Atletico coach Diego Simeone says Diego Costa fit and ready to intimidate Arsenal

Mark Bryans 25/04/2018
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Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone insists Diego Costa is fit and ready to “intimidate” Arsenal in Thursday’s Europa League semi-final.

Former Chelsea striker Costa scored three times in six games against the Gunners during his time at Stamford Bridge, including the equaliser in last season’s FA Cup final which Arsenal went on to win 2-1.

The Spain international always seemed to be able to rile the Arsenal defence and was directly involved in red cards issued to Gabriel and Per Mertesacker during separate clashes between the teams.

He left Chelsea under a cloud after a spat with Antonio Conte as he returned to Atletico in time to be registered in the January transfer window.

Since then the 29-year-old has scored six goals but has sat out the last three matches with a hamstring problem, with Simeone claiming at the weekend the forward had “no chance” of playing in the first leg at the Emirates Stadium.

However, Costa has travelled with the remainder of his team-mates and Simeone revealed there are several reasons to be cheerful for having him available.

Diego Simeone 3

Asked if Costa was included to intimidate Arsenal or give his team-mates a boost, Simeone replied: “Knowing Diego Costa, I think all of those apply to him.

“Both in England and in Spain, many teams have suffered at the hands of Diego Costa. Not just Arsenal. He has improved.

“He trained hard on Tuesday and he trained on Wednesday and based on what we will see fit, he will either play from the start or from the bench.”

Pushed on whether Costa could be fit enough to start the semi-final, Simeone said he would be picking his side for the best available outcome, rather than to include the ex-Chelsea favourite.

“We’ll weight up all the various factors,” he added.

“We’ll speak with the footballer, speak with the medical team. I’ll look to help the team in the best way possible and that’s what I’ll do. I won’ try to make Diego happy.”

Thursday’s game takes on extra significance as it will be Arsene Wenger’s final home European game in charge of Arsenal.

The Gunners boss announced last week he will end his over 21-year reign at the end of the season, with the Europa League offering the Frenchman a way to go out on a high.

“The first thing that comes to mind is admiration,” Simeone added when asked for his thoughts on Wenger.

“He is a fantastic coach and professional. He has amazing ability and that he has been able to remain at helm of a club like Arsenal means he has had to reinvent himself many times.

“I see myself as quite a young coach still. I want to observe and learn from him and the best word is admiration when you look at the career Wenger has had.

“We are both coaches and it is very difficult to stay at this level as you’re always competing and putting yourself on the line.

“When your team do well people demand more victories but the position he has occupied in football is wonderful.”

Provided by Press Association Sport

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Marseille host Red Bull Salzburg with hopes reliving European glory days

Dave James 25/04/2018
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A quarter of a century on from giving French football its crowning moment in Europe, Marseille are dreaming of continental glory once again.

But the club that won the inaugural Champions League in 1993 – still the only time the European Cup has been won by a French side – must first come through a Europa League semi-final against Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg, with the first leg at the Velodrome on Thursday.

If Marseille can win before a sell-out crowd of more than 60,000 on Thursday night (kick-off 1905 GMT), it will set them up to finish the job in next week’s return and keep them on course to make a final that will be played in France, at the home of their bitter rivals Lyon.

Given that Atletico Madrid and Arsenal meet in the other semi-final, Marseille cannot be seen as favourites to lift the trophy.

Nevertheless, the rousing 5-2 win over RB Leipzig in the second leg of the quarter-final at the Velodrome confirmed that they are a club on the up again under Rudi Garcia.

The former Lille and Roma coach has spearheaded Marseille’s revival on the field since American tycoon Frank McCourt’s takeover of the club in late 2016.

McCourt immediately launched his ‘Champions Project’, aimed at getting the club back into Europe’s top club competition again as soon as possible.

They are currently locked in a fierce battle with Lyon and Monaco for two Champions League qualifying berths in Ligue 1 behind champions Paris Saint-Germain.

But with Florian Thauvin in the form of his life, Dimitri Payet at his best again and Brazil midfielder Luiz Gustavo proving an inspired signing, they could yet win the Europa League and, in the process, qualify for the Champions League anyway.

Asked at Wednesday’s pre-game press conference how he has approached the match with his players, Garcia said: “I am telling them to continue scoring goals but to stop conceding so many. We need to be more rigorous at certain periods in games.

“Tomorrow, we are at home, at the Velodrome, in front of a full stadium. The atmosphere will be the same as against Leipzig, but we must not forget there will be a second leg to come there.”

‘Take the next step’

Marseille head coach Rudi Garcia speaks with his players.

Marseille head coach Rudi Garcia speaks with his players.

Given PSG’s well documented difficulties in the Champions League, Marseille’s run has given French football a boost, a year after Lyon lost in the last four of the same competition.

This is OM’s first European semi-final since 2004, when Didier Drogba’s goals saw off Newcastle United in the UEFA Cup before they lost to Rafael Benitez’s Valencia in the final in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Marseille can be confident, even if Garcia has labelled his team simply “an outsider determined to reach the final”.

However, they will be without influential Japan right-back Hiroki Sakai due to a knee injury, and Salzburg’s run in Europe so far this season means they deserve respect.

On course to win a fifth consecutive Austrian title, Marco Rose’s Salzburg have already drawn with and beaten the French giants in the group stage.

This will be their 19th game in Europe this season, a run that started in the Champions League qualifying rounds and continued on to wins against Borussia Dortmund and Lazio in the last two rounds of the Europa League.

FC Salzburg players jog during a training session

FC Salzburg players jog during a training session

“We have come this far, so of course we want to take the next step to the final,” Israeli striker Munas Dabbur, who scored in the win over Lazio, told the club’s website.

“We face really strong opponents though, who have become even more dangerous in recent weeks.”

Coached by the Leipzig-born Rose, Salzburg are the first Austrian semi-finalists in a major UEFA club competition since Rapid Vienna lost to PSG in the 1996 Cup Winners’ Cup final.

That was the last time any French club won a European trophy.

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Diego Simeone and Arsene Wenger go head-to-head in battle of old-timers as Arsenal host Atletico

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Arsenal‘s Europa League semi-final against Atletico Madrid on Thursday will be a clash of styles as stark as they come but Arsene Wenger and Diego Simeone are anything but polar opposites.

Arsenal will flood forward at Emirates Stadium while Atletico will sit back; Arsenal will dominate possession, Atletico will counter; Arsenal will risk leaving gaps and Atletico will do everything they can to close them.

“We have a style that does not vary much,” Simeone said last month. “We usually play one way, with the same idea.”

Wenger may share little common ground with Simeone on how best to win matches but there is no coach in the game that knows better the sense of identity and attachment to a club, which the Frenchman is now in the process of curtailing.

“I’m staying because this club has a future and that future is us,” Simeone said at the end of last season, before extending his contract to 2020 in September.

If he sees it through, he will have been in charge at Atleti for almost nine years, still 13 short of Wenger´s 22 but far closer in terms of status, impact and legacy.

His standing is enhanced by two stints and five years playing for Los Rojiblancos, the first spell yielding a league and cup double in 1996, when Simeone was the captain. When they next won the Copa del Rey in 2013 and La Liga in 2014, Simeone was the coach.

The cult of Simeone at Atletico is also powerful because it is unusual.

In December 2011, he was their 12th appointment in 10 years and fifth in the last two. Like Wenger, he has brought stability, but in a club where previously there was none.

Reality of numbers

Antoine Greizmann of Atletico de Madrid celebrates

Like Wenger too, Simeone enjoys casting Atletico as underdogs, up against rivals with far greater resources and far less concern for long-term thinking.

“What we cannot do is forget the reality of the numbers,” Simeone said, after his side lost 1-0 to Barcelona last month.

“In 14 years Madrid and Barca have always won the league, 13 times in 14 years. We made possible the impossible once but it is clear that it will not happen every year.”

They nabbed the La Liga title in 2014, an astonishing achievement, but Atletico´s priority has been qualification for the Champions League, particularly during the club´s switch to its new stadium, a move completed at the start of this season.

When chief executive Miguel Angel Gil paid a rare visit to the club´s training ground earlier this month, his message was clear. “Qualify for the Champions League,” Simeone said. “He has been telling me that for five years.”

Wenger once suggested a top-four finish was akin to winning a trophy and he knows the challenges of leaving a long-held home, both psychological and financial. 

Many suspected Simeone would leave after Atletico departed the Vicente Calderon but he has stayed to oversee the transition while enduring the club selling some of its most expensive stars to make it work.

Radamel Falcao, Mario Mandzukic, Diego Costa and Filipe Luis have all been allowed to leave for big sums. It remains to be seen whether Antoine Griezmann and Jan Oblak follow suit this summer.

And there is Simeone and Wenger themselves, each symbols of their respective clubs but both at their least comfortable when discussing personal achievements.

Simeone prefers to divert focus onto his players and the next game, just as Wenger has tried to do since announcing he will leave Arsenal at the end of the season. Atletico, and Simeone, stand in the way of a potentially glorious farewell.

“In the end, it is the pitch that talks,” Simeone said. “And when the pìtch talks, all the coach does is listen.”

Provided by AFP Sport

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