Diego Simeone

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Champions League Weds. preview: Two spots remain

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Only two spots remain in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds, and those will be settled Wednesday afternoon.

In Group C, hosts Shakhtar Donetsk need to beat Atalanta to go through, while the visitors can also go through with a win if Dinamo Zagreb fails to defeat Man City.

[ MORE: Ancelotti reportedly speaking w/ Everton ]

In Group D, Atletico Madrid is through with a win over Lokomotiv Moscow, though Bayer Leverkusen can complete a remarkable comeback from an 0-3 start to the group stage if they beat already-qualified Juve and Atleti loses to their Russian visitors.

You certainly wouldn’t be against Diego Simeone there, though.

“Tomorrow is a great opportunity, every day that you wear the Atletico shirt is,” Simeone said, via Marca. “I believe in my team, in the humility that they have at the moment. The results will come based on what they are demonstrating on the field.”

Premier League sides Man City and Tottenham Hotspur both have their fortunes settled, with City having won Group C and Spurs settled into Group B’s second spot, but they still have plenty to figure out on Tuesday.

Jose Mourinho’s Spurs are going up against a Bayern team that walloped them at home, while City is living an unusual 2W-3D-2L lull in form.

Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League action

12:55 p.m. ET
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Atalanta
Dinamo Zagreb v. Man City

3 p.m. ET
Club Brugge v. Real Madrid
Atletico Madrid v. Lokomotiv Moscow
Bayer Leverkusen v. Juventus
Paris Saint-Germain v. Galatasaray
Olympiacos v. Red Star Belgrade
Bayern Munich v. Tottenham Hotspur

La Liga roundup: Messi, Barcelona stunned by inspired Granada (video)

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Granada’s shocking 2-0 win over Barcelona and subsequent rise to the top of the table headlines Saturday’s La Liga action.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Granada 2-0 Barcelona

Not even Lionel Messi, who made his season debut on Saturday, was able to save Barcelona against a red-hot Granada.

Granada, who are off to their best start in their 88 years of existence, had a perfect night in front of their supporters, convincingly getting past a Barcelona that dominated possession, but lacked the offensive ingenuity needed to score.

Barcelona’s defense wasn’t noteworthily robust, either.

Two minutes in, the newly promoted side scored through a headed goal from Ramon Azeez, following a defensive turnover from Junior Firpo.

Unable to record a shot on target in the first half and looking to wakeup a dormant attack, Barcelona brought on wonderkid Ansu Fati and Lionel Messi at halftime. Despite the duo connecting on several occasion and generating a shot on target, it wasn’t enough to get past Rui Silva.

In the 66th minute, following video review, substitute Alvaro Badillo converted from the spot, handing Granada their third win of the season.

Atop of La Liga, Granada set their sights on Real Valladolid, while Barcelona, who are off to their worst league start in 25 years, host Villarreal at Camp Nou.

Atletico Madrid  0-0 Celta Vigo

For a second consecutive week, Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid dropped points, drawing with Celta Vigo 0-0 at Wanda Metropolitano.

Tied with league leaders Granada and Sevilla with 10 points, the alarm bells are far from going off in Madrid. However, as Saturday’s performance showed, los Colchoneros are having trouble finishing chances this season, despite fielding an attack with the likes of Joao Felix, Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata.

In five games, Atletico have managed to score only five goals, six fewer than leaders Granada. Against Celta, Atletico registered 20 shots, five on target, but were unable to crack a stellar Ruben Blanco, who registered five saves.

Leveled with Granada and Sevilla, Atletico Madrid look to get back into winning ways as they take on RCD Mallorca. Elsewhere, Celta Vigo, who have won win after five games, host Espanyol next.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Villarreal 2-0 Real Valladolid

Levante 0-0 Eibar

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.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

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Ronaldo learns fine for mocking Simeone with groin grab

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Diego Simeone was fined around $23,000 for his groin-centered celebrations when Atletico Madrid beat Juventus in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League tie, and now Cristiano Ronaldo has been nipped the same fee for the same gesture.

Ronaldo’s came on the field following his hat trick, as Juve stormed back to thump Simeone’s Atleti and march on to the UCL quarterfinals.

[ MORE: Hazard, Real, and the back-up plan ]

Charged by UEFA earlier this week, Ronaldo has now learned his punishment. It’s almost $1000 more.

How will he afford it?!!?!?! He reportedly makes just under $700,000 per week.

To be fair, it couldn’t be exactly the same price, given the sentiment behind such a fine is that it’s mean to rile up a crowd. Ronaldo’s move would’ve been viewed as a slight at Simeone and hence just a bit more of an antagonistic one.

Doubts about Simeone surface after Atleti’s defensive tactics fail

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MADRID (AP) For quite a while now, Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone has been able to count on some of the best players in the world.

Stars like Antoine Griezmann and Diego Godin have stayed with the club despite big offers from rivals, and Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata have been added.

The financial gap between Atletico and the top European teams has been reduced significantly in recent years, and the club has gradually grown into one of the continent’s main forces, providing Simeone near-perfect conditions to do his job.

Long gone is the time Atletico was just a mid-level team trying to sporadically surprise the European powerhouses.

But one thing that hasn’t changed as Atletico evolved was Simeone’s vision of soccer and how it should be played. No matter the circumstances and no matter the players, Simeone’s teams will always have a defensive-minded footprint. His teams will always rely first on defense before making any consideration about attacking.

It’s a formula that has worked most of the time – that’s how Atletico made it to two Champions League finals and won the Spanish league over Barcelona and Real Madrid.

But the team’s embarrassing performance in a 3-0 loss to Juventus on Tuesday, a result that eliminated the club in the round of 16 of the Champions League, gives some fuel to those who think Atletico could be playing differently and succeeding more often than it is under Simeone’s tactics and his current players.

With a 2-0 advantage from the first leg, it was expected for Atletico to fall back on defense in Turin. But the way it happened was demoralizing, with Simeone’s team barely getting near Juventus’ area and never having a realistic chance of withstanding the onslaught brought on by the hosts. Cristiano Ronaldo, who so often hurt Atletico while playing with Real Madrid, scored a hat trick to eliminate the Spanish club from the competition.

After reaching at least the quarterfinals in four straight seasons, Atletico was eliminated early for the second consecutive year. It didn’t even make it past the group stage last season.

Atletico had no shots on goal the entire game on Tuesday, with Alvaro Morata’s first-half header over the crossbar being the closest the team came to scoring. An away goal by the Spanish club would have made it much harder for Juventus to overcome the first-leg deficit.

“I don’t think it was lack of commitment or lack of character,” Simeone said. “They were just better than us and we have to congratulate them. We have to put our heads down and try to understand how we can improve for the future.”

The only thing left for Atletico this season is the Spanish league, and it trails leader Barcelona by seven points with 11 matches left. It was eliminated by Girona in the round of 16 of the Copa del Rey in January.

The 48-year-old Simeone, who last month had his contract extended until 2022, arrived in December 2011 and led Atletico to the Europa League title that same season.

Sticking to his defense-first formula, the Argentine eventually helped Atletico win two UEFA Super Cups, the Copa del Rey, the Spanish league, the Spanish Super Cup and another Europa League. The team lost in the Champions League final to Real Madrid in 2014 and 2016, and was eliminated by the same team in the 2017 semifinals.

The recent setbacks are not likely to change Simeone’s style, and fans don’t expect it to happen anytime soon, if ever.

“What I can tell Atletico fans is that we will keep working hard,” Simeone said. “We have to pick ourselves up and try to keep improving.”