Alvaro Morata suggested Atletico Madrid pay no attention to criticism after he fired the capital club to a vital win at home to Espanyol.

Atleti were winless in three in all competitions and four points off the pace in LaLiga coming into Sunday's fixture, with leaders Barcelona and second-placed Real Madrid each winning a day earlier.

Diego Simeone's men fell a goal behind to Sergi Darder's clinical strike, before Morata came to the fore, creating Angel Correa's equaliser and then scoring himself.

Koke made sure of the points in stoppage time to send Atleti into the international break on a high after a mixed start to the season.

Even as the team have toiled, though, losing to Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League in midweek, Morata insists their attitude cannot be questioned and the squad are united in ignoring external analysis.

"We are always motivated," he said, having scored in a sixth straight game in all competitions. "It may be that sometimes we do well and sometimes we do not. We always go out to win - and today, we have done it.

"Inside the team, we are a compact group and we are not affected by what is said about us. If we do what we have to do, we will go far this season."

Morata added he felt Atleti had been unfortunate in previous matches not to win and so had no qualms about collecting three points from an unconvincing display against struggling Espanyol.

"The important thing is that we win," he said. "I always say it.

"In the end, it is about being all together, in moments like the other day [in Leverkusen] or in Seville [last week's 1-1 draw with Sevilla], matches in which I think we deserved more.

"But today we have won and added three important points to move up the table.

Morata's contributions turned the match on its head after a tough start in which Atleti looked uncharacteristically shaky at the back, not aided by the unorthodox presence of Saul Niguez at left-back.

Renan Lodi, talked up by his coach on Saturday, was left on the bench, and Simeone explained: "I wanted to have more strength and to have a replacement for Lodi, who had been playing many games and needed a break."

Diego Simeone has demanded greater consistency from Atletico Madrid if his side are to challenge Real Madrid and Barcelona for this season's LaLiga title.

Atleti sit fourth after 12 games, winning five and drawing six with one defeat, heading into Sunday's meeting with Espanyol - who beat Ludogorets 6-0 in Europe on Thursday but have lost their last two league matches.

Los Rojiblancos are just two points behind current leaders Real Sociedad, though could have - temporarily at least - moved top themselves last week had they overcome Sevilla.

A defeat to Bayer Leverkusen in Wednesday's Champions League encounter means Atleti are now without a win in their last three matches in all competitions, and Simeone acknowledged his side - who have been hit by injuries to Jose Gimenez, Stefan Savic and Joao Felix - must regain the consistency which has made them regular title contenders in recent seasons.

"We keep thinking about the match. On Saturday, we play against an opponent with an important motivation with the new coach and it will be a complex match," Simeone told a news conference when asked if Atleti could challenge their city rivals and Barca.

"It is complex. We have three important players injured, Joao Felix, Savic and Gimenez. When they are all fit we have more strength and competition. We need to convince ourselves of what we can do and from that find the consistency, which is what we are looking for.

"There are good passages, other bad ones and we need to work on concentration. That is what you get on the field, not from words. It is given by training and matches.

"We want to keep improving and our thinking does not go beyond the match against Espanyol."

Diego Simeone accepted the blame for Atletico Madrid's 2-1 loss to Bayer Leverkusen but insisted afterwards that his side "need action, not words".

Atleti missed out on the chance to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League as an own goal from Thomas Partey and a strike from Kevin Volland ended their 11-game unbeaten run.

The visitors barely threatened at the BayArena until they were 2-0 down, with Alvaro Morata grabbing a goal in second-half injury time after Nadiem Amiri had been sent off.

Atleti are now three games without a win in domestic and European competition and their ineffective attack is fast becoming a problem, with Diego Costa producing another poor performance before being substituted after an hour.

Simeone would not place the blame on Costa's shoulders, though, stressing the need for players to respond by doubling their efforts in training.

"It doesn't seem fair to me to blame one player," he said afterwards.

"The one who is firstly responsible for the first half and for the team not responding is me because I can't get the team to start with motivation, something that they do in the second half.

"Now, we have to keep working. When words are just repeated, they don't have much meaning. We need action, not words.

"There are things to talk about within the dressing room when results don't come your way. If things are going badly, we have to try twice as hard, work twice as hard."

Midfielder Saul Niguez admits it is becoming a concern that Atleti are unable to perform well across 90 minutes, having played similarly poorly at Sevilla last weekend before fighting back to draw 1-1.

"We've been better," he said to Movistar. "We have to keep working, knowing that there are things we haven't done well and that we always give away a half, and it doesn't have to be like this.

"It's something for everyone to look at so we can come through it. If we don't win the first half, we have to win the second."

Diego Simeone has hailed Angel Correa as a distinctive attacking threat as he looks to improve Atletico Madrid's misfiring forward line.

Atletico look to be close to their best from a defensive perspective this season, having only conceded three goals in all competitions since the 2-2 Champions League draw with Juventus on September 18.

Simeone's attack has looked rather insipid in 2019-20, though: Atleti have scored more than twice in a match on just one occasion this term and have managed 10 goals in their past 10 games in all competitions.

Correa has not scored in any of his 11 appearances this term, but Simeone believes the 24-year-old could be the key to unlocking deep-lying defences and giving the likes of Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata more opportunities.

"He feels more comfortable as a striker, but when he plays on the wing, he is also very dangerous," Simeone said ahead of his side's trip to Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday.

"When he's in a great moment, the team grows in such a way as there are few players like him."

Simeone believes luck has not been on Atleti's side this season, but he insists it is important to give his players confidence as they look for a win on Wednesday that will put them into the Champions League last 16 if Lokomotiv Moscow lose to Juventus.

"We've had chances in all our matches," he said. "Against Getafe, for example, we missed a penalty at 1-0; against Leganes, we had a handball against Morata; against Valencia, a handball against [Santiago] Arias; in Sevilla, it was Costa first and then Morata.

"When we improve and we maintain the bases at the structure of the team, I'm sure will improve this area.

"We try, according to what the players have done on the pitch, to transmit confidence and security to them, all the players.

"Until the very end, you have to look for every formula to help them. That's what we're doing."

Diego Simeone insists his faith in Diego Costa is unwavering due to the striker's work rate, even as a missed penalty cost Atletico Madrid two points at Sevilla.

Atleti recovered from a first-half deficit to draw 1-1, thanks largely to the introduction of Costa and his nuisance factor from the bench at half-time.

The former Chelsea star had a goal disallowed shortly before Alvaro Morata equalised, but he then passed up the opportunity to clinch victory and send Simeone's men top of LaLiga.

Tomas Vaclik denied Costa from 12 yards, meaning he has still scored just twice in all competitions this season.

Simeone came to his player's defence, though, saying: "Diego is at his best physical moment, taking care of himself, training, working. He works but can't find the goal.

"When someone works like Diego, there are two options: either you are with Costa or not with Costa. If you give your all, like Costa, I trust him."

Sevilla likewise could have moved to LaLiga's summit with a victory, with Barcelona beaten at Levante earlier in the day, and Simeone believes Julen Lopetegui's side can be a threat this season.

"I see them doing very well. They always compete well," he said. "They have many players, a deep squad, which means they can make changes.

"They had two injured midfielders. Fernando did not play today. If they are consistent, they will compete."

However, midfielder Koke was frustrated Atleti were not able to beat Sevilla, believing their second-half performance – with Costa in the side – deserved to be rewarded.

"Especially in the second half, we did enough to win the game," he said. "There was a goal disallowed, we had a penalty, we created chances. We left two points on the field in such a complicated game.

"We have to continue working as we did in the second half. We recovered from the Sevilla goal and, in the second half, they had absolutely nothing. This is the standard – we have to keep working.

"We want victories because LaLiga is a bit strange, the big teams are not winning games, but we have to keep working."

Atletico Madrid are one of the five best teams in the world, according to Sevilla boss Julen Lopetegui.

Sevilla and Atletico sit level on 20 points – a total matched by Granada and two fewer than LaLiga leaders Barcelona – ahead of their meeting at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on Saturday.

Diego Simeone's side have won just four of their previous 11 matches in all competitions and head into this weekend’s fixture off the back of a 1-1 draw at Deportivo Alaves.

Lopetegui has no doubt about Atleti's quality, though, and expects them to pose the same challenge they always do.

"Atletico Madrid are one of the five best teams in the world," the Sevilla boss told a pre-match news conference on Friday.

"I expect a very tough game, as always against Atletico. It will be very complex because of the quality and intensity they put into everything they do.

"Atleti can do many different things and when they press, they do it very well.

"Simeone's work is beyond doubt. It is unthinkable to be at the level he has been at, and for this length of time. He is doing a fantastic job."

Simeone suggested he could make changes to his Atletico set-up based upon what he has seen from his team in recent weeks.

"We have a broader picture now of what each player gives us," said Simeone. "The coach ends up executing things based on what the on-field actions say.

"We can't move away from what the pitch shows. The on-pitch matters show things that we have to follow. It's what the team needs.

"We're at a stage where we need to keep improving based on games, work, training and competition. That shows you the reality."

Alvaro Morata insists he is not focusing on his own goalscoring exploits after Atletico Madrid were held to a 1-1 draw by Deportivo Alaves, stating he would just play tennis if individual exploits were important to him.

Atletico produced another underwhelming performance at Mendizorroza on Tuesday but looked to have escaped with all three points when Morata struck 20 minutes from time.

Lucas Perez then scored in style late on with a curling effort, denying Atletico the chance to go top of LaLiga for a few hours.

Morata's effort made it three goals in as many outings for the striker, though his personal form is not his top priority.

"If I worried about myself I would play tennis. I'm as disappointed as everyone else is in the locker room," the Spain international told reporters.

"We had chances and we did not take advantage of them. For us, two points escaped us, but we also have to see the rest of the teams and what they will do on a trip as difficult as this one."

Morata missed a good opportunity to make it 2-0 shortly before Perez's equaliser and coach Diego Simeone believes it would have been game over had Fernando Pacheco not made the save.

"The goalkeeper made a great stop, the ball was not going wide of the goal," Simeone added.

"Alvaro was fine and the goalkeeper kept Alaves in the game because the match was over with the second goal."

Simeone also pointed to Atletico's poor first-half display as a major contributor to failing to claim the win.

"In the first half Alaves were better, they were more intense, more aggressive, pressing well and controlling the second ball," he said.

"Overall, Alaves played a great game in the first half, we did it in the second half. We played well, we had situations, we pressed higher, we played between the lines.

"If we keep playing as in the second half and clearly understand what we did in the first half, we will have done well.

"It's clear that if a team doesn't start well in the first half, it's always the responsibility of the coach, because they were not excited and pumped to do well."

With Barca's 5-1 win over Real Valladolid, Atletico Madrid sit third in LaLiga. Real Sociedad, Real Madrid, Sevilla and Villarreal could all move above them across Wednesday and Thursday.

Diego Simeone says Diego Costa is happy to see Alvaro Morata has found form for Atletico Madrid despite losing his own place in the starting line-up.

Morata came off the bench to score the only goal of the game in the 1-0 Champions League win over Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday and then got the second in Saturday's 2-0 LaLiga defeat of Athletic Bilbao.

While Morata is seemingly growing in confidence, Costa appears to be struggling for meaningful minutes in 2019-20.

The 31-year-old has scored only once from open play this season and was relegated to the role of substitute for the weekend game at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Simeone, though, has dismissed any suggestion Costa is feeling resentment or frustration at Morata's contrasting form.

"He looks happy that Morata has scored and that he has that consistency in front of goal," the Atleti boss told a news conference on Monday. "They are good team-mates and friends. We keep working with Costa and everyone.

"It's normal for strikers to be worried where goals are coming from. Everyone shows the personality they have on the outside.

"As happens with strikers, [Morata] is much freer, looser as a result of his play."

Atletico can move top of the table with a win at Deportivo Alaves on Tuesday, at least until Barcelona play Real Sociedad a few hours later.

With the Clasico having been postponed last weekend, promoted Granada took the chance to go top after 10 matches by beating Real Betis 1-0.

Simeone thinks the balanced league table at this stage of the season shows how LaLiga teams have begun to improve defensively.

"The numbers from the first 10 matches speak for themselves. Nothing else needs to be said," he added.

"There are very good coaches. In Spain, there have always been good footballers for the associated way of playing and teams have acquired qualities to become better defensively. We see that in a lot of teams."

Diego Simeone called on everyone associated with Atletico Madrid to pull in the same direction after his side saw off Athletic Bilbao to return to winning ways in LaLiga.

Atletico snapped a streak of three successive league draws with Saturday's 2-0 home victory thanks to goals from Saul Niguez and Alvaro Morata.

Back-to-back wins in all competitions has helped to lift the mood around Wanda Metropolitano, with Koke being greeted warmly against Athletic just four days on from being jeered by the same supporters in the narrow 1-0 Champions League win against Bayer Leverkusen.

Following Atletico's third home match in a week, head coach Simeone paid tribute to the club's fanbase and talked up the importance of showing a united front.

"We have to be together forever," he said at his post-match news conference. "We are a new team, with many new players. Today, for example, we had a backline of new signings.  

"We know what our aim is and we need the fans, directors, players, coaches to be like horses looking forward. 

"Koke may have bad games, but he is always there, he covers well and he is important to the team. 

He added: "The fans were extraordinary again, they are the best around, as I've said before... 180,000 people in three games. 

"It's not easy to come to seven or nine games, but they are always there. We, with total humility, aim to give our best, even though it doesn't always come off."

A second win in seven LaLiga outings lifted Atletico up to second place and level on points with leaders Barcelona, who have a game in hand to play against third-place Real Madrid.

Simeone selected Angel Correa over the benched Diego Costa for the comfortable home victory and the versatile Argentine forward repaid that faith by setting up both goals.

"He has always been a striker," Simeone replied when asked about Correa's best position in the side. "We often put him in a place where he doesn't feel comfortable but he puts in a great effort.

"His natural position is a striker. In that position he can better express his dribbling, his power, his turns, like the one for the first goal. He is a player who has done very well."

Diego Simeone came to Koke's defence after the Atletico Madrid midfielder was singled out for criticism from sections of the Wanda Metropolitano support.

Club stalwart Koke was jeered for his performance during the narrow Champions League win over Bayer Leverkusen in midweek, although he later insisted he has "total confidence" in himself.

Atletico coach Simeone had some words of comfort as they prepared to face Athletic Bilbao in a third consecutive home match, suggesting even he has had to overcome boos at times.

"Of course the fans have jeered me, in the Calderon itself in some games," he told a news conference. "I remember being whistled just because I wasn't doing a good game.

"People are spontaneous, they say what they feel. They are used to a type of situation and that is what they want.

"It is us who have to strive to improve and not have that tension. It's not just Koke - it's everyone's responsibility."

Asked why Koke might now be targeted by fans, Simeone acknowledged the midfielder may need to go back to basics.

"He is occupying too many positions," the coach said. "Maybe he should focus more on his own.

"Often he wants to fix a lot with his tactical ability. He wants to do more than he is responsible for and ends up paying for what is not his responsibility.

"He wants to fix problems in other parts of the field which are not fixable. With the tactical ability he has and the information he has gathered over the years, this makes him want to do more than he has to do.

"He is a great professional and a great player."

As Simeone reflects on criticism of himself and his team, one issue for which Atleti regularly face scrutiny is a lack of threat in the final third.

Asked if this could ever complement the usual defensive stubbornness of his side, Simeone claimed "creativity" was not Atleti's problem.

"I believe that what we need is to be more practical, not to have more creativity," he said. "Creativity is not the only factor that improves you. Creativity is good and practicality is better."

Diego Simeone said he was pleased after Atletico Madrid ended their winless run at home by defeating Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League.

Atletico had gone four home matches in all competitions without a win prior to Tuesday's 1-0 victory over German visitors Leverkusen in Madrid.

Simeone's side had also only scored once in their previous three fixtures at Wanda Metropolitano, where Alvaro Morata's 78th-minute header settled the Group D contest.

"I feel good when I see passion and the team had it," head coach Simeone told reporters when asked about his mood after Atletico joined Juventus on seven points atop the group.

"The team knew what they were playing at. We could play badly or well, but they knew what to play at. There was a way and when we're on it, we're closer to things coming out."

"We try to face each game as if it were the last, either Copa del Rey, LaLiga or Champions League," Simeone, whose Atletico are fifth and three points adrift of LaLiga leaders Barcelona, said. "We don't stop to think about what might happen four games ahead.

"We focus game by game, that's the way we look into this matter. We knew today [Tuesday] was an important game, against a rival, that plays very well. Certainly, you had to make a very high concentration effort."

Atletico star Koke – who emerged from the club's youth system in 2009 – was the target of boos in the Spanish capital and Simeone added: "I think people always do what they feel and what they see at that moment. Because this is football.

"I remember the time of Luis Aragones, Caminero, Kiko ... They have booed us all. So in football, when there is moment you're not so good, people want you to play well today, but I am sure every Atletico de Madrid fan will express gratitude for Koke and thank him for what he has done and will do for the club.

"At the moment, like the manager, when we make a mistake. People are spontaneous, and in this moment they react to what they believe. We are the ones who have to look for those boos to become applauses."

Diego Simeone understands why Atletico Madrid have been criticised in recent weeks and has called for more consistency from his players.

Atletico were held 1-1 at home to Valencia on Saturday and have now drawn four of their last five LaLiga matches.

Three of those draws have finished goalless, with Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata failing to get going this season, while fellow attacker Joao Felix - out of Tuesday's Champions League clash with Bayer Leverkusen due to an ankle injury sustained against Valencia - has also yet to justify his €126m price tag.

Despite his misfiring side being fifth in LaLiga, Simeone believes there are also some positive performances to build on.

Asked about the criticism his side have faced in the wake of their latest draw, Simeone told reporters: "It's an opinion. I respect it.

"We've always worked hard, we keep working to improve. The team hasn't been consistent, but we've had our [good] moments in every game, against Getafe, Leganes, Celta Vigo... we have to look for [consistency] and keep trying.

"Morata had chances, Costa too. We have to threaten the goal. You have to live with possible down spells."

Koke has started all 11 of Atletico's matches this season and agrees that results will soon start to turn.

"I have to respect everyone's opinion," Koke said at Monday's pre-match news conference ahead of the visit of Leverkusen.

"I'm just focused on keep working hard and help my team winning. I respect people's opinion about me and the team. I cannot agree with some of those. We all, myself, my team-mates and the coaching staff are working hard to get good results. 

"We have a great squad and sooner or late we will get good results.

"Sometimes, people get tired of seeing the same faces for so long time, they get used to good things, so that is why some times there are some critics. 

"We are just three points behind Barcelona and level with Juventus in the Champions League group stage. Let's be calm as the season has just started. We will keep working on it and the positive results will eventually come up."

Diego Simeone indicated the injury Joao Felix suffered in Atletico Madrid's LaLiga draw with Valencia on Saturday "could be serious".

Joao Felix, who joined Atletico in a €126million transfer in the close season, hobbled off with 10 minutes left at the Wanda Metropolitano after twisting his ankle in a tussle for the ball with Dani Parejo.

The injury left the hosts, who had already used all three substitutions, with 10 men and Valencia quickly added insult to injury as Parejo bent home a stunning free-kick to equalise and claim a 1-1 draw.

Atletico confirmed Joao Felix will have tests to confirm the severity of the injury and speaking in his post-match media conference, Simeone said: "It did not seem much at first, but the doctors say it could be serious."

Diego Costa opened the scoring for Atletico with a 36th-minute penalty, but this was another game in which he and strike partner Alvaro Morata struggled to take their chances.

The stalemate left Atletico fourth in LaLiga having failed to win five of their past six matches. Simeone's men have scored just three goals in that run and have not been victorious at home in the top flight since a 3-2 defeat of Eibar on September 1, this latest setback giving leaders Real Madrid the chance to go five points ahead of them.

"Costa and Morata know that the only path is to keep working, to insist. Forwards know that when they score goals they are fantastic, and when they don't people point fingers," added Simeone.

"We are a new team, and we don't yet have balance to manage moments in games, above all when we need to suffer and position ourselves well and keep calm. But we are convinced we have players to do this, there is work to do, and I like that.

"Nobody thought this would be an easy season, I knew we would have a lot of work to do, to get the team balanced.

"In certain moments some people look to point fingers, others to work hard. Those who want to work hard will get on well with me. Those who point fingers won't.

"We are in a very good moment to work hard, and look to see who wants to work, and who does not like to work."

Valencia are unbeaten in five league games, with coach Albert Celades heaping praise on his players, particularly Parejo, for earning a share of the spoils from a game in which they were often on the back foot.

"To come here against this team, we knew it would be difficult. The team responded in a brilliant way in the second half, showed a lot of personality and ambition," Celades said.

"It is a luxury for us to have a player like Parejo, with his personality. When he has the ball, things happen. I love the way he wants to play, to make others play, to cause problems for the opposition."

Diego Simeone praised the enthusiasm of Atletico Madrid strikers Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata despite their struggles in front of goal this season.

Atleti have just one win from their past five LaLiga games but are only three points behind leaders and city rivals Real Madrid.

Simeone's men have drawn a blank in each of the four encounters they have failed to win in this stretch.

Costa and Morata have each scored only once in the league so far this campaign, but Simeone sees little reason to be concerned about the duo.

"I think they are great, they're doing good, even if they haven't proved it with goals yet - and I know that's their bread and butter," Simeone told a media conference. 

"I think their involvement, predisposition and their will to improve is awesome. I hope they keep it that way, it's their challenge

"They both scored one goal in La Liga, Morata played less than Diego but I see both are enthusiastic. I can see they want to improve.

"We have to keep calm and know they are two important players for this club and the team. We hope that they will start scoring soon since it's part of their lives, [but] I sincerely think they're doing good."

Atletico welcome Valencia to the Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday, with Simeone hoping his players hit their stride quickly upon returning from the international break.

"When they come back from the national team, it is not easy," Simeone added. "They're playing more and more games with the national team and that's difficult for the teams and obviously for the players as well.

"They play almost every day. We hope they adapt again really fast to the club and competition.

"Tomorrow's game is against a competitive and historic team like Valencia, they are really powerful at recovering and counter-attacking.

"A few things are changing with [Albert] Celades from what it was with Marcelino, but obviously the team already had a structure and I imagine the coach is combining it to do the best for the team.

"They are dangerous, dynamic and have a dangerous counter-attack, and we think that's the way our rival will play tomorrow."

Saul Niguez has praised Hector Herrera's attitude but acknowledged he has work to do to earn a starting place at Atletico Madrid.

Herrera has started just one LaLiga match since his arrival from Porto in July, featuring from the outset in the side's goalless draw with Celta Vigo in September.

That game came three days after Herrera scored his first goal for Atleti as a substitute with a timely equaliser in the last minute of 2-2 draw with Juventus in the Champions League.

Meanwhile, Saul has played every minute of the team's league campaign.

But the Spain international pointed to Herrera's appearance as a substitute for striker Alvaro Morata in Sunday's draw at Real Valladolid as evidence of the new man's positive approach.

"I think he's amazing," Saul told LaLiga's official website. "People are surprised that he hasn't been getting game time but, at the end of the day, you have to earn it.

"We saw the other day when he played in a different position. We have always set an example for him, because he keeps training very well and, as I said, he wants to listen and to learn.

"And despite the fact he's an experienced player, he's open-minded. In the dressing room, he's a very good guy."

Saul also gave a positive assessment of Atletico's other new arrivals for 2019-20, including forward Ivan Saponjic, who joined the club from Benfica in July but is yet to feature.

"Renan Lodi and Kieran Trippier, they're great at getting up and down the wing," Saul said. "They're top players and they pose a real threat because they're excellent at crossing.

"As for Felipe and Mario Hermoso, both of them are very experienced and top-class centre-backs, but their most salient and important feature – as with the rest of the signings – is that they have a willingness to learn and to listen, regardless of how experienced they may be.

"Joao Felix is getting more playing time than Saponjic but the same goes for him as the other lads. He's always working hard in training, he's a very strong guy when it comes to holding off defenders and creating space, and he has great movement in the box."

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