Atletico given Diego Costa fitness boost
Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone says top scorer Diego Costa has recovered from his hamstring injury and will start Saturday's La Liga title decider against Barcelona at the Camp Nou.
Costa has been hampered by the problem for some weeks, and missed last Sunday's 1-1 draw with Malaga, a game in which Atletico's other forwards David Villa, Raul Garcia and Adrian Lopez all missed chances to bring the win which would have secured the title a week early.
The Argentine told his pregame news conference that the Brazil-born Spain international had come through Friday morning's session without a problem and would begin the game.
"[Costa] is fine, he trained without problems," Simeone said. "Tomorrow he will play from the start."
Reports from the Atletico camp suggest that Villa is most likely to partner 36-goal Costa in attack, even though the former Blaugrana forward has now gone over two months and 13 appearances without a goal.
Atletico go into the game three points ahead of their hosts, meaning a win or draw will bring them the title, while a home win would see Barca take the trophy on a better head-to-head record.
Asked if knowing a draw would be enough might condition his approach to the match Simeone did not answer the question directly but suggested he would be happy for his side to play on the counter-attack.
"We are playing an opponent who is used to attacking, who always play the same way," he said. "We have to play a good game, and bring the match to a position which suits us. We play well when we have spaces to attack into with pace."
Atletico have come through five meetings with Barca unbeaten this season, and eliminated Gerardo Martino's team 2-1 on aggregate when they met in the Champions League quarterfinals. Simeone said he expected this sixth and last clash of the campaign to be the most difficult for his side.
"I imagine we will face the best Barca of recent months," he said. "It will be the most difficult of the recent games we have played against them."
The psychological part of the match would be vital, especially ensuring his team began the 90 minutes well, Simeone said.
"The mental aspect will be important, especially at the start of the game," he said. "How it starts will determine how the game goes. As the minutes go on the effort will be required, it will be hot. We will need to be mentally strong, concentrated, and focused."
Atletico have stumbled in recent weeks as a first La Liga title since 1995-96, when Simeone himself was a player in the team, has come ever closer. The former midfielder accepted that matching Barcelona and Real Madrid was not easy, and would be difficult to repeat again in the future.
"It is not so easy," Simeone said. "The team has put in enormous work to be in with a chance to win La Liga on the last day, and also in the Champions League. Statistically Barcelona and Real Madrid are the best teams. We have got here with a lot of effort and work. It is not easy and would not be easy to repeat. But we are here because we deserve to be."
The following Saturday's Champions League final against city rivals Madrid in Lisbon would not be a factor in this first game, Simeone said.
"At this moment nobody is thinking about the Champions League final," he said.