Diego Simeone feels Jan Oblak's recent contract extension is vital to Atletico Madrid's future as he is "probably the best keeper in the world".

Slovenia international Oblak signed fresh terms on a four-year deal with Atletico last week, the new agreement reportedly including a release clause of around €100million.

The former Benfica goalkeeper, 26, has spent the past five years in the Spanish capital having succeeded Thibaut Courtois as the club's number one in 2014.

Simeone compared Oblak's new deal to Antoine Griezmann's contract extension last year in terms of its importance to the Rojiblancos moving forward.

"It is very important for the club and a great decision - as it was with the Griezmann one last year - on staying with us," Simeone told reporters at a news conference to preview Valencia's trip to the Wanda Metropolitano.

"He is probably the best keeper in the world.

"It is a big joy for the club and for the fans because Jan is an extraordinary goalkeeper.

"It is something which is very good news for the club, that's for sure."

Barcelona will be confirmed as LaLiga champions should they beat Deportivo Alaves on Tuesday and Atleti then lose to Valencia the following day.

Copa del Rey finalists and Europa League semi-finalists Valencia have found form in recent months, losing just one of their previous 22 games in all competitions, as they chase a top-four finish.

They won only one of their opening 13 matches but Simeone always expected Valencia to turn their season around.

"I think this last period of the season is what they planned at the beginning, according to the squad they have," he added.

"I am not surprised seeing how they are improving because they are a solid and organised team with a clear concept of the game and good replacement players.

"So, being at this position in the table, playing the semi-final of the Europa League and [having] qualified for the final of the Copa del Rey describes how good their squad is."

Simeone, who remains without the suspended Diego Costa, will have defender Stefan Savic available again after he returned to training on Tuesday following a hamstring injury.

Jose Gimenez dislocated a toe in Saturday's 1-0 LaLiga win at Eibar, Atletico Madrid have confirmed.

Thomas Lemar struck late at Ipurua to move Atleti within six points of leaders Barcelona.

But the victory came at a cost for Diego Simeone's side as Gimenez was injured during the game.

Atleti confirmed in a medical statement the Uruguay international sustained the problem in the first half.

"The dislocation decreased as the game progressed and our defender was able to finish the game," the club said. "Radiological tests will be carried out in the next few hours to rule out bone damage."

Atletico, now seven points clear of city rivals Real Madrid, return to action at home to Europa League semi-finalists Valencia on Wednesday.

Barca can restore their lead from Atleti by winning at home to Real Sociedad, but Simeone is not giving up on the title race yet.

"Eibar compete very well, they're very dangerous," Simeone said after his side's fourth win in their past five LaLiga games. "We will continue doing our job and fighting until the end.

"We started the game better and then they improved and were comfortable until the break. The second half was the opposite.

"We moved players around to see how we could hurt them with Lemar, Koke, Thomas [Partey]. In a good play we managed to find the goal through Lemar, which will be good for him."

Thomas Lemar scored late as Atletico Madrid kept their slim LaLiga title hopes alive with a 1-0 win at Eibar.

Atletico seemed set to be held at Ipurua on Saturday and hand runaway leaders Barcelona a further advantage, but instead they cut the gap to six points.

Marko Dmitrovic made fine saves to deny Angel Correa and Diego Godin but the Eibar goalkeeper could do nothing about Atleti's 85th-minute winner.

After a spell of head tennis, Nikola Kalinic sent Koke clear in the right channel and his low cross was tapped in at the back post by Lemar.

Diego Simeone says a disciplinary issue with Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa has been settled.

Costa reportedly refused to train on Thursday over a club disciplinary process following his red card against Barcelona.

An outburst at the referee against LaLiga's leaders earlier this month saw Costa sent off, then hit with an eight-match ban.

Atletico's slim LaLiga title hopes were effectively ended as a result, but Simeone continued to defend the striker ahead of Saturday's trip to Eibar. 

"What I can tell you is it's an internal situation, that we solved it yesterday and today Diego was training as he has always trained," Simeone told a news conference on Friday.

"I have explained several times. I do not change what I think about Diego. I think he did not have a good season, marked by injuries. And I have no doubt that next season, all the rebellion and all the players who is in all situations that have lived this season, will do very well.

"This season he has not been able to have continuity. Then the expulsion moves him away from the competition from here to the end and all this will make him rebel. Costa will have a hunger and desire to reverse this situation that he has lived this season.

"Players today cannot take anything for granted in the future. Always the players can have the opportunity to leave. We always want to compete with the best and those that we consider that can make the team good and keep it growing."

Asked again about Costa's punishment over the ban, Simeone added: "I was clear at the start. It is an internal issue and has been resolved internally and is now resolved. 

"It is an internal issue and we resolve it internally. In the family when situations happen they are resolved without telling anyone on the street."

Atleti can boost their chances of finishing second, above city rivals Real Madrid, by winning away to Eibar on Saturday.

"It will be a hard game like all against Eibar," Simeone said. "They are the one who presses in the best way among the rivals in Spanish football.

"Drowning the exit and trying to make mistakes. We know about their characteristics and will try especially at home to do it in the best way."

Diego Godin and Thomas Lemar are available after being given medical discharge from thigh and hamstring injuries respectively.

Diego Costa's positives outweigh the negatives although the striker's red card against Barcelona cost Atletico Madrid, says Diego Simeone.

Costa's outburst at referee Jesus Gil Manzano saw the Spain international sent off at Camp Nou, with Barca winning 2-0 thanks to late goals from Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi.

Atleti's slim hopes of chasing down LaLiga's leaders therefore became even more remote, with Costa given an eight-match ban over the incident.

Costa also reportedly faces a punishment from the club for his behaviour, their appeal against the ban having been rejected, but Simeone defended the tempestuous forward.

"He's an animal, Diego Costa is an animal!" Simeone said to Goal.

"He made us suffer in a game against Barcelona when we needed his characteristics, sure, he is a player that we needed for that game, but I am not one of the coaches that generates negative sensations from an episode.

"I value everything and with Costa there is more positive than negative."

Costa's long suspension will likely give Alvaro Morata more chances to impress as a partner for Antoine Griezmann, the striker having hit five league goals since joining from Chelsea in January.

The 26-year-old's loan is set to run for a further season but Simeone indicated Atletico may pursue a permanent deal for Morata, a boyhood fan of the club.

"Morata is a football player. You throw him a shirt and he plays. He has played in great teams, he has enthusiasm and vision," Simeone added.

"He found a strong dressing room as a group and immediately entered into a very competitive role with [Angel] Correa, Costa, Antoine...

"Morata showed his potential right away, I hope he continues with us, he has things to improve, but I feel that when he has continuity, he raises his level and is one of the best strikers in Europe."

Atletico and Simeone face a rebuilding job at the end of the season, with experienced defenders Diego Godin and Filipe Luis among those expected to leave.

Lucas Hernandez has already been confirmed as heading for Bayern Munich, with Saul Niguez and Griezmann among the other big names linked with moves.

Rodri and Thomas Partey are primed to take more responsibility, though, and Simeone feels the midfield duo are ready to make a breakthrough.

"Rodri has hooked from the start, he's great, he has to improve," Simeone said of the Spain international. "I argue, I fight him and I provoke him to play a lot more, so that he grows a lot more.

"The more passes he gives to Griezmann, to [Thomas] Lemar, to advance, if he adds more good passes, the team is always going to play well. If he looks for a side pass, if he adds a lot of those passes, the team will be flat, it will not advance in the game.

"If Juanfran gets Rodri's pass 20 times it is not better than if he hits six or seven in forward transition, where lines are broken. I see [Sergio] Busquets, the best of all, and in two simple passes, he does not make 30 forward, but he does hit you 12 or 14 passes to break lines. Less sideways and more vertical passes.

"When it is said, you have to secure the ball, it is true, to make the team breathe. But if I have time to be vertical and I lose the possibility of taking advantage of an unmarked player, it is useless.

"Thomas is more vertical than Rodri, it's not that he's better, he's more vertical. Maybe he loses more balls because it is not so easy to play vertically. When Rodri improves that, he's going to be even better.

"He has an aerial game, he recovers the ball, he is a focused player, he is a huge boy... and he will improve, for sure."

Lionel Messi being criticised for his failure to deliver a major title for Argentina is unfair, says Diego Simeone.

Messi could not inspire Argentina to success at last year's World Cup, having to drag his side through the group stage before exiting to eventual winners France in the round of 16.

The Argentina captain then took a sabbatical from international duty but was criticised for missing a friendly against Morocco after making his return in a defeat to Venezuela last month.

Messi confirmed a pelvic injury meant he had to pull out of the squad and has said his son asked him: "Dad, why do they crucify you in Argentina?"

But Messi will again shoulder his country's burden of expectation at the Copa America this year and Atletico Madrid head coach Diego Simeone feels the forward is under too much pressure.

"I respect everything, everyone has an opinion. Messi was close to winning the World Cup [in 2014], he did not win it unfortunately," Simeone told Goal. 

"Some people criticise him constantly, but Messi is extraordinary, how many Ballons d'Or has he won, how many goals has he made? How many times has he managed to give Barcelona a certain way to play? Without him, it would not be the same.

"The criticism towards Messi is not fair, not at all, especially in Argentina, they all compare Messi - why in Barcelona ​​yes and in Argentina not?

"It is not difficult to know why, it's easy, in Barcelona there are some players and a team that supports him and in Argentina there are no such players, as happens to Cristsiano Ronaldo in Portugal, because Portugal are not Juventus or Real Madrid.

"The teams strengthen the great player, it's easy."

Argentina are rebuilding for the Copa America under Lionel Scaloni, who replaced Jorge Sampaoli after the World Cup, with Messi back in the fold after a nine-month absence.

But Simeone is unsure which direction the national team should take after a series of major disappointments, losing the 2014 World Cup final and in two Copa America finals despite Messi's presence.

"It's very difficult to talk from the perspective that I'm not in that place. If I ask that question to a fan, what would he do in that situation, he would not know what to do if one day he is a coach," former Argentina midfielder Simeone added.

"Being a team manager is one thing, being a national manager is another, there is a whole country behind [you] with a ruthless football and passion culture. It generates another environment that has nothing to do with being a club manager.

"What I would like to do is more than having a team, having a quality or another, is to have the peace to be able to sustain everything that surrounds the manager and it is not seen, that it is not only to choose players, to create a system or to make a tactic.

"The one that assumes that role must be able to take that role and that is the most difficult part of football."

Diego Simeone described Jan Oblak as "the best goalkeeper in the world" after his star turn in Atletico Madrid's 2-0 win over Celta Vigo on Saturday.

Atletico bounced back from last weekend's disappointing 2-0 defeat to Barcelona as goals from Antoine Griezmann and Alvaro Morata earned all three points.

It could have been a very different outcome, though, if not for Oblak producing three stunning saves to keep Celta at bay.

And Simeone was in no doubt that the Slovenia international – who joined from Benfica in 2014 – is comfortably the best in the world in his position.

"He is the best goalkeeper in the world," he said. "We are fortunate that he chooses to play at Atletico and that he is with us. 

"He has improved a lot and he has earned it. When he arrived years ago, he entered the Champions League and because of his work, effort and improvement he is where he is."

The Atletico boss, meanwhile, was quick to dismiss speculation that Griezmann will attempt to engineer a move away from the club at the end of the season.

Camp Nou would appear to be the most likely destination given Barca's very public interest in the 28-year-old before he committed his future to Atletico ahead of last year's World Cup.

Simeone, though, says his side's most prized asset is going nowhere.

"I repeat, he is one of our captains. The club has made a huge effort to keep him here, he is happy in Madrid," he explained.

"He is a very important player for the team, it does not make me think that he can leave."

The win against Celta increased Atletico's lead over Real Madrid – who play Leganes on Monday – to five points in the battle for second.

Diego Costa's eight-game ban for his outburst at referee Jesus Gil Manzano is "too much", according to Atletico Madrid head coach Diego Simeone.

The Spain international was dismissed during the first half of his side's 2-0 defeat to Barcelona last Saturday and the official wrote in his post-match report that Costa had insulted his mother and, after being shown a red card, grabbed his arm to try to stop him from booking Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez.

It was confirmed on Thursday Costa had been be suspended for eight games and would consequently miss the rest of the season, though Atletico were given 10 working days to lodge an appeal.

Simeone believes the punishment is excessive and says the club will do everything it can to support Costa.

"The sanction is too much," he told a media conference ahead of Atleti's LaLiga clash with Celta Vigo on Saturday. "The club will defend him as he continues to prepare for next season. Hopefully he returns to the level we need.

"You know what I think of Costa. We must take care of our players and, at this moment, more than ever with Costa."

The former Chelsea striker has endured a difficult season, scoring just five goals in 21 appearances across all competitions.

However, Simeone defended the 30-year-old, insisting that injuries have been responsible for his struggles.

"He started very well after a great pre-season," the Argentinian said.

"In September and October, he began to feel discomfort but we asked him to play in Girona although he was not in the right condition.

"Hopefully now he can have a fantastic pre-season and can respond as we are used to."

Atleti are 11 points behind LaLiga leaders Barca with seven games remaining and Simeone conceded this season has been a challenging one.

"To be honest, it has been a tough year," he added. "Everything has been hard since the beginning and we have to keep going, no doubts.

"It is a good time to see where people are. I am speaking about players, the board, technical staff and fans. It is the time to evaluate where we are."

Diego Simeone was left frustrated by a lack of consistency from LaLiga's referees after Diego Costa was sent off for dissent in Atletico Madrid's 2-0 defeat at Barcelona.

Atletico went into the game eight points adrift of pacesetters Barca, meaning anything other than a win would be of little use in the title race.

Their chances took a major blow in the 28th minute when Costa was given his marching orders after appearing to say something to referee Jesus Gil Manzano.

Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi secured the win – and probably LaLiga – with goals in the last five minutes, though much of the post-match focus remained on Costa.

"In the last 11 games here [at Camp Nou] we have received seven red cards," Simeone told reporters. "We must be doing something wrong.

"I asked the referee and he told me something that Costa says he didn't say. If he said it [what the referee claims], he is deservedly sent off.

"But other players have said things and he doesn't send them off. We see it and they do not send them off.

"But that does not justify Costa's actions. If the referee interprets that there was insult, he's deservedly sent off, but it's not always the same [outcome for every player]."

Simeone was also eager to move away from the negativity many have attached to the defeat, with some suggesting their season is over, although he believes such opinions show how far the team has come.

"Our season has not ended in any way," he said. "We have to win as many points as possible.

"I value that we won the European Supercup, that we fought for the second place, and it is bad? I love it, I love that it is said to be bad [the season]. Do not forget where we are."

Diego Simeone has dismissed the notion of Atletico Madrid fearing Lionel Messi in Saturday's clash with Barcelona, instead choosing to praise the "incredible work" of opposite number Ernesto Valverde.

Atleti head to Camp Nou trailing the leaders by eight points, meaning anything less than a win is likely to end their hopes of winning LaLiga.

Barca's latest treble charge has been spearheaded by Messi, who has scored 42 goals in 39 appearances in all competitions in another spectacular season.

But, rather than focus on the fearsome form of the Argentina star, Simeone is keen to highlight the work of Valverde, especially in light of the disappointment of last term's shock Champions League quarter-final exit at the hands of Roma.

When asked about Messi, Simeone told a news conference: "The word isn't 'fear', but respect.

"There is a seniority Barcelona have, and what I would call the incredible work the coach is doing, keeping them alive in three competitions.

"Last season, they went through in Rome what happened to us in Turin [when Atleti lost 3-0 to Juventus], and they couldn't win everything, but they tried for the treble.

"Now, they have an enviable position in the league, in the Champions League... it's difficult to be a team like that and keep winning. Valverde, with his style of play, is having an amazing season."

Messi has scored six times from direct free-kicks this season, including once in each of his last three league appearances, while the 20 goals he has managed from set-pieces in the last five seasons is almost double the number of any other player in Europe's top-five leagues.

"That's pure quality," was Simeone's assessment.

Simeone has failed to win any of his 14 league meetings with Barca as Atleti head coach, while their last league win at Camp Nou came under Jose Murcia in February 2006.

However, the former midfielder is more concerned about taking maximum points from all of their remaining games, not only the clash on Saturday, for which he expects to have Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata fit and ready.

"The fact we never win makes me super optimistic, of course!" he said.

"If we win and then don't win the next games, it won't matter at all. We have to focus on trying to keep improving.

"It makes me feel good that Barca believe we are their closest competitors. That speaks well of our players."

Cringeworthy as it was for many viewers, Antoine Griezmann's 'The Decision' could still prove to be a landmark moment in Atletico Madrid's modern history. But not the one they expected. 

The blockbuster, made in association with Gerard Pique’s production company and premiered to millions last year, saw Griezmann oh-so-dramatically agonise over his future before confirming he would be rejecting Barcelona to stay at Atletico. 

As LaLiga's top two prepare to meet at Camp Nou on Saturday, Griezmann would hope to be getting ready for a decisive fixture, a chance to vindicate his choice and fire Atleti towards a first league triumph since 2013-14. In reality, with the gap standing at eight points, even a victory for the visitors looks unlikely to stop Barca securing a fourth title in five years. 

With the Copa del Rey and Champions League gone, too, Atleti are staring at a barren end to the season. Moreover, and more worryingly, there is a growing sense that 2018-19 has been one big missed opportunity, and perhaps the last they will have for a considerable time.

GRIEZMANN'S BUYER'S REMORSE

There was a point at Luzhniki Stadium last July, after the final whistle and before the trophy ceremony, when the World Cup final highlights were played on the big screens. 

While some France players danced in front of fans, Griezmann stood watching the replay of his man-of-the-match performance, hands pressed to his mouth, an irrepressible grin on his face. It was a poignant moment of childlike awe, as Griezmann the global superstar gave way to Antoine the boy from Macon, barely able to believe he had just won the biggest prize of all. 

Last year was probably the best in Griezmann's career. Starring roles in the Europa League and World Cup, plus a UEFA Super Cup win over Real Madrid, gave him three trophies and a genuine shot at the Ballon d'Or. When he asked, "what else do I have to do?" after finishing third in the voting behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric, few disagreed. 

One thing his performances did earn him, though, was a new five-year Atleti contract. Having publicly deliberated over his future, the forward committed to a deal that, according to L'Equipe, has helped to make him the highest-earning French sportsman in the world. It was a mutual declaration of trust: Griezmann challenged the club to show enough ambition to keep their best players, and Atleti in turn made their standard-bearer's future safe. 

Or so they thought. Less than a year on, Griezmann's head has apparently been turned once more. There are suggestions he regrets his decision to stay and, although his sister has denied any recent contact with Barcelona, nobody from the Griezmann camp has yet dismissed the claims that he is unsure of his future. It is also thought that, as per the deal signed last year, his release clause will drop from €200million to €120m after this season, making him a more realistic prospect for Barca, or indeed Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United. 

Will Atleti go out of their way to convince him to stay this time? That, too, is unclear. Griezmann has scored 13 goals in 30 league games this season, having hit 19 in 32 last term. He was powerless to prevent them crashing to a 3-0 loss to Juventus that saw them exit the Champions League with a 3-2 aggregate defeat. He has been good, sometimes very good, but, for the highest-paid member of France's World Cup winners, perhaps not quite good enough.

ATLETI COULD BE LOSING HEART AND SAUL

Beyond the problem of Griezmann's future, Atleti fans must be starting to fear that Diego Simeone's carefully constructed squad is at risk of being picked apart. 

Lucas Hernandez was close to joining Bayern Munich a year ago and the Bundesliga giants returned with another offer that has proved too good to ignore - €80million, in fact, to match his release clause. His impending exit is said to have unsettled some of the club's senior stars, including Griezmann. 

There is also the problem of Saul Niguez. The man who signed a nine-year contract in July 2017, who said, "At Atletico, we are a family and there is no better place to be," has apparently grown restless.

Talk of a rift between Saul and Simeone has even led to speculation that Atleti might accept an offer of less than his €150m release clause, as Manchester City and Manchester United monitor the situation. 

Add to that the expected departure of veteran defender Diego Godin to Inter, the possible exit of Filipe Luis, the struggle for form of Diego Costa and the continued anxiety over whether Jan Oblak might be stolen away, and we are talking about seven possible transfers that would rip the heart out of Simeone's set-up and leave them in need of a substantial rebuild, which would make challenging for LaLiga and the Champions League next year seem nigh-on impossible. 

IS SIMEONE'S MAGIC WANDA WEAKENING?

Like Griezmann, Simeone has agonised before over his Atletico future. Like Griezmann, he has so far always decided he is in the right place. 

A man who has presided over their greatest modern period, a winner of seven major trophies and twice a Champions League finalist, Simeone has been the basis of Atleti's planning. In tandem with the fearsome yet unflinchingly optimistic Mono Burgos, football's answer to Rubeus Hagrid (at least until he shaved his beard off), Simeone has weaved his magic to transform Atleti's fortunes. But is the spell wearing off? 

This season looked like their best chance of conquering Spain and Europe together, at least since the dramatic final weeks of 2013-14, when a draw with Barca gave them the league title and only Sergio Ramos' proclivity for an injury-time storyline denied them the Champions League. This term, with Barca not always firing on all cylinders and Madrid in disarray, Atleti had the trophies in their sights. After a Copa shock against Girona, a collapse in Turin and three league defeats in seven games, they were left looking at little more than Blaugrana coattails. 

Simeone signed a lucrative new three-year contract in February because, he said, "I see work, I see people involved to continue growing, I see hope, I see youth that can progress to the first team level. If all four legs remain firm we will continue on the same path: fans, leaders, players and the coach." 

The players, it seems, might not be staying "firm" for much longer. Simeone came close to walking away after the Champions League final loss in 2016 and, after another season of disappointment, he might think his time is finally up, too.

That would be two of four legs gone, leaving the club on its knees.

Alvaro Morata is a major doubt for Atletico Madrid's clash with LaLiga title rivals Barcelona after the club confirmed he has a sprained ankle.

Morata suffered the injury during Tuesday's 2-0 defeat of Girona, which helped Atletico move eight points behind Barca ahead of Saturday's meeting between the top two at Camp Nou.

Atletico on Wednesday conducted tests on the Spain international, who had to be replaced by Juanfran after 85 minutes at the Wanda Metropolitano.

"The medical report indicates that [Morata] suffered an ankle sprain," said a club statement. "The striker is pending response to treatment."

Morata's absence would be a blow to head coach Diego Simeone, who may also be without Diego Costa for the Barca game due to a hamstring injury.

France midfielder Thomas Lemar is another doubt due to a thigh complaint, with Atletico needing a win to boost their slim chances of catching the defending champions.

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone insists his side have every intention of going to Camp Nou and trying to beat Barcelona this weekend.

Diego Godin and Antoine Griezmann kept their LaLiga title challenge alive as they kicked off a huge week with a 2-0 win over Girona at the Wanda Metropolitano on Tuesday.

Atleti head to Catalonia on Saturday for a mouth-watering clash against Ernesto Valverde's side, who saw their lead at the summit cut to eight points after a sensational 4-4 draw against Villarreal, last-gasp goals from Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez rescuing the champions.

Simeone told a media conference after the win against Girona: "We have to stay as high as we can. We will try to win [at Barcelona].

"The important thing is that we are all together. Whether it's a coach or a player, since I came to the club I have always seen that the important thing was that union."

Atletico made a laboured start amid distracting scenes in the stands, as fans staged a 12th-minute walk-in protest due to a perceived lack of appreciation from the players following the Champions League defeat to Juventus.

Simeone was happy with how his side grew into the game, though, and thinks they were good value for the three points.

"Except in the first part of the game, in which one of their strikers had a clear header, we were comfortable," he said.

"We had chances to score, hit the post, there was a possible penalty on Alvaro Morata, two or three shots from Griezmann. We felt that we were dangerous when we attacked.

"After the break we didn't play well but our changes revitalised us. I think that was what brought us closer to the goal.

"They tried to counter attack and wait for us to make a mistake and we tried to find the goal despite the limited spaces that we found. In the end we found it though."

Atletico Madrid are not being distracted by the uncertainty around Antoine Griezmann's future, head coach Diego Simeone insists.

Speculation has emerged in recent weeks that Griezmann is considering trying to leave the club, with Barcelona said to be ready to make him an offer.

Barca's interest in the France star dominated headlines for much of 2018 until the player released a short film in which he confirmed his decision to stay with Atletico.

But Simeone does not believe the latest rumours are causing any further unrest, adding that Griezmann's frustration at being substituted in the 4-0 win over Deportivo Alaves on Saturday was a positive sign.

"I think the team is calm," he said ahead of Tuesday's league game at home to Girona. "The other day, he came off angry because he wanted to keep playing, and that's good.

"He's one of the captains of our team and if there is something to report, he will do so, but he looks switched on for the end of the season and hopefully he can get back among the goals."

Simeone is also backing Diego Costa to stay at the club for next season, despite suggestions he could leave just 18 months after his return from Chelsea.

"I want him to stay," Simeone said of the striker, who is a doubt to face Girona with a hamstring injury. "His return helped us win the Europa League, be second in LaLiga, win the UEFA Super Cup...

"His presence, together with his team-mates, gives us a structure. He is at an ideal age. I trust him to the death."

Atleti have been tipped to sign Alex Telles and Hector Herrera from Porto before next season regardless of the future of their own stars, but Simeone is refusing to discuss proposed targets.

"I've always been very respectful with the boys," he added, "We're playing a league with nine matches left; tomorrow [Tuesday], we measure ourselves against an opponent who make it very tough, and that's what we're worried about.

"I focus on the players we have here until the end of the season. After that, the club will report on anything."

Diego Simeone has warned Barcelona that Atletico Madrid will not give up the fight for the LaLiga title following their 4-0 defeat of Deportivo Alaves.

Atleti closed the gap to the leaders back to 10 points with an emphatic win at Mendizorroza, after Barca had beaten Espanyol 2-0 earlier on Saturday.

Simeone's side suffered chastening defeats to Juventus in the Champions League and Athletic Bilbao in the league before the international break, but they swept aside top-four candidates Alaves in style thanks to goals from Saul Niguez, Diego Costa, Alvaro Morata and Thomas Partey.

And Simeone insists they still believe in their title chances, with the top-two meeting at Camp Nou next Saturday.

"What was most pleasing was they understood where we could hurt the opposition the most," he said after the win at Alaves. "We aim to harm the opposition and not take long to create dangerous passes. We had to play quickly.

"In principle, the players needed a game like that, at a stadium where the opponents compete well. The conviction and the way we won makes us very happy.

"We can't lose sight of the fact that, at any point in LaLiga, competing is in our nature. And we want to compete for LaLiga until our last breath."

Thomas capped the win with a spectacular strike six minute from time, which earned applause from the Alaves fans who stayed until the end.

"He did a great job," Simeone said of the midfielder. "He has so much ability and he still has things to improve. The pleasure of a stadium applauding him will stay with him, and that's something to appreciate."

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