'Atletico are like modest Leicester'

Manager Diego Simeone (in black) is juggling Atletico Madrid's challenge on two fronts. The La Liga contenders take on Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-finals first-leg today.
Manager Diego Simeone (in black) is juggling Atletico Madrid's challenge on two fronts. The La Liga contenders take on Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-finals first-leg today.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Defender Luis says Atletico, with a smaller budget, have the best team spirit in Europe

MADRID • Leicester City's remarkable run to the verge of the Premier League title has inspired Atletico Madrid in their aim to land a historic Champions League and La Liga double, claims defender Filipe Luis.

Atletico face Bayern Munich in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final today looking to cause another big upset after dumping champions Barcelona out in the quarter-finals.

The budget used to put together Diego Simeone's side pales in comparison with the riches of the other three semi-finalists as the world's richest club Real Madrid face the Abu Dhabi-backed Manchester City in the other semi-final.

However, former Chelsea defender Luis believes Leicester's meteoric rise to the top of the Premier League is an inspiration to clubs that money cannot always buy success at the top level.

"It is happening this year in the Premier League with Leicester. They are a modest team that are almost champions of the Premier League," said the Brazilian international.

"In football these epic things happen because, although there is a difference in budget, we are the team that plays most as a team.

  • How the clubs match up

  • ATLETICO MADRID

    • Unbeaten in their last five home games against German clubs.

    •Have won twice and lost twice in their four Champions League semi-finals appearances.

    BAYERN MUNICH

    •Lost to Spanish clubs in the semi-finals for consecutive years (Barcelona last season and Real Madrid in 2014).

    •Made it to the semi-finals 17 times, progressing to the final on 10 occasions.

"We don't have a superstar, we have a team where everyone runs and fights for the person next to them and that makes us stronger."

The pain of letting in the last-minute equaliser by bitter rivals Real in the final two years ago - which eventually led to their 4-1 extra-time defeat - is still fresh in Atletico's minds as they target a first Champions League triumph.

Their brilliant defensive organisation proved too good for Barca's star front three of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar in the quarter-finals, but Luis believes Bayern's strike duo of Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Mueller offer a different threat.

"Bayern are a different team to Barcelona because they play with two scorers in the area and two very wide players," he added.

In contrast to Atletico's relative lack of experience at this stage of the competition, Bayern have made it to the last four for the fifth consecutive season. And there is extra pressure on Bayern manager Pep Guardiola to deliver the title in his final campaign in Bavaria before joining City next season.

The Spaniard is looking forward to visiting the Vicente Calderon, which he described as having the best atmosphere in Europe.

"We have seen what kind of a special side Atletico are - they have a strong defence and strong attack. Atletico know exactly what they have to do in defence," he said.

"They have conceded so few goals in recent years because their structure is so good.

"They press aggressively and if they do not win the ball back, they retreat deep and play very compact."

His counterpart Simeone is hoping that his side can cope well against a Bayern side that have run away with the Bundesliga this season despite Borussia Dortmund's outstanding performances.

"I don't see that (Atletico are the team to avoid)," Simeone said.

"We always try to respect every opinion. The only thing we can say is that it is a very nice opportunity for us without a doubt, and a huge challenge."

Atletico are currently in a tight three-way battle with Barca and Real Madrid for the Spanish title, while Bayern can focus their attention on Europe as they are just one win away from sealing a record fourth consecutive Bundesliga crown.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2016, with the headline ''Atletico are like modest Leicester' '. Print Edition | Subscribe