powered into the bottom corner of Rui Silva's net.

Lucas Vasquez curled a 25-yard shot narrowly over the crossbar before Madrid endured some late Granada pressure, but Benzema capped off the result in the last minute when he broke down the right, cut onto his left foot, and dragged a 20-yard shot into the far corner.

Eden Hazard is back in contention for Real Madrid's clash with Granada after coming through his eighth injury absence in 16 months.

The Belgium international suffered a thigh problem at the end of last month in the shock 2-1 home defeat to Deportivo Alaves, lasting only 28 minutes on the pitch.

It was the latest in a string of fitness issues that have plagued Hazard since swapping Chelsea for Los Blancos ahead of the 2019-20 season.

On top of the three injury absences he has had to contend with this term, he was also ruled out for a chunk of November due to coronavirus.

He will hope to finally find some consistency and regular playing time starting with the visit of Diego Martinez's in-form Granada on Wednesday – the Andalusians are unbeaten in five across all competitions.

Before Madrid announced the squad on Tuesday, Zinedine Zidane addressed Hazard's mental state after such a difficult start to life at the club.

"So far, emotionally, it may not have been easy [for Hazard]," Zidane told reporters. "But now I see him well. You have to do things patiently, little by little."

Hazard has played 19 times for Madrid in LaLiga but scored only twice, while his assists tally is only marginally better at three.

Even when he has been fit, Hazard has struggled to live up to expectations – his 21 chances created hardly an outstanding figure.

That equates to 1.5 key passes per 90 minutes, which is some way off Joaquin and Lionel Messi as the most frequent creators (among players to have featured at least 15 times since 2019-20 began) with 2.7 every 90 minutes.

 

Karim Benzema is playing the best football of his career for Real Madrid but can still improve, according to head coach Zinedine Zidane.

Former France forward Benzema scored one goal and created two more in Madrid's 3-1 win at Eibar on Sunday.

The 33-year-old's latest telling contributions, following on from a brace against Athletic Bilbao, took him to seven goals and five assists for the champions in LaLiga this season.

He leads Madrid in both regards, also topping the charts in terms of shots (40), shots on target (18) and big chances created for his team-mates from which they would be expected to score (five, tied with Rodrygo).

Benzema is averaging 1.0 goals or assists per 90 minutes this term, his best rate across a season since 2015-16 (1.4).

Leading the line alone this term, unlike in that campaign when Cristiano Ronaldo carried the burden, Zidane has been delighted by his number nine's form.

Asked if this was Benzema's best ever stretch, the coach said: "I think so, yes. Most recently he's been in his best form. What he's doing recently, he's been phenomenal.

"What's yet to come? I think Karim can even get better than he is now - that's what we all hope, for the team, for him, personally.

"On top, it's his ambition. He wants to get better as well as a player. That's very important."

Benzema has played 12 of Madrid's 14 league games, but they took just one point from the two matches he missed.

Indeed, Madrid have won all seven of the fixtures Thibaut Courtois, Sergio Ramos, Casemiro and Benzema - the team's spine - have started together, claiming only two victories when at least one of that quartet have been absent.

Zidane's team selection has therefore come under scrutiny with the topic of rotation broached at Tuesday's news conference before the clash with Granada.

"You guys make me laugh in a good way," Zidane told the media. "In the end, if I rotate, you ask me why I do it; if I don't, you ask me why I don't.

"I have it clear what I want to do and how I want to deal with my players. I'm going to count on every one of my players.

"It's true that recently the team has been playing very well and we've rotated less, but I think the players are ready and training very well.

"I think the important thing is with the amount of games coming up - and we have a lot of games coming up - when a squad player gets called upon, he is ready and ready to do a job. That's exactly what they're doing."

Despite the reliance on their key men, Madrid are level on points with rivals Atletico Madrid at the top of LaLiga, although Diego Simeone's men have two games in hand.

Real Sociedad, who have played a further game more, are three points back in third, but Zidane is not yet calling a two-horse race.

"We know how difficult this league is. You ask me about Atletico Madrid, they are going to say the same thing as me," he said.

"There are a lot of teams here that are going to challenge for this league title. That's the beautiful thing with this league; there are no easy games, you have to always battle, you have to always go out on the pitch to suffer and to win, it's always difficult.

"In any way, we're going to face difficult teams until the end to win this league."

Granada were only able to field seven senior players in their starting XI for a 2-0 defeat to LaLiga leaders Real Sociedad on Sunday because of a coronavirus outbreak.

A request by Granada to postpone the game against Sociedad at Anoeta had earlier been rejected by the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and they instead played the match with a severely-weakened side.

Granada had originally claimed they could not select "the minimum number of players available" but RFEF's competition committee turned it down as regulations stated matches could only be postponed if a club has five or fewer first-team players to choose from.

Granada's 18-year-old goalkeeper Angel Jimenez saved a penalty on his debut, but goals from Nacho Monreal and Mikel Oyarzabal chalked up a fifth consecutive victory for Sociedad.

Diego Martinez's side had been told they could only name players in their squad who tested negative for COVID-19 and who did not travel to Cyprus for Thursday's Europa League match against Omonia Nicosia.

Granada are set to face disciplinary action for a breach of COVD-19 protocols after they travelled to Cyprus despite an outbreak of the virus.

It was confirmed on Saturday that Martinez and striker Antonio Puertas were self-isolating after showing symptoms of the virus.

Granada have been told Sunday's LaLiga match with Real Sociedad must go ahead despite them having only seven senior players available due to coronavirus restrictions.

Diego Martinez's side were informed they could only name players in their squad who tested negative for COVID-19 and who did not travel to Cyprus for Thursday's Europa League match against Omonia Nicosia.

It was confirmed on Saturday that Martinez and striker Antonio Puertas were self-isolating after showing symptoms of the virus.

Granada asked the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) to postpone the game against Sociedad at Anoeta as they said they could not select "the minimum number of players available".

However, in a statement on Sunday, Granada said the RFEF's competition committee had rejected their request.

They added: "The team will travel to San Sebastian in the next few hours with only seven players in the squad who meet the requirements imposed by LaLiga, [the squad] completed with players from the B team and youth team who also meet these requirements."

Granada are sixth in LaLiga after winning four and losing just one of their opening seven games in 2020-21.

Sociedad are level on 17 points with league leaders Atletico Madrid.

Granada have asked the Spanish Football Federation to postpone Sunday's LaLiga clash with Real Sociedad due to a high number of positive coronavirus cases in the camp.

Only players who have tested negative for COVID-19 and did not travel to Cyprus for Thursday's Europa League clash with Omonoia Nicosia can play against Sociedad.

With Granada unable to name a 13-man squad for the game at Anoeta Stadium, the club have requested the game be pushed back to a later date.

A statement on their official website read: "The League has informed Granada that it only allows those players with a positive IGG index or a negative PCR and who have not travelled to Cyprus to travel to San Sebastian. 

"Given these circumstances, the Club requests the postponement of the match as it does not meet the minimum number of players available from the first team that are required for the dispute of an official match."

Granada confirmed earlier on Saturday that head coach Diego Martinez and striker Antonio Puertas were self-isolating after presenting symptoms compatible with coronavirus.

Martinez's side are sixth in LaLiga after winning four, drawing two and losing only one of their first seven matches.

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