Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid’s Training & Press Conference (Getty Images)
LONDON, April 29: Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone on Tuesday rejected criticisms of Champions League semi-final opponents Chelsea’s style, asserting that “there’s not one way of playing football”. (Read: Jose Mourinho takes aim at tactical ‘philosophers’)
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers claimed that Chelsea had “parked two buses” during their 2-0 win at Anfield on Sunday, in which the visitors played on the counter-attack and enjoyed only 27 percent of possession.
With the semi-final tie poised at 0-0 ahead of the second leg, Simeone must find a way to pierce Chelsea’s well-drilled defence, but he says that there is no onus on opposite number Jose Mourinho to send his side out to attack.
“I’m a football fan and I respect the different ways of setting up your team in a football match,” Simeone told a pre-match press conference at Stamford Bridge.
“It depends on what you believe is the convenient way of setting up the team and who you are playing against.
“You have to congratulate teams who defend well, but attacking is not easy either, so you have to congratulate teams who attack well, too.
“The most important thing is that the team wins, regardless of how you do it. There’s not one way of playing football.
“If we all played the same way, it would be very boring. You can play 10 up front or 10 at the back. What matters is the result.”
Atletico midfielder Tiago Mendes, who spent the 2004-05 season at Chelsea under Mourinho, says that he and his team-mates fully expect that they will have to take the game to their opponents.
“We know it’ll be very difficult because they leave no space, but we need to find a solution to that,” said the former Portugal international.
“I think it’ll be a difficult game for both sides. It’s the semi-finals of the Champions League. It won’t be easy at all, but we just need to play to our strengths.”
- ‘Courtois will handle pressure’ -
Chelsea received a pre-match boost on Tuesday when goalkeeper Petr Cech, captain John Terry, winger Eden Hazard and striker Samuel Eto’o all reported for training despite doubts about their fitness. (Read: John Terry ‘deserves’ final place, says Jose Mourinho)
Cech remains unlikely to play after dislocating his shoulder in the first leg last week, but Simeone says that Atletico will be ready to face whichever team is put in front of them.
“I always imagine I’ll be facing the best possible rival,” said the former Argentina midfielder.
“We’ll be facing a team that went to the leaders of the Premier League, Liverpool, and won 2-0, despite making a lot of changes to their team.
“Even with a lot of changes, they were able to beat the Premier League leaders. It shows they have a super-competitive squad and that generates a lot of respect from us.
“We need to be focused. We know we’ll be facing the best Chelsea team possible.”
Atletico goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who is on loan from Chelsea, will be making his first ever appearance at Stamford Bridge in Wednesday’s game.
The 21-year-old Belgium international was loaned to Atletico immediately after joining Chelsea from Genk in 2011.
He has since emerged as one of the world’s foremost young goalkeepers and Simeone believes that he will not be daunted by the prospect of his unusual homecoming.
“I think he’ll handle the pressure and handle the atmosphere without any problems,” said Simeone, whose side lead La Liga by two points and are two wins away from a first Spanish league title since 1996.
“He’s working hard to compete and to be one of the best goalkeepers at the moment, but he’s still a young player who’s growing and he still needs time to mature and to grow.”