Atletico Madrid

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Atletico Madrid eyeing Lacazette, reportedly could swap Lemar

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Atletico Madrid is looking to buttress its bid to win La Liga with an Arsenal forward, according to multiple reports

Alexandre Lacazette is the man in question, and he had been linked with Atleti when he signed with the Gunners in 2017.

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Lacazette, 28, has a contract at Arsenal through the 2021/22 season and has scored 42 goals with 20 assists in 107 appearances. Thirty-two of those goals have come in the Premier League to go with 17 assists.

Italian reporter Tancredi Palmeri says Atleti has made contact with Arsenal, while Marca says the Gunners will be tempted by a longtime rumored target of their own. The same report says that Lacazette is the club’s “Plan B” for Edinson Cavani.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer deals ]

That’s Thomas Lemar, who landed in Madrid after a celebrated career at Monaco. Now 24, the World Cup-winning left wing has yet to record a goal or an assist in 21 matches this season.

Does it make sense? That depends on Mikel Arteta‘s plans for the strike force, which is loaded with playmakers like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mesut Ozil, Nicolas Pepe, and a bevy of promising youngsters.

Madrid plays Atlético in Super Cup final in Saudi Arabia

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JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — The Spanish capital’s two soccer powerhouses will face off on Sunday thousands of kilometers from Madrid in the final of the new-look Spanish Super Cup.

Real Madrid plays Atletico Madrid in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to decide the winner of the first edition of a revamped tournament.

The Spanish federation expanded the competition to four teams – instead of two – and moved it from the start of the season to its midpoint. The federation was not deterred by human rights activists and European football’s governing body who criticized it for taking the mini-competition to Saudi Arabia on a three-year deal reportedly worth 120 million euros ($134 million).

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin had recommended for European soccer teams not to play in countries “where the basic rights of women are not respected.”

Spanish federation president Luis Rubiales has tried to deflect the criticism by highlighting that opening the games to women spectators was part of the deal to play in the country.

Coach Ernesto Valverde, whose Barcelona team was beaten by Atletico 3-2 in Thursday’s semifinal, has publicly said that the games are about making more money.

Amnesty International organized a small peaceful protest in front of the Saudi Arabia embassy in Madrid on Wednesday to call for the release of women activists who have been fighting for their rights in Saudi Arabia.

On the field, and despite the limited interest the games have drawn back in Spain, the semifinals offered some exciting contests. Madrid showed off the quality of its midfielders to overcome injuries to its forwards in a 3-1 win over Valencia on Wednesday, while Atletico stunned Barcelona with two late goals.

Traditionally the Super Cup was the league vs. cup winner. Barcelona won last season’s Liga, while Valencia claimed the Copa del Rey.

Madrid will still be without the injured Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard. Against Valencia, manager Zinedine Zidane successfully experimented with a line-up loaded with five midfielders, and three of them- Toni Kroos, Francisco “Isco” Alarcon and Luka Modric – found the net.

Zidane, however, was tight-lipped over whether he would repeat the formula against Atletico at the King Abdullah stadium.

“I am not going to tell you how we are going to play,” Zidane said Friday. “The important thing is that we play on the attack, not with a certain scheme. The important thing is to have a balanced side.”

This will be the third time the crosstown rivals have met since the end of last season. Atletico embarrassed Madrid 7-3 in a preseason game in the United States in July. They then drew 0-0 at Atletico’s stadium in a Spanish league match in September.

Atletico coach Diego Simeone said that his two most in-form players, goalkeeper Jan Oblak and forward Angel Correa, have recovered from knocks they received against Barcelona. Oblak made several saves to keep his team alive against Lionel Messi’s Barcelona until Alvaro Morata and Correa struck to flip the score.

“Madrid is a team that we know very well,” Simeone said. “They transmit the sensation that they have to win, and then they do so. We are both teams that are extremely motivated to win this cup and we will both use all our weapons to win this game.”

Valverde questioned after another late collapse by Barcelona

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Barcelona had once again played great, led through goals by Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann, yet still managed to let it slip away.

Barcelona squandered one of its best performances of the season by conceding two late goals to Atletico Madrid, falling 3-2 in the semifinals of the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia.

Messi had equalized after Jorge “Koke” Resurreccion scored for Atletico, and Griezmann put Barcelona deservedly ahead 2-1. But the goalkeeping of Jan Oblak, Atletico’s star this season, kept Barcelona out the rest of the way while Alvaro Morata leveled with a penalty kick in the 82nd minute and Angel Correa completed the dramatic turnaround in the 86th.

For Barcelona, the chance to add a minor trophy from a mini-tournament played thousands of miles away is not the main worry. The concern is Barcelona’s odd knack of losing control of games that look like a sure victory. Whether it’s a question of overconfidence, a lack of fitness or just momentary lapses that cost the team dearly, the pressure is on coach Ernesto Valverde.

Messi and other team leaders defended Valverde, whose very good overall record at Barcelona has been blemished by shocking defeats.

“It’s normal that when you lose and don’t reach your objectives, and when our fans see that the team is not playing like they would like, that people talk and say things,” Messi said. “We have to be more united than ever, remain a strong group and get through this.

“This year will we try to play like we did today (before the late goals) and not commit childish errors like those we committed today.”

Barcelona’s loss at the King Abdullah Sports City on Thursday came five days after it conceded an 88th-minute equalizer at Espanyol in the Spanish league. The late goal by Wu Lei also came on a desperate counterattack similar to both of Atletico’s late attacks that led to goals, when Barcelona’s backline was out of sync and let a pass through to a player with only goalkeeper Neto to beat. Wu’s goal ruined a superb match by Luis Suarez, who had scored with a fine touch and made a difficult pass for an assist.

Suarez also backed Valverde on Thursday by taking the blame for the stumble against Atletico.

“This loss shows we have room to improve,” the Uruguay striker said. “It shows us that there are mistakes that we can’t make because we were in charge of the game and we let them mount counterattacks. But the coach is not at fault; they were mistakes that we made.”

Barcelona has drawn three of its last four league matches, but still lead the competition on goal difference ahead of Real Madrid. The team was leading before finishing 2-2 at Real Sociedad last month; lost 3-1 at Levante after Messi had put them ahead in November; and gave up a goal in the 81st in a 2-2 draw at Osasuna in August.

Those setbacks would not be as worrisome for Barcelona if the team had not completely collapsed in the Champions League in recent seasons, most recently a humiliating 4-0 loss at Liverpool after winning the first leg of the semifinals 3-0. Valverde’s job was then in even more jeopardy at the end of last season after Barcelona lost the Copa del Rey final to Valencia, casting a shadow of doubt over the Spanish league champions. Club president Josep Bartomeu, however, has stuck by the former player who is known for his intelligence and unflappable attitude.

Valverde is in his third season at Barcelona. He has won back-to-back Spanish league titles and one Copa del Rey final. A European Cup has eluded him.

Valverde said he was used to the criticism as part of a job that was never secure.

“We coaches always work with the idea of giving it our all to each match,” Valverde said. “We know how soccer is and that there is a permanent instability in teams when you are not getting good results or when you lose. Now that we have lost I suppose people will talk about it, but I remain focused on my job.”

Valverde’s next job is to prepare for the visit of Granada on Jan. 19.

In the meantime, Atletico will face crosstown rival Real Madrid in the Super Cup final on Sunday.

Atletico Madrid comes back to stun Barcelona, set up derby final

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We’ve got a Madrid Derby in Saudi Arabia.

Atletico Madrid outlasted Barcelona in a thrilling Spanish Super Cup semifinal on Thursday, the Blaugranas defense a second half shambles.

All five goals came in the second half of a 3-2 decision, Atleti earning a spot opposite Real Madrid in Sunday afternoon’s final.

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Real routed Valencia in the other semifinal.

Atleti is looking for its first Supercup since 2014, while Real won its 10th in 2017. Only Barcelona (13) has won more.

Koke had given Atleti the shot at a Madrid Derby final, but Barca answered well.

Former Atleti man Antoine Griezmann headed in a rebound after Lionel Messi supplied the equalizer with a quick-witted shot in traffic.

Gerard Pique tapped in a would-be third goal after Messi teamed up with Arturo Vidal for a clever free kick routine, but VAR overturned the call.

Atleti then won a penalty on a reckless challenge from Barca goalkeeper Neto, and Morata converted the chance. The Madrid side looked to have a second penalty in three minutes when Morata’s cross appeared to strike the hand of Pique, but VAR did not see a conclusive error.

Barca’s defense remained wide open, however, and Angel Correa raced past the back line and powered a shot through Neto’s hands to make it 3-2 in the 86th.

Messi now has 16 goals and nine assists in 20 matches this season. He has 13 goals and five assists in 18 Super Cup matches.

Report: Real Madrid, Flamengo agree on $39M fee for starlet Reinier

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The next Vinicius Junior is on his way to the Spanish capital.

Flamengo forward Reinier will join the Real Madrid later this month for a fee of $39 million, according to Goal.com.

Highly-rated Reinier, who will turn 18 on January 19, is set to follow in the footsteps of Vinicius Junior after nixing the opportunity to sign for Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.

The Brazilian and Spanish giants will wait to announce the deal until the Brazil under-23 ace turns 18, which came at half of the price that Flamengo were originally asking for ($78 million), per the report.

Flamengo will receive 80 percent of the transfer fee, while the player and his representative will receive the rest.

In November, Reinier renewed his contract with the Copa Libertadores champions, extending his stay in Rio de Janiero until 2024.

The 17-year-old scored six goals in 14 appearances in league play, helping Flamengo lift the Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A title.

In July, Reinier made his first-team debut with Flamengo against Emelec in a Copa Libertadores bout. He’s expected to be an integral part of Brazil’s under-23 team, who look to claim one of the two spots available for 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan over the summer.