In anticipation of the massive Champions League ties in the Quarter-Final stage, we’ve done something special for our build-up. Eight teams, eight experts, each giving us their insight into their team’s chances, tactical set ups and bold predictions.
Firstly, what are your thoughts on Atlético’s Champions League campaign so far?
Given we haven’t had a great deal of experience in the competition recently, so far it couldn’t have gone any better. We were a little fortunate with the group stage draw but did what we had to do, and I think being the first team to qualify really sent a message out and showed that we shouldn’t be taken lightly. We’ve also proved throughout the season that we can compete both in Europe and domestically, which has been especially pleasing.
What would your priority be, La Liga or Champions League? Especially given that Simeone doesn’t, and can’t afford to rotate his squad?
Honestly I couldn’t really decide, my mind changes every day! After the first leg in Milan I asked this very question to a few members of my supporters club whilst leaving the San Siro, and most of them said they would prefer the Champions League. Personally though, to win La Liga, “the two team league”, would be nothing short of a miracle all things considered, and I don’t think anything could top that.
Lionel Messi has an impressive scoring record against Atlético, finding the net 20 times. He’s only scored more goals in the Clasico than this fixture. So just how do you stop him?
I couldn’t say how exactly, but if we play with the same intensity we did in the Super Cup last August then it can be done. In the first leg especially of that tie he was given nothing, no space, no time to shoot, nothing. Our work-rate and discipline was incredible, and it would take that kind of performance to stop him again. It’s actually been 5 games now since Messi last scored against us, so I’m sure he’ll be keen to put that right.
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Everyone will be focusing on Diego Costa, but who is that other man who could prove to be Atletico’s key player?
The team collective is without doubt more important for us than any individual, although if I were to single out one man it would be Gabi. He is the heart and soul of Simeone’s Atleti and has been a revelation this year, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player improve as much as he has. Obviously midfield is key against Barca, and although they will dominate possession, if we can shut them down and make things as uncomfortable as possible then we stand a good chance. Gabi is a master at this and as captain, he’ll be the example for the rest of the team to follow.
What would your starting XI for the first leg against Barcelona be?
Courtois; Juanfran, Godin, Miranda, Filipe; Koke, Gabi, Tiago, Arda; Diego Costa, Villa.
As Raúl García is suspended, the only real debate is between Tiago and Mario Suárez in midfield. Mario often saves his best performances for the big games, but I think Tiago is more suited to playing against teams like Barca and has experience at this level. I’ll trust whoever Cholo chooses though.
We attempt to track the progress of the best young players as much as time allows under our #TalentRadar and Scout Report features. Which youngster coming through from Atlético are you most excited about?
Most people know about Óliver Torres, Saúl and Manquillo, so I’ll go with somebody a little lesser established. Atleti are known for bringing through strikers, and there is an 18 year-old forward in our reserve side, Hector Hernández, who I really like. He made his first-team debut in the Copa del Rey back in December and scored just 2 minutes after coming on, and also really impressed in the UEFA Youth League. Definitely one to keep an eye on, although sadly this season he’s had a few injuries which have stopped him from playing more.
Finally, if you were to make a prediction for the tie, who do you see going through? Any particular scoreline?
I’m always cautious, but think it’ll be pretty close like in the Super Cup. This time we play the second leg at home though which may be an advantage, I’ll put my neck on the line and say a 2-1 aggregate win for Atleti.
Over to you, what are your thoughts on Atletico Madrid and their Champions League chances?
For the rest of our interviews from this series and all our other interviews, head this way.