Diego Simeone has said neither Luis Suarez nor Antoine Griezmann are certain to start for Atletico Madrid against Manchester United in their Champions League round-of-16 first leg on Wednesday, while praising their Premier League opponents as « one of the best teams in the world . »
Suarez scored a goal-of-the-season contender in Atletico’s 3-0 LaLiga win at Osasuna on Saturday but has been in inconsistent form this season, while Griezmann — an unused substitute in that game — has only just recovered from a thigh injury.
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« We don’t talk about the right [to start games], » Simeone said in his pre-match news conference, when asked if the form of Joao Felix and Angel Correa, who both also scored against Osasuna, had earned them the right to face United at the Wanda Metropolitano.
« Luis [Suarez] played a very good game. He scored an extraordinary goal. We are lucky to have three forwards in the team [Suarez, Joao Felix and Correa], plus the return of Griezmann, who is improving. We will need him with his experience and goalscoring. We have four forwards and any of them could play. »
Atletico needed a dramatic matchday six win away at FC Porto in December to qualify for the Champions League knockout phase — after earlier suffering back-to-back defeats to Liverpool and being beaten at home by AC Milan — while Manchester United topped Group F .
Simeone praised the impact that United interim manager Ralk Rangnick has had since taking over at Old Trafford from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
« In their last 14 [league] games, if I’m not mistaken, they have only lost one, » Simeone said.
« Since [Rangnick] arrived he has given them solidity, teamwork, commitment. They now look like the team that Manchester [United] have always been. They are intense, dynamic, brave in attack. It will be a difficult game. »
Both clubs are battling to secure Champions League qualification for next season, with Simeone coming under pressure due to Atletico’s stop-start defense of their LaLiga title. Atletico are fifth domestically, but level on points with fourth-placed Barcelona, while United are fourth in the Premier League, four points ahead of West Ham and Arsenal.
« I guarantee you that Atletico Madrid’s players know the game we have ahead of us tomorrow, and the 13 games we have left in the league, » Simeone said.
« It could go well or badly, that’s football and that’s life, but I’m sure that the boys will give everything. »