Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone has saluted "absolute winner" Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid's winning mentality ahead of the Supercopa de Espana final.

Madrid and Atletico go head-to-head in Jeddah on Sunday as they tussle for the first trophy of the Spanish season.

The revamped Supercopa has received plenty of criticism due to it taking place in Saudi Arabia and including teams that otherwise would not have been involved in previous years, as the competition used to be contested between the winners of the Copa del Rey and LaLiga.

Neither Madrid nor Atletico won either competition last term, yet they will play out the final, with Simeone well aware of Los Blancos' obsession with winning.

Zidane may be without several high-profile players but, after they dispatched Valencia easily, Simeone does not think such absences will be a factor.

"Madrid are a team we know very well, they have a coach who is an absolute winner," Simeone told reporters on Saturday.

"Every time they play, they transmit that they have to win and they do win. They are without [Karim] Benzema, [Gareth] Bale and [Eden] Hazard, but that doesn't change a thing, they'll be looking to field their strongest side.

"Their distribution is excellent and they'll have players arriving to join the attack from midfield.

"They've got Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo [Goes], and if they play the team will have more velocity and more possession, so we will have to think about how we can attack those positions and punish them in the way we want."

In Zidane's pre-match news conference, the Frenchman insisted he is a better coach now than when he guided Madrid to three successive Champions League crowns – beating Atletico to lift the first of those in 2015-16.

Simeone has a similar feeling for his own abilities, convinced he is getting better with age.

"It's like life itself, we improve with age," he said. "All of the experience you build up with time helps you to develop.

"I think I've grown in life and in sport, and I'm a believer that you can't really separate the two."

Zinedine Zidane believes he is a better coach now than he was when he led Real Madrid to three Champions League successes.

Zidane returned for a second spell in charge at the Santiago Bernabeu in March 2019, 10 months after departing the club in the aftermath of guiding them to a third successive continental crown.

His return has not always been plain sailing with Madrid ending last season third in LaLiga, 19 points adrift of arch-rivals Barcelona while both Spanish giants - who are tied atop the table - have been largely underwhelming this term.

He has found some joy in the Supercopa de Espana, however, with his team through to Sunday's final against Atletico Madrid following Wednesday's 3-1 defeat of Valencia.

And Zidane suggested he has learned from both his time away from the game and the club's recent, relative struggles.

He told reporters: "Yes, I think I'm better. I feel like I have developed. In life too, as a person.

"You learn from situations, from the people around you. I make sure to listen to the people who are alongside me, and my aim to is to keep on progressing."

Atleti beat Barca 3-2 in Thursday's second semi-final and Zidane is expecting a difficult encounter.

"They're a side who have always shown how strong they are," he said.

"They defend well, but they also attack very well, too. Both Atletico and Barcelona are very strong teams, so we were always going to have to be on our mettle."

Zidane refused to dwell too deeply on the story dominating the sporting agenda in Spain: Xavi's potential return to Barca as coach at the end of the season.

The Frenchman said the speculation surrounding his Barca counterpart Ernesto Valverde came with the territory.

He told reporters: "That happens to all of us as coaches. What he's going through is something we all go through as coaches."

Xavi seems set to return to Barcelona as head coach, replacing Ernesto Valverde.

Valverde is under pressure again at the helm of the LaLiga giants after Thursday's Supercopa de Espana semi-final loss to Atletico Madrid.

And, it seems Barca are wasting no time finding a replacement.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA OFFER XAVI DEAL TO REPLACE VALVERDE

Barcelona have offered Al Sadd boss Xavi a two-and-a-half-year deal to replace Valverde, according to AS.

Xavi's potential return to Camp Nou, where he won eight LaLiga titles and four Champions Leagues in a glittering playing career, is dominating headlines in Spain.

The cover of Sport reads 'Earthquake Xavi', while Marca also reports that Barcelona have offered the job to the former midfielder.

ROUND-UP

- Bruno Fernandes. Manchester United. Here we go again. Record reports Sporting CP officials met with the Premier League club with a move potentially going ahead in January. The Daily Mail says United are considering a £55m (€64.6m) move for Fernandes, who they were reportedly interested in during the close season.

- Staying at Old Trafford and The Sun reports Manchester United are eyeing a £40m move for West Ham defender Issa Diop, who is also apparently a target for Chelsea.

- Manchester United are at the centre of plenty of speculation this month, including a potential exit for Ashley Young. CalcioMercato reports Inter want the 34-year-old and the Serie A side are offering Young – who is out of contract at season's end – a deal until 2021.

- Gedson Fernandes is seemingly set for a move to London, but to which club remains to be seen. The Guardian reports West Ham fear they will miss out on the Benfica midfielder to Tottenham.

- Out of contract at the end of the season, Hugo Vallejo appears set for a Malaga exit. AS reports Real Madrid are considering making a move for the forward this month before sending the 19-year-old out on loan until the end of 2019-20. Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Valencia are also reportedly interested in Vallejo.

- Meanwhile, Barca have had an offer of €6m for midfielder Matheus Fernandes rejected by Palmeiras, according to Globo Esporte.

Ernesto Valverde appears to be running out of time at Barcelona, with Xavi reportedly poised to take over as head coach at Camp Nou.

Barcelona lost 3-2 to Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana semi-finals on Thursday, piling more scrutiny on Valverde.

Spanish media widely reported on Friday that Barcelona officials including chief executive Oscar Grau and technical secretary Eric Abidal had travelled to Doha.

The purpose of the trip was said to be a meeting with former Barcelona and Spain midfielder Xavi, who is currently in charge of Qatari club Al Sadd.

Reportedly, the meeting was scheduled in order for Barcelona to offer Xavi the position as coach for the next two seasons, starting at the end of the current campaign.

However, Spanish sports dailies Marca and AS both reported that Thursday's chaotic defeat to Atletico led Barca to propose Xavi takes over immediately, replacing Valverde.

Xavi, now 39, won eight LaLiga titles and four Champions League trophies during his time at Camp Nou.

Al Sadd issued a statement insisting Xavi remained fully focused on the team's match against Al-Rayyan on Saturday.

"The issue of Xavi going to Barcelona is normal and expected because he will be at his club and it's his first home and he must return there in the future, but as of today, Xavi is the coach of Al Sadd," general manager Turki Al-Ali said in a statement released on the club's official website.

"Xavi and his team are focusing on Saturday's match against Al-Rayyan, and we know that a club with the size and professionalism of Barcelona will take to official channels to speak of such matters."

Xavi has long been touted to follow in the footsteps of fellow former Blaugrana midfielder Pep Guardiola and take over at Barcelona.

Valverde, meanwhile, appeared to be close to losing his job at the end of last season, following Barca's capitulation in the Champions League semi-finals and a defeat to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final.

Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman was among the names linked to replacing Valverde, but the former Athletic Bilbao boss – who has guided Barca to successive LaLiga triumphs – retained his position.

Ernesto Valverde appears to be running out of time at Barcelona, with Xavi reportedly poised to take over as head coach at Camp Nou.

Barcelona lost 3-2 to Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana semi-finals on Thursday, piling more scrutiny on Valverde.

Spanish media widely reported on Friday that Barcelona officials including chief executive Oscar Grau and technical secretary Eric Abidal had travelled to Doha.

The purpose of the trip was said to be a meeting with former Barcelona and Spain midfielder Xavi, who is currently in charge of Qatari club Al Sadd.

Reportedly, the meeting was scheduled in order for Barcelona to offer Xavi the position as coach for the next two seasons, starting at the end of the current campaign.

However, Spanish sports dailies Marca and AS both reported that Thursday's chaotic defeat to Atletico led Barca to propose Xavi takes over immediately, replacing Valverde.

Xavi, now 39, won eight LaLiga titles and four Champions League trophies during his time at Camp Nou.

Al Sadd issued a statement insisting Xavi remained fully focused on the team's match against Al-Rayyan on Saturday.

"The issue of Xavi going to Barcelona is normal and expected because he will be at his club and it's his first home and he must return there in the future, but as of today, Xavi is the coach of Al Sadd," general manager Turki Al-Ali said in a statement released on the club's official website.

"Xavi and his team are focusing on Saturday's match against Al-Rayyan, and we know that a club with the size and professionalism of Barcelona will take to official channels to speak of such matters."

Xavi has long been touted to follow in the footsteps of fellow former Blaugrana midfielder Pep Guardiola and take over at Barcelona.

Valverde, meanwhile, appeared to be close to losing his job at the end of last season, following Barca's capitulation in the Champions League semi-finals and a defeat to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final.

Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman was among the names linked to replacing Valverde, but the former Athletic Bilbao boss – who has guided Barca to successive LaLiga triumphs – retained his position.

Tottenham appear close to landing a replacement for Harry Kane, while Thomas Lemar could also be set for the Premier League.

Kane needs surgery on his left hamstring and is not expected to return to training for Spurs until April.

It seems the Premier League club are nearing a move for Milan forward Krzysztof Piatek, although there are contrasting reports over the status of the deal.

And, Atletico Madrid midfielder Lemar could also be heading to London.

 

TOP STORY – SPURS CLOSE TO LANDING PIATEK AS KANE REPLACEMENT

Tottenham have agreed a deal worth £28million (€32.95m) for Piatek, according to The Sun.

However, the Mirror reports Spurs have had a loan bid for the 24-year-old Poland international rejected, although talks are continuing.

After netting 11 times in 21 games for Milan last season following a January move from Genoa, Piatek has four goals in 18 this campaign.

ROUND-UP

- Chelsea and Tottenham are both trying to sign Atletico's Lemar on loan until the end of the season, according to The Telegraph. Lemar is linked with an Atletico exit after just nine LaLiga starts this season.

- While Christian Eriksen's possible Spurs exit will dominate headlines this month, it appears the midfielder will not be heading to Old Trafford. Sky Sports reports Manchester United have ruled out making a bid for the Denmark international this month.

- Searching for a right-back, Tottenham are keen on signing Barcelona's Nelson Semedo, according to the Mirror. The position has been a problem for Spurs since Kieran Trippier's off-season move to Atletico.

- Javier Hernandez's stay at Sevilla could be coming to an end. Marca reports the club could let the forward, who has one goal in nine LaLiga games this season, leave amid apparent interest from LA Galaxy.

- Leicester City are trying to sign Juventus defender Merih Demiral, according to the Mirror. Manchester City and Everton are also reportedly interested in the Turkey international.

- Piatek aside, there may be other moves at Milan. La Gazzetta dello Sport journalist Nicolo Schira says Roma are interested in Suso and Cengiz Under could be heading to San Siro, while Milan are still eyeing Inter's Matteo Politano.

- Could David Moyes and Marouane Fellaini reunite for a third time? Sky Sports reports Moyes' West Ham are interested in signing the Shandong Luneng midfielder, who played under the Scot at Everton and Manchester United.

Luis Suarez said under-fire Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde was not to blame for the team's Supercopa de Espana collapse against Atletico Madrid.

Barca were stunned 3-2 by Atletico in the Supercopa semi-final, conceding two late goals to sensationally lose in Saudi Arabia on Thursday.

Goals from Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann cancelled out Koke's 46th-minute opener until Barca shipped twice in the final nine minutes as Atletico earned a showdown with Real Madrid.

The result plunged Valverde's future further into doubt but star forward Suarez defended the 55-year-old.

"[Valverde] is not to blame, the mistakes were ours and we can't make them," Suarez said post-match.

"I do not know if they are defeats that help us grow, [but] this defeat shows that there are things to correct.

"It shows us that there are mistakes that cannot be committed because we were in control of the game and we have allowed them to hit us on the counter-attack."

Griezmann was frustrated afterwards as the Barca forward lamented the side's errors against LaLiga rivals Atletico in Jeddah.

"I think we lost due to our own errors and they had the legs at the end," Griezmann said. "It cost us and we have to work hard in order to continue.

"We all made errors. I played a bad pass and then their goal arrived. They are errors which can cost you a Champions League or a league title."

Ernesto Valverde admitted his future would come in for fresh scrutiny after Barcelona's dramatic defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana semi-final.

Goals from Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann looked set to send Barcelona into the final, as they recovered from conceding a Koke strike in the opening 20 seconds of the second half.

But Barcelona folded in the closing 10 minutes, and a penalty from Alvaro Morata was followed by a winner from Angel Correa as Atletico, second best for almost all of the match up to then, snatched a remarkable win.

It left Diego Simeone, Atletico's hard-taskmaster coach, jumping for joy on the touchline, while Valverde was left to reflect on a damaging defeat.

He has been repairing a reputation that took a battering with Barcelona's 4-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield in the Champions League semi-finals last term, when the Reds overturned a 3-0 first-leg deficit.

But this meek surrender will not help, and Valverde said afterwards, when asked about his position: "We know what football is like and there is always instability when you lose. We will talk about this, it is inevitable.

"But I'll do my thing, which is coaching."

He added: "Of course, it was a match which we dominated. It seemed we had it in hand. It was a complete performance except in specific moments"

Valverde said Atletico throwing their quickest players forward in the closing stages "surprised" Barcelona.

"I don't think it was an accumulation of situations, but two actions that cost us dearly," he said.

He said it had been an "intense" match and that Barcelona's two disallowed goals in the second half, both after VAR reviews, had given Atletico the lifeline upon which they capitalised.

Simeone sent on Marcos Llorente for the final 18 minutes and felt he made a difference in midfield.

"From there the team looked better. It seemed that if we equalised we would win," Simeone said.

"With the best teams like Barca, Madrid, [Manchester] City ... they are on a higher level and we have to be patient. We have to play a final now."

Inter chief executive Giuseppe Marotta admitted signing Barcelona midfielder Arturo Vidal in January is a goal for the Serie A club.

Vidal, 32, has been heavily linked with a move to Inter after just four LaLiga starts this season, although he has made another 11 appearances off the bench.

Marotta said signing the Chile international, who won three straight Serie A titles playing for Juventus under now-Inter coach Antonio Conte, was a priority.

"Vidal? It is one of Inter's objectives," he told reporters on Thursday.

"In this month, the most important things close at the end of January. We are working to raise the quality level of our group.

"You need to hit important goals and this means having great difficulties."

Almost halfway through the Serie A season, Inter are top of the table, but level on points with Juve.

Vidal is just one of several possible moves for Inter, who are linked to Manchester United's Ashley Young and could sell Matteo Politano to rivals Milan.

"At the moment there are many rumours," Marotta said.

"It is needless to [present] me this or that name. We are operational."

Inter host Atalanta in Serie A action on Saturday.

Andres Iniesta believes Barcelona would not regret bringing Neymar back from Paris Saint-Germain.

Brazil star Neymar has been repeatedly linked with a Camp Nou return over the past six months, with PSG digging in during the Ligue 1 close season to ensure he stayed in Paris.

An astonishing move to the French giants in August 2017 saw Neymar bought out of his Barcelona contract for a world-record €222million, and PSG hoped he would lead them to Champions League glory.

Only this week, Neymar said he felt the longed-for European glory remained a possibility this season, and he has seen off much of the hostility from Parisian supporters that followed several months of appearing to agitate for a return to Barca.

Yet as PSG bid to scoop a third successive Ligue 1 title and brace for a Champions League last-16 clash with Borussia Dortmund, rumours linking Neymar to the Blaugrana continue to linger.

Iniesta was a team-mate of Neymar's at Barcelona. Now a Vissel Kobe player, the Spain great has no doubt Neymar would slot back in and make a big contribution if a return could be negotiated.

"He's one of the best forwards out there, not just now," Iniesta said, quoted in Marca.

"He'd be a great signing for Barcelona. Another thing is whether it's necessary or not. For me, he's one of the best and he'd be a great signing."

Barcelona have a strong array of attacking talent, with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann leading the line in Thursday's Supercopa clash against Atletico Madrid.

Messi and Suarez are both 32, however, and eventually Barcelona will need a succession plan when it comes to their vaunted attack. Neymar does not turn 28 until next month.

Iniesta remains in awe of Messi's achievements, though, saying of the six-time Ballon d'Or winner: "He keeps outdoing himself, beating records; he's more important than ever.

"It's the best news for Barcelona that he's like this. I hope that he can achieve the objectives that he has this season."

Barcelona midfielder Carles Alena has suggested he would be open to joining Real Madrid.

The 22-year-old agreed a deal last month to move to Real Betis for the rest of the season, having struggled for regular football under Ernesto Valverde at Camp Nou.

Alena will return to Barca at the end of 2019-20 but his long-term future remains in doubt.

And, while he accepts it would be a difficult decision to make, the player has refused to discount the idea of moving to arch-rivals Madrid.

"Football has many turns," he told Cadena SER when asked if he would ever play for Los Blancos. I've been a Barca fan all my life. It would be tough, but they've always taught me 'never say never'. But, for me, they are a rival team."

Alena started the LaLiga defeat to Athletic Bilbao on the opening day of the LaLiga season and played just four more times for Barca before joining Betis.

However, despite being frustrated with his lack of game time, he insists there is no bad blood with Barca boss Valverde.

"He never told me why he didn't call me up," Alena said. "But I had a very good relationship because of everything he has done for me. I hope that we meet in the future.

"I called him to say goodbye. He knew that I wanted to go. At the start of December, I was pretty sure. He knew that my decision was almost taken.

"They were complicated months, but in no moment was there a bad relationship with the coach. He decided that and he rules. I tried to get back as soon as possible, and it took a few months. It surprises you, annoys you and p***** you off a bit."

Villarreal have told French giants Lyon it will take a major offer to prise Karl Toko Ekambi away from El Madrigal this month.

With Memphis Depay injured and seemingly out for the rest of the Ligue 1 season, Lyon are seeking a replacement to strengthen their attacking options.

Ekambi, who previously played in France with Paris FC, Sochaux and Angers, has caught Lyon's attention and Spanish newspaper AS reported an initial €12million offer has been turned down.

That led Villarreal boss Javi Calleja to say on Thursday that any club wanting the striker must consider his release clause, which is said to be over €60million.

"There has been real interest," Calleja said in a news conference, according to Marca.

"The player has not trained in recent days because of physical problems, not because of this interest.

"Ekambi has a release clause, a value in the transfer market, and those that want him have to accept that."

Ekambi, 27, is a Cameroon international and joined Villarreal from Angers in 2018.

He was Villarreal's leading scorer in LaLiga last season and has netted six goals in 18 league appearances this term.

Lyon are toiling in 12th place in Ligue 1 at the midway point of the season, seven points adrift of the top three.

Espanyol have completed the signing of Raul de Tomas from Benfica for an initial fee of €20million.

The 25-year-old has signed a six-and-a-half-year deal to become the first arrival since head coach Abelardo took charge last month.

The deal also includes €2m in add-ons and Benfica will retain a 20 per cent sell-on clause for the forward.

The fee smashes the club's previous transfer record of €10.5m, which they paid to sign Matias Vargas from Velez Sarsfield last July.

De Tomas, who progressed through the Real Madrid youth system, enjoyed productive loan spells with Real Valladolid and Rayo Vallecano before joining Benfica on a five-year deal in July.

However, he managed only seven appearances in Portugal's top flight and did not score a single goal.

Espanyol were reportedly keen to sign him last year as a replacement for Borja Iglesias, who joined Real Betis in a €28m deal.

Sevilla were also said to be interested in bringing him back to Spain this month after allowing Munas Dabbur to sign for Hoffenheim.

De Tomas, who scored 14 goals in 33 appearances for Rayo in LaLiga last season, will be tasked with finding the goals to help drag Espanyol out of the relegation zone.

Espanyol have scored just 14 goals in 19 league games this season, two of which came in the 2-2 draw with city rivals Barcelona last Saturday.

Abelardo's side are bottom of LaLiga on 11 points, four adrift of safety, having won just twice all season in the top flight.

Massimiliano Allegri is without a club since leaving Serie A champions Juventus at the end of 2018-19.

However, Allegri could be nearing a return to management sooner rather than later.

The Italian is believed to be interested in taking charge of Manchester United.

 

TOP STORY – ALLEGRI WANTS UNITED JOB

Massimiliano Allegri is interested in becoming Manchester United manager as pressure mounts on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, according to the Daily Mail.

Allegri has been rumoured to be of interest to Bayern Munich after leaving Serie A champions Juve at the end of last season, while the Italian was also linked to Arsenal prior to Mikel Arteta's appointment.

However, he is reportedly holding out for the United job should Solskjaer be sacked. Ex-Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino is also believed to be monitoring the situation.

 

ROUND-UP

- ElDesmarque claims MLS duo Inter Miami and LA Galaxy are ready to vie for the signature of Real Madrid's Gareth BaleChelsea, though, have also been linked with the former Tottenham star.

- The race is heating up for Milan striker Krzysztof Piatek. Struggling for goals and with Zlatan Ibrahimovic back at San Siro, the Poland international is wanted by Tottenham, reports The Guardian and Calciomercato. Spurs want to boost their attacking options following Harry Kane's injury. Aston Villa have also tabled a bid for Piatek, but Calciomercato claims he is holding out for a bigger club.

- While Piatek could prove a difficult signing, Villa are closing in on Milan goalkeeper Pepe Reina. Calciomercato, Gazzetta dello Sport and Tuttomercatoweb say former Liverpool keeper Reina has agreed a contract with the Premier League side until the end of the season.

- The Mirror reports United are in the market to sign a defender on loan after Harry Maguire's injury. Maguire – the world's most expensive defender – is facing a spell on the sidelines due to a muscle tear.

United are also weighing up a move for Ajax and Netherlands star Donny van de Beek, reports The Telegraph. With Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba injured, the Red Devils are in need of midfield reinforcements. Van de Beek has previously been linked to Real Madrid.

- AS claims Atletico Madrid are looking at Napoli striker Arkadiusz Milik as an alternative to Paris Saint-Germain's Edinson Cavani. Out of contract at season's end, Cavani is reportedly poised to make the move to Atletico, however, United and Arsenal are also interested.

- Gianluca Di Marzio says Inter winger Matteo Politano has agreed to join city rivals Milan. Struggling for game time with the Nerazzurri, Politano's agent met with Milan's management on Wednesday as a shock switch nears.

Chelsea are preparing a £40million bid for West Ham defender Issa Diop, according to the Express. London rivals Tottenham are also reportedly interested.

Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde said he is not thinking about Arturo Vidal leaving the LaLiga champions amid links to Inter and Manchester United.

Vidal has slipped down the pecking order since Frenkie de Jong's arrival from Ajax, prompting speculation over his future at Camp Nou, where he has only started four LaLiga matches this season.

The 32-year-old Vidal has been heavily linked to a reunion with former Juventus head coach Antonio Conte at Serie A side Inter, while struggling Premier League giants United are reportedly interested.

Valverde addressed the rumours ahead of Thursday's Supercopa de Espana semi-final against Atletico Madrid in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

"We're not thinking about him going to another team," Valverde told a news conference. "We'll see tomorrow [Thursday]. In principle he's with us. No clues."

Pressed on reported interest from England and Italy, Valverde replied: "Arturo Vidal plays for us and tomorrow he'll be on the pitch or on the bench.

"We don't pay any attention to other clubs being interested in our players."

Vidal swapped Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich for Barcelona in 2018 and the Chilean has since won LaLiga and the Supercopa de Espana.

He has scored six LaLiga goals in 15 matches this season, while the veteran has amassed 20 appearances across all competitions.

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