Despite starting Wednesday’s Champions League semifinal return leg 3-0 down to Real Madrid, Colchoneros coach Diego Simeone said he trusts his players have the ability and mentality to turn things around and reach the final.
Atletico were completely outplayed in last week’s first leg at Santiago Bernabeu, with Madrid talisman Cristiano Ronaldo netting his latest hat trick and Simeone’s side looking a shadow of the tough, intense outfit which had twice pushed their neighbours all the way in the 2014 and 2016 UCL finals.
No side has ever overturned even a two-goal first-leg defeat at this stage of the semifinals, but Simeone told his pregame news conference at the Vicente Calderon that he knew his squad would give everything they had and hope to start well to get back into the tie.
“We trust in ourselves, we know our strengths, what we are capable of doing,” Simeone said. “We will not move from this for tomorrow’s game.
“I trust a lot in my players. I know most of them for five and a half years, and have no doubt that tomorrow will be a good game. We want to start the game strongly, like all teams playing at home.
Asked how he could motivate his side for such a seemingly impossible task, Simeone turned the question around and said his players thrived on difficult challenges.
“If I need to motivate the players for tomorrow’s game, I would have to leave the club immediately,” he said. “Motivation appears just from waking up in the morning and seeing what is front of them.
The week since the first leg has seen criticism from Rojiblanco pundits of the pregame Bernabeu banner, and Atletico’s social media team looking to heighten the atmosphere for the return.
“All this forms part of our sport, the people enjoy this type of competition, this rivalry between two such important teams in the world,” Simeone said. “It is a game that helps the media sell more papers too. But once the referee blows and the game starts, everything else counts very little.”
Simeone suggested that right-back Juanfran Torres and versatile defender Jose Maria Gimenez were available for selection after recent injury issues, while saying that he felt he now had more options to choose from within his squad.
“We are seeing Juanfran and Gimenez improving, and Kevin Gameiro and Yannick Carrasco are much better now after their problems,” he said. “After many months we are close to having the full squad back available, which is positive so the coach can choose what he understands he needs for the game tomorrow. That includes the emotional side, and the football side.”
While Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has been resting his biggest names on and off through recent months, Simeone has had to keep using his most important players week in, week out. Simeone accepted that his side was at a disadvantage in terms of overall squad strength and resources although they always tried to overcome this.
“The minutes and the kilometres are there to be seen,” Simeone said. “Real Madrid has possibly the best squad in the world, with Barcelona and Bayern Munich. We compete in a place where we are proud to be
“In these semifinals we are the only one who are not champions in their domestic league. Monaco are top, Juventus are almost champs, and Madrid are close to it. We have our own weapons, and always try very difficult things, but nobody will stop until the referee blows his whistle to finish the game.”