Antoine Griezmann

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Simeone to face tough challenge without Griezmann, Godin

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MADRID (AP) More than ever, Diego Simeone will be put to the test as Atletico Madrid coach.

Simeone will begin next season facing the difficult challenge of keeping Atletico competitive after the departure of its biggest star, Antoine Griezmann, and other players who have been key to the team’s success in recent years.

He will also be without captain Diego Godin and defender Lucas Hernandez, and most likely will have to deal with the absence of players such as Juanfran Torres and Filipe Luis, who could be announcing their departures in the coming weeks.

Simeone will suddenly find himself having to put together a team without his core players, making his upcoming offseason work crucial to keep Atletico in contention for the top titles in European football.

The hardest player to replace will be, by far, Griezmann, the forward who last year won the World Cup with France and finished third in the Ballon d’Or vote for world’s best player.

Simeone has constantly talked about Griezmann’s importance for Atletico, saying he is the player who sets the tone for the team in attack. He is among the few indisputable starters, having scored more than 130 goals in five seasons at the club.

Simeone appeared to be caught by surprise by Griezmann’s decision, saying a few days ago he didn’t fear losing the player in the upcoming transfer window.

“Simeone is disappointed, like everybody else,” Atletico president Enrique Cerezo told Radio Marca. “But (Griezmann) had made up his mind and there was no way to convince him otherwise.”

Griezmann had a contract with Atletico until 2023 with a reported buyout clause of 200 million euros ($224 million), but the clause will be automatically reduced to about 120 million euros ($134 million) this offseason. Griezmann did not say where he will be next season, but Atletico rival Barcelona was reportedly among the front-runners to sign the Frenchman.

Atletico’s attacking chores will fall on the recently signed Alvaro Morata and the veteran Diego Costa, who endured a season marred by injuries and lackluster performances. Victor “Vitolo” Machin and Nikola Kalinic are the other options for Simeone up front, with Angel Correa and Saul Niguez remaining as his attacking midfielders.

The defense is where Atletico has thrived over the years, but this time the changes will be significant, especially in the absence of Godin, who came to the team before Simeone arrived at the end of 2011. The 33-year-old Uruguayan defender, who is expected to join Inter Milan, has played 388 matches in nine seasons for Atletico, helping the club win the Spanish league, two Europa Leagues, three UEFA Super Cups, a Spanish Super Cup, and a Copa del Rey.

Hernandez is on his way to Bayern Munich next season, while both fullbacks, Torres and Filipe Luis, are not expected to renew their contracts. Simeone faces revamping nearly the entire defense. Jose Gimenez will likely remain as a central defender along with youngster Francisco Montero, while Santiago Arias will take over the right back position.

The midfield may not escape unscathed either, as there are rumors about offers from top clubs for young midfielder Rodrigo “Rodri” Hernandez, who arrived this season and immediately became a regular starter. Staying in the team will be Thomas Lemar, Partey Thomas and Jorge “Koke” Resurreccion, who should gain a greater role within the squad as a veteran, along with goalkeeper Jan Oblak.

The entire team, including Griezmann, on Thursday practiced for Atletico’s final game of the season at Levante on Sunday in the Spanish league. Atletico has pride to play for as it has already secured a second straight runner-up finish in the league.

The final whistle will mean time to rest for most, but for Simeone, the work will be just starting.

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Griezmann informs Atleti he wants to leave, so he will leave

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Antoine Griezmann has officially taken the most important step toward forcing through a transfer away from Atletico Madrid.

[ SEASON REVIEW: Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal ]

The Frenchman has informed Atleti that he will not continue as a Rojiblanco beyond Saturday’s 2018-19 final, the club announced on Tuesday. The club also posted a video in which Griezmann thanked the Atleti fans for “an incredible five years. Thank you very much for everything, I take you in the heart,” he said.

Reports have long linked Griezmann with a $135-million move to Barcelona, a deal which might very well already be agreed. An announcement revealing more about Griezmann’s future is expected in the coming days.

[ SEASON REVIEW: Man United, Wolves, Everton, Leicester, West Ham ]

Atleti played their final home game of the season on Sunday, a moment which was reserved for tribute to outgoing captain Diego Godin following his nine-year service to the club. It appears that Griezmann and Atleti timed their joint announcement so as to not take away from Godin’s deserved celebration.

At the very least, Griezmann has done well to balance his personal ambition with a healthy respect for the day-to-day operations of the club. He will go down as one of Atleti’s greatest players, and an amicable departure — even if he’s headed to Barcelona — should keep him in good stead with the club’s fans.

Must-See Goal: Pogba beautiful assist to Griezmann

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Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann seem to have a great relationship off the field, and that chemistry showed on the field on Friday.

Pogba produced a delightful chip into the box and Griezmann smashed home a strike on the volley to give the France National Team a 1-0 lead at the time over Moldova in UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying action. It was actually a give-and-go, as Griezmann started the move before darting into the box and scoring. But Pogba’s pass kept the entire Moldova team entranced on the ball, and Griezmann was wide open for the finish.

Perhaps Manchester United could attempt to sign Griezmann, and unite the pair at club level. Based on this goal, it may not be the worst idea, if Man United can afford Griezmann.

Watch the video below.

Mbappe, Neymar reportedly won’t try to leave PSG

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Two of the world’s brightest attacking stars look set to stay in Paris for another season, says ESPN.

Kylian Mbappe and Neymar will not angle to leave Paris Saint-Germain in the summer despite big money interest from Real Madrid, who is in the market to spend big on some Galacticos to play with Vinicius Junior.

[ MORE: PL Player of Year candidates ]

The report says Financial Fair Play concerns will dictate a number of sales, with Giovani Lo Celso, Jese Rodriguez, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Thomas Meunier, Layvin Kurzawa, and Christopher Nkunku speculated as possible exits.

Meanwhile, AS reports that PSG is interested in Antoine Griezmann should it get a suitable bid for either Mbappe or Neymar.

It would make some sense for PSG. At 27, Neymar has been fabulous while healthy but has missed long stretches of each of the last two seasons with injury.

Les Parisiens could replace him with Griezmann, a French World Cup hero, who carries a $226 million release clause which AS says will not be negotiated by Atletico Madrid. How much more would Neymar cost Real than that? He went for around $254 million in 2017.

How much different will PSG look next year? Adrien Rabiot seems certain to leave the Parc des Princes, and Meunier is the only player mentioned by AS getting serious minutes under Thomas Tuchel.

What seems more likely is PSG sell its superfluous pieces and put a focus on developing its young players in Ligue 1 play with Neymar, Mbappe, Cavani, and Marco Verratti focusing their eyes on the Champions League

La Liga: Atletico Madrid win again to keep pressure on Barcelona

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ FA CUPSETS: West Ham bounced by third-tier Wimbledon | Millwall oust Everton ]

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Getafe

Atleti extended their unbeaten run to 18 games with a straightforward 2-0 victory over sixth-place Getafe on Saturday. As they’ve now done three straight weekends, Diego Simeone’s side cut Barcelona’s title lead to just two points ahead of the defending champions’ fixture. Each of the last two weeks, Barca have taken the field on Sunday and restored their five-point advantage.

Antoine Griezmann opened the scoring with a left-footed strike from the edge of the box in the 27th minute, followed by Saul Niguez’s tap-in of a rebound from Nikola Kalinic’s initial effort in the 37th.

Sevilla 5-0 Levante

Sevilla hammered 11th-place Levante for five goals to snap their four-game winless skid (two straight losses) and reclaim third place — for the time being — from Real Madrid.

Pablo Machin’s side got five goals, all in the second half, from five different goalscorers — Wissam Ben Yedder (48th minute), Andre Silva (60th), Franco Vazques (71st), Pablo Sarabia (80th) and Qunicy Promes (90th).

Elsewhere in La Liga

Leganes 2-2 Eibar
Valencia 3-0 Villarreal

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Real Valladolid v. Celta Vigo — 6 a.m. ET
Girona v. Barcelona — 10:15 a.m. ET
Real Sociedad v. Huesca — 12:30 p.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao v. Real Betis — 12:30 p.m. ET
Espanyol v. Real Madrid — 2:45 p.m. ET