Football: Real Madrid are still a great team without Cristiano Ronaldo, says Atletico Madrid star Koke

Koke celebrates scoring a goal to seal Atletico's 4-2 extra-time win in the Uefa Super Cup last month as Real Madrid's Luka Modric shows his anguish.
Koke celebrates scoring a goal to seal Atletico's 4-2 extra-time win in the Uefa Super Cup last month as Real Madrid's Luka Modric shows his anguish.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Koke says arch-rivals count more on teamwork now as Atletico eye Madrid derby bragging rights

When Real Madrid line up against city rivals Atletico tonight, they will have to do without the mercurial talents of Cristiano Ronaldo on the pitch and the touchline influence of Zinedine Zidane.

It is not the first time Los Blancos will have to enter a Madrid derby without the pair. They faced Atletico in last month's Uefa Super Cup and fell 4-2 but, this time, it will be a little different.

"The last match was important because it was a final, and this rivalry is always going to be there," said Atletico's Spain international Koke in a phone interview from Madrid on Thursday. "Is it going to change, is it going to be different?

"Well, it's the beginning of the season, and all matches are important, but there is a difference between a league match and a cup game."

He believes that Real have come to terms with the departure of Ronaldo to Italian giants Juventus, and the methods and systems of new manager Julen Lopetegui.

Added Koke: "Obviously, Ronaldo is one of the best players in the world and he's not in the team, but Real are still a great team.

"He used to score a lot of goals, but I think now maybe they will actually do more teamwork, rather than just (rely on) the individuality of Ronaldo scoring the goals.

FATHER FIGURE

When I was young, he gave me a lot of confidence, which you need when you're young. I will do everything for him, for the team.

KOKE, on his relationship with Atletico coach Diego Simeone.

The 26-year-old, who registered more than 200 appearances for the club since 2009, bristled at the suggestion that his team were slow off the LaLiga blocks this season.

"Saying that we started off the league slowly? I'm not quite sure," he said of Atletico's league record of three wins, two draws and a loss.

"Maybe we haven't been very lucky (eight goals) in games. I think we've played well, had chances to score, but we didn't."

His team are third on 11 points, just two behind leaders Barcelona and Real, both of whom lost in midweek, while Atletico recorded a convincing 3-0 win over Huesca.

Koke believes this is a sign that Atletico are getting better.

He said: "It's not a very typical season because a lot of the players just came back from the World Cup. But, as a team, we're not doing too badly, we're only two points behind the leaders, which isn't bad.

"We're gaining our pace, gaining confidence, and I think that we're getting into form. I'm sure things will improve so that we can get good results."

He is wary of the speed that Real have in their arsenal, but he drew confidence from the camaraderie that Diego Simeone has fostered at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.

"Our main weapon is that we play as a team," said Koke, who has a strong bond with the Argentinian tactician.

"He is like my father. When I was young, he gave me a lot of confidence, which you need when you're young. I will do everything for him, for the team, maybe to (repay) this confidence he put in me."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2018, with the headline 'Real still 'great' without Ronaldo'. Print Edition | Subscribe