ATLÉTICO MADRID

Diego Simeone speaks ahead of the Champions League final

The Argentinian coach alluded to his tactical approach to the San Siro showpiece against Real Madrid during Atlético's Media Day, "I expect them to play on the counter".

Diego Simeone during a press conference
JUAN MEDINA REUTERS

With just one week to go until the much anticipated replay of the 2014 Champions League final, Atlético Madrid manager Diego Simeone spoke to the press during the Rojiblancos' Media Day in the club’s sports complex in Majadahonda.

These past two weeks must feel like a very long time?

When you work hard every day, time goes by more quickly. There is a lot of expectation riding on this game.

How are Atlético gearing up for this final in comparison to 2014?

The league campaign was very different this year, this time round we finished third after a very good season. The level of expectation will play a determining role. We’re up against an opponent with fantastic football players; they’re among the three best sides on the planet.

Giménez or Savic to start in defence?

All four central defenders could be involved, they’re all excellent. They’ve all performed extremely well this season. That tells you how well equipped we are defensively. As the match nears we’ll decide who is best suited to starting the game.

What does playing another final against Real Madrid signify?

It’s fantastic to play in a Champions League final. We’re playing our second in three years, which is incredibly important for the club and for us as a team.

What do you expect from Real Madrid?

I imagine they’ll play similarly to how they did against Manchester City. Casemiro offers them defensive steel. I expect they’ll play on the counter, as they have been doing up until now in the competition. Our plan is to keep our lines and press them as high up the pitch as possible to make it a high-intensity encounter.

How would you evaluate the job Zidane has done?

Firstly, I take my hat off to him for what he’s achieved. He’s done very well; he took over at a tricky moment. You can see the players hold him in high regard and that is reflected on the pitch. He has helped them rediscover their spark, their speed in attack. Now they make more use out of the speed of their three front men. He has settled things for them and allowed them to compete their way to second in La Liga, and it goes without saying reaching the Champions League final is a significant feat.

How difficult is it to be a leader with your family living so far away?

Obviously living abroad and being away from your children isn’t easy. That inevitably causes difficulties, but the quality of the time spent together trumps the quantity. Our family spends quality time together.

What has the mood in the dressing room been like since the 2014 final?

Very positive.

How would you rate Saúl’s season?

He’s come on leaps and bounds. He’s worked his socks off to get where he is. Hopefully his mental fortitude will prevent him from becoming complacent.

Who is the favourite?

It’s 50/50 going into the final. Both teams are equally likely to win. In a one-off match both sides have a chance. We want to win.

If Real Madrid don’t take the initiative, how will Atlético react?

We’d play with the ball. You have to play with the ball, there’s no other option. You can see the playing style Madrid employ in the Champions League. City’s attempts to backtrack proved ineffective in the face of Madrid’s speed in attack. They were very good from a tactical standpoint, and I’d expect them to play similarly if presented with the same situation again. We have a different playing style, which is fantastic.

How do you deal with criticism?

I’m very respectful of everyone’s opinion. Our playing style is based on rejuvenating our team and empowering players in terms of the fundamentals of the game. We’re open to criticism, sometimes that’s what makes you better.

What are your thoughts on Carrasco’s season?

Along with Augusto, he has adapted extremely quickly. He is playing excellently at the moment and has a very bright future ahead. He is a hugely important player for us heading into this final. He has a good change of pace, can score goals and runs at players… For however long we decide to play him, he’ll play an important role.