Diego Simeone said LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid are poised to confirm the signing of Lyon forward Moussa Dembele.

Atletico and Lyon have been in "very advanced" negotiations regarding a deal that will see Dembele move to the Wanda Metropolitano on loan with an option to buy.

Atleti will reportedly be able to secure Dembele for a €35million fee should the former France Under-21 international impress on loan before the end of the season.

Dembele has scored just once in 16 Ligue 1 games for Lyon this season, having hit 24 in 46 across all competitions in 2019-20.

Simeone was asked about Dembele following Tuesday's 2-0 LaLiga victory over Sevilla in the Spanish capital.

"It is very advanced," Atletico head coach Simeone said post-match. "We are going to confirm it."

Atletico extended their lead atop LaLiga to four points thanks to goals from Angel Correa and Saul Niguez against visiting Sevilla.

Correa broke the deadlock in the 17th minute before Atletico team-mate Saul put the result beyond doubt with 14 minutes remaining.

Of Correa's goals for Atletico, 19 out of 39 across all competitions have been the opening goal of a match, per Opta.

Atletico, meanwhile, are one of the two teams with the most clean sheets in the top five European leagues this season (11 in 16 fixtures) – level with Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain.

On Saul, who has only started seven of 13 LaLiga games this term, Simeone said: "Like everything in life, the first one who has to want to get out of the difficulty is oneself and Saul loves it.

"He knew he was not well and has always worked. Since he was 18 years old, he has had to live things very good and now he has to live another and Saul is helping himself and is already getting out of the situation he was in."

Simeone was named the best coach of the decade by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS) this week.

"I am not aware of that," said Simeone, who guided Atletico to LaLiga glory in 2014 and Champions League finals in 2014 and 2016.

"We focus on improving the team, we work daily, we have made an important change in the game. That is healthy and gives us great joy for the number of players who have joined us and that allows us to be.

"With the energy of the first day I got on the plane with the mentality of taking the team to the top of Europe."

Atletico Madrid extended their lead at LaLiga's summit to four points as they saw off Sevilla 2-0 at the Wanda Metropolitano on Tuesday.

Sevilla could have become the first team to draw three successive away games at the Wanda, but Atletico produced a vintage display of clinical finishing and resolute defending as they improved their position at the top of the table.

Atletico edged an even first half and went ahead through Angel Correa's clinical finish with just over quarter of an hour played, though Sevilla did trouble Jan Oblak through Ivan Rakitic and Youssef En-Nesyri.

The visitors dominated proceedings in the second period but struggled to find a way through Atletico's famously shrewd defence, who ultimately claimed an 11th clean sheet in LaLiga this term as Saul Niguez put the game beyond Sevilla in the latter stages.

Sevilla looked bright in the opening exchanges as Rakitic tested Oblak early on, but they found themselves trailing in the 17th minute – Correa picking out the bottom-right corner with a snapshot on the swivel that caught Yassine Bounou unsighted in goal.

Atletico were fortunate at the other end soon after.

Oblak initially rushed out to thwart En-Nesyri and the ball fell kindly to Marcos Acuna, but the left-back shot wide of the empty net with the hosts' goalkeeper stranded.

Luis Suarez then threatened before the half-hour mark, but his close-range volley was well blocked by Bounou.

En-Nesyri tried his luck from a tight angle early in the second half, but Oblak had little issue making the save.

But while Sevilla saw much of the ball, that En-Nesyri effort was hardly the start of an onslaught and Atletico picked them off 14 minutes from time.

Marcos Llorente found space behind Acuna and Oscar Rodriguez failed to intercept his cutback, which came to Saul and he swept in from 20 yards to seal the points.

Diego Simeone hinted at the idea he could leave Atletico Madrid at the end of the season after their awful Copa del Rey defeat to third-tier Cornella.

Simeone's LaLiga leaders exited the Copa on Wednesday, losing 1-0 to a goal from former Atletico B defender Adrian Jimenez.

Ricard Sanchez was sent off as Atleti slumped to a shock reverse swiftly described by the Spanish media as a "disaster" among the very worst of Simeone's 502 games in charge of the club.

The long-time coach named a strong side, including record signing Joao Felix, but saw his team remarkably unable to register a single shot on target.

Copa failings are a familiar story by now, though, with the Rojiblancos losing to Cultural Leonesa last season. Meanwhile, they have not beaten a fellow LaLiga outfit in the competition since seeing off Elche in January 2017.

Simeone recognised Atleti are struggling in one-off knockout matches - also losing in last season's Champions League to RB Leipzig - but added the surprising qualifier that it would be an issue to consider only if he was still at the helm next year.

"[Cornella] played better," he said. "In the whole game, what they wanted was always done better than what we wanted.

"They took advantage of the set-piece situations and immediately found the goal.

"The boys tried to compete in the best way. In the first half, we had more chances, and in the second, it was rockier. It got difficult after the red card.

"This competition has not given us satisfaction in recent years but solutions will have to be found if we are here next year."

Saul Niguez, captain on the night, identified the same problem as he added: "We apologise to the fans. We never throw away competitions, but in these single-game editions we are not doing well."

Given Atleti's struggles, the decision to replace Joao Felix with 18-year-old debutant Mario Soriano 15 minutes from time prompted some discussion.

But the Portugal international mustered only one shot, which was blocked, prior to his withdrawal and failed to create a single chance - unlike his replacement.

Joao Felix epitomised the visitors' display as he completed just 13 of his 21 attempted passes and lost possession 13 times, winning none of his three aerial duels.

The change still appeared a big call, yet Simeone explained his star forward was struggling with an ankle injury.

"He was hurt," Simeone said. "We looked for a fresher guy. He had a bruised ankle and we wanted to find a guy in good condition."

Paul Pogba may be about to experience a case of deja vu as he drifts towards the Manchester United exit door.

When the mercurial midfielder waved goodbye to Old Trafford in 2012, the Frenchman headed to the bright lights of Turin to make his name at Juventus.

Fast forward eight years and it seems the 27-year-old Pogba is edging closer towards retracing his own footsteps in an attempt to relaunch his career.

 

TOP STORY – JUVENTUS 'OPEN TALKS' WITH POGBA'S AGENT

Manchester United star Paul Pogba is a "top target" for Juventus in 2021, according to journalist Carlo Garganese.

Serie A champions Juve have already began talks with Pogba's agent Mino Raiola, and a deal could be done as soon as January.

Raiola claimed Pogba's United career was over in an interview with Italian outlet Tuttosport last week, prompting links to Juve, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain.

If an agreement cannot be reached in January, the player United paid £89million for four years ago could be set for a Serie A return in the off-season.

 

ROUND-UP

- United will have to wait until the end of the season to bring in any new recruits, according to the Manchester Evening News. But reports from Todo Fichajes in Spain suggest the Red Devils are set to reignite their interest in Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul Niguez as a potential Pogba replacement. United are said to be preparing a £63m (€70m) offer for the Spaniard.

- With Liverpool and midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum still yet to come to agreement on the terms of a new contract, Le10Sport reports that the Reds are lining up Lille's former Bayern Munich and Swansea man Renato Sanches to come in and fill the Dutchman's shoes.

- Liverpool are shopping for centre-back reinforcements after losing Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez to long-term injuries. Barcelona seemed primed to sign Manchester City fringe player Eric Garcia but Spanish outlet Diario AS says Liverpool are ready to swoop for the summer free agent.

- Arsenal are eying a move for Porto midfielder Fabio Viera, who has a £27m (€29.9m) release fee in his contract, according to Record. Meanwhile, Defensa Central are reporting that Gunners manager Mikel Arteta has put Lyon's Houssem Aouar and Madrid's Isco on his January wish list.

- One of Europe's brightest young prospects, Hungarian attacker Dominik Szoboszlai, will complete his move from Salzburg to RB Leipzig after a medical on Thursday, Fabrizio Romano reports. Arsenal, Madrid and Bayern Munich had shown interest in the 20-year-old.

Saul Niguez is fully aware that he needs to improve his performances, according to Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone.

Having reacted angrily after he was taken off in a Champions League clash with Salzburg last week, Saul had to settle for a place on the bench in the Madrid derby.

The 26-year-old came on with an hour played, though could not help Atleti avoid a 2-0 defeat to their city rivals.

Saul returned to Atleti's starting XI as captain on Wednesday, playing on the right as Simeone's team cruised to a 3-0 Copa del Rey win over minnows Cardassar.

It was a quiet display from the versatile midfielder, with Geoffrey Kondogbia and Lucas Torreira dominating the centre of the pitch for the visitors.

Saul attempted 56 passes, fewer than all but two Atleti outfielders from the starting line-up, completing 42 of them (75 per cent).

He lost possession 20 times – a team-high and second only to Cardassar goalkeeper Angel Pedro Sanchez Marin, and did not make any key passes.

Defensively, Saul also lacked his usual efficiency, regaining possession on only three occasions, seven fewer than Kondogbia and six less than Torreira, while he also failed to make a tackle, conceding one foul for which he was booked.

From eight LaLiga appearances so far this season, Saul is yet to score or provide an assist. Last season, he netted six times in the league, while creating 15 chances in total.

Asked about Saul's display, Simeone told reporters: "I was pretty clear yesterday. He is very important to us, he has always given us a lot from day one and the players go through different moments. 

"Saul knows that he has to improve, he works for it and we are waiting for him to give us a lot of things as he has always given us."

While Saul struggled out on the flank, Kondogbia and Torreira impressed their coach.

"I really liked both of them," he added. "They occupied the width of the pitch, they worked very well in circulation, Kondogbia tried the shot, Lucas had very good passes and it is a very good performance for both of us, which helps us and we need everyone."

Diego Simeone is confident any issues with Joao Felix and Luis Suarez will be addressed after the pair reacted badly to being substituted in Saturday's Madrid derby.

Neither Atletico Madrid forward played the full 90 minutes of the 2-0 defeat to Real Madrid, a result that ended a club-record 26-game unbeaten LaLiga run going back to last season.

Joao Felix was replaced on the hour mark, just before Jan Oblak's own goal took the game away from Atleti.

The Portugal forward failed to muster a shot or create a chance, making no touches of the ball in the Madrid penalty area.

Suarez was little better, seeing his only effort blocked and completing a meagre 10 passes before following his strike partner off the pitch with 17 minutes remaining.

The pair were each replaced by midfielders – Saul Niguez and Geoffrey Kondogbia – and made their frustration clear as they returned to the bench.

But speaking ahead of Wednesday's Copa del Rey trip to Cardassar, coach Simeone was not concerned by their dissatisfaction.

"We have been here for nine years and what we have to talk about will happen internally," he said. "The best way to resolve situations is by talking and obviously we talk."

Saul had Atleti's best attempt after replacing Joao Felix, seeing a close-range header well saved by Thibaut Courtois, but the Spain international is struggling this season.

He has yet to register a goal or assist, while his duel success rate is at a career-low 41.9 per cent and he is also averaging fewer recoveries per 90 minutes (5.1) than in any prior LaLiga season.

"He is not having his best moment," Simeone said. "I have no doubt that for us he is a very important player.

"He has competed since he joined the team as a young man. He has always been important and this year it will not be different.

"He is working to improve. He is strong; we will see the Saul we all know again."

The Copa game against Cardassar may provide opportunities for players such as Saul to rediscover some form.

"There are players who are waiting to have those minutes and each one will make the best use of it," Simeone said. "When Atletico Madrid play, they must be represented in the best possible way."

Diego Simeone understands the angry reaction of Luis Suarez and Saul Niguez to being substituted during Atletico Madrid's clash with Salzburg, saying he would have done the same.

Both players were taken off a little over an hour into Wednesday's Champions League game with Atleti 1-0 ahead thanks to Mario Hermoso's first goal for the club.

Yannick Carrasco went on to add a late second for the visitors as they sealed a place in the last 16 but the big talking point was the anger of Suarez and Saul.

Suarez was making his second appearance for Atleti since recovering from coronavirus and had just one touch of the ball in the opposition box, failing to register a single shot.

Central midfielder Saul, meanwhile, was unable to get too involved in a game that saw Salzburg constantly get at Atletico and register 18 attempts in total.

Simeone would also have had Saturday's local derby with Real Madrid in mind but believes the pair were justified to react the way they did.

"It is entirely logical," he told Movistar+. "I would have also been angry to leave the field. These are the games where you want to play the full 90 minutes.

"When you are taken off the pitch for someone else, it is understandable they leave the field angry."

A point was all Atletico needed to finish second to Bayern Munich in Group A and advance through to the last 16 for a seventh time in eight seasons under Simeone.

Despite being regulars in the knockouts, and twice reaching the final in the past seven seasons, Simeone insists he does not take group-stage progression for granted.

"I look back at the times we have made it out of the group stage and am joyful," he said. "It is important for us to be among the best year after year.

"For many it is entirely normal that we qualify, but for me that is not the case."

Salzburg required a victory to overtake Atletico in second place on the final matchday and twice hit the post, while Dominik Szoboszlai wasted a glorious chance at 1-0.

The Austrian side bow out with four points from six matches but Simeone always knew his side would be given a run for their money at the Red Bull Arena.

"At no time did we think this game would be simple," he said. "We've seen them play with a very high intensity in the past.

"It was tough for us to find our rhythm in the first half because there were lots of fouls that broke up our play. 

"We had to look for space and in the second half we managed to play with a higher pace."

Carrasco was the key man for Atletico, both scoring and assisting in a Champions League game for the first time in what was his 41st appearance.

He delivered a flat inswinging free-kick for Hermoso's opener and then rounded off a swift counter with a back-post volley from Angel Correa's cross for the second.

"His second-half performance was fantastic," Simeone said. "He must continue with this type of work rate and rhythm. He is clearly an important player for us."

Saul Niguez is "very flattered" by rumours linking him with Manchester United but says Atletico Madrid do not need to worry about speculation over his future.

The Spain international was touted as a target for United before the Premier League giants moved for Ajax's Donny van de Beek last week.

United great Rio Ferdinand urged Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to sign Saul earlier this year, describing the midfielder as the "conductor" in the Atletico side.

And Saul, who signed a nine-year contract extension with Atleti in 2017, is grateful to have been subjected to such praise from iconic defender Ferdinand.

"I am very flattered that a club like Manchester United, or other teams that ask about me, take me into consideration," he told Marca.

"For me it is very positive. That strong people in those clubs speak well of you means that I am doing things well at Atletico Madrid."

Saul has previously stated he will not consider leaving the Spanish capital while long-serving head coach Diego Simeone is still in charge.

The 25-year-old is entering his seventh season as an Atletico regular and insists the club have nothing to fear when transfer rumours circulate.

"I think not," he said. "[Those feelings] have never been transmitted to me from the club."

Atletico finished 17 points behind LaLiga champions Real Madrid last season, exited the Copa del Rey in the round of 32 and lost to RB Leipzig in the Champions League quarter-finals.

However, Saul is hoping to challenge Madrid and Barcelona for top spot this time around and win his first league title, having been out on loan when Atleti triumphed in 2013-14.

"Honestly, after a complicated season, this one looks exciting and we hope that we will start it well despite the fact that we have little preparation time," he said.

"We have a very good squad, very young, in which we have many things to improve but we are working together and united. I think we have to be ambitious and fight to be up there."

Atletico begin their new season with a home match against Granada on September 26.

Goodbye Quique Setien?

Barcelona's Champions League horror show against Bayern Munich is reportedly the final straw for the club's hierarchy.

Who will replace the former Real Betis boss at Camp Nou?

 

TOP STORY – BARCA TO SACK SETIEN

Barcelona have decided to sack head coach Quique Setien, according to journalist Fabrizio Romano.

LaLiga giants Barca were humiliated in the Champions League quarter-finals on Friday following an 8-2 defeat to Bundesliga holders Bayern Munich.

Barca have already decided Setien – who replaced Ernesto Valverde in January – will not continue in 2020-21, and former Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino has already been linked, while club great Xavi and Massimiliano Allegri are other possible options.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Star reports Manchester United are eyeing Atletico Madrid star Saul Niguez. United have been linked to the Spain international previously and are believed to be ready to revive their interest.

- Staying at Old Trafford and the Evening Standard says United remain in talks with Borussia Dortmund regarding Jadon Sancho. Dortmund insist Sancho will not leave the Bundesliga side, though United are reportedly still in negotiations for the England international. Meanwhile, Outlet Republika in Serbia claims United have agreed to sign teenage sensation Filip Stevanovic from Partizan Belgrade before loaning him back to the capital club.

- Hella Verona defender Marash Kumbulla wants to join Inter, Sky Sport Italia claims. Kumbulla has been linked to Napoli, Lazio and Juventus.

Bayern Munich want to keep loanee Ivan Perisic, according to Sky Sport Italia. Perisic has spent the season on loan from Inter and Bayern are hoping to negotiate a permanent deal.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic wants to remain at Milan and could soon sign a new contract with the Rossoneri, reports Calciomercato.

- Foot Mercato claims Barca could consider re-signing Thiago Alcantara from Bayern. Thiago, who left Barca in 2013, has been tipped to join Liverpool, while Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City have emerged as possible destinations.

Arsenal are planning to sign Thomas Partey from Atletico following the arrival of William, reports The Daily Star.

Saul Niguez apologised to Atletico Madrid fans after Diego Simeone's side fell to a late 2-1 defeat against RB Leipzig in the Champions League quarter-finals.

Atleti looked to have a realistic route to the final after being put in the same half of the draw as Leipzig, Paris Saint-Germain and Atalanta.

But after Tyler Adams struck in the 88th minute to restore Leipzig's lead following Joao Felix's response to a Dani Olmo opener, the Bundesliga outfit advanced in Lisbon to earn a showdown with PSG.

Atletico midfielder Saul acknowledged the scale of the disappointment for the club's supporters in Lisbon on Thursday.

"The opponents were superior in many phases of the game," the Spain international said post-game.

"We were very excited. The fans deserved more. We had a point of hope and we are very sorry."

Meanwhile, captain and team-mate Koke voiced his disappointment at failing to capitalise on the unique format of this season's competition, where one-legged ties bring the latter stages closer into view.

"We were very excited about this Champions League and now it's time to get up," he said. "On the field, sometimes you are better and sometimes worse. We have to see what has failed.

"This is a different competition. In three games, we could have won the Champions League. Now that will not be able to happen."

For most of the year, Lautaro Martinez has been tipped to leave Inter for Barcelona.

Barca are eyeing a long-term replacement for veteran forward Luis Suarez, though, the coronavirus pandemic appears to have impacted their transfer plans.

However, a blockbuster move could still be on the cards.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA STILL WANT TO SIGN LAUTARO

Barcelona remain keen on signing Inter star Lautaro Martinez at the end of the season, according to the front page of Tuesday's Mundo Deportivo.

Barca's interest in Martinez is well documented but a transfer has been put on hold as the LaLiga giants re-assess their plans after the Argentina forward's €111million release clause expired at the start of the month.

However, Barca head coach Quique Setien is reportedly considering three options in his pursuit to recruit Martinez.

Ousmane Dembele could be sold to raise funds or a swap deal involving Arturo Vidal, Ivan Rakitic and Samuel Umtiti could be proposed to Inter, while a player plus cash offer including Junior Firpo is the third alternative.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Mirror says Chelsea are ready to swap goalkeepers. Unhappy with the world's most expensive keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, Chelsea are ready to use the Spaniard as a makeweight in a deal to sign Atletico Madrid star Jan Oblak.

Paris Saint-Germain are eyeing in-demand Salzburg sensation Dominik Szoboszlai, reports Tuttosport. The Hungary teenager has been heavily linked to Milan and Napoli, as well as Arsenal.

Ajax are hopeful of keeping star goalkeeper Andre Onana for one more season, claims De Telegraaf. Onana has been linked to the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Barca.

- Journalist Nicolo Schira reports Napoli are confident of reaching an agreement with Lille forward Victor Osimhen. The Nigerian has been tipped to join the Serie A side, who have prepared a five-year contract worth €3.5m per season amid talk of an €80m transfer.

- While Osimhen could arrive, Napoli are set to lose Arkadiusz Milik. Calciomercato claims Italian champions Juventus are interested, while the likes of Atletico, Tottenham and Roma are also keen. Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette is an alternative for Juve, as well as Atletico.

- According to Calciomercato, Edinson Cavani has turned down a move to David Beckham's Inter Miami in MLS. A free agent since leaving PSG, Cavani is reportedly wanted by Roma.

Everton and PSG both want to sign Napoli midfielder Allan, says Calciomercato. Napoli are looking to raise funds.

Manchester City will accelerate their rebuilding plans after having their Champions League ban overturned, claims the Telegraph. Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly – also linked to United, Liverpool and Real Madrid previously – is reportedly high on the list of targets, which includes Leicester City full-back Ben Chilwell, Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish and Atletico star Saul Niguez.

Sergio Busquets conceded Barcelona face an uphill battle to retain their LaLiga crown after a 2-2 draw with Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.

Lionel Messi scored his 700th goal but it was not enough for Barca to claim all three points at Camp Nou, where Saul Niguez scored two penalties to earn Atleti a share of the spoils.

The draw leaves Barca one point behind leaders Real Madrid, who could move four clear with a win over Getafe on Thursday.

There are five games remaining for Barca to turn things around, but midfielder Busquets acknowledged their fate may well now be out of their hands.

"Look, to fight for the title is really complicated if you're dropping two points each two games, but we're going to keep fighting until the end," the Spain international told Movistar.

"We know it's difficult but we're going to try. They're a difficult rival. We dominated and created chances but the two penalties, penalised us – it's been a real shame.

"We were leaders and in a perfect situation before the break. I think it's been difficult for us since – some matches we've played better, others we haven't.

"Dropping points today and at the weekend means we're a little bit further away from our goal, which is to retain the title. I think we played better today but it's a difficult task ahead of us."

Diego Costa's own goal from Messi's corner put Barcelona ahead, before Saul hauled Atleti level from 12 yards – his goal coming after Costa had seen his penalty saved by Marc-Andre ter Stegen, only for a VAR check to spot the goalkeeper had moved off his line.

Messi chipped home his landmark goal from the penalty spot shortly after half-time, yet Saul kept his composure with his second spot-kick of the match.

Yannick Carrasco won both of Atleti's penalties, and the Belgian – who returned to the club in January following a stint in China – was buoyed by the visitors' resilience.

"We always want to win, but I think the team played well. It's just unfortunate we couldn't get the three points," he said.

"We have to keep working and think about the next game. We were playing against one of the best teams in the world. A point away from home is always positive but we wanted to win.

"It's the attitude which is the most important facet of this team always. After that we can win or lose, but if the attitude is the correct one then the coach is happy. Today wasn't to be but we can be proud of our performance."

Lionel Messi scored the 700th goal of his career but Barcelona were held to a 2-2 draw against Atletico Madrid by a pair of Saul Niguez penalties, damaging their LaLiga title defence.

Barca's all-time leading scorer Messi brought up the milestone at Camp Nou with a brilliant Panenka from the penalty spot as he punished Felipe for sending Nelson Semedo to ground early in the second half.

However, Saul, who first equalised in the opening period after Diego Costa's own goal, powered home from 12 yards for the second time after Semedo caught Yannick Carrasco in the box.

The result provided a boost to Real Madrid, who can open up a four-point advantage at the summit by beating Getafe on Thursday.

Messi appeared to have ended his wait for his landmark goal in the 11th minute, but his corner only beat Jan Oblak due to a deflection off the inside of Costa's leg.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen saved a penalty from Costa after Arturo Vidal tripped Carrasco, only for a VAR review to spot the goalkeeper had strayed off his line. A re-take was ordered and Saul guided the ball into the bottom-right corner.

Messi curled a magnificent attempt from the right corner of the box narrowly wide, before steering a cutback from Jordi Alba outside the left upright and seeing a deflected free-kick turned behind by Oblak before half-time.

Barca regained the lead five minutes after the restart when Messi cheekily chipped home his 700th goal from the penalty spot.

Costa missed the target with a header but Carrasco won another penalty and Saul's spot-kick found the net off the gloves of Ter Stegen.

Vidal was unable to find the target with a pair of decent opportunities as Barca were forced to settle for a draw that will do little to quell the rumours of discontent in the dressing room.

What does it mean? Barca falter again

Quique Setien changed his approach for the visit of Atleti, leaving Antoine Griezmann and Ansu Fati on the bench and playing Riqui Puig behind a front two of Messi and Luis Suarez.

The Blaugrana dominated possession throughout but proved vulnerable on the counter-attack and Setien did not change formation until he introduced Fati in the 85th minute – Griezmann came on five minutes later.

It was too late and Barca have now drawn three of their past four LaLiga fixtures and seen the two-point lead they held when the season was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic evaporate. With five games remaining, Setien needs to turn things around quickly.

Magical Messi not enough

Everything positive for Barca was funnelled through Messi – he had more shots in the first half than the entire Atleti team. After three games without a goal he reached his milestone with class, but Diego Simeone's men were still able to snatch a point.

Costa's miserable outing

After narrowly missing out on connecting with a teasing Carrasco free-kick in the sixth minute, Costa put the ball in the net at the other end. His penalty was poor and he was fortunate VAR offered Atletico a second chance to equalise.

What's next?

Atleti are back in action at home to Real Mallorca on Friday, while Barcelona face a tricky trip to Villarreal on Sunday.

Saul Niguez urged Atletico Madrid to continue their good run of form after a 2-1 win over Deportivo Alaves in LaLiga on Saturday.

Atletico consolidated third spot in the table courtesy of their fourth straight win as Saul and Diego Costa, the latter via the penalty spot, scored at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Saul was pleased to get on the scoresheet and called for Atletico to keep pushing ahead of Tuesday's clash with Barcelona.

"I'm very happy to have scored the opener. Scoring without our fans feels totally different, but it gave us the lead. It also generated spaces because they were defending deep and it was hard," the midfielder said.

"When we went 1-0 up, they left more spaces and allowed us to attack them in different ways. In the first half we were up against a side with six defenders and everyone else in the middle of the pitch.

"Sometimes we didn't interpret correctly what had to be done, because we tried to attack them through the middle. There was more space down the wings.

"I think we didn't play badly in the first half despite being 0-0. I think we did quite well, but it's difficult to unravel the opposition when they have six defenders and are fresh. That happens to us and to everyone else.

"We're going to enjoy this good win. I think it's the first time we won four straight games this season. We're enjoying a positive streak and have to continue like this. If we do, we'll reach our goal."

While Joselu scored a late spot-kick for Alaves, Atletico are now four points clear of fourth-placed Sevilla.

Atletico coach Diego Simeone talked up the importance of the win and is prepared for another difficult encounter at Camp Nou.

"The next game will be really tough, like every time we play in Barcelona," he said.

"Now it's time to rest and prepare, so that we arrive in the best possible shape."

Saul Niguez insisted Atletico Madrid remains his "home" despite transfer speculation, revealing he has never spoken to any club over a potential move elsewhere.

Saul signed a nine-year contract extension with Atleti in 2017, though the long-term deal has not stopped rumours about the Spain international's future in the capital.

Manchester United have been strongly linked with the midfielder, though he is unaware if anything has gone further than stories in the media.

Saul made clear how happy he is in Madrid as he aims to help Diego Simeone's squad seal a top-four finish in LaLiga this season.

"I see things on Instagram or in newspapers which you publish, but I haven't heard anything from any club," Saul told Radio Marca.

"I'm focused on finishing this season, achieving the objective [of finishing in the top four] and then dreaming about the Champions League.

"I have a long-term contract, which I signed because I want to stay here. I don't have any problem staying here because my family are here, it's my home.

"People say, 'come out and deny it', but then if you deny it and something happens, you look bad.

"I just stick to playing football and what has to happen will happen, I'm just focused on achieving Atletico's target, which is to be in the top four, and then try to get the most desired target of the season."

Atletico return to action on Sunday when they travel to Athletic Bilbao for their first fixture since the 2019-20 season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

They have not played since a 3-2 extra-time win over Liverpool at Anfield in the Champions League on March 11, a result that saw them eliminate the titleholders to reach the quarter-finals of the competition.

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