A relieved Diego Simeone credited the work of his players after Atletico Madrid marked his 400th LaLiga game in charge with a 2-0 win away to Elche on Wednesday.

Atleti also secured Champions League qualification with the victory, opening up a six-point gap to fifth-placed Real Betis via goals from Matheus Cunha and Rodrigo de Paul.

In Simeone's 11 years at the club, Atleti have been able to disrupt the hegemony of Barcelona and Real Madrid, winning LaLiga, the Europa League and the UEFA Super Cup twice, as well the Copa del Rey.

Simeone showed humility after the win, saying the support he has at the club is rare, allowing for such an uncommonly long tenure.

"It's an important moment because if it weren't for all the players who have passed through the club it would be impossible," he said post-match. "I am grateful and lucky because the club has always supported me. The back and forth is there, but I thank all the players that were here over this time and allowed me to have this possibility.

"I'm happy for the players, who had an irregular season. We competed very well in the Champions League and in LaLiga we couldn't maintain regularity.

"The goal has already arrived. Deserved, we worked hard and that makes us return to the Champions League for another year. This is very important for the club."

As noted by Simeone, it has been an irregular season by Atleti's notoriously conservative and defensive standards on the pitch.

The 41 goals the Colchoneros have conceded this term in the league make for the most over a full season since he took over as coach in December 2011.

Tensions have simmered in that respect and it was apparent again at the Estadio Manuel Martinez Valero, with Jan Oblak and Renan Lodi sharing a heated exchange before Cunha's opener.

After Wednesday's win, the 52-year-old conceded the defensive decline has been a difficult trade-off for stronger potency in attack, but had no issue with the Oblak and Lodi argument.

"If there are discussions, it's good because the players are in the game and they're alive," he said. "I like this kind of thing because I feel that the players are in the game.

"I think this the year we've scored the most goals since I've been at the club. Also opponents have scored the most on us.

"That's the balance that it cost us to find. We had Savic and Gimenez out, Reinildo did us a lot of good. He works very seriously and with humility. In front of goal we scored a lot of goals"

Atletico Madrid consolidated their Champions League qualification hopes with a 2-0 win at Elche in Diego Simeone's 400th LaLiga game in charge of the club.

Simeone's side battled to a 1-0 victory over rivals Real Madrid on Sunday, and were soon ahead at Estadio Martinez Valero when Matheus Cunha opened the scoring in the first half.

Rodrigo de Paul added a second after the interval and Elche rarely threatened Jan Oblak's goal in response, failing to have a shot on target all game/until the Xth minute.

It mattered little for the boisterous home crowd as Real Mallorca's stalemate at Sevilla on Wednesday confirmed safety for Elche, while Atletico climbed into third – six points clear of fifth-placed Real Betis with two games to go.

Sime Vrsaljko was forced off with injury after just six minutes before Cunha curled a presentable opportunity over in the opening exchanges.

Elche had scored two of their last three league goals from set-pieces and both Lucas Boye and Pedro Bigas headed narrowly off target from corners, but Atleti struck first.

Cunha opened the scoring after 28 minutes when substitute Renan Lodi latched onto Antonio Griezmann's lofted pass to drill across for the Brazil forward to poke home.

Elche fans were in celebratory mood after the interval as news filtered through of Mallorca's stalemate with Sevilla, while Bigas had to clear off the line as Cunha's deflected strike looped goalward.

A slick passing move resulted in Atletico doubling their lead and sealing victory, with De Paul exchanging a quick one-two with Griezmann, who unselfishly squared for the midfielder to tap-in.

Substitute Luis Suarez was denied his 12th goal of the LaLiga season by the offside flag in stoppage time, as Atleti cruised to victory.

What does it mean? Milestone man Simeone continues Elche dominance

Simeone's side eased to their 10th straight LaLiga victory over Elche, who have not defeated Atletico in all competitions since March 2002.

Victory capped a special day for Simeone, who became just the third manager to coach 400 LaLiga games with a single club, winning 244 of those matches across his 11-year spell in the Spanish capital.

Atletico have all but secured Champions League football for next season, with Betis requiring a remarkable turnaround in the last two games to earn a place in the top four.

 

Lovely Lodi

Lodi was named among the substitutes but was soon introduced following the injury to Vrsaljko, and the substitute offered Simeone a timely reminder of his qualities. 

The Brazil international was at his creative best down the left flank, supplying a game-high three chances in a dominant performance against Elche's right-back Helibelton Palacios.

Goalless Griezmann

Griezmann played a vital role in Atletico's goals, delicately chipping to left wing-back Lodi prior to his assist and teeing up De Paul when one-on-one with Edgar Badia, but the France star's woes in front of goal continued at Elche.

The forward has failed to score in his last 13 league appearances, his longest goal drought in a single season in LaLiga since January 2012 (14 – his longest run without scoring in a single season in the top-flight).

What's next?

Atletico can confirm their top-four spot by defeating fourth-placed Sevilla at home on Sunday, while Elche visit Celta Vigo on the same day.

Xavi was left disappointed Barcelona's victory at Elche was not more comfortable despite an ending that prompted a heated discussion with his coaching counterpart.

Barca were forced to come from behind to prevail in Sunday's contest and stretch their unbeaten run in LaLiga to 11 matches.

Fidel gave Elche a 44th-minute lead at the end of a first half in which Frenkie De Jong saw an effort cleared off the line and another saved by Edgar Badia.

Ferran Torres' first league goal for Barca on the hour mark restored parity, but the Blaugrana needed a contentious Memphis Depay penalty to tilt the game in their favour, referee Alejandro Jose Hernandez Hernandez pointing to the spot in the 82nd minute after consultation with the VAR, adjudging Antonio Barragan had handled in the area.

Shortly after, Elche were left apoplectic as the ball struck Jordi Alba on the arm in the area, yet the referee was unmoved despite huge appeals for a penalty of their own.

Unused substitute Javier Pastore was sent off for his protestations, while Elche boss Francisco Rodriguez and striker Pere Milla were seen in an animated conversation with Xavi after the final whistle.

Asked what was happening during that exchange, Xavi replied: "Nothing, no more. Don't give it more importance. They are situations resulting from tension. 

"Better to talk about the match and the situations of the match itself. Maximum respect for Elche and Francisco. And with Pere Milla we even have friends in common."

He added: "I went into the break angry because I think we didn't deserve to lose at that moment. 

"Edgar Badia has made a great game. I was upset but I was hoping that if we attacked better, we could win the game. But I think we should have won by more than one goal."

Xavi's assessment is reflected by the statistics. Barca's expected goals (xG) tally of 4.2 was the fourth-highest for a team in a single LaLiga game this season. By contrast, Elche finished with an xG of 0.9.

The win took Barca third, placing the pressure on top-four rivals Real Betis and Atletico Madrid ahead of their meeting at the Benito Villamarin on Sunday.

Memphis Depay's controversial late penalty ensured Barcelona avoided a setback in their Champions League chase as they came from behind to beat Elche 2-1.

The Blaugrana have been in impressive form since their 3-2 loss to Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey on January 20, which they avenged with a 4-0 league win last time out.

But ahead of Sunday's meeting between two of their rivals in the race for the Champions League places, Real Betis and Atletico Madrid, Barca looked poised to have to settle for a point.

Elche took the lead in the 44th minute through Fidel, but Ferran Torres ended his much-publicised wait for a league goal on the hour before Depay blasted home emphatically from 12 yards after the VAR adjudged Antonio Barragan to have handled in the area.

 

 

 

Carlo Ancelotti suggested "small details" cost Real Madrid in a 2-2 draw with Elche that required a spirited late recovery.

The LaLiga leaders missed the chance to move six points clear at the top of the table as they were held by their 15th-placed opponents, who took a surprise 2-0 lead at the Santiago Bernabeu.

After Luka Modric's penalty gave them hope – his first spot-kick for Madrid after Karim Benzema, who earlier missed from 12 yards for the first time in LaLiga, went off injured – it took a stoppage-time header from Eder Militao to spare Madrid's blushes and extend their year-long unbeaten home run in the Spanish top flight.

While Madrid were waiting to discover the extent of Benzema's injury, Ancelotti said he was disappointed with the manner in which Elche scored – netting twice away at Madrid for the first time since January 1989.

But the coach was at least encouraged by his team's response, remaining unbeaten against Elche since 1978, having now scored at least two in 10 of the 12 games in that span.

"They scored a goal with a centre. For the second goal, we could have been more compact," Ancelotti said. "They are small details that have cost us two points

"We are not happy, but there are many things we have to consider. 

"We conceded two goals and we reacted well. Usually these games are lost, but it speaks very well of the squad."

There are 11 days until Madrid return to action when they face Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals, 12 days before taking on Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League round of 16.

"We have a small break, and we arrive well-positioned in all three competitions," Ancelotti added. "That's what we wanted to do. 

"We are there, now comes the most important period of the season."

Real Madrid dramatically rescued a result against Elche for the second time in four days as Eder Militao's stoppage-time header snatched a 2-2 LaLiga draw.

The league leaders recovered from a goal down in Thursday's Copa del Rey defeat of the same side and this time trailed by two, as Lucas Boye and Pere Milla – sent off in midweek – looked set to condemn Madrid to a first home loss in 21 league matches.

Karim Benzema had missed a first-half penalty for the hosts, too, but Luka Modric pulled a goal back from 12 yards with eight minutes remaining when Milla was punished for handball.

Militao then headed home a dramatic equaliser in the 92nd minute to deny Elche a first win in this fixture since March 1978 and restore a four-point gap to second-placed Sevilla.

Carlo Ancelotti acknowledged Eden Hazard and Isco might have been frustrated by their restricted roles for Real Madrid but now hopes to rely on both moving forward. 

Hazard and Isco have started just 10 Madrid games between them in all competitions this season and were again on the bench for Thursday's Copa del Rey clash at Elche. 

Isco was introduced late in normal time with the game goalless, before Hazard came on as the tie headed into extra time. 

The pair did not have an immediate impact, as Marcelo was sent off and Gonzalo Verdu netted a deflected opener for Elche, but ultimately turned the match on its head. 

Isco touched in an equaliser before Hazard's first goal of the season sent Madrid through. 

A report last week claimed Madrid had accepted a bid from Newcastle United for Hazard, but it added the player rejected the move. He has now had two goal involvements in as many appearances – as many as in his previous 17. 

A delighted Ancelotti appears convinced, saying of the winger and Isco: "I knew that changes could give a boost to the team and they have given it. 

 

"[Hazard] and Isco have won the match. It has a meaning. It may be that they deserve to play more, but the past is the past and you have to look forward. 

"I know that I can count on them and on a squad that has everything, an extraordinary character and that fights against adversity and never gives up. 

"I'm very happy. I think it's the game that's given me the most happiness." 

Both men might expect to feature again in the quarter-finals of the Copa in a fortnight, when Madrid will be without a host of South American stars due to a short international break outside of a FIFA window. 

"Let's see if those who make the calendars wake up. It's nonsense," Ancelotti said of the issue. "It is inevitable, but it has to be changed. We have to make them fairer for everyone." 

Madrid are playing in the last eight for the fifth time in six seasons, although they have not won the trophy since 2013-14. Only twice this century have the Blancos lifted the Copa. 

Eden Hazard was Real Madrid's unlikely Copa del Rey matchwinner as the 10-man LaLiga leaders rallied to a 2-1 win at Elche in extra time.

Madrid have lifted the Copa only twice this century and looked highly unlikely to improve that record when Marcelo was sent off and Gonzalo Verdu capitalised from the subsequent free-kick in the 103rd minute.

Carlo Ancelotti's men had been awful to that point but staged a stunning recovery courtesy of goals from two substitutes.

Isco levelled with 12 minutes to play, teeing up Hazard – much maligned at the Santiago Bernabeu – to race away and net a decisive second, stunning poor Elche, who were contentiously denied their own equaliser and then had Pere Milla dismissed.

The Copa del Rey round of 16 will feature a repeat last season's final, as Barcelona were drawn against Athletic Bilbao, while a Seville derby is also on the cards.

Barca faced Athletic in April of last year, winning 4-0 in the showdown at La Cartuja in Seville, with Lionel Messi scoring twice as he helped the Blaugrana to their only trophy of a disappointing season, and his last piece of silverware at the club.

That defeat was the second in a Copa del Rey final in the space of two weeks for Athletic, with the club having gone down 1-0 to their Basque rivals Real Sociedad in the delayed 2019-20 final. Holders Barca scraped past Linares Deportivo 2-1 to reach the last 16 this time around.

The other headline tie sees a clash between Seville's two clubs – Real Betis and Sevilla – while Sociedad host Atletico Madrid in another all LaLiga encounter.

Real Madrid, meanwhile, will face a trip to Elche.

It means Los Blancos will face Elche twice in the space of a week, with Madrid hosting the team from the east of Spain at Santiago Bernabeu in a league fixture on January 23. These ties will take place in the week commencing January 17.

Asked on Friday if he believed his side had been given an easier draw compared to Barca and Atleti, Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti replied: "Well no, all the teams want to perform well.

"It will be a tough match we need to prepare it properly as we'll play away against Elche. For me, it's just a draw and we just need to be focused and prepared as the Copa del Rey is an important competition for us obviously."

Copa del Rey last 16 draw in full:

Atletico Baleares v Valencia
Girona v Rayo Vallecano
Sporting Gijon v Cadiz
Elche v Real Madrid
Real Sociedad v Atletico Madrid
Real Betis v Sevilla
Athletic Bilbao v Barcelona
Mallorca v Espanyol

Xavi described midfielder Gavi as "the future of Barcelona" after his performance in Saturday's 3-2 LaLiga win over Elche.

The Catalans claimed just their third win since Xavi took over as head coach, although they were made to work for the result at Camp Nou.

A dominant first half saw them go into the break 2-0 ahead, with Ferran Jutgla heading in the opener before Gavi opened his Barca account with a stunning solo run and finish.

The 17-year-old became the youngest player to score in LaLiga this season, overtaking Real Madrid's 18-year-old Eduardo Camavinga, and the third-youngest for Barca in Spain's top flight this century.

Elche produced a stirring comeback in the second half as Tele Morente and Pere Milla scored within the space of a minute, ending a 43-year wait for a goal against the Blaugrana in the competition.

It took a superb finish from substitute Nico Gonzalez to secure all three points and move Barca to within three points of the top four.

Gavi's performance was a highlight, though, the midfielder completing all 35 of his first-half passes and producing the key assist for Nico's winner in the closing minutes.

 

Xavi said of the rising star: "It's amazing to have him, how he competes, what he creates, the goal, the assist. He's spectacular, he's the future of this club.

"Gavi is excited by the way he plays and competes, and that's priceless for a coach."

Before the game, Xavi had suggested some of his players had shown a worrying lack of understanding of positional play, and he felt that was on show during the contest.

Indeed, the former Barca midfielder felt they should have been smarter without the ball when it came to stopping Elche's rare attacks.

"Positional play isn't working and that continues to surprise me," he said. "Elche's goal is a huge mistake from us. We can't progress in this way; we could have made three fouls.

"It's a shame, but we're playing with youngsters who are the ones that make the difference.

"It was like a final. It was a game that we complicated for ourselves. They survived because of our mistakes and that can't be. A game you have under control can't be like that. We have to learn and have more responsibility.

"We have to learn and that's the only way to win."

However, on the importance of the result, he added to Barca TV: "For us, for how we are, these are three golden points.

"Being positive, we played an excellent first half, we were able to score more goals. We understood the spaces well, the wide players were two daggers, the defensive line was really good."

Nico Gonzalez gave Barcelona just their third win under Xavi as they battled to a 3-2 home victory over Elche in LaLiga on Saturday.

The Catalans looked to be cruising to a much-needed win, Ferran Jutgla and Gavi each scoring their first goals for the club in a one-sided first half in which they had 12 shots to Elche's one.

However, Tete Morente pulled a goal back before setting up Pere Milla to level the scores barely a minute later as defensive concerns were again laid bare to the Camp Nou crowd.

But Nico swept home a fine finish in the 85th minute to snatch a morale-boosting win for the Blaugrana.

Carlo Ancelotti refused to criticise Brazil boss Tite for snubbing Vinicius Junior after the Real Madrid star's match-winning performance at Elche.

Vinicius took his tally to seven goals in 11 LaLiga games in 2021-22, more than he managed in his previous two seasons combined, as Los Blancos claimed a 2-1 win at the Martinez Valero.

The winger scored in each half, either side of Raul Guti's dismissal, to send Madrid back to the top of the table despite a nervy finish to the game following Pere Milla's late goal.

Amid his impressive form, Vinicius has been omitted from Tite's national squad for the World Cup qualifiers in November, with Barcelona's Philippe Coutinho surprisingly recalled for what could be his first Brazil game in over a year.

However, Ancelotti was not prepared to call out Tite for the decision as he praised Vinicius' commitment this season.

"I haven't done anything but play him and give him the confidence that he obviously deserves because he's playing very well and scoring goals," Ancelotti said.

"As I've said many times, I'm not a magician. I try to do my best and give the maximum confidence to all the players. The Brazil issue is a friend's decision. A great friend. I've nothing to answer.

"He has confidence now. Everything is going well for him. He's also getting used to playing a bit more inside because he has the speed to do it. It's one thing to play one-against-one on the wing and another to do it in the middle of the box. I believe that, little by little, he's learning and doing very well."

 

Vinicius' opener was set up by Mariano Diaz, who was given a surprise start in place of the rested Karim Benzema.

Luka Jovic, who is yet to start a game under Ancelotti, was again overlooked but the Madrid boss said the striker was not yet fully fit after a knee injury.

"Jovic had a problem with his knee in the last game he played," Ancelotti explained. "He still hasn't trained and he's not comfortable. That's why he didn't play. He had a sprain and he still hasn't recovered.

"I like the way Mariano played: he did well, he was committed, he gave a fantastic assist... he played a good game."

Madrid were in complete control of the contest until Milla capitalised on a mistake by Casemiro to give Elche's 10 men the chance to snatch a point.

Ancelotti felt Madrid should have managed the latter part of the game better, but he said there was little more the players could have given after playing late on Wednesday against Osasuna.

"We have to think that, after two and a half days, you can't play a game with intensity and energy," Ancelotti said. "So, you have to get into a middle block and try to look for opportunities when they come. This isn't a Real Madrid problem, it's a problem for all teams. You can't play at your highest level with two and a half days off.

"We didn't handle the end of the game well. If you're 2-0 up with an extra man, you can't think it's over because the referee still hasn't blown his whistle. We made it complicated for ourselves, but luckily we have three more points."

Vinicius Junior stepped up in the absence of Karim Benzema by scoring twice in Real Madrid's 2-1 win over 10-man Elche in Saturday's LaLiga clash.

Coach Carlo Ancelotti took a calculated risk to rest Benzema for the game at Estadio Manuel Martinez Valero, and his side got the job done to move level with leaders Real Sociedad, who play Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

Vinicius swept a delightful opener past former Madrid man Kiko Casilla with 22 minutes played, and Elche's task was made all the more difficult when Raul Guti was dismissed shortly after the hour mark.

Brazil international Vinicius doubled his tally 17 minutes from time and, despite a late consolation for substitute Pere Milla, Madrid saw the game through to get back to winning ways on the back of their midweek stalemate against Osasuna.

 

Rodrygo and Mariano were surprisingly selected in Madrid's frontline, with the likes of Eden Hazard, Luka Jovic, Isco and Marco Asensio among the substitutes.

But Madrid were forced into an early change when the injured Rodrygo was replaced by Asensio, and they would have been behind a minute later if not for a good Thibaut Courtois save to keep out Lucas Boye's powerful strike.

Elche edged the first-half chances but fell behind to Vinicius' eighth goal in all competitions this term, as he fired across Casilla after being played in by a sublime back-heeled flick from Mariano on his first appearance of the season.

The hosts continued to look a threat as Lucas Perez somehow fired wide with plenty of the goal to aim for and Guti blasted a volley straight at Courtois.

That momentum was halted when Guti was issued a second yellow card for sliding in on Toni Kroos, however, and Vinicius made Elche pay with a chipped finish over Casilla from an acute angle.

A Casemiro error gifted Milla the chance to pull one back just five minutes after being introduced, though that proved to be nothing more than a consolation for the home team.

Real Madrid captain Karim Benzema will miss his first game of the season on Saturday after being left out of the squad for the trip to Elche.

Benzema is being rested, according to Spanish media reports, after playing in every match so far this season.

The 33-year-old French striker has played 1,158 minutes out of a possible 1,170 so far this term, and has hit 11 goals in 13 games across all competitions so far.

Benzema also has eight assists to his name for Madrid in 2021-22, five more than any other player on the team has managed.

He heads the LaLiga scoring charts with nine goals in that competition from just 10 games, but coach Carlo Ancelotti appears convinced that the skipper could do with a break, and assured that Madrid can cope for a game without him.

Elche sit 15th in the table and have lost nine of their last 10 encounters with Madrid in LaLiga, drawing only during this stretch in their last home meeting in the competition, 1-1 last December. They last beat Madrid in March 1978 (3-1).

The home side will be glad there is no sign of Benzema, given he has been directly involved in four goals in his last four LaLiga games against Elche (3 goals, 1 assist), including a brace in the last meeting in March, when he grabbed a stoppage-time winner in a 2-1 home victory.

 

Spanish newspaper Marca reported on its website that Benzema has experienced some discomfort in his instep in recent games, with Ancelotti deciding this was a convenient time to let him take a breather.

Benzema has not scored in his last two games, the 2-1 Clasico win over Barcelona and the midweek goalless draw with Osasuna.

Vinicius Jr, enjoying his best season yet for Madrid, features in the squad for Elche and will be aiming to add to his seven goals across all competitions already this season. The 21-year-old Brazilian has netted at a rate of one goal every 144.29 minutes.

Madrid sit second in LaLiga heading into the weekend, three points behind leaders Real Sociedad but with a game in hand, and on the same 21-point mark as Sevilla and Real Betis.

After the Elche game, Madrid return to Champions League action when they host Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday, having beaten the Ukrainians 5-0 in Kiev in their last match in the competition.

Carlo Ancelotti bemoaned the standard of refereeing and the impact VAR is having on delaying games as Real Madrid prepare to visit Elche in LaLiga.

Madrid were held to a 0-0 draw with Osasuna on Wednesday, making it three home matches without a win in all competitions.

However, Los Blancos felt they should have had a first-half penalty, Vinicius Junior supposedly taken down by Lucas Torro but neither referee Cesar Soto Grado nor VAR saw an infringement.

Speaking before the trip to Elche, Ancelotti explained his frustrations with Spanish top-flight officiating while comparing the quality to his previous tenure.

"I don't want to get into the issue of the referees," Ancelotti told reporters at Friday's pre-match news conference.

"There is a lot of trouble. I think that in general the end of matches are very interrupted and that has to be fixed because it is not good for the show.

"I am convinced that VAR is a good invention but in things that are not objective it is a bit complicated. I believe that VAR has fixed many things up to now.

"There are some rules that are complicated. And some unfair. For me, when a player is offside, he is offside.

"The level of the Spanish referees is neither better nor worse. It is different.

"Spanish football is now a more global football, with more styles than before when I was there. In my first stage, Spanish football was more physical."

 

Madrid have enjoyed consistent success on visits to Elche, who have lost nine of their last 10 LaLiga meetings with Saturday's opponents.

Indeed, Ancelotti's side have gone five top-flight away games without losing at Elche but the former Milan head coach implored his team to improve their finishing.

"We prepare for the game knowing that we have to continue with this commitment and try to play well and do things well from a strategic point of view," he continued.

"We need to work on the offensive aspect. We work to create opportunities and we have them but we must improve the finishes.

"I don't have any non-negotiable system. I think 4-3-3 is where the players are most satisfied but nothing else. You also have to see the situation of the matches."

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