Preview: Atlético Madrid in the semi-finals
Before the game we talked with an Atleti fan from Scotland. Kinga follows Atlético since 2007 and gives us some insight in a team that has reached the top European level in recent years.
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. Could you please introduce yourself to our readers? Where are you from and how did you become a fan of Atlético Madrid? What’s so special about your club?
Hi, my name is Kinga and I’m from Scotland. I started supporting Atlético Madrid in 2007 after the club signed Simão Sabrosa, whose style of play I’d become completely captivated by during the 2006 World Cup (and not just because he scored a penalty against England!). The 07-08 was a fantastic season for the club and got me completely hooked. It hasn’t always been that enjoyable, and things got really quite bad for a while before Simeone steadied the ship, but suffering is all part of being an Atléti supporter – and boy do they make us suffer!
Atlético is again having a great season in La Liga and also in the UEFA Champions League. Diego Simeone is a big part of your success. What’s his philosophy and why is he so successful with Atlético?
Since the very first day that Simeone took over, the club has had a completely different outlook. He’s a winner, and he’s instilled that same mentality into all the players, making them believe they are better than they are. There is a mutual trust between the players and Simeone, and this is very evident on the pitch. He likes his team to play with intensity and determination, making efficient use of set plays, counters and exploiting the weaknesses of the opposition. Effort is non-negotiable!
There are some rumors about him leaving Atlético. How do you feel about that?
It’s inevitable that he’ll move on at some stage, and I’ll be gutted when he does, but I don’t think Simeone’s work here is done. He’s clearly building for the future and it is very unlikely that he’d leave in the midst of a pending transfer ban. He also has a deal until 2020, as do the backroom staff, so I won’t be doing much worrying until then!
What’s your opinion about the “best league in the world” discussion? How do you rate La Liga compared to the Bundesliga? What image does German football have in Spain?
I’m biased, but I do believe that La Liga is the best league in the world. You only have to look at the success of Spanish clubs in European competitions to see the quality of the sides in the league. La Liga, much like the Bundesliga, is seen as having an uncompetitive title race, and there’s a huge disparity between the haves and have-nots, though things have got much more exciting since we’ve started to push Real Madrid and Barcelona. Where the Bundesliga trumps La Liga is the organisation; Spanish football clubs are terribly run – and I include Atléti in that bracket – whereas German football clubs appear much more stable, and the TV money distribution is much fairer than it is here in Spain.
Since Barcelona dropped points in the last games, you are back in the title race in La Liga. How big are your hopes about winning the title and could the title race be a problem for the Champions League? Especially your defensive line has suffered some injuries in the last weeks.
At Atléti we follow Simeone’s mantra of ‘partido a partido’, meaning we take one game at a time, so in that sense having something to play for doesn’t really impact the team’s mentality or the way we approach each game. Of course I believe that it is possible, but ultimately it is not in our hands as Barcelona have a head-to-head advantage over us. Our fixture list is also arguably the most difficult of the three, especially as we have games against Bayern in-between. In saying that, I think if you asked Atléti fans what they wanted more, the majority would say the Champions League. We have had quite a number of injuries in defence recently, and it looks like Diego Godín will miss the first leg of the tie at the very least, but we’re very blessed to have four highly talented centre-backs at the club. Our system makes it really easy for players to slot in and out.
Let’s talk about the upcoming semifinals. How do you expect your team against Bayern? Does Simeone have different tactics for the home and the away game in the CL?
I expect us to play in a similar fashion to what we did against Barcelona, the only difference being Bayern are a physically much stronger team. For the home leg we’ll probably play 4-3-3 and put a lot of pressure on Bayern from the first minute, hopefully grabbing an early goal. We will then probably drop back a bit deeper and let Bayern have the majority of the ball. Away from home we’ll most likely play a narrow 4-4-2, with Gabi and Augusto in the double pivot, and play on the counter.
I expect us to line up: Oblak, Juanfran, Giménez, Lucas, Filipe, Augusto, Gabi, Koke, Saúl, Griezmann, Torres.
Which players are your key to success and how could Atlético surprise Bayern?
The first player I’d say will be key is Koke. When Koke plays well, Atléti play well. Our upturn in results in the last few months has coincided with Koke’s return to form, and this is no surprise. Koke is the focal point of creativity in the team, especially since Arda Turan left to join Barcelona. Simeone has given him more of a central role in attack lately and this has really paid off. He’s also an incredibly hard-working player, and he’ll cover every inch of the pitch, tracking back and pressing the opposition.
Another two key players, especially against Bayern, will be our fullbacks Juanfran and Filipe Luís. Both are essential to our attacking play; making runs, moving the ball quickly inside, providing an outlet further up the pitch and delivering balls into the box. Bayern’s wingers will provide a great test of their defensive capabilities, though they are rarely ever left to defend 1-v-1, with one or two other players going wide to assist them.
As for surprising Bayern, I don’t think there is much unpredictability to our play, but Ángel Correa has proved a deadly substitute this season, and we are experts at creating chances from set-pieces.
Where are your weaknesses and where do you expect weaknesses in Bayern’s game?
Our main weakness is scoring goals. Generally this isn’t a problem given the amount of clean sheets we keep, but I think it’s unlikely that we won’t concede against Bayern. On the flip side, I think Bayern’s biggest weakness is at the back – so I do see us scoring! While there are a lot of great footballers in Bayern’s defence, I wouldn’t say they were the best defenders. It will be interesting to see if Boateng returns for either.
If you could pick one player from the Bayern squad, who would you go for and why? Is there something that you like about Bayern?
Since scoring goals is our main issue, I’d take Robert Lewandowski. He’s got great strength, can find space in the box and is a magnificent finisher. He is also very good in the air, which is something I think suits our style of play. Bayern are a wonderful team with a lot of fantastic individual talents, and the pace with which they attack is frightening, especially down the wings.
What are your expectations for both games and who will reach the final?
I expect it to be an amazing tactical showdown between two very different styles of football; an unstoppable force against an unmovable object. I think Bayern are favourites to reach the final but psychologically that suits us. Hopefully we can finally put the ghosts of the ’74 final to rest.