Atlético Madrid boss Diego Simeone has lauded Barcelona ‘the best’ ahead of the league leaders’ trip to the Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday night.
History is against Atleti in this fixture, with the hosts winless against their Catalan opponents in the league since 2010.
Ernesto Valverde’s side are coming off the back of a damaging 4-3 loss to Real Betis before the international break and are without the suspended Ivan Rakitic.
Barça know that a defeat in the capital would see them be overtaken at the top of La Liga by at least one team with Sevilla also lying within touching distance.
Diego Simeone couldn’t hide his admiration for Atlético’s Saturday opponents in his press conference on Friday afternoon. Barcelona have come under some criticism since their Betis beating but ‘El Cholo’ has always admired them.
“It’s cost us a lot to beat Barcelona, they’ve always been the best in the world without having to go far in Europe. They’re record in Spain is tremendous.”
During Simeone’s spell in the Atlético hotseat, Barcelona have won 15 major trophies under five different managers. However, Simeone got the better of his Catalan counterparts in 2014 when Los Rojiblancos picked up their first La Liga title since 1996.
Simeone’s efficient and structured style of play hasn’t changed much over the years and Ernesto Valverde know his team will be in for a tough battle: “The two teams have a very clear style of play. Each will play their part more or less. We know that they start each half strongly. They could possibly put a lot of pressure on us.”
Barcelona will be without Philippe Coutinho for the trip to Madrid. The Brazilian was up against the clock to be fit in time having missed the last weeks with injury. French misfit Ousmane Dembele has travelled despite current frosty relations between him and the club due to his poor discipline. Arturo Vidal is expected to deputise for the suspended Rakitic while Samuel Umtiti could start.
“I will try to manage him in the best way,” Valverde said of his World Cup-winning defender. “It’s [choosing between Umtiti and Lenglet] far from being a problem, it’s a solution. We have only had two centre backs for many games. They have put up with it well, without injuries, and now we have another possibility.”
Unlike Valverde, Simeone is short of options at the back with both Angel Maria Jimenez and Diego Godin ruled out through injury. It’s a recurring theme in an Atletico squad that has struggled for consistency in terms of a starting eleven so far this season.
“We work to try and minimalise the chance of having injuries, like every other team. Now we’re doing good, we only have three out for tomorrow’s game,” said Simeone. “I understand that for you [the press] injuries are more important than the match but for us they’re in the past. Out of 18 players in the squad we have 15 professionals available for selection, we play with 11, so it’s fine.”
Diego Forlán and Simão were the goal scorers when Barcelona last tasted defeat to Atlético Madrid in La Liga. The 2-1 scoreline at the Vicente Calderón in February 2010 was Barcelona’s only league loss during another incredible season under Pep Guardiola.