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La Liga roundup: Correa earns Atletico Madrid, Simeone second win of the year (video)

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Atletico Madrid’s hard-earned victory over Granda highlights La Liga’s Saturday action.

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Atletico Madrid 1-0 Granada

Prior to Atletico Madrid’s 1-0 victory over a visiting Granda on Saturday, the club had yet to record a league victory since January 4 against Levante at the Wanda Metropolitano.

A sixth-minute strike from Angel Correa proved to be the determining factor for Los Colchoneros. Koke, back on the field after recovering from injury, set up the 24-year-old inside the box with a soft pass. Correa, with a Granda defender in closing in, struck the ball into the bottom left corner.

 

With Diego Costa and Joao Felix inactive with injuries, Correa, who increased his goal tally to four, and Vitolo spearheaded Diego Simeone’s 4-1-2-1-2 formation. The seldom seen tandem paid it forward.

Heading into Saturday matchup on a five-match winless streak, the pressure was looming on Simeone. So much so that reports out of Spain began indicating the potential hiring of Mauricio Pochettino by Atletico’s brass.

With that in mind, Simone, more than Atletico, needed the win to stay afloat in a couple of different areas.

“There are quite a few positive situations,” Simeone said after Atletico’s 1-0 win on Saturday. “We were coming from a not good time. We needed to win first and foremost. And that always generates a responsibility rather than pressure. We are once again an extraordinary stadium that generated that energy that is needed to get out of these bad times.”

Simeone and Atletico will try to build on the crucial victory on Friday, as they travel to Mestalla to take on Valencia. Granda, on the other hand, take on Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey semifinals midweek before hosting Real Valladolid on Saturday.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Getafe 3-0 Valencia

Valladolid 1-1 Villarreal

Levante 2-0 Leganes

Struggling Atleti in unfamiliar territory under Simeone

Photo by Oscar J. Barroso / AFP7 / Europa Press Sports via Getty Images
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MADRID — This is uncharted territory for many Atletico Madrid fans.

Few other times in recent years have they seen their team struggle so much under Diego Simeone.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

Few other times have they seen their coach fail so often while trying to put the team back on track.

Atletico hit a new low under Simeone on Thursday when it was eliminated by third-division club Cultural Leonesa in the round of 32 of the Copa del Rey. The 2-1 loss in extra time was the team’s worst result in the cup competition since losing to third-tier club Albacete at the same stage in 2011-12.

Two days after that loss in 2011, Atletico hired the then-mostly unknown Simeone to replace Gregorio Manzano, a move that kick-started one of the club’s most successful eras and led to a Spanish league title, two Europa League trophies and two Champions League final appearances.

Atletico did go through difficult moments under Simeone, including when the team failed to advance past the group stage of the Champions League a couple of seasons ago.

“There were always complicated moments in past seasons, maybe after we didn’t make it in the Champions League, or when we lost in the Champions League finals,” Simeone said. “After being at the club for so long, things like this can happen, although they shouldn’t happen.”

There is a greater sense of urgency about the team’s struggles this time.

In addition to Wednesday’s embarrassing Copa del Rey elimination, Atletico lost the Spanish Super Cup final to Real Madrid on Jan. 12, and already is eight points off the Spanish league lead after 20 matches.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

Before, there used to be a notion that Simeone would quickly turn things around and put the team back on track, but this time there aren’t many signs things will improve again soon.

Atletico has yet to impress since undergoing its biggest squad revamp under Simeone at the end of last season, when it lost Antoine Griezmann and other veteran players such as Filipe Luis and Diego Godin. Young Portugal forward Joao Felix, who arrived to replace Griezmann after a transfer from Benfica worth more than 120 million euros ($133 million), has yet to meet expectations.

More concerning, Atletico is not being nearly as effective as it used to be, when it always seemed to find a way to win matches despite not playing well.

The team remains solid defensively — it has the second-best defense in the Spanish league with 14 goals conceded — but it hasn’t been able to do much in attack recently.

“Everything is harder when you can’t score,” Simeone said.

Only seven teams have scored fewer goals than Atletico’s 22 in the 20-team standings.

Diego Costa has been mostly out injured, and Victor “Vitolo” Machin and Alvaro Morata haven’t done much in attack. Morata is the team’s leading scorer with 10 goals in all competitions, and no one else has more than five.

“We have to be humble enough to be self-critical,” Simeone said. “We need to keep working to try to be ready for the challenges that we have ahead of us. We have a very good squad and I’m sure that the results that we want will start arriving soon.”

Atletico biggest chance to rebound will come next month against European champion Liverpool in the last 16 of the Champions League. The first leg will be on Feb. 18 in Spain.

Cavani linked to Atletico Madrid move

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Edinson Cavani is out of contract at Paris Saint-Germain this summer, but according to a new report, he could be set to leave Parc des Princes before that.

Italian journalist Gianluca di Marzio reports that Atletico Madrid has interest in bringing Cavani to the Spanish capital in the summer for free, and despite the possibility of a pre-contract agreement as soon as February, Atletico may look to strike earlier.

With the loss of lead striker Diego Costa with a neck injury, Atletico could look to pay for Cavani’s services early, and according to di Marzio, there’s already an agreement between the club and the player. Now Atletico Madrid must negotiate with PSG, a tall task given that Cavani is a fan favorite and the French side would likely not wish to part with the Uruguayan before giving him a proper send-off.

At 32 years old, Cavani has just two goals in eight Ligue 1 games this season and has shown serious signs of decline. He has also dealt with injuries this season, missing time due to hip and calf problems. Still, di Marzio’s report states that Cavani has already agreed to a three-year deal at Atletico Madrid and that is his preferred destination, whether the move comes in the winter or after the season.

Di Marzio’s report makes note of how Cavani was recently courted by the LA Galaxy who hoped El Matador could replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic as their talismanic striker, but now his only desire is to join Atletico, the report states.

La Liga roundup: Atletico Madrid win, go level on points with Barcelona (video)

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Atletico Madrid’s victory over Athletic Bilbao, inspired by Angel Correa’s genius, highlights La Liga’s Saturday action.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Atletico Madrid 4-2 Granada

Diego Simeone took what many would consider to be a gamble prior to Saturday’s first whistle: starting Angel Correa over Diego Costa, Atletico’s goal scoring machine.

By the 64th minute, however, everyone at the Wanda Metropolitana and Simeone himself knew that the right choice was made. Correa – a low light coming into Saturday’s game – contributed the assists on both goals that handed Los Colchoneros their fifth win of the season.

Early on, it was Jan Oblak to the rescue, as Athletic’s attack cracked the home side’s backline. Specifically, the Slovenian showed off his impeccable abilities when, Iñigo Martínez’s header from a corner kick set piece, was just tipped over the crossbar.

The Basque’s club dominance wouldn’t last long.

In the 28th minute, following some mesmerizingly quick faints inside the penalty box, Correa laid it off to Saul, who made no mistake and put it into the back of net. It was the start of the Argentine’s special night.

Following a slew of uninterrupted passes, it was Correa again making the penultimate effort. This time, his darting, crossing service within the box found a well-positioned Alvaro Morata, who gently tapped the ball into the back of the net.

With the postponement of El Clasico, which was done because Catalan separatists are planning another large rally in Barcelona, Atletico will share the podium with leaders Barcelona for at least a week after their win against Athletic Bilbao, who host Espanyol next.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Leganes 1-0 RCD Mallorca 

Valladolid 2-0 Eibar

Messi scores 1st goal of season as Barca beats Sevilla 4-0

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BARCELONA, Spain — Lionel Messi has ended his mini-scoring drought as Barcelona finds its winning stride.

Messi curled a left-footed free kick over the wall and into the net for his first goal of the season to wrap up Barcelona’s 4-0 win over Sevilla in the Spanish league on Sunday.

The soccer great thrust his finger in the air before pumping his fist in celebration after scoring in the 78th minute. Messi had gone scoreless in his previous four appearances after being sidelined for five games with injuries.

Messi’s 37th goal in 38 career meetings with Sevilla was also his first since he won his record sixth FIFA player of the year award last month.

“We know how important Leo is for this team and what he means to us,” Barcelona midfielder Arturo Vidal said. “If he is playing well it helps us a lot.”

Luis Suarez put Barcelona on the winning path for a second time this week after netting with a bicycle kick in the 27th despite Sevilla having dominated the game before then. On Wednesday, the Uruguay striker had sparked a 2-1 comeback over Inter Milan in the Champions League with a superb volley before he added a fine second goal.

Vidal and Ousmane Dembele added two more goals against Sevilla in the next 10 minutes to turn what had been a tightly contested start into a demolition.

After a stuttering start to the season while Messi was out injured, Barcelona’s fourth straight victory in all competitions lifted it into second place and two points behind leader Real Madrid. Barcelona will host Madrid on Oct. 26.

Atletico Madrid slipped to third – one point behind Barcelona – after being held 0-0 at Valladolid, its third scoreless draw in four rounds.

“It was a complicated match and the score by halftime was a bit exaggerated,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. “We had more firepower than they did. After scoring the first goal we created danger practically every time we reached their area.”

Barcelona finished with nine men after referee Mateu Lahoz sent off Ronald Araujo on his debut after making contact with Sevilla’s Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez with only the Barcelona goalkeeper to beat. Replays showed minor contact between the two players.

Demebele was then shown a direct red, for criticizing Lahoz’s decision by saying he was “very bad.”

NIGHT TO FORGET

The last time Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui came to Camp Nou, his Real Madrid team had been routed 5-1. He was fired a day later.

One year later, Lopetegui must have been at a loss to see his team trailing 3-0 at halftime after it had outplayed Barcelona in the first 25 minutes, largely thanks to Lucas Ocampos’ powerful runs down the right flank and on-target passes.

Sevilla’s Luuk De Jong, however, had a night to forget. After goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen made an excellent save against his point-blank shot off a pass by Ocampos, the striker had three glaring misses.

Lopetegui looked on in disbelief when De Jong’s header off another Ocampos cross failed to go in – a minute before Suarez whipped in Nelson Semedo’s cross at the other end.

De Jong’s bad Fortune continued after halftime when he stole the ball to leave himself in a perfect position, only to hit the post. He has yet to score since joining Sevilla in the offseason.

“It was a painful and undeserved loss,” Lopetegui said. “We were missing our finishing touch. De Jong did a lot of things very well, just as the team did, but to win at Camp Nou you have to play well and have a bit of luck.”

TOOTHLESS ATTACK

Atletico’s three-prong attack of Joao Felix, Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata wasn’t able to unsettle the modest Valladolid.

Atletico coach Diego Simeone sent on Angel Correa and Thomas Lemar for Felix and Morata, but they only slightly improved the attack. Atletico’s best scoring chance came in the 82nd when substitute Correa hit the upright.

Valladolid striker Sandor Ramirez squandered his side’s only good opportunity in the first half when he sent a penalty kick, that he had earned, high over the crossbar.

“It was very hard game, they play very well as a tight unit,” Simeone said. “(It was) a game that ended in a draw that we didn’t want, but we gave it our all.”

OTHER GAMES

Getafe fought back once Real Sociedad was reduced to 10 men to win 2-1 in San Sebastian, leaving Sociedad in fifth place just ahead of Sevilla.

Iago Aspas broke his seven-game scoring drought and gave Celta Vigo a 1-0 win over Athletic Bibao.

Espanyol fell second to last after losing 2-0 at Mallorca.