Diego Simeone has challenged Thomas Lemar to show he is worthy of a place at Atletico Madrid.

France winger Lemar was one of the stars of Monaco's unlikely 2016-17 Ligue 1 title triumph but has found life tough since moving to Atleti two years ago.

The 24-year-old has not scored in 26 appearances across all competitions this season and has been an unused substitute in two of Atletico's four La Liga games since the campaign resumed earlier this month.

His sole start during this period came against Real Valladolid, when he was substituted before Vitolo found a late winner.

Speaking ahead of Saturday's game against Deportivo Alaves at the Wanda Metropolitano, Simeone insisted he was satisfied with Lemar's performances in training but wants to see them replicated on a matchday.

"With Lemar we have tried and we continue trying to find a way that he can express on the field everything that excites us, from what we see in training," he said of a player he stated "hasn't been able to live up to expectations" earlier this year.

"We have shown him confidence, he has played important games and it will depend on what he manages to claim in his mind, in his inner strength.

"He knows that it depends on him because we have demonstrated that we have confidence in his football abilities."

Ten points from a possible 12 since the resumption have strengthened Atletico's hand in terms of qualifying for next season's Champions League.

They sit third, six points clear of Getafe in fifth with seven matches remaining.

However, the visit of 14th-placed Alaves should not necessarily be treated as a formality, given their habit of dropping points against teams in the lower reaches of the table this term.

"I do not find anything significant in that," Simeone countered.

"I do understand that in these games we could not be forceful and when you are not, the games are long and all the teams are competitive, whether they are down or up because they have important players."

Diego Simeone hopes Marcos Llorente can continue to maintain the same high standards after once again playing a starring role for Atletico Madrid on Tuesday. 

Llorente was signed from rivals Real Madrid as a holding midfielder but has adapted to a more advanced role in the second half of the 2019-20 season. 

The 25-year-old scored twice in a stunning Champions League win at Liverpool and has been brilliant since LaLiga returned to action amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Indeed, Llorente created Atleti's winner - an own goal - as they defeated Levante 1-0 on the road, their third straight success since the resumed to leave his side in third spot. 

Simeone believes Llorente is gaining the rewards for his hard work, having stuck with the team through a tough first half of the campaign. 

"The facts speak for themselves," Simeone said. "It is not necessary to praise [Llorente] when you can watch his movement, attitude, pressure and see what is happening to him. 

"Hopefully he can maintain this consistency, because he worked a lot. He suffered a lot because he played little since he arrived. 

"After seeing how he worked in training, we tried to put him further on from the Liverpool game and we found a different characteristic from those of [forwards Angel] Correa, Joao [Felix], [Diego] Costa and [Alvaro] Morata. 

"He gives us a more important footballer in the team." 

With the media's focus trained on Llorente, Simeone added: "He created this situation after so much effort. 

"He was always training well, without protesting or having a bad attitude after being left out a lot of times. In the end, the people who work are always rewarded." 

Meanwhile, victory against Levante brought up a special milestone for Simeone, his 194th LaLiga victory as Atleti coach tying the late Luis Aragones' club record. 

Simeone said: "At no time did I plan to compete with Luis. I know, with the relationship that I had with him, that he will be happy from where he is watching. I have no doubt that he will be enjoying it. 

"It is always important to win. In the last five games, we played four away and we won three and we drew one. We are changing that situation that was costing us so much." 

Atletico Madrid again etched Diego Simeone's name into their record books as they defeated Levante on Tuesday.

A vital victory in the chase for Champions League qualification represented a landmark for iconic head coach Simeone in LaLiga.

The 1-0 win - secured thanks to an early own goal - was Simeone's 194th in the league as Atleti boss, matching Luis Aragones' record haul.

After three consecutive triumphs following the resumption of football in Spain, the 2013-14 title-winning coach reached the total in his 319th LaLiga match.

Aragones - the club's record goalscorer as a player - had four stints as Atleti coach, winning LaLiga in 1976-77, but required 407 games to tally 194 top-flight wins.

Simeone will have the opportunity to claim top spot outright when his side host Deportivo Alaves on Saturday.

Atletico Madrid took another significant step towards Champions League qualification with a 1-0 victory at Levante.

Diego Simeone's Atleti were sixth in LaLiga just a week ago but have since won three on the bounce without conceding to steal a march on their rivals and go third.

Marcos Llorente - this season's Champions League hero in the last 16 against Liverpool - was the star of the show on Tuesday, providing both style and substance as he had a hand in an early Bruno Gonzalez own goal.

Atleti were dominant throughout but failed to build on that opener - kept at bay by an all-action display from Levante goalkeeper Aitor Fernandez - in a deserved yet ultimately slightly nervy away success.

Swiftly stamping his mark on the match, Llorente had tested Aitor inside 30 seconds and soon forged the breakthrough with a sublime piece of close control.

The midfielder took a powerful 15th-minute pass in his stride as he turned into the area and then squared as Aitor advanced, forcing Ruben Vezo to clumsily turn the ball towards his own goal, although Bruno contributed an unwitting final touch.

Aitor did his utmost to keep the scoring down as he parried shots from Yannick Carrasco and Thomas Partey either side of the goal, while both Diego Costa and Llorente were wasteful from promising positions.

The Levante goalkeeper smartly saved again from Carrasco before the interval, which failed to disrupt the visitors' momentum as only an offside flag denied Thomas a fierce second.

Aitor bailed out Jose Campana after his error presented an opportunity to fellow substitute Joao Felix, who later blazed over when Levante again failed to clear their lines, a miss that maintained the home side's interest in the closing stages despite their failure to test Jan Oblak.


What does it mean? Atleti back on track

After spending big ahead of this season, it was crucial Atletico secured Champions League qualification - regardless of the success or otherwise of their ongoing European campaign. Their status in next season's competition looked in some doubt as the season restarted, but Simeone and his side have enjoyed an excellent week.

Llorente loving new role

Signed from rivals Real Madrid as a holding midfielder, Llorente is now making his name in an advanced role. The 25-year-old turned in another impressive performance here. Indeed, rather than Joao Felix or Alvaro Morata, it is Llorente who looks best suited to partnering Costa in attack at present.

Forward fails to fire

Supposedly a more natural attacking option, Joao Felix is struggling to follow Llorente in improving as his first Atleti season wears on. After scoring twice against Osasuna, the Portuguese struggled at home to Real Valladolid and then, as a substitute here, failed to impress again. One poor miss stood out after replacing Llorente.

What's next?

Atletico face another side stuck in mid-table with little to play for next: Deportivo Alaves visit the capital on Saturday. Meanwhile, Levante are at home again against Real Betis the following day.

Diego Simeone believes Atletico Madrid's defensive resilience is merely a by-product of the players' commitment to his footballing vision.

Atleti edged a 1-0 win over Real Valladolid on Saturday, the first time they have recorded back-to-back LaLiga victories since beating Real Betis and Levante either side of the mid-season break.

A return encounter against the latter opponents is up next for Los Colchoneros, whose previous away fixture ended in a 5-0 shellacking of Osasuna.

The departures of Diego Godin and Lucas Hernandez last year forced Simeone to remodel his backline, with Stefan Savic and Jose Gimenez stepping up to form a fine alliance at centre-back, while Kieran Trippier and Renan Lodi have proved shrewd full-back additions.

Backed up by the exceptional Jan Oblak between the posts, Atletico have only been breached 22 times in 30 LaLiga games in 2019-20, although Simeone insists he is reluctant to rely too much on this obduracy.

"There will always be mistakes, all teams make mistakes," he told a pre-match news conference.

"We must try to be focused and, with the best security we can offer the team, we have rotated.

"I am still convinced that the team's strength is the emotional convention of the group. This will be the way to reach the goals we want."

That goal, at least until August's mini-tournament in Lisbon to conclude this season's competition comes around, is securing qualification for the Champions League with a top-four finish.

The weekend result left Atleti in third, level on points with Sevilla immediately behind them and six better off than Valencia down in eighth.

More sparkling form from Joao Felix would certainly strengthen their hand after the Portugal youngster notched a brace as Osasuna were torn apart.

"He is a different player," Simeone said of the €120million recruit, who has endured a mixed debut campaign in LaLiga.

"We have always valued him, we have seen him in training and in games. Surely, when he grows up and can spend more time in situations that are decisive for the team, he will continue to evolve.

"He has all the important qualities to break a game. With his growth in the game he will grow even more as a footballer."

Experience is certainly not something Joao Felix's boss lacks.

If Atleti are victorious against Levante, Simone will equal Luis Aragones as the coach with the most LaLiga victories for the club.

"I did not know about this and, as I have already said, I do not stop on the path we are going through," he added.

"This is not the time to stop and look in the mirror; it is only time to work, win and continue in the best possible way."

Dean Henderson has a decision to make as he continues to impress on loan at Sheffield United.

He is Manchester United's future number one, but Premier League rivals Chelsea are reportedly interested.

Could the 23-year-old goalkeeper swap Old Trafford for Stamford Bridge?

 

TOP STORY – UNITED AND CHELSEA IN TUG-OF-WAR OVER HENDERSON

Chelsea are trying to lure Dean Henderson away from Manchester United, according to The Sun.

Henderson has flourished at Sheffield United during his loan spell away from United.

Manchester United are offering Henderson a new contract amid doubts over David De Gea but Chelsea are reportedly plotting a big-money move for the Englishman.

 

ROUND-UP

- It appears as though Juventus will miss out on Barcelona midfielder Arthur. Marca says Arthur has rejected an annual salary of €5million to move to Turin.

- Liverpool are eyeing Barcelona's Ousmane Dembele after missing out on Timo Werner, claims Bleacher Report. Werner swapped RB Leipzig for Chelsea.

Inter are interested in Hertha Berlin's Matheus Cunha, reports Calciomercato. The 21-year-old Brazilian only arrived from Leipzig in January.

Jadon Sancho's head is already at Manchester United, according to German journalist Heiko Wasser. Borussia Dortmund star Sancho has been heavily tipped to join United, while the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Real Madrid are also eyeing the England international.

- Staying at San Siro and The Suns claims Inter want to sign Manchester City full-back Kyle Walker.

Dortmund have reached an agreement with Thomas Meunier to bring the Paris Saint-Germain full-back to the Bundesliga on a free transfer. It is also reported that Edinson Cavani will not sign a new deal and will sit out PSG's Champions League fixtures. He has been linked to Atletico Madrid and Inter.

- The Daily Mail says Juve are interested in bringing Wolves striker Raul Jimenez to Serie A amid interest from United and Madrid.

- Ansu Fati to United? Mundo Deportivo reports the Barca sensation wants to stay at Camp Nou and fight for his place.

Atletico Madrid head coach Diego Simeone hailed his team's late win over Real Valladolid as they boosted their chances of finishing in LaLiga's top four.

Vitolo came off the bench and headed home the 81st-minute winner for Atletico in a 1-0 victory at home to Valladolid on Saturday.

Atletico moved back up to third in the standings – level on points with Sevilla through 30 games and four clear of Getafe – in the race for Champions League qualification.

"It's always important to take something from a game and even better when you win," Simeone said.

"There were things to improve, but we've had three months without a normal preparation and then you're playing every three days.

"There's a need to adapt and reinvent yourself, given the circumstances. This was a very important win.

"We had chances in the first half and couldn't score, then in the second half it was tough against a very organised side.

"We could have won or lost, but we achieved a great result."

Atletico played behind closed doors at the Wanda Metropolitano due to the coronavirus pandemic and Simeone added: "The fans weren't there in the flesh, but they were there in spirit.

"The minute of silence before the match and the music in the empty stadium were pure emotion. We lost many people."

Vitolo, whose Atletico eliminated titleholders Liverpool en route to the Champions League quarter-finals this season, said: "The club's goal is to quality for the Champions League next season.

"There are many teams that trying and it will be decided in the last matches. Hopefully we can enter and give the fans a joy."

Marcos Llorente's eye for goal in training has persuaded Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone to use the midfielder in more advanced positions. 

Llorente was Atletico's hero with a two-goal salvo in extra time to inspire a thrilling last-16 Champions League win over holders Liverpool in March. 

That was Atleti's last game before the coronavirus shutdown but Simeone was evidently keen to see more of the same when they resumed at Athletic Bilbao last weekend, with the 25-year-old deployed behind Diego Costa in a 1-1 draw. 

Llorente was on the bench for the midweek trip to Osasuna but came on with devastating effect during the second half – scoring once and laying on late goals for Alvaro Morata and Yannick Carrasco in a 5-0 romp. 

That goal and his Anfield brace account for three quarters of the ex-Real Madrid man's season haul, but Simeone feels he has spotted a prolific quality to Llorente's work – citing his previous success in redeploying Antoine Griezmann. 

"I saw Griezmann, who could play as a second striker or on the point of the attack, when everyone said he was a winger," Simeone told a news conference ahead of Saturday's LaLiga match against Real Valladolid. 

"Lucas [Hernandez, Bayern Munich's former Atletico centre-back] was world champion [with France] at left-back. 

"When the players show they have the tools, we must be attentive as coaches to take advantage of it. 

"We saw he was making goals, goals and goals in training and that is very important in the world of football." 

Morata was on target after coming off the bench to replace Diego Costa, having also been used as a substitute against Athletic. 

Simeone insists both strikers are a key part of his plans in a reconfigured attack. 

"I spoke to them a week before the start of LaLiga and I transmitted what I feel, they are very important players,” he said. 

"Each one can be useful to the team, both are very committed." 

Costa was awarded a commemorative plaque by team-mate Koke on behalf of the club after making his 200th Atletico appearance at Osasuna. 

"It's an honour to reach 200 games for Atleti," said the former Chelsea man, who is in his second spell with Simeone's team.

"When I arrived I wanted to play and feel I was important but never imagined I to reach such a milestone."

The Valladolid game will be Atletico's first at their Wanda Metropolitano home since LaLiga resumed behind closed doors.

They lie fourth in the battle for Champions League qualification and Costa added: "We all know we have the best fans in Spain, if not the world. We're going to miss their presence, but we know what we have to do.

"We have nine finals ahead of us and we have to win. We have to play as if the fans were here to earn the three points."

Atletico Madrid's Jan Oblak became the fastest goalkeeper to reach a century of LaLiga clean sheets after the team's 5-0 demolition of Osasuna.

Osasuna were put to the sword on Wednesday as Atletico star Oblak made history by keeping his 100th clean sheet from just 182 league appearances.

Slovenia international Oblak shattered the record set by Miguel Reina (222 matches).

Oblak has established himself as one of the world's best keepers since joining Atletico from Benfica in 2014.

The 27-year-old has tasted Europa League, UEFA Super Cup and Supercopa de Espana success with Atletico, while he was a Champions League runner-up in 2015-16.

Atletico are fourth in the LaLiga standings through 29 matches following their midweek rout of Osasuna.

Diego Simeone's men are two points clear in the fourth and final Champions League spot, though Real Sociedad are scheduled to face Deportivo Alaves on Thursday.

Joao Felix struck twice as Atletico Madrid ended a three-match winless streak in LaLiga in style with a 5-0 hammering of Osasuna on Wednesday.

Diego Simeone's side had slipped to sixth prior to their trip to El Sadar Stadium, but Joao Felix's double set the stage for them to move into the top four.

Having broken the deadlock in the 27th minute, Joao Felix was on hand to tuck in his and Atleti's second shortly after the hour, with Adrian Lopez spurning a glorious chance to get Osasuna back into the game.

But any lingering doubt over the result was eradicated when Marcos Llorente drilled home with 11 minutes remaining.

Llorente then teed up Alvaro Morata to add a coolly taken fourth, before Yannick Carrasco completed the rout.

Atletico Madrid midfielder Thomas Partey is good enough to play for "the best teams in Europe", according to head coach Diego Simeone.

Thomas has been linked with a move to the Premier League with Arsenal after eight years in Madrid, where he first featured for Atleti's youth and reserve teams.

Simeone can see why such a transfer would appeal to the London club and several other European giants, even if Thomas is still searching for consistency.

"Thomas is the one who best understands this position and the transition from defence to attack, shooting, scoring, providing assists and playing passes between the lines," Simeone told reporters ahead of Atleti's game against Osasana.

"When he's at his best level consistently, he's so good that all the best teams in Europe are looking at him."

Joao Felix was one of the continent's most sought-after talents this time last year, but his first season at Atleti has not gone entirely to plan.

A €126million signing from Benfica, the Portuguese has scored just four times in LaLiga and did not feature in the weekend draw with Athletic Bilbao due to a knee problem.

"[Joao Felix] had started these recent training sessions very well, but then he had to sit out due to a knee problem," Simeone said. "Now he is working with the same enthusiasm.

"We will assess how he is, we will do a couple of tests, and based on this, we will decide what is best for tomorrow [against Osasuna].

"He has to do what he has done in other games, against Villarreal, Liverpool.

"He had a great pre-season, a very good start, then he had an injury. It was difficult for him to return because of the rhythm and the association with his new team-mates. And then he started to be the player from the beginning.

"He is a young boy. It is normal that this happens to him during the season, but we have the idea that he is very important from here to the end."

Simeone's comments came after Atletico confirmed defender Felipe had suffered a thigh strain.

The 31-year-old suffered a setback having already missed Sunday's stalemate at Athletic, Atleti’s first game since LaLiga's resumption, through injury.

"Felipe Monteiro underwent further tests at the Clinica Universidad de Navarra that confirmed a muscle strain in the quadriceps of his left thigh," the team said on Tuesday.

"Although the defender has made progress since the previous tests he underwent last week, the area requires maximum caution and he will continue to train and be assessed individually."

Joao Felix would be better off if he had joined a club like Real Madrid instead of Atletico Madrid, claims Carlos Carvalhal.

Atletico shelled out €126million to sign Joao Felix from Benfica ahead of Antoine Griezmann's departure for LaLiga rivals Barcelona last year.

However, the 20-year-old has only contributed six goals and three assists in 28 appearances, with ankle and hamstring injuries sidelining him for separate short spells.

Carvalhal, who is the head coach at Primeira Liga side Rio Ave, does not think the style of football played under Diego Simeone suits Joao Felix.

He believes a move to their arch-rivals Real Madrid would have put Joao Felix in a better position to develop his game.

"Joao Felix is​​a great player and I don't want to create controversy with my statements. He is a player with incredible technical ability, with a great level. But I'm not sure Atletico's way of playing is the best for him," Carvalhal said on Cadena SER.

"That was my doubt when he signed for them. Diego Simeone is a great coach, his teams are very strong, very competitive, but Joao Felix does not seem to be the perfect player to be there.

"In a different situation we would see a great Joao Felix. It will be a little difficult and it will take time more time. He will have to transform as a player.

"If he had gone to a team like Real Madrid, he would be at a higher level. The context would be more favourable for him.

"It's not a criticism of Simeone, there is no doubt about what he has achieved. The work speaks for itself, I just believe this marriage is not the best."

Joao Felix was suspended as Atletico returned from a three-month break due to the coronavirus pandemic with a 1-1 draw at Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

He can make his first appearance since the stoppage when Simeone's men take on Osasuna in Pamplona on Wednesday.

Kai Havertz leaving the Bundesliga for the Premier League has emerged as a strong possibility.

Chelsea and Manchester United are reportedly vying for the Bayer Leverkusen attacker's signature.

However, Bayern Munich could keep the Germany international in his homeland.

 

TOP STORY – BAYERN IN POLE POSITION FOR HAVERTZ

Bayern Munich are favourites to sign Bayer Leverkusen star Kai Havertz, according to the Telegraph.

The race is heating up for Havertz, who has been heavily linked to Premier League trio Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool.

Real Madrid are also reportedly interested but Bundesliga champions Bayern are in pole position to bring the Germany international to Bavaria as they also look to sign Manchester City's Leroy Sane.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato says Milan are determined to lure Madrid forward Luka Jovic to San Siro. The Serbia international has struggled since swapping Eintracht Frankfurt for Madrid at the start of the season. Madrid want between €45 and €50million for Jovic and the report claims Milan could look to sell Rade Krunic, Lucas Paqueta, Andre Silva, Suso and Mateo Musacchio to raise funds.

- The front page of Tuesday's Diario AS claims Bayern will offer Achraf Hakimi a "galactic" salary to prise the Morocco international from Madrid. The full-back has spent the past two seasons on loan at Borussia Dortmund.

United are leading the chase for Watford defender Pervis Estupinan amid interest from Tottenham, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, according to the Express. The Ecuadorian is on loan from Osasuna.

Juventus and Barcelona have entered the chase for Lazio star Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, reports Corriere dello Sport. Milinkovic-Savic has been heavily linked to Paris Saint-Germain, as well as United.

- Sport says Pedro's proposed move from Chelsea to Roma has collapsed amid an internal fallout in the Italian capital. The veteran forward has now been offered to Valencia.

Chelsea will finalise a deal to sign RB Leipzig and Germany forward Timo Werner this week, the Evening Standard claims. Liverpool and United were also eyeing Werner.

- Sport Bild journalist Christian Falk reports PSG are interested in signing Bayern's Lucas Hernandez to replace departing defender Thiago Silva. PSG will not renew Silva's contract in the French capital.

- Falk also says Dortmund have not received any official offers for star Jadon Sancho, who has been linked to United, City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Madrid and Barca.

Jadon Sancho has been linked to Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Real Madrid among others.

Sancho is reportedly looking to leave Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund.

But a reunion with former club Manchester City could be on the cards for the England international.

 

TOP STORY – SANCHO WILLING TO RE-JOIN CITY

Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho is open to returning to Manchester City, according to The Sun.

Sancho is tipped to leave Dortmund at the end of the coronavirus-hit 2019-20 season amid strong links to Manchester United, as well as Liverpool, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Barcelona.

However, Sancho is believed to be willing to re-join City – the club he left for Dortmund in 2017.

 

ROUND-UP

- With uncertainty over Sancho, United could turn to Jack Grealish. The Daily Star says Aston Villa captain Grealish has his heart set on moving to Old Trafford.

Tottenham want to sign Paris Saint-Germain centre-back Thiago Silva, reports The Sun. Silva is set to leave the Ligue 1 champions on a free transfer and Jose Mourinho is keen to bring the Brazil defender to Spurs. Arsenal and Everton are also eyeing the 35-year-old.

- Corriere della Sera says Gianluigi Donnarumma is ready to extend his contract with Milan, though the new deal could include a €60million release clause. The Italy international goalkeeper has previously been linked to the likes of Juventus, Madrid, PSG and United.

- Roma star Lorenzo Pellegrini is committed to staying at the capital club despite reported interest from Juve, United and PSG, claims Sky Sport Italia and Tuttomercatoweb.

Arsenal are close to agreeing a deal for Atletico Madrid midfielder Thomas Partey, according to Cadena COPE. Atletico are determined to renew Partey's contract but the LaLiga side are resigned to losing the Ghana international – who has also been linked to United.

Atletico Madrid are not currently capable of playing with Alvaro Morata and Diego Costa in attack, according to Diego Simeone.

Costa only returned from three months out with a back injury shortly before the season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, while Morata has scored 12 goals in 32 appearances this term. They have started together five times in all competitions in 2019-20.

Simeone will be unable to select the suspended Joao Felix when Atletico play their first game in over three months against Athletic Bilbao in LaLiga on Sunday.

The head coach has looked at using midfielder Marcos Llorente, who scored twice when Atleti eliminated Liverpool from the Champions League at Anfield before the coronavirus stoppage, as an attacker in a bid to give his team greater balance.

"We manage different situations and Marcos gives us important alternatives, where we can play with three in the middle and [Yannick] Carrasco as striker," said Simeone on Saturday.

"I think that Marcos has a very good physical condition and good finishing from behind the striker. He already showed it when some people thought taking out Costa for him at Anfield was a defensive change and he was key.

"On the possibility of putting Costa and Morata together, it is not the same as in pre-season. Now I cannot take advantage of both together because I do not have a team prepared to sustain the two forwards.

"I prefer to harness the power that each one has separately until at some point they can play together. That's why I explain why Alvaro and Costa do not play when Alvaro is available."

Simeone's assistant German Burgos will leave Atleti at the end of the season to pursue a career as a head coach.

"I have absolute gratitude to German, he is essential. I am grateful for the time German has given me and we have shared professionally and personally," said Simeone.

"It's a very important decision and he will face many challenges that will motivate him.

"Some of the players have already commented on what German has given us and when he finishes, we wish him the best."

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