With the recent news that Inter Milan have told Diego Simeone to name his price to take over from Stefano Pioli this summer, the Champions League final in Cardiff may represent the Argentine’s last shot at winning the competition with current team Atletico Madrid.
A two-time runner-up with Atletico, Simeone will feel that he and his club have unfinished business in the Champions League. Beaten 4-1 by Real Madrid in 2014, they then suffered at the hands of the same tormentor in 2016, although last year it took penalties to separate the teams. So, you could say that the small matter of a semi-final against their Madrid rivals has the added incentive of revenge.
A look at the odds on the BetStars website shows that both Real and Juventus are the current favourites to win the competition outright. But even so, it would be foolish to bet against an Atletico team that are still feeling the hurt of last year’s final and that have already put Real out of the Copa del Rey this season.
However, cold the latest talk from Inter be a distraction for Simeone, or could it possibly be the spur that his team needs to kick on to the final?
Having recently had his contract with Atletico reduced so that it now only runs to 2018 will leave the players in no doubt that Simeone believes his future lies elsewhere. And the latest rumours from Italy do nothing but add fuel to the fire.
It’s evident that the former Argentine international commands respect from his charges and there’s a definite air of camaraderie about the squad where you get the feeling that the players will do anything for their coach. Of course, at this stage in the competition, players shouldn’t really need much motivation but if they believe he is on his way out (or if in fact, they know already) then surely it will serve as a massive incentive to wipe the grin off Ronaldo’s face. You can almost hear Torres encouraging his teammates ‘Let’s win it for Diego!’ And no, we’re not quite sure how that goes in Spanish.
Sentimentality aside, Atletico will go to the Bernabeu on May 2nd as underdogs, something Simeone will no doubt appreciate even if it may seem a little undeserved.
In the last three encounters between the sides, Atletico have won one and drawn two. Add to that the fact that Real suffered an agonizing loss to a last gasp Messi goal in El Classico, and Los Blancos certainly look beatable. The fact that they are favourites, will add more pressure to the tie and even with Ronaldo in the form of his life, Simeone will fancy his chances.
It would be reasonable enough to expect a pretty cagey affair in the first leg as Real look to avoid conceding an away goal. But this is the Madrid derby, and hopefully (for us watching at home anyway) all common sense will be forgotten as Simeone releases his players on a revenge mission hoping that defeat will be his final parting gift to Real Madrid before he leaves Spanish shores for a certain city in Italy.