Finally, Atlético Madrid get to do what they do best in a country where what they do best was invented — protecting a lead with the most stubborn of defences.
Dino Zoff, the legendary Juventus goalkeeper told El País on Monday that “it’s not easy to play like Atlético Madrid.” Diego Simeone is bringing his side and his methods to a land where they are appreciated, but a place where they know how to beat his methods too.
Atlético will travel to Turin with 20 players. Diego Costa and Thomas Partey are suspended while Filipe Luís and Lucas Hernández are both injured, leaving a hole at left-back that could be filled by Juanfran or Santiago Arias depending on what Simeone deems necessary.
Atleti’s form heading into this game is in stark contrast to the low ebb they were at before the first leg. They have won four on the bounce in typically abrasive style including a battling win over Leganés last weekend at the Wanda Metropolitano.
They carry a 2-0 lead into the game after Diego Godín and Jose Giménez scored in the first leg at the Wanda Metropolitano. Despite an injury concern, Godín should play, Simeone said.
If Atlético can get one goal, Max Allegri’s men will need to score four and they have failed to score in just five games this season — in only two of those did the mattress makers concede enough for Juventus to either qualify or bring the game to extra-time. There was the 4-0 aberration against Borussia Dortmund earlier in the Champions League group stage and a 2-0 defeat to Celta Vigo in Balaídos way back in September.
“I don’t like to talk about how we handle ourselves,” Simeone said when asked what he will say to motivate his players, remaining typically tight-lipped ahead of the showdown. “It speaks of an egocentricity that I don’t like. They know how we handle ourselves.”
Álvaro Morata returns to Juventus, where he helped them to a Champions League final during his first year at the club before Real Madrid exercised their buy-back option on him. He received a hero’s welcome as Atlético arrived in Turin and Simeone outlined what he expects from him during his press conference before the game, too.
“Like all strikers in the world, he gives us solutions to stretch the team,” he said. “To sustain play and to take advantage of the spaces a team that overwhelms you leaves behind them.”
That’s exactly how Atlético will and probably should play against a side desperate to qualify after their outlay on Cristiano Ronaldo during the summer.
“They have to play with their heads,” Zoff said as a warning to his former side because 90 minutes is a long time and it is sure to be an attritional affair — a game, most likely, not for the purist.
If you needed further proof that this is a defining game in Atlético’s season, you need to just look at Koke’s comments ahead of the game.
“We’ve played in riled up stadiums before, this is going to be like a war but it’s 11 versus 11 and we have to come out plugged in,” he said.
Atlético under Cholo Simeone have been criticised for their inability to adapt and their unwillingness to change. One thing you can’t accuse them of is being afraid to suffer when it’s time to, with wins over volcanically-attacking sides like Bayern Munich and Barcelona over two legs in the past.
With Real Madrid, their ultimate bogey team, out of the competition, Atlético might see it as a sign. Simeone is a notoriously superstitious man and he might be thinking this is his side’s year after a number of close calls in years gone by.