Atletico Madrid head coach Diego Simeone insisted he loves "rebellious" players after praising Joao Felix's angry goal celebration.

Joao Felix – a club-record €126million signing in 2019 – came off the bench in the second half to seal a 2-0 win over Villarreal on Sunday as Atletico put their LaLiga title charge back on track.

The Portugal international looked unimpressed after scoring in the 69th minute – Joao Felix gesturing and shouting towards the Atletico bench – following Alfonso Pedraza's own goal.

Asked about the celebration, Simeone told reporters post-match:  "You'll have to ask him.

"He scored a great goal. He came on and did well in the second half... I love it when players rebel, when they look to be strong. We need him to be, he's an important player for us."

Simeone added: "I'll ask him in the next training session, and then I'll see if I tell you.

"I love it when players show pride. How long had it been since Joao scored? If players are rebellious, give them to me!"

Simeone, meanwhile, earned a place in Atletico's history books with Sunday's win over Villarreal.

The Argentine coach enjoyed his 308th victory in charge of the Spanish club – matching Luis Aragones as the Atletico head coach with the highest number of victories in all competitions.

Simeone's latest win came in his 512th match at the helm. Aragones, the only man to take charge of more games, reached 308 victories in 612 matches at a rate of 50.3 per cent.

"You know what this game is like," Simeone said when asked about the feat. "From tomorrow [Monday] we will start to live off what we do in the derby [against Real Madrid]. 

"It is an important victory, one does not stop to think about passing or not passing Luis, who is surely very happy about this moment of Atletico.

"We have a lot of things to improve and hopefully this week we can present a better version."

Atletico Madrid's LaLiga title charge is back on track after a 2-0 win over Villarreal at Estadio de la Ceramica on Sunday. 

Diego Simeone's side had picked up just five points from their previous four top-flight games to give rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona hope of reining them in at the summit. 

They secured a vital three points against Unai Emery's side, though, courtesy of Alfonso Pedraza's first-half own goal and substitute Joao Felix's second-half strike. 

The result meant Atleti restored their five-point advantage over second-place Barcelona, who have played a game more, while Real Madrid – who Los Rojiblancos face next weekend – are six points off the top in third.

Atleti were off the pace in the early stages, yet they forged ahead after 25 minutes in fortuitous circumstances. 

Stefan Savic's back-post header from Thomas Lemar's cross was kept out by Sergio Asenjo, but the ball rebounded into the net off the unlucky Pedraza – the goal ultimately given following a lengthy VAR review for a possible offside. 

A sprawling Jan Oblak denied Gerard Moreno soon after as Villarreal went in at the break behind despite having had nine shots to Atleti's three.

Asenjo superbly pawed over Luis Suarez's fierce strike shortly after the interval before getting down well to repel Angel Correa's deflected drive from distance.

Joao Felix wrapped up a vital triumph in the 69th minute, controlling the ball on his chest before arrowing a sumptuous half-volley into Asenjo's bottom-right corner from just inside the penalty area. 

Alex Baena struck the post from distance and forced Oblak into a wonderful save inside the final 10 minutes, but Atleti ultimately held on to take a significant stride towards a first title since the 2013-14 season.

 

 

Lionel Messi is reportedly open to staying at Barcelona, but the LaLiga giants have work to do.

Messi, 33, stayed at Barca after sensationally requesting to leave ahead of this season.

But the six-time Ballon d'Or winner is out of contract at the end of the campaign, leading to more talk over his future.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI OPEN TO BARCELONA STAY

Messi is open to staying at Barcelona and is prioritising the sporting project over the economic offer, according to Marca.

The report says Barca strengthening their squad could convince Messi, who has been linked to Manchester City.

Signing City forward Sergio Aguero, Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland, Chelsea's N'Golo Kante or Liverpool's Roberto Firmino would help Barca's position in their bid to re-sign the superstar.

ROUND-UP

- With Real Madrid linked with a move for Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, such a deal could lead to questions over Eden Hazard. AS reports Mbappe joining Madrid could lead to an exit for Hazard, who has struggled with injuries since joining the LaLiga giants.

- Staying at Real Madrid and there is uncertainty over Raphael Varane's future. AS reports Madrid are prepared to listen to offers for Varane ahead of next season if they cannot agree to a new deal with the defender, who is out of contract in 2022. Manchester United have been linked with Varane, who is valued at £60.7million (€70m).

- Harry Kane has again starred for Tottenham this season. The Telegraph reports the forward, who is contracted until 2024, is set to stay at Spurs for at least another campaign.

- Amid suggestions Sevilla defender Jules Kounde is too expensive, Manchester United could look elsewhere. Eurosport reports Villarreal's Pau Torres may be a more realistic target due to his reported release clause of around £43m (€49.6m).

- Alexandre Lacazette seems set for an Arsenal exit. The Mirror reports Monaco are targeting the forward ahead of next season.

Kylian Mbappe's future is in his own hands after showing the world what he is capable of while scoring a hat-trick in Paris Saint-Germain's 4-1 Champions League demolition of Barcelona.

With his contract in the French capital set to expire in June 2022, Mbappe ultimately has the choice of either signing a new deal or leaving his hometown team – and the World Cup winner has been non-committal so far.

Should the 22-year-old sensation decide to take his career abroad, there will be no shortage of suitors, with four European giants ready to swoop.

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL, MANCHESTER CITY, REAL MADRID, JUVENTUS EYE IN-DEMAND MBAPPE

If PSG cannot persuade Mbappe to sign a long-term extension, they will not want to lose a world-class talent without a fee, so the Ligue 1 champions have placed a €200million (£173m) tag on his head, according to Le Parisien.

Le Parisien reports the price may not deter the Frenchman's admirers, who include Premier League rivals Manchester City and LiverpoolReal Madrid and Juventus.

While those clubs may want him, it is unclear if all of them would be able to afford Mbappe, who is set to make more than €30m per year gross on his next contract. Reports claim PSG will aim to price their Champions League rivals out of a deal.

Real Madrid are considering a move for Kalidou Koulibaly, while Manchester United are targeting Jadon Sancho in a cut-price deal.

Amid uncertainty over Sergio Ramos' future at Madrid, the LaLiga giants continue to be linked with centre-backs.

They seemingly have plenty of options – and Napoli star Koulibaly is among them.

 

TOP STORY – REAL MADRID LIKE KOULIBALY

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane likes Napoli defender Koulibaly, according to AS.

The report says Bayern Munich star David Alaba, who is out of contract at the end of the season, is still Madrid's first option.

With Ramos potentially leaving when his contract expires at campaign's end, AS also says Villarreal defender Pau Torres and Sevilla's Jules Kounde will be expensive.

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United opted not to sign Borussia Dortmund star Sancho ahead of 2020-21, and it could pay off. Eurosport reports United could land Sancho for just £50million (€57.1m) in the next transfer window. The Bundesliga club were demanding about £100m (€120m) for Sancho last year.

- Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Florian Neuhaus is seemingly attracting plenty of interest. Kicker reports Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool, Manchester City and Juventus are interested in the three-time Germany international.

- Arsenal look set to strengthen ahead of next season. The Sun reports they are close to finalising a deal for 18-year-old Sporting CP forward Tiago Tomas for £20m (€22.8m).

- On loan at Real Betis from Barcelona, Emerson may not return to Camp Nou. CalcioMercato reports Milan are considering a move for the right-back.

- Former Milan and Chelsea forward Alexandre Pato will join Orlando City on a one-year deal, according to Fabrizio Romano and The Mane Land. Pato has been without a club since leaving Sao Paulo in August last year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

For so long, Real Madrid have been linked with Kylian Mbappe but will the LaLiga champions bring the French forward to the Santiago Bernabeu?

Mbappe is reportedly open to the idea of making the move to the Spanish capital.

However, Liverpool could be ready to hijack any transfer.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE TO MADRID?

Kylian Mbappe dominates the front pages of Tuesday's Diario AS and Mundo Deportivo as Real Madrid try to sign the Paris Saint-Germain star.

Mbappe – out of contract in 2022 – has been tipped to swap Ligue 1 holders PSG for LaLiga champions Madrid at the end of the season.

While the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic impacts Madrid, the Spanish giants are still working on a deal to prise the Frenchman to the Santiago Bernabeu, with Vinicius Junior a possible makeweight.

Mundo Deportivo says Premier League champions Liverpool are ready to pounce should Madrid fail to sign Mbappe.

 

ROUND-UP

- Onda Cero reports PSG have offered Madrid captain Sergio Ramos a three-year deal worth €15million a season. Ramos is set to become a free agent at the end of the season and the superstar has been linked with the likes of Manchester United and Juventus.

- Both Madrid and Barcelona are considering a shock move for Roma striker Edin Dzeko, according to Mundo Deportivo. Dzeko has had a falling out with under-fire head coach Paulo Fonseca, prompting links to Juve and Inter.

Thomas Tuchel is set to be named Frank Lampard's Chelsea replacement, with Fabrizio Romano claiming an announcement is "just a matter of time". Tuchel was sacked by PSG in December.

- The Athletic says Juve have identified Villarreal centre-back Pau Torres as a long-term replacement for veteran Giorgio Chiellini. Torres has also been linked with United, Manchester City, Barca, Madrid and Chelsea.

Tottenham have approached PSG's Angel Di Maria, who is out of contract at the end of the season, according to L'Equipe. Di Maria has history in England, having spent a difficult season playing for United in 2014-15.

- Sport 1 says Borussia Dortmund are interested in Sassuolo midfielder Manuel Locatelli. The likes of Juve and City have also emerged as suitors.

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.

Erling Haaland is one of the sought-after players in world football.

The Borussia Dortmund forward can reportedly take his pick from Europe's elite.

But if his agent Mino Raiola has his way, Camp Nou could be Haaland's next destination.

 

TOP STORY – HAALAND COULD LEAVE BVB AT SEASON'S END

Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland could leave the Bundesliga club for Barcelona at the end of the season, according to TV3 program Onze.

Haaland has been linked with the likes of Barca, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Manchester City and Juventus following his exploits for Dortmund.

The Norway international forward reportedly has a €75million (£66.8m) release clause at the end of his second season in Dortmund, though he could depart sooner rather than later.

 

ROUND-UP

- Fabrizio Romano says United are not working on a deal to sign Madrid captain Sergio Ramos. The Spanish superstar is out of contract at the end of the season, and he has been linked with Paris Saint-Germain, Juve, City, Chelsea and Liverpool. A move to Liverpool is reportedly not on the horizon due to his role in the injury to Mohamed Salah in the 2018 Champions League final.

City have joined Serie A champions Juve in the race to sign Sassuolo star Manuel Locatelli, reports the Daily Mail.

- According to Sky Sport Italia, Sportitalia and Tuttomercatoweb, Milan are set to meet with free agent Mario Mandzukic over the next 24 hours to discuss a short-term deal. Staying at San Siro and Sky Sport Italia says the Rossoneri are close to signing Torino midfielder Soualiho Meite on loan with the option to buy.

Arsenal are interested in Barca goalkeeper Neto, claims Sky Sports. With backup Runar Alex Runarsson struggling in London, the Gunners are hoping to bring in Neto on loan.

- Marca reports Barca are targeting Valencia star Jose Gaya to bolster their left-back position, while Villarreal's Alfonso Pedraza is another option.

Juventus are set to complete the signing of American defender Bryan Reynolds from MLS club Dallas, says Romano. The 19-year-old will join Benevento until June, before linking up with Juve.

Unai Emery has blamed bad decisions made by the club for his Arsenal exit and confirmed he favoured a move for Wilfried Zaha over Nicolas Pepe in his final season.

The 49-year-old spent 18 months in charge at Emirates Stadium before being sacked in November 2019 and subsequently replaced by Mikel Arteta.

He guided Arsenal to the Europa League final and a fifth-place finish in the Premier League in what proved to be his only full season in charge.

Arsenal spent a club-record £72million to bring in Pepe from Lille ahead of 2019-20, but Emery felt the Gunners should have instead moved for fellow Ivory Coast international Zaha.

"I usually want to sign first the players I know," he told Football.London. "When we played against Crystal Palace, Zaha showed he was a very good player.

"I also think Nicolas Pepe is a very good player. When you make the decision you have to decide how easy the adaption will be of some players.

"I was thinking the adaption was easier for Zaha because he was playing in the Premier League and you didn't know exactly how fast Nicolas Pepe can adapt to the Premier League because I know you can need some time to adapt.

"I was thinking at this time that the adaption of Zaha was probably easier and faster than Pepe."

Pepe has struggled in his year and a half with Arsenal, scoring and assisting a combined 13 goals in 42 Premier League appearances.

That compares to 17 goal involvements for Zaha across the same period in 11 more games, while the Palace winger also completes more dribbles per 90 minutes (3.68 compared to 2.92) and plays more passes into the final third (2.2 to 2).

Pepe's inability to make an impact on games was one of the contributing factors in Emery's exit and the Spaniard rued some of the decisions made during his second season in charge, though he reflects on his time in north London fondly.

"I was in Arsenal for a year and a half and first year I think was a very good season," he said.

"We achieved the Europa League final, we were at the last moment with the possibility to be in the top four and I think last year when I was there we recovered a lot of confidence for the club and the fans and for the players and I think we finished well that season.

"I was very happy, enjoying it and working very well. The club supported me and I was happy with the players, the atmosphere and the supporters – only the second six months of the second year when I finished in November I think we made some decisions not good for the club, but not for me, the decisions of the club.

"When the results were a little bit bad the situation changed but my first year in Arsenal I remember a lot of positive things, on the sidelines the same. I enjoyed being a coach of Arsenal and I'm very grateful for that moment I had in Arsenal.

"For me it's not negative, it was a positive experience and after I left the club the first month was not easy for me because I was running out of things [to do] but now I am very grateful to the owners, the club, the supporters, the players, the workers in Colney. 

"I now only remember the very good things there and the first year for me was a very good performance for us.

"I worked well with Mr [Stan] Kroenke, Raul [Sanllehi], [Ivan] Gazidis during the first months there. The results towards the end were the main problem but for me it was a positive experience and I'm grateful to Arsenal for the opportunity.

"This is football. Now I want the best for Arsenal and Mikel Arteta, the supporters and everyone at the club."

Another player Emery failed to get the most out of is Mesut Ozil, who has since been completely frozen out of the picture by Arteta and looks set to leave Arsenal this month.

Only Kevin De Bruyne (75), David Silva (63) and Christian Eriksen (62) have provided more Premier League assists than Ozil's 54 since the start of 2013-14, but the German was regularly overlooked for selection.

Emery has defended his treatment of Ozil, however, by insisting he gave the playmaker all the guidance he could.

"I worked for one and a half years with Mesut and tried to help him, support him and achieve the performances for the team with him," said Emery, who was appointed as Villarreal head coach last July.

"Now I don't know what the problems are as I am very concentrated and focused with Villarreal. I follow every Arsenal match but I don't know what the problems are with the team or the players.

"I can only speak about Mesut Ozil when I was with him there and I tried to achieve the best performances with him."

Real Madrid prospect Takefusa Kubo has joined Getafe on loan until the end of the season after ending a similar deal with Villarreal.

The 19-year-old was expected to spend the entire 2020-21 campaign with the Yellow Submarine after signing a season-long deal in August.

However, he had made just two La Liga starts by the turn of the year - a fact that, according to Villarreal coach Unai Emery, contributed to the Japan international instigating an early end to the clubs' temporary agreement.

The Spanish champions have now looked to ensure Kubo gets adequate playing time between now and the season's end by agreeing a new loan deal with neighbours Getafe.

Jose Bordalas' side sit in a perilous position in the Spanish top-flight, with just one point separating them from the relegation zone.

It will be hoped that Kubo, who enjoyed a more productive loan spell at Real Mallorca last term, can prove the catalyst for a move up the table.

His fine form in 2019-20 was ultimately insufficient in this regard as Mallorca suffered relegation despite Kubo chipping in with four goals and four assists.

He impressed with his brave and direct play on the ball, which was reflected by the fact he attempted 140 dribbles in LaLiga, a number bettered by only four players including Lionel Messi.

Kubo has at least tried to bring a similar quality to Villarreal, with his 5.6 attempted dribbles per 90 minutes the 14th highest figure among all players to have featured at least seven times this term.

But his efforts did not translate into regular starts for Unai Emery's men.

Real Madrid youngster Takefusa Kubo is looking to cut short his loan spell with Villarreal and join another club, the Yellow Submarine's head coach Unai Emery has confirmed.

Kubo has started just two LaLiga games for Villarreal since joining on a season-long deal from Madrid in August and was not part of the squad for Saturday's 2-1 win over Levante.

Getafe president Angel Torres revealed his side's interest in the Japan international this week and reports from Spain suggest the Madrid-based club are close to striking a deal.

Speaking after his side's victory against Levante, which moved Villarreal up to fourth, Emery admitted it is likely the winger will move on.

"I asked Kubo if he wanted to stay or leave [Villarreal] and he told me that he is looking for a way out," he said at his post-match news conference. 

"Take's behaviour is good, he has helped us and he must continue to grow as a player. 

"However, he told me he wants to leave in order to find more minutes elsewhere and that's why he wasn't in the matchday squad today."

Kubo was snapped up by Madrid from FC Tokyo in 2019 and spent last season on loan with Real Mallorca, where he enjoyed more success than his current spell with Villarreal.

He scored four and assisted four more in 35 appearances but was unable to save Mallorca from relegation in their first season back in the top tier.

The 19-year-old has been used 19 times in total by Villarreal this season, 13 of those appearances coming in LaLiga.

However, Kubo has failed score from his eight shots, five of which were on target, and has yet to assist a team-mate or so much as play a successful cross from open play.

Empty stadiums, Barcelona in the midst of an institutional crisis exacerbated by Lionel Messi's wanderlust, and Real Madrid a world away from the glamour and ruthlessness we often associate with Los Blancos – 2020-21 always looked set to be an intriguing one for LaLiga.

Sunday will see the season's first meaningful clash between two teams vying at the top of the table, as leaders Real Sociedad go to third-place Villarreal.

By no means is this a fixture steeped in the tradition of title tussles or anything of the sort – after all, La Real's two LaLiga crowns came in the early 1980s and their most recent top-two finish was 17 years ago, while Villarreal have never won the league.

But in this peculiar time for football, few have adapted better and they are laying the foundations for potential tilts at glory.

Building on a foundation

La Real earned acclaim and attracted many neutral eyes last season as they came close to qualifying for the Champions League for the first time since 2003.

Ultimately their form tailed off late in the season, coinciding with losing key man Martin Odegaard to injury, but despite eventual disappointment they showed they were laying the foundations for something potentially special.

Many felt that seeing Odegaard return to Real Madrid would have a major impact on La Real, that they had no hope of bettering themselves without a player of his calibre – but it's so far, so good in 2020-21.

This is a club and setup that's already got a strong base. Throughout their ranks they coach a particular brand of football, and there is an onus on progression, both for players and management.

Imanol Alguacil has been at the club in various capacities since 2011, managing the youth team, the B team and then the senior side, of whom he was appointed coach in 2018. Their strong core of homegrown players only benefits them and aids cohesion in the long run.

Arguably La Real's biggest strength is their pressing intensity – only two teams in LaLiga have averaged more high turnovers in possession than their 5.3 per game, with 1.3 of those in every match leading to a shot.

Yet, this relentlessness isn't – as it can be – implemented to account for a shortfall in technical ability. They boast an impressive array of gifted players, as evidenced by the fact they've scored more goals (21) than they would otherwise be expected to (18 xG) and seen eight different individuals claim at least one assist – Atletico Madrid is the sole club to match this.

Alguacil generally deploys a lone front man and wingers who operate more as inside forwards, which can create central overloads but offers the flexibility of being able to pump crosses into the box, as such they are averaging 13 shots per game and converting 16.3 per cent – both are significant upgrades on Villarreal, for example.

Mikel Oyarzabal has been their shining light, the club academy product having scored more goals (six) than anyone else in LaLiga this term. On top of that, his combination of chances created and total shots (43) is second to Lionel Messi (50), highlighting just how influential the wide attacker is.

But they aren't solely dependent on attacking prowess. La Real have been seriously shrewd at the back too despite losing Diego Llorente to Leeds United in pre-season, conceding only four goals – that's second to Atletico (two), who have played two games fewer.

Additionally, La Real face only seven shots per game on average, suggesting they aren't just relying on miracles from Alex Remiro in goal either.

Alguacil has presided over their joint-best start in LaLiga history. While the result on Sunday – whatever the outcome – won't decide any titles, it is the first opportunity for La Real to prove they should be taken seriously.

Restoring a reputation

Villarreal's situation is rather different to that of La Real – they are at the start of a new cycle having decided to up the ante when hiring a new coach in pre-season.

Unai Emery arrived and, while his reputation outside of Spain may have taken something of a knock with Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain, at home he remains highly regarded for his early work with Valencia and then the Europa League three-peat at Sevilla.

It's fair to say Emery has adjusted well and Villarreal have responded in kind to him – his 4-1-4-1 formation, not too dissimilar to that of La Real, provides the right blend of discipline and flexibility, often morphing into a 4-3-3. A trio of technically proficient midfielders support an attack spearheaded by Paco Alcacer, who is flanked – usually – by Samuel Chukwueze and Gerard Moreno.

Attacking full-backs help complete their outlook, which certainly on the face of it has drawn comparisons with his Sevilla team.

But while they were strongest on the counter, Emery's Villarreal looks to control possession more rather than explode with quick transitions – after all, the Yellow Submarine average the fourth-most number of passes per game (553.3) in LaLiga and just over half take place in their own half.

This is a patient team. It's an approach that's arguably necessary when one considers most of their regular midfielders – the likes of Moi Gomez, Manu Trigueros, Dani Parejo and Vicente Iborra – are certainly not blessed with pace but all possess fine technical attributes.

That's not to say they lack intensity, either. In fact, they are one of the two teams to create more high turnovers per game (5.4) than La Real, while they also craft more shots (1.6) from those scenarios than their next opponents.

A 1-1 draw against Real Madrid last time out should put Villarreal in a good mindset for another high-profile encounter – they will hope their considered, possession-based approach is the ideal counter to La Real's more direct style in San Sebastian.

Is Donny van de Beek already heading for an Old Trafford exit?

Van de Beek made the move from Ajax to Manchester United at the start of the season.

But he is reportedly wanted by Juventus in Italy.

 

TOP STORY – VAN DE BEEK WANTED IN TURIN

Juventus are plotting a move for Manchester United midfielder Donny van de Beek, according to Calciomercato.

Van de Beek only swapped Eredivisie powerhouse Ajax for United at the start of the season, but he has struggled to cement a spot in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's XI.

Serie A champions are reportedly trying to reunite Van de Beek with former Ajax team-mate Matthijs de Ligt in Turin.

 

ROUND-UP

- Corriere dello Sport report Liverpool have submitted a bid for Ajax centre-back Perr Schuurs. Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez are injured at Anfield.

Chelsea are eyeing a move for Atletico Madrid defender Jose Gimenez ahead of a 2021 transfer, says the Here We Go Podcast.

- TodoFichajes claims Marseille star Florian Thauvin has agreed to join Milan on a free transfer.

United have joined Premier League champions Liverpool in the race for Villarreal winger Samuel Chukwueze, according to La Razon. The 21-year-old has also impressed Chelsea.

- Milan midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu wants to join United, reports Bild journalist Christian Falk. The Turkey international is out of contract at the end of the season. Juve, Atletico and Inter have all been linked.

- Football Insider says Arsenal are interested in signing Salzburg sensation Dominik Szoboszlai on loan in January and loaning him back to the Austrian champions.

Forget Lionel Messi and Harry Kane, Manchester City reportedly want Jack Grealish.

Grealish, 25, has starred for Aston Villa this season and also impressed with England during the international break.

And the playmaker seems to have impressed City manager Pep Guardiola.

 

TOP STORY – MAN CITY TARGET GREALISH OVER MESSI, KANE

Guardiola wants Manchester City to make a move for Villa star Grealish, according to The Independent.

The report says Barcelona star Messi and Tottenham forward Kane were discussed as potential signings, but Guardiola is an admirer of Grealish.

Only Kane (nine) has more Premier League assists than Grealish (five) this season, while the latter has also netted four times.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester City may soon have good news to report about Kevin De Bruyne. TodoFichajes reports De Bruyne has agreed to a new contract at City until 2025.

- Still linked with a move to Barcelona, Lautaro Martinez's future at Inter is unclear. However, FC Inter News says there is optimism Martinez will re-sign at Inter, who want to extend the forward's deal through to 2025.

- Having conceded 14 goals in eight Premier League games this season, Manchester United are reportedly considering moves for defenders. 90min reports Villarreal centre-back Pau Torres has moved top of their shortlist alongside RB Leipzig star Dayot Upamecano.

- As he struggles for game time at Inter, Christian Eriksen is being linked with a move. Tuttomercatoweb reports Borussia Dortmund are keeping an eye on the midfielder's situation, with the Bundesliga club having apparently been interested in the Denmark international during the previous transfer window too.

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