The imposing figure of Diego Pablo Simeone returning to the Vicente Calderón touchline may be just the tonic last season’s Champions League finalists Atlético Madrid need as they look to go one better in Europe this season.
The Argentine, or ‘Cholo’ as he is affectionately known, sat in the stands as Atleti lost their first European match in normal time since February 2013 in Athens against Olympiakos last month to get their current Champions League campaign off to an unimpressive start.
That 3-2 defeat in Greece has left the Spanish champions with it all to do to qualify from their group stage and the visit of a Juventus side that have won all of their competitive matches this season, scoring 12 goals without conceding any, does not offer an easy opportunity to bounce back and get their first Champions League points on the board this term.
Simeone sat out the match in Athens due to a one-match touchline ban imposed by Uefa for his antics in May’s Champions League final. It came in the middle of a domestic ban which was carried over from last season and extended into the early stages of this term owing to his behaviour in Atleti’s 2-1 Spanish Super Cup victory over Real Madrid in August. Assistant Germán Burgos took control of the side from the dugout while Simeone watched on from the stands.
While the impact of his domestic ban was not too detrimental, with victory against neighbours Real at the Santiago Bernabeu coming within that spell, the loss against Olympiakos with Simeone in the stands came as a surprise and has left last season’s runners-up with a tough task of progressing to the knock-out stages.
The former Atleti midfielder returned to the dugout at the weekend for Atleti’s crucial La Liga clash against an in-form Sevilla at the Calderón and his presence was enough to help inspire his side to a commanding 4-0 victory and arguably the best performance of the season so far. Now the hope amongst Atleti fans is for more of the same tonight when Massimiliano Allegri and his unbeaten Juventus side arrive in the Spanish capital.
Allegri departed Milan last season before Atleti saw off the Rossoneri over two-legs en-route to the final in Lisbon but he knows Los Colchoneros will be an even tougher nut to crack with Simeone, who knows Serie A well thanks to his time as a player with Inter and Lazio and as a manager with Catania, at the helm. "I expect it to be a very technical match,” he said. “This team reflects Simeone's character with incredible mental strength, unity and pressing for 90-plus minutes.” He added: ”Let’s not forget Simeone led this team to victory in La Liga and lost the Champions League final by a single minute.”
Atlético have not suffered a home defeat in Europe since February 2013 when they lost 2-0 against Rubin Kazan in the Europa League and eventually bowed out 2-1 on aggregate in an unsuccessful defence of their trophy. Since then clubs including Milan, Barcelona and Chelsea have failed to win at the Calderón and Simeone’s side are going to need the same success on home soil if they are to make it to the knock-out stages again this season.
"For us, it's a final,” said Atleti centre-back Diego Godin. “We are accustomed to playing finals every weekend and we'll face it as a great match because we need the points. At our stadium and with our people, we’ll do everything in our hand to win the match”. The Uruguay international mirrored his manager’s comments and few teams have such a close bond with their fans as Atleti.
Few teams have enjoyed such an impressive start to the season as Juve have, however. After being sacked as Milan coach before his side faced Atleti last season, and eventually crashed out 5-1 on aggregate, Allegri has guided the Italian champions to six wins from as many matches without conceding a goal. Atleti pride themselves on their defence and the tactical battle will be an intriguing one, especially with the hosts more desperate for the victory than their visitors.
Simeone will make special plans to contain fellow countryman Carlo Tevez, who has made a blistering start to the season with four goals from as many games. He is expected to start alongside Spaniard Fernando Llorente, who is yet to score this term, while former Real Madrid player and Atleti youth team graduate Alvaro Morata could also play some part over the course of the night.
Miguel Moyá will start in goal for the hosts after big-money summer signing Jan Oblak started in Athens, while Simeone will wait until the last minute to see if Gabi is fit to feature after the midfielder missed training sessions earlier in the week due to an ankle injury sustained in the weekend league win. Frenchman Antoine Griezmann is set to make his first start for the club in the Champions League.
Tonight’s match will be the first time the sides have met in the Champions League and it is arguably the European tie of the week. Both are amongst the favourites to win the competition but Atleti need the three points more than Juventus after the Italians opened their campaign with a 2-0 win over Malmo. Simeone’s presence back on the touchline could prove crucial in whether Atleti can go far in Europe again.Reuse content