On Wednesday night, Atlético Madrid and Manchester City will battle to book a place in a Champions League semifinal opposite Real Madrid.
Atlético trail by a goal entering the second leg of a Champions League knockout tie for the fifth time under Diego Simeone. On two occasions — against Bayer Leverkusen in 2015 and FC Barcelona in 2016 — Atlético were able to come from behind and advance to the next round.
In Tuesday’s press conference, Koke exuded confidence that this inconsistent Atleti side can become the third in the Simeone Era to erase that first-leg disadvantage.
“Tomorrow is a good time to end (the winless run at home in the Champions League),” Koke said. “We hope the club can solve (the issue with the UEFA) sanction so that everyone is there tomorrow. I have good feelings, I’ve talked about it with many people, and I have the same feelings as in 2014 against Barcelona.”
Atlético successfully appealed a UEFA decision that would have seen the Wanda Metropolitano partially-closed on Wednesday. At least 5,000 supporters were set to be turned away as a result of far-right Atleti fans’ Nazi-sympathizing actions during the away leg last week. Neither Koke nor Diego Simeone discussed the matter on Tuesday. Both merely expressed hope that the 68,000-seat Metropolitano would be at full capacity for the rematch. The punishment will be enforced during Atleti’s next home European match.
Simeone has been heavily criticized since the first leg ended for what has been perceived as a negative approach to dealing with Man City’s many threats. Cholo had the chance to respond on Tuesday, and he more than took it, channeling his late father Carlos in a forceful answer.
“I’ve been coaching since 2005 and I’ve never been critical of a colleague. Never. It’s like my father used to say: ‘the mouth kills the fish,’ he said. “You always have to show respect. Always, always, always.”
Atlético are expected to field a similar side to the one that fell 1-0 at the City of Manchester Stadium last Tuesday, but the anticipation is the Rojiblancos will seek counterattacking opportunities more aggressively. Šime Vrsaljko might drop to the bench, and Marcos Llorente will take his place at right-wingback if he does. With José Giménez still unfit for action, Felipe Monteiro will retain his spot in central defense, but Simeone has to decide whether Yannick Carrasco or Renan Lodi will play on the left. Antoine Griezmann and João Félix will be the duo up front.
“I could have room (to play both Carrasco and Lodi),” Simeone said. “Halftime is always the time to look at things. Carrasco is very excited and eager, last season he was fantastic and we need that Carrasco, who is very important to us at that level.”
“We know the player Griezmann is,” Koke said. “He is one of the best in the world, he has won the World Cup with France, and here at Atlético he has also done great things. There will be 10 or 11 more guys on the pitch who will give everything, plus the players on the bench and the fans in the stands.”
Date April 13, 2022
Location Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid
Kickoff time 9:00 p.m. CET, 8:00 p.m. GMT, 3:00 p.m. EST, 12:00 p.m. PST
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