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ATLÉTICO MADRID

Atlético-Juventus: Diego Costa eyeing Champions League

Atlético-Juventus: Diego Costa eyeing Champions League

The Spain striker has returned to full training and will aim to get some playing time against Rayo before challenging for a place against Juventus.

Diego Costa’s protracted return to Atlético Madrid from Chelsea has not been the shot in the arm Diego Simeone hoped it would provide his squad with the Spain striker, the club’s record signing at the time at 66 million euros, scoring just twice in the league and Champions League this season before succumbing to a foot injury that required surgery last December.

The absence of Costa forced Simeone into the transfer market in January when the Atlético boss made a move for former canterano Álvaro Morata, who had also fallen out of favour of Stamford Bridge, signing the Spain international on an 18-month loan deal.

Now the two strikers, who have never played together for club or country, will be vying for the right to partner Antoine Griezmann in the Atlético attack, initially against Rayo in LaLiga this coming weekend, before the visit of Serie A giants Juventus and Cristiano Ronaldo on 20 March.

Costa and Morata both searching for form

Costa has found the net just twice since the UEFA Super Cup triumph over Real Madrid last August while Morata has yet to score in two appearances since his arrival, which has coincided with Atlético suffering back-to-back Liga defeats for the first time since 2016. The former Real Madrid striker did have the ball in the net during the Madrid derby, but his effort was ruled out after a VAR review.

Against Rayo it seems likely that Morata will get the nod with Costa featuring at some stage from the bench.

Simeone will then have to make the decision whether to start Morata against his former club Juventus or opt for the more habitual pairing of Griezmann and Costa, who are more used to each other and better read each other’s intentions when Atlético attack: against Madrid, Griezmann and Morata exchanged only one pass.

For both players, who find themselves in a tussle not only for minutes at Atlético but also for Spain under Luis Enrique, the Rayo game is a dress rehearsal for the Champions League encounter a few days later. Simeone will demand to be impressed by two players have been out of sorts for the majority of 2018-19.