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    Simeone: I knew what Suarez would bring to Atletico Madrid after my first phone call with him

    The Uruguay international has been in excellent goalscoring form since leaving Barcelona in acrimonious fashion over the summer

    Diego Simeone says Luis Suarez has performed exactly as he expected from his first phone call with him.

    The Atletico Madrid striker is La Liga’s joint-second top scorer this season, tied with his former team-mate Lionel Messi on 11 goals. Only Sevilla’s Youssef En-Nesyri has more, though both players have played more games than Suarez.

    Barcelona’s loss has been Atletico’s gain since his acrimonious departure from Camp Nou, with Suarez’s goals spearheading their title charge.

    Atletico go into Sunday’s game with Valencia four points clear of second-placed Real Madrid, with Simeone’s side also holding two games in hand over their city rivals.

    “The moment I spoke with Luis on the phone I found what he gives on the pitch: a lot of desire and energy,” Simeone said during Saturday’s pre-match press conference.

    “The team helps him to be at his best, which is scoring, something that has marked him throughout his career.”

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    Atletico will be confident of stretching their lead against Valencia on Sunday. Javi Gracia’s side are languishing in 14th and haven’t won any of their last 12 league games against Atletico – a run stretching back to 2014.

    Despite Atletico’s good form, Simeone would like to see Portuguese prodigy Joao Felix rediscover his touch after a slight slump in his recent performances. The 21-year-old hasn’t scored since a flurry of four goals in two games at the beginning of November.

    “You always seek to focus on a footballer,” Simeone said. “They have good, average and extraordinary moments, and as coaches we try to take advantage of every players’ moments.

    “We need Joao. When he is at his best, he can unbalance [the opposition’s defence] and give different solutions. We need him in that version. It’s what we are looking for in training.”

    The stats are firmly in Atletico’s favour going into Sunday’s game.

    The Rojiblancos have won their last seven home games in the league, keeping six clean sheets, while Simeone has never lost a league game at home to Valencia as manager.

    They will, however, be without right-back Kieran Trippier after FIFA rejected their appeal against his 10-week ban for infringing betting rules.

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