No neighbourly love
DERBY: LEADERS REAL WANT TO CAPITALISE ON ATLETICO’S POOR FORM
La Liga leaders Real Madrid host neighbours Atletico today, with the visitors on their worst run of results since Diego Simeone took charge in 2011. The Argentinean coach has revolutionised Atletico’s fortunes over the past nine years. But their form has nosedived this season, culminating in an embarrassing Copa del Rey elimination at the hands of third-tier side Cultural Leonesa last week.
Winless in their last four in all competitions, having drawn nine of their 21 La Liga games this season, they dropped out of the top four at the weekend.
Simeone acknowledges they need to make changes if they are to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
“We need to work hard, looking for answers (to what is going on), and make decisions, especially me, in terms of improving the side,” he said.
“We need to get back our calm, I’ve got a good squad, we’ll get players back into the fold and have more competition for places and we’ll go into Saturday’s (today’s) game determined to win it.”
Atletico will be without injured club record signing Joao Felix for the trip to the Bernabeu as well as long-term absentee Diego Costa. But club captain Koke looks set to return following a hamstring issue.
Real, who are unbeaten in all competitions since October and moved three points clear at the top of La Liga last weekend, have no new injury concerns, with Eden Hazard and Marco Asensio both still out.
Tomorrow, second-placed Barcelona will be hoping to take advantage of any Madrid slip-up when they host Levante at Camp Nou.
New coach Quique Setien has had some teething problems as his side look to adapt to his possession-based style, however the Spaniard insists the process will take time and that patience is the name of the game.
“We want to improve and ensure that everything we coach is seen out on the pitch,” he said.
“We know the route we want to take and why we want to take it. There are things we’d like to see right now but we can’t see them. But we’ve only had a few training sessions together and you need to be backed up by what you see in games, but it’s still very early in the process for that.”
Luis Suarez remains absent with a knee issue, while Ousmane Dembele will miss the game through a muscle problem.
Elsewhere, fourth from bottom Mallorca host fifth from bottom Valladolid today in what could be a crucial game in the race for survival, while third-placed Sevilla host Alaves tomorrow as they look to tighten their grip on a Champions League spot. –
– Inter Milan coach Antonio Conte (above) is not easily pleased, but even he was satisfied with the club’s performance in the transfer window with three new arrivals to boost their Serie A title challenge.
Conte has been complaining all season about his sqaud’s lack of experience and strength in depth, insisting he needs more players if Inter are to end Juventus’ long-standing domination.
In one angry outburst in November he said the club had made “important mistakes at the planning stage” and warned that they could not expect to win anything by signing players from Cagliari and Sassuolo – a reference to Nicolo Barella and Stefano Sensi respectively.
His nagging of the Inter leadership finally paid off this month, the famously combative coach finally getting his way with the addition of Victor Moses, Ashley Young and Christian Eriksen, all from English Premier League clubs.
Meanwhile, winger Matteo Politano was dispatched to Napoli and Austrian winger Valentino Lazaro was given a loan move to Newcastle.
Inter, whose last three Serie A matches have produced 1-1 draws, are three points behind leaders Juventus and visit lowly Lecce tomorrow. Juventus, who are chasing a ninth successive title, have a tougher match at home to a Fiorentina side enjoying a revival under new coach Giuseppe Iachini.
Meanwhile, third-placed Lazio, who are two further points behind Inter but with a game in hand, host relegation-threatened SPAL.
“I think we have operated in a smart and functional manner to improve the squad and the goal has been achieved with Moses, Young and Eriksen,” Conte told reporters after Wednesday’s 2-1 Coppa Italia win against Fiorentina.
Denmark midfielder Eriksen, who had been the main target, was finally signed from Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday and was rushed into the side for his debut as a substitute on Wednesday.
“I catapulted him into the match, something I would not never usually do as new players must first have an idea of our system of football,” said Conte.
“Eriksen must now grasp our style of play. He is a very adaptable and intelligent player, always finding himself in the right positions.
“Obviously, he’ll raise our game in terms of experience and quality.” –