Diego Costa has left hospital after he underwent successful surgery on a neck injury, Atletico Madrid have confirmed.

Atletico said this week that the striker had gone under the knife after tests found he had suffered a cervical disk herniation.

Brazil-born Spain international Costa was discharged on Friday after his operation but is expected to be out of action for up to three months.

"The functional recovery period is to begin after a few days of rest," said a short Atletico statement.

Costa has scored twice in 15 appearances in all competitions this term, having struggled to match the initial impact of new signing Joao Felix or the recent form of Alvaro Morata.

Atleti, one point off the top of LaLiga in third place, are away to Granada on Saturday.

B-team striker Dario Poveda is part of the 18-man squad for the match and could make his first senior appearance for Diego Simeone's side.

Gareth Bale has been included in Real Madrid's squad for their LaLiga encounter with Real Sociedad despite the controversy caused by his celebrations after Wales' successful Euro 2020 qualification.

Wales booked their place at next year's finals with a 2-0 win over Hungary in Cardiff on Tuesday.

Bale, who has not played for Madrid since October 5, featured from the start for Ryan Giggs' side and was pictured after the match singing and dancing behind a banner that read: 'WALES. GOLF. MADRID…IN THAT ORDER'.

The slogan originates from a chant by Wales supporters that pokes fun at perceptions among the Spanish media, who have accused Bale of bumping Madrid down his list of priorities and spending too much time on the golf course.

Those celebrations drew further criticism from sections of the Madrid press and Los Blancos' fanbase, but Zidane – whose relationship with Bale has reportedly been a troubled one – claimed on Friday that the issue had been overblown.

Zidane has now included Bale in his squad for Saturday's clash with Sociedad, who would move above Madrid with a win at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Bale's inclusion comes at the expense of Vinicius Junior, with the teenage winger missing out on the 19-man selection.

Vinicius has made eight appearances in LaLiga this term, though only four of those have been starts.

Luis Suarez is "very happy" at Barcelona but admits he is open to the possibility of joining a Major League Soccer club.

The Uruguay international is in his sixth season at Camp Nou and has another full campaign left to run on his current deal.

Suarez, who turns 33 in January, has been touted as a possible target for David Beckham's Inter Miami franchise ahead of their MLS debut next year.

Several established stars have made the switch Stateside in recent years, including the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney, while talented youngsters have been lured from South America.

"MLS is a competition which has grown a lot in the last few years and you can see that with the young players that have moved there in the last two years, above all the South Americans," Suarez told ESPN FC.

"That shows that the league wants to grow and not just bring in players of a certain age that are going to retire there. They look for that mix to make the league better."

Seattle Sounders midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro said earlier this month that international team-mate Suarez has discussed the possibility of joining him in MLS.

The former Liverpool striker confirmed those talks took place and is not ruling out a move further down the line, describing the thought of playing in America as a "nice possibility".

"I didn't commit to anything [with Lodeiro]," Suarez said. "I had a conversation with him. MLS is a league that any player would be interested in and I asked him about the competition and about his team-mates.

"I have a contract with Barca and I am very happy here. In the future you never know, it's an attractive league.

"Given that I have been lucky to have had success at the top level for a long time, what I would look out for next is stability for my family and the well-being of my children.

"They would all make the decision along with me and the United States is a nice possibility."

Ernesto Valverde has no qualms with Gerard Pique's Davis Cup commitments but warned his star centre-back he will not play against Leganes if his focus is not on Barcelona.

Pique has spent a large portion of the week travelling to Madrid due to the involvement of his company Kosmos in the revamped competition of tennis' premier international team event.

LaLiga leaders Barca make the trip to rock-bottom Leganes on Saturday and Valverde has been speaking with Pique about his extra-curricular activities.

"I have talked with him about this issue and I see him as being focused," head coach Valverde said.

"If I don't think he's focused enough someone else will play. If he arrives in condition, he will be on the list. He has issues outside of football. Players are always blamed if they don't do anything else and only know football."

Asked if Pique has permission to travel to Madrid again on Friday, Valverde replied: "If he travels, you will see if we gave him permission. We have to leave him alone, Saturday we have an important game."

Valverde also insisted he is happy with the work of close-season signing Antoine Griezmann after it was suggested he performs better for France than for Barca.

Griezmann has four goals and three assists for Barca in 11 LaLiga appearances this term and Valverde says the forward is offering plenty to the team.

"I look at my team, what matters to me is how I see the team," he added. "I know there are many eyes on Griezmann but he is giving us many things in terms of work, goals and clarity of play. We think he can give us more."

Ousmane Dembele has had a stop-start season for Barca but was involved against Slavia Prague and Celta Vigo before the international break.

Valverde wants to see the exciting France forward get a long run of games under his belt.

"I think it's important he has continuity in his daily work and gets playing time," he said. "Since his first injury last season against Getafe, trying to get him back quickly has been counterproductive. 

"He's had several relapses or different episodes with different muscular injuries and hasn't been able to perform the way he would have wanted. 

"We hope we can start getting some regular rhythm."

Joao Felix has been passed fit for Atletico Madrid's LaLiga trip to Granada on Saturday.

The 20-year-old Portugal forward missed six matches after suffering right ankle ligament damage during last month's 1-1 draw against Valencia.

Club-record signing Joao Felix's return comes as a boost to head coach Diego Simeone, who learned this week he will be without Diego Costa until the new year.

The former Chelsea striker underwent neck surgery on a herniated disk and, although Joao Felix adds welcome creativity to the Atleti attack, Simeone pointed out he cannot directly solve his Costa problem.

"No, he is not a forward in that sector," Simeone told a news conference, before informing reporters youngsters Ivan Saponjic and Dario Poveda would be providing cover for first-choice striker Alvaro Morata.

"With Saponjic, we have been telling him what he needs to get close to being able to compete with us."

Atleti president Enrique Cerezo said before Costa's operation there were no plans to bring in another striker in January and Simeone is seemingly content to work with what he has, while acknowledging Atleti might look to capitalise upon any opportunities thrown up when the market opens.

"I think about reality and that is that we have Alvaro, Dario and that we have to improve Ivan," he said.

"We trust Dario who can use that space to grow, he is only 20 years old [22], good height, good in the air.

"Both in the winter and summer markets you always have to be open to everything because everything can happen. The representatives do their job well and maybe there can always be some player who wants to go, another one who wants to come.

"In the middle of the season, the loss of Costa is important for his personality and what he conveyed in the locker room.

"He was not at his best, but he was there. His place will be covered by Dario, [Rodrigo] Riquelme and Saponjic if he manages to approach what we need."

Third-placed Atletico are a point behind Barcelona and Real Madrid in LaLiga, having played a game more than the leaders, and Simeone also has selection concerns in midfield.

Saul Niguez and Thomas Partey will both sit out the trip to Los Carmenes due to already amassing five LaLiga yellow cards this season.

"Both Thomas and Saul are out and give way to Marcos Llorente and Hector Herrera, to follow the line that the team has been taking," Simeone added, before noting the match as a particular opportunity for Llorente, a close-season acquisition from Real Madrid.

"For Marcos it is an important game. He is not having the chance to play because the Thomas, Saul and Koke are doing very well.

"He has worked very well and for sure he will play a game as a result of how he has worked."

Zinedine Zidane has called for the Real Madrid fans to get behind Gareth Bale despite his well-publicised Wales celebrations this week.

Bale was pictured behind a banner that read 'WALES. GOLF. MADRID…IN THAT ORDER' following his country's 2-0 win over Hungary on Tuesday that secured them qualification to Euro 2020.

The slogan originates from a chant by Wales supporters that pokes fun at perceptions among the Spanish media, who have accused Bale of bumping Madrid down his list of priorities and spending too much time on the golf course.

Bale's celebration drew the ire of Madrid fans and many in the national media with Marca leading with the headline 'DISRESPECTFUL. WRONG. UNGRATEFUL. IN THAT ORDER'.

But Madrid head coach Zidane defended Bale, who almost left for China in the close-season, and urged the club's supporters to get behind the former Tottenham man.

"Those who really support the club, those who come to the stadium, know he's a Real Madrid player," he said.

"You shouldn't look at what goes on elsewhere, you have to support the team, the players, have to get behind the side.

"I will always support my players. Things might go on outside the Real Madrid environment but we're in this together."

Zidane was quizzed repeatedly about Bale ahead of Saturday's home game with Real Sociedad and was quick to highlight the player's achievements in Spain.

He added: "I think sometimes people go over the top with this topic, everyone has their point of view, we're here to focus on football. 

"I think now it's almost the snowball effect. I mean he was fit and could play with the national team, he's here, available and we're delighted. 

"He's done a lot for this club. I'm only concerned with the sporting side. I'm not here to speak about the rest, I'm not interested. I know a lot of people are but not me."

Luis Suarez says when Gerard Pique speaks "sometimes you have to take everything with tweezers" after the defender said Barcelona stars were ready to alter their salaries to accommodate the return of Neymar.

Brazil star Neymar was heavily linked with a switch back to Camp Nou just two seasons after making a record-breaking €222million move to Paris Saint-Germain.

However, Barca were unable to strike an agreement with PSG despite the best efforts of LaLiga's champions.

Centre-back Pique said last month: "We didn't stump up money.

"What we said to the president was whether we could change our contracts because we knew there was a Financial Fair Play issue... so we said to the president, rather than earn something in year one, we could earn it in year two or three or four."

Star forward Suarez, who formed a devastating trio with Lionel Messi and Neymar at Barca, insists the players had no involvement with the talks and believes not everything Pique said should be taken at face value.

"When Geri speaks, sometimes you have to take everything with tweezers," Uruguayan Suarez told Sport.

"He has a lot of work and a lot of experience in making statements. In this case he knows and is aware that the players were totally out in the case of Ney.

"We were willing to welcome him or any player who wants to come, but always oblivious to the case."

Suarez also insisted everything is well with close-season signing Antoine Griezmann and his integration with Barcelona's squad.

It was reported captain Messi objected to the signing of the former Atletico Madrid forward due to his desire for Neymar to return, although the Argentinian branded such suggestions as a "lie".

Suarez said: "[His integration has been] spectacular, sometimes things are misunderstood. Both Leo and I and Geri himself welcomed him a year earlier, said he was a great player and was one of the best in the world.

"He came from being world champion and we already praised him. Then we didn't know what was going to happen to him, we weren't sure he was coming this year.

"We treat him as one more. It is also true that some have more affinity with some partners than others; in his case he gets along very well with the French players."

Eden Hazard has confessed he arrived at Real Madrid overweight and struggled to adapt in his first couple of months at the club.

The Belgium international joined Madrid from Chelsea in a reported €100million deal in June, ending months of speculation over his future.

Hazard's competitive debut was delayed by several weeks due to a muscle injury sustained in pre-season and he did not get off the mark with his first goal until early October.

Former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger recently suggested Hazard's weight gain was to blame for his slow start and the 28-year-old has now admitted as much.

"It's true," Hazard told L'Equipe. "I'm not going to hide it. When I'm on vacation, I'm on vacation. I had put on five kilos, but I'm the type of person who can lose it quickly if I'm careful.

"When I was 18 at Lille, I was 72 or 73 kilograms. My muscle mass was 75kg, on a bad day 77kg. I was 80kg this summer, but I lost it in 10 days."

Hazard, who has one goal and two assists in his first 11 appearances for Madrid, claimed his performances are improving over time.

"I was not good enough," he said of his start to life in the Spanish capital. "I told myself to start playing well.

"The first two months were not good enough. I thought, 'I can do better'. I've felt better for a month now - I dribble, accelerate and try to make others play better.

"The first couple of months I reminded myself that I'm new and had to play simple. There were too many passes and people were waiting for me to dribble."

A shot at the sporting immortality of back-to-back continental titles against a formidable opponent in the form of Flamengo.

River Plate face a Brazil v Argentina blockbuster in the first Copa Libertadores final to be staged as a one-off game – a change now mired in the logistical nightmare of moving the showpiece from Santiago to Lima at short notice.

Yet all of this is nothing to fear when compared to the bigger picture.

"All us River fans are scared that Marcelo Gallardo could leave," midfielder Exequiel Palacios told Infobae.

"No one wants him to leave. We hope that he'll stay for many more years and keep giving joy to River fans."

Increasingly, for Palacios, his team-mates and a fervent fanbase, this looks like a forlorn hope.

Since returning to coach the club he represented across three spells as an attacking midfielder during his playing days, Gallardo has inspired one of the most successful periods in River's decorated history.

Witheringly nicknamed Las Gallinas by sworn enemies Boca Juniors due to their reputation for choking on the big occasion, River have doubled their number of Libertadores triumphs under Gallardo's leadership, from two to four.

Number four, of course, arrived unforgettably at Boca's expense last season. River prevailed 5-3 on aggregate after a 3-1 extra-time win in the unfamiliar surroundings of the Santiago Bernabeu – the second leg of the final having been moved to Madrid after Boca's team bus was attacked en route to El Monumental for the originally scheduled fixture.

If growing speculation is to be believed, it is LaLiga's other major footballing coliseum where Gallardo might soon by plying his trade.

Barcelona bound?

"Gallardo will be coach of Barcelona in December," former River midfielder and 1986 World Cup winner Claudio Borghi told TNT Sports this month, in comments unlikely to have been welcomed by under-fire Blaugrana boss Ernesto Valverde. "He is one of the best coaches in the world.

"[River Plate president Rodolfo] D'Onofrio said he'd only leave by quitting his post, but I know this from a direct source."

Irrespective of the veracity of Borghi's information, while acknowledging the man himself has sought to quell the rumours, the prospect of Gallardo landing another of the biggest jobs in world football is compelling.

His record on the big occasion is outstanding, as evidenced by the 11 trophies lifted during his tenure.

A directive from the River board to focus on continental success has been carried out to the letter, with the 2014 Copa Sudamericana and three Recopas Sudamericana sitting alongside the 2015 and 2018 Libertadores.

This return has come amid a huge turnover in playing staff – a long-accepted reality for South American teams turning out high-quality football before the prying eyes of European scouts.

Of the side that won the 2015 Libertadores, only Leonardo Ponzio, Jonatan Maidana, Gonzalo Martinez, Camilo Mayada and Rodrigo Mora remained among the squad that tasted glory in Madrid. The Camp Nou powerbrokers would do well to spot Gallardo's astute ability to rebuild, given their uneven and expensive record in the transfer market over recent years.

Boca would certainly be delighted to see the back of him. The ultimately futile 1-0 win in this season's Libertadores semi-final second leg at La Bombonera, after going down 2-0 in the initial match, was their first in seven Superclasicos.

Gallardo's shrewd tactical flexibility was to the fore during last season's final, with a switch from his favoured and fluid 4-4-2 to a back three for the away leg providing extra width that Boca struggled to deal with.

Injuries in attack forced him into a 4-5-1 for the return, but slick combination play and the feature of midfield runners supplementing the attack remained in fine working order on River's night of nights.

Admired by Guardiola and Messi

"What Gallardo has done is unbelievable. He gives them consistency year after year, even though they lose players," Pep Guardiola told TNT last month.

"I don't understand how he's never nominated for manager of the year. It's as if only Europe exists."

That seal of approval from a Barcelona great comes alongside a potentially more significant one from Lionel Messi, who included Gallardo behind Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino in his top three when voting for the 2019 Best FIFA Men's Coach award.

Of course, Barcelona have gone down the route of appointing a coach from Messi's homeland fairly recently and his fellow Rosario native Gerardo Martino finished the 2013-14 season without a major trophy or his job.

An acclimatisation process would be necessary, not least in terms of week-in, week-out combat in LaLiga. River's superb recent Libertadores record has come at the expense of seriously competing for the Superliga. Key men are routinely rested either side of major knockout matches and their last league success was in 2014, immediately before Gallardo's arrival.

There would be these and more questions to answer. If he is able to see off Flamengo and lift the third Copa Libertadores of his coaching career, the chances of Gallardo having to provide the answers might increase considerably.

VAR controversy, Leicester City's swashbuckling style, Liverpool's unrelenting charge to the title – these are all among the most prominent themes of the opening months of the 2019-20 Premier League season.

But arguably trumping all of them in terms of column inches has been Chelsea's use of young players, with Frank Lampard's return to the club as head coach coinciding with a new-found desire to bring youngsters into the first-team.

Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori and Christian Pulisic have all featured regularly, while Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James have recently returned from serious injuries.

Eden Hazard, Graeme Le Saux, Sean Dyche, Roy Hodgson and Petr Cech are just a few of the army of people to lavish Chelsea and Lampard with praise for this philosophy.

Although it is difficult not to be cynical of Lampard's insistence that he would have had the same approach even if Chelsea were not banned from signing new players, the fact remains they are giving young players a chance.

But how does their use of under-23 players compare to the rest of the teams in Europe's top five leagues?

PREMIER LEAGUE

It might surprise supporters to learn that among Premier League clubs, Chelsea don't lead the way for appearances (60), minutes (4,164) or assists (8) for players who were under 23 on matchday.

Manchester United have racked up the highest number of matches for players younger than 23 (84), one more than Leicester. The next highest is Bournemouth (67), while Arsenal and Norwich City are also ahead of Chelsea.

As such, United have given 5,801 minutes of Premier League football to young players, though Leicester lead the way with 6,164 and are also on top in terms of assists (15).

Chelsea's 20 goals from qualifying players is a division high, however, four more than United. Leicester are the third and final side to reach double figures.

And the Blues' average starting XI age of 25 years and 115 days is among the youngest, though Bournemouth are ahead on that front (25y 88d).

LALIGA

In Spain's top flight, only Real Sociedad (84) and Real Mallorca (68) have given more matches to young players than Chelsea. They're also the only clubs to accumulate more minutes played by youngsters than the Blues (5,341 and 5,944, respectively).

La Real also top the charts for goals (10), assists (8) and average starting XI age (25y 235d) in Spain, though none of those records better Chelsea's.

Therefore, it's fair to say LaLiga, renowned for its development of young players, is lagging behind Premier League in that regard at the moment.

SERIE A

Chelsea's 60 appearances by young players would put them fourth on those terms in Serie A, with Fiorentina (79), Genoa and AC Milan (both 72) out in front.

Those three have also given more minutes to under-23s, with Fiorentina (5,837) setting the bar again.

Genoa have had 11 goals set up by under-23 players, three more than Chelsea, while Milan's average starting XI age (24y 203d) is much lower than Lampard's men.

But in each of those two parameters, Chelsea would be second in the chart. They would lead for goals from under-23s, with Fiorentina top in Italy on 10.

BUNDESLIGA

RB Leipzig (80), Mainz, Schalke (both 70) and Borussia Monchengladbach (63) have been the most open to playing under-23s in the Bundesliga

Similarly, all four clubs have seen those players feature in more than 4,500 minutes this season – Leipzig unsurprisingly leading the way with 5,259.

Leipzig are also Chelsea's closest challengers in terms of goals. Their record of 17 may be slightly less than the Blues, but their 11-assist haul - level with Gladbach - takes them to 28 involvements, exactly the same as Lampard's side.

Julian Nagelsmann's Leipzig are also the youngest side in the Bundesliga, with their starting XI's average age just 24 years and 340 days. Mainz (25y 38d) are the only other top-flight German club to beat Chelsea in this regard.

LIGUE 1

France's Ligue 1 is by far the most accessible of the five major leagues for young players, with a total of 1,360 appearances from under-23 players across the 20 clubs, an average of 68 per team.

In comparison, the Premier League (871) averages 43.55 appearances per club and the Bundesliga's 18 sides afford under-23s 45.28 outings (815 total).

Nice make up the biggest share of the Ligue 1 appearances with a massive 121, but Lille (116), Lyon (99), Reims (96), Nimes (83), Toulouse (82), Rennes, Bordeaux (both 75), Metz (74), Monaco, Dijon (both 65) and Strasbourg (62) have all allowed youngsters to play more than 60 matches.

Of course, a key element of this is the lack of funds at many of these clubs and French football in general with the exception of Paris Saint-Germain, who, perhaps unsurprisingly, have entrusted the fewest games (30) to under-23 players in the division.

Nevertheless, only Nice (24y 41d), Lille (24y 111d) and Lyon (24y 288d) have a younger starting line-up on average than Lampard's Chelsea.

Are we about to see a Jose Mourinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic reunion?

Mourinho and Ibrahimovic worked together at Inter, before the Portuguese manager brought the Swedish star to Manchester United in 2016.

Now, new Tottenham boss Mourinho is reportedly eyeing the 38-year-old striker.

 

TOP STORY – MOURINHO TARGETING IBRA

Tottenham head coach Jose Mourinho is poised to make a move for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, according to the Telegraph.

Ibrahimovic is on the lookout for a new club after opting to leave MLS outfit LA Galaxy following two seasons in the United States.

The 38-year-old has been linked to AC Milan, Bologna, Napoli, Manchester United and Australian team Perth Glory; however, Mourinho reportedly wants to reunite with Ibrahimovic at Tottenham.

 

ROUND-UP

- Spanish newspaper Sport reports a close friend of Flamengo coach Jorge Jesus predicting he will get the Barcelona job if his side win Saturday's Copa Libertadores final against River Plate, who are led by another reputed Catalan target in Marcelo Gallardo. Ernesto Valverde is under pressure at the LaLiga champions.

Real Madrid are set to open talks with star striker Karim Benzema over a new contract, Marca reports. The 31-year-old's current deal expires in 2021.

- Out-of-favour Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic is wanted by LaLiga's Atletico Madrid, according to ESPN FC. Matic has struggled for game time under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, with AC Milan and Inter also interested.

- With Tottenham reportedly looking to hijack AC Milan's pursuit of Ibrahimovic, Sky Sport Italia says the Rossoneri are rivalling Inter and Borussia Dortmund for Chelsea forward Olivier Giroud.

- The Daily Mail reports that Leicester City have opened talks with James Maddison over a new contract. The 22-year-old England international has been heavily linked to Manchester United.

- Partizan Belgrade sensation Strahinja Pavlovic is on the verge of joining Ligue 1 outfit Monaco. Sportski Zurnal says the 18-year-old defender has undergone a medical ahead of a €10million transfer plus add-ons.

Gareth Bale's agent Jonathan Barnett said the Real Madrid star's "WALES. GOLF. MADRID… IN THAT ORDER" flag celebration was "meant for the media" amid backlash.

Bale caused a stir in Cardiff on Tuesday, when he was pictured laughing and celebrating in front of a fan-made banner after Wales qualified for Euro 2020.

Tipped to leave Madrid and criticised for his priorities amid his love for golf, Wales fans have adopted the chant, "Wales, golf, Madrid", which was heard during the international break.

Spanish newspaper Marca's frontpage on Thursday read: "DISRESPECTFUL. WRONG. UNGRATEFUL. IN THAT ORDER".

But speaking to ESPN, Barnett insisted there were "no worries" for Bale ahead of his return to Madrid.

Bale, who has not featured for Madrid since October, is set to appear for the club's LaLiga meeting against Real Sociedad at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday.

The 30-year-old has scored two goals in seven appearances across all competitions this season.

Real Madrid star Eden Hazard says he has rejected multiple offers from Paris Saint-Germain and would never sign for the Ligue 1 champions.

The Belgium international claims he has always made it clear he would only return to France's top flight to play for former club Lille, the team he left in 2012 to join Chelsea.

PSG were linked with a move for Hazard before the completed a switch to Madrid this year for a reported €100million fee.

"No, never," he told L'Equipe when asked if he would ever join PSG.

"They've often wanted to sign me. I didn't want to come back to Ligue 1 and with another club to Lille.

"I always told them no. In my head, it was clear.

"They're a club who can help you win the Champions League, but they were not in my plans. If I come back to Ligue 1, it will be with Lille."

Hazard has struggled to make a significant impact in Spain since arriving from Chelsea in June.

The 28-year-old has scored only once in eight appearances in all competitions and has been accused in some quarters of being overweight.

Hazard this week denied those suggestions, telling Sky Sports: "For the last month, I've been in good condition with no injuries.

"I'm in good shape. When I'm on the pitch I will always try to do my best, with Real Madrid or Belgium. I just want to keep this momentum."

Madrid host Real Sociedad in LaLiga on Saturday before they face PSG in the Champions League at the Santiago Bernabeu next Tuesday.

Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa is set for a spell on the sidelines after undergoing neck surgery.

In a statement issued on their official website, Atleti confirmed Costa had an operation on his herniated cervical disc on Thursday.

The procedure was successful but normally requires a recovery time of two to three months.

Speaking earlier this week, Atletico president Enrique Cerezo insisted there were no plans to sign a January replacement for Costa in the event of surgery.

"No, because we already tried to sign [a striker] at the beginning of the season and you know that you have to sell someone to be able to buy someone," he told AS, citing his club's salary limit.

"So, I don't know. In principle, no. We have a fantastic team and fantastic strikers who score many goals."

Record signing Joao Felix is in line to boost Diego Simeone's attack by returning from a sprained ankle when Atletico visit Granada in LaLiga on Saturday.

Like Costa, the Portugal forward has only two top-flight goals to his name this term. Alvaro Morata leads the way with five for a team that have 15 goals in 13 LaLiga outings so far

Atleti are third in the table, a point behind Barcelona and Real Madrid having played a game more.

Gareth Bale's popularity in Spain appears to have sunk to an all-time low as he heads back to Real Madrid following international duty.

Not sighted in LaLiga for well over a month, the winger made his second Wales start in four days as Ryan Giggs' men secured Euro 2020 qualification with a 2-0 win over Hungary on Tuesday.

Bale's timely return to fitness prompted suspicion, and his actions after the game have attracted more scorn in certain sections of the Spanish media, who have routinely criticised him for spending too much time on the golf course.

In Cardiff, he was pictured celebrating with Wales team-mates behind a banner that read: "WALES. GOLF. MADRID... IN THAT ORDER".

Madrid newspaper Marca, said to have close links to the powerful club that employs Bale, did not take kindly to what has been perceived as a mocking gesture.

The front page of its Thursday edition featured Bale and the headline: "DISRESPECTFUL. WRONG. UNGRATEFUL. IN THAT ORDER".

AS, also headquartered in the Spanish capital, depicted the four-time Champions League winner sinking a close-range putt alongside the headline: "BALE IS IN A HOLE".

Meanwhile, online newspaper El Espanol captured the order of priorities supporters expect – "MADRID. MADRID. MADRID. IN THAT ORDER" – while columnist Tomas Roncero summed up what appears to lay ahead.

His comment piece in AS included a simple, ominous quote for Bale's future: "Out, out, out."

The media message crossed borders ahead of Madrid's meeting with Real Sociedad on Sunday.

In an interview with The Athletic, ex-Madrid president Ramon Calderon called Bale "childish" and claimed fans were "very angry" with the one-time €100million signing.

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