Champions League

Atletico ready to challenge in Europe

2014-09-30 08:27
Diego Simeone (Gallo Images)

Madrid - Atletico Madrid's Champions League game at home to Juventus on Wednesday will be a chance for the Spanish champions to prove they have the firepower to challenge in Europe again this season.

Diego Costa, top scorer for Atletico last term when they reached the final of the continent's elite club competition, has departed for Chelsea and a lack of recent goals had prompted murmurs that the side will struggle without the Brazil-born Spain striker.

Saturday's thumping 4-0 La Liga win at home to Sevilla appeared to suggest otherwise, although the Juve defence, which has yet to concede a goal in five Serie A games this season, will be a far tougher test than the Andalusians' more porous back line.

Atletico coach Diego Simeone singled out his midfielders as one reason why they were able to see off Sevilla so comfortably at the weekend and praised the team for their work rate, one of the keys to their surprise success in 2013-14.

A five-man midfield of Saul, Gabi, Koke, Arda Turan and Tiago -- who played for Juve from 2007-10 -- had given the team the stability it had perhaps been lacking in previous games, Simeone added.

"That gave us solidity in our play, intensity and helped us win the ball back," the Argentine told a news conference.

"It was positive that we managed 90 very good minutes, above all for the work done.

"Although it's also true that in football if you are efficient in front of goal everything is easier."

The player Atletico bought to replace Costa, Croatia forward Mario Mandzukic, broke his nose in the 3-2 Group A defeat at Olympiakos Piraeus on Champions League matchday one and needed surgery.

He will have to wear a striking black protective mask for the foreseeable future and played just over 70 minutes of Saturday's game at the Calderon without scoring on his return to action.

TOUGH SETBACK

Simeone knows Juve well from his eight seasons playing in Serie A, when he had stints at Pisa, Inter Milan and Lazio.

The former Argentina captain helped Juve win the title in 2002 when he scored for Lazio in a 4-2 win against Inter that handed the Bianconeri the title.

Juve, who won their opening Group A game at home to Malmo 2-0, have several players familiar with playing at the Calderon, including former Real Madrid forward Alvaro Morata and former Athletic Bilbao striker Fernando Llorente.

Morata spent two years in Atletico's youth academy and was a ballboy at the Calderon before joining Real and moved on to Juve at the end of last season.

Recently back from a knee injury, he struck his first goal for the club in Saturday's 3-0 win at Atalanta.

"The injury was tough, a setback immediately after arriving at the club," Morata told reporters.

"Any team we play motivates me and makes me want to get out on the pitch," he added.

Juve playmaker Andrea Pirlo and his Italy team mate Andrea Barzagli, a defender, have yet to play this season due to hip and Achilles injuries respectively.

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