Atletico Madrid star Joao Felix has denied there are problems between him and head coach Diego Simeone.

The Portugal star has struggled for consistency at the Wanda Metropolitano and Simeone appeared to question his work-rate last week, although he later claimed his comments had been misinterpreted.

The €126million attacker is set to start on Wednesday at Stamford Bridge, where Atleti will attempt to overturn a 1-0 deficit to Chelsea in the Champions League last 16.

The 21-year-old, who has vowed to make sure he maximises his talent during his career, now hopes to prove there is a strong working relationship at the club.

"I'm happy here, my family are too. There are good and not-so-good phases everywhere," he told reporters on Tuesday.

"I had to defend for Benfica and the national team, too. I'll do what I have to do here.

"Without will, talent doesn't come through. Many talented players could not reach the top due to not having will and I don't want that to happen to me.

"The moment for me has to be all the time. We're strong because we're a very strong group. And that will be the case tomorrow."

Joao Felix caused a stir with a pointed celebration after scoring against Villarreal, in which he made a 'shushing' gesture, something that delighted Simeone.

The player himself says the incident was simply part of a joke with team-mate Renan Lodi, which was blown out of proportion.

"I already said on Instagram that it was a joke with Lodi. The press likes to talk about things they don't know about," he said.

"My relationship with Cholo is very good. He always tries to help me. We're here to help each other."

Atleti are unbeaten under Simeone in two previous Champions League trips to Stamford Bridge and have progressed from four of the eight two-legged ties in the competition in which they have lost the first leg.

However, a run of two wins in 10 away games in the knockouts does not bode well against a side who are unbeaten in 12 matches under Thomas Tuchel and have conceded only twice in that run.

Simeone hopes to turn that good form into a negative for Chelsea, who have had to cope with only minimal setbacks since Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard.

"I believe today Chelsea don't have a weakness," he said. "The only thing is they don't know what can happen from a negative point of view. 

"They have not had a negative result yet and that will be a question until it happens.

"We are facing a team that has done quite well since their coach has come, they have never lost. They feel strong at home and are playing quite well. 

"They have had games like us around the Champions League matches that have been close and tough. We have to take the match where we want so we can win with a goal. The single idea is to win."

Simeone is backing Luis Suarez to make the difference and end his barren Champions League run, the Uruguay striker having not scored in the competition this season.

Suarez's away run in the competition is of greater concern, the 34-year-old having failed to score in his previous 25 such games for Atleti and Barcelona since netting in a 1-1 draw with Roma at Stadio Olimpico in September 2015.

"I believe Suarez is very important for us," Simeone said. "Probably tomorrow is the right day for Luis Suarez to end the streak. Why not? Tomorrow could be a beautiful day."

A second coming for Cristiano Ronaldo in the Spanish capital?

After a trophy-laden spell with Real Madrid, Ronaldo made the switch to Juventus.

But Madrid's all-time leading goalscorer is reportedly keen on a second stint at the Santiago Bernabeu.

 

TOP STORY – RONALDO EYEING MADRID REUNION

Cristiano Ronaldo wants to return to Real Madrid, according to the frontpage of Saturday's Diario AS.

Ronaldo's future with Juventus has been placed in doubt following the club's Champions League last-16 exit.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner, who left Madrid for Juve in 2018, has reportedly been in contact with Los Blancos for months.

 

ROUND-UP

- New Barcelona president Joan Laporta will offer superstar captain Lionel Messi a fresh contract in the coming weeks, reports Mundo Deportivo. The deal would include Messi – heavily tipped to join either Paris Saint-Germain or Manchester City as a free agent at the end of the season – becoming a club ambassador after retirement. Laporta is also set to push ahead with moves for Bayern Munich's David Alaba, Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland and City forward Sergio Aguero.

City lead the race to sign Haaland, according to the Daily Mail. Haaland is a player in demand, linked with Manchester United, Chelsea, LiverpoolJuve, PSG, Barca and Madrid.

Joao Felix is also an option at the Etihad Stadium. Cuatro claims the Atletico Madrid star is a target if Aguero leaves City.

- Le10Sport claims PSG remain in talks with Neymar over a four-year contract extension. A deal is believed to be some way off.

Harry Maguire wants United to sign an English-speaking defender, reports The Transfer Window Podcast. The Red Devils have been linked with Madrid captain Sergio Ramos and team-mate Raphael Varane, Sevilla's Jules Kounde, RB Leipzig centre-back Ibrahima Konate and Napoli star Kalidou Koulibaly. But Brighton and Hove Albion's Ben White has emerged as a target.

- TMW Radio says Atletico could be set to make a move for Napoli midfielder Fabian Ruiz. The Spain international has been previously linked with Barca and Madrid.

Diego Simeone has clarified comments made regarding Joao Felix after recalling the forward for Atletico Madrid's 2-1 win against Athletic Bilbao.

Speaking on the eve of Wednesday's LaLiga clash at the Wanda Metropolitano, Simeone appeared to call into question the Portugal international's lack of work-rate.

"We are a team, not just one player," he told reporters. "We need everyone's contribution so that the team can function as a team, and that individuals and talent can excel."

Joao Felix has scored two goals in his past 16 games and was dropped to the bench for the 1-1 draw with Real Madrid at the weekend, but he played 67 minutes against Athletic.

However, Simeone insists his remarks were misconstrued as he was talking in a more general manner, rather than about the 21-year-old specifically.

"Either I express myself badly, they interpret me badly or they just do what they want," he said at his post-match news conference.

"I speak of a general will. It is the most important thing in life; without it, the rest does not exist."

Atletico's win over Athletic in their game in hand moved them six points clear of Barcelona at the top of LaLiga and a further two points in front of Real Madrid.

Iker Muniain gave the visitors the lead in the Spanish capital, but Marcos Llorente equalised in first-half stoppage time and Luis Suarez scored a penalty winner in the 51st minute.

It was just Atleti's second win in five matches in all competitions during a patchy spell and Simeone was pleased with the way they responded to a late setback against Madrid, when Karim Benzema equalised in the 88th minute.

"It was very important how they reacted after Sunday. We needed to return to winning ways at home," said Simeone, who has overtaken Luis Aragones for the most wins in charge of Atletico with 309 in all competitions.  

"What I liked the most was that it went from a bad moment with them the better team and well positioned, to us being on top. 

"The second half was very good, and we are now level with the others in terms of the number of games played."

Llorente's headed equaliser was his ninth LaLiga goal of the campaign, adding to his eight assists in what has been an impressive season for the Spain international.

Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes (26) is the only midfielder to have been directly involved in more goals in Europe's top five leagues this term than Llorente, who has emerged as one of Atletico's star men over the past year.

"Marcos, for a year, had no minutes. He was on the bench but continued training, working hard and had that will that leads you to be at this moment," Simeone said. 

"He is very important for us and surely for the national team as well."

Suarez won the penalty that he converted – the striker being tripped in the box by Unai Nunez – and has now earned Atletico 15 points from his 18 league goals this term.

That is four points more than any other individual has won their side in the Spanish top flight in 2020-21, but Simeone reiterated Atleti's title charge is a collective effort.

"I look to the group as a whole because individuals alone do not change a game," he said. 

"The team understood that we were not having a good time – they looked for order and then the group and the team generated a second half that we liked a lot."

Athletic were unhappy with the awarding of the decisive penalty and also argued that Llorente's goal should not have stood, coming as it did 17 seconds after the allotted two added minutes.

Marcelino, whose side are without a point away to Atletico since May 2015, felt the scoreline was harsh on his side as the hosts scored two goals from five shots on target.

"I am very satisfied with the performance of my side and I'm sad with the result because Atletico essentially took advantage of one hundred percent of their chances," he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simeone seemed unimpressed he was even asked the question.

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

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

Thomas Lemar and Hector Herrera are the latest Atletico Madrid players to test positive for coronavirus.

Atletico confirmed last week that Joao Felix and new signing Moussa Dembele returned positive test results in consecutive days, ruling them out of Monday's LaLiga visit of Celta Vigo.

Now their midfield and attacking options have been further depleted, with Herrera and Lemar immediately beginning periods of isolation.

A club statement read: "Our players Hector Herrera and Thomas Lemar underwent antigen tests prior to the match against Celta Vigo according to the LaLiga protocol, giving a positive result for COVID-19, which was later confirmed with the relevant tests PCR.

"Both players remain isolated in their respective homes, strictly complying with the recommendations of the health authorities and LaLiga protocol."

Atletico did not provide any further information regarding their respective conditions.

Lemar and Herrera could miss as many as three games, with Atletico facing Celta, Granada and Levante in the next 10 days.

Joao Felix has tested positive for COVID-19, adding to Diego Simeone's problems ahead of Atletico Madrid's meeting with Celta Vigo.

Portugal international Joao Felix is self-isolating at home, as team-mates Mario Hermoso and Yannick Carrasco have been doing since Friday.

A brief Atletico statement read: "Joao Felix has tested positive for COVID-19. The striker is isolating at home, in compliance with the health authorities' guidelines and LaLiga protocols."

Simeone's men have a 10-point advantage at the top of LaLiga and welcome Celta to the Wanda Metropolitano on Monday. They then travel to Granada the following Saturday.

Hermoso and Carrasco are unlikely to return for the meeting with Celta, while Kieran Trippier will be absent due to suspension.

Joao Felix marked his return to the starting line-up against Valencia on January 24 by scoring his first goal in almost two months and setting up another, leading Atletico from a goal down to a 3-1 victory.

The 21-year-old has been left out of the first XI eight times in LaLiga this season and Atletico have won all those matches.

However, when Joao Felix starts they average two more shots (12.1 to 10.0) and their goals-per-game ratio improves from 1.9 to 2.3.

Diego Simeone insists Atletico Madrid "always need" Joao Felix despite dropping the "extraordinary" forward in recent weeks.

Joao Felix scored one and assisted another as LaLiga leaders Atletico beat Valencia 3-1 on Sunday, but it was the club-record signing's first league start of 2021.

The Portugal forward had not scored in LaLiga since November 7, costing him his place in Simeone's starting XI.

Even against Valencia, having attempted three shots and made two key passes, Joao Felix was withdrawn after 62 minutes for Angel Correa.

It was a move that paid off as Correa added the third goal - Joao Felix having set Luis Suarez clear for the crucial second - and Simeone hailed his changing frontline as evidence of competition in the Atleti squad.

"Joao Felix is an extraordinary player," Simeone said. "We always need him.

"The competition is high, beautiful, good. They are all eager to play and we will have to give the time we can for the good of the team.

"[Joao Felix] is growing, as he has been doing since he arrived. He is important and everything he gives us helps us."

In maintaining his unbeaten home record against Valencia, which now stands at six wins and four draws from 10 LaLiga matches, Simeone took Atleti seven points clear at the top of the table with a game in hand over second-placed Real Madrid.

The Rojiblancos coach was not interested in assessing the state of play at the summit, though, instead turning attention to Atleti's next test on Sunday.

"Cadiz, nothing more," Simeone replied when asked about the advantage over Madrid and Barcelona, who are a further three points back from Los Blancos.

Joao Felix promised he has much more to offer Atletico Madrid after marking his first LaLiga start of 2021 with a goal and an assist against Valencia.

Sunday's 3-1 victory saw Joao Felix both score and create a goal for the third time in a game this season, more than any other Atleti player.

But the other standout displays from the club's record signing had come in the early weeks of the campaign.

Between the November international break and this clash at the Wanda Metropolitano, Joao Felix netted just once in all competitions, also supplying a single assist.

That underwhelming stretch saw the Portugal forward lose his place in the league XI, but a tight turnaround from Thursday's win at Eibar provided an opportunity he duly grasped.

Joao Felix cancelled out Uros Racic's spectacular Valencia opener with a smart finish ahead of Thierry Correia, before his second-half pass set Luis Suarez away to score the second. Angel Correa, who replaced Joao Felix, completed the scoring.

A return to form gave Joao Felix the opportunity to discuss his recent trials, although there are no hard feelings towards coach Diego Simeone.

"I can give so much more," said the 21-year-old, who played 62 minutes. "No footballer likes being on the bench, but it also happened to me at Benfica.

"I know what I am capable of and, when the coach chooses me to play, I have to do my best. I am calm. Cholo [Simeone] does what is best for the team."

Atleti president Enrique Cerezo was asked by Movistar for his take on Joao Felix's rollercoaster season.

"No-one doubts that Joao Felix is a great player," he replied. "If the coach decides to change him, it will be for some reason.

"But he does not have to get angry or upset, like everyone else. Neither the players, the coach nor the fans want to lose, and when you lose, you get mad."

There has been nothing inconsistent about the form of Suarez, who has 12 goals in his first 15 LaLiga games for Atleti, the best start to life at a new club by any player in Spain's top flight since Cristiano Ronaldo netted 13 in 15 matches for Real Madrid in 2009-10.

Joao Felix described Suarez as "lethal", while Cerezo sees the veteran's sensational form as justification of their pursuit of the former Barcelona striker.

"We have always thought that Luis Suarez was the best centre-forward in Europe," he said. "We are lucky that he is with us. Everyone is happy."

Seven straight wins have moved Atleti seven points clear of rivals Madrid and they still have a game in hand, but Cerezo is not getting carried away.

"You can lose [the title] or you can win it," he said. "We are in the middle of the season and there is a lot left. We are first but there is a lot left.

"When there are three games left, I'll tell you if we are champions. The team is doing very well and the players know very well what they have to do: score goals and win games."

Atletico Madrid restored their seven-point advantage at the top of LaLiga with a seventh straight victory as Joao Felix led their latest fightback in the 3-1 success against Valencia.

Diego Simeone's side had overturned an early deficit to beat Eibar three days earlier and were at it again at the Wanda Metropolitano, this time inspired by Joao Felix.

After a superb long-range Uros Racic opener stunned Atleti, their record signing scored his first LaLiga goal since November 7 to level matters and later laid on the second for Luis Suarez, Thursday's two-goal hero.

Substitute Angel Correa - on for Joao Felix - made sure of another win, which represented a vital response to Real Madrid's own triumph on Saturday, maintaining a healthy gap while the Rojiblancos still have a game in hand.

A lively, open start perhaps out of keeping with a typical Atletico match saw early chances at both ends, with Jaume Domenech denying Jose Gimenez and Jan Oblak blocking from Manu Vallejo before the spectacular 11th-minute breakthrough.

The Atleti goalkeeper was this time helpless at full stretch as Racic sensationally picked out the top-right corner with a swirling left-footed strike from 25 yards.

But the hosts were level midway through the first half when Joao Felix beat Thierry Correia to a deep corner and prodded beyond Domenech as Valencia's appeals for a foul somewhere in a busy penalty area fell on deaf ears.

And Valencia were fortunate not to concede a penalty shortly before half-time as Thomas Lemar stole in ahead of a dozing Maxi Gomez to reach a bouncing ball inside the box, only to see the foul given the other way.

Atleti continued to turn the screw and had their reward eight minutes after the restart, with Gabriel Paulista inexplicably standing off Suarez as he took Joao Felix's pass and calmly finished into the bottom-right corner from the left side of the area.

The result never seemed in serious jeopardy thereafter and Marcos Llorente cut a low ball back for Correa to sweep in 18 minutes from time to seal the points.

Diego Simeone insists he is having no problem getting his message across to new signing Moussa Dembele thanks to the French language speakers already at Atletico Madrid.

Dembele joined Atletico on loan from Lyon last week until the end of the season, at which point LaLiga's leaders will have the option to buy him permanently for €33.5m.

The former Celtic striker has scored just once in 16 Ligue 1 appearances this season but comes in to bolster Atlei's forward line following the departure of Diego Costa.

Simeone has been impressed by Dembele's initial efforts in training, something he conceded has been made easier by the presence of Thomas Lemar, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Yannick Carrasco.

"Dembele just arrived a few days ago and he is trying to settle into the group," Simeone said ahead of Thursday's trip to Eibar, one of Atletico's games in hand on Real Madrid that could see them extend their advantage at the summit to seven points.

"Thankfully he has team-mates like Kondogbia, Carrasco and Lemar who are close to him and doing translations in order to make the communication quicker.

"We will have time to let him know what we want from him exactly, in the meantime we let him to settle in the best way with his  team-mates.

"I see him excited and happy. He is a number nine and we expect from him all the good we saw in him to bring him to Atletico Madrid."

Dembele's presence could further hinder Joao Felix's chances of getting back into Simeone's starting XI.

The record signing was a substitute in each of Atleti's past two LaLiga encounters and has not found the net since the 1-1 draw against Bayern Munich in the Champions League on December 1.

Nevertheless, Simeone remains satisfied with the Portugal international's contributions.

"I ask Joao the same as always - to be involved in the group, as he is. Being competitive, as he has been in the last games," he added.

"He didn’t start the game, but he was important for the team from other positions. When he got in, he showed all his talent and quality. The team needs his skills."

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."

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