Diego Simeone believes Joao Felix was unfortunate to be sent off in Atletico Madrid's draw with Athletic Bilbao, suggesting no one else would have seen red in similar circumstances. 

Atletico slumped to a third successive home draw across all competitions for the first time since October 2019, as Athletic frustrated them in a 0-0 stalemate. 

The visitors created the better chances, their accumulative xG total of 1.2 coming from six shots whereas Atletico recorded 1.1 from 14 attempts, though Marcelino Garcia Toral's men wasted two glorious opportunities. 

Simeone's side were not helped by the dismissal of Joao Felix for two bookings in quick succession 12 minutes from time, the Portugal international first shown a yellow card for catching his marker with a flailing arm and then his protests earned him another, resulting in a red card. 

Joao Felix's reaction included a gesture that most people would consider was questioning the referee's sanity as he pointed to his head, but Simeone seemingly thought official Jesus Gil Manzano's decision to send the forward off was harsh. 

"I did the same thing a lot of times," the former Argentina midfielder told reporters. "I was not in line with what I should have done, but as I grew older I corrected that. 

"I'm close to Joao and I don't care about this episode. If that gesture is made by someone else, he probably wouldn't be sent off. The referee doesn't react in the same way. 

"There were a lot of yellow cards. It's necessary to look for the sensitivity of the moment of the yellow cards – sometimes players have to talk [to the referee] during the game. It's not a yellow for asking a question. 

"Gil Manzano told me not to tell him to be calm when he was calm... He's a great referee, he has had very good performances for us last season, but the sensitivity depending on the day generates different feelings." 

 

While Simeone was somewhat magnanimous regarding Gil Manzano, Stefan Savic was clearly perturbed by the officiating of the referee, who was also in charge in April when Sevilla beat Atletico 1-0 thanks to a Marcos Acuna goal that was allowed to stand after a handball in the build-up was deemed accidental. 

Atletico ended Saturday's game with four players on a yellow card and Joao Felix having been dismissed – that took them to 20 from just five games, five more than any other team and Savic is baffled. 

"We are calm, but we don't know what's happening. We're unlucky or this is crazy," Savic added. "We have to look ahead. 

"We must think about the things that we can influence, but it cannot be that they [officials] give 15 [20] cards to us. 

"We're not the only ones who protest in a match. The tempo rises, the tension rises – there are hot heads, and you have to understand that. 

"Everyone must understand that it's not the same to speak with a cool head, as during the match your adrenaline rises. 

"You cannot speak with Gil Manzano. We told him that he can't draw a card for each word that's said, so it's better to not say anything [about the referee]." 

Atletico Madrid lacked the required cutting edge to beat Athletic Bilbao as the defending Spanish champions had Joao Felix sent off in a 0-0 draw at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Diego Simeone's side had been hoping to prove their struggles in a stalemate against Porto in midweek were not indicative of wider problems, but they disappointed the home crowd again.

The hosts had looked promising at the start, though Athletic soon grew into the game and defensively they were able to frustrate Atletico.

Inaki Williams was unable to make the most of a rare moment of defensive frailty from Los Colchoneros, though they were never made to rue his miss as Atletico failed to break the deadlock, the post denying Marcos Llorente late on before Joao Felix's red card encapsulated the home side's frustration.

Atletico enjoyed some pressure during the early exchanges, with Antoine Griezmann shooting wide from close range and Stefan Savic heading into the arms of Unai Simon from a similar distance.

But those half-chances were hardly precursors to a sustained onslaught, with Atletico not worrying Athletic again before the break.

They came out after the interval with renewed purpose, as Angel Correa headed just wide from Renan Lodi's cross.

But Athletic crafted the best chance of the game two minutes later, Williams poking the ball through Jose Gimenez's legs before charging through on goal, only to let Atletico off the hook by not even hitting the target when one-on-one with Jan Oblak.

Simeone turned to Luis Suarez – seemingly dropped after an ineffective showing against Porto – as he made four substitutions in five minutes before the hour, though the Uruguayan's lack of pace was glaring when unable to run through on goal when released by fellow substitute Yannick Carrasco.

Llorente attempted to take matters into his own hands but saw his long-range effort crash off the post, before Atletico's chances took a final blow when Joao Felix – another sub – was booked twice in quick succession, the second for dissent, and he left the pitch in a furious mood.

Asier Villalibre then squandered a glorious chance to win it in stoppage-time, slicing over with only Oblak in his path.

Could Raheem Sterling leave Premier League champions Manchester City?

The Englishman has slipped down the pecking order in 2021-22.

LaLiga giants Barcelona are reportedly ready to offer Sterling regular football.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA INTERESTED IN STERLING

Barcelona are targeting a loan move for Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling, according to Sport.

Sterling has fallen out of favour under Pep Guardiola this season, leading to speculation over his City future.

The England international is reportedly open to reunion with former City team-mate Sergio Aguero at Barca.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Independent claims Manchester United are prioritising a move for West Ham's Declan Rice. The Red Devils are eyeing Rice to partner Paul Pogba, who himself is the subject of transfer speculation. Out of contract at the end of the season, Pogba has been linked with Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and Juventus.

Lazio are interested in free agent Dani Alves following his Sao Paulo exit, reports Calciomercato. The former Barca and Juve full-back terminated his contract and reportedly met with Brazilian rivals Flamengo.

- Fabrizio Romano says Roma are preparing a new five-year contract for Lorenzo Pellegrini, who has been linked with Premier League clubs.

- Serie A champions Inter are weighing up a move for Torino defender Bremer at the end of the season, says Calciomercato. The Brazilian has also been linked with United and Liverpool.

- According to Calciomercato, City have not given up on signing Fiorentina star Dusan Vlahovic. The Serbia international forward was linked with City as well as Tottenham, Arsenal and Atletico Madrid before the transfer window closed.

Luka Jovic is on the radar of Juventus, per Calciomercato. Jovic is out of favour at Madrid, with the Serbia international originally tipped to return to Eintracht Frankfurt on a permanent basis.

Could Jurgen Klopp and Robert Lewandowski be set to work together again?

The pair enjoyed a successful partnership at Borussia Dortmund.

Now, Klopp is reportedly trying to lure the Bayern Munich forward to Liverpool.

 

TOP STORY – KLOPP WANTS LEWANDOWSKI REUNION

Liverpool are targeting Bayern Munich star Robert Lewandowski, according to Fichajes.

Lewandowski worked with Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund before joining Bundesliga rivals Bayern in 2014.

There has been talk Lewandowski could be ready for a new challenge amid links to Real Madrid and Manchester City, though Klopp is reportedly determined to reunite with the Poland international.

 

ROUND-UP

- Bild claims Dortmund have identified Chelsea forward Timo Werner as a possible option to replace Erling Haaland. Club are queueing up to sign Haaland, with City, Manchester United, Bayern, Liverpool, Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain all reportedly interested. Should Haaland leave Dortmund, the Bundesliga outfit reportedly see former RB Leipzig star Werner as a potential successor.

- Fabrizio Romano says Inter forward Lautaro Martinez is nearing a contract extension at San Siro. He has reportedly turned down offers from Tottenham and Atletico Madrid.

Bayern, Inter, Real Madrid and Tottenham are interested in Borussia Monchengladbach defender Matthias Ginter, reports Calciomercato.

Chelsea are looking to sign Jorginho, N'Golo Kante, Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen to new contracts, according to Romano.

Bernd Leno's future at Emirates Stadium is up in the air.

Aaron Ramsdale's arrival, on a deal that could reach a reported £30million, put Leno's first-choice position in jeopardy.

The 29-year-old German joined Arsenal in 2018 and has been number one since.

TOP STORY - ARSENAL CONSIDERS LENO SALE

Arsenal are contemplating selling German goalkeeper Leno next year following Ramsdale's arrival, claims the Daily Mail.

Ramsdale was selected ahead of Leno in Arsenal's 1-0 win over Norwich City on Saturday after the German had an indifferent start to the season

The report claims there is little chance Arsenal will sell Leno in January but that the Gunners signed Ramsdale believing he may usurp the German by the end of the 2021-22 season.

 

ROUND-UP

- As Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid circle, Paul Pogba is leaning towards extending his stay with Manchester United claims The Athletic. The report cites Cristiano Ronaldo's impact at United on Pogba's thinking.

- West Ham United have placed a £100 million price tag on in-demand Declan Rice with  Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City all jostling for his signature according to Football.London.

- French midfielder Thomas Lemar is expendable following Antoine Griezmann's arrival and could be sold by Spanish champions Atletico Madrid claims Todo Fichajes. Atletico wants to raise transfer funds to bolster their squad.

- Football Insider claims that Bayern Munich are already working on signing Chelsea's German striker Timo Werner next year, with a January move not ruled out.

- Chelsea will open talks with England international midfielder Mason Mount on a new long-term deal according to 90min.

- Arsenal target Houssem Aouar will not leave Olympique Lyon mid-season reports Todo Fichajes.

Thomas Lemar struck in the 99th minute to complete a dramatic late comeback as Atletico Madrid edged past Espanyol 2-1 at RCDE Stadium on Antoine Griezmann's second debut for the club.

Espanyol had failed to score in their opening three games since returning to the top flight – and a joint-LaLiga record eight matches stretching back into their last campaign at this level – but they took the lead through Raul de Tomas' 40th-minute header.

That was a deserved opener for the hosts in a half they dominated and Diego Simeone responded by making a triple substitution at half-time and changing system.

Simeone's alternations ultimately paid off in an incredible conclusion to Sunday's contest as Lemar – one of those brought on – found a winner deep into added time after Yannick Carrasco had got the champions back on level terms 20 minutes earlier.

Antoine Griezmann was eager to return to Atletico Madrid, according to Diego Simeone, who acknowledged there will be plenty of expectation on the forward.

Griezmann left Atleti for Barcelona in 2019 but, on deadline day, the 30-year-old returned to the Spanish champions on a season-long loan with an option to extend the deal.

With Barca hit by huge financial losses, the Catalan club needed to get Griezmann's wages off their books, even with Lionel Messi having left for Paris Saint-Germain.

Griezmann's departure from Atleti two years ago was by no means a smooth one, with supporters seemingly aggravated by the prolonged nature of the move. In 2018, the former Real Socieded attacker committed his future to the club, only to leave a season later.

However, Simeone insists Griezmann, who scored 94 LaLiga goals for Atleti in his first spell, was determined to return from Barca.

"I found a Griezmann who was eager to return," Simeone said ahead of Sunday's meeting with Espanyol, with Griezmann having been included in Atleti's squad for an immediate return to the city of Barcelona.

"[He was] enthusiastic about the option of returning to the team, and people will demand from Griezmann what they demand from us every day.

"The fans are very demanding and it is normal for them to demand from Griezmann what they demand from us every day."

 

Griezmann has joined a sparkling attack at Atleti, with Luis Suarez, Joao Felix and Angel Correa likely to be competing with the World Cup winner for a place up front. 

"Actually, when you talk about a better or worse squad, short or deep, everything is seen as a consequence of what is going to happen during the season," said Simeone when asked if his team were favourites for the title.

"It is easy to think of the best before the game starts and for there to be some imagination about the names, but the names do not make a team. The men do that.

"So, we will go without changing anything, with the commitment that I have with the club, and tomorrow we will play against a very complex, aggressive opponent who will be tough, like everyone else in the Spanish league.

"We hope to improve compared to what happened last season. We did not have a good Copa del Rey [run], in the Champions League we would have liked to compete better [and] we [also] have the Supercopa de Espana.

"Four competitions where hopefully we can improve the numbers from last season, as we are always looking to do."

Antoine Griezmann will return for Atletico Madrid against Espanyol but head coach Diego Simeone insisted his focus is on the team dynamic and ensuring his talented attacking options click, rather than individuals.

The France forward made a remarkable move back from Barcelona, initially joining the reigning LaLiga champions on loan with either club holding the option to extend for a further year.

Griezmann scored 133 goals across 257 games in his first spell before that ultimately ill-fated €120million move to the Catalan giants in 2019, and Simeone revealed his new loanee is relishing a homecoming.

"I found [Antoine] Griezmann eager to return to Atletico Madrid, very enthusiastic about the situation of returning to the team," Simeone told reporters on Saturday.

However, the 51-year-old head coach wanted to avoid focusing on individuals as Atletico look to end a three-game winless away run at Espanyol in LaLiga.

 

Luis Suarez, who has been involved in 15 goals in 11 top-flight appearances against Sunday's opponents, could link up with his former Barca colleague Griezmann again, though the France star will face a fight for a place in the side given Atletico now boast a wealth of attacking talent among their ranks.

Angel Correa has thrived as a support striker, scoring three times in the first two LaLiga games, as Atletico opened with back-to-back wins for the fourth time in the Simeone era.

Versatile attacker Matheus Cunha then arrived from Hertha Berlin for a reported €26m fee late in the transfer window.

The Brazil forward created 54 chances – ranking him sixth among forwards in Germany – last season, while only five forwards across the top five European leagues completed more dribbles than Cunha's 123 since his arrival in Berlin back in January 2020.

Yannick Carrasco was the only Atletico player to complete 100 dribbles in that time and the Belgian winger – often used as a wing-back last term – led club charts for chances created (47) in LaLiga in 2020-21.

Add the likes of Joao Felix, Thomas Lemar, Marcos Llorente and Rodrigo De Paul to the equation and Simeone has a wealth of creative talents to call on. Now he can look to Griezmann as well.

Although his Barcelona spell may not have lived up to expectations, he still netted 20 times across 51 appearances in all competitions last season, providing 12 assists and creating 67 chances for Ronald Koeman's side. That was two more than he managed in 2017-18, arguably the finest individual campaign of Griezmann's career.

But Simeone is not kidding himself. While he has great talent at his disposal, he needs them to click.

"Internal competition has grown and that leads us to compete better," Simeone continued.

"At first it is easy to speak from the names. I believe in men and in how a team is executed. We are absolutely always looking for a team.

"Names don't team up, men do. We will go in that search of that commitment we have towards the club, always looking for the best."

Thomas Tuchel revealed Saul Niguez has been a long-term target for Chelsea and the Atletico Madrid loanee could be in line for his debut against Aston Villa.

The 26-year-old won LaLiga with Atletico last term before joining the Blues on a season-long loan, Tuchel's men reportedly holding a purchase option for £30million (€34m) after paying an initial loan fee of £5m (€5.8m).

As Chelsea look to become the second team, after Manchester United, to reach 600 Premier League wins, Tuchel explained his new recruit's debut has been years in the making.

"He was with us now for two weeks," Tuchel told reporters. "He played on the highest level. I think the picture is very clear. The club follows him for years.

"We know the player very well. He had a quick adaptation with Marcos Alonso and Kepa [Arrizabalaga], in welcoming him into the group.

"He is in the squad for tomorrow. Jorginho can never say no when Italy plays, even when they are 5-0 up, so he is quite tired. It's absolutely possible Saul plays for us."

Saul only managed 22 league starts last campaign, his fewest since 2014-15, but still ranked fourth for attempted tackles in LaLiga for Atletico (57).

Indeed, prior to his departure, only Real Madrid's Casemiro (190) had attempted more tackles by a midfielder than Saul (159) in the Spanish top flight since August 2019.

With N'Golo Kante out injured with an ankle problem sustained against Liverpool, the Spain midfielder could provide vital legs in Tuchel's midfield.

But Tuchel credited those above him in the Chelsea hierarchy for securing the deal from Diego Simeone's side.

"Marina [Granovskaia] was in charge, the best person," the Blues head coach continued. "We were in contact. We knew about the situation.

"We knew things could happen later, we were very aware. I assured everybody that I'm also happy if we cannot bring a player in. We would find a solution in the squad. It was clear, we would try for [Jules] Kounde and Saul.

"In the end, it was possible to get Saul which was a key position for us to have more alternatives. A lot of competition [is] now going on. It's my job to be a good moderator."

Antoine Griezmann said he "definitely wanted to return" to Atletico Madrid after re-joining the LaLiga champions from Barcelona.

Griezmann is back in the Spanish capital with Atletico following his remarkable switch, initially on loan for the 2021-22 season with the option for either club to extend for a further year.

The France international scored 133 goals in 257 appearances during his first spell with Atletico between 2014 and 2019, before departing for Barca in a €120million deal.

Griezmann was part of Diego Simeone's side that won the 2018 Europa League, two years after helping them reach the Champions League final.

"Every game I will give everything for the great effort they have made for me so that I could return," Griezmann said.

"My part was easy, knowing that Atleti wanted me back, I definitely wanted to return. It is the best place for me to be happy on and off the field.

"It was a crazy day when the market closed, but everything went well and with a lot of desire. Although I was with the national team I wanted to be a 'colchonero' again.

"It is the most beautiful thing that has happened to me in the last few years."

 

Though he played more games (54) and scored more goals (32) during the 2015-16 season, Griezmann's finest campaign at Atleti arguably came in 2017-18.

His tally of 19 LaLiga strikes was 11 more than any other Atleti player as he finished sixth in the scoring charts overall.

Griezmann added another 10 goals across the cup competitions, however, including a brace in the Europa League final to help Atleti beat Marseille 3-0 in Lyon.

Only Griezmann got into double figures for Atleti in terms of assists (13), while only Koke (81) created more chances than his total of 65.

Griezmann was clinical when opportunities came his way too, converting 52.38 per cent of the 42 "big chances" (an opportunity defined as one where they player should score) that were crafted for him, while he ranked top for attempts (124) as he averaged a goal every 133 minutes.

After a difficult first season at Barca, Griezmann came into his second term with a renewed sense of purpose and finally seemed to click under new boss Ronald Koeman. Playing 51 times in all competitions, including making 45 starts, he clocked up 3,904 minutes in total – the second most he has managed in a campaign since moving to Atletico.

A total of 20 goals saw him fall some way short of the 29 he managed in 2017-18, though his 12 assists came close to matching his Atleti peak.

Griezmann created more chances (67) last term than in his 2017-18 season, though his conversion rate of gilt-edged opportunities dropped to 39.39 per cent.

Only in 2018-19 (15.11) did Griezmann have a lower shot conversion rate than last term (18.02) while there was no international glory for him this time around either – he scored once as France dropped out of Euro 2020 in the last 16.

Griezmann added: "It is also thanks to [Diego Simeone]. I owe him so much in my professional life, because here with him, with Atleti, where I lived my best moments on a professional level and in my private life, because he has been a huge support for me and my family. I'm very happy. It is an honour to play for him."

Antoine Griezmann declared "I'm back" to Atletico Madrid's supporters after returning to training for the first time since re-joining from Barcelona.

The France forward made the switch to LaLiga's champions on loan for the 2021-22 season, with the option for either club to extend for a further year.

Less than 24 hours after scoring twice in Les Bleus’ 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Finland on Tuesday, Griezmann was back in training with Los Rojiblancos.

The 30-year-old delivered a personalised message via the club’s official Twitter account, saying: "Hello Atleti fans, I'm back."

Griezmann scored 133 goals in 257 appearances during his first spell with Atletico between 2014 and 2019, before departing for Barcelona in a €120million deal.

He was part of Diego Simeone's side that won the 2018 Europa League, two years after helping them reach the Champions League final.

Barcelona president Joan Laporta has insisted Lionel Messi could not have remained at Camp Nou, even with Antoine Griezmann leaving and the club's captains reducing their wages amid mounting debt.

Barca's financial issues – the LaLiga giants' debt has risen to €1.35billion – led to the shock departure of superstar Messi to Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer.

Gerard Pique accepted a substantial pay cut and fellow captains Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto followed suit to ensure the likes of Sergio Aguero could be registered for the new season, while Griezmann completed a sensational return to Atletico Madrid on deadline day.

However, six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi remaining at Camp Nou was impossible, according to Laporta.

"What happened is what has been explained," Laporta told Esport3. "There are objective data. Everyone can compare. We were pressured that we would either sign the CVC loan [deal] or there is no fair play.

"There was no margin. There was a pre-agreement and we had shaken hands. There were several agreements and LaLiga seemed to accept it, but then they said no without CVC. We didn't think that the situation was going to improve and we put an end to it.

"Messi could not have stayed even with Griezmann's [departure] and with the salary reduction of the captains. But it is important that we have lowered the salary cap because next year we can be more ambitious.

"I think we were both sad because the situation was not what we wanted. I have not spoken with Messi since. I saw his debut with PSG and it was strange to see him at another team, rivals. I did not like seeing him in another shirt."

Laporta added: "The reduction [of the expenditure] is important – we have gone from 110 to 80 per cent. I want to congratulate the executives and the financial department of Barcelona for their work, and all those who have worked tirelessly and extraordinarily.

"And we have some heroes in Pique, Alba, Busquets, and we will seal [the deal with] Sergi Roberto.

"What they have done is admirable. They are committed to the club, to the members. It is admirable. And we will continue with other players, such as [Samuel] Umtiti and others from the first team. We are in a process that is not easy.

"First the captains have set an example, and now we will continue with others."

Ronald Koeman's Barca have made an unbeaten start to the 2021-22 campaign, winning two of their opening three LaLiga fixtures to be level on seven points with leaders Real Madrid, Sevilla, Valencia, Atletico and Mallorca.

"I like Koeman," said Laporta. "We won the game against Getafe. They are not easy games."

Mario Mandzukic has retired at the age of 35, and the former Juventus and Bayern Munich striker signed off with a reminder of his World Cup winner against England.

A mainstay of the Croatia national team, Mandzukic hit an extra-time winner in the 2018 World Cup semi-final against Gareth Southgate's team, before scoring at both ends in the 4-2 final defeat to France.

He became the first player to score an own goal in a World Cup final to give France an early lead, before capitalising on a Hugo Lloris mistake to give Croatia late hope.

His retirement announcement, issued on Instagram, was in the form of a letter to his younger self, with Mandzukic saying he should "just be ready around [the] 109th minute" should he ever face England at the World Cup.

That was the minute in which he fired past Jordan Pickford to send Croatia into their first World Cup final as 2-1 winners over England.

Mandzukic's career took off in his early twenties at Dinamo Zagreb, and he was signed by German outfit Wolfsburg in 2010 before moving on two years later to Bayern Munich, for whom he scored in the 2013 Champions League final win over Borussia Dortmund, also winning the Bundesliga twice.

Only Robert Lewandowski (44 goals) and Stefan Kiessling (40) scored more than the 33 Bundesliga goals that Mandzukic managed across his two campaigns at Bayern.

 

A year followed at Atletico Madrid before Mandzukic enjoyed four seasons at Juventus, winning the Serie A title each time and scoring a memorable goal in the Bianconeri's Champions League final loss to Real Madrid in 2017.

He had a spell at Qatari side Al-Duhail and played the last football of his career for Milan in the second half of last season.

Mandzukic, who scored 33 goals in 89 matches for Croatia, addressed his farewell letter to 'little Mario' and wrote: "While you put on these boots for the first time, you can't even imagine what you will get to experience in football.

"You'll score goals at the biggest stages and you'll win the biggest trophies with the biggest clubs. Proudly representing your nation, you will help write the history of Croatian sports.

"You'll succeed because you'll have good people around you – teammates, coaches, fans, and family, agent and friends who will always be there for you. You'll be forever grateful to all of them!

"Above all, you'll succeed because you'll always give your best. At the end, that's what you'll be most proud of. You'll sacrifice a lot, but you'll know it was worth it because of all the amazing moments.

"You'll recognise the moment to retire, to put these boots in a cabinet and you'll have no regrets. Football will always be a part of your life, but you'll look forward to a new chapter.

"P.S. If you happen to play vs England in the World Cup, just be ready around [the] 109th minute."

Mandzukic's winner in that clash with England came from his third goal attempt in the game, all of which he got on target. That was a lesson to an England side who collectively only put two of their 11 efforts on target.

"What a career Big Mario," said former Juve team-mate Blaise Matuidi. "Congratulations you are a legend."

Atletico Madrid president Enrique Cerezo says he would understand if Antoine Griezmann is jeered by his own supporters after rejoining the Spanish champions from Barcelona.

France international Griezmann this week completed a surprise return to Atleti on an initial season-long loan deal with an option for both clubs to extend the deal by a further year, just two years after heading the opposite way.

The 30-year-old was a fan favourite during his previous five-season stint at the club before his €120million exit, scoring 94 goals in 180 LaLiga appearances.

However, many Atleti fans were unhappy with the manner of Griezmann's drawn-out exit in 2019, a year after dedicating his future to the club in a mini-documentary.

The deal also brought with it further controversy as Atleti insisted Barca had fallen some €80m short of the obligated fee, but the transfer was nevertheless upheld.

With Griezmann now back at the Wanda Metropolitano, however, Cerezo is hoping Atleti backers give their full support to their returning former hero.

Asked about the possibility of fans booing Griezmann when he returns to the field for Atletico, Cerezo told Cadena SER: "I would understand that. 

"But what I want to say is that we are not going to gain anything with this. When he left, all I said was that in Barcelona they wouldn't love him the same as they do here. 

"He left in a strange way, but he has shown that he was eager to return to Atletico Madrid.

"There are fans who will not like it, but there are others who were delighted with his return and in the end the important thing is performance and having the best squad."

 

Griezmann was directly involved in 29 LaLiga goals across his two seasons at Camp Nou, a tally bettered among Barca players by only Lionel Messi (85), who is now of course with Paris Saint-Germain.

He played 51 times in all competitions in 2020-21, recording 20 goals and 12 assists, but was allowed to leave on deadline day due to the Catalans desperately needing to balance their books.

The transfer went through late on after Atletico freed up space by sending Saul Niguez to Chelsea on an initial loan deal.

"It was a three-way carom and we are lucky to have Griezmann for the next two years," Cerezo added. 

"We did not count on Griezmann because we didn't know if Saul was going to leave."

Griezmann featured in all three of Barca's LaLiga games in August, but failed to score or create a single chance.

Antoine Griezmann is relishing his return "home" after Atletico Madrid rescued him from Barcelona, with Diego Simeone set to be a big winner if the Frenchman rediscovers his best form.

The transfer window was closing when Atletico dashed in to snatch Griezmann, as Saul Niguez's move to Chelsea cleared space in coach Simeone's squad for a major arrival.

Griezmann said he was sad not to play regularly in front of a packed Camp Nou during his time at Barcelona, with the pandemic putting paid to that prospect.

That message came in a goodbye note to Barcelona supporters on Wednesday, but on Thursday he had his eye on the challenge ahead.

"Looking forward to coming home," Griezmann wrote on Twitter, replying after Atletico announced he would inherit Saul's number eight shirt.

He has joined on an initial loan with a reported obligation to buy for €40million after spending just two years at Camp Nou, with Barcelona having paid €120million to sign Griezmann, one of a string of big-money deals that proved poor value for the Blaugrana's money.

Griezmann never managed to recapture his best form in Catalonia, but Simeone will have scooped a bargain if the forward's prime performances return.

 

WHAT COULD THIS HOMECOMING BRING ATLETICO?

With Barca, Griezmann started 66 games in LaLiga but was substituted off 37 times, with the changes of coach from Ernesto Valverde to Quique Setien and then Ronald Koeman hardly encouraging stability.

During his first stint at Atletico, he started 168 times in the league and was taken off on just 68 occasions, an indication Simeone resoundingly backed his ability.

That faith would stem primarily from the fact only Lionel Messi (176), Cristiano Ronaldo (134 from 2014-18) and Luis Suarez (131) scored more LaLiga goals than Griezmann's haul of 94 during his five-year stay at Atletico. Before that, he was a regular scorer in LaLiga for Real Sociedad, whom he helped earn promotion in the 2009-10 season.

Yet there was much more to Griezmann's game in his first Atletico spell than goals, with his hard work meaning he fitted the bill for the club's taskmaster Argentine coach.

A remarkable 651 ball recoveries in five seasons was the highest total achieved by any forward in the league (Iker Muniain second on 551), but at Barcelona he was only 11th on the list in that department for the combined two years and two months he spent with the Catalan giants.

He was top five for assists (32) among all LaLiga forwards while at Atletico, got his 88 non-penalty league goals from an expected goals (xG) haul of 68.41, showing how clinical he was, while he also ranked in the top three for Opta-defined 'big chances' created (56).

His shot conversion rate was a healthy 21.2 per cent, which fell away to 16.9 per cent while at Barcelona, where his lacklustre display against Getafe last weekend suggested it was indeed time to move on.

At Atletico, he is set to team up with Suarez, his former Barcelona team-mate whose acquisition last year proved a stimulus for the Rojiblancos' title charge.

And in a quirk of fate, Griezmann could make his return to Atletico action back in Barcelona, at Espanyol on September 12.

By scoring for France on Wednesday, albeit fortuitously against Bosnia and Herzegovina, Griezmann was again making a nuisance of himself at a high level, which is where Atletico find themselves after winning LaLiga last term.

And as much as he is "looking forward to coming home", it remains to be seen whether the scars of an acrimonious exit have healed.

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