For the 4th consecutive season Atletico Madrid find themselves in the Champions League quarter-finals. Would I bet everything I had on them lifting the trophy in a tournament still full of “bigger clubs”? No, probably not.
Have they got a realistic chance? Of course they have and it’s largely down to Simeone. What makes him so sought after?
To put it simply, Ateltico are a selling club. In the same way that Spurs and Liverpool will continue to be for the next few. I don’t mean they constantly sell players, though if a player becomes truly world class, in all likelihood they will move on.
Radamel Falcao left for Monaco in the summer of 2013 and many questioned who would step up as Atletico’s next great striker. A player who had performed well as a second striker behind Falcao stepped up to carry Atletico – Diego Costa.
If anything, Costa did better than Falcao. Simeone then lost three vital cogs of his team in Thibaut Courtois, Luis, and Costa in one transfer window. Nevertheless, they continue to compete regardless of these setbacks with an almost seamless transition. He just gets on with it.
Simeone is sometimes labelled as one dimensional, though personally I do not think that is the case. Do people expect him to play Barcelona at their own game and get comprehensively beaten?
For me, he has the personality to adapt to any philosophy of playing. Notwithstanding the key Simeone requirement- “Every player in the team has to assist defensively and sacrifice individual expression for the sake of the system.”
Atletico like to sit deep in a narrow, compact shape that they only break to press the ball when the odds of success are high. When the ball is won, there isn’t much side to side passing. Instead opponents are caught out before they can form their own defensive shape.
Simeone clearly knows that potentially losing the ball in the attacking third is less costly than in midfield. Safety first, chances in the final third. He likes to hurt teams with the ball, not just have it for the sake of it. It’s a philosophy that fits the Premier League perfectly. Take note Arsenal.
He doesn’t just push his players, he stretches them. There’s a key difference. What really impresses me is his ability to do it over time. To come in and have a fiery short term impact is one thing, but to sustain it over time is another.
Guillem Balague pointed out that “every press conference he ever does has an abundance of words like “humility” “sacrifice” and “passion””. He has made the players and fans believe in him through this passion and resilience that very few managers, and in fact teams, possess.
Ranieri explained this week on Sky sports “Madrid play in Italian style. It’s very, very difficult – 4-4-2, very compact, very strong, straightaway go forward. Good players, high quality, high intensity. When I built Leicester, Atletico Madrid was one of the teams I watched.” Ironically it is Ranieri’s former side Leicester that take on Atletico in the Champions league tonight.
No team has collected more victories in the Champions League this season than Atletico Madrid and over two legs they are a match for anyone. I’d like them to win it, for Simeone.