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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It may get a whole lot harder now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Atletico Madrid head coach Diego Simeone insisted he loves "rebellious" players after praising Joao Felix's angry goal celebration.

Joao Felix – a club-record €126million signing in 2019 – came off the bench in the second half to seal a 2-0 win over Villarreal on Sunday as Atletico put their LaLiga title charge back on track.

The Portugal international looked unimpressed after scoring in the 69th minute – Joao Felix gesturing and shouting towards the Atletico bench – following Alfonso Pedraza's own goal.

Asked about the celebration, Simeone told reporters post-match:  "You'll have to ask him.

"He scored a great goal. He came on and did well in the second half... I love it when players rebel, when they look to be strong. We need him to be, he's an important player for us."

Simeone added: "I'll ask him in the next training session, and then I'll see if I tell you.

"I love it when players show pride. How long had it been since Joao scored? If players are rebellious, give them to me!"

Simeone, meanwhile, earned a place in Atletico's history books with Sunday's win over Villarreal.

The Argentine coach enjoyed his 308th victory in charge of the Spanish club – matching Luis Aragones as the Atletico head coach with the highest number of victories in all competitions.

Simeone's latest win came in his 512th match at the helm. Aragones, the only man to take charge of more games, reached 308 victories in 612 matches at a rate of 50.3 per cent.

"You know what this game is like," Simeone said when asked about the feat. "From tomorrow [Monday] we will start to live off what we do in the derby [against Real Madrid]. 

"It is an important victory, one does not stop to think about passing or not passing Luis, who is surely very happy about this moment of Atletico.

"We have a lot of things to improve and hopefully this week we can present a better version."

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

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

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

In so doing, Simeone matched the esteemed Luis Aragones as the Atletico head coach with the highest number of victories in all competitions.

Simeone's latest win came in his 512th match in charge. Aragones, the only man to take charge of more games, reached 308 wins in 612 matches at a rate of 50.3 per cent.

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

TROPHIES

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

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

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

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

 

TRAILBLAZING

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

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

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

 

TITANS

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

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

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

Atletico Madrid's LaLiga title charge is back on track after a 2-0 win over Villarreal at Estadio de la Ceramica on Sunday. 

Diego Simeone's side had picked up just five points from their previous four top-flight games to give rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona hope of reining them in at the summit. 

They secured a vital three points against Unai Emery's side, though, courtesy of Alfonso Pedraza's first-half own goal and substitute Joao Felix's second-half strike. 

The result meant Atleti restored their five-point advantage over second-place Barcelona, who have played a game more, while Real Madrid – who Los Rojiblancos face next weekend – are six points off the top in third.

Atleti were off the pace in the early stages, yet they forged ahead after 25 minutes in fortuitous circumstances. 

Stefan Savic's back-post header from Thomas Lemar's cross was kept out by Sergio Asenjo, but the ball rebounded into the net off the unlucky Pedraza – the goal ultimately given following a lengthy VAR review for a possible offside. 

A sprawling Jan Oblak denied Gerard Moreno soon after as Villarreal went in at the break behind despite having had nine shots to Atleti's three.

Asenjo superbly pawed over Luis Suarez's fierce strike shortly after the interval before getting down well to repel Angel Correa's deflected drive from distance.

Joao Felix wrapped up a vital triumph in the 69th minute, controlling the ball on his chest before arrowing a sumptuous half-volley into Asenjo's bottom-right corner from just inside the penalty area. 

Alex Baena struck the post from distance and forced Oblak into a wonderful save inside the final 10 minutes, but Atleti ultimately held on to take a significant stride towards a first title since the 2013-14 season.

 

 

Jan Oblak urged Atletico Madrid to remain positive after their recent wobble extended to a 1-0 defeat against Chelsea in the Champions League.

Oblak was beaten by OIivier Giroud's magnificent overhead kick in the 68th minute, while his opposite number Edouard Mendy did not have a shot to save over the course of the 90 minutes in Bucharest – Atleti's scheduled home leg having been rearranged to the Romanian capital due to coronavirus restrictions.

Atletico's famously robust defence is now without a clean sheet in eight outings, while their lead at the top of LaLiga is down to two points from Real Madrid after one win in four.

"It's football. Sometimes you have to win, other times lose," Oblak told reporters.

"We have another game left, we have to raise our heads, also in LaLiga and we have to prepare, be strong and improve game by game. 

"We can't think of anything other than going back [to winning]. Lately, things are going a bit against us."

Atletico return to LaLiga action with a tricky trip to Villarreal this weekend, while the subsequent derby against Real Madrid looks likely to be a pivotal moment in their season.

"It is a bad moment and on Sunday this is going to change," Oblak said.

"You have to think positively, the season is long with difficult moments and it is time to show that we are a strong group that is united.

"Only then will we get out of it."

Despite selecting a starting line-up featuring Joao Felix and Angel Correa in support of Luis Suarez and with Marcos Llorente and Thomas Lemar as wing-backs, Atleti boss Diego Simeone came in for criticism after the game for a perceived negative approach.

"The plan is always to defend well, no matter what the game plan is," Oblak added. "We didn’t play badly, we played fine.

"When I got back to the changing room, I saw everyone with their heads high, all convinced we're going to win.

"We can come back and we're still first in LaLiga."

When the team sheets landed, it looked like Diego Simeone might have thrown his bottomless reserves of menacing caution to the wind.

Atletico Madrid lined up to face Chelsea in the Champions League with Angel Correa and Joao Felix either side of Luis Suarez in attack.

Marcos Llorente – a goalscoring revelation from midfield both this season and, famously, at Anfield at the same stage of the 2019-20 tournament – was at right wing-back, with Thomas Lemar arguably an even more offensive option on the other flank.

Hold onto your hats or, at the very least, your dark overcoats.

By half-time, Atleti had managed no shots on target and one attempt on goal overall.

Despite inviting mirth such as that immediately above, Simeone's men did not start by manning the barricades.

Joao Felix scampered into a first-minute dribble, drawing a foul that saw Mason Mount collect the quickest booking in this season's Champions League and a ban for the second leg.

Goalkeeper Edouard Mendy's heavy touch nearly gifted a goal to Saul Niguez before Suarez mugged Kurt Zouma near the right byline and Lemar could not slide home the cross.

Those were uncomfortable moments for Chelsea, but they soon started to feel at home in a dubious 'away' game at Bucharest's Arena Nationala.

Thomas Tuchel has already stamped his mark all over this Blues side and they attempted 403 passes before the interval, over 100 more than any of Atletico's previous opponents in the first half of a Champions League game this season.

Atletico found themselves nudged, prodded and manoeuvred back into a familiar shell.

Jorginho became Joao Felix's latest victim, bringing down the Portugal forward to earn a caution and a ban, but Simeone talking himself into a yellow card after that moment of encouragement for his side suggested a state of fraught high-alert.

The Atleti boss paced in agitated fashion as he waited for the VAR decision that overturned an offside decision and awarded a splendid away-ish goal to Olivier Giroud – replays showing Mario Hermoso deliberately played the ball before the centre-forward's expert overhead kick.

Even when forced to chase the game, Atletico did not necessarily look more likely to score. Timo Werner tore forward on the break and thrashed into the side netting shortly after Joao Felix had been surprisingly removed.

Simeone has won deserved praise for loosening the shackles of his ridged 4-4-2 to embrace a more flexible 3-5-2 alternative this term. It was a switch that saw Los Rojiblancos rack up a commanding lead in LaLiga.

However, their most recent clean sheet is now eight matches ago and their domestic advantage has dwindled on the back of one win in four.

As Tuchel's Chelsea impressively kept them at arm's length, Atletico looked like a team dangerously caught between two stools at a terrible time to be in such a predicament.

Like in last season's quarter-final defeat to RB Leipzig, the favourite's tag weighed uneasily on Atletico – who are second only to Barcelona in terms of goals scored in LaLiga this season – and they became a more limp attacking proposition as the match wore on. Mendy concluded the 90 minutes untested.

Seemingly without the devilment of old, they were unable to drag Chelsea down to slug it out in the trenches with them. The Premier League team were an assured, moving target with no interest in grappling, much to Suarez's clear disappointment.

Simeone's best teams sometimes felt like they were nothing but edge and Atletico quickly need to rediscover some as a tough trip to Villarreal and a seemingly pivotal Madrid derby lie in wait. Maybe they will be relieved to have their backs to the wall once more.

Diego Simeone hopes Luis Suarez can use his goalscoring "gift" when Atletico Madrid face Chelsea in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Suarez is enjoying a fine season with Atletico, scoring 16 goals in 24 games in all competitions since joining from Barcelona.

However, he is without a goal or assist in four Champions League games this season. He has scored in each of his previous seven campaigns in the competition.

Atletico coach Simeone said the Uruguayan provided his team with a huge boost.

"For all competitions, not only the Champions League, Luis' presence generates hierarchy, generates confidence in our team and obviously a lot of attention in rivals because history joins a footballer that has a strong gift regarding his relationship with the goal," he told a news conference on Monday.

"So, I hope tomorrow we can play a good match as a team. And I insist about Chelsea, it is a great team and the new manager, who is very good, is making Chelsea play even better."

Due to coronavirus restrictions, the first leg of the last-16 tie will be played at the National Arena in Bucharest.

Simeone is wary of Chelsea, who are unbeaten in their seven games since Thomas Tuchel took over in January.

"We respect all opinions and we listen to everyone, but tomorrow we are facing a great team and the tie is very even," he said.

"We have been at the club for a long time and all of you know how we work – game by game and do our job."

Diego Simeone made no excuses after Atletico Madrid slumped to a 2-0 defeat to Levante and urged his side to respond to a first home loss since December 2019.

Atleti could have gone nine points clear at the top of LaLiga with a victory, but their 22-match unbeaten top-flight run at the Wanda Metropolitano was brought to a halt on Saturday.

A deflected first-half strike from Jose Luis Morales put Levante in front and Jorge de Frutos sealed a shock win right at the end when he found an empty net from long range with Jan Oblak up for a corner.

Real Madrid can cut their city rivals' advantage to only three points, albeit having played a game more, in the title race if they beat Real Valladolid later in the day.

Atleti had been held to a 1-1 draw at Levante three days earlier and endured more frustration at the hands of the same opponents, with Luis Suarez hitting the post with a stunning free-kick and Lucas Torreira having a goal ruled out.

Simeone says there is no need to reach for the panic button after watching his side lose in LaLiga for only the second time this season.

The Atleti boss said: "I'm not looking for excuses. Coaches have to find solutions. In the second half we did it and we have to be the ones who help the players who are out there.

"Championships are always the same, everyone has moments of difficulties. Those who are strong in the bad moments are the one who achieve their goals."

The former Argentina midfielder added: "When you look for a goal it is important to get there, it is wonderful.

"There are obstacles. It is logical to find obstacles and then when you achieve the goal you enjoy it much more."

There were positives for Simeone, as Moussa Dembele made his debut off the bench and Thomas Lemar returned after recovering from coronavirus.

However, Jose Gimenez was withdrawn with a muscular injury three days before Atleti face Chelsea in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone believes any club signing Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland would become a "super team".

Paris Saint-Germain star Mbappe and Borussia Dortmund forward Haaland have been linked to numerous European giants.

Real Madrid have been credited with an interest in both and coach Zinedine Zidane talked up the duo's talent on Friday.

Simeone feels the pair could work together, and said they could create an incredible team.

"They are two great players who have different characteristics. They can be compatible playing together," he told a news conference.

"And the team who can afford to have them both together, they would have a super team."

Atletico are six points clear atop LaLiga and have a game in hand ahead of hosting Levante on Saturday.

Diego Simeone does not believe Atletico Madrid's 1-1 draw at Levante was the result of nervousness at being favourites for the LaLiga title.

Atletico are six points clear of Real Madrid with a game in hand but they will be disappointed that the advantage is not eight after spurning several chances on Wednesday.

The visitors fell behind to Enis Bardhi's 17th-minute opener before Marcos Llorente levelled matters with a deflected long-range effort.

Simeone's men were in the ascendancy thereafter and Angel Correa should have put them in front shortly after the second-half restart.

However, he blazed over an open goal with a remarkable miss, but Simeone believes a point apiece was a fair outcome for two teams that will meet again on Saturday.

"No, I don't think it [being favourites] can generate nervousness," Simeone replied when asked if nerves were to blame.

"We find ourselves with a tough opponent who is doing things well. They have improved defensively, well organised and with good ball output.

"In the second half we came out well, we had very clear chances. A fair draw for two teams that played a good game.

"We didn't have to win and we could have lost it in the shot from the end from [Carlos] Clerc."

Joao Felix is back in contention for Atletico Madrid after being sidelined with coronavirus, Diego Simeone has confirmed.

It was confirmed Portugal international Joao Felix tested positive for the virus on February 3, forcing him to miss two games for LaLiga's leaders.

The first was a 2-2 draw at home to Celta Vigo, who netted a late equaliser, before Atleti beat Granada 2-1 in Andalusia on Saturday to stay five points clear at the summit with two games in hand on second-placed Real Madrid.

Moussa Dembele, Thomas Lemar and Hector Herrera were all confirmed as having the virus in the five days after Joao Felix's results were returned, but the situation has had minimal impact on the team's on-field performances.

Up next is a trip to Levante on Wednesday, before hosting Paco Lopez's men at the weekend, and that is followed by the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie with Chelsea.

Simeone is unsure if Joao Felix will feature on Wednesday but was glad to have him back.

"He has not had many symptoms that left him unable to train at home, so he was working with the coaches since the fourth day [of his absence]," Simeone told reporters.

"He is eager and enthusiastic, he is healthy. It's great to be able to count on him tomorrow, but we will decide tomorrow what to do with him."

Attention soon turned to Atletico's other key attacker this term, Luis Suarez, who has recently been the subject of reports claiming the Uruguayan has a clause in his contract that would allow him to leave on a free transfer at the end of the season.

Simeone seemed unimpressed he was even asked the question.

"Normally I don't talk about personal contracts," Simeone said.

"I talk about how to attack, how to play, but I don't interfere in personal matters."

Diego Simeone praised the development of Marcos Llorente after the midfielder helped Atletico Madrid secure a 2-1 victory over Granada. 

Atleti extended their lead at the top of LaLiga to eight points thanks to Angel Correa's deflected winner on Saturday. 

Llorente provided the assist for Correa having opened the scoring himself with a neat finish in the 63rd minute, taking his tally of league goals for the season to seven. 

The 26-year-old – signed primarily to play as a defensive midfielder in 2019 from rivals Real Madrid – scored his first goal for Atleti in a 2-2 draw with Valencia on February 14 last year. 

He has now netted 13 times in all competitions in total for the club, while his tally of 10 league goals since getting off the mark puts him behind only Luis Suarez (16) for Simeone's squad. 

Llorente has averaged a goal every 237 minutes in LaLiga over the last 12 months, as well as providing 10 assists and creating 35 chances. Only Koke, who moved level with Tomas Renones for second place on the list for appearances in all competitions for Atletico, has created more (41).

With his opener against Granada, Llorente became the midfielder in LaLiga with the most direct goal involvements so far this season, so it was hardly surprising when Simeone spoke glowingly of the Spain international's desire to transform himself into an all-round attacking threat. 

"As coaches, titles are wonderful, because they fill you with excitement and glory," Simeone told a news conference. 

"But when you work with a footballer and see his growth reflected, you feel more joy and more enthusiasm to continue advancing in this profession.  

"When we see a footballer with the ability to do different things than what he had been doing in his career, we jump into it. It happened to us with Griezmann, with Saul, with Juanfran. 

"Why is it happening? I would like to look for the images of Marcos training when he was not even playing, when in practice he scored a lot of goals, we joked that he was going to have to play higher [up the pitch]. 

"We put him up front and now I think in the middle is where feels more at ease." 

While Llorente delivered the goods on Saturday, LaLiga's leading scorer Suarez had an off day in front of goal, landing only one of his four attempts on target, though he was unfortunate to hit the crossbar in the second half. 

"We always ask all the boys who have played as strikers in our team for collaboration and effort for the team," Simeone said. 

"Luis, beyond what he generates with his goals, has a lot of intelligence. He knows where to apply pressure, where to bother the rival, generate doubts and we need everyone."

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