Diego Simeone called on hobbling Atletico Madrid to "resist" in their LaLiga title hunt as the club's injuries pile up following a 1-1 draw with Real Betis.

Atletico returned to the top of the table, ahead of defending champions Real Madrid and Barcelona, after sharing the spoils at Betis in a thrilling encounter on Sunday.

Yannick Carrasco scored their quickest goal of the season, timed at four minutes, 36 seconds, for Atletico. However, Cristian Tello struck back for European hopefuls Betis 15 minutes later.

Already without Luis Suarez, Marcos Llorente, Moussa Dembele and Geoffrey Kondogbia due to injury, Atletico saw star Joao Felix suffer an ankle injury, while full-back Kieran Trippier had to be replaced with a back injury.

As the injuries mount, Atletico head coach Simeone said: "In the second half we suffered. But I have footballers who give everything.

"We are in a moment of resistance. Resist, that's a word that appeals to me. Resist, like all of society in these difficult times."

Chasing four home wins in a row for the first time since April 2018, Betis had the better of the second half, though Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak stood firm when called upon and his counterpart Claudio Bravo made a superb late stop from Angel Correa to preserve a deserved point.

Atletico have scored 52 goals after 30 league games this season (1.73 goals per game). The last LaLiga winner with as few or fewer goals at this stage of the season were Fabio Capello's Real Madrid in 2006-07 (42 goals).

Correa has delivered 10 assists in all competitions this term, equalling the best tally in his six seasons at Atletico (level with 2016-17 campaign). The Argentinian has scored only four goals, however, which is his lowest tally at this stage of the season.

Oblak has made at least three saves in the last four games for Atletico across all competitions (14 saves on aggregate, four against Betis) – his longest run with at least three saves this season.

Simeone added: "We will see what happens, all the teams have a moment of irregularity and hopefully we have passed it after today's draw.

"We have maintained a firm and strong step this season as both Madrid and Barcelona have begun to recover so we will wait and see."

Diego Simeone said Atletico Madrid do not feel nervous after the LaLiga leaders slipped up, though he did question his team's intensity.

Atletico suffered a costly 1-0 loss to Sevilla on Sunday, which saw their lead atop the table cut to three points, though Barcelona could close to within a solitary point if they beat Real Valladolid on Monday.

Despite Jan Oblak's penalty heroics, Atletico lost to fourth-placed Sevilla in LaLiga for the first time since 2016 following Marcos Acuna's 70th-minute header.

Atletico have won just four of nine games, having threatened to run away with the LaLiga trophy earlier in the season but pressure is mounting on Simeone's side as defending champions Real Madrid and Barca close in.

"We have to keep working hard and taking a look at what we have to improve," Simeone told reporters. "We have to slightly question our intensity and we need to make sure we get back the intensity that won us so many games and prove the squad's talent and ability.

"We have a week ahead of us now that some players, because of bookings, will not be able to play. We'll try and prepare as well as we can, and we'll keep going game by game. That won't change my mentality at all.

"We can't accept what happened today but we also have to accept that we have to improve, and there are very negative stats at the moment."

Atletico have lost two out of their past seven games in LaLiga (W3 D2), as many as their previous 40 games in all competitions (W26 D12).

Simeone, though, shouldered the blame for Atletico's defeat away to Julen Lopetegui's Sevilla.

"If I make the change at 30 minutes in, that's because myself as the manager, I made the mistake in the analysis of the game, and we wanted to try and do something else, and we tried to make as many changes as we could to make sure we push forward," said Simeone.

"I think the team improved in the second half, we were much more competitive, and we improved a bit more closely as to what we can do. We knew it was a very level game, especially in the second half. We had the chance from Mario Hermoso as well as Angel Correa's chance which was very clear as well.

"We are a side that needs to win games like this and we knew that probably, it was my mistake because I made the wrong decisions before the game so that the team felt comfortable. In the second half we just weren't close enough to what we normally play."

Atletico captain Koke was critical of the referee for not reviewing Acuna's goal amid claims Lucas Ocampos handled the ball at the start of the goalscoring move.

"It was a clear handball for the goal and there was another handball [by Diego Carlos] which should have been a second yellow card," he said.

"We have VAR which has to be there to help out. Today wasn't our day. On other days it has favoured us, today it didn't go our way.

"This is a tough defeat but we tried everything. We struggled in the first half but in the second we had chances."

Atletico director Tomas Renones added: The handball is clear [by Ocampos] and referee should have seen it. It has hurt us, but Atletico are not going to complain, just keep working to stay top of La Liga."

Diego Simeone admitted there was no guarantee Joao Felix would be fit to face Sevilla in LaLiga on Sunday as he waited for news from the Atletico Madrid club doctor.

The 21-year-old forward came off injured before half-time during Portugal's 3-1 win against Luxembourg in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday, returning to Atletico with the problem.

According to reports, Joao Felix trained separately from the Atletico squad on Saturday, with head coach Simeone essentially powerless to influence the situation.

"For Joao, we are still waiting for him," Simeone said in a news conference.

"The doctor is looking for a way to see if he is in a position to help us and we will wait until tonight to decide whether or not he travels to Seville."

Atletico's lead at the top of LaLiga has shrunk to four points over Barcelona with 10 rounds of games remaining, and Simeone will want as close to a full-strength squad as possible.

Sevilla, who sit fourth, are a team capable of dealing another blow to Atleti's hopes of moving closer to the title.

Joao Felix has scored seven goals and had four assists in LaLiga this season, with Luis Suarez's 19 top-flight goals doing the most damage in attack for Simeone's men.

"The boys are working with great enthusiasm," said Simeone. "Whenever they come from the national team they come back with great enthusiasm.

"It is always very good for a footballer to be with his national team, representing his country, and defending the shirt where he was born, and I always believe that that is very positive for the preparation of a footballer.

"As for Sevilla, they are a team that play very well, who have [Julen] Lopetegui, a coach who makes them play in a very dynamic way, always looking for options of numerical superiority, where they can find it.

"There is a lot of variety in their squad, it must be one of the most balanced and balanced squads of all."

Sevilla will be without Sergio Escudero after the left-back tested positive for coronavirus.

Diego Simeone insisted it was "normal" for Luis Suarez to be annoyed after being replaced in Atletico Madrid's defeat to Chelsea, explaining the decision by saying his side "weren't at it up top". 

Goals from Hakim Ziyech and Emerson Palmieri gave Chelsea a 2-0 second-leg victory over Simeone's LaLiga leaders, who had succumbed to an Olivier Giroud goal in a 1-0 defeat in Madrid. 

Suarez mustered just one attempt and had only 19 touches before he was replaced by Angel Correa in the 58th minute at Stamford Bridge. After leaving the field with a bemused smile on his face, the former Barcelona frontman retired to the stands.

The 34-year-old has now failed to score in his last 25 Champions League away games, only one less than his tally of 26 goals in the competition. 

"It's normal that players are annoyed when you take them off," Simeone told Movistar. 

"We wanted to change things up top and find a different way to attack. I'm not looking for excuses. 

"They deserved to win over the two legs. The first leg was even, but they got their goal. Today they were better than us and deserved to win.

"We tried to find a way to score, but we weren't at it up top despite our effort."

With Atletico just four points clear of Barcelona at the top of LaLiga with 11 games left to play, Simeone addressed the suggestion that the Champions League was not his side's priority. 

He also reserved praise for standout performer Joao Felix, who went close to scoring late in the game for a visiting side that finished with 10 men, Stefan Savic dismissed for elbowing Antonio Rudiger. 

"It's easy to have regrets after the tie is over," said Simeone. "You can't have regrets, the game has gone now. We need to use it to learn. 

"We wanted to stay in the Champions League, but we didn't play that well in this year's tournament, but I'm very happy especially with how Joao Felix played today. 

"We looked to change our system, tried to press them, but they were able to get through it, they were just better than us. You can't say more than that. We need to improve." 

Atletico Madrid star Joao Felix has denied there are problems between him and head coach Diego Simeone.

The Portugal star has struggled for consistency at the Wanda Metropolitano and Simeone appeared to question his work-rate last week, although he later claimed his comments had been misinterpreted.

The €126million attacker is set to start on Wednesday at Stamford Bridge, where Atleti will attempt to overturn a 1-0 deficit to Chelsea in the Champions League last 16.

The 21-year-old, who has vowed to make sure he maximises his talent during his career, now hopes to prove there is a strong working relationship at the club.

"I'm happy here, my family are too. There are good and not-so-good phases everywhere," he told reporters on Tuesday.

"I had to defend for Benfica and the national team, too. I'll do what I have to do here.

"Without will, talent doesn't come through. Many talented players could not reach the top due to not having will and I don't want that to happen to me.

"The moment for me has to be all the time. We're strong because we're a very strong group. And that will be the case tomorrow."

Joao Felix caused a stir with a pointed celebration after scoring against Villarreal, in which he made a 'shushing' gesture, something that delighted Simeone.

The player himself says the incident was simply part of a joke with team-mate Renan Lodi, which was blown out of proportion.

"I already said on Instagram that it was a joke with Lodi. The press likes to talk about things they don't know about," he said.

"My relationship with Cholo is very good. He always tries to help me. We're here to help each other."

Atleti are unbeaten under Simeone in two previous Champions League trips to Stamford Bridge and have progressed from four of the eight two-legged ties in the competition in which they have lost the first leg.

However, a run of two wins in 10 away games in the knockouts does not bode well against a side who are unbeaten in 12 matches under Thomas Tuchel and have conceded only twice in that run.

Simeone hopes to turn that good form into a negative for Chelsea, who have had to cope with only minimal setbacks since Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard.

"I believe today Chelsea don't have a weakness," he said. "The only thing is they don't know what can happen from a negative point of view. 

"They have not had a negative result yet and that will be a question until it happens.

"We are facing a team that has done quite well since their coach has come, they have never lost. They feel strong at home and are playing quite well. 

"They have had games like us around the Champions League matches that have been close and tough. We have to take the match where we want so we can win with a goal. The single idea is to win."

Simeone is backing Luis Suarez to make the difference and end his barren Champions League run, the Uruguay striker having not scored in the competition this season.

Suarez's away run in the competition is of greater concern, the 34-year-old having failed to score in his previous 25 such games for Atleti and Barcelona since netting in a 1-1 draw with Roma at Stadio Olimpico in September 2015.

"I believe Suarez is very important for us," Simeone said. "Probably tomorrow is the right day for Luis Suarez to end the streak. Why not? Tomorrow could be a beautiful day."

Diego Simeone claimed that Real Madrid and Barcelona are unlikely to lose again this season, as he conceded it is normal for his Atletico Madrid side to feel pressure.

LaLiga leaders Atleti were frustrated on Saturday, as they failed to overcome 10-man Getafe and had to settle for a 0-0 draw.

Atleti had 72.7 per cent possession, their highest total in a LaLiga match since at least 2004-05, when Opta started to collect this kind of data.

David Soria was in superb form for Getafe, making seven saves – including a standout stop from Moussa Dembele – while Luis Suarez hit the post.

The result leaves Atleti six points clear of city rivals Madrid, though Barca would move within four points of Simeone's team should they beat Huesca on Monday.

Karim Benzema's double lifted Madrid to victory over Elche earlier on Saturday, and Simeone believes that neither of Atleti's title rivals will slip up again.

"We had the idea of winning again and continuing to have the advantage that we had," he told a news conference.

"The first half was not good, the game did not flow, there were no good transitions. In the second half the team improved and in the end had more chances to score.

"I maintain that the team is playing well, we have to be calm, it is a very difficult championship, Real Madrid and Barcelona are not going to lose any game from here until the end and we have to know what our path is."

Asked if Atleti were feeling the pressure, Simeone replied: "It is normal, we come almost the whole season being first. 

"There are 11 games left, they said that Barcelona was bad but against Paris Saint-Germain they could have won, they have a new president, enthusiasm and Madrid always manages to get the games won.

"We try step by step to continue our way, game by game, and we have two monsters behind us with the idea of being where we are."

Atleti's focus switches, temporarily at least, away from LaLiga for the next few days, with the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie with Chelsea coming up on Wednesday.

Thomas Tuchel's team, who are still unbeaten under the German, lead 1-0 on aggregate thanks to Olivier Giroud's stunning strike in the first leg last month.

Diego Simeone has clarified comments made regarding Joao Felix after recalling the forward for Atletico Madrid's 2-1 win against Athletic Bilbao.

Speaking on the eve of Wednesday's LaLiga clash at the Wanda Metropolitano, Simeone appeared to call into question the Portugal international's lack of work-rate.

"We are a team, not just one player," he told reporters. "We need everyone's contribution so that the team can function as a team, and that individuals and talent can excel."

Joao Felix has scored two goals in his past 16 games and was dropped to the bench for the 1-1 draw with Real Madrid at the weekend, but he played 67 minutes against Athletic.

However, Simeone insists his remarks were misconstrued as he was talking in a more general manner, rather than about the 21-year-old specifically.

"Either I express myself badly, they interpret me badly or they just do what they want," he said at his post-match news conference.

"I speak of a general will. It is the most important thing in life; without it, the rest does not exist."

Atletico's win over Athletic in their game in hand moved them six points clear of Barcelona at the top of LaLiga and a further two points in front of Real Madrid.

Iker Muniain gave the visitors the lead in the Spanish capital, but Marcos Llorente equalised in first-half stoppage time and Luis Suarez scored a penalty winner in the 51st minute.

It was just Atleti's second win in five matches in all competitions during a patchy spell and Simeone was pleased with the way they responded to a late setback against Madrid, when Karim Benzema equalised in the 88th minute.

"It was very important how they reacted after Sunday. We needed to return to winning ways at home," said Simeone, who has overtaken Luis Aragones for the most wins in charge of Atletico with 309 in all competitions.  

"What I liked the most was that it went from a bad moment with them the better team and well positioned, to us being on top. 

"The second half was very good, and we are now level with the others in terms of the number of games played."

Llorente's headed equaliser was his ninth LaLiga goal of the campaign, adding to his eight assists in what has been an impressive season for the Spain international.

Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes (26) is the only midfielder to have been directly involved in more goals in Europe's top five leagues this term than Llorente, who has emerged as one of Atletico's star men over the past year.

"Marcos, for a year, had no minutes. He was on the bench but continued training, working hard and had that will that leads you to be at this moment," Simeone said. 

"He is very important for us and surely for the national team as well."

Suarez won the penalty that he converted – the striker being tripped in the box by Unai Nunez – and has now earned Atletico 15 points from his 18 league goals this term.

That is four points more than any other individual has won their side in the Spanish top flight in 2020-21, but Simeone reiterated Atleti's title charge is a collective effort.

"I look to the group as a whole because individuals alone do not change a game," he said. 

"The team understood that we were not having a good time – they looked for order and then the group and the team generated a second half that we liked a lot."

Athletic were unhappy with the awarding of the decisive penalty and also argued that Llorente's goal should not have stood, coming as it did 17 seconds after the allotted two added minutes.

Marcelino, whose side are without a point away to Atletico since May 2015, felt the scoreline was harsh on his side as the hosts scored two goals from five shots on target.

"I am very satisfied with the performance of my side and I'm sad with the result because Atletico essentially took advantage of one hundred percent of their chances," he said.

Diego Simeone has overtaken Luis Aragones for the most wins ever as head coach of Atletico Madrid.

The Argentine coach picked up his 309th victory in charge in Wednesday's 2-1 comeback win against Athletic Bilbao - a result that moves Atleti six points clear at the top of LaLiga.

Iker Munian had given Athletic the lead at the Wanda Metropolitano, but Marcos Llorente equalised late in the first half and Luis Suarez converted a penalty early in the second.

Simeone's latest win came in his 514th match in charge. Aragones, the only other man to have taken charge of more games, reached 308 wins in 612 matches.

Atleti have drawn 121 times and lost 84 games under Simeone, who took over in December 2011 and has gone on to be their most successful manager of all time.

#OnThisDay in 2011, @Simeone took over.

499 games
300 wins
LaLiga
Europa League
UEFA Super Cup
Copa del Rey
Spanish Super Cup

#AúpaAtleti pic.twitter.com/6U8bdMUwX2

— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) December 23, 2020 TROPHIES

Aragones, a star for Atletico as a player, won six trophies as head coach. Simeone, with seven, is the only man with more.

In a little over nine years in charge, the former Argentina midfielder has led Atletico to two UEFA Super Cups, two Europa Leagues, one Supercopa de Espana, one Copa del Rey and, most famously, their only LaLiga title in the past 25 years back in 2013-14.

Simeone has helped to tip the balance of power somewhat in Spain's capital. He is the only coach to have won three finals against Real Madrid in three different competitions: the Copa del Rey (2013), the Supercopa de Espana (2014) and the UEFA Super Cup (2018).

He has twice faced them in the Champions League final, too, losing after extra time in 2014 and on penalties two years later.


TRAILBLAZING

Among South American coaches, only Helenio Herrera (359) has taken charge of more LaLiga matches than Simeone (353).

All of those have been with Atletico, of course. There are just two coaches to oversee more LaLiga games at a single club: Aragones at Atletico (407) and Miguel Munoz at Real Madrid (424).

Munoz won 357 of his 605 games in charge of Los Blancos in all competitions, so Simeone has a little way to go to surpass that tally. Still, he has already won more games than Barcelona record-holder Johan Cruyff, who won 244 times out of 421 matches.

TITANS

Antoine Griezmann is the player to score the most goals under Simeone at Atletico, with 133 in all competitions.

The rest of the top five includes Diego Costa (75), Radamel Falcao (58), Koke (44) and Saul Niguez (43).

Koke leads the way for assists, with 95, comfortably clear of Griezmann (46), Gabi (44), Angel Correa (43) and Juanfran (32).

Diego Simeone said it was "a shame" Atletico Madrid could not see out victory over Real Madrid in Sunday's derby as he scoffed at those who predicted a runaway title triumph from his team.

A fine early strike from Luis Suarez after terrific work from Marcos Llorente put Atletico in the ascendancy on home soil, but they could not hold on to a narrow lead and Karim Benzema fired an 88th-minute equaliser to keep the visitors in with a sniff of a successful LaLiga defence.

Seconds before Benzema tucked the ball past Jan Oblak, Suarez attempted to play in Saul Niguez for a chance to double Atletico's lead, but the striker's pass was poorly executed.

It was a reminder of how quickly games can change, and it remains to be seen whether Benzema's goal proves a turning point in the season.

Atletico had been heading five points clear of second-placed Barcelona and eight ahead of Madrid, with a game in hand on both, but now those gaps are three and five points.

A return of nine points from Atletico's last six games has allowed the big two in Spain to close the gap on Simeone's pretenders to the throne.

The Atletico boss was asked whether a big opportunity had been missed and said: "I don't want to be extreme in what I say. I took away many important things.

"People thought we were going to win by 20 points, [but] we are playing against very powerful teams, Madrid, Barcelona, ​​Sevilla.

"It is going to be a difficult road for all of us and we want to improve on what we did last season."

Atletico were third last term, finishing well behind champions Madrid and Barcelona, and the signing of Suarez from the Blaugrana has proved a masterstroke.

The Uruguayan's 17th LaLiga goal of the season was a delicious finish, and one of the positives Simeone might have pointed to.

Yet after losing to Madrid away from home earlier this season, Atletico appear to have a major problem with their city rivals.

It is now 10 successive LaLiga derbies without a win against Madrid for Simeone's side, who have drawn six of those games and been beaten in the other four.

At least this time they were the better side for a large part of the game, but Simeone must wait to overtake Luis Aragones as the coach with the most wins as Atletico boss. He remains on 308 – the same number former Spain boss Aragones achieved across four spells in charge.

"I am happy with the team's work until the 80th minute and it's a shame that we could not win a game that we wanted to win," Simeone said.

"From the negative side there is the draw in the last minutes on one of their two chances in the game and the positive side is the good game we played.

"We were well controlled, we played a good first half. In the second we started with the same tune, with chances to be able to close it out and we could not be forceful.

"We were playing a team with great footballers who always have this in the last minutes. We had more chances to win it than they did."

Zinedine Zidane declared Real Madrid "are alive" in a LaLiga title race that was given a stunning twist thanks to Karim Benzema's late equaliser against Atletico Madrid. 

Moments after Atletico threatened to go 2-0 ahead, Benzema drove the ball past Jan Oblak to earn a 1-1 draw that keeps Madrid clinging to hopes of a successful title defence. 

They are not as close as they would hope; five points off the pace having played one more game than Atletico means there is a mountain to climb. 

But that gap was almost eight points after Luis Suarez's early strike looked set to decide the derby, with Benzema's 88th-minute intervention a welcome reprieve for the visitors to the Wanda Metropolitano. 

"It is deserved, we had chances at the end. We could have scored more, but the good thing was we had a different second half and changed the game," Zidane told a post-game news conference. 

"It is a point, we are alive. We are going to keep fighting. It is a correct result, we believed until the end that it could be recovered."

Madrid thought they should have had a penalty late in the first half when a corner from Toni Kroos zipped across the six-yard box and struck Felipe on the arm, but referee Alejandro Hernandez Hernandez rejected the claims, even after viewing the incident on a touchline screen. 

Perhaps Zidane might have had a different view if Benzema had not equalised, but Madrid's head coach offered a phlegmatic post-game perspective. 

"His job is difficult. It is his decision, his responsibility. We have to respect that," Zidane said of the referee. "The players said it was a hand, he has reviewed it and decided not to whistle." 

Atletico are three points ahead of second-placed Barcelona but finished this game deflated, and their once-commanding lead has been whittled away in recent weeks. 

"We know there is a lot left," Zidane said. "Everything can always change, we are doing things well, we can improve. 

"I am very proud of all my players. We are in the same boat and we are going to fight to the end." 

Atletico have now gone 10 LaLiga derbies against Madrid without a win, drawing six of those games and losing four times. 

The result also means Real Madrid have not lost any of their four LaLiga games at Atletico's new home (W1 D3), and they remain the only team to have played in the stadium in the Spanish top flight without losing. 

Zidane also avoided a rare defeat to Diego Simeone, meaning the Atletico boss now has just one victory in nine matches (W1 D5 L3) against the Frenchman in LaLiga. That 11 per cent win record for Simeone is the Argentinian's worst against any manager he has faced at least four times in the competition. 

Ultimately, Real Madrid set out to bring home all three points, yet the one they left with felt almost like a win. 

Speaking to broadcaster Movistar, Zidane explained he was impressed by how greatly Madrid improved in the second half, after a shaky start to the game. 

"We had to be more aggressive, be higher, have more pressure. We had to be more alive on the pitch," he said. "You can get into a bad game, but then you have to change. 

"That's what we did in the second half, change at a general level, defensively and offensively. 

"They are a direct rival. We wanted all three points. The important thing is to turn the game around. Now we have to continue."

Luis Suarez scored a dazzling goal and was named man of the match, but on the day his former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard finally became a league champion, did Suarez have his own 'Gerrard's slip'?

Championships are often decided on fine margins, and it is almost seven years since Liverpool's Premier League title hopes were brutally hit by Chelsea, when Gerrard's famous stumble let in Demba Ba to score. Manchester City snatched the silverware from the long-time favourites, and Liverpool had to wait another six years before landing the trophy.

Gerrard has managed Rangers to the Scottish title and Suarez is attempting to power Atletico to LaLiga silverware, and on Sunday it seemed all the glory would be his after he fired the Rojiblancos into an early 1-0 lead over Real Madrid, a typically flamboyant finish from a player some thought was washed up at Barcelona barely six months ago.

How he has been revived this season under Diego Simeone, and what a moment it would be were he and Atletico to carry off the title in Spain this year.

But this game at the Wanda Metropolitano finished 1-1, and Suarez will know he is partly responsible for the home side not seeing out victory.

In the 87th minute, Atletico had a glorious chance on the counter-attack to go 2-0 in front. Suarez, in plenty of space inside the Madrid half, could not find the pass that would have sent Saul Niguez through on goal, instead pushing his team-mate wide, and the chance was snuffed out.

Within seconds, Madrid were encroaching on the Atletico penalty area, Karim Benzema on the ball. His pass to Casemiro was carefully returned to the feet of the Frenchman, who burst beyond the penalty spot and finally found a way past Jan Oblak.

Kingpins, that's what Suarez and Benzema are to their teams. Like Gerrard at Liverpool. They are the players whose influence is felt throughout the team, the squad, the club and beyond.

Suarez walked off with an apologetic look at full-time, tracked to the tunnel by television cameras. He had the game in his hands, and he dropped it. Madrid are still in this title race, and five points behind feels an awful lot better than the prospect of eight adrift, which was looming as Suarez picked his pass to Saul.

This was a result that would have been cheered in Barcelona, if they were paying attention in Catalonia and not all-consumed by the elections for a new club president.

Maybe a Madrid win would have been an even better result for Barcelona's title prospects, but nobody among the Blaugranas would dare admit that.

Barcelona sit second, just three points behind Atletico now, and Simeone's team must still visit Camp Nou. How Suarez must be relishing that, and how he must be relieved that Atletico remain in the box seat in this three-team battle.

He was excellent for large parts of this game, hitting the target with four of his six shots and typically delighting in winding up the opposition.

Benzema, by contrast, looked far from sharp until the final half hour, when the player who was returning from a three-week injury lay-off found something extra.

Zidane had labelled Benzema "a joy for football" before this game, but by the break he had registered three attempts, none of which hit the target; a tame shot and two stray headers.

This game seemed ripe for Atletico to end their nine-game winless run in LaLiga games against Madrid (D5 L4), with Marcos Llorente's skilful evasion of Nacho and Suarez's world-class finish from the pass that followed a real treat for the eyes. It was the Uruguayan's 10th goal in 13 LaLiga games against Madrid.

It was Suarez's 17th goal from his 29th shot on target this season in LaLiga, and by early in the second half the expected goal (xG) rating for each side showed Atletico were leading by 1.2 to 0.4.

Slowly, though, the chances began to flow for Madrid, Oblak making a string of magnificent saves, including two in quick succession from Benzema, who was coming into his own as others tired. Finally, Benzema got his reward for persistence. It finished a 1.8-1.8 draw on xG, 1-1 on the scoreboard.

And now Atletico are 10 league games without a win against their neighbours.

"We know how difficult this championship is," Simeone said in his pre-match news conference, pointing to how Madrid and Barcelona have been gradually reeling in Atletico in recent weeks.

It may get a whole lot harder now.

Diego Simeone sees no reason to think the LaLiga title race could be over if Atletico Madrid beat Real Madrid on Sunday.

Atleti head into the derby at the Wanda Metropolitano with a five-point lead at the top of the table over their city rivals and Barcelona and a game in hand on both.

Simeone's men lost the reverse fixture 2-0 in December but then went on a run of nine consecutive league wins to put them in a commanding position at the top.

However, dropped points last month against Levante (twice) and Celta Vigo allowed Madrid and Barca to close the gap and a third home defeat in a row in all competitions would truly reignite a three-way title battle.

The omens are not good for Atletico, either, as they are on a nine-game winless run against Madrid in LaLiga, have failed to score in the last 355 minutes of that sequence and have yet to beat Los Blancos in the top flight at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Madrid have also found form away from home of late, winning each of their last three league games on the road, one short of their best run set under Zinedine Zidane last July.

Simeone, who has won just 12.5 per cent of league matches against Zidane, does not believe ending their poor recent derby record will be enough to consider the title race is in their hands.

"It's a really beautiful championship and all the important teams are seeking the best positions in the table," he said on Saturday.

"It's a top-of-the-table game, a direct game between two teams fighting for similar positions, but they're three points. There's still a long way to go in LaLiga and we'll try to take the game where we want so we can cause some damage.

"A few games ago, we were talking about a league where Real Madrid and Barcelona had no chance, and look where they are now. We know how difficult this championship is."

Joao Felix has begun to find form of late, the €126million man having scored a superb second in Atletico's 2-0 win at Villarreal last time out.

Simeone has yet to decide whether to start the talented Portugal youngster alongside Luis Suarez or to go with the more hard-working Angel Correa.

"Joao and Angel have different characteristics," he said. "Angel gives us more dynamism in the team's collective work, with a lot more directness in his play, and Joao has a special talent that can produce something nobody else has and, from the point of view of the number of goals, Joao's are very good.

"The competition is very good, very healthy, very beautiful. The two will play: one will start, and another will have to wait, but certainly both will play."

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."

Diego Simeone earned a place in the Atletico Madrid history books with Sunday's win over Villarreal.

The Argentine coach enjoyed his 308th victory in charge of the club in Atletico's 2-0 LaLiga triumph.

An own goal from Alfonso Pedraza and a fine strike from Joao Felix secured the win, sending Atletico five points clear at the top of the table.

In so doing, Simeone matched the esteemed 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 in charge. Aragones, the only man to take charge of more games, reached 308 wins in 612 matches at a rate of 50.3 per cent.

Atletico have drawn 120 times and lost only 84 games under Simeone, who took over on December 23 in 2011 and has since become the club's most successful coach.

TROPHIES

Aragones, a star for Atletico as a player, also won six trophies as head coach. Simeone, with seven, is the only man with more.

In a little over nine years in charge, the former Argentina midfielder has led Atletico to two UEFA Super Cups, two Europa Leagues, one Supercopa de Espana, one Copa del Rey and, most famously, their only LaLiga title in the past 25 years back in 2013-14.

Simeone has helped to tip the balance of power somewhat in Spain's capital. He is the only coach to have won three finals against Real Madrid in three different competitions: the Copa del Rey (2013), the Supercopa de Espana (2014) and the UEFA Super Cup (2018).

He has twice faced them in the Champions League final, too, losing after extra time in 2014 and on penalties two years later.

 

TRAILBLAZING

Among South American coaches, only Helenio Herrera (359) has taken charge of more LaLiga matches than Simeone (351).

All of those have been with Atletico, of course. There are just two coaches to oversee more LaLiga games at a single club: Aragones at Atletico (407) and Miguel Munoz at Real Madrid (424).

Munoz won 357 of his 605 games in charge of Los Blancos in all competitions, so Simeone has a little way to go to surpass that tally. Still, he has already won more games than Barcelona record-holder Johan Cruyff, who won 244 times out of 421 matches.

 

TITANS

Antoine Griezmann is the player to score the most goals under Simeone at Atletico, with 133 in all competitions.

The rest of the top five includes Diego Costa (75), Radamel Falcao (58), Koke (44) and Saul Niguez (43).

Koke leads the way for assists, with 95, comfortably clear of Griezmann (46), Gabi (44), Angel Correa (43) and Juanfran (32).

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.

 

 

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