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Atletico Madrid head coach Diego Simeone takes full responsibility for Luis Suarez’s disappointing form after suggesting he rushed the striker back from his coronavirus-enforced lay-off.

Suarez missed four matches for Atleti, including a reunion with former side Barcelona, after contracting COVID-19 while away on international duty with Uruguay last month.

The 33-year-old marked his return to action with a goal in the 4-0 win over Cadiz but has since failed to find the net in his last three appearances, totalling 200 minutes on the pitch.

He failed to test Thibaut Courtois from his only shot in last weekend’s 2-0 loss to Real Madrid and his 10 completed passes was the fewest of any Atletico player on the day.

Going further back, Suarez has scored just once in his last six club appearances in all competitions, but Simeone has faith the ex-Barcelona man can regain his best form.

“The first person responsible for his form is me,” Simeone said at a news conference previewing Saturday’s LaLiga clash with Elche.

“As soon as he recovered from coronavirus, we had to play him right away without any time to train. But that could prove important as it has given him a chance to find his rhythm.

“We hope to find the player this team needs – decisive, strong, good movement in the area.”

Fellow striker Diego Costa is back in contention for the visit of Elche as Atleti aim to return to winning ways in LaLiga against an opponent they have defeated six games running, keeping a clean sheet in the last four of those.

The Spain international has featured just five times in all competitions this year due to injuries and a deep vein thrombosis diagnosis, which has kept him out since December 21.

“Diego trained [on Thursday] with the group and played about 20 minutes,” Simeone said. “He looked well so [on Saturday] he will be with us. It is good news for him and of course the team.

“He brings something different, some added aggressiveness, which I hope he can show.

“We are having to adapt to what is happening, but with Diego I see a very positive guy who is mentally strong. We hope that when he is back on the field he can give us a lot.”

Atleti’s defeat to bitter rivals Real last week was their first in 27 league outings since February, a run that includes eight wins and two draws this season.

Key to the LaLiga leaders’ form has been Marcos Llorente, who has been transformed into a more attack-minded player under Simeone.

Llorente thanked Simeone in an interview this week for helping to get the most out of him but the Argentine coach insists there is still more to come.

“Coaches are here to improve footballers,” he said. “The biggest prize that we can win when we stop training, in addition to titles, is exceeded by the fact that footballers can say ‘such a coach improved me’. 

“It is our requirement, to find how to empower our players and when we saw Marcos, when he played in training in the substitute team he always scored a goal. 

“One day, two, three, four… until I thought I had to play him in a position other than central midfield. We talked about it, we tried it, we looked for that space and that he believed it, which is the most complete. 

“We find ourselves with a humble and hard-working person and a football player in continuous growth, who has a lot to improve. You have to keep giving and improving.”

Atletico will be without Ivo Grbic this weekend after the goalkeeper, who made his debut in the midweek Copa del Rey win over Cardassar, tested positive for coronavirus.

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December 18, 2020
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