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Cholo Rajavi

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Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone insists LaLiga leaders Barcelona are still not as good as Real Madrid.

Barcelona visit Atletico's new Wanda Metropolitano home for the first time on Saturday night with a five-point lead over second-placed Sevilla.

Ernesto Valverde's table-toppers have opened their campaign with seven straight wins.

Barcelona are six points clear of fourth-placed Atletico and seven ahead of champions Real, who have made a stuttering start to the season.

But Atletico boss Simeone told a pre-match press conference: "Barcelona are one of the best teams in the world, but Real Madrid are better now.
"(Barca) Have reinvented themselves after the departure of Neymar. They do not stop wanting to win. They have a winning gene, they do not get tired."

Atletico have not beaten Barcelona in 14 league games - a run stretching back to February 2010.

Simeone has lost eight of his 11 league games since his appointment in December 2011, but he insists Atletico have always done themselves justice in the fixture.

"We have not beaten Barcelona in the league, but we've always played well against them," Simeone said.
"We tied the most important one, that was the one that gave us LaLiga (in 2013-14) and we have knocked them out twice in the Champions League. They did not beat us by chance, they are very good. But we have been more forceful in the Champions League and let's hope we can end that run in LaLiga."

Barcelona are averaging over three goals a game in LaLiga this season and Lionel Messi has tormented Atletico down the years.

Messi has scored 27 goals in 34 games against the Rojiblancos and fired Argentina into the World Cup finals in midweek with a hat-trick in Ecuador.

Fellow Argentinian Simeone said: "I watched the Argentina match. Messi had that night that all Argentines wanted and asked for. For some who did not believe in him, he proved that he is the best in the world."

Atletico defenders Filipe Luis and Lucas Hernandez missed the goalless draw at Leganes before the international break, but both players have recovered from their hamstring injuries and are available.

Barca pair Andries Iniesta and Luis Suarez are fit after niggles and boss Valverde told reporters: "We know how important the game is.

"Atletico are candidates for the league title, they are tough to break down and score against. They defend as a unit and are disciplined. It is a big game and the Wanda Metropolitano will have a spectacular atmosphere."

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said on Friday he does not know when Gareth Bale will return from his latest calf problem as he faced repeated questions about the Wales international's future at the European champions.

Bale sustained the injury towards the end Real's 3-1 win at Borussia Dortmund on Sept. 26 in which he had played a starring role to answer many of his critics in the Spanish media.

It was the eighth time he had damaged his left calf muscle since joining Real from Tottenham Hotspur in 2013 and his 10th calf problem since he moved to Spain.

Real originally said Bale's fitness problems in Dortmund were related to cramp and allowed him to go on international duty with Wales.
Scans, however, soon revealed he had injured his calf and forced him out of Wales's World Cup qualifiers against Georgia and Ireland.

Real later released a medical report stating Bale had a swollen calf but had not torn the muscle.

It did not give an estimated date for his return, and Zidane was unable to clarify the situation.

"I can't say when he'll be back, but he's better, I can't say if he'll return in a week or 10 days, we'll have to see," Zidane told a news conference on Friday ahead of Real's visit to Getafe in La Liga.

"He's getting better every day. He had two problems, one in Dortmund when he only seemed a bit worn out, and then he had a different problem with his calf. Now we have to take it easy with him and be patient."
Bale is ruled out of Saturday's short trip to Getafe and unlikely to feature against former side Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League on Tuesday, while he is also a doubt for the return game against Mauricio Pochettino's side on Nov. 1.

Real are fifth in the Liga standings, seven points behind leaders Barcelona.

Bale, 28, has missed a third of Real's games since he joined the club in a then world record move for 100 million euros ($118 million).

He had to watch most of last season's Liga and Champions League winning double campaign from the sidelines due to a long lay off with an ankle injury and subsequent calf problems and later said he regretted rushing back too early after surgery on his ankle.

"Bale is the one who is most upset about this because he hates to be away from the team. I hope he returns quickly and plays like he did in Dortmund," Zidane said.

Mauricio Pochettino has hit back at Pep Guardiola's assessment of Tottenham as 'the Harry Kane team' by pointing out he never called his Barcelona side 'the Lionel Messi team'.

Pochettino also branded Guardiola's comments, made before the international break, as "very disrespectful" and "sad" but insisted his Spurs players only laughed when they heard the Manchester City manager's remark.

Kane has scored 11 goals in his last six appearances for Tottenham, and Guardiola, speaking a fortnight ago after City had just beaten Chelsea, said: "We saw again the Harry Kane team scores every day two or three goals."
On Friday, Pochettino said: "That didn't affect me but the reality is it was very disrespectful for many people.

"It's difficult to understand because he was part of the big success at Barcelona with Messi at his best, and I never said it was 'the Messi team'. I always said it was Barcelona or Pep Guardiola.

"I think everyone deserves to be recognised as part of the success of the team. But I think many people took those words as very disrespectful for the club, and for many players that are here I think it's a strange situation."

Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata will miss tomorrow's game at Crystal Palace due to the hamstring injury he picked up against Manchester City.

The Spaniard limped out of Chelsea's 1-0 defeat to City at Stamford Bridge and subsequently missed the international break with Spain.

The 24-year-old had a scan last week, with Spain's medical staff claiming he had suffered a grade two hamstring injury.
He won't recover in time for tomorrow's match at Selhurst Park but he could return for Chelsea's Champions League match against Roma on Wednesday.

Atletico Madrid full-back Filipe Luis says his new team-mate, Diego Costa, is a better player than Neymar and Eden Hazard.

Costa returned to his former club in September after a three-year spell at Stamford Bridge, where he helped fire the Blues to two Premier League titles.

The Spanish forward is unable to play for Atleti until January due to the club’s transfer ban, but he has been training with his new team-mates since he arrived back in the country’s capital.

And Luis has revealed that he is glad to have him back – with the pair having won La Liga during the 2013-14 season.

“[Costa] is the best I have played with,” Luis told El Mundo.

“I have seen [Juan Carlos] Valeron do things nobody could do. Neymar and [Eden] Hazard are amazing talents, but the player who gave me most trophies was Diego Costa.

“He always scores the opening goal. Because it is one thing to score 30 goals with hat-tricks in easy wins, and another that 20 of those 30 goals are enough to win 1-0. Nobody does that as well as Diego Costa.”
Luis, who also spent a year at Chelsea before returning to Spain, has backed Antoine Griezmann to stay at the club amid speculation he could join Manchester United.

“Often players talk when they feel they are not being valued as they deserve. Then they get more attention.

“He would have had many offers from many teams. A player of his size wants to be up with the biggest in terms of contract and value. And that is fair - as Griezmann is doing great here.
“In the end, for all the talk about other clubs, he always wanted to stay here and he is still here, happy and liking it.

“For sure, he can stay much longer. We hope the fans understand this and everything gets back to normal, although he has been scoring goals, and goals cure everything.”
ON THE SAME TOPIC

Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata has revealed that no other game in the Premier League calendar compares to Liverpool against Manchester United.

The two bitter rivals go head-to-head on Saturday, with the unbeaten United sitting joint top of the table while Liverpool are five places back in seventh.

Liverpool have won just one of their last seven matches in all competitions and will hope to reignite their season with a victory in front of their own fans.

Mata has fond memories of Anfield, having scored twice in a 2-1 win during the 2014/15 season – including a stunning scissor kick.
And the midfielder has revealed he cannot wait for kick off on Saturday lunchtime.

When asked if the fixture is United’s biggest game of the season, he told Sky Sports: "I believe so, since I came here I always knew the rivalry was big over the years. Everyone in the training ground, fans in the street, they remind you that Liverpool is the game.

"There is no game like this. Through the history there have been great games, big rivalries, and it is a special game to play in, and we feel very lucky to have the chance to play in these games.

"The view from Spain I think is that all of the big Premier League games are viewed similarly. Once you are in England you realise United v Liverpool stands out.
"I have pretty good memories from our games against Liverpool. Every United supporter even now, after a few years, remind me of that goal. When you play for United and score at Anfield and win the game, it stays in peoples' minds."

The Anfield crowd are sure to provide United with a hostile atmosphere, but Mata is adamant his side can quieten them down if they go into the game with the right attitude.

"It's tough. It's a tough atmosphere. Obviously, the stadium is full of supporters wanting their team to go over us and win. That's what makes football special. Not speaking about violence at all, but about the atmosphere. You have to have personality to play in these games,” he added.

"If we manage to impose ourselves in the game to control the emotions from the crowd, and play good football, I think we have a chance to win."

Paul Parker has been impressed with Manchester United’s improvement under Jose Mourinho and expects the Old Trafford club to win their fixture against Liverpool this weekend.

I think Manchester United will beat Liverpool this weekend. The match represents United’s biggest test this season. However, United are a different proposition to last year. Mourinho’s men have absorbed everything that has been thrown at them. Unlike last season, Mourinho will go there and look for more than a point.

Mourinho’s default is to be conservative, particularly in away games, so don’t expect swashbuckling attacking play. However, they will actually try to do more with the ball than they did at Anfield last season, when they were more than content to leave Liverpool monopolise possession. Mourinho has more trust in *his* team now. Last season he went there looking not to lose and served up one of the worst ever Premier League games. United started well but then it was 80 minutes of cold custard.

This time United have a strong backbone - they look solid, they have improved. If you look at Liverpool, they have failed to address the glaring issues from last year. Yes, they signed Mohamed Salah but they still lack a goalkeeper and the defence remains ramshackle. Their centre-halves simply aren’t good enough.

WHERE KLOPP HAS FAILED, MOURINHO HAS SUCCEEDED

Both sides had huge issues last season. However, United addressed theirs, while Liverpool have let them fester. United have signed well (more on that below) but Mourinho has also improved the players he inherited, take for example Marouane Fellaini. Klopp has neither improved defensive players at his disposal nor signed better players to address their issues.
Defensively, the Reds look like they have gone backwards and look more porous than they were back under Brendan Rodgers. At least his side were great going forward; defensively they might not have survived in the second division and they appear to have gotten worse.

"Mourinho has got Manchester United right in one season but Liverpool still look all at sea after two years into Klopp’s tenure. "
The pressure will eventually start to ramp up on Klopp – he will definitely get to the end of the season, but if there are no signs of improvement between now and then he might be in trouble. It is pretty poor that they did not have a back-up plan when they missed out on Virgil van Dijk. They identified the problem and did not solve it.

Every championship-winning team has a standout goalkeeper and back four. Liverpool have neither. Yes, they have Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah but when Liverpool dominated the league, it was because of their defence. Not anymore. Klopp brought in a goalkeeper (Loris Karius) that is no better than the one they already had (Simon Mignolet).

The defence have no trust in Mignolet. You need a keeper with a personality and Simon Mignolet does not have one; he lacks the arrogance that all greats have. Liverpool look worried at set-piece situations and his concentration levels are not good enough.

MATIC THE KEY TO UNITED TRANSFORMATION

Mourinho has Romelu Lukaku realising how good he is. And he compares very favourably to Ibrahimovic, the Swede scored great goals for United but was he a great goalscorer? Lukaku has the makings of a great goalscorer and suits them perfectly. He has been in the right place at the right time and has that hunger to play.
However, the player who has made the real difference to United is Nemanja Matic. He has been a very shrewd signing, who gives United perfect balance. He is a big man but is certainly more brains than brawn, with smart passing and cute interceptions. There is no doubt that he has freed Paul Pogba, too. Pogba no longer feels he has to take on the world to justify his price. Matic has made the rest of the team look and feel better.

World Cup qualifying, Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa - Ecuador 1 (Ibarra 1') Argentina 3 (Messi 11', 18', 62')

A magical Lionel Messi hat-trick carried Argentina to a 3-1 win over Ecuador on Tuesday and booked their place at next year's World Cup finals in Russia.

With Argentina facing the dire possibility of missing out on a World Cup for the first time since 1970, their brilliant captain delivered when it matter most with three goals in the rarefied air of Quito.
The twice World Cup winners finished third in the 10-team South American group, going through with Brazil, Uruguay and Colombia as the automatic qualifiers, while Peru grabbed a playoff place against Oceania champions New Zealand at the expense of Chile.

Messi had not been at his best in Argentina’s stuttering campaign and failed to score in their previous three drawn qualifiers, which had left them in sixth place and out of the qualifying berths for Russia heading into Tuesday's game.
A World Cup without Argentina seemed an even bigger possibility when Romario Ibarra put Ecuador ahead in the opening minute after he got the better of Javier Mascherano and beat Sergio Romero with a low shot.

But Argentina, who had managed only one previous win in Quito, in 2001, equalised 11 minutes later when Messi tapped home after a one-two with Angel Di Maria.

Messi then put Argentina ahead in the 20th minute, firing a superb shot past Maximo Banguera into the top corner, and completed his hat-trick just past the hour, shaking off three tired Ecuador defenders before lifting the ball over the advancing goalkeeper and into the net.

Messi, enjoying a little bit of extra space seldom afforded against rival South American defences, joined Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, his team mate at Barcelona, as the all-time joint top scorers in CONMEBOL qualifiers with 21 goals.
REACTION

"Today Argentina took a great step forward," said coach Jorge Sampaoli.

“I hope that with the time to prepare that we’ll have, we can be competitive (in Russia) like we were today.”
While Sampaoli was delighted with his captain's performance, he said the side had to stop relying on him so much.
"We've got to fix it so not everything depends on Messi," he added.

Portugal seal place at finals with win over Switzerland

Published in World Cup
Wednesday, 11 October 2017 08:42

World Cup qualifying Group B, Estadio da Luz - Portugal 2 (Djourou 41 og, Andre Silva 57) Switzerland 0

European champions Portugal secured their World Cup spot with a 2-0 win over Switzerland thanks to Johan Djourou's own goal and Andre Silva's 11th in 10 games.
Fernando Santos' side win Group B while Switzerland go into the play-offs despite winning nine of their 10 group games.

The game started slowly with Portugal dominating possession and Switzerland sitting back, looking to counter. But the visitors couldn't find the necessary quality in their passing, and on 41 minutes, Eliseu's superb low cross from the left was met by the stretching Joao Mario, who touched the ball against the retreating Djourou and into the net.
Portugal were more aggressive after half-time, and on 57 minutes extended their advantage, a lovely move ending with Andre Silva sliding home Bernardo Silva's cross.

Switzerland never seriously threatened to haul themselves back into things - Portugal were too technical and too streetwise to surrender their advantage. And though they will not travel to Russia as favourites, they have a settled, confident side, a solid defence, a reliable goalscorer and a genius; they are capable of beating anybody and will expect to mount a serious challenge.
TALKING POINT

Do Portugal need to change anything? Group B has been a breeze for the European champions. They lost their first game while still on honeymoon, but have won them all since, scoring 32 times in 10 games. But they faced compliant opponents, whereas in Russia they will not. So, do they keep doing what they do and assume will work, or look to find a more expansive style to combat the better teams? They proved here they can deliver some eye-catching moments when in the mood.

MAN OF THE MATCH

Joao Moutinho (Portugal): No one really excelled, but Moutinho kept his team ticking and played a crucial role in creating the killer second goal.

PLAYER RATINGS

Switzerland: Sommer 7, Lichtensteiner 6, Schar 6, Djourou 5, Rodriguez 6, Xhaka 5, Freuler 5, Shaqiri 5, Dzemaili 5, Mehmedi 5, Seferovic 5. Subs: Zakaria 5, Embolo 6, Zuber 6.

Portugal: Rui Patricio 6, Cedric 6, Pepe 6, Fonte 6, Eliseu 7, Carvalho 6, Moutinho 7, Bernardo Silva 6, Joao Mario 6, Ronaldo 5, Andre Silva 7. Subs: Antunes 6, Andre Gomes 6, Danilo 6.
KEY MOMENTS

32’ - CHANCE! Ronaldo dribbles across the face of the box from left to right, trips over, and claims a foul. It's no such thing, but it distracts the defenders, so Moutinho is able to curve a pass with the outside of his boot into the path of Bernardo, inside the box on its left. He should go low to the far post but goes high to the near, and Sommer beats away.

41’ - GOAL! Portugal 1-0 Switzerland. Djourou own goal - Eliseu crosses brilliantly from the left and schar, sliding towards hiw own net can't get a touch. So Sommer comes out as Joao Mario lunges ... the attacker gets a flick, and Djourou can't get out of the road, knocking it home.

55’ - RONAL...NO! Portugal are playing better now, and Ronaldo picks out Bernardo on the right, accepts the return, and now in the D, goes with his right not his left and skews a drive high and wide.

57’ - GOAL! Portugal 2-0 Switzerland. Andre Silva scores - Portugal are going to Russia! And they've sealed it with a fine team goal, Cedrid finding Bernardo, who finds Moutinho just outside the box ... and Moutinho slides him back in, deep inside the box ... he crosses low, and Silva, seeing it through a crowd, manages to play the ball behind his standing leg by mistake, then maintains equilibrium to slide a finish into the unguarded net. That's 11 in 10 for him.

79’ - CHANCE! Portugal win a corner down the right, hit deep into the box; Djourou can only deflect it back inside, and Pepe doesn't connect properly with his shot. That was a good chance.

80’ - SELFISH... Ronaldo is in on goal! Sliding through at inside-left, he decides to show off by rounding Sommer, who stands up well and smothers the ball.

KEY STATS

Andre Silva's nine goals in qualification puts him fourth in Europe.

Cristiano Ronaldo's 15 goals in qualification breaks Predrag's Mijatovic's record from the 1998 competition ... but so does Robert Lewandowski's 16. Ronaldo does, though, hold the record of 30 career World Cup qualifying goals, three ahead of Andriy Shevchenko, and has 33 career World Cup goals including finals - also a record.

Liverpool forward Sadio Mane is facing six weeks on the sidelines with a hamstring injury, the Premier League club said on Tuesday.

The 25-year-old was taken off in the closing stages of Senegal’s 2-0 win over Cape Verde in World Cup qualifying on Saturday.

It means Mane will miss Saturday’s clash with Manchester United at Anfield on Saturday, with early estimations suggesting the Champions League clash with Sevilla on November 21 could be his comeback date.
Mane has endured a difficult last six months after a brilliant start to his Liverpool career.

He tore the meniscus in a knee during April's Merseyside derby which prematurely ended his season and required surgery.

Having worked hard in pre-season to get back to fitness the forward began the campaign with three goals in his first four appearances, before a red card at Manchester City for catching goalkeeper Ederson with a high boot resulted in a three-match ban and halted his progress.
Since his debut in August 2016 Liverpool average 2.2 Premier League goals with Mane in the team, compared to 1.6 goals in his absence.
OUR VIEW

It’s a huge blow. Liverpool’s struggles in 2016-17 often coincided with Mane’s absence – either through injury or Africa Cup of Nations duty – as they failed to break down opponents who sat deep. The Senegalese international offers a different threat to the likes of Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho, who thrive on short intricate passing rather than runs in behind.

However, there is one crumb of comfort for Liverpool fans: the form of Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian’s desire to run with the ball at pace should prevent their attack becoming stale – although he will need one of Firmino or Daniel Sturridge to start scoring soon, or he may be left carrying the attack on his own.

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