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Atletico losing ground on improving rivals – Simeone

Diego Simeone fears Atletico Madrid are going backwards as their rivals have upped their game this season to leave his side playing catch-up.

Having claimed three third-place finishes and a LaLiga title in the past four seasons, Atletico face a fight to secure Champions League qualification this time around.

A poor run in the build-up to the mid-season break has left them with work to do and their Copa del Rey hopes were snuffed out in the semi-finals following Tuesday's draw with Barcelona, which saw them beaten 3-2 on aggregate.

"We have lost our consistency and our rivals have improved their results so we will have to run and work hard to fulfil our aims this season," said Simeone, whose side host Celta Vigo on Sunday.

"Real Madrid are having a fantastic season, Villarreal are competing as always, and Sevilla are betting on the league this time rather than the cups."

But the Atletico boss does have the consolation of a squad that is largely untroubled by injuries, with a return to European action on the agenda when they head to Bayer Leverkusen later this month.

"I am happy right now because we have the majority of players available," he added. "Except for Augusto [Fernandez] and Tiago, who will return next week, the rest are okay.

"We are coming off a result that wasn't positive and that hurts, having worked all month under the illusion of reaching the final.

"But both the second half of the first leg and the entire game at the Camp Nou will give us heart and we want to continue in line with those performances."

All four of Atletico's top-flight losses this season came in a seven-game spell before the turn of the year, but they are now on a six-match unbeaten streak in the league.