No neigh­bourly love

DERBY: LEAD­ERS REAL WANT TO CAP­I­TALISE ON ATLETICO’S POOR FORM

The Citizen (KZN) - - Sport - Madrid Mi­lan

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.” –

Pic­ture: Getty Im­ages

DIEGO SIME­ONE

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