Atletico Madrid took a big step towards sealing Champions League qualification as they defeated Deportivo Alaves in a 2-1 LaLiga win at Wanda Metropolitano.

After a low-key start to Saturday's contest, a Saul Niguez header just before the hour mark put the hosts in front.

Two Atleti substitutes played a part in the second as Diego Costa converted a penalty won by Marcos Llorente to wrap up what ultimately proved to be a comfortable victory for Diego Simeone's side.

Joselu scored a stoppage-time penalty for the visitors, but Atletico are now four points clear of Sevilla in fourth and have opened up a superb nine-point cushion over Getafe in fifth.

Alvaro Morata sent an early header just wide, shortly before his flick-on to fellow forward Joao Felix saw the Portugal international send an impressive acrobatic effort narrowly off target.

Jose Maria Gimenez put a free header over from 12 yards and, despite their opponents defending deeply, it was Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak who had the only first-half save to make from Aleix Vidal.

Diego Simeone brought on Costa and Llorente early in the second half as he attempted to inject life into the hosts and the latter made an instant impression, winning a free-kick down the right.

Kieran Trippier sent in a fine delivery and the onrushing Saul converted with a thumping header from six yards for his fourth goal of season, keeper Fernando Pacheco getting a hand to it but unable to make the save.

Alaves almost levelled when a powerful aerial effort from Oliver Burke flew inches wide, but Atleti soon threatened at the other end when Llorente's long-range effort forced Pacheco to parry.

Llorente then showed superb pace and skill down the right before drawing a foul from Ruben Duarte, with Costa sending Pacheco the wrong way from the spot 17 minutes from time.

Three minutes into added time, Joselu sent a fine penalty into the top corner after Koke was penalised for handball, but it was too late for the visitors to recover.


What does it mean? Atletico impressing since lockdown

Atletico took the chance to extend their advantage over Sevilla, who could only draw with Real Valladolid on Friday, and now look almost certain to claim a Champions League spot.

They have impressed since LaLiga resumed after the coronavirus-enforced break – having drawn their first game back, they have won four straight games, with only the late spot-kick denying them a fourth straight clean sheet.

Llorente lifts Atletico

Former Real Madrid midfielder Llorente changed the game when he came on, winning the free-kick and penalty that led to each goal, as well as testing Pacheco with a rasping drive.

Correa struggles to make an impact

Angel Correa only had one blocked shot and 10 completed passes to show for his 57 minutes on the pitch, though he was not the only one to blame for a sluggish Atletico start.

What's next?

Atletico needed points in this match as their next one is a huge test away to Barcelona on Tuesday. Alaves, meanwhile, are at home to Granada a day later as they bid to halt a run of three straight defeats.

Quique Setien felt Barcelona lacked a cutting edge, as well as a bit of luck, following the 2-2 draw at Celta Vigo - leaving them with "little margin for error" in the LaLiga title race.

Luis Suarez scored a brace but Barca were twice unable to hold onto a lead on Saturday, despite dominating for long periods of the game. 

They were impressive in the first half in particular, youngster Riqui Puig catching the eye on his first league start of the season, but only led 1-0 at the break. 

Setien felt the performance in the first 45 minutes deserved more with Barca denied by the woodwork when a Gerard Pique header hit the crossbar prior to Suarez's opener in the 20th minute.

"They took a lot of risks in the last few minutes and they found a goal that gave them a point," Setien told the media. 

"We should not have got into that situation because we were much the better team in the first half.  We had to have gone in at the break with a more comfortable scoreline. 

"We're not in that moment of clarity. 

"We did a lot of things well. It should have been a more comfortable game. 

"We definitely lack conviction to turn our play into goals. The superiority we had in the first half was enough to have won the match and gone into [the second] more relaxed. 

"We're finding it difficult. Scoring is sometimes a question of luck." 

Iago Aspas' late free-kick denied Barcelona victory on the road. While the point picked up is enough to take them top for now, Real Madrid have the opportunity to leapfrog them when they face Espanyol on Saturday.

Zinedine Zidane's squad also have the added cushion of owning the better head-to-head record against their rivals this season.

Setien acknowledges that Barca may now require help from others if they are to retain their crown in Spain.

"We've got little margin for error now and, in theory, we have to win all our games and hope our rival slips up," he admitted. "We'll try to keep picking up maximum points."

Next up for Setien and his players is Atletico Madrid at Camp Nou on Tuesday.

Luis Suarez admitted Barcelona's 2-2 draw with Celta Vigo left a bitter taste as there was a potentially crucial twist in the LaLiga title race on Saturday.

Barca led twice but were pegged back on both occasions, Celta grabbing an 88th-minute equaliser through captain Iago Aspas' free-kick.

Suarez scored both goals for the visitors, ending a personal drought that stretched back to early January before he suffered a knee injury, but was left frustrated by the team's failure to see out the win.

While Quique Setien's side moved back top of the table courtesy of the point picked up on their travels, Real Madrid have the chance to leapfrog over them again if they avoid defeat at rock-bottom Espanyol on Sunday.

Zinedine Zidane's side also hold the head-to-head advantage over the reigning champions, having picked up four points from the two Clasico meetings in 2019-20.

"It was a vital match to fight for the title," Suarez admitted in his post-match interview for LaLiga TV.

"We had a good first half, creating chances, but in the second half it was different, Celta wanting to be more aggressive.

"It [the result] leaves a bitter taste, one of sadness and frustration because we have lost two points."

Lionel Messi set up both goals for Suarez, the first of which saw him head in a clever free-kick from close range after Celta had put players on the line to protect against a direct shot.

The Uruguayan striker found the net again in the 67th minute following Fedor Smolov's leveller earlier in the second half, albeit his brace was not enough.

Barca, who next face Atletico Madrid on Tuesday, have now won just once in their last four away games in the league.

"For my part, I am happy to help with both goals, but you are angry because things have to be corrected," Suarez added.

"This was a complicated away game, as will be the trip to Villarreal. Then, in between, we host Atletico."

Barcelona's hopes of winning LaLiga for a third successive season suffered a blow as they were held to a 2-2 draw at Celta Vigo – handing Real Madrid a huge boost in the title race. 

Luis Suarez scored a brace – both of his goals assisted by Lionel Messi – as Barca twice held the lead on the road on Saturday.

However, after Fedor Smolov had equalised earlier in the second half, Iago Aspas curled in an 88th-minute free-kick to bring Celta level again in a see-saw contest in Galicia.

The hosts missed a golden opportunity to snatch victory in the closing minutes too, Nolito shooting straight at Marc-Andre ter Stegen after being set up Denis Suarez.

While the result is good enough to move Barca a point clear at the summit, Madrid – who hold the head-to-head edge over their rivals – can retake top spot so long as they avoid defeat at Espanyol on Sunday.

Arthur was left out of the Barcelona starting line-up to face Celta Vigo amid reports he will have a medical at Juventus on Sunday.

Brazil international Arthur was named among the substitutes for Saturday's LaLiga clash at Balaidos but in the next 24 hours is expected to undergo tests prior to a switch to Juve that could cost €80million.

It is also claimed that Bianconeri midfielder Miralem Pjanic will have a medical on the same day before heading in the opposite direction.

Pjanic played the full 90 minutes as Juve defeated Lecce 4-0 on Friday and will reportedly command a fee of €70m.

After that game, Juve boss Maurizio Sarri said: "I don't know if Pjanic will no longer play with Juventus, I have not received any communication.

"These are not things that interest us, the market only starts in September. Miralem's a professional, he understands situations quickly. 

"I don't know anything at the moment, but I'm not worried."

Barca boss Quique Setien was unwilling to discuss the possibility of Pjanic arriving at Camp Nou at a news conference on Friday and said Arthur remained in his plans.

Setien said: "In principle I still have Arthur. He is important like the rest. He will train and in principle he will travel and has the possibility of playing.

"I hope all this noise does not affect him and that if he plays, he tries to give the best of himself.

"Any player who is in such a situation must make it clear the season is not over, win a title and leave a good impression until the last day he is here.

"I do not take it for granted that he is going to leave. The club has not informed me Arthur is leaving. He will be with us until the last game of the season.

"If it happens, I will try to convince him to leave a good impression. The most important thing is to be honest until the last day and I am convinced he is."

Zinedine Zidane has cast a little uncertainty over his long-term future at Real Madrid, as he suggested the demands of management will lead to an early retirement.

Zidane has had a significant impact on Los Blancos, first during a five-year stint as a player and now as coach, with the Frenchman in his second spell at the helm.

During his first he led the club to an historic three successive Champions League successes, and although he left soon after the third, he returned last year following the ill-fated tenures of Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari.

He has Los Blancos back on track this term as they sit top of LaLiga, ahead of Barcelona by virtue of a better head-to-head record with seven matches to go.

But rarely has the possibility of a long coaching career been associated with Zidane, who, even when unemployed between his two Madrid spells was only ever closely linked with the France job.

And ahead of facing rock-bottom Espanyol, who sacked their coach Abelardo earlier in the day, Zidane brought up the subject of his future when asked about Sergio Ramos.

When asked if he thought Ramos would become a club icon when he played alongside the centre-back, Zidane said: "It was clear that he could achieve what he is achieving, because he already had quality and above all personality.

"He always wanted to win and make history in this club. I am not surprised by what Sergio is doing. We are lucky to have him in Madrid and I hope that continues until the end of his career. I am not going to coach another 20 years, I am going to retire sooner. Anything can happen."

He added: "I was a better footballer than a coach, but there were better footballers than me as well, although I'm happy with what I've done.

"I'm not going to coach for 20 years, I don't know how many. I don't plan anything, what encourages me is the day-to-day. Then I will do other things.

"In my head I have always been a footballer, I had 18 or 19 years as a player and when I was asked if I was going to coach, I would say no. In the end I was, but it's demanding – I don't think I'll be here for another 20 years."

But he was eager to assure fans that he is in no rush to leave, adamant he is still happy.

"No one should interpret what I say," he continued. "The reality is I'm managing the best club in the world and I'm happy, regardless of what happens here.

"But I know that when we lose the press will be out, the knives will be out, that won't change. We are winning now, but like I said, today we've yet to win the title. We must continue working, training hard.

"Everyone is going in same direction. We cannot control external matters, only what we can control. We shouldn't worry about what goes on outside Real Madrid and I think my future is the least of concerns at the moment."

Relegation-threatened Espanyol have sacked Abelardo Fernandez and placed Francisco Rufete in charge of the team for the rest of the LaLiga season.

Following back-to-back defeats to Levante and Real Betis, bottom club Espanyol have decided to make a change in a desperate bid to preserve their top-flight status.

Sporting director Rufete is tasked with trying to produce a miraculous escape in the closing stages of a difficult campaign; they sit eight points from safety with just seven games remaining.

His first outing in the role is a home fixture against title-chasing Real Madrid on Sunday.

Abelardo was only appointed in late December following the departure of Pablo Machin. His tenure started with a 2-2 draw against Barcelona, however just three wins in 12 league outings since has resulted in him losing his job.

"Espanyol report that Abelardo Fernandez has been removed from his responsibilities as coach of the men's first team," a statement from the team read.

"The club has taken this decision as a result of the sporting performance of the first team and with the clear will of achieving salvation in LaLiga.

"The rest of the coaching staff, Tomas Hervas and Inaki Tejada, have also been removed from their posts."

Espanyol finished seventh in Spain last season to qualify for the Europa League, a competition they exited this term at the last-32 stage after losing 6-3 on aggregate to Wolves.

 

Achraf Hakimi appears to have found a new home.

The Morocco international has impressed during his loan spell at Borussia Dortmund, attracting plenty of interest.

But LaLiga giants Real Madrid are reportedly ready to cash in on Achraf.

 

TOP STORY – INTER AGREE ACHRAF DEAL

Inter have agreed a deal to sign Achraf Hakimi from Real Madrid, according to Sky Sport Italia.

Achraf has spent the past two seasons on loan at Borussia Dortmund, who have been interested in signing the Morocco international permanently.

Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain have been among the clubs interested in Achraf, but Madrid are set to sell the 21-year-old to Antonio Conte's Inter for a reported €40million fee.

 

ROUND-UP

- Sport1 claims Leroy Sane's proposed move to Bayern Munich is on hold until 2021. The Manchester City star is tipped to leave the Etihad Stadium for Bundesliga champions Bayern, though the two clubs have been unable to strike a deal. Sane now looks likely to depart once his contract expires next year.

Arthur will travel to Turin in the coming days to undergo a medical ahead of his move to Juventus, according to RAC1. Barcelona midfielder Arthur is set to join Juve, with Miralem Pjanic moving in the opposite direction.

Roma are plotting a move for free agent Edinson Cavani, says Calciomercato. Cavani is available on a free transfer after leaving PSG, with Atletico Madrid, Inter and Napoli eyeing the Uruguayan forward.

- Sport reports the Champions League will determine Neymar's future at PSG. Neymar has long been linked with a return to Barca following his world-record departure in 2017.

- Calciomercato says Milan are focused on signing Salzburg sensation Dominik Szoboszlai. However, PSG and Arsenal are also among the teams eyeing the 19-year-old Hungarian.

Manchester United are among the possible destinations for Arsenal midfielder Matteo Guendouzi, who faces an uncertain future with the London club, according to L'Equipe.

Maurizio Sarri admits he does not know if Miralem Pjanic will remain at Juventus beyond the end of the season but is not overly concerned by reports over the midfielder's future.

Pjanic played 90 minutes as the Bianconeri overran 10-man Lecce 4-0 in Friday's Serie A contest to open up a seven-point lead over scudetto challengers Lazio.

The future of Pjanic has been the topic of much debate amid reports he is headed to Barcelona in a swap deal that will see Arthur move to Turin.

Sarri spoke before the game to say he has had no update on such a deal and continued to follow a similar party line when speaking to Sky Sport Italy following the win.

"I don't know if Pjanic will no longer play with Juventus , I have not received any communication," he Juve head coach said. 

"These are not things that interest us, the market only starts in September. Miralem's a professional, he understands situations quickly. 

"I don't know anything at the moment, but I'm not worried."

Sarri added: "He'll be with us until the end of August. I hope he'll stay with us even beyond that, but these are decisions that will be made at a later stage."

Juve were slow off the mark against Lecce and the game remained 0-0 until half-time despite a straight red card for Fabio Lucioni.

But the floodgates opened in the second half, Cristiano Ronaldo teeing up Paulo Dybala to score a brilliant opener before doubling the lead from the penalty spot.

Ronaldo was again influential for Gonzalo Higuain's strike, with Matthijs de Ligt rounding off the rout.

Sarri was particularly happy for Higuain given how the coronavirus crisis has affected the Argentine striker, an issue he had spoken about pre-game.

"He had a difficult time on a personal and global level, because the coronavirus emergency hit him a lot and left a mark on him," Sarri added. 

"He has returned, had a minor injury and is now getting back into shape. I am happy that he scored immediately, he is a player who will give us a lot in this season finale."

Guti's first head coach role away from Real Madrid has ended abruptly after Almeria confirmed he has been dismissed following a potentially decisive blow to the Segunda side's automatic promotion hopes.

The former Madrid midfielder and youth coach was appointed by Almeria in November and, although he kept them in the hunt for promotion, the club's hierarchy lost patience following Thursday's 1-0 home defeat to Alcorcon.

Club owner Turki Al-Sheikh, who has overseen the assembly of an expensive squad compared to others in Spain's second tier, had already fired Oscar Fernandez and Pedro Emanuel this season prior to hiring Guti.

A brief statement read: "Jose Maria Gutierrez ceases to be our coach after reaching a mutual agreement with the club.

"Thank you very much Jose Maria for all your efforts and for your dedication to our colours. We wish you every possible success in your career."

Thursday's loss left Almeria five points adrift of second-placed Real Zaragoza, who they defeated at La Romareda last Saturday between successive home losses.

Almeria have seven matches remaining to salvage an automatic promotion spot, otherwise the best they can hope for will be a play-off place.

Arthur has been named in Barcelona's squad for Saturday's trip to Celta Vigo amid intense speculation regarding a potential switch to Juventus.

Brazil international Arthur is supposedly set to be involved in a swap deal that sees Miralem Pjanic arrive at Camp Nou, with some of the belief he has failed to adequately replace Xavi since arriving from Gremio in 2018.

Despite the media reports, Barca coach Quique Setien insisted in his Friday news conference that the club have not told him the 23-year-old is leaving.

But Setien did hint there was some truth in the rumoured interest from Juve, saying that "if it happens, I will try to convince him to leave a good impression".

Arthur will seemingly be available for selection at Balaidos on Saturday having been named in Barca's travelling party, though a starting berth appears unlikely after Setien suggested Riqui Puig will get the nod.

Victory in Vigo will lift Barca back to LaLiga's summit ahead of Real Madrid, though Los Blancos will expect to move ahead of the Blaugrana again on Sunday when they go to rock-bottom Espanyol.

Quique Setien anticipates the race against Real Madrid for LaLiga supremacy will go down to the final day.

Barca only trail their rivals courtesy of an inferior head-to-head record, but face a potentially tricky trip to Celta Vigo at the weekend before hosting Atletico Madrid.

After that Setien's side will have just five games left and the Barca boss recognises that all of them will pose a threat.

Asked if the next two fixtures will be particularly crucial to his team's title defence, Setien said: "I would not think of it that way.

"They are two difficult games, but they can all be. I think this is going to come down to the final match day.

"There are still a lot of things that can happen in this league, such as arriving at the last match level and something unexpected happening. We'll see."

Setien acknowledged Zinedine Zidane's Madrid are in good form, having won all four matches since their return from the coronavirus-enforced break.

Indeed, he appeared to suggest Los Blancos were favourites, saying of Barca's title hopes: "I still believe that it is possible.

"It is difficult for both of us to win everything. They are in a good moment in many things, so are we.

"I hope they are wrong and we catch them."

Dani Ceballos accepts it is difficult to see a future for himself at Real Madrid where he is an important player and confirmed a return to Real Betis is an option.

Ceballos, 23, joined Madrid from Betis in 2017 after developing into one of LaLiga's most promising young players, but he found the step-up difficult.

With numerous high-profile players occupying the central and playmaking roles he would ordinarily fill, Ceballos had to be content with playing back-up, making just 17 league starts across his two seasons at the Santiago Bernabeu before joining Arsenal on loan this term.

Life has not been much more straightforward with the Gunners, who have struggled for form and started going through a potentially significant transition period.

Nevertheless, Ceballos suggests he is happier this season and he cannot envisage being considered a key player at Madrid as he targets a place in Spain's squad for next year's European Championship.

"My goal is to play next year and it will be difficult at Real Madrid to play 40 games being important," he told El Larguero.

"This year I have been happy playing and next year I want to do the same,

"It is my goal [to be in the Spain squad]. I will give it my all and it will depend on me. If I give a high level, I am sure that I will be there and we will have a great European Championship."

Ceballos retains a strong affinity for boyhood club Betis, as he showed when posting a photo of himself wearing the team's jersey prior to their 2-0 defeat to bitter rivals Sevilla earlier this month.

A return to the Benito Villamarin is not out of the question and he acknowledges LaLiga is a good fit for him stylistically, but he wants to discuss his future with Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane first.

"[Betis] is an option. I don't close the door on playing for any club. LaLiga suits me well, but I'm also happy at Arsenal and I have to have respect for them, so I am focused on the remaining days.

"I have to make the decision, I own my future. I miss playing in Spain because it is a league where I have played all my life, but, well, England has also been good for a year.

"I want to be where I am most comfortable playing. Zidane told me that the best thing was for me to play a year on loan and gain experience, so I will have a chat with him. We will have to sit down and see the best option."

Ceballos is on loan at Arsenal until the end of the season, and his Madrid contract runs out in 2023.

Quique Setien says he has not been told Arthur will be leaving Barcelona for Juventus, urging the Brazil international to stay focused for the rest of the season.

Arthur is reportedly set to join Serie A champions Juve for €80million, with the more experienced Miralem Pjanic potentially heading in the opposite direction for €70m.

Barca take on Celta Vigo at Balaidos on Saturday and Setien insisted the former Gremio midfielder remains available for selection and could feature.

"In principle I still have Arthur. He is important like the rest. He will train and in principle he will travel and has the possibility of playing," said the Barca boss.

"I hope all this noise does not affect him and that if he plays, he tries to give the best of himself.

"Any player who is in such a situation must make it clear the season is not over, win a title and leave a good impression until the last day he is here.

"I do not take it for granted that he is going to leave. The club has not informed me Arthur is leaving. He will be with us until the last game of the season.

"If it happens, I will try to convince him to leave a good impression. The most important thing is to be honest until the last day and I am convinced he is."

Setien was unwilling to comment on the possible signing of Pjanic and suggested Arthur has struggled to adapt to the style of football he wants Barca to play.

"Since he has been with me, he has put a lot of interest in doing what we asked him to do," Setien said.

"Maybe he lacked a little continuity. It is not easy to change things in a footballer that other coaches told him were very good. When they tell him it is very good to keep the ball and we come and we want to play two touches, it is difficult.

"Yes, it's possible he lacked some physicality, but he is on the right track."

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."

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