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Atletico comeback falls short as Real reach final

May 11, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Real Madrid inflicted a fourth Champions League elimination on Atletico Madrid in as many years on Wednesday, losing their semi-final second leg 2-1 but progressing to the final 4-2 on aggregate.

Real Madrid

Atletico had threatened an incredible comeback, Saul Niguez’s powerful header and Antoine Griezmann’s penalty inside 16 minutes cutting Real’s aggregate lead to a solitary goal.

The hosts fed off a ferocious atmosphere for their final Champions League match at the Vicente Calderon before moving to the Wanda Metropolitano next season.

However, Isco’s away goal just before half-time settled Real’s nerves and left Atletico with too much to do to progress.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s first leg hat-trick ultimately proved decisive and Real will seek to become the first side to defend the trophy in the Champions League era when they face Juventus in the final in Cardiff on May 3.

“I am delighted to reach the final,” said Real boss Zinedine Zidane.

“It is a long road to get there and to do so two years in a row, you have to congratulate the squad.”

An already fierce rivalry between the Spanish giants has intensified in recent years by Real’s three Champions League victories over Atletico, including in the 2014 and 2016 finals.

However, Atletico’s players went a long way towards making amends for their meek display in the first leg eight days ago in a thrilling opening.

“The team showed once more why they have been competing at this level for so many years,” said Atletico coach Diego Simeone.

“Those first 20, 25 minutes will be in the history of the club.

“The atmosphere was one of those magical moments in the Calderon that will live in people’s memories forever.”

Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas denied Koke from close range and Fernando Torres headed over, before at the other end Jan Oblak made a brilliant save from Casemiro’s header.

Atletico got the goal they needed to get back into the tie 12 minutes in when Koke’s outswinging corner was met powerfully by Saul for his fourth Champions League goal of the season.

Just three minutes later Atletico truly believed they could pull off the most unlikely of comebacks when Fernando Torres was upended by Raphael Varane inside the box.

Griezmann had missed his previous two penalties against Real, including in last year’s Champions League final.

This time the French international found the net, albeit with a bit of fortune as Navas got a hand to his mishit spot-kick but couldn’t keep it out.

Fierce challenges then rained in from both sides as Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakır struggled to keep control, with five players booked inside the opening 37 minutes.

However, Real regained their composure to get the vital away goal they needed for some extra breathing space just before half-time.

Karim Benzema somehow escaped the attention of three Atletico defenders on the by-line and cut the ball back for Toni Kroos.

Oblak made another brilliant stop to deny the German, but Isco followed up from close range to bundle the ball home.

Ronaldo had scored eight times in his previous three Champions League appearances, however, the closest the World Player of the Year came to adding to his record 21 goals against Atletico was a driven free-kick at the start of the second half that was beaten away by Oblak.

Atletico had their chances to put the tie back on a knife-edge as Navas produced an incredible double save from Yannick Carrasco and Kevin Gameiro.

The Costa Rican then got down low to his right to turn behind Griezmann’s low volley and Gameiro failed to turn home another great opportunity from point-blank range.

A torrential thunder storm disrupted the final stages, but lightning has now struck four times for Atletico against Real and Zidane’s side will head to Cardiff seeking a 12th European Cup against his former club.

Ronaldo hat-trick leaves Real on verge of final

May 3, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Cristiano Ronaldo proved Atletico Madrid’s Champions League destroyer once more with a hat-trick as Real Madrid took a commanding 3-0 semi-final, first leg lead on Tuesday.

Ronaldo

Ronaldo extended his lead as the all-time top scorer in Madrid derby matches by taking his tally to 21 and put Real firmly on course to defend their title in the final in Cardiff on June 3.

The Portuguese rewarded a bright Real start by heading home Casemiro’s deflected cross after just 10 minutes.

Ronaldo then smashed home from just inside the area and turned home Lucas Vazquez’s cross in the final 20 minutes as Real continued their domination of Atletico having eliminated them in the Champions League for the past three seasons.

“The team was tremendous. I scored the goals but the team was phenomenal from start to finish,” said Ronaldo.

The sides meet again for the second leg on May 10.

“We have a good advantage but the tie isn’t over yet,” added Ronaldo.

“Atletico are a good side and it is not a coincidence they are in the semi-finals again. We have to be concentrated next Wednesday.”

Atletico boss Diego Simeone, meanwhile, told his side to forget their latest derby demolition and hope for a miracle at the last European match at their Vicente Calderon stadium next week.

“We need to forget about this game,” said the Argentine.

“It seems impossible, but it is football and football has these unexpected things that make it marvellous.

“Until the last drip of hope is gone, we will give it everything we have.”

Real needed a stoppage time equaliser en route to beating Atletico in the 2014 final, scored a late winner in the quarter-finals a year later and edged last season’s final between the two on a penalty shootout.

However, there was far more a gulf between the sides this time round.

Real piled on the pain in the opening stages for the 4,000 visiting away fans and could have killed the tie in the opening half hour.

Atletico were handed a lucky escape on seven minutes when Jan Oblak parried Dani Carvajal’s effort at the end of a careering run and the Slovenian recovered to also turn behind Karim Benzema’s follow-up effort.

There was no let off three minutes later, though, as Atletico failed to clear a corner and Casemiro’s bouncing cross looped up for Ronaldo to power home a header.

Oblak kept Atletico alive in the moments that followed with a brilliant save from Raphael Varane’s header and more comfortable stop from Isco.

However, at the other end, Keylor Navas rescued Real from conceding a vital away goal when he got a touch on the ball as Kevin Gameiro tried to round him when clean through on goal.

The majority of the efforts continued to rain down on Oblak’s goal as Luka Modric drilled a shot from the edge of the box inches wide.

And Benzema then acrobatically turned a Ronaldo cross just over the bar.

The only negative news of the night for Real was an injury to right-back Dani Carvajal just before half-time as he pulled up with a muscle problem that looks set to keep him out of the second leg.

Clear-cut chances were far harder to come by after half-time as Atletico toiled to create, whilst Real sat on their lead waiting for the chance to counter-attack.

However, once again in ties between these two, Real got the slice of luck to go with their extra quality.

The ball rebounded up perfectly off the heels of Filipe Luis for Ronaldo to blast high past Oblak.

And Ronaldo completed his second hat-trick against Atletico this season four minutes from time when Lucas Vazquez’s cutback picked out the four-time World Player of the Year to slot home from close range.

Vardy in vain as Atletico end Leicester fairytale

April 19, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Jamie Vardy scored in vain as Leicester City’s Champions League fairytale came to a valiant end following a 1-1 quarter-final draw at home to Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.

Atletico

Seeking to overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit, Leicester fell further behind to Saul Niguez’s first-half header, before Vardy’s 61st-minute strike gave them hope.

But despite heavy Leicester pressure and furious noise inside the King Power Stadium, Atletico completed a 2-1 aggregate win to reach the semi-finals for the third time in four seasons.

“We had them rattled with the effort and commitment we showed. It’s no discredit to lose to a team of that calibre,” Leicester manager Craig Shakespeare told BT Sport.

“The whole club, from the supporters to the players to the owners can be immensely proud, but I’ve just said to the players that they should want more of this and they’ve agreed that that’s what they want.”

Leicester had hoped to become the competition’s first debutant semi-finalists since Villarreal in 2006, but they were unable to engineer a repeat of their last-16 triumph against Sevilla.

Their exit brings to an end a golden adventure sparked by last season’s stunning Premier League title win.

Having successfully staved off the threat of relegation under new manager Shakespeare, the rest of their season now holds nothing more than a return to pre-title normality.

It is the third time Atletico have eliminated Leicester from continental competition, after previous triumphs in the 1961-62 European Cup Winners’ Cup and the 1997-98 UEFA Cup.

Beaten by city foes Real Madrid in the 2014 and 2016 finals, Diego Simeone’s side can continue to dream that this will be the year they finally end their wait for European football’s biggest prize.

“I’m full of emotion and pride at the performance of my team,” said Simeone.

“I also have to say, what a great performance from our opponents. It was almost a pleasure to compete against them.”

Leicester’s desire to make the most of the occasion was clear from the start, pyrotechnics greeting the players as they came out while fans twirled blue, white and gold foil flags distributed by the club.

But whereas Leicester had quickly taken charge of their second-leg match against Sevilla in the previous round, Atletico made it clear they would not be pushed around.

They defended with their customary tenacity, while two dangerous crosses from Yannick Carrasco — preferred up front to the fit-again Kevin Gameiro — demonstrated their threat on the counter.

It was just as Leicester were threatening to make inroads, Shinji Okazaki stabbing wide at the near post from Vardy’s cross, that the visitors tightened their grip on the tie.

Filipe Luis was given space to shape a cross into the box from the left and the unmarked Saul expertly guided a header past Kasper Schmeichel’s outstretched right hand.

Riyad Mahrez volleyed straight at Jan Oblak at the other end after Marc Albrighton’s cross was headed away, but it was the voices of the away fans that rang loudest as the half-time whistle sounded.

The second half brought with it drastic changes for the hosts, with Ben Chilwell and Leonardo Ulloa replacing Yohan Benalouane and Okazaki as Shakespeare switched to a bold 3-4-3 system.

Antoine Griezmann gave them a scare with an early dart into the box, but Atletico soon found themselves on the back foot.

After left wing-back Chilwell thrashed over, Leicester levelled, Vardy slamming in from inside the six-yard box after Chilwell’s shot had been charged down by Stefan Savic.

The final half-hour was virtually one-way traffic, but Atletico repelled everything Leicester threw at them.

Ulloa and Vardy both had shots blocked, while Vardy’s flick was caught by Oblak and Mahrez whipped a free-kick narrowly over the bar.

Leicester captain Wes Morgan, passed fit to play after six games out with a back problem, succumbed to injury late on, symbolically hobbling off as Leicester’s European dream faded away.

Atletico close on Real Madrid ahead of derby

April 5, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Atletico Madrid’s fine form continued as Filipe Luis scored the winner in a 1-0 win over Real Sociedad to close to within seven points of La Liga leaders Real Madrid on Tuesday.

Atletico

Luis had scored his first goal of the season in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Malaga and netted for the second consecutive game for the first time in his career by rounding off a fine team move on 28 minutes.

Fernando Torres, Yannick Carrasco and Angel Correa all passed up chances to add to Atletico’s advantage, but they held on to move three points clear of Sevilla in the battle for third.

Real Madrid still have two games in hand on Atletico, but the two face each other in the Madrid derby on Saturday.

Real and Barcelona are in action on Wednesday when they take on Leganes and Sevilla respectively.

Atletico will travel to the Santiago Bernabeu brimming with confidence after a fifth straight La Liga win.

“Other than the opening 15 minutes when they dominated the ball, we imposed our tempo, pressed well high up the pitch and created chances,” said Atletico boss Diego Simeone.

“It is a very important win.”

Antoine Griezmann came close twice in quick succession against his former club as his first effort was deflected behind before Geronimo Rulli got down well to save low to his right.

The French international was also involved in the only goal as Luis exchanged passes with he and Torres before slotting home.

Torres then somehow failed to double Atletico’s lead as he turned Carrasco’s low cross onto the post with the goal gaping an then fired the rebound into the side-netting.

Carrasco was also then wasteful as he shot too close to Rulli after an unselfish cutback by Griezmann.

Griezmann was replaced by Angel Correa with 19 minutes remaining as Diego Simeone looked ahead to Saturday’s derby and the visit of Leicester in their Champions League quarter-final, first leg next midweek.

And Correa also passed up a huge chance to seal the three points when he blasted wide with just Rulli to beat 10 minutes later.

A third defeat in four games sees Sociedad slip to seventh as Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao boosted their chances of Europa League qualification.

Bilbao were 2-0 victors over Espanyol thanks to Aritz Aduriz’s first-half double to move up to sixth.

Villarreal are in fifth as Adrian Lopez scored the only goal in a 1-0 win at Real Betis.

Barcelona rue missed chance despite Atletico lead

February 2, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Barcelona coach Luis Enrique admitted missed chances leave his side with still some work to do to reach a fourth consecutive Copa del Rey final despite taking a 2-1 semi-final, first leg lead over Atletico Madrid.

Barcelona

Sensational strikes from Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi had Barca cruising at half-time at the Vicente Calderon on Wednesday.

However, Antoine Griezmann pulled a goal back for an inspired Atletico after the break before Neymar blasted over a huge chance to restore Barca’s two-goal lead.

“If we had been more efficient with the quality we have in this team, we could have taken our chances better and had a different second leg,” said Enrique.

Barca will also be without Neymar for the return leg on Tuesday as he picked up his third yellow card in the Cup this season late on.

“We knew we had to score here,” said Suarez.

“That was important and we got two, but it is not at all over.”

It was a tale of two halves as Barca dominated in the first 45 minutes with Suarez’s sensational solo run and finish after seven minutes added to by Messi’s thunderous 20-yard strike.

“I think we started the tie very well, knowing how difficult it is to play here at the Calderon,” added Enrique.

“We made sure they couldn’t create any attacks, we kept the ball in their half, created a lot of chances and were very efficient.

“In the second-half, given the result, Atletico had to attack. They pressed us much more and caused a lot more problems.

“But it would be naive or ridiculous to think you can come here and not suffer.”

Messi was once again a class apart as he constantly pulled the Atletico defence apart on top of firing home his 30th goal in 29 games this season.

“The big games are when you see the best Leo Messi,” added Enrique.

“He showed us his full repetoire. His dribbling, generating superiority in midfield, giving assists and scoring goals. There are few new superlatives for Messi.”

Four previous two-legged ties between these sides over the past three seasons had been split two apiece.

And Atletico looked far more like the side that Diego Simeone has made a serial contender for trophies over the past five years after the introduction of Fernando Torres at half-time.

“We spoke at half-time and I think in the second-half we got close to the team we have always been,” said Simeone.

“I am left with that positive feeling. We were close to a draw, we fronted up against all the difficulties we faced in the first-half.”

However, for all his achievements, Simeone is yet to win at the Camp Nou as Atletico boss and is aware the odds are very much against Los Rojiblancos reaching the final.

“I don’t know what percentage chance we have,” he added.

“Even if it is 20 percent, we will give everything we have to make that 20 percent count.”

Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat trick answered Real Madrid’s biggest question

November 20, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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On Saturday, Cristiano Ronaldo silenced his critics yet again, as the 31-year-old Portuguese superstar netted a hat trick to lead Real Madrid to a 3-0 victory over rival Atletico Madrid and give Real a clear line of sight to its first La Liga title in half a decade.

Ronaldo

Ronaldo’s performance, however, meant far more than the three goals and the three points that put Real Madrid in the driver’s seat for the La Liga crown. Following a salary bump and a hefty contract extension worth a reported $187 million that keeps the forward at the Santiago Bernabeu until 2021, questions have come up over how Ronaldo will fit into the squad going forward considering his decreasing ability to take players one-on-one.

Against Atletico, Real and Ronaldo answered those questions.

Ronaldo started ahead of Karim Benzema at striker and made the most of his chances as the tip of Real’s spear. Similar to the role he played for Portugal in the 2016 European Championships, which Portugal won, Ronaldo continued the transformation from a free-roaming No. 7 darting on the wings and cheating on the inside to a constrained No. 9 causing havoc inside the box and putting pressure on opposing center backs.

For Ronaldo to remain relevant at Real Madrid for five more years, this positional shift became necessary. The former Manchester United and Sporting Lisbon winger could not continue to be an asset out wide as he dove deeper into his 30s. In front of goal, Ronaldo is one of the greatest finishers of all time and a credible threat to score at all times. After all, he is already the top scorer in Real Madrid history, and his scoring rate is higher than the greats that came before him (i.e. Raul Gonzalez, Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas).

Of course, questions over how Benzema and Alvaro Morata fit into Real Madrid’s setup if Ronaldo is now a full-time forward will come fast and hard. But one has a tough time arguing against three goals that pushed Madrid nine points clear of Atletico Madrid and four points clear of Barcelona at the top of La Liga. Hence, Benzema and Morata will need to adapt to Ronaldo more than the Portuguese will need to adapt to them. Ronaldo remains the biggest star at the club, on the pitch and off it.

With Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Casemiro, Morata and Toni Kroos among the first-team regulars not available for Real Madrid on Saturday, Ronaldo displayed that special winning quality that makes him the first name on the team sheet in the Spanish capital. Though Isco may have deserved Man of the Match honors for his inspired midfield play, Ronaldo secured all three goals.

He has a habit of doing that. It’s football, not rocket science, and Ronaldo knows how to find the back of the net with greater frequency than, arguably, any other human being that has ever lived. And yes, that includes Lionel Messi.

Unlike Messi, who has transitioned deeper into the midfield as he has grown older, Ronaldo has moved further forward with every passing year. It only makes sense that to get the most out of an aging attacker, the emphasis would be to put him in positions where he can apply that expensive final touch, rather than ask him to create chances. Also, Ronaldo’s superior height and heading ability make for a far more natural transition to out-and-out striker than Messi’s passing and vision make sense to move the Argentine deeper into midfield.

Also assisting Ronaldo’s transition is the emergence, arrival and settling of Gareth Bale with Los Blancos. In the past couple seasons, the Welshman has assumed a great deal of Ronaldo’s responsibility on the wings and in the midfield and, frankly, covered for his diminishing ability to run at opponents.

Barcelona defeat and Real Madrid draw sends Atletico Madrid top of La Liga

October 3, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Atletico Madrid moved top of La Liga on Sunday as Celta Vigo edged Barcelona in a 4-3 thriller, whilst Real Madrid’s run of draws stretched to four against Eibar on Sunday.

Atletico

Three goals in 11 first-half minutes sentenced a Barca side once again without the injuredLionel Messi as Pione Sisto, Iago Aspas and a Jeremy Mathieu own goal put Celta in command.

Gerard Pique and a Neymar penalty reduced Barca’s deficit. However, a Marc-Andre ter Stegen howler teed up Pablo Hernandez to restore Celta’s two-goal lead before Pique headed in his second late on.

Real Madrid remain two points ahead of the champions, but were booed off at the Santiago Bernabeu after a 1-1 draw against the Basque minnows.

Atletico lead their city rivals on goal difference at the top of the table despite missing two penalties as Antoine Griezmann and Kevin Gameiro netted in a 2-0 win at Valencia.

Barca boss Luis Enrique’s heaviest defeat in charge came in a 4-1 hammering at the hands of Celta last season and the former Celta coach suffered another embarrassing return to Balaidos.

“I can’t be satisfied because we have thrown away the opportunity to go top before the international break,” said Enrique.

“We were clearly inferior in the first-half.”

Former Liverpool striker Aspas did most of the damage as Sisto slotted home the opener from his superb through ball.

Aspas then drilled the second into the far corner and it was under pressure from the Celta striker that Mathieu turned Daniel Wass’s excellent cross into his own net.

Enrique introduced Andres Iniesta on his 600th Barca appearance for the second-half and his presence transformed the Catalans after the break.

Pique headed home Iniesta’s cross to give the visitors hope and a brilliant pass into Andre Gomes provoked a penalty just after the hour, which Neymar converted.

However, all of Barca’s good work was undone when Ter Stegen chipped the ball into the path of the onrushing Pablo Hernandez to head into an unguarded net.

Pique set up a grandstand finish three minutes from time and the centre-back was inches away from an incredible hat-trick when he glanced a header wide in stoppage time.

Earlier, Eibar celebrated their first ever goal and point against Madrid wildly.

Fran Rico headed the visitors into a sixth minute lead before Gareth Bale’s 50th La Liga goal secured a fourth consecutive draw for Real.

“The game is 90 minutes long and lately we have started matches very badly,” said Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane.

It is the first time Madrid have drawn four successive games since Zidane was a Real player in 2006.

“It is not a crisis. It is still October and I am not going to go crazy, but something is wrong,” added Zidane.

“The only thing I can see we can do is to work harder and play with more intensity.”

The European champions badly missed the presence of Luka Modric, who is set to be sidelined for a month after undergoing knee surgery on Sunday morning.

Real took almost an hour to get firm control of the game and Cristiano Ronaldo had the chance to snatch the three points but blasted over from point-blank range.

A super Bale header also came back off the post and substitute Alvaro Morata had a goal rightly ruled out for offside as Eibar held on for a historic point.

Earlier, Valencia goalkeeper Diego Alves’s heroics couldn’t deny Atletico as he extended his exceptional penalty record with stops from Griezmann and Gabi either side of the Frenchman’s opener just after the hour mark.

However, Gameiro finally sealed a deserved three points for Atletico in stoppage time.

New Valencia coach Cesare Prandelli watched on from the stands before officially taking charge on Monday, but other than Alves taking his record of saved penalties to 22 from 45 faced in Spanish football, there were few positives for the Italian.

Griezmann had hit the bar from the spot against Bayern in midweek and his well-struck penalty was brilliantly turned behind.

But Gameiro teed up Griezmann for his sixth La Liga goal of the season.

Gabi then saw a poor spot-kick easily saved by Alves, but deep into stoppage time Gameiro slotted past Alves to seal the win.

Atletico inflict more pain on Ancelotti’s Bayern

September 29, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Atletico Madrid haunted Bayern Munich once more as Yannick Carrasco inflicted Carlo Ancelotti’s first defeat as coach of the German giants with a 1-0 win at the Vicente Calderon in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Atletico

The Spaniards eliminated Bayern on away goals in the semi-finals of last season’s Champions League and there was to be no revenge for the five-time European champions as Carrasco drove the ball in off the inside of the post 10 minutes before half-time.

Thomas Mueller had Bayern’s best effort, but was denied by a sensational save from Jan Oblak early on as the German champions failed to score on Spanish soil for the fourth consecutive trip.

And Atletico could even afford the luxury of missing a penalty seven minutes from time when Antoine Griezmann rattled the bar from the spot.

“I feel so proud to be the coach of this team,” said Simeone, who extended his incredible home record as Atletico coach to just one defeat in 18 home Champions League games.

“I liked everything today. We pressed high, took advantage of spaces on the counter-attack and played with intensity for 90 minutes which is very difficult to do against one of the best teams in the world.

“It was one of the best performances in my time at Atletico Madrid.”

Victory takes Atletico top of Group D with six points from their opening two games. Bayern remain second on three points with FC Rostov and PSV Eindhoven on one each after a 2-2 draw in Russia.

Defeat was Bayern’s first since they last visited the Calderon in April.

“It was a difficult game, as we expected. Atletico played as we expected,” said Ancelotti.

“After the goal we tried to get back into the game, but we played too slowly and that is why we didn’t have a lot of chances.”

Bayern’s first serious attempt on goal was their best as Mueller smashed a volley goalwards on 14 minutes that was brilliantly beaten away by Oblak.

Not to be outdone, Bayern stopper Manuel Neuer produced a great save of his own as he got down low to his left to turn Carrasco’s first effort of the night to safety.

Torres missed a glorious chance to open the scoring when he somehow turned Koke’s corner against the post from point-blank range with the goal gaping.

However, Atletico finally went in front when Griezmann collected a loose ball and freed Carrasco on the left. The Belgian strode forward before unleashing a powerful effort in off the far post.

Bayern took a long time to muster a response as Ancelotti brought on Arjen Robben and the on-form Joshua Kimmich.

Neuer parried another powerful low effort from Carrasco to keep Bayern in the game midway through the second half.

The visitors finally began to threaten in the final 15 minutes as Robert Lewandowski’s glancing header flew inches wide of the far post.

Robben then drove a shot just wide from the edge of the box.

However, it was the hosts who had the best chance to extend their advantage when Arturo Vidal cynically chopped down Filipe Luis inside the area.

Griezmann stepped up to take it, but just as in their Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid in May, he smashed his spot-kick against the bar to give Bayern a lifeline.

Ancelotti’s men had one final chance to rescue a point, but Robben’s header drifted harmlessly over as Atletico held on to secure another major European scalp under Simeone.

Luis Enrique and Simeone unite to defend ‘spectacular’ Neymar

September 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Barcelona coach Luis Enrique and Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone have launched impassioned defences of Neymar after the Brazilian’s showboating again came under the spotlight.

Neymar

Former Barcelona great Michael Laudrup lambasted the Brazil international for “provoking” the opposition in Saturday’s 5-1 win at Leganes and Neymar’s flamboyant style will be scrutinised again on Wednesday when Barcelona host Atletico.

Commentating on Saturday’s game at Leganes for BeIN sports, Laudrup said he understood why Lluis Sastre kicked out at Neymar during the game.

“Why are you taking the ball across your own half? You’re provoking the opposition. When it’s 4-0 you can’t be showboating and provoking your opponents,” Laudrup said.

Neymar’s penchant for trying to embarrass opponents with flicks and tricks has prompted criticism in Spain before, with Luis Enrique once declaring he sympathised with Athletic Bilbao players for fouling Neymar in the 2015 King’s Cup final.

The coach, however, took his player’s side when questioned about Laudrup’s comments.

“He has his own style and I think it’s spectacular for football. We enjoy his play a lot at Barca,” Luis Enrique told a news conference on Tuesday.

“We know what world we live in and what people focus on, but I like his concept of football, and no-one in La Liga can be surprised by it now.

“Perhaps it’s better to criticise things that are against the rules, as there is nothing saying you cannot do spectacular tricks.”

Atletico coach Simeone also defended Neymar when asked if he would be bothered if Neymar attempted similar tricks against his side on Wednesday.

“He has a particular style of play, like everyone else, but I love it,” Simeone said on Tuesday.

“He has been criticised and they have exposed his private life. He has fun, he sings he dances and he destroys opponents. They can keep criticising him. He needs to respond on the pitch.”

Simeone added: “He’s extraordinary. He went to the Olympics and won gold, he has found his place at Barcelona to showcase his talent, he has just come back from holidays and he’s still playing just as well.

“He has a personality that allows him to do all that, and I love watching him.”

Fernando Torres relishing Barcelona showdown

September 20, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Fernando Torres believes Atletico Madrid travel to Barcelona on Wednesday at just the right time after emphatically bouncing back with three wins over the past week.

Torres

The showdown is the first major clash of the La Liga season, but despite their free-scoring form, both sides face the prospect of being cut adrift from league leaders Real Madrid even at this early stage.

“It’s a good time to visit Barcelona,” Torres said after netting twice in Atletico’s 5-0 thrashing of Sporting Gijon on Saturday.

“It seems like they are playing as we have become accustomed to. They are the most difficult opponent we have faced in the last few years without a doubt and we know how difficult it will be.

“But when you are winning and playing well it always gives you that little more confidence.”

Atletico scored 10 times and kept three clean sheets in seeing off Celta Vigo, PSV Eindhoven and Sporting in eight days.

However, they already trail city rivals Real by four points after disappointing draws against Alaves and Leganes to open the campaign.

“We just needed to find the goals because we have been consistent in the way we have played despite the two draws in the first two games,” added Torres.

“The team is confident and now we have the toughest game we have had until now.”

Despite dumping Barca out of the Champions League twice in the past three years, Atletico haven’t won at the Camp Nou since Torres scored twice in a 3-1 victory during his first stint at the club in 2006.

Barca also hit five at the weekend against newly promoted Leganes to back up their 7-0 hammering of Celtic in the Champions League with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar scoring 10 times in their first two starts of the season together up front.

However, a shock home defeat to Alaves earlier this month leaves Luis Enrique’s men three points behind Real in the early running for the title race.

Both sides will make changes having rotated at the weekend.

Enrique will recall Sergi Roberto and Sergio Busquets with the only doubt for the hosts whether Samuel Umtiti or Javier Mascherano partners Gerard Pique at the heart of the defence.

The rested Gabi and Juanfran are expected to return for Atletico in place of Nicolas Gaitan and Sime Vrsaljko.

Real can extend their lead at the top before Barca and Atletico kick off and set a La Liga record with a 17th straight win at home to Villarreal earlier on Wednesday.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale missed Sunday’s 2-0 win at Espanyol due to illness and injury respectively. However, both returned to training on Monday and are expected to start.

Victory at the weekend saw Real set a new club record for consecutive league wins and match the 16 straight wins Barcelona managed under Pep Guardiola in 2010/11.

Villarreal, though, are unbeaten in the league this season as back-to-back wins have taken the Yellow Submarine up to sixth after a disrupted pre-season due to the sacking of coach Marcelino days before the campaign got under way.

Sevilla can move up to second on Tuesday if they continue their dominance of the Seville derby over Real Betis.

The Europa League holders haven’t lost in the league to Betis in four years and are strong favourites for one of Spain’s most passionate encounters.

At the bottom of the table Valencia are looking to pick up their first points of the season when Alaves visit the Mestalla on Thursday with Valencia boss Pako Ayestaran’s job on the line.

Ronaldo pride as royal Real crowned kings again

May 29, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Cristiano Ronaldo could not contain his pride after firing Real Madrid to their 11th Champions League success on Saturday with a decisive, and pre-planned, penalty in a 5-3 shoot-out over Atletico Madrid.

Ronaldo

After two scoreless periods of extra time following a 1-1 draw, the city rivals were forced to spot-kicks.

And after Atletico defender Juanfran’s penalty came off the post, Ronaldo sparked wild celebrations at Milan’s San Siro stadium after stepping up to confidently sweep his effort past Jan Oblak.

With 16 goals in the competition, Ronaldo has finished the top scorer for the second time after his 17-goal haul in 2014.

Although he missed out on matching his previous record, his pride was plain to see.

“An unbelievable night, to win my third Champions League on penalties again, to be the top scorer in the competition again, I’m so proud,” said the Portuguese star, who won the trophy with Manchester United in 2008 — when he missed a penalty in the shoot-out — and with Real in 2014 when Atletico crashed to a 4-1 extra-time defeat.

“We work hard during the season to win this amazing trophy, so I’m so proud of my teammates, of the fans, families, of the coach.

“It’s my second year I scored more than 15 goals. The person with the season scoring record in this competition is me, with 17 goals (in 2014).

“And this year 16; or 17 with the penalty. What more can I ask for ?”

Two years after reviving Real’s bid for a 10th title, Real captain Sergio Ramos bundled home a close-range opener after just 15 minutes only for Yannick Carrasco to force extra time when he came off the bench to level for Atletico 11 minutes from the end.

Real spurned chances to secure the trophy in both periods of extra time, but kept their composure throughout a tense penalty shoot-out that went their way when Juanfran hit the post.

Ronaldo, he appeared to suggest, was never likely to miss.

“To be honest, I was confident I would score, I said to Zidane before the penalties, ‘put me the last one because I feel I’m going to score the winning goal, and this is what happened,” he said.

“I’m so proud to score the winning goal and to win the Champions League again.”

Ronaldo capped the celebrations with the trademark removal of his shirt, revealing a still muscular and toned physique, although after spurning a couple of real chances, the 31-year-old admitted his performance was far from perfect.

“It maybe wasn’t the best one, but who played unbelievable tonight? No one. It’s tough. It’s the end of the season, you don’t have power in your legs that you have at the beginning of the season.”

Zidane becomes just the seventh footballer to win the trophy as coach and player. In 2002, the Frenchman’s stunning volley was the match-winner in a 2-1 defeat of Bayer Leverkusen in Glasgow.

“I’m so proud to be part of this great club. It’s the club of my life, the one that made me who I am,” said Zidane.

Ronaldo, meanwhile, says there’s plenty more to come.

“I’m always there, in the top level. I still feel good, I still feel fresh, not tonight though!” he said.

“I showed the team that I’m there. For the good moments and the bad. This is what makes me feel proud.”

2014 victory has not sated Real’s thirst for glory – Ramos

May 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Captain Sergio Ramos believes Real Madrid are as hungry to beat Atletico Madrid in Saturday’s Champions League final as they were two years ago when they beat their neighbours to land a 10th European Cup.

Football Soccer - Real Madrid Press Conference - San Siro Stadium, Milan, Italy - 27/5/16Real Madrid's Sergio RamosReuters / Pool Pic / UEFA

It was Ramos who headed an injury-time equaliser to send the 2014 final into extra-time where Real overpowered a flattened Atletico 4-1 to end a 12-year wait for ‘La Decima’.

The defender said that night in Lisbon had done nothing to sate Real’s determination.

“If I was to write a film I would have scripted it like that but now we have to focus on this one and we have the same hunger, hope and excitement as we did before,” Ramos told a news conference on Friday.

“I wouldn’t change anything about the last final, destiny has been written and what has to happen tomorrow will happen.”

Atletico were caught out at the death in Lisbon and Ramos urged total concentration for his side on Saturday, warning that Diego Simeone’s outfit will be waiting to pounce on any momentary lapse from Real.

“Atletico are a team that will punish you in the one second you switch off, be it from a set piece or open play, so you have to have all your senses plugged in,” he added.

Simeone’s men are one of just two teams coach Zinedine Zidane has lost to since succeeding Rafael Benitez in January, the other being VfL Wolfsburg in the Champions League quarter-final first leg.

Zidane responded to that reverse by redeploying Brazilian Casemiro in defensive midfield, leading to a run of 12 straight league victories and the surge to a second final in three years.

“We are a bit better in every sense and, although that doesn’t mean anything in a final, we have done a huge amount of work,” Zidane said.

“I believe a lot in the work and what the players did to get here, it was phenomenal. We can’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, all we know is we’re prepared.”

Asked how his side would cope with Atletico’s intense style, Zidane added: “We’re going to run, run and run.”

Atletico oust Bayern to reach Champions League final

May 4, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Atletico Madrid reached the Champions League final on away goals on Tuesday after a 2-1 defeat at Bayern Munich, in which both sides missed a penalty, with the exhilarating tie finishing 2-2 on aggregate.

Britain Football Soccer - Bayern Munich v Atletico Madrid - UEFA Champions League Semi Final Second Leg - Allianz Arena, Munich - 3/5/16 Antoine Griezmann celebrates scoring the first goal for Atletico Madrid with Koke Reuters / Michaela Rehle Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

Atletico will play in the showpiece match for the second time in three seasons against either city rivals Real Madrid, who beat them in the 2014 final, or Manchester City, with the second semi-final scheduled for the Bernabeu on Wednesday.

Bayern’s exit ended their hopes of claiming a treble with Atletico going through to the May 28 final at the San Siro in Milan after winning the first leg 1-0 last week.

The Bavarians went ahead with a Xabi Alonso free kick just past the half-hour and could have scored again three minutes later but Thomas Mueller’s penalty was saved by Jan Oblak.

Atletico levelled through Frenchman Antoine Griezmann’s seventh goal of this season’s competition in the 54th, meaning Bayern would need at least two more goals to progress.

Bayern’s Poland striker Robert Lewandowski set up a dramatic finale with his 74th minute goal before Atletico’s Fernando Torres had an 85th minute spot kick saved by Manuel Neuer.

But it made no difference in the end as Bayern suffered a third straight elimination by a Spanish team at this stage in their three seasons under Pep Guardiola.

“They were better, but we scored an away goal, which was important. We need to keep grounded and first of all think of the Liga before the final,” said Griezmann, whose side are level on points with leaders Barcelona in the Spanish title race.

“We’re delighted. It was difficult, a really hard game, we had a great opponent in front of us and we had to both defend and try to score. That’s what we did,” he added.

Guardiola, in his final Champions League home game at Bayern before his move to Manchester City for next season, started with defender Jerome Boateng, back from a three-month injury break on Saturday, and Franck Ribery, himself back from injury.

With a newly-discovered intensity, the Bavarians were dominant in the first half, successfully navigating through the Spaniards’ high pressing game and grabbing their first chance with a Lewandowski header in the 12th minute.

“We are a bit lost for words,” said Neuer. “We played great football today, did everything we set out to do but it is bitter not to be travelling to Milan for the final.”

Atletico keeper Oblak was kept busy in the first half, with the tables turned and Bayern doing the pressing — having 12 shots compared to Atletico’s two by the half hour.

Alonso finally got the hosts a deserved lead in the 31st minute, his low free kick clipping Atletico’s Jose Maria Gimenez to cancel out Atletico’s first-leg advantage.

Bayern pushed for a second goal and thought they would have it when Javi Martinez was brought down by Gimenez in the box to earn a penalty three minutes later.

But Oblak saved Mueller’s spot kick and Atletico stunned the home crowd after the break when Griezmann linked up with Torres and charged through to beat Neuer with a fine finish.

With Bayern now on the backfoot and needing at least two more goals to advance, Atletico grew bolder and Juanfran’s shot on the hour sailed narrowly wide.

Lewandowski put Bayern back in front on the night with a close-range header to spark a dramatic finale but they could not find another goal and their Champions League hopes were over.

Guardiola out to end semi-final misery against Atletico

May 2, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Bayern Munich are desperate to avoid losing a third consecutive Champions League semi-final to Spanish opponents when they host Atletico Madrid on Tuesday but coach Pep Guardiola has his work cut out to end his time in Germany on a high.

Football Soccer - Bayern Munich v Borussia Moenchengladbach - German Bundesliga - Allianz-Arena, Munich, Germany 30/04/16 - Bayern Munich's coach Pep Guardiola reacts during the match. REUTERS/KAI PFAFFENBACH

Guardiola inherited the reigning European champions when he joined Bayern in 2013, but has endured successive semi-final failures since, falling to Real Madrid in 2014 and to his former club Barcelona last season.

His hopes of reaching a first Champions League final sincehis Barcelona side beat Manchester United 3-1 in 2011 were dented after Saul Niguez’s brilliant solo goal gave Atletico a 1-0 first-leg victory.

With Guardiola leaving for Manchester City at the season’s end, this is his last chance to conquer Europe with Bayern, who won the first of their five European Cups by defeating Atletico in the 1974 final.

“It’s not over yet, we still have a chance,” Guardiola told reporters. “If we lose it, you can kill me, but we still have a chance.”

Atletico coach Diego Simeone also believes the tie is open.

“Playing in Munich means they’ll have their fans supporting them, but we have the opportunity to score an away goal.”

“We need to be on fire on Tuesday,” said Thomas Mueller, who shone as Bayern were held 1-1 by Borussia Moenchengladbach on Saturday and were consequently made to wait for their fourth consecutive Bundesliga title.

Mueller’s return was one of eight changes from the Atletico match made by Bayern, who were boosted by the return of Jerome Boateng, who had not featured since January.

Arjen Robben, sidelined for two months with a hamstring injury, says that he is “fighting” to return this season but will miss out, while Guardiola confirmed he does not know whether Franck Ribery will recover from a back complaint.

“We’ll do everything we can to have Frank back,” said Guardiola, who is also without defender Holger Badstuber.

While Bayern were unconvincing on Saturday, Diego Simeone’s Atletico are finishing strongly in Spain, having won their last six league games and keeping four consecutive clean sheets.

They are level on points with La Liga leaders Barcelona after defeating Rayo Vallecano 1-0 on Saturday.

“It’ll be a close game like today’s match,” said Simeone after the Rayo game. “We’ll see who makes the most of their chances.”

Influential central defender Diego Godin returns from a hamstring injury, Yannick Ferreira Carrasco is also available and Tiago Mendes travels despite not yet being passed fit to play.

Saul stunner gives Atletico advantage over Bayern

April 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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A breathtaking individual goal from Saul Niguez put Atletico Madrid in the box seat in their Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich with a 1-0 victory in a tense first leg on Wednesday.

Football Soccer - Atletico Madrid v Bayern Munich - UEFA Champions League Semi Final First Leg - Vicente Calderon Stadium - 27/4/16 Saul Niguez celebrates with Koke after scoring the first goal for Atletico Madrid Reuters / Sergio Perez Livepic

The midfielder magically weaved his way through the Bayern defence and produced a low finish that went in off the post to put the home side in front after 11 minutes.

Diego’s Simeone’s superbly-drilled outfit then snuffed out Bayern’s threat and even came close to doubling their lead late on when Fernando Torres’s shot struck the post.

“It was a great game, everyone believed in their work. We put in a huge effort,” said Simeone, whose Atletico side have frequently been a scourge of more-fancied opponents with their disciplined rearguard frustrating Barcelona in the last round.

While Bayern’s David Alaba also hit the woodwork with a thumping drive, the result left Pep Guardiola’s side facing a huge task in next week’s return leg in Munich to avoid a third successive semi-final exit.

“I’m not happy with how we played,” said Guardiola, who is leaving Bayern in the close-season to join Manchester City.

“We started badly. The goal was a consequence of our slow play. We didn’t win even one battle.”

Atletico made an intense start in the first competitive meeting between the two sides since Bayern beat the Spaniards 4-0 in the 1974 European Cup final replay.

Saul drove them in front with a sensational run from the right, snaking inside and beating three players before fending off two more and bending the ball in off the far post with a flick of his left boot.

Bayern nearly equalised moments later when Arturo Vidal’s looping header beat Atletico keeper Jan Oblak, but Jose Gimenez rose to head the ball off the line.

Simeone’s side might have added another before the break when Antoine Griezmann bore down on goal before the Frenchman’s near-post shot was kicked away by Bayern keeper Manuel Neuer.

Bayern were more incisive in the second half. Alaba smashed the underside of the crossbar from 30 metres, and then Javi Martinez escaped his marker at a corner but could only glance the ball into the hands of Oblak.

Atletico soon regained control, leaving Bayern to try their luck from distance. Douglas Costa blasted over from 30 metres, and Vidal tried to surprise Oblak from range, but the Slovenian got across in time to parry.

Atletico almost doubled their lead with their only real chance of the second half.

Torres stormed into the box, took on a defender and tried to hook the ball into the far corner, hitting the post before Koke’s effort on the rebound was caught by Neuer.

The winners of the tie will face either Real Madrid or Manchester City in the final on May 28.

Guardiola in awe of Atletico’s ability to ‘win, win, win’

April 27, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola praised his Atletico Madrid counterpart Diego Simeone before Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final, first leg for being able to compete with Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Football Soccer - Bayern Munich training - Munich, Germany - 26/04/16. Bayern Munich's coach Pep Guardiola arrives for training prior to UEFA Champions League semi-final match against Atletico Madrid. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

Simeone led Atletico to a first La Liga title for 18 years in 2014, after winning the Europa League and King’s Cup in preceding seasons, and they are now in second place, level on points with Barca and a point above Real with three games left.

They also knocked Guardiola’s former club Barcelona, the Champions League favourites and holders, out of this season’s competition in the quarter-finals.

“The best title Atletico have achieved is that they are compared with Barcelona and Madrid, that’s Simeone’s greatest achievement,” Guardiola told a news conference on Tuesday.

“What they show is their consistency, that’s the most difficult thing, to win, win win. Normally only big teams do that, play three different competitions, game after game and win, win, win.

“The most difficult thing in sport is to win year on year. Anyone can win one year but to keep themselves at the top, that’s impressive.”

Guardiola’s Bayern also lost in the 2014 semis to eventual winners Real Madrid and the clash with Atletico is his last chance of reaching the Champions League final with the club before he takes charge at Manchester City for next season.

But the Spaniard said he was proud of his record in Germany, where he is on course to win a third straight Bundesliga title.

“I see it as good. In three years we’ve got to three semis. I know that people say if I don’t win the Champions League my work won’t be complete, but I’ve been very lucky to have experienced what I have in Germany,” added Guardiola.

“I think I’m a better coach, a better guy, more relaxed.”

While Bayern have their eyes on a sixth European Cup, the first of which came against Atletico in 1974, the Spaniards are looking for their maiden triumph in Europe’s elite competition, also losing in the 2014 final, to Real Madrid.

“Atleti know what we’re playing for tomorrow, not just to get to the final, we’re playing for a chance to enter the club’s history and the fans will respond to this,” said captain Gabi.

Fernando Torres added: “The club’s has its colours and values. What we try to do on the pitch is transmit them. We’re convinced that if you believe, you can and we are going to try and do it.”

Shell-shocked Barca level with Atletico after another defeat

April 18, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Barcelona’s stuttering title bid suffered another setback when they lost 2-1 at home to Valencia on Sunday, while Atletico Madrid moved level on points with the La Liga leaders after a comfortable win over Granda.

Football Soccer - Barcelona v Valencia - Spanish Liga BBVA - Camp Nou stadium, Barcelona - 17/4/16Barcelona's Ivan Rakitic fights for the ball against Valencia's Santi Mina. REUTERS/Albert Gea

Shell-shocked Barca have 76 points along with Atletico, who knocked the holders out of the Champions League in midweek, and remain top only due to a superior head-to-head record.

Atletico earlier eased to a 3-0 home win over Granada after Fernando Torres grabbed his fourth goal in as many games with Koke and substitute Angel Correa also got on the scoresheet.

Real Madrid, whose coach Zinedine Zidane said in February that the title race was over, thrashed Getafe 5-1 away on Saturday and stand just one point behind the leading pair,

An own goal by Barca midfielder Ivan Rakitic put Valencia ahead after 27 minutes at the Nou Camp and Santi Mina added a second just before halftime to stun the Barca supporters.

Lionel Messi scored his 500th career goal to reduce the deficit after 64 minutes but the struggling hosts, who have squandered a nine-point lead, could not find an equaliser.

Despite Barcelona registering a third successive league defeat for the first time since 2003, Luis Enrique remained upbeat about his team’s chances of winning the title.

“We’ve got a marvellous challenge, if we win the five games remaining we will be champions,” he told a news conference.

“Of course, our credit has run out and we are aware of the challenge. We’re going to approach it like a Barca player always does, with our heads held high.”

Barca humiliated a Valencia side coached by Gary Neville 7-0 in a King’s Cup semi-final game in February but had a much tougher time against successor Pako Ayesteran’s side and went behind when Guilherme Siqueira’s cross bounced off Rakitic and beyond Claudio Bravo.

Barcelona forwards Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar each had efforts saved by the impressive Diego Alves, but Valencia continued to cause the home side problems on the break.

Santi Mina increased the visiting side’s advantage just before halftime, receiving a pass from Dani Parejo and beating Bravo at the far post with a powerful driven effort.

Messi turned in a low cross from Jordi Alba to end a drought of five games without scoring and net his 500th career goal, but a second proved elusive for the hosts.

Valencia’s Alves produced a spectacular save to deny Rakitic late on and Barca defender Gerard Pique agonisingly missed the target at the near post in stoppage time.

“We were better than Valencia in every aspect apart from effectiveness. We’ve dropped three points that we could have taken fairly but football is like that,” added Luis Enrique.

Atletico, boosted by a 2-0 Champions League second-leg win over Barca on Wednesday which put them into the semi-finals, got off to an ideal start against struggling Granada when Koke drilled a loose ball into the net on 15 minutes.

Granada winger Ruben Rochina hit the post later in the half before Torres eased Atletico’s nerves by notching the second, latching onto a threaded pass by Koke to lift the ball over goalkeeper Andres Fernandez and into the far corner.

Argentine forward Correa came on to replace Atletico’s top scorer Antoine Griezmann and made the most of his cameo appearance by racing onto a pass from Saul Niguez down the left and tucking the ball into the far bottom corner.

Atletico will be without suspended captain Gabi for their trip to Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday, while Pique is banned for Barca’s visit to Deportivo La Coruna.

“We have the chance to put in a big performance in Bilbao next week and keep competing in the four games we have left,’ Atletico coach Diego Simeone said.

“It will be hard, but we will do what the fixture list demands and asks of us: win, win and win.”

Elsewhere on Sunday, Sevilla drew 1-1 at home to Deportivo La Coruna, Athletic Bilbao won 1-0 at Malaga to move up to fifth, and Rayo Vallecano moved five points clear of the relegation zone after beating fourth-placed Villarreal 2-1.

Barcelona stunned at fortress Atletico

April 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Holders Barcelona crashed out of the Champions League after being stifled by a brilliantly well-organised Atletico Madrid and undone by two goals from Antoine Griezmann in a 2-0 quarter-final second-leg defeat on Wednesday.

Football Soccer - Atletico Madrid v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg - Vicente Calderon Stadium - 13/4/16 Atletico's Antoine Griezmann celebrates scoring their first goal Reuters / Sergio Perez Livepic

Griezmann headed home Saul Niguez’s exquisite cross to give the home side the lead in the 36th minute and provide them with a platform from which they comfortably contained their uncharacteristically limp opponents to seal a 3-2 aggregate win.

The France forward scored again from the penalty spot with two minutes remaining, following a handball from Andres Iniesta, to complete a 3-2 aggregate victory that eliminated Barca at the quarter-final stage for the second time in three seasons.

Barcelona, who were bidding to become the first team to retain the Champions League, seem to have run out of steam at the end of the season, having won just one of their last five matches.

They have not looked the same side since their 39-game unbeaten run ended at the start of the month and they came into the Wednesday’s match on the back of a 1-0 defeat at Real Sociedad.

“I congratulate Atletico Madrid, they were better than us,” Barca coach Luis Enrique told reporters.

“We had control without creating much danger. The team wanted to retain the title, the fans did too, but today it was not to be. We are sad, of course.”

The Atletico supporters created a fervent atmosphere and the noise at kick-off spurred the hosts into a strong start, with Gabi blazing over and Yannick Carrasco and Griezmann testing Barca keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Atletico took the lead in the tie on away goals when Saul carved out a cross with the outside of his boot towards Griezmann who headed into the top corner.

“We never stopped believing, we never give up what we want to do,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said.

“It was lovely to watch from the touchline. These moments won’t come back because they are unique in football. After Griezmann doubled the lead from the spot, Barcelona still had two minutes plus stoppage time to find a goal that would have forced extra time and Lionel Messi nearly conjured a late leveller but sent a free kick over the bar.

“We were playing against one of the best teams in the world and we did ourselves proud, now we’re in the semi finals, among the top four teams in Europe,” Griezmann said.

“Our fans support us in every home game and push us to produce performances like tonight’s. This game belongs to them too.”

Atletico not fooled by Barcelona’s poor form, says captain Gabi

April 13, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Atletico Madrid captain Gabi said his team would not be lulled into complacency by Barcelona’s faltering form when they host the Champions League holders in the second leg of their quarter-final on Wednesday.

Football Soccer - Atletico Madrid news conference - Madrid, Spain - 24/11/15 Atletico Madrid's Gabi attends a news conference prior to their Champions League soccer match against Galatasaray. REUTERS/JUAN MEDINA

Luis Suarez’s second-half double in the first leg gave Barcelona a 2-1 lead in the tie after Fernando Torres opened the scoring for Atletico before being sent off in the first half.

That victory, however, was Barca’s only win in their last four matches in all competitions.

They are in the middle of their worst run in the league, with a draw and two defeats in their last three games, since Luis Enrique took charge in 2014.

“I’m not focussing on Barcelona’s run, Atletico want to fight against the best teams and tomorrow is the day to do something big against Barcelona and stay in this competition which we love so much,” Gabi told a news conference.

“The key is to control our emotions, play intelligently, we have known how to play these types of games for the last three or four years.”

Gabi also said that Lionel Messi’s run of four club matches in all competitions without a goal would not make it any easier to cope with the Argentine.

“It’s difficult to prepare yourself to play against Messi, I’m prepared to play against Barcelona,” said the midfielder.

“Messi tips the balance, with support we can stop him, although we know it will be difficult.”

Atletico knocked Barcelona out at the quarter-final stage in 2014 by winning the second leg at the Vicente Calderon 1-0, but coach Diego Simeone said the past would count for nothing on Wednesday.

“What happened before remains in the past,” he told a news conference.

“During the game similar situations to before can occur, but what happened before will not influence us before the game.”

The Argentine coach also said the support of the home crowd would not give his side an advantage.

“The game will be played by us,” he said.

“The game will be won by scoring one more goal than the opponent. The enthusiasm and atmosphere around us is fantastic but the Barcelona players will not be surprised by it.

“We have to do our own thing, the fans will respond as they always do and we will be on the pitch looking to qualify for the semi-finals.”

Misfiring Barcelona seek response at Atletico

April 12, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Barcelona can redress their stuttering domestic form by sealing their passage to the Champions League semi-finals when they visit Atletico Madrid on Wednesday.

Football Soccer - Barcelona training - Champions League - Joan Gamper training camp - Barcelona, Spain - 4/4/16. (L-R) Barcelona's Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic warm up during a training session. REUTERS/ALBERT GEA

Last season’s treble winners Barca are in their worst run of form in La Liga since coach Luis Enrique took charge in August 2014, losing their last two games to Real Madrid and Real Sociedad and drawing with Villarreal.

Although those results have seen their La Liga lead over second-placed Atletico cut to three points, Barca are still on track to become the first Spanish team to win the treble two years in a row, with the King’s Cup final against Sevilla coming up next month.

The visitors take a 2-1 lead from the first leg into the return match at the Vicente Calderon, Luis Suarez’s double having cancelled out Fernando Torres’ opener after the former Chelsea striker was sent off in the 35th minute.

“There’s no time for apologies or excuses, we need results. It’s not the time to sink low and think that we’re on a horrible run,” said Luis Enrique.

“There are reasons to be optimistic although the results have not been what we want.”

Thomas Vermaelen is out and Rafinha doubtful due to injury but Barca top scorer Suarez returns after the Uruguayan served a suspension.

Luis Enrique is also likely to recall Jordi Alba, Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic after starting them on the bench in the 1-0 defeat by Sociedad at the weekend.

The plan to rest those players ahead of the trip to Madrid backfired when 18-year-old Mikel Oiarzabal headed Sociedad in front in the fifth minute and Barca struggled to break down the opposition for the remainder of the game.

Despite having seven shots, Lionel Messi could not find a way through and the Argentine talisman has now gone 362 minutes without scoring, his longest drought with Barca since 2011.

Atletico are dreaming of a repeat of their 2014 quarter-final second leg against Barca when an early goal by Koke delivered a 1-0 win and 2-1 aggregate victory.

“The stadium will be buzzing. I’m sure it’s going to be a great night,” said midfielder Koke.

“The other day we couldn’t win because of circumstances but at home we’re going to turn it around.” Atletico defenders Jose Gimenez and Stefan Savic are doubtful while Tiago Mendes is definitely out and Torres suspended following his dismissal at the Nou Camp.

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