Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone said he would not feel any extra pressure in Tuesday’s Champions League semifinal first leg at Real Madrid — even though his team have been eliminated from the competition by their neighbours in each of the last three seasons.
During Simeone’s five years in charge they have won every other trophy available besides the Champions League, and beaten every other rival faced in Europe, but they have fallen at the biggest hurdle each year in a competition that Atletico have never won.
Atletico were beaten by Madrid in dramatic circumstances in both the 2014 and 2016 finals, and 1-0 on aggregate in the 2015 quarterfinals.
However the Colchoneros coach told his pregame news conference at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu that while he would experience tension and worries before the game against Madrid started, it would not be anything special or unusual.
“Before every game there is the usual tension you have due to the responsibility we have at the club, with these fans,” Simeone said. “That keeps growing all the time, and I keep it with me whether we are playing Las Palmas, Real Madrid or Leganes.
“Actually, sometimes before games which might seem easier on paper, I am more nervous about getting the players to do what we want.”
Simeone said that whichever starting XI opposite number Zinedine Zidane chooses is sure to start strongly and look for an early goal, and his side will need to weather that storm.
“I imagine a game with them starting strongly as they usually do at home,” he said. “They might play Isco behind two forwards, or put [Marco] Asensio or James [Rodriguez] out wide. From there they will try and do us damage at the start, with intensity, the atmosphere, the pressure. We will try and be strong, and take the game to a place which is more comfortable for us.”
The Argentine said away goals could be very important to how the tie between two evenly matched teams plays out.
“I expect it to be a tight game, but where we know how to take advantage of the spaces they allow us,” he said. “We know that the second game is at home for us, and an [away] goal is maybe more useful for them there as they always play the same everywhere. I imagine a complex game, and whoever best positions the pieces will play better.”
Simeone has a serious problem at right-back, with specialists Sime Vrsaljko and Juanfran Torres injured and stand-in Jose Maria Gimenez twanging a hamstring in Saturday’s 5-0 La Liga win at Las Palmas. A reshuffle could see either midfielder Thomas Partey or left-footed defender Lucas Hernandez come into the XI, but the coach was giving away little at this point.
“I know clearly who will play right-back,” Simeone said. “I understand football in a way in which absences are always important. It will be someone who has not played that position but I understand that football is a team sport. Many times you lack an important player, but the team manages that absence, that is why they are a team.”