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.

Liverpool are reportedly interested in Sergio Ramos, while Real Madrid have a successor for Zinedine Zidane lined up.

Premier League champions Liverpool are linked with centre-backs due to long-term injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez.

And Ramos is apparently a target.

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL INTERESTED IN RAMOS

Liverpool are interested in Real Madrid defender Ramos, according to El Chiringuito.

The 34-year-old's future at Madrid is uncertain with his contract expiring at the end of the season.

Also at Liverpool, Fabrizio Romano reports they are yet to open talks to sign Lille defender Sven Botman.

 

ROUND-UP

- Zidane was under pressure at Real Madrid earlier in the season, and the LaLiga giants have his replacement in mind. AS reports Raul – who is in charge of Real Madrid Castilla – is seen as the natural heir to the Frenchman.

Christian Eriksen is expected to leave Inter, but just where to remains to be seen. CalcioMercato reports the Serie A giants are yet to receive an offer for the midfielder, who has been linked to Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal.

- With Diego Costa having departed, Atletico Madrid are said to be looking for another forward. The Daily Mail reports Napoli striker Arkadiusz Milik is at the top of their list, while Espanyol's Raul de Tomas and Real Betis' Loren Moron are of interest.

Manchester City are linked to Barcelona star Lionel Messi, but they may have a younger version to target. talkSPORT reports the Premier League club are plotting a move for 17-year-old Estudiantes winger Dario Sarmiento, who has been dubbed "mini Messi".

- Sergio Romero looks set to leave Manchester United. The Manchester Evening News reports the goalkeeper has bid farewell to his team-mates ahead of an expected move to Boca Juniors.

Is a Manchester United reunion on the cards for Cristiano Ronaldo?

Ronaldo's future at Juventus has dominated headlines this season.

But returning to Old Trafford is reportedly not in the pipeline.

 

TOP STORY – NO UNITED REUNION FOR RONALDO

Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo will not be returning to Manchester United, according to journalist Fabrizio Romano.

A report earlier this month claimed United were looking to re-sign Ronaldo, who won three Premier League titles and the Champions League in six years at Old Trafford before joining Real Madrid in 2009.

But Romano says United are focusing on different players and not Ronaldo – also a reported target for Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain.

ROUND-UP

Barcelona are monitoring Hoffenheim centre-back Melayro Bogarde, claims Sky Italia. The 18-year-old has also captured the attention of Milan.

- Calciomercato reports Milan want to sign Real Madrid's Lucas Vazquez at the end of the season. Vazquez is out of contract following the 2020-21 campaign.

Everton are in pole position to sign Juventus outcast Sami Khedira, says Calciomercato. The German midfielder looks set to leave the Serie A champions. Carlo Ancelotti's Everton have also been linked with Madrid midfielder Isco. It comes as Football Insider claims the Toffees are eyeing Tottenham trio Dele Alli, Harry Winks and Paulo Gazzaniga.

- The Express reports Liverpool could sell duo Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri in January. Origi and Shaqiri have struggled for regular game time at Anfield, where the Reds are desperate to bolster their defence amid an injury crisis. Liverpool have been linked with Schalke centre-back Ozan Kabak and Ajax's Perr Schuurs.

- Estadio Deportivo claims Real Betis are eyeing Madrid winger Takefusa Kubo, who has struggled for game time on loan at Villarreal.

Milan are a "serious candidate" to sign Arsenal forward Nicolas Pepe, reports Milan Live. The Rossoneri are considering an initial loan offer.

Sergio Ramos suffered an injury during the first half of the Nations League match between Spain and Germany in Seville. 

The Real Madrid captain hurt his hamstring after playing a long pass forward and was replaced by Eric Garcia 43 minutes in. 

Spain had already seen Sergio Canales go off with a similar complaint just 12 minutes into the contest. 

Despite the injury issues, Luis Enrique's side led 3-0 at half-time in the decisive Group A4 match through goals from Alvaro Morata, Ferran Torres and Rodri. 

Any injury to Ramos would be a major concern for Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane ahead of a challenging run of fixtures

The champions return to LaLiga action at Villarreal on Saturday before they head to Inter for matchday four of the Champions League group stage. 

Madrid then face a further four games, including clashes with Shakhtar Donetsk, Sevilla and Borussia Monchengladbach, before the scheduled derby with Atletico Madrid on December 13. 

Ramos missed the reverse fixture against Shakhtar on October 21, a match Madrid lost 3-2 after falling 3-0 down in the first half at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano.

There was further bad news for Zidane in Paris too, as another of his centre-back options in Raphael Varane was withdrawn at half-time during France's meeting with Sweden.

Les Bleus boss Didier Deschamps told M6: "[Lucas] Hernandez and Varane have come off because they have small problems."

Ronald Koeman says his decision to name Lionel Messi on the bench for Barcelona's LaLiga clash with Real Betis was down to the forward carrying a knock.

Messi was absent from Barca's starting line-up for the first time during Koeman's 10-game reign yet still managed to have a major say in his side's 5-2 victory at Camp Nou.

The Argentina international had failed to assist a goal or score from open play in six league matches before Saturday's victory.

It was the first time he had been benched for a league game since September 2019, but Koeman insists he was left out purely for fitness reasons.

"We talked yesterday," Koeman said to Movistar Plus. "Leo came out of the game against Dynamo Kiev with some discomfort and was not in a position to play from the start today.

"We had to put him on the bench. If he has no problems then he plays from the beginning. Today he could not."

Messi was brought on at half-time and scored a brace as a substitute for the fifth time in his career and the first time since May 2013 – also against Betis.

"I have no doubts about him," Koeman said. "I know him well and see him train every day."

Barca went into half-time level after their academy product Antonio Sanabria cancelled out Ousmane Dembele's strike, roughly 15 minutes after Antoine Griezmann had a penalty saved.

Messi inspired his side to a first win in five league games, however, by playing a pivotal part in Griezmann's strike and converting a penalty awarded for Aissa Mandi's handball.

Mandi was sent off but Loren Moreno scored to make things interesting, only for Messi's first open-play goal this term and Pedri's maiden LaLiga strike to settle things.

"It was an important victory for us because we needed the points," Koeman said. "I'm happy because we created a lot of chances, had opportunities to score and did score.

"Luckily, we scored in the second half because the first half wasn't fair. Conceding a goal against a team with 10 men also isn't good, but it was a deserved victory."

Griezmann missed three big chances in the first half, as well as a penalty, which ex-Barca stopper Claudio Bravo did well to keep out.

However, he scored and assisted a goal in the same Barca game for the first time this calendar year and Koeman was pleased with the France international's overall display.

"I hope to see him continue working like this," he said. "To miss opportunities, you have to be there. His character must be highlighted because he is always there.

"He knows perfectly well that he missed a penalty, but the important thing is that he always shows himself and that type of character is important."

Asked for an update on fellow attacker Ansu Fati, who was withdrawn for Messi at the interval, Koeman said: "He had discomfort and we did not want to risk him."

Lionel Messi scored twice and played a key part in another goal in Barcelona's 5-2 LaLiga win over 10-man Real Betis after being left out of Ronald Koeman's starting line-up for the first time.

Barca assistant Alfred Schreuder put the absence of Messi, who has struggled for form this season, down to a lack of fitness as he started a league game on the bench for the first time since September 2019.

The mercurial forward was brought on at half-time with the game poised at 1-1 after Ousmane Dembele's strike was cancelled out by Barca academy product Antonio Sanabria, either side of an Antoine Griezmann penalty miss.

Messi paved the way for Griezmann's goal 194 seconds into the second half, then scored a penalty after Aissa Mandi was dismissed for handling the ball on the line and doubled his tally late on to kill off Betis following Loren Moron's strike.

Pedri then capped a much-improved display for Koemen's side with a fifth goal late on as they secured a first league win in five on Saturday.

Barca had made their worst start to a league season after six games in the three-points-per-win era but made a bright start against Betis, with Griezmann firing wide from 12 yards and Fati curling a shot off target.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen, making his first league appearance of the season, kept out William Carvalho's header before Ansu Fati and Griezmann wasted more presentable opportunities.

However, the breakthrough came 22 minutes in, as Dembele brought the ball inside Alex Moreno and beat Claudio Bravo, who got a touch to the shot but could not keep it out.

Griezmann then hit the post and was denied by Bravo from the spot after Mandi fouled Fati, and Betis were level when Sanabria guided in Cristian Tello's cross on the brink of half-time.

Messi was brought on for Fati at the break and had an instant impact, smartly dummying Jordi Alba's cross for Griezmann to slot into an unguarded net behind him.

After a lengthy VAR check, Mandi was deemed to have blocked Dembele's shot on the line with his arm and Messi had no trouble converting his fourth penalty of the season.

Moron gave the visitors a lifeline by blasting a shot past Ter Stegen after Gerard Pique flicked the ball into his path, but that proved nothing more than a consolation thanks to Messi's powerful left-footed drive and Pedri's close-range finish.

Lionel Messi was named among Barcelona's substitutes for Saturday's LaLiga contest against Real Betis.

The absence of the captain from Ronald Koeman's starting XI at Camp Nou was a peculiar one given Barca have failed to win their past four matches in Spain's top flight, although reports in Spain suggest he is not being risked due to a slight ankle problem.

Messi had previously started every game in LaLiga and the Champions League under Koeman, who named Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele and Ansu Fati in his starting line-up.

Messi has regularly found himself in the spotlight since failing to engineer a move away from Barca in the past transfer window, particularly given he is yet to score from open play or provide an assist in LaLiga this term - though he has attempted more shots (28) than any other player in the competition.

On Friday, Koeman defended Messi against claims the Argentine was not working hard enough for the team following viral footage from Barca's midweek win over Dynamo Kiev, which showed him failing to press the opposition in second-half injury time. 

In that game, Messi had more shots (six) and created more chances (four) than any other player in the match, but he also lost possession more frequently than anyone else (20 times) without once winning it back.

"I didn't seem him [walking] and I'm not interested in this because I don't see him walking," Koeman said. "If you want to start a controversy around this point, it's your problem.

"Messi is mentally good, enjoying this sport. He's a winner and sometimes you go through moments when the ball doesn't go in, but he looks really focused.

"I think Messi still has so many qualities. He's very important in our game."

Last weekend's 1-1 draw at 10-man Deportivo Alaves saw Barca equal their lowest tally of points through six games in LaLiga.

Ronald Koeman has hit back at suggestions Lionel Messi is not working hard enough for Barcelona following criticism of his efforts against Dynamo Kiev.

Messi scored a penalty to help the Catalan giants to a 2-1 victory at Camp Nou on Wednesday, a result that left them three points clear at the top of Champions League Group G.

A clip of the Argentina star failing to press the Dynamo defenders in second-half injury time went viral after the match, though, as viewers called the forward's work rate into question.

Messi had more shots (six) and created more chances (four) than any other player in the match, but he also lost possession more frequently than anyone else (20 times) without once winning it back.

His form has been scrutinised ever since he failed to engineer a transfer away from Barca in August and September. Despite attempting more shots (28) than any other player in LaLiga, he has yet to score from open play in the competition in 2020-21 or provide an assist in his six appearances.

Koeman, however, says out-of-context footage is no way to judge a player's effectiveness and insists Messi remains an essential player.

"I didn't seem him [walking] and I'm not interested in this because I don't see him walking," the Barca head coach said on Friday. "If you want to start a controversy around this point, it's your problem.

"Messi is mentally good, enjoying this sport. He's a winner and sometimes you go through moments when the ball doesn't go in, but he looks really focused on that subject.

"I think Messi still has so many qualities. He's very important in our game.

"He scored the penalty and we're used to him making the difference here, and he's still a very decisive player.

"You said [the footage was from] the 93rd minute... there are pictures of anyone, of me when I'm sitting down, or annoyed. It seems we should be more aware of our image than our work. I don't agree with that. 

"I think these players, like those of my era, have the same effort as us. They work in training, they want to win and it annoys them when they don't win. If it were not like this, it'd be because my work isn't working."

Barca face Real Betis at Camp Nou on Saturday, looking to record just their third league win of the season.

Veteran winger Joaquin caused a stir this week when he claimed he would not even hire Koeman "as kit man" after a difficult spell working under him at Valencia.

Asked about those comments, Koeman said: "I understand it's a really interesting topic for you.

"If he speaks, it's his problem. I'm focused on the game and not individual things that happened many years ago."

Marcos Llorente and Luis Suarez earned Atletico Madrid a 2-0 win over 10-man Real Betis at Wanda Metropolitano as Diego Simeone's men made it a club-record 21 LaLiga games without defeat.

Atleti lost 4-0 to Bayern Munich on Wednesday - their joint-heaviest defeat under Simeone - but were back to their solid defensive selves in Saturday's clash, which was won with two second-half goals.

After a balanced opening 45 minutes in the Spanish capital it took just 19 seconds for Llorente to open the scoring in the second half with a smart finish from a tight angle.

Suarez added a late second to seal a victory that lifts Atletico up to third after Betis had been reduced to 10 men for Martin Montoya's red card offence.

 

 

Diego Simeone trusts Atletico Madrid to show their character and bounce back from a heavy loss to Bayern Munich when they take on Real Betis on Saturday. 

Atletico suffered their first defeat of the 2020-21 season on Tuesday, going down 4-0 to Bayern in their Champions League Group A opener at the Allianz Arena – their joint-heaviest defeat of Simeone's nine-year tenure. 

Taking on Betis at the Wanda Metropolitano is their next task, and by avoiding defeat they would make it a club-record 21 games unbeaten in LaLiga. 

Manuel Pellegrini's team undoubtedly pose a threat, though. They have had a league-high 76 shots on goal this season, while the 57 chances they have created is only matched by Real Madrid. 

However, Atleti have conceded just one goal in their four LaLiga games this term and Simeone is expecting them to produce a positive response after the disappointment of their defeat to Bayern. 

"I absolutely trust the team, despite the painful, heavy defeat in Munich," Simeone told a news conference on Friday. 

"I got a lot of positive things from the game and I totally believe in the team we have. 

"I see them play with great enthusiasm, with great intensity and eager to be the protagonists. 

"Tomorrow we will see it [the team's personality]. I absolutely believe in my players, I know their quality. We face a team that with Manuel have improved a lot, especially their enthusiasm, defence, and the confidence you can see in Betis beyond the results. 

"They won twice away from home, so they are a dangerous team. Maybe, if I am not wrong, they are one of the teams who have created the most chances in LaLiga." 

Sergio Ramos defended referee Ricardo de Burgos Bengoetxea and the officials after Real Madrid beat Real Betis 3-2 through a contentious late penalty.

Ramos gave Madrid all three points from the spot in the 82nd minute, Marc Bartra adjudged to have handled in the area following a VAR review.

It did appear as though Bartra may have been pushed into the ball by Borja Mayoral, with Betis unfortunate to suffer their first defeat after two successive wins under Manuel Pellegrini.

Earlier Aissa Mandi and William Carvalho had turned the game in Betis' favour following Federico Valverde's opener but Emerson conceded an own goal three minutes after the second-half restart and was then sent off before the game's controversial finish.

"I can't comment on specific incidents," Ramos said to Madrid's official website.

"From what we've been told it was a clear penalty, but there's nothing that can be done about it now.

"Sometimes they help us and sometimes they go against us, but that's football. The referee is there to do the best he possibly can and I don't think it's ever intentional."

Madrid have four points from two games, with their victory at the Benito Villamarin following a 0-0 draw with Real Sociedad.

Ramos added: "We were very good for the first 15 minutes. We dominated the game up until the first goal, which gave us confidence but in the end, we had to dig in.

"If you keep giving the ball to quality teams who like to have possession, they will create chances and you run the risk of them scoring goals.

"The most important thing was our mentality and the team came out hungry to come back, which is exactly what we did. We managed to level it up quickly to get right back in the game.
 
"It serves as a lesson for us. We're not going to come from behind in every game. The other day we played really well but just lacked a bit of an edge. 

"We created a lot of chances today and it was a fantastic second half, we were dominant and it's clinched us the three points which will do us the world of good."

 

Zinedine Zidane claimed his 100th LaLiga victory as Real Madrid head coach on Saturday.

Zidane reached the century milestone in Madrid's thrilling 3-2 win over 10-man Real Betis.

The French great, who celebrated his second LaLiga title in charge of Madrid last season, achieved the feat in 147 games.

Zidane has the second-most league victories in Madrid's history, behind Miguel Munoz (257).

In his second stint at the Santiago Bernabeu, Zidane – whose first win came in January 2016 – has seen his Madrid team score 342 goals while only conceding 142.

Madrid earned their first win of the 2020-21 season, following last week's stalemate against Real Sociedad.

After Federico Valverde's 14th-minute opener for Madrid, Betis turned the match on its head with two goals in three minutes via Aissa Mandi and William Carvalho prior to half-time.

Barcelona-owned Emerson scored an own goal three minutes into the second half before being sent off with 23 minutes remaining, and Madrid made the most of their numerical advantage when captain Sergio Ramos converted an 82nd-minute penalty.

Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane has no plans to sign new players before the transfer window shuts following his team's thrilling 3-2 win over Real Betis.

Sergio Ramos scored a late penalty as LaLiga champions Madrid claimed their first win of the 2020-21 season at 10-man Betis on Saturday.

After Federico Valverde's 14th-minute opener, Betis turned the match on its head with two goals in three minutes via Aissa Mandi and William Carvalho prior to half-time.

Barcelona-owned Emerson scored an own goal three minutes into the second half before being sent off with 23 minutes remaining, and Madrid made the most of their numerical advantage when Ramos converted an 82nd-minute penalty.

Zidane was asked about Madrid's transfer activity pre-game, with the Spanish giants quiet since the market re-opened, having allowed the likes of Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez and Brahim Diaz to leave.

Quizzed again on possible new signings post-match, Zidane told reporters: "No. We spoke about this before. I'm happy with the squad that I've got.

"We are what we are and we're going to try to have a successful season."

Reflecting on the match itself following Madrid's goalless draw against Real Sociedad in their season opener, Zidane said: "When you're behind it's difficult to change the dynamics of the game but we managed it today. It's crucial to do that every once in a while.

"We had a lot of chances, and people we talk about how we don't score enough but today we hit three and could have had more. I'm very proud of all the players, they're working brilliantly. We have to keep it up."

"The referee is there to review the action," added Zidane after Betis defender Marc Bartra was penalised for handball. "I think that in the end it's just what happened. He's in charge. I never get involved with the referees and I'm not going to get involved today. The most important thing for us is the game we played at a difficult ground.

"We can be happy with the work done, we had to work hard for it and we managed to take all three points, which is the most important thing."

"In the end it was a very complicated, difficult game," he said. "The players have given their all. It's three very important points for us at a complicated ground and against a team who have just won their first two games. We are happy. We know there is a long way to go and that we can and will improve."

Zidane also handed a rare start to out-of-favour forward Luka Jovic, who continues to be linked with a loan move away from the Santiago Bernabeu.

Jovic – playing alongside Karim Benzema – was tripped when through on goal as Emerson was shown a red card past the hour-mark, and Zidane said: "What I was looking for was to play in the opposition's half with a different formation.

"We can play in different ways and one of them is with the two forwards. We can be happy with the game because in the end we got all three points."

Sergio Ramos' late penalty secured Real Madrid their first win of the 2020-21 LaLiga season as Los Blancos won 3-2 at 10-man Real Betis, for whom Barcelona-owned Emerson endured something of a nightmare.

Zinedine Zidane's men began their title defence with an underwhelming 0-0 stalemate with Real Sociedad, and while they were only marginally better in Seville, they just about made the most of their numerical advantage.

Madrid initially looked good value for their lead when Federico Valverde prodded them in front, but Betis showed excellent resilience to turn it around.

Aissa Mandi and William Carvalho did the damage in a three-minute salvo, the latter netting in successive games having not scored in his first 57 outings for the club.

Things began to look up for Madrid early in the second half when Emerson found his own net before then getting sent off, and Los Blancos completed the win thanks to Ramos' spot-kick eight minutes from time.

Marcelo will miss Real Madrid's trip to Real Betis after a back injury stopped him from travelling for Saturday's LaLiga fixture.

The Brazil international was initially named in Zinedine Zidane's 22-man squad for the game but was forced to withdraw at the last minute.

In a short statement on the club's website, Madrid revealed Marcelo would not be involved after "feeling discomfort in his back", meaning he has remained in the Spanish capital.

The 32-year-old defender was an unused substitute for the reigning champions' opening outing of the new campaign, watching on from the bench as Zidane's side drew 0-0 at Real Sociedad.

Having played the full game at the Reale Arena last weekend, Ferland Mendy seems set to continue on the left side of Madrid's defence against Betis.

As well as Marcelo, Madrid are also missing Marco Asensio and Eden Hazard. However, Isco and Lucas Vazquez could feature in Seville after recovering from injuries.

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