PSV host Atletico without top scorer

AMSTERDAM • PSV Eindhoven will miss top scorer and captain Luuk de Jong when they entertain Atletico Madrid in their first leg of the Champions League last 16 today.

Philip Cocu's side won all their home games in the group stage but must take on the 2014 runners-up without the suspended de Jong, who has scored 17 goals this season to help lift PSV to the top of the Dutch championship.

Cocu, though, will be encouraged by the return of influential Mexican midfielder Andres Guardado following a hamstring injury.

PSV have kept clean sheets in their last three domestic league games to edge one point ahead of second-placed Ajax Amsterdam.

"I thought we were defensively a lot stronger," Cocu told reporters after Saturday's 2-0 home win over Heracles Almelo.

"The last line and the midfield worked well together and the players put in a lot of work.

"On Wednesday we'll need to bring the same work and intensity. We gave Heracles too much space in the second half and made the field too big.

"We can't do that on Wednesday because Atletico are deadly on the counter-attack."

Dutch legend Johan Cruyff is "not optimistic" that PSV - the first side from the Netherlands to reach the knockout stage of Europe's elite club competition in eight years - can progress a step further.

"Atletico Madrid might not be the best opponents, but they are the most difficult one," he wrote in his column for De Telegraaf.

"PSV will be in trouble if they turn it into a physical contest. They have to be one step ahead of Atleti in order to prevent that from happening."

Atletico are second in La Liga, but slipped eight points adrift of Barcelona after Sunday's 0-0 draw at home to Villarreal.

However, they will take heart from a consistent rearguard that has conceded only 11 goals in 25 La Liga games this season.

They have also let in only three goals in the Champions League group stage.

"The whole team defend, the whole team work hard to succeed in marking players and not letting opponents get close to goal and score," defender Diego Godin told Uefa's website.

"That's the strength we have which gives us positive results and means we play and do better."

Coach Diego Simeone said his team were still on course to achieve their targets, adding: "If you look at the objectives we set at the beginning of the season we are on the right track and, apart from Barcelona who are different to all the rest, it's hard for all of us."

REUTERS

PSV v ATLETICO MADRID
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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2016, with the headline 'PSV host Atletico without top scorer'. Print Edition | Subscribe