David Alaba said "everything is a shade bigger" at Real Madrid compared to former side Bayern Munich as he learns to cope with the increased expectation to succeed.

Alaba's 13-year association with Bundesliga champions Bayern came to an end in May after rejecting numerous contract offers at the Allianz Arena and joining LaLiga giants Madrid.

The Austria international has started 13 of Madrid's 14 matches in all competitions this season – only Eder Militao and Thibaut Courtois have started more often – totalling 1,170 minutes on the field.

Alaba has featured in multiple positions and has instantly made himself a fans' favourite with the opening goal in the 2-1 El Clasico victory over Madrid's fierce rivals Barcelona on October 24.

That made Alaba the fifth Madrid player to net on his Clasico bow this century after Brazilian icon Ronaldo (2003), Ruud van Nistelrooy (2006), Raphael Varane and Jese Rodriguez (both 2013).

Alaba has also assisted a couple of goals, meaning only Marco Asensio (four), Vinicius Junior (12) and Karim Benzema (19) have been directly involved in more. 

With five clean sheets to his name also, it has been a positive start to a new chapter for Alaba and one the versatile defender is taking in his stride.

"I felt this special aura and atmosphere from day one," he told Kicker. "You can tell the history of this club when you walk across the training ground or through the city."

Asked how Madrid compare with Bayern, Alaba added: "Both clubs stand for absolute success. Bayern are one of the biggest clubs in the world, Madrid too.

"There's not much to separate them. But here at Madrid, without being disrespectful to Bayern, everything is just a shade bigger still."

 

Alaba arrived at Madrid shortly before Sergio Ramos departed on a free transfer to Paris Saint-Germain, the long-serving captain having made 671 appearances for the club.

Ramos won four Champions Leagues and five LaLiga titles during his 16 years in the Spanish capital, but Alaba does not consider himself a direct replacement in defence.

"I came here to write my own story and play my game," he said. "I get the comparisons every now and then, but I don't really bother with them. 

"People accept that I'm here now and play my football. We are also different types of players who can hardly be compared with one another."

Alaba played a full part in Saturday's 2-1 win over Elche that places Madrid level with Sevilla and one point behind surprise leaders Real Sociedad, whom they have a game in hand over.

That was Alaba's 10th appearance in the Spanish top flight and he has already noticed a difference in style compared to the Bundesliga.

"Playing wise, LaLiga is somewhat different," he said. "Even teams like Levante and Alaves try to play football out from the back. 

"As a central defender I have fewer aerial duels after goal-kicks than in the Bundesliga. There it's played forward more directly.

"In Spain, on the other hand, a lot of stock is placed on ball possession, even by teams who are quite far down the table.

"It's hard to say which is tougher, but they're certainly different."

Atletico Madrid ended a three-game winless run in all competitions with a 3-0 victory over Real Betis at a rain-soaked Wanda Metropolitano.

Yannick Carrasco's superb first-half finish and an own goal from German Pezzella in the second put the champions in control against Manuel Pellegrini's side.

Joao Felix came off the bench to drill home a third as Atleti delivered their best league performance since the 2-0 win over Barcelona at the start of the month.

Betis rarely offered a threat to Jan Oblak's goal as they endured an eighth defeat in nine away league games against Atletico, a run in which they have failed to score in any of the past six games.

William Carvalho had a shot parried by Oblak in the first minute of a match that started in frenetic fashion, Betis looking to capitalise on a defence that had conceded at least twice in each of Atleti's previous three games.

Jose Gimenez and Antoine Griezmann each came close before Carrasco broke the deadlock in stunning style, taking Angel Correa's pass, turning away from Martin Montoya and blasting high past Claudio Bravo at his near post.

Luis Suarez headed wide when unmarked and Mario Hermoso saw the flag rule out a second when he nodded in Antoine Griezmann's delivery, as Atletico continued to push forward.

A fine passing move saw Griezmann pick out Suarez, but Bravo thwarted the striker again. However, from the resulting Griezmann corner, Pezzella mistimed his header and nodded the ball firmly into his own net.

Substitute Felix completed the scoring with a well-taken left-footed finish driven beneath Bravo, a VAR check showing he had timed his run to meet Carrasco's throughball perfectly.


What does it mean? Champions up into fourth

Atleti's win lifted them above Betis in the table and to within two points of leaders Real Madrid, second-placed Sevilla and Real Sociedad in third. Sociedad had a game to come later on Sunday, however.

It will also give them some confidence ahead of a Champions League visit to Liverpool in the coming week, particularly after the Reds surrendered a two-goal lead to draw with Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday.

Bravo keeps scores respectable

Atleti should really have been out of sight before Pezzella's unfortunate own goal, with Bravo making seven saves as Suarez in particular was profligate with his chances.

The former Barcelona keeper has never before made as many saves in a single LaLiga match.

Suarez needs sharpness

Suarez missed two big chances and had the highest expected goals figure (0.48) of any of Atletico's attacking players during his 71 minutes on the pitch.

The Uruguay striker will need to be more ruthless against his old club if Atletico are to leave Merseyside with a positive result.

What's next?

Atleti face Liverpool at Anfield on Wednesday before heading to Valencia on November 7 for their final game before the next international break.

Barcelona are set to be without Gerard Pique for their key Champions League clash with Dynamo Kiev this week.

The centre-back was substituted after 70 minutes of the 1-1 LaLiga draw with Deportivo Alaves at Camp Nou on Saturday.

The club confirmed Pique had discomfort in his calf and further tests have revealed a muscle strain that will keep him out of action "for the foreseeable future".

It means the 34-year-old is almost certain to miss the match in Ukraine on Tuesday and next Saturday's league visit to Celta Vigo, Barca's final game before the November international break.

Pique scored the winner in the reverse fixture against Dynamo, a result that put the Catalans a point behind second-placed Benfica in Group E after three rounds of matches.

He has played 13 times this season in all competitions.

Barca are also likely to be without Sergio Aguero after the striker was taken to hospital for a cardiac exam, having felt dizzy before being taken off during the Alaves game.

However, there was better news on Sunday, with Ousmane Dembele, Ansu Fati and Frenkie de Jong all able to complete part of team training.

Vinicius Junior would welcome Kylian Mbappe at Real Madrid as there is no player who would not want the Paris Saint-Germain forward as a team-mate.

Mbappe's PSG contract expires at the end of the season and the Ligue 1 giants reportedly rejected a staggering €220million bid for the France forward in August.

PSG have been critical of Madrid's open pursuit of Mbappe, with sporting director Leonardo suggesting they should be punished for unsettling the 22-year-old.

In-form Los Blancos forward Vinicius hopes to be lining up alongside the former Monaco star for Carlo Ancelotti's side.

"All the players want to play with Mbappe. He is a great player, like Cristiano [Ronaldo] and [Lionel] Messi were. He represents the new generation that comes to stay for many years." the 21-year-old Brazilian said in an interview with Esporte Interativo.

 

Vinicius, who scored both goals in a 2-1 LaLiga win at Elche on Saturday, also called for stronger action to be taken after he was racially abused during Madrid's Clasico win at Barcelona last weekend.

The incident occurred as Vinicius made his way around the Camp Nou pitch after being substituted in the 87th minute.

LaLiga reported the abuse to the Prosecutor's Office in Barcelona in case it constitutes a hate crime. 

Vinicius said: "When they changed me, I did see a child making a gesture to me but as it was a child I passed ... but then an older person insulted me and I pointed to him so that he knew I had seen him. I don't usually give importance to these things, I prefer to focus in my game."

He added: "I think they do deserve harsher punishments, so they don't do those things again."

Vinicius took his tally to seven goals in 11 LaLiga games in 2021-22 with his double against Elche, more than he managed in his previous two seasons combined, as Los Blancos claimed a 2-1 win at the Martinez Valero.

What does the future hold for Paul Pogba?

Pogba, who re-joined Manchester United from Juventus in 2016, is set to become a free agent at season's end.

Juve are believed to be trying to lure Pogba back to Italy.

 

TOP STORY – JUVE LEAD RACE FOR POGBA

Juventus are in pole position to re-sign Paul Pogba from Manchester United, according to Sportitalia journalist Rudy Galetti.

Pogba is out of contract at the end of the season and is reportedly not prepared to sign a new contract with United.

The World Cup-winning France international left United for Juventus in 2012 before returning to Old Trafford in 2016.

Le10 Sport, meanwhile, claims Paris Saint-Germain are circling amid interest from Real Madrid also.

 

ROUND-UP

- Diario AS reports Xavi wants to sign Bayern Munich star Kingsley Coman if he is appointed head coach of LaLiga giants Barcelona . Barca great and Al-Sadd boss Xavi is favourite to replace Ronald Koeman.

Theo Hernandez is set to snub a move to Premier League champions Manchester City or Ligue 1 powerhouse PSG in favour of re-signing with Milan, per Calciomercato.

- The Mirror says Newcastle United are struggling to prise Ajax head coach Erik ten Hag from Amsterdam. Also linked to Manchester United amid pressure on manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer , Ten Hag is reluctant to move to Newcastle due to their position in the table.

Inter have planned talks with Marcelo Brozovic regarding a new contract amid interest from PSG , Manchester United , Barca and Atletico Madrid , according to Corriere dello Sport.

Jordi Alba lamented Barcelona's "bad point" after the embattled LaLiga giants were held to a 1-1 draw by Deportivo Alaves.

Barca – playing for the first time since Ronald Koeman's sacking – saw Memphis Depay's sublime 49th-minute strike cancelled out within three minutes at Camp Nou on Saturday.

Spanish side Barca have taken 16 points from 11 games in LaLiga this season (W4 D4 L3) – equalling their worst start at this stage in the three points for a win era (also 16 in the 2000-2001 and 2002-03 campaigns).

"It's a bad point," star Barca full-back Alba told Movistar. "Anything other than three points for Barcelona is bad and even more so when you see where we are in the table.

"We did enough, but we're struggling to score and teams are scoring against us with very little. It's tough. The team is trying, but it's complicated." 

Sergi Barjuan has stepped in to replace Koeman on an interim basis amid growing links with club great Xavi, who is currently head coach of Qatari outfit Al-Sadd.

Sergi became the first Barcelona coach without a win in his LaLiga debut since Pep Guardiola in 2008.

"They're different coaches, but the idea is the same," Alba said when asked about Koeman and Sergi. "We had very clear chances.

"I hope we can improve, for our own good. We're grateful to the fans that are with us in difficult moments."

Barca are ninth in the standings after 11 rounds, eight points behind leading trio Real Madrid, Sevilla and Real Sociedad.

Sergio Aguero was taken to hospital following his early substitution against Deportivo Alaves, Barcelona have confirmed.

The Argentina international was making his first LaLiga start at Camp Nou, but was replaced by Philippe Coutinho after just 41 minutes.

Aguero went down clutching his chest and was tended to by the medical team, although he was able to get to his feet and walk from the field.

The club later confirmed the former Manchester City striker had complained of chest discomfort and had been admitted to hospital for a cardiac exam.

Barca also lost Gerard Pique to a right calf strain during the 1-1 draw.

"[Aguero] told me he was a little dizzy," interim coach Sergi Barjuan told Marca. 

"Now, I have learned that he has been taken to the hospital. I can't say more.

"Between cheering on the guys and the press conference, it's hard to know more."

The stalemate marked Sergi's first match in temporary charge following the departure of Ronald Koeman earlier this week.

Memphis Depay's sublime strike was immediately cancelled out by Luis Rioja and despite just under 80 per cent of possession and 16 shots on goal, the hosts were forced to settle for a share of the spoils.

"We controlled the game, and we were intense in the second half," Sergi continued.

"We had our chances to score and win the game, but we could not take them.

"I have had very little time to work with the players. I have tried to get them in order in both a defensive and an offensive level.

"But, these players are very good, and they have to believe in themselves."

Barcelona's struggles continued as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Deportivo Alaves at Camp Nou in their first game since the dismissal of Ronald Koeman.

Under the temporary stewardship of Sergi Barjuan, Memphis Depay opened the scoring early in the second half as the hosts sought to overcome consecutive LaLiga losses. 

But the Blaugrana were pegged back almost immediately as Luis Rioja netted a fine equaliser for the visitors.

Another concern for Barca saw a distressed Sergio Aguero forced off before half-time on his first home LaLiga start.

Barcelona had won eight of their nine previous meetings with Alaves and quickly stamped their authority in possession.

They went close to breaking the deadlock when Eric Garcia's header was brilliantly clawed away by Antonio Sivera, while an unmarked Edgar Mendez nodded Ruben Duarte's deep free-kick just wide at the other end.

Concerns grew for the hosts when Aguero was forced to leave the field before the break.

The Argentina international went down clutching his chest and appeared to be in some discomfort when tended to by the medical team, but was able to get to his feet and walk from the field.

Nevertheless, Barca took the lead in emphatic fashion four minutes after the restart; Depay bending a tremendous 25-yard effort into the far corner for his fifth goal of the season.

However, the visitors hit back within three minutes; Rioja playing a neat one-two with Joselu before rounding Marc-Andre ter Stegen and slotting into the empty net.

Barca looked to restore their advantage and Sivera produced smart saves to deny Philippe Coutinho and Depay, who also hit the post following a wonderful individual run by Gavi.

But despite dominating possession, the hosts were forced to settle for a share of the spoils.

Sergio Aguero's first Barcelona start at Camp Nou ended prematurely as he was substituted before half-time against Deportivo Alaves on Saturday.

The former Manchester City striker, who arrived on a free transfer in July, led the line in Barca's first game since the departure of Ronald Koeman this week.

Aguero went down clutching his chest just before the break and appeared to be in some discomfort as he was tended to by the medical team.

Although the stretcher was initially called for, the Argentina international was able to get to his feet and walk from the pitch to be replaced by Philippe Coutinho in the 41st minute.

Sergi Barjuan was taking temporary charge of the hosts, who had lost three of their past four LaLiga matches.

Carlo Ancelotti refused to criticise Brazil boss Tite for snubbing Vinicius Junior after the Real Madrid star's match-winning performance at Elche.

Vinicius took his tally to seven goals in 11 LaLiga games in 2021-22, more than he managed in his previous two seasons combined, as Los Blancos claimed a 2-1 win at the Martinez Valero.

The winger scored in each half, either side of Raul Guti's dismissal, to send Madrid back to the top of the table despite a nervy finish to the game following Pere Milla's late goal.

Amid his impressive form, Vinicius has been omitted from Tite's national squad for the World Cup qualifiers in November, with Barcelona's Philippe Coutinho surprisingly recalled for what could be his first Brazil game in over a year.

However, Ancelotti was not prepared to call out Tite for the decision as he praised Vinicius' commitment this season.

"I haven't done anything but play him and give him the confidence that he obviously deserves because he's playing very well and scoring goals," Ancelotti said.

"As I've said many times, I'm not a magician. I try to do my best and give the maximum confidence to all the players. The Brazil issue is a friend's decision. A great friend. I've nothing to answer.

"He has confidence now. Everything is going well for him. He's also getting used to playing a bit more inside because he has the speed to do it. It's one thing to play one-against-one on the wing and another to do it in the middle of the box. I believe that, little by little, he's learning and doing very well."

 

Vinicius' opener was set up by Mariano Diaz, who was given a surprise start in place of the rested Karim Benzema.

Luka Jovic, who is yet to start a game under Ancelotti, was again overlooked but the Madrid boss said the striker was not yet fully fit after a knee injury.

"Jovic had a problem with his knee in the last game he played," Ancelotti explained. "He still hasn't trained and he's not comfortable. That's why he didn't play. He had a sprain and he still hasn't recovered.

"I like the way Mariano played: he did well, he was committed, he gave a fantastic assist... he played a good game."

Madrid were in complete control of the contest until Milla capitalised on a mistake by Casemiro to give Elche's 10 men the chance to snatch a point.

Ancelotti felt Madrid should have managed the latter part of the game better, but he said there was little more the players could have given after playing late on Wednesday against Osasuna.

"We have to think that, after two and a half days, you can't play a game with intensity and energy," Ancelotti said. "So, you have to get into a middle block and try to look for opportunities when they come. This isn't a Real Madrid problem, it's a problem for all teams. You can't play at your highest level with two and a half days off.

"We didn't handle the end of the game well. If you're 2-0 up with an extra man, you can't think it's over because the referee still hasn't blown his whistle. We made it complicated for ourselves, but luckily we have three more points."

Vinicius Junior stepped up in the absence of Karim Benzema by scoring twice in Real Madrid's 2-1 win over 10-man Elche in Saturday's LaLiga clash.

Coach Carlo Ancelotti took a calculated risk to rest Benzema for the game at Estadio Manuel Martinez Valero, and his side got the job done to move level with leaders Real Sociedad, who play Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

Vinicius swept a delightful opener past former Madrid man Kiko Casilla with 22 minutes played, and Elche's task was made all the more difficult when Raul Guti was dismissed shortly after the hour mark.

Brazil international Vinicius doubled his tally 17 minutes from time and, despite a late consolation for substitute Pere Milla, Madrid saw the game through to get back to winning ways on the back of their midweek stalemate against Osasuna.

 

Rodrygo and Mariano were surprisingly selected in Madrid's frontline, with the likes of Eden Hazard, Luka Jovic, Isco and Marco Asensio among the substitutes.

But Madrid were forced into an early change when the injured Rodrygo was replaced by Asensio, and they would have been behind a minute later if not for a good Thibaut Courtois save to keep out Lucas Boye's powerful strike.

Elche edged the first-half chances but fell behind to Vinicius' eighth goal in all competitions this term, as he fired across Casilla after being played in by a sublime back-heeled flick from Mariano on his first appearance of the season.

The hosts continued to look a threat as Lucas Perez somehow fired wide with plenty of the goal to aim for and Guti blasted a volley straight at Courtois.

That momentum was halted when Guti was issued a second yellow card for sliding in on Toni Kroos, however, and Vinicius made Elche pay with a chipped finish over Casilla from an acute angle.

A Casemiro error gifted Milla the chance to pull one back just five minutes after being introduced, though that proved to be nothing more than a consolation for the home team.

Gaizka Mendieta believes Barcelona should have sacked Ronald Koeman earlier to prevent "negative dynamics" from developing at Camp Nou.

Barca parted company with Koeman on Wednesday following a 1-0 LaLiga defeat to Rayo Vallecano, on the back of a home Clasico loss against Real Madrid.

Koeman replaced Quique Setien in August 2020 but has failed to make an impact as he battled with Barca's dire financial situation, which led to Lionel Messi departing for Paris Saint-Germain.

The Blaugrana were ninth in the table ahead of a clash with Alaves on Saturday and have lost two of their three Champions League Group E matches.

Sergi Barjuan has stepped in as caretaker head coach and club legend Xavi is expected to be named as Koeman's successor on a permanent basis.

Former Spain midfielder Mendieta thinks the writing was on the wall for Koeman long ago and feels president Joan Laporta would have fired the former Netherlands defender sooner if the club were not so short of funds.

"I think finances are only of the reasons [why he was not sacked earlier]. Although, like we see now, if it has to come to that they will do anyway," he told Stats Perform.

"So the question is, why they didn't do it earlier? Because Laporta said he was not the man that he wanted for his project, he couldn't find anyone else so he stayed.

"That already started some negative dynamics in the club and in the team. So why don't do it in the first place I think financially was one of the big reasons for them not to do it.

"And then again, you start to generate some sort of bad atmosphere within the team, the club and the fans which is no good for anyone."

 

Mendieta has sympathy for Koeman given the off-field issues he had to contend with.

He added: "When you plan having a season as a manager with Messi on the team, and Messi leaves days before they start the season, then publicly the president or the board says that Koeman is not the manager they would like to have, but because they haven't got any option he stays.

"Then we see these three pillars of the club having different conversations like the board, the managers and the players in kind of everyone trying to save in a way themselves, which is not good for our team, for our club, in any situation.

"And then resources don't arrive, players injured. So there's a lot of ingredients in this kind of difficult situation. However, I still think there's a lot of potential in the team. There have been other players, key players, injured, and they're slowly coming back, hopefully, but they will need time.

"So it's a matter of time of where resources arrive and there's some sort of consistency in the results and the points, because at the moment they win one game, they look like they are in recovery, then they lose the next one, and crisis again."

Paul Pogba's future at Manchester United remains unclear with his contract winding down.

The 28-year-old midfielder has so far opted against re-signing with the Red Devils.

Pogba had started the season brightly with United but was sent off in Sunday's 5-0 loss to Liverpool.

TOP STORY – UNITED WILLING TO LET POGBA GO FREE

Manchester United will not sell Paul Pogba in January despite the France international becoming a free agent at the end of the season, reports The Telegraph.

United face missing out on recouping some of the £89million they spent on Pogba in 2016 when he joined from Juventus, who are one of the teams who have shown an interest in signing him.

Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain have also been linked with the World Cup winner.

 

ROUND-UP

Nicolo Barella will re-commit to Inter and sign a new five-year contract with the Italian champions next week, reports Fabrizio Romano. Barella had been linked with the likes of PSGAtletico Madrid and Liverpool.

Eden Hazard will be permitted to leave Real Madrid by boss Carlo Ancelotti if he wants to go, according to Marca. Former club Chelsea and Newcastle United have been linked with the winger.

Tottenham are making plans for Hugo Lloris' exit with Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, formerly of rivals Arsenal, top of their list, claims the Independent.

Liverpool are hoping for Mohamed Salah to agree to a bumper new deal before the January transfer window opens, reports Football Insider.

When Joao Felix signed for Atletico Madrid in 2019, it's fair to say there were plenty who doubted it would be a happy marriage.

Atletico shelled out €126million on the Portuguese talent who had taken the Primeira Liga by storm in his first season, scoring 15 times despite not even being in the Benfica first team when the campaign had begun.

But how was this technical virtuoso going to fit into an Atletico side characterised by its work rate? How would he adapt to the demanding principles implemented by Diego Simeone?

Maverick talents known more for their technical attributes than anything else had often been seen as Simeone's blind spot, hence some trepidation about whether he was the right man to nurture Joao Felix.

The Portugal international's Atletico career has been a slow-burner, but once again there are signs he is beginning to find himself.

Stuck in limbo

Joao Felix had to miss the start of this season through injury, which was obviously not ideal, particularly given how 2020-21 ultimately turned out for him after a promising start.

For a period last season, there were real signs that he was finding his feet. While he was not necessarily roaming as some might have envisaged, his role in the first half of 2020-21 – being more of a withdrawn forward towards the left – saw him become one of LaLiga's standout players.

One theory was that Suarez's signing helped Joao Felix significantly. After all, the Uruguayan enjoyed a near-telepathic on-pitch relationship with Lionel Messi and has always boasted exceptional off-the-ball intelligence. He can make great players look even better.

 

For example, prior to Atletico's 1-0 win over Barca at the Wanda Metropolitano on November 21 last year, Joao Felix had already created the same amount of chances for Suarez (four) as he had for anyone else in all of 2019-20.

But he didn't manage to maintain his status as a standout player for the full season. Bouts of illness, injuries and a suspension all hampered him after the turn of the year as he made just five of his 14 league starts after January 1. In fact, his final total of starts was seven fewer than in 2019-20.

A potential explanation for Joao Felix's disappointing form overall for Atletico was the lack of creativity in central areas behind him. While some might suggest Marcos Llorente's 11 assists in 2020-21 disproves that idea, the former Real Madrid man over-performed his expected assists (xA) by 5.6 – a figure unmatched across LaLiga, suggesting such productivity was not sustainable – while he also did a lot of his best work towards the right.

There had undoubtedly been a major difference between how Joao Felix was used during his first two seasons at Atletico compared to his time with Benfica, where he was seen as more of a genuine striker.

He averaged 2.5 shots per game in 2018-19 with Benfica, and although there wasn't a massive drop-off in his first season at the Wanda Metropolitano (2.4), his expected goals per shot slumped from 0.15 to 0.12. While that may not sound like a lot, it shows a clear indication that the quality of his chances decreased and therefore suggests his similar shot frequency was a result of poor decision-making.

 

His xG per shot improved back up to 0.14 last term, though he was averaging just 1.26 shots each game, half as frequent as at Benfica.

The fact his average number of touches in the box fell from 4.9 per appearance in 2018-19 to 2.7 the following season and then 2.0 last term further highlighted the different role he was adapting to and went some way to explaining why he was having fewer shots.

Certain transfer window additions – especially Antoine Griezmann and Matheus Cunha – had some fans concerned for Joao Felix, given they were likely to be in direct competition with him for places.

Some felt his future was in a more deep-lying role as part of the central midfield trio, but recently he has excelled in a similar playmaking function but further up the pitch. Suddenly it has him looking like the Joao Felix we all knew was in there somewhere.

Rising to the challenge

Following an uncharacteristic recruitment drive for technical players in the most recent transfer window, a key buzzword around Atletico was 'balance'. Preserving balance in the team was going to be a major focus for Simeone as he looked to truly maximise what is arguably the most talented squad he's had as a coach.

At the moment, it appears to be working well, and Joao Felix seems to be nicely suited to the set-up that's being deployed.

Simeone is favouring the use of a front three that is spearheaded by Suarez, with Joao Felix to the left and Griezmann towards the right.

The roles of Joao Felix and Griezmann allow them a certain flexibility. They can go down the outside, but with the use of wing-backs there's not a necessity, therefore Atletico can really overload teams in the final third when the likes of Kieran Trippier and Yannick Carrasco are overlapping out wide.

This appears to suit Joao Felix in particular, and he has thrived in an advanced playmaker role against Real Sociedad and Levante over the past week.

 

Now, it's worth noting that Joao Felix was at fault for La Real's first goal in last weekend's 2-2 draw, but he played a similarly important role in ensuring Atletico fought back, his neat and intricate play in possession a real asset.

He was involved in 41 open-play passing sequences in that match, second only to Koke among Atletico midfielders and forwards. Given it's a metric that tends to be dominated by defenders and central midfielders, Joao Felix's high involvement here speaks to his significant influence.

He was then involved in 44 such sequences against Levante – again, Koke was the only midfielder or forward to be more influential in Atletico's build-up play than Joao Felix.

But there has been more substance to his performances than just build-up involvement – he seems to be relishing the attacking responsibility he has, and there's a certain maturity to be gleaned from that.

For example, it would have been quite easy for Joao Felix to go back inside his shell after coughing up possession in the lead-up to La Real's first goal, but he continued to demand the ball and drive at the defence.

His 22 ball carries was four more than any other midfielder or forward in that game, and there was such positivity in his movement in possession – he progressed 137.5 metres upfield with the ball, at least 45.8m more than any other non-defender on the pitch.

 

These often brought him inside as well as down the wing, from where he caused numerous problems and even set up Suarez's first goal with a gorgeous cross.

Joao Felix's output was then almost identical against Levante, with his carry progress increasing to 140.6m upfield, which was again a match-high among non-defenders, while his 21 overall carries was second only to Koke's 27 in that same group of players.

There are undoubtedly those who will remain unconvinced given he has had only one goal involvement (that assist against La Real) in five league games this season, so why are these figures important?

Well, Joao Felix's prominence in Atletico's build-up shows the influence he's beginning to exert. That, coupled with the positive nature – and frequency – of his ball carries, suggests he's finally found his niche in this team. He's injecting direction and purpose to their attacks.

Obviously, in an ideal world he will manage to add plenty of goals and assists as well in the long run, but for the moment the important thing for Joao Felix is that he finds continuity and consistency.

He looked to have been on the right path this time last year before a complicated second half to 2020-21 – hopefully for his sake this isn't another false dawn.

Vinicius Junior has been left out of Brazil's squad for November's double-header of World Cup qualifiers, despite impressing for Real Madrid with his recent form.

The 21-year-old has seven goals and three assists in 13 appearances for Madrid this season, including an incredible solo strike in last week's 5-0 Champions League win over Shakhtar Donetsk.

Vinicius' 10 direct goal involvements is the most of any Brazilian player from Europe's top five leagues, but he is not part of Tite's plans for the games with Colombia and Argentina.

Tite has instead recalled Barcelona playmaker Philippe Coutinho, who has one goal and zero assists across 10 outings in all competitions this season.

The most recent of Coutinho's 63 caps for his country came against Peru in October 2020.

Leeds United winger Raphinha and Ajax prodigy Antony are also part of the Selecao's 23-man group.

Fabinho is one of three Liverpool players to have been called, along with Roberto Firmino and Alisson, despite Jurgen Klopp saying on Friday he is "concerned" about a knee injury that will keep the midfielder out for a third game running this weekend.

Brazil have won 10 and drawn one of their opening 11 CONMEBOL qualifiers and lead the way at the top of the standings, with their place at Qatar 2022 potentially being confirmed next month.


Brazil squad: Alisson (Liverpool), Ederson (Manchester City), Gabriel Chapeco (Gremio); Danilo (Juventus), Emerson Royal (Tottenham), Alex Sandro (Juventus), Renan Lodi (Atletico Madrid), Eder Militao (Real Madrid), Lucas Verissimo (Benfica), Marquinhos (Paris Saint-Germain), Thiago Silva (Chelsea); Casemiro (Real Madrid), Fabinho (Liverpool), Fred (Manchester United), Gerson (Marseille), Lucas Paqueta (Lyon), Philippe Coutinho (Barcelona); Antony (Ajax), Roberto Firmino (Liverpool), Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City), Matheus Cunha (Atletico Madrid), Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain), Raphinha (Leeds United).

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