After Thursday’s practice, a training session that included a staggering 17 Atlético youth academy members, Rojiblanco boss Diego Simeone gave a press conference looking ahead at Monday’s home opener in La Liga against Athletic Bilbao.
With regard to our Europa League final foes, who have experienced a tumultuous summer with word of the possibility of some key departures in Javi Martínez and Fernando Llorente, ‘El Cholo’ said:
“I expect a competitive team. I know the coaching staff and I know that adversity will not stop them. They are strong and they work well. As a result, I expect the best version of Athletic, the team that featured in the last championship, in the Cup and the League.
“We hope to put in a good performance and a positive result back in the Calderón, where it is a joy for the players and for us all.”
Simeone, who served as the conductor of the masses in his inaugural year in the coach’s box at the Colchonero stadium, is hoping for a packed house on Monday.
“For us it is a joy to return to the Vicente Calderón,” he said.
“I imagine that many people will come. It is the first official match we played after winning the Europa League and is the match before the Super Cup. We need and expect the support of our fans. Hopefully we can perform well and send out a message to generate excitement ahead of the league, which is what we want to do.”
The Argentine tactician shed some light on his decision to roll out three central defenders last Sunday against Levante.
“In principle, for those not in the know, Kader had stomach problems until Friday and joined the squad late,” he said.
“Cata had a great preseason and understood our need to work and what to play with three at the back in Colombia. ‘Cebolla’ did a great job on the left. The game went how we thought it would with our defence being secure and allowing us to be in control of the game.
“We are working to improve all the previous defensive situations and exploit offensive opportunities.”
The reason the manager was forced to alter the line-up was because of the unavailability of starting full-backs Filipe Luís and Juanfran. It was reported on Friday that Filipe trained with the squad and looks set for his first appearance in the fold this season against Los Leones, but Juanfran remains a doubt.
“We have talked to the doctors, the boys are trying and doing studies, they are progressing in their recovery and in training,” he said.
“We will be watching their progress. They may be available for Monday.”
Assessing the result of our first clash of the 2012/13 campaign and sharing his expectations for the rest of the year, the former Atlético midfielder said:
“I think we will grow game after game. In the first game, the team I thought was strong defensively, with a dangerous opponent, who is very patient and can wait for the time to strike. The team was able to react and that’s a good thing. After 20 minutes it was 1-1 and we were in control of the ball.”
Simeone seemed to insinuate that Atleti aren’t closed for business just yet for this transfer window.
“I said a long time ago that the doors are not closed,” he said.
“I’m used to the end of the transfer market bringing lots of movement, so it does not scare me at all. I’m aware of what can happen because we have a good standing with the club. I know the needs of the club, first, and the club knows the needs of the team. So we work accordingly to generate what the club needs and what the team needs.
“There’s always time. Until you close the book, anything can happen.”
With the Super Cup final against Chelsea right around the corner, El Cholo wants his men to focus exclusively on the upcoming bout versus Bilbao.
“We have to think about Athletic and putting in a good performance in this game then we have the European Super Cup, but we’re looking at the league, which is what interests us,” he said.
The 17 youngsters called-up from varying ranks of the Atleti cantera on Thursday were:
Atlético B: Cenk, Calero, Cidoncha and Abián
Atlético C: Gallas, Pablo, Luis Ruiz, Prior, Stephane, Astray, Borrueco, Coke and Pato
Juvenil DH: Benja, Jesús and Cissé, along with the on-trial Flecha