Karim Benzema led the way as Real Madrid claimed a fifth successive win in a 3-1 triumph at Eibar on Sunday to go second in LaLiga.

Zinedine Zidane had been under intense pressure at the start of December due to a run of poor results, but the win at Ipurua was their fifth on the bounce across all competitions and leaves them on the tail of bitter rivals and pacesetters Atletico Madrid.

Benzema looked in the mood right from the start of an action-packed first half, the striker scoring and then teeing up Luka Modric in the early exchanges, before also having an effort disallowed for offside soon after Kike Garcia's stunning effort gave Eibar a lifeline.

Eibar certainly had their chances to clinch what had seemed an unlikely draw, but failed to take their opportunities and were punished again when Benzema played through Lucas Vazquez to wrap up the points in stoppage time.

Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain are confident over a move for Lionel Messi, while Mohamed Salah is eyeing Real Madrid.

Messi sensationally requested to leave Barcelona during the close season, but ended up staying with the LaLiga giants.

While the star made more history on Saturday, his contract expires at the end of the season – and two European giants think he is ready to make a move.

 

TOP STORY – MAN CITY, PSG CONFIDENT OVER MESSI

Manchester City and PSG are confident Messi is prepared to leave Barcelona in 2021, according to 90min.

The big-spending European giants have been among the most heavily linked with a move for Messi, who is out of contract at Barca next year.

Messi equalled Pele's record of 643 goals for one club with his header against Valencia in LaLiga on Saturday.

ROUND-UP

- Liverpool star Salah discussed a potential move to Real Madrid or Barcelona in an interview with Diario AS on Saturday – and the forward apparently has a club in mind. DefensaCentral reports the Egypt international wants a move to Madrid, who have apparently maintained close contact.

- Barcelona could be set for good news in January. L'Equipe reports Lyon are prepared to sell Memphis Depay – who has been linked with the LaLiga giants and is out of contract at the end of the season – for €5million.

- Manchester City are prepared to listen to offers for Oleksandr Zinchenko in January, according to 90min. Zinchenko has played just 12 minutes in the Premier League this season.

- Struggling for game time this season, Daniel James has been linked with a move away from Manchester United. However, the Manchester Evening News reports James is committed to staying with the Premier League giants beyond January.

Pele congratulated Lionel Messi on equalling his one-club goals haul and said he admired the Barcelona star.

Messi scored his 643rd goal for Barca during Saturday's 2-2 draw at home to Valencia in LaLiga.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner matched Pele's haul of 643 goals in just 656 matches for Santos between 1956 and 1974.

Pele, regarded by many as the best to ever play the game, posted a tribute to Messi on Instagram.

"When your heart overflows with love, it is difficult to change your path," the Brazil great wrote.

"Like you, I know what it's like to love wearing the same shirt every day. Like you, I know that there is nothing better than the place we feel at home.

"Congratulations on your historic record, Lionel. But above all, congratulations on your beautiful career at Barcelona. Stories like ours, of loving the same club for so long, unfortunately will be increasingly rare in football.

"I admire you very much, @leomessi."

Having initially seen a penalty saved by Jaume Domenech, Messi got his milestone goal when he met a cross from the left and nodded home from point-blank range.

Messi's headed goal was his first for Barcelona in all competitions since March 2017, while he missed a spot-kick for the club for the first time since February last year.

Remarkably, his latest goal was also his 450th in LaLiga, making him the first player to reach that figure for a single club in any of Europe's top five leagues.

Cristiano Ronaldo became only the fourth player score at least 33 Serie A goals in a calendar year by bagging a brace in Juventus' 4-0 win over Parma.

The 35-year-old scored in each half as Juve cruised to a victory that moved them level on points with Inter and one adrift of leaders Milan, both of whom play their game in hand on Sunday.

Ronaldo equalled former Juventus forward Omar Sivori's goal haul from 1961 - the joint-third most in a single year behind Gunnar Nordahl (36 in 1950) and Felice Borel (41 in 1933).

He could move further up the list as Juventus have one more league match to play in 2020 - a home meeting with Fiorentina on Tuesday.

Ronaldo's 33 goals have come from 174 attempts - at least 67 more than any other player - giving him a shot conversion rate of 27.73, which compares to 28.26 for Ciro Immobile, who is the next highest scorer this year in Serie A with 26 for Lazio.

The Portugal international has scored 27 with his stronger right foot, four with his left and two via his head.

Robert Lewandowski, named The Best FIFA Men's Player of the Year on Thursday, has 32 Bundesliga goals for Bayern Munich since January 1, while Barcelona star Lionel Messi has just 18 in LaLiga in the same timeframe.

Ronald Koeman has put Barcelona's 2-2 draw with Valencia down to a lack of concentration from his players, rather than a problem with their attitude.

Barca were held at Camp Nou in Saturday's entertaining LaLiga clash and are now eight points adrift of Atletico Madrid having played a game more than the leaders.

Mouctar Diakhaby scored a free header to give Valencia the lead – a joint-high fourth league goal Barca have conceded from a corner this term along with Huesca – but Lionel Messi equalised and young defender Ronald Araujo put the hosts in front.

Maxi Gomez profited from yet more slack defending 21 minutes from time to score against the Catalan giants for a fourth game running, however, as Valencia became the seventh team to stop their opponents winning in 13 games this term.

Koeman did not want to blame any individuals following this latest setback but conceded his side switched off too easily for Valencia's goals.

"It was a difficult game. We fought back but have to be more focused," he told Movistar. "We had chances but weren't focused on some other actions, and the opponents defended well.

"We made more of an effort in the second half to win the game but didn't create as many chances as we wanted. It was an irregular game from us; we lost balls in areas that were dangerous.

"I don't think it was to do with an attitude problem. There was an irregularity to the whole game. We lost balls and doubted ourselves.

"We also know we have problems with set-pieces. You have to get above your opponent, but we have smaller players."

Barca had won their previous two matches, against Levante and Real Sociedad, but now face a massive battle in chasing down Atletico and the rest of the title challengers.

"We would have liked to have won all of the games," Koeman said. "The problem is not today's draw but that we lost four or five other games and that's why this draw seems worse.

"There are a lot of points left [to be won]. It's a very tough season. In two months, everything could be different. We have to fight to make up the points difference."

Koeman made one change from the 2-1 victory over Sociedad, bringing in Philippe Coutinho for Frenkie de Jong in what was an attack-minded starting line-up featuring Messi, Martin Braithwaite, Pedri, Antoine Griezmann and Coutinho.

Sergio Busquets, the sole holding midfielder, picked up a knock and was replaced by De Jong at half-time.

Explaining his team selection, Koeman said: "Frenkie had discomfort in training yesterday and we couldn't risk him from the beginning, according to the doctors.

"We had to leave him on the bench until the break. I changed things around and brought off Busquets, but not because he was having a bad game."

Messi's goal was his 643rd for Barcelona, taking him level with Santos great Pele for the number of goals scored for a single club.

The Argentina international managed 10 shots in total and had a penalty saved by Jaume Domenech, but he headed in from two yards in the aftermath to bring up his landmark goal.

"We know all about his impressive career," Koeman said. "It is another very good achievement."

However, Valencia head coach Javi Gracia questioned whether a penalty should have been awarded for Jose Gaya's perceived push on Griezmann with Valencia a goal ahead at the time.

The referee Alejandro Hernandez Hernandez initially showed Gaya a red card before downgrading that to a yellow after checking the pitchside monitor, but Gracia feels the spot-kick should also have been rescinded at a pivotal moment in a tight game.

"Justice does not exist in football," he said. "It is always difficult to assess the referee's performance. The goal just before half-time did us a lot of damage. 

"But the team's personality was clear to see again. I am proud of my players."

Diego Simeone is hopeful Joao Felix has just suffered a knock after he was forced off in the second half of Atletico Madrid's win over Elche.

LaLiga leaders Atletico won 3-1 at Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday, with Luis Suarez scoring twice for the hosts.

Forward Joao Felix limped off to be replaced by the returning Diego Costa with 17 minutes to go.

Costa duly wrapped up the victory by winning and converting a late penalty, settling any brief nerves caused by Lucas Boye scoring a header for Elche.

"The blow [Joao Felix took] in the first half was strong and hard," Simeone said about the 21-year-old after the match.

"It was in the play in which they stopped the counter-attack with the block on Joao - he was still playing in the second half with discomfort and pain.

"I saw him working very well for the team despite being uncomfortable, but after he took a shot at goal it was noticed that he was upset.

"Let's hope it's just a knock - we understood [it would be wise] to let him rest. The game was getting complicated and we needed legs in that area of the pitch."

Suarez had gone three games without a goal before scoring the match-winning double in his 200th LaLiga appearance.

Simeone had taken the blame for the striker's dry spell ahead of the match because he put him straight back into the team after a spell out with coronavirus.

The Atletico boss added: "We understand that all players need personal treatment, because the character of each one is different.

"It's like children in families and each one is handled, like with the five I have, in a different way.

"I didn't say anything strange about Luis, he played three games in a row last week when he was coming off a 20-day break.

"I was especially happy with the second goal, he waited until the last possible moment so he did not stray offside and made sure he could be found after a good piece of play by Yannick Carrasco."

Since making his LaLiga debut in October 2014, only Barcelona's Lionel Messi (36) has scored more braces in the competition than Suarez (23).

Lionel Messi equalled Pele's one-club goals record but it was not enough for Barcelona as they were held to a 2-2 draw by Valencia's in Saturday's entertaining LaLiga clash.

The superstar forward notched his 643rd goal for the Catalan giants on the brink of half-time, scoring in the aftermath of having a penalty saved by Jaume Domenech.

That milestone goal cancelled out Mouctar Diakhaby's deserved opener for Valencia, and Ronald Araujo then put the hosts in front with an acrobatic strike - his first Barcelona goal at senior level.

But Barca could not hold on for a third straight league win - and a fifth in a row at Camp Nou - as Maxi Gomez prodded in 21 minutes from time to inflict another title blow on Ronald Koeman's men.

Koeman named an attack-minded line-up that contained just one holding midfielder and Barca were regularly caught out at the back, Marc-Andre ter Stegen bailing his side out with a good save to deny Carlos Soler.

Valencia were winless in four league games prior to this clash and were taken to extra time by lower-league side Terrassa in the Copa del Rey in midweek, but they opened the scoring in Catalonia through Diakhaby's free header in the 29th minute from a Soler corner.

Antoine Griezmann then could not beat Domenech at the end of a swift counter and Martin Braithwaite had a strong penalty appeal turned down, while Ter Stegen produced a superb stop to keep out Gomez in an end-to-end contest.

Barca were given a route back into the game when Jose Gaya was adjudged to have nudged Griezmann in the back, the decision allowed to stand following a lengthy VAR check, though Gaya's red card was reduced to a yellow on second viewing.

Messi's spot-kick was pushed to one side by Domenech, only for Jordi Alba to send a deflected cross towards the back post for the Argentina international to nod over the line from two yards for his landmark goal.

Barca were given another scare early in the second half when Denis Cheryshev sliced wide from a glorious position and, three minutes later, Araujo sent a delightful half-volley away from Domenech.

But the visitors responded through Gomez, who got in front of Oscar Mingueza to poke in Gaya's left-sided cross, and they held on for a share of the spoils - Philippe Coutinho's off-target curler the closest Barca went to winning the game late on.

Lionel Messi has equalled Pele's one-club goals haul after chalking up his 643rd for Barcelona against Valencia.

Brazil great Pele, regarded by many as the best to ever play the game, scored 643 times in just 656 matches for Santos between 1956 and 1974.

While Pele's overall goals record for his entire career is disputed, he did net 643 goals in official competition for Santos.

Some believed Pele's haul to be a world record in top-level football, though statisticians are unable to confirm this with absolute certainty.

Nevertheless, this is unlikely to detract from Messi's accomplishment, as he drew level with Pele's remarkable total after scoring with a header in first-half stoppage time on Saturday.

Having initially seen a penalty saved by Jaume Domenech, Messi got his milestone goal when he met a cross from the left and nodded home from point-blank range.

Remarkably, his latest goal was also his 450th in LaLiga, making him the first player to reach that figure for a single club in any of Europe's top five leagues.

Messi has attracted criticism this term as his performances have not been at the level many might have expected them to be.

But his latest goal took him on to six from 13 LaLiga matches in the 2020-21 campaign.

The 33-year-old scored his first Barca goal on May 1, 2005 against Albacete in LaLiga when he was 17, at the time becoming the club's youngest ever goalscorer.

He has since gone on to become Barca's all-time leading scorer, as well as LaLiga's, and has won the Ballon d'Or a record six times.

But how much longer he will remain at Camp Nou remains a topic of much debate.

Messi attempted to force a transfer away from the Blaugrana in pre-season, adamant a get-out clause in his contract provided him with the opportunity to leave on a free transfer.

But then-president Josep Maria Bartomeu stood in his way, Messi ultimately backing down as he was unwilling to drag Barca through the courts.

Media speculation continues to link Messi with an end-of-season move to reunite with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, with his Barca contract expiring in June.

Recently, Paris Saint-Germain have emerged as possible favourites to sign Messi, with Neymar having expressed a desire to play alongside his former Barca team-mate in 2021.

Zinedine Zidane is not interested in discussing a new contract with Real Madrid but is hopeful skipper Sergio Ramos will soon commit his future to the Spanish giants.

Madrid have won four games in a row ahead of Sunday's trip to Eibar to get their LaLiga title defence back on track and advance through to the last 16 of the Champions League.

Zidane, who was rumoured to be one game away from being sacked earlier this month, is under contract at the Bernabeu until the end of next season.

A number of Madrid players are also into the final 18 months of their existing deals, with the likes of Ramos, Luka Modric and Lucas Vazquez set to become free agents in 2021.

But while Zidane is not looking to open talks over fresh terms with Madrid, the Frenchman is keen for his first-team squad members to resolve their futures. 

"I have nothing in mind. I have a contract until 2022 and I will not ask for anything," he said at a news conference.

"I am fortunate to say that I am at the best club in the world. I hope the players stay."

Ramos is able to open talks with other clubs from January over a free transfer at the end of the campaign, with Paris Saint-Germain reportedly eager to snap up the centre-back.

However, Zidane expects Ramos - into his 16th season with Madrid - to prolong his stay in the Spanish capital beyond the end of 2020-21.

"He is looking well, because he is convinced that he will continue and that is the most important thing," he said. 

"I see him playing football for many years because he is someone who takes great care of himself.

"If you want to continue and take care of yourself, you have a great chance of continuing for a long time and I'm not surprised by what he does."

Isco is another player facing an uncertain future at Madrid amid suggestions he is on the radar of Premier League clubs Manchester United, Arsenal and Everton.

The 28-year-old has featured nine times in LaLiga this term but just three of those have been starts, totalling 332 minutes on the field.

He has yet to score or assist a goal in those appearances, failing to find the net from his seven shots, but Zidane insists the Spain international is not trying to force a move away.

"Isco is fine here. We have enough to think about to just focus on what we are doing," Zidane said.

Madrid will be looking to keep pace with LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid, who are three points better off at the summit having played a game less, when they take on mid-table Eibar.

The reigning champions have won 10 and lost just one of their 12 previous league meetings with Eibar, who are unbeaten in six matches in all competitions.

Zidane will not risk Eden Hazard for the match at Ipurua Municipal Stadium on the Belgium forward's latest return from injury, while Vinicius Junior is another major doubt.

"Hopefully [Hazard] will return soon. He is almost fully recovered, but he lacks match fitness. I hope he will be with the team shortly," Zidane said.

"I don't think [Vinicius] will be available because he's not feeling well. I think it's gastroenteritis. He is not comfortable. Let's see how it evolves today."

Luis Suarez scored twice as LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid secured a comfortable 3-1 home victory over Elche.

Atletico had lost the Madrid derby in their last league fixture, ending a 26-match unbeaten run in the competition.

But there was little danger of them suffering a second straight top-flight loss from the moment Suarez put them in front four minutes before half-time on Saturday.

Suarez added a second after the break as he emphatically ended a three-match run without a goal.

Lucas Boye headed in to give Elche hope, but Atletico sealed all three points when substitute Diego Costa converted a penalty with 10 minutes remaining.

Atletico thought they had won an early penalty when Joao Felix's through ball led to Suarez being tugged back by John Donald, only for a VAR check to reveal the striker had strayed offside.

Elche goalkeeper Edgar Badia used his legs to keep out a swerving drive from Marcos Llorente, who also blazed over from another opportunity later in the first half.

Badia then denied Thomas Lemar but there was nothing he could do when Suarez got a faint touch on Kieran Trippier's accurate cross to divert it into the far corner from six yards.

And it was Suarez who appeared to have put the result beyond doubt after 58 minutes, as he slid in to convert Yannick Carrasco's angled left-wing cross from close range at the far post.

Elche got back into it six minutes later when Boye headed into the roof of the net after Tete Morente did well to flick a corner into his path.

Joao Felix limped off for Atletico in the closing stages with what head coach Diego Simeone will hope is not a serious problem.

But aside from Jan Oblak denying Boye, the Joao Felix substitution was the only concern of note, one that meant Costa came off the bench to return from injury after a month out.  

The striker made a quick impression, winning a penalty when he drew a foul from Ivan Marcone before taking the spot-kick himself and sending Badia the wrong way.

Marcus Rashford is contracted to Manchester United until 2023.

But the Red Devils are still planning to renew Rashford's deal in Manchester.

Pay rise anyone?

 

TOP STORY – RASHFORD IN LINE FOR BUMPER DEAL

Manchester United are set to hand Marcus Rashford a lucrative new contract, according to the Daily Star.

Rashford has impressed on and off the pitch at Old Trafford since making his United debut in 2015.

The 23-year-old – contracted until 2023 – is in line to be rewarded with a bumper £300,000 deal.

 

ROUND-UP

- Diario AS reports Rennes and France sensation Eduardo Camavinga is edging closer to a transfer to LaLiga champions Real Madrid. The 18-year-old midfielder has also been linked to United and Paris Saint-Germain, but Madrid – also a possible destination for Juventus target Paul Pogba – are tipped to prise the Frenchman to the Spanish capital. 

Barcelona are willing to sell Philippe Coutinho, claims ARA. It comes amid the club's financial issues due to the coronavirus pandemic.

- Corriere dello Sport says Fiorentina want Napoli outcast and soon-to-be free agent Arkadiusz Milik. The Poland international has also been linked to Roma, Atletico Madrid and Juventus.

- Parma's Gervinho and Udinese star Rodrigo De Paul are among the players wanted by Inter, according to Tuttosport.

Liverpool star Mohamed Salah refused to rule out a move to LaLiga champions Real Madrid or Barcelona.

Salah has been a revelation since joining Liverpool from Serie A side Roma in 2017, spearheading the Reds to Champions League and Premier League glory.

The Egypt international's exploits have not gone unnoticed at Anfield amid speculation linking him with Spanish giants Madrid and Barca.

Asked if he could rule out a transfer to either of the LaLiga powerhouses, Salah told Diario AS: "I think Madrid and Barcelona are two top clubs. 

"Who knows what will happen in the future, but right now I am focused on winning the Premier League and the Champions League with Liverpool again."

Pressed on his future and how much longer he sees himself playing for Liverpool, Salah replied: "That's a tough question, but right now I can say that everything is in the hands of the club. 

"Of course I want to break records here and, I repeat, all the club records, but everything is in the hands of the club."

Salah has scored a joint-high 11 Premier League goals for reigning champions Liverpool this season, following his strike in the 2-1 win over rivals Tottenham midweek.

The 28-year-old has netted 14 across all competitions as leaders Liverpool prepare for Saturday's trip to Crystal Palace.

In 21 Premier League appearances in December, Salah has scored 17 goals and assisted a further nine, averaging a goal or assist every 66 minutes. It is his best goal involvement ratio in any month in which he has played more than one game, per Opta.

"I would like to break all the club records, that would be fine. But yeah, it's like I said, the team comes first before any record," Salah said. "But breaking records and winning matches, that's great too."

Liverpool top the table by three points, ahead of Tottenham after 13 games, and Salah added: "I think it is a bit early to say that [Liverpool are title favourites], but yes, we are doing well just like other teams. 

"I hope we have the best chance of winning it."

Barcelona could not compete financially with Paris Saint-Germain if the French champions approach Lionel Messi, presidential candidate Agusti Benedito has conceded.

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi failed in an attempt to engineer a move away from Camp Nou in the close season but is due to become a free agent at the end of this campaign, meaning he is able to open talks with other clubs from next month.

Manchester City and Inter have been strongly linked with the Argentina international, but reports from Spain last week suggested PSG are the frontrunners for Messi's signature, although his father and agent Jorge has since labelled that speculation "false".

Neymar recently hinted he would love PSG to bring his former team-mate to the Parc des Princes, and Benedito - in the running to succeed Josep Maria Bartomeu in January's presidential election - acknowledges Barca have a huge battle on their hands.

PSG have huge backing from their Qatari owners and are determined to build a team that can dominate in Europe.

"When I heard Neymar [say he wants to play with Messi], I said, 'Holy s***, watch out for these guys'," Benedito told Marca.

"If PSG wanted him, economically we would not be able to compete. I hope that the day will come when Messi will say that after 20 years at Barcelona, he wants to continue."

Benedito added: "We would all like him to continue at Barcelona. He is the best player in the world. I heard Messi say he wanted to leave [earlier this year] and a decision like that is not made because he got up on the wrong side of bed.

"The first thing will be to change his opinion, because if we have to compete with other teams in Europe with their eyes on Messi... if the issue is economic, we are not going to be able to."

Barca's finances have been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with the Catalan giants recently announcing salary payments to their players had been delayed.

Fellow presidential candidate Emili Rousaud last week talked up Barca's chances of keeping hold of Messi on a reduced contract, but Benedito is concerned about the state of the club's finances.

"Barcelona are going through a very, very, very difficult economic and financial situation," he said.

Ronald Koeman insists the atmosphere within Barcelona's dressing room has always been positive despite their indifferent start to the campaign.

Barca are six points adrift of leaders Atletico Madrid in LaLiga having already lost four of their 12 top-flight matches under Koeman, who replaced Quique Setien in the close season.

Los Cules were beaten by rivals Real Madrid and Atletico, as well as suffering surprise defeats to Getafe and Cadiz.

But Barca put on a much-improved showing in a 2-1 win over Real Sociedad in midweek and Koeman says wins are bound to improve the mood among the squad.

"I have always seen a good atmosphere, despite the lost games. It is easier to have an atmosphere of joy when you win," Koeman said ahead of Saturday's contest with Valencia.

"With the game without the ball we were good. Sometimes it depends on the opponent, but if you play a lot of long balls you cannot press.

"The game was good to be able to put pressure on the opponent. We did well. We liked having that energy and that pressure. It depends on the opponent, but we always want to dominate and play at the top, sometimes it works out and sometimes not.

"Hopefully we continue in this dynamic. It is important to have a home game and win.

"Sometimes it's easier, if you play well and win, the atmosphere is different. It's normal, it happens in all teams.

"I see a united group, but it's always easier for the press to get comments, because they don't see what happens in the dressing room before and after games."

Koeman had a brief spell in charge of Valencia from October 2007 to April 2008, during which time Los Che won the Copa del Rey but struggled in the league.

Reflecting on his time at the club, Koeman said: "I will not have the best memory of my career there. I made decisions, maybe I was wrong.

"It was a short stay but at least we won something. It is a complicated place, with many changes of coaches and sometimes missing peace of mind to work there."

Barca have two games before a week without fixtures for the Christmas period, but they then face a run of five matches from December 29 to January 13.

The congested fixture list will worsen if Barca win their Supercopa de Espana semi-final against Sociedad at the end of that hectic five-game run, and Koeman vented his frustration at the scheduling - impacted this term by the delay caused to last season by the coronavirus pandemic.

"I still think the same thing. The calendar is crazy. If we win the Supercopa semi-final there is one more game, many late hours," he said.

"At least in Granada [on January 9] we play in the afternoon, but we are killing the players."

That is a claim Koeman is now repeatedly making, having made the same accusation last week, and coaches from various leagues across Europe have raised similar concerns.

"On trips, we get home very late, and two days later another trip and another game," Koeman said.

"We have to solve this issue in a very tight season."

Atletico Madrid head coach Diego Simeone takes full responsibility for Luis Suarez's disappointing form after suggesting he rushed the striker back from his coronavirus-enforced lay-off.

Suarez missed four matches for Atleti, including a reunion with former side Barcelona, after contracting COVID-19 while away on international duty with Uruguay last month.

The 33-year-old marked his return to action with a goal in the 4-0 win over Cadiz but has since failed to find the net in his last three appearances, totalling 200 minutes on the pitch.

He failed to test Thibaut Courtois from his only shot in last weekend's 2-0 loss to Real Madrid and his 10 completed passes was the fewest of any Atletico player on the day.

Going further back, Suarez has scored just once in his last six club appearances in all competitions, but Simeone has faith the ex-Barcelona man can regain his best form.

"The first person responsible for his form is me," Simeone said at a news conference previewing Saturday's LaLiga clash with Elche.

"As soon as he recovered from coronavirus, we had to play him right away without any time to train. But that could prove important as it has given him a chance to find his rhythm.

"We hope to find the player this team needs - decisive, strong, good movement in the area."

Fellow striker Diego Costa is back in contention for the visit of Elche as Atleti aim to return to winning ways in LaLiga against an opponent they have defeated six games running, keeping a clean sheet in the last four of those.

The Spain international has featured just five times in all competitions this year due to injuries and a deep vein thrombosis diagnosis, which has kept him out since December 21.

"Diego trained [on Thursday] with the group and played about 20 minutes," Simeone said. "He looked well so [on Saturday] he will be with us. It is good news for him and of course the team.

"He brings something different, some added aggressiveness, which I hope he can show.

"We are having to adapt to what is happening, but with Diego I see a very positive guy who is mentally strong. We hope that when he is back on the field he can give us a lot."

Atleti's defeat to bitter rivals Real last week was their first in 27 league outings since February, a run that includes eight wins and two draws this season.

Key to the LaLiga leaders' form has been Marcos Llorente, who has been transformed into a more attack-minded player under Simeone.

Llorente thanked Simeone in an interview this week for helping to get the most out of him but the Argentine coach insists there is still more to come.

"Coaches are here to improve footballers," he said. "The biggest prize that we can win when we stop training, in addition to titles, is exceeded by the fact that footballers can say 'such a coach improved me'. 

"It is our requirement, to find how to empower our players and when we saw Marcos, when he played in training in the substitute team he always scored a goal. 

"One day, two, three, four... until I thought I had to play him in a position other than central midfield. We talked about it, we tried it, we looked for that space and that he believed it, which is the most complete. 

"We find ourselves with a humble and hard-working person and a football player in continuous growth, who has a lot to improve. You have to keep giving and improving."

Atletico will be without Ivo Grbic this weekend after the goalkeeper, who made his debut in the midweek Copa del Rey win over Cardassar, tested positive for coronavirus.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.