Diego Simeone takes his Atletico Madrid squad to Barcelona on Saturday, hoping to cut into the Spanish champions’ eight point lead over ‘Los Rojiblancos’.
Second-placed Atletico appear to be in good shape. Simeone’s men registered their best away win of the season at Alaves at the end of March and have won six out of their last seven league games, keeping six cleansheets along the way.
Atletico, however, have never beaten the Catalans in the top flight since Simeone took charge in December 2011.
But this fact makes Simeone ‘super optimistic’ he told a press conference on Friday.
“The fact that we’ve never beaten them at the Nou Camp is what makes me feel super optimistic.”
“I hang on to tomorrow’s game. I don’t want to think any further because it wouldn’t be fair, it would be reckless, being eight points behind a team like Barcelona, to say something different only because people want to hear it, than what reality shows.”
The Argentine has plenty of experience at the iconic stadium, having played there several times as a player and having coached there on 11 occasions.
Here are his top five moments:
May 14, 1994: A goal on his first visit
The first time El Cholo took on Barcelona at the Camp Nou was during his stint at Sevilla when he scored the opening goal of the game. As a ball dropped inside the penalty area, the Argentine appeared out of nowhere to head it over Andoni Zubizarreta for the lead.
The euphoria didn’t last too long, though, as Barcelona went on to win 5-2 in order to pip Deportivo to the league title on the last day of the season.
February 7, 1995: A penalty and a victory
Simeone made the move from Sevilla to Atletico in the summer of 1994 and his new team met Barca in that season’s Copa del Rey last 16.
It was the blockbuster clash of the round and the Argentine was involved in the most decisive moment of the whole tie. Barcelona had taken an early lead through current Alaves coach Abelardo, but then Simeone launched an excellent counter attack that finished with Barca goalkeeper and future Spain and Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui taking down Jose Luis Caminero for a penalty and red card.
Up stepped Simeone to bury the spot kick and send Atleti on their way to a 4-1 win on the night and a 5-4 aggregate victory.
April 20, 1996: The most important win he didn’t take part in
In 1995/96 it was Simeone’s turn to win the La Liga title. Los Rojiblancos travelled to the Camp Nou on Matchday 37 with the aim of maintaining their grip on top spot and they did so without Simeone, who was suspended and forced to watch the game from the stands.
Even without their midfield marshall they earned a 3-1 win to take a huge step towards the title, a title they’d win with Simeone back in the side and scoring on the final day against Albacete.
April 1, 2014: Champions League joy
As a coach, Simeone oversaw one of the most memorable Champions League runs of recent memory as his fearsome Atletico side reached the final in Lisbon in 2014.
They knocked out Barcelona 2-1 on aggregate along the way and did so thanks in part to the stunning away goal scored by Diego in the 1-1 draw in the first leg at the Camp Nou. The fist-pumping Simeone on the sidelines immediately knew how special a moment that was.
May 17, 2014: The La Liga title
A month and a half later, Atletico returned to the Camp Nou on the final day of the La Liga season knowing that a draw would be enough to clinch the title. Although Alexis Sanchez put Barcelona in front, Diego Godin’s headed goal and a solid defensive effort earned the title-clinching 1-1 draw for Simeone’s side.
Watch Barcelona vs Atletico in La Liga this weekend at 22:45 on beIN Sports.
It would take an unthinkable collapse for Ernesto Valverde’s side not to be lifting the La Liga trophy on May 19 but Atletico will at least face their rivals with some sense of stability restored.
After a disastrous week last month that saw them crash out of the Champions League and then drop out of the title race, Atleti have registered consecutive wins over Alaves and now Girona, who drop to 13th.
They had VAR to thank for Godin’s opener, the Argentinian’s header allowed to stand after Griezmann had initially been ruled offside. Griezmann then added a second in injury-time.
Both scorers have been among those linked with departures at the end of the season, even if Atletico’s president Enrique Cerezo insisted this week that Griezmann would not be signing for Barcelona.
The Frenchman could have been playing on the opposite team this weekend and, perhaps, celebrating a title triumph next month, but instead he opted to stay with Atleti last summer. He will be in the spotlight again on Saturday.
After a dreadful start to the year, Girona have picked up in recent weeks and they frustrated Atletico for 75 minutes with a committed and well-organised display.
They might have taken the lead in the first half but Seydou Doumbia’s header was straight at Jan Oblak, before Koke hit the crossbar at the other end with a long-range effort.
Alvaro Morata had some good openings on the break but took too long and it needed Godin to break the deadlock, heading in after Gorka Iraizoz failed to clear under pressure from Griezmann, who was ruled onside by VAR.
Griezmann then made sure of the win four minutes into injury-time as Vitolo, on as a substitute, sent his team-mate clear. A brilliant chip looped over Iraizoz and into the net.