LaLiga has found "no evidence" that Cadiz's Juan Cala racially abused Valencia's Mouctar Diakhaby.

Play was halted during the first half of Sunday's clash between the sides following an altercation involving Cala and Diakhaby, after which the Valencia player and his team-mates left the pitch.

Diakhaby did not return for the remainder of the game, which resumed after a 20-minute delay, while Cala was substituted at half-time.

In a video posted on Twitter, Diakhaby said Cala called him "negro de mierda" which translates as "black s***".

Cala maintained his innocence at a subsequent news conference, insisting he had simply told Diakhaby to "leave me in peace".

The Spanish top-flight's governing body released a statement on Friday after concluding its investigation into the incident, which included the use of lip reading experts.

"After the analysis of the material, it is concluded that no evidence has been found... that the player Juan Torres Ruiz (Juan Cala) insulted Mouctar Diakhaby in the terms denounced," it read.

"Specifically, the audiovisual and digital files available have been examined, the audio of the meeting, the images broadcast and what was disseminated on the different social networks have been analysed.

"In order to complement the report, a specialised company has been hired, which has carried out a lip reading analysis of the conversations and a study of the behaviour of the players Juan Torres Ruiz and Mouctar Diakhaby.

"LaLiga has shared these reports with the clubs involved and the relevant authorities, so that they form part of those ongoing investigations.

"LaLiga reiterates its condemnation against racism in all its forms and maintains its commitment to permanently fight against any type of demonstration in this regard, which has materialised in the presentation of numerous complaints of hate crimes, including as a private accusation, in previous proceedings."

The Spanish Football Federation is also looking into the matter.

Valencia have reiterated their support for their player Mouctar Diakhaby after Cadiz's Juan Cala angrily denied racially abusing the defender.

Play was stopped during the first half of Cadiz's 2-1 LaLiga win over Valencia on Sunday following an altercation between Cala and Diakhaby, after which the latter player and his team-mates left the field.

Valencia returned to resume the game 20 minutes later without Diakhaby, and Cala was substituted at half-time.

Los Che captain Jose Luis Gaya said Diakhaby had been subjected to "a very ugly insult", with the club's president Anil Murthy condemning an "extremely serious racial insult".

In a video posted to his Twitter page on Tuesday, Diakhaby said Cala called him "negro de mierda" which translates as "black s***".

However, at a news conference, during which he repeatedly claimed he was at the centre of a public "lynching", Cala stated he merely told Diakhaby to "leave me in peace".

The 31-year-old former Sevilla, Getafe and Las Palmas centre-back also suggested Diakhaby might have "misheard or has invented something" and decried the episode as "a circus" – all of which prompted an official response from Valencia.

"Valencia CF are deeply saddened by statements made by Cadiz CF player Juan Cala this Tuesday, in which 48 hours later, he denied racially insulting Mouctar Diakhaby during the LaLiga match played last Sunday at the Ramon de Carranza," a club statement read.

The statement was tweeted with a caption of "JUAN CALA, WE DON'T BELIEVE YOU".

Valencia added in their response: "Cala has missed a great opportunity to accept his mistake and apologise to the player affected. Instead of doing this, he attacked both Diakhaby and other members of Valencia CF.

"Valencia CF wish to reiterate that we believe our player and back him completely. After the threats made by Cala in his press conference this Tuesday, April 6, the club, president Anil Murthy and Mouctar Diakhaby himself remain firm in the conviction to fight to the end, wherever necessary, on the matter for the good of football and society.

"Valencia CF will not stop fighting for an improvement in protocol and in the battle against racism in football."

In his video statement on Tuesday, Diakhaby said he felt "very calm" and thanked team-mates and Valencia's backroom staff for their "solidarity and support".

"In Cadiz on Sunday a player insulted me, the words are 'negro de mierda'," he said. “The player said that to me, and that is intolerable. I cannot accept that.

"You have seen all my reactions, that cannot happen in normal life, and above all in football, which is a sport of respect.

"Me and my team-mates decided to go to the dressing room, a good decision. Then a Cadiz player asked a Valencia player that if Cala said sorry would we return to the pitch.

"We said no, things are not like that. When something happens, you cannot just apologise and move on. I feel good today, but it hurt me, a lot. I expect LaLiga will issue punishments, and have proof, so that it can all be clarified."

On Monday, LaLiga president Javier Tebas said his organisation would seek to "clarify" the incident because "we do not want any racism in our football".

However, a day later, Cala's latest intervention appears to have inflamed matters.

"I am in a state of shock, I am being accused of something I know nothing of," Cala said.

"There was a clash between us, and I told him 'leave me in peace'. I don't know what Diakhaby thought he heard, if he misheard or has invented something. I just told him to leave me in peace.

"Things are said on the pitch, I am a centre-half and have been involved in thousands of clashes in games. It is normal, part of football. But I would never, never cross the red line I am being accused of.

"This has all become a circus. I will take legal action against all the people who have tried to play with my honour. My lawyers are compiling the information."

Cala explained he would like to meet Diakhaby and discuss the matter in person.

"I would have no problem sitting down with Diakhaby and I could explain to him that I did not say that," he said.

"I could tell him that there is no racism in Spanish football, between players. Each team has five or six players of colour. I am in favour of supporting the fight against racism, but for me there is no racism between players in Spanish football."

Cala added: "All types of people - Chinese people, African people - have sent me messages of support.

"Nobody in my 15 years of football can accuse me of what I am being accused of now. I have had a hard time; my family, too, have received many threats over social media. But I am relaxed as I am innocent of what I am accused of."

Valencia president Anil Murthy has called on LaLiga to do more in the fight against racism after Mouctar Diakhaby was subjected to what he described as an "extremely serious racial insult" against Cadiz.

The top-flight meeting on Sunday – which finished 2-1 to Cadiz – was stopped for 20 minutes after Valencia's players left the field following an altercation between Diakhaby and Cadiz defender Juan Cala.

Valencia's players subsequently walked off the pitch, before returning to the field without Diakhaby, who asked to be taken off.

After the match had restarted, Valencia tweeted their version of events, stating Diakhaby had suffered a "racist insult".

Cadiz issued a statement following the game, insisting any form of racism was not tolerated.

They also added they had no doubts over the honesty of their squad, with Cala having been picked up by television cameras pleading his innocence during the game.

Cadiz coach Alvaro Cervera said: "I saw the same as you did. They left the field alongside the referee because they said that Cala had insulted one of their players.

"Cala says that at no point did he insult the opposition player."

Cadiz confirmed on Monday that Cala would address the media on the subject after training on Tuesday. 

Speaking alongside Diakhaby in a video posted on Valencia's official website, Murthy said: "Yesterday, in our game against Cadiz, we witnessed a flagrant incident of racism. 

"There is no other way to describe it. Our player, Mouctar Diakhaby, was the recipient of an extremely serious racial insult by Juan Cala.

"Although Cala may deny it, we believe Mouctar completely. This type of behaviour should not be tolerated in football and in society in general, and we at Valencia condemn racism in any form. We fully support our player.

"There should be no doubt that Valencia will defend Mouctar Diakhaby to the fullest, and fight to ensure that such lamentable events are not repeated."

Valencia captain Jose Luis Gaya said the team had been told they would be penalised if they did not return to finish the game – a claim backed up by head coach Javi Gracia.

Murthy described Sunday's incident as a "step back in the fight against racism" and has demanded LaLiga change the rules to better protect those who suffer racist abuse.

"We spoke with LaLiga this morning to encourage them to also see their investigation through to the end," he added. "This incident cannot be left behind, and cannot be repeated with any other player for any other team.

"We are saddened that, following the incident, there was no reaction to stop the game, and that it was our players who were the ones to leave the field of play. There cannot be a lack of action in light of these types of situations.

"From now on, we would like to see some kind of reaction to change these protocols, in order to protect those who are vulnerable. If we don't change this, then it will give a bad example to everybody.

"We are proud of the reaction from our team, and we still do not understand why Diakhaby, the recipient of this racial insult, received a yellow card.

"We also do not understand why the players had to return to the pitch due to the regulations not protecting the victims and the team in such cases.

"This must change. Changes have been made in other leagues, and now the same must be done in Spain. 

"We cannot turn a blind eye to something as serious as racism. It is time for a change, and Valencia will go all the way in our support of our player and the fight against racism. A step back in the fight against racism was taken yesterday."

Juan Cala will speak to the media on Tuesday following allegations of racism by Valencia's Mouctar Diakhaby, his club Cadiz have confirmed.

Sunday's LaLiga meeting between the sides – which finished 2-1 to Cadiz – was stopped for 20 minutes after Valencia's players left the field following an altercation between Diakhaby and Cala.

Gabriel Paulista and Kevin Gameiro attempted to defuse the situation before Diakhaby explained his version of events to referee David Medie Jimenez.

Valencia's players subsequently walked off the pitch, before returning to the field without Diakhaby, who asked to be taken off.

After the match had restarted, Valencia tweeted their version of events, stating Diakhaby had suffered a "racist insult".

Following the game, Cadiz issued a statement on their club website, insisting any form of racism was not tolerated.

However, they also added they had no doubts over the honesty of their squad, with Cala having been picked up by television cameras pleading his innocence during the game.

Posting on their official Twitter account on Monday, Cadiz confirmed Cala will address the media following training on Tuesday.

Cadiz have condemned any form of racism, but stood by their players following allegations made by Valencia's Mouctar Diakhaby.

Sunday's LaLiga meeting – which ultimately finished 2-1 to Cadiz – was stopped for 20 minutes after Valencia's players decided to leave the field following an altercation between Diakhaby and Juan Cala, who opened the scoring.

Gabriel Paulista and Los Che goalscorer Kevin Gameiro attempted to defuse the situation before Diakhaby explained his version of events to referee David Medie Jimenez.

Valencia's players subsequently walked off the pitch, before returning to the field without Diakhaby, who asked to be taken off.

After the match had restarted, Valencia tweeted their version of events, stating Diakhaby had suffered a "racist insult".

Following the game, Cadiz issued a statement on their club website, insisting any form of racism was not tolerated.

However, they also added they had no doubts over the honesty of their squad, with Cala having been picked up by television cameras pleading his innocence during the game.

Cadiz's statement read: "We are against any situation of racism or xenophobia, whoever its author is, and we work for its eradication. 

"All the perpetrators of these crimes, whether or not they are from our team, must pay for it.

"We do not doubt the honesty of all the members of our squad, who are firm defenders of the fight against racism, whose attitude has always been exemplary in all the matches that have been played.

"We always demand an attitude of respect and responsibility towards the opponents. We work and we will continue working so that in our football there are no xenophobic behaviors, with a 'NO TO RACISM' with all its forcefulness."

Valencia captain Jose Luis Gaya said that the team had been told they would be penalised if they did not return to finish the game – a claim backed up by head coach Javi Gracia.

"If we didn’t play, they [would have] sanctioned us," Gracia, who reiterated that Diakhaby had been abused, told reporters.

"They told us that if we did not play we would have a very serious sanction. It was a very serious racist insult."

Valencia's players walked off the pitch during their LaLiga meeting with Cadiz after alleged racist abuse was directed towards defender Mouctar Diakhaby.

Sunday's match was stopped after 29 minutes when Valencia captain Jose Luis Gaya led his team from the field.

The incident that sparked Valencia's fury came when Juan Cala – who had opened the scoring – went in for a challenge with Diakhaby.

While initially heading back to his position, Diakhaby suddenly turned and angrily confronted Cala.

Gabriel Paulista and Los Che goalscorer Kevin Gameiro attempted to defuse the situation before Diakhaby explained his version of events to referee David Medie Jimenez. His team-mates then departed in solidarity and play was suspended for 20 minutes before they returned.

Valencia returned without Diakhaby, who was replaced by Hugo Guillamon, but Cala stayed on until he too was substituted at half-time.

The game ended 2-1 to Cadiz, Marcos Mauro scoring an 88th-minute winner.

In a statement from Valencia said: "The team met up and decided to return to the pitch to fight for the badge, but firm in their condemnation of all forms of racism."

Valencia also confirmed that Diakhaby wanted the match to continue, though did not want to carry on playing himself.

"We offer our complete backing to Diakhaby," a tweet read. "The player, who had received a racial insult, requested that his team-mates return to the pitch. We SUPPORT YOU MOUCTAR."

Cadiz did not initially offer a comment though it has been reported that television cameras picked up Cala pleading his innocence. 

According to Gaya, Valencia were told they would forfeit the match if they did not return to the field.

"[Diakhaby] told us he insulted him in a racist way. We went back out to play because they told us they could penalise us with three points and something more," Gaya said, as reported by AFP.

"He asked us to go back. He's gutted, it was a very ugly insult."

Another day, another Erling Haaland rumour.

Haaland's future is dominating headlines amid widespread interest in Europe.

Barcelona are reportedly interested in the Borussia Dortmund sensation.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI OUT, HAALAND IN?

Barcelona have identified Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland as a top transfer priority if Lionel Messi leaves at the end of the season, according to Diario AS.

Messi is out of contract at season's end and the superstar Barca captain has been tipped to join either Paris Saint-Germain or Manchester City.

Should Messi depart, Haaland is wanted by Barca and head coach Ronald Koeman, though all eyes will be on Lyon forward Memphis Depay if the former remains at Camp Nou.

Haaland has also been linked with Manchester United, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Juventus, PSG, Liverpool and City.

 

ROUND-UP

- Fabrizio Romano claims City are convinced Kevin De Bruyne will sign a new contract with the club. Raheem Sterling's contract is also on the agenda, while soon-to-be free agent Sergio Aguero will decide his future in the coming weeks. Aguero has been linked with Inter, Barca and Chelsea.

United are set to challenge Madrid in the chase to sign Villarreal defender Pau Torres, reports The Mirror. United are keen to bolster their defence amid links with Madrid pair Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, Sevilla's Jules Kounde and RB Leipzig centre-back Ibrahima Konate.

- Calciomercato says Inter will reject any offers for star Romelu Lukaku. It comes as Chelsea and Barca reportedly eye the in-form Belgian.

Barca are monitoring the future of Valencia star Jose Luis Gaya, according to Diario AS. The captain is negotiating a new contract with Valencia.

- Napoli and Spain midfielder Fabian Ruiz is wanted by LaLiga trip Barca, Madrid and Atletico Madrid, claims Diario Sport.

- Mundo Deportivo reports Arsenal are considering a move for Real Betis star Nabil Fekir amid doubts over loanees Martin Odegaard and Dani Ceballos.

Barcelona have reportedly joined the queue chasing Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland.

Haaland is a player in demand following his exploits for Bundesliga outfit Dortmund.

The Norway international could be among a number of new recruits at Camp Nou.

 

TOP STORY – HAALAND WANTED AT CAMP NOU

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman is leading the club's recruitment this off-season and has identified Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland as a key target, according to Diario AS.

Haaland has been linked with Barca, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Liverpool.

Koeman is also reportedly eyeing City defender Eric Garcia, Lyon captain Memphis Depay and soon-to-be Liverpool free agent Georginio Wijnaldum.

 

ROUND-UP

- Fresh from netting a hat-trick to knock Tottenham out of the Europa League, Dinamo Zagreb's Mislav Orsic has been linked with a move to London rivals Arsenal by The Sun, which claims the Gunners are looking at the Croatian attacker as an off-season signing.

- Marca claims Arsenal will not be able to sign on-loan Martin Odegaard on a permanent deal as parent club Real Madrid see him as part of their long-term future plans.

Roma want either Maurizio Sarri or Massimiliano Allegri to be their next coach to replace Paulo Fonseca, according to Messaggero.

- Calciomercato says rumoured Premier League target Franck Kessie has rejected Milan's latest contract extension offer.

- Schalke's California-born 20-year-old Matthew Hoppe is hot property and Valencia are the latest club to join the chase, alongside TottenhamBarcelona, Ajax and PSV, according to AS.

- The Sun reports in-form Leicester City forward Kelechi Iheanacho will sign a new deal with the club.

Zinedine Zidane and Toni Kroos have lamented Real Madrid's growing injury issues after full-back Dani Carvajal limped off in Sunday's 2-0 win over Valencia.

Carvajal was making his first appearance for Madrid since January 2 but lasted just 28 minutes before sustaining an apparent injury to his right thigh.

He has been restricted to 12 games in all competitions this term and is now considered a big doubt for the Champions League last-16 first leg with Atalanta on February 24.

The Spain international joins the likes of Sergio Ramos, Eder Militao, Alvaro Odriozola, Eden Hazard, Rodrygo, Federico Valverde and Marcelo on the sidelines.

Madrid boss Zidane is concerned about the long list of injuries he has had to contend with this term and is unsure why so many players have been ruled out of action.

"There are a lot of injuries," he told Movistar. "I'm worried because when you lose a player it bothers me. It's a relapse [for Carvajal]. 

"I'm sorry for him because he was fine to play and is a very important player to us. But I can't explain all these injuries."

Asked if the packed fixture schedule is to blame, with Madrid playing nine times since the turn of the year, Zidane said: "I'm not going to get into that.

"We already have enough trouble. The calendar is what it is. We didn't have a normal pre-season and there are many injuries. 

"I hope to get my players back but I'm not going to get involved in the rest."

Lucas Vazquez replaced Carvajal at right-back and slotted in seamlessly by teeing up Kroos for Madrid's second, 30 minutes after Karim Benzema had opened the scoring.

Kroos, who scored and assisted a goal in the same Madrid match for the first time since November 2018, joined Zidane in bemoaning his side's injury nightmare.

"It worries us a lot, of course. We are without important players," he said. "Dani has come back from three injuries in a row - it's not right, we don't like it.

"But the others have to do as much as possible. We can't change the situation, just accept it."

Valencia managed just one attempt on target at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano - Maxi Gomez's shot from range - in what was a routine third successive league win for Madrid.

Zidane's men have now kept back-to-back clean sheets and the Frenchman is pleased with the improvement made by his side at the back.

"That much is evident," he said. "We believe a lot in what we do. We are overcoming difficulties and there is a lot left for us to give."

Madrid, who have now gone 13 home LaLiga matches without losing to Valencia, are five points adrift of Atletico Madrid having played two games more than the league leaders.

But two-time title-winning boss Zidane is not yet giving up hope of chasing down rivals Atletico, who Madrid face at Wanda Metropolitano on March 7.

"We are going to continue doing what we are doing," he said. "We are not going to look at what others are doing. Today we played a very good game. 

"They all defended very well without the ball and when got forward we caused a lot of damage. We have to continue in this way."

Valencia head coach Javi Gracia has won only one of his eight LaLiga games against Madrid and took full blame for his side's lacklustre display in the Spanish capital.

"It was a bad game from us," he said. "I do not know if it was our worst of the season but one of the worst. The intention was to be more aggressive, it was very easy for them.

"The coach has the maximum responsibility in everything. This is a step backwards in our trajectory. From the first minute we have not been able to demonstrate anything. 

"We have not seen options to achieve anything positive here. We could not even link two passes"

Karim Benzema maintained his impressive scoring run against Valencia and Toni Kroos was also on target as Real Madrid eased to a 2-0 win in Sunday's LaLiga clash.

French striker Benzema netted for the fifth league game running in this fixture to open the scoring at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano and Kroos added a second before half-time.

Valencia won the reverse fixture 4-1 in November, with Carlos Soler scoring a hat-trick of penalties, but they offered little attacking threat in a one-sided game in the Spanish capital.

Ferland Mendy had a goal ruled out in a low-key second half as Madrid, who lost Dani Carvajal to an injury on his return to action, made it three league wins in a row to move back into second place.

Valencia were seeking a first league double over Madrid since 1967-68 but found themselves behind to Benzema's 12th-minute strike.

Kroos played the ball to Benzema towards the left and the striker cut inside before curling a 20-yard shot into the bottom-right corner.

Losing Carvajal to an injury was a blow for the hosts but they did not lose any fluency as Kroos fired in from the edge of the box for only his second goal this season.

Valencia, now without an away league win against Madrid in 13 attempts, pressed for an equaliser and called Thibaut Courtois into action through a Maxi Gomez drive.

Mendy had the ball in the net soon after, only for his celebrations to be cut short as VAR adjudged the defender's heel to be offside before he converted Vinicius Junior's pass.

Zinedine Zidane's men went close to adding to their tally, but Jaume Domenech denied Benzema at his near post and Mendy lost his footing when shooting from a good position late on.

If reports are to be believed, Lionel Messi will leave Barcelona at the end of the season.

However, his next destination remains a mystery.

The United States, though, could be next on the list for the record six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

 

TOP STORY – MIAMI MOVE ON THE CARDS FOR MESSI?

Lionel Messi could be keen on joining David Beckham's Inter Miami in MLS, claims Sport.

Messi, whose contract is set to expire, is tipped to leave Barcelona at the end of the season amid strong links to Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain and Premier League giants Manchester City.

But the six-time Ballon d'Or winner could be lured to the United States, where Beckham co-owns Inter Miami.

 

ROUND-UP

- According to The Sun, Manchester United are battling Barca and Real Madrid to sign Sevilla centre-back Jules Kounde. United are reportedly determined to bolster their defence and Kounde has emerged as a key target.

Liverpool have made Torino defender Bremer their top transfer target at the end of the season, reports the Mirror. Despite the January arrivals of Ozan Kabak and Ben Davies, Liverpool still want to strengthen their defence.

- Spanish journalist Siro Lopez says Sergio Ramos has made his decision to leave Madrid. It comes as the likes of United, PSG, Juventus and Chelsea eye the superstar Madrid captain on a free transfer.

Madrid are interested in Real Betis midfielder Nabil Fekir, reports Estadio Deportivo. Inter, Valencia, Atletico Madrid and Napoli are also believed to be eyeing the Frenchman.

Zinedine Zidane says coaching France remains a career goal of his but remains confident Real Madrid can achieve "great things" this season.

The Madrid boss has seen his position come under scrutiny this season after some high-profile defeats, but he thinks success in LaLiga and the Champions League remains possible.

Zidane has regularly been linked with managing his native France, with incumbent head coach Didier Deschamps recently tipping him to succeed him in the role.

French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet, meanwhile, has said Zidane would be the first person he would call should he ever need to replace Deschamps.

Ahead of Madrid's home match with Valencia on Sunday, Zidane was open about his aspirations.

"I am passionate about football and you never know about the future," he said.

"My relationship with Mr Le Graet is long, since 1998.

"The national team is a goal, like I said when I started coaching 10 years ago, but now I'm here.

"We will see. My mind is here. I am at Madrid and I enjoy every day."

Zidane added: "We know the pressure that comes with representing Real Madrid. We do our own thing, what we can control.

"We know we can achieve great things and we are going to put all our energy into these two [remaining] competitions."

Madrid are eyeing a fourth win in five matches when they host mid-table Valencia.

But after winning the reverse fixture 4-1, Valencia are looking to complete a league double over Madrid for the first time since 1967-68 season.

To do that, they will need to end a long streak.

Madrid have avoided defeat in their past 12 home LaLiga games against Valencia (seven wins and five draws) since a 3-2 loss in March 2008, and they have scored at least two goals in nine of them.

The battle to sign David Alaba continues among European giants, while Thomas Tuchel is eyeing Dayot Upamecano at Chelsea.

Alaba, 28, is set to leave Bayern Munich at the end of the season and it was reported this month the defender had agreed a deal with Real Madrid.

But it seems the race to secure the Austria international's signature remains on.

 

TOP STORY – EUROPEAN GIANTS FIGHT FOR ALABA

Real Madrid have offered Alaba €11million per year and Manchester City are prepared to give the Bayern Munich star €14m, according to AS.

The report says Manchester United, Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea are also battling to sign Alaba.

Alaba has won nine Bundesliga titles and two Champions Leagues among numerous other trophies with Bayern.

 

ROUND-UP

- Tuchel's appointment as Chelsea head coach was confirmed on Tuesday, and the former PSG boss is already looking to strengthen. Bild reports Tuchel wants RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano at Stamford Bridge. It comes as The Guardian reports Chelsea's interest in West Ham midfielder Declan Rice is likely to end following Frank Lampard's sacking.

- Real Madrid have work to do before the end of the season. Marca reports Luka Modric has agreed a new contract with Madrid, while Sergio Ramos and Lucas Vazquez are yet to accept offers. The report says Karim Benzema, Raphael Varane and Nacho Fernandez are their next priorities.

- Eric Garcia is linked with a move to Barcelona. Sport reports the next president of the Catalan giants must ratify the defender's five-year deal if the Manchester City defender is to arrive ahead of next season.

- Out of contract at Paris Saint-Germain the end of the season, Angel Di Maria's future is uncertain. L'Equipe reports the attacker, though, is on track for an extension with the Ligue 1 giants.

- Staying at PSG and the club are still pushing to sign Dele Alli on loan, according to Fabrizio Romano, who reports Tottenham are unwilling to let the midfielder go until they sign a replacement.

- Jordi Alba turns 32 in March and Barcelona are considering the left-back's successor. Mundo Deportivo reports Valencia's Jose Gaya and Chelsea's Marcos Alonso are candidates.

Diego Simeone insists Atletico Madrid "always need" Joao Felix despite dropping the "extraordinary" forward in recent weeks.

Joao Felix scored one and assisted another as LaLiga leaders Atletico beat Valencia 3-1 on Sunday, but it was the club-record signing's first league start of 2021.

The Portugal forward had not scored in LaLiga since November 7, costing him his place in Simeone's starting XI.

Even against Valencia, having attempted three shots and made two key passes, Joao Felix was withdrawn after 62 minutes for Angel Correa.

It was a move that paid off as Correa added the third goal - Joao Felix having set Luis Suarez clear for the crucial second - and Simeone hailed his changing frontline as evidence of competition in the Atleti squad.

"Joao Felix is an extraordinary player," Simeone said. "We always need him.

"The competition is high, beautiful, good. They are all eager to play and we will have to give the time we can for the good of the team.

"[Joao Felix] is growing, as he has been doing since he arrived. He is important and everything he gives us helps us."

In maintaining his unbeaten home record against Valencia, which now stands at six wins and four draws from 10 LaLiga matches, Simeone took Atleti seven points clear at the top of the table with a game in hand over second-placed Real Madrid.

The Rojiblancos coach was not interested in assessing the state of play at the summit, though, instead turning attention to Atleti's next test on Sunday.

"Cadiz, nothing more," Simeone replied when asked about the advantage over Madrid and Barcelona, who are a further three points back from Los Blancos.

Joao Felix promised he has much more to offer Atletico Madrid after marking his first LaLiga start of 2021 with a goal and an assist against Valencia.

Sunday's 3-1 victory saw Joao Felix both score and create a goal for the third time in a game this season, more than any other Atleti player.

But the other standout displays from the club's record signing had come in the early weeks of the campaign.

Between the November international break and this clash at the Wanda Metropolitano, Joao Felix netted just once in all competitions, also supplying a single assist.

That underwhelming stretch saw the Portugal forward lose his place in the league XI, but a tight turnaround from Thursday's win at Eibar provided an opportunity he duly grasped.

Joao Felix cancelled out Uros Racic's spectacular Valencia opener with a smart finish ahead of Thierry Correia, before his second-half pass set Luis Suarez away to score the second. Angel Correa, who replaced Joao Felix, completed the scoring.

A return to form gave Joao Felix the opportunity to discuss his recent trials, although there are no hard feelings towards coach Diego Simeone.

"I can give so much more," said the 21-year-old, who played 62 minutes. "No footballer likes being on the bench, but it also happened to me at Benfica.

"I know what I am capable of and, when the coach chooses me to play, I have to do my best. I am calm. Cholo [Simeone] does what is best for the team."

Atleti president Enrique Cerezo was asked by Movistar for his take on Joao Felix's rollercoaster season.

"No-one doubts that Joao Felix is a great player," he replied. "If the coach decides to change him, it will be for some reason.

"But he does not have to get angry or upset, like everyone else. Neither the players, the coach nor the fans want to lose, and when you lose, you get mad."

There has been nothing inconsistent about the form of Suarez, who has 12 goals in his first 15 LaLiga games for Atleti, the best start to life at a new club by any player in Spain's top flight since Cristiano Ronaldo netted 13 in 15 matches for Real Madrid in 2009-10.

Joao Felix described Suarez as "lethal", while Cerezo sees the veteran's sensational form as justification of their pursuit of the former Barcelona striker.

"We have always thought that Luis Suarez was the best centre-forward in Europe," he said. "We are lucky that he is with us. Everyone is happy."

Seven straight wins have moved Atleti seven points clear of rivals Madrid and they still have a game in hand, but Cerezo is not getting carried away.

"You can lose [the title] or you can win it," he said. "We are in the middle of the season and there is a lot left. We are first but there is a lot left.

"When there are three games left, I'll tell you if we are champions. The team is doing very well and the players know very well what they have to do: score goals and win games."

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