“Manchester United,” Diego Simeone said before falling silent, steel in his stare as he sat and waited for the next question. The Atlético Madrid manager had been asked about reports he was the coach Paris Saint-Germain had identified as the ideal candidate to take over after they were eliminated by Real Madrid in the last-16 of the Champions League but there was only one thing on his mind: not having the same fate befall his side.
Their league title defence over almost before it began, the Champions League is all Atlético have left. A month ago, most expected that not to last very long either and for the first time there were questions about Simeone’s future. But he said the significance of the club’s hierarchy backing him after a dreadful home defeat to Levante and with his authority re-established they have won four league games in succession since. They also had the better of the first leg against United, a 1-1 draw in Madrid, cautious optimism returning.
“It’s been one of the most complicated seasons we have since we have been here but we have had to find solutions as issues arise and see what we can do,” Simeone said, adding: “A bit like in this press room.” He said so because the microphone had failed but now it was working, a little like his team. If his side have not been outstanding lately, Atlético were fortunate to defeat relegation-threatened Cádiz on Friday, there has been a sense of recovering something of their old selves after an apparent identity crisis.
“Everyone has their own opinion [about styles] and we all try to do the best we can for the club we’re at with the characteristics of the players we have,” Simeone said. “Over the last 10 years we found a path where the results followed. Our characteristics are that [intensity].”
He suggested the counterattacking approach that has served his team suits United too and that this meeting would not have a singular pattern. “Ninety minutes of pressing high are impossible and you react depending on how the game unfolds. I imagine a dynamic game, alternating, [moments] for both sides, the kind you get in stadiums like this,” Simeone said. “At first, I imagine they will press us, there will be that vertigo that you get when you play at home. We also have the counter to take advantage of any mistakes they might make.
“With the players they have and their characteristics, with the players we have, I think it will be a game that alternates. They have the counter, too; it’s one of the greatest virtues and one of ours. There could be long periods of possession but I don’t think so; that would be unusual for us and for them. We know their potential but we have confidence.”
Atlético will be without Yannick Carrasco, who is suspended, and the injured Daniel Wass, Thomas Lemar and Sime Vrsaljko. Despite not training fully, Mario Hermoso, Josema Giménez and Geoffrey Kondogbia all travelled to Manchester.
“We’ve had a plague of injuries; those who are in the best condition will play,” Simeone said.