Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone says his side are not going into Tuesday’s Champions League quarterfinal first leg against Barcelona at the Camp Nou as underdogs.
Atletico and Barca have met three times already this season, with each game ending in a draw, and Simeone’s men are currently a point ahead of the Catalans in the Primera Division table. However the Blaugrana outfit are clear bookmakers’ favourites to progress given their greater experience in the competition and bigger name individuals.
Simeone told his official prematch news conference that he did not want to claim the favourites’ tag for his side, but neither would he want to play down their chances.
“If we say we are favourites, we can look arrogant,” Simeone said. “If not, we can look like we are playing down our chances. What is for sure is that we are going to compete in what will be a nice knockout tie. Against [Barcelona] is the most difficult, the most complicated. I am sure of that. [But] these kids are well prepared to play these type of games.”
Simeone accepted a reporter’s suggestion that both Barca’s Lionel Messi [35 goals in all competitions this season] and his own side’s Diego Costa [33 in total, including seven in his first five CL games] could well have a say in which side progressed.
“[Cristiano] Ronaldo for Madrid, Messi for Barcelona and Diego Costa for us, they are over and above their teams,” Simeone said. “They are in a great moment of form. Diego is growing from day to day, and with Messi you can see now the month or two of rest which he had.”
Atletico’s biggest selection poser for the game is the choice of replacement for the suspended Raul Garcia. One option is former Barca attacker David Villa, who scored against his old team in August’s Supercopa meeting, but an attacking midfielder such as Diego or Jose Sosa looks a more likely choice.
“Now we are going to train and, from there, we will decide [the XI] tomorrow [Tuesday] at midday,” Simeone said. “We will be very close to the games which we have played recently."
Atletico have not reached this stage of the competition since 1996-97, when Simeone played in the side that lost 4-3 on aggregate to Ajax. Asked to explain “Cholismo”, or the faith of Colchoneros fans in their former player and now widely revered-boss, Simeone would only say that since rejoining as coach in December 2011 he had made sure to return the club to its historic principles.
“I cannot talk about what others say, but I am sure that we have our own identity, our way of playing, which is Atletico’s historical identity,” he said. “Following the history of a club which is characterised by what we have been showing now for two-and-a-half years. They [Barca] take their lead from the ball, we take our lead from the space on the pitch.”