There is no crueler moment for Atlético de Simeone than the 2014 Lisbon Champions League final, the beginning of a title obsession that evokes the worst memories but also sustains the voracity of a group that He finds himself again before his greatest challenge, in the same city, with a format readapted by Covid-19 and with Leipzig as the first or last opponent at the José Alvalade stadium.
There’s no margin of error. Not now, in the quarterfinals, not in the semifinals, as there has never been in the final. To a match. If you win, you pass; If you lose, you go home without possible consolation, especially in a team with as many expectations as Atlético, whose reality does not allow for concessions or admits feelings of a favorite against any opponent. He’s just nobody else, for sure. Perhaps not less.
It is the perspective from which he focuses again on the Champions League, which he arrives at with the agitation caused by the two positives for Covid-19 on Sunday by Ángel Correa and Sime Vrsaljko, casualties for the match and isolated in their respective homes . The rest of the squad tested negative in the PCR tests on the same Sunday, the results of which were known on Monday, and on Tuesday, a day later than expected, they traveled to Lisbon, where this Wednesday they will undergo a final test for the duel from Thursday.
The results, according to the UEFA protocol, must be delivered no later than six hours before the start of the match. There is no competition that awakens more ambition at Atlético than the Champions League. The debt of Brussels, in 1974, when a magnificent team of footballers then, today legends, felt capable of everything in Europe, when a goal by Luis Aragonés put the powerful Bayern Munich in check and when Hans Georg Schwarzenbeck thwarted everything in the last moment of extra time (in the tiebreaker a day later he lost 4-0), it is now much more than that: it is an obsession.
For Lisbon, in 2014. And for Milan, in 2016. For having it so close. At the Benfica stadium he had won it until minute 93, until Sergio Ramos’ 1-1 (extra time ended 4-1 later); at San Siro she was competed until the last penalty and felt the final defeat, at least Simeone, as a « failure ».
At such a point is the demand of the rojiblanco team, perched again to promote the biggest jump in its history. If he loses there is the abyss of disappointment. If he wins all three games he will fly to where very few have reached. And even less so in modern football.
Without the final title, his feat at Anfield last March will have been worthless. At that time, an Atlético was not as strong as now. There was a sense of growth, which was not completely conclusive until the return of the break, with irrefutable data that reinforces the team, undefeated in its last 18 official competition matches since last February 1.
In Liverpool, the Marcos Llorente phenomenon emerged, already consolidated as an overflowing offensive reality, surely the most resounding of the current one
Athletic. He has been an essential element in 11 of the last 22 goals for his team, which he has found in the offensive transformation of the central midfielder much more than a resource, to such an extent that his ownership is now practically indisputable.
Ahead of Joao Félix or Álvaro Morata, substitutes in such a definitive game, and next to Diego Costa, still pending a much more forceful claim than his simple improvement since the resumption of activity. He needs her and Atlético needs him, with only one doubt in the eleven on the right side between Kieran Trippier or Santiago Arias, with the most likely Englishman.
The other positions are clear: goalkeeper Jan Oblak; the centrals Stefan Savic and José María Giménez; the left back Renan Lodi; and midfielders Koke Resurrección, Héctor Herrera, Saúl Ñíguez and Yannick Carrasco, from right to left. In addition to the losses of Ángel Correa and Sime Vrsaljko, Simeone also maintains the serious doubt of Thomas Partey, who is finalizing his recovery from the muscle injury suffered on July 19 in the last day of LaLiga Santander against Real Sociedad.
Before him, a confrontation of undoubted styles, clearly differentiated, between Atlético de Simeone and Leipzig, an adversary with a clearly offensive profile. One understands the construction of victories and teams from defense; another bet on the attack to trace the way to the same goal.
« It is the most important game in history » for Leipzig, which is preparing it as such. Since last Saturday he has been in Portugal. That the history of the club is young does not matter. He has a chance to get into the semi-finals of the Champions League; a fact that would amplify the vertiginous rise that the team has had since it was founded in the lower categories.
The German team is clear that Atlético, by tradition and trade, starts as a favorite but their coach, Julian Nagelsmann, is convinced that the one-game duel favors his team. The withdrawal of Timo Werner, the club’s top scorer in the history of the Bundesliga who is already in the discipline of Chelsea, undoubtedly causes a void in the team.
However, it is also true that a rival like Atlético did not suit Werner’s type of game, which needs spaces to exploit his speed. Without him, Nagelsmann will have to choose between the Czech Patrick Schick or the Danish Yousuf Poulsen for the attack point. Schick seems to have the upper hand.
In the Champions League, Leipzig’s most valuable player has been Austrian midfielder Marcel Sabitzer, for his goals and assists, which were key in the round of 16 to eliminate Tottenham, whom he defeated 4-0 on aggregate, by 0-1 in the first leg and 3-0 in the return leg. A warning for Atlético.
Atlético de Madrid: Oblak; Trippier or Arias, Savic, Giménez, Lodi; Koke, Herrera, Saúl, Carrasco; Llorente, Diego Costa.
Leipzig: Gulacsi; Klostermann, Upamecano, Halsterberg; Kampl, Dani Olmo; Mukiele, Laimer, Sabitzer, Angeliño; Schick.
Referee: Szymon Marciniak (Poland).
Stadium: José Alvalade.
Hour: 2:00 p.m. (Columbian time)