Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti has said that going up against his Atlético Madrid counterpart Diego Simeone is both “an honor and a problem.”
The two sides from Spain’s capital will meet in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals at the Vicente Calderon on Tuesday, a year on from Real’s victory over their neighbors to hoist the European Cup for an unprecedented 10th time. Since that night in Lisbon, it has been a rivalry dominated by Atlético, with Simeone masterminding four wins and two draws in the six matches played between them this season.
“I don't need to say much about him,” Ancelotti said of the Argentinian, reports Real Madrid’s official website. “He's a great coach, he has shown that in every aspect he's one of the best in the world. I really like him. Facing him is an honor, and a problem too.”
The last meeting between the teams finished with a resounding 4-0 win for Atlético at the Calderon in February, as they completed a league double over Real. That came after Atlético also got the better of their illustrious neighbors in the Supercopa de España and Copa del Rey. Ancelotti, though, doesn’t believe that there is any one factor that has led to that recent run of defeats.
“Every match has its own problems and every match brings different ideas,” he said. “Each defeat was different. One was because of dead balls, the last one because of an attitude that wasn't so good. It's difficult to say what has gone wrong. We've evaluated it and this is another tie over two matches.
Real Madrid certainly go into this tie in better form than for the sides’ last meeting. Since defeat in El Clásico last month, Ancelotti’s side have won three straight matches by an aggregate score of 14-1.That improvement has coincided with the return to full fitness of the influential Luka Modric. Since that heavy defeat to Atlético two months ago, Sergio Ramos and James Rodriguez have also returned from injury, and Simeone is aware they could make taking on Real a very different proposition.
"They're all extraordinary players,” he said, reports Spanish sports daily Marca. “We have a huge amount of respect for the quality and ability they have. The presence of Ramos, Modric and James adds to an already impressive side. Including Modric will give them more aggression and presence in midfield.”
Atlético’s three match winning streak in La Liga was snapped on Saturday when two Antoine Griezmann goals were needed to rescue a draw at Malaga to leave them nine points off the pace in the battle to defend their title. But Atlético have since been boosted by the news that striker Mario Mandzukic has recovered from an ankle injury that ruled him out of the last two matches, with Simeone confirming the Croatia international will start. Simeone, who will also welcome back Raul Garcia, is none the less happy to concede that Real still have more quality in several areas of the pitch, although he hopes to close that gap over the space of 90 minutes on Tuesday.
“Madrid have more individual talent in various positions than we do with our players, but not for every position,” he said. “Over a long season, you can see that there's a difference for the teams with a better budget -- and I include myself in that group. A direct game allows you to compare the strength of the sides. We have a game on our hands tomorrow and both sides are in with a chance.”
Atlético Madrid (4-4-2)
D: Juanfran, Miranda, Godin, Gámez
M: Turan, Gabi, Tiago, Koke
F: Mandzukic, Griezmann
Real Madrid (4-3-3)
D: Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo
M: Modric, Kroos, James
F: Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 1, ESPN Deportes