La Liga title glory has Atletico hungry for another trophy in Lisbon
MAY 20, 2014 11:46a ET
Atletico Madrid did not hold anything back when going for Barcelona after halftime in last Saturday’s La Liga decider at the Camp Nou. But after somehow finding the extra energy and drive to secure the 1-1 draw it needed to claim what was the club’s first title in 18 long years, the victorious players had to let off some steam.
Atletico’s players -- and coach Diego Simeone -- enjoyed their victory with a team party on their return to Madrid in the early hours of Sunday morning. Sunday afternoon saw the still celebrating team take an open-top bus ride through the streets of the Spanish capital, cheered on by 200,000 delighted supporters. As night closed in the team were in the center of the city, by the Neptuno statue to which all of the club’s triumphs are dedicated.
The players danced one by one onto a platform to disco music and raucous acclaim from the gathered rojiblanco throng. Then youth teamer turned club captain Gabi Fernandez hung a red and white scarf around the Roman god’s head to further ringing cheers.
“It is an honor to be here,” Gabi roared from the stage. “This is the prize for work, sacrifice, love of the colors that you cannot buy. And this has just started, the best is still to come.”
Those words marked an end -- and a beginning. Atletico’s fans and players had had their fun, the partying was over. Now it was time to knuckle down and get ready for an even bigger date -- Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final against city rivals Real Madrid in Lisbon (live, FOX, Saturday, 2 p.m. ET).
The first job Monday morning was to examine the fitness situation after their Camp Nou exertions. And the news was not positive. The club confirmed in the late afternoon that top scorer Diego Costa -- who went into last Saturday’s game with a hamstring worry -- now has a Grade 1 tear in the muscle. Arda Turan, who also limped off against Barca, has hip and groin issues to deal with.
This injury news was the main talking point of Simeone’s news conference during Monday's open media day at the Calderon. In characteristically determined mood, the Argentine coach refused to accept that his topscorer or main playmaker were definitely ruled-out of the weekend's game.
“We still have some days to go, we are not going to say anything yet,” Simeone said. “It is too soon, ahead of an important game. We will prepare in our own way and wait on the injury news from Costa and Arda. We want to work very well this week, and focus on the objective we have in front of us.”
Simeone also stressed that the title celebrations were now all done, and all thoughts of the historic La Liga title must be parked ahead of the team's next final.
“It is always better to have won,” he said. “We obviously needed to celebrate, but now it is time to turn the page. We never look back, whether we have won or lost. That would not be good for us. We need to focus on this week, do our work well, and arrive at the final in the best condition possible.”
That work will involve coming up with a plan to deal with Madrid’s powerful side. Four domestic meetings between the two teams already this season have brought ebbs and flows, with Carlo Ancelotti’s men easily taking their Copa Del Rey semifinal, but Atletico looking more focused when having the upper hand through two La Liga clashes.
The fifth meeting comes with both sides suffering from the wear and tear of long campaigns.
Questions about how he might take advantage of Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso's suspension, or Cristiano Ronaldo's fitness worries, were brushed away. But as a canny tactician who meticulously plans to take advantage of his opponents’ weaknesses, Simeone is sure to have some ideas.
Monday's UEFA-mandated open training session gave no hints of what tricks might be up their sleeves, but did allow a glimpse into Atletico’s fitness expert Oscar "El Profe" Ortega's recovery programme. The drills were not too complex -- long runs to loosen out the limbs, tight ball drills to keep their touch sharp, some fun foot-tennis to finish. Ortega constantly urged the players to keep up the intensity throughout, while Simeone carefully watched on with his arms folded.
After a quick shower, last Saturday’s goalscoring hero Diego Godin was ushered back upstairs to the meet the press.
“We all know this is a new opportunity,” Godin said determinedly. “We had a final against Barcelona, and we won it. We have another against Madrid and we want to win it, too. We must play with the same enthusiasm, intensity and order. We need to prepare the game well. We really want to beat Madrid.”
The message was clear -- Atletico has enjoyed its first trophy of the season, but now it’s hungry for another.