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Pre-game news & notes: Atletico are up against it; and Zidane wants to score goals

An article to get you amped for the second leg

Real Madrid CF v Club Atletico de Madrid - UEFA Champions League Semi Final: First Leg Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images

Juventus awaits. They are the only other team other than Real Madrid in this season’s Champions League to be undefeated, and judging by their blitzing performances over the past four games to reach Welsh soil, they would be a difficult opponent too. Add the revenge tour of Higuain, Khedira, and Manduzkic to the mix, and you’re going to be in for a behemoth melee for the ages.

But while that would be a historical matchup, with all kinds of themes and storylines laced within it — Real Madrid is just not there yet. Atletico Madrid are here to play, and in front of a raucous crowd, behind a tactical chemist, in their last match ever at the Vicente Calderon — this is unlikely to be a repeat of the first leg tragedy. It also very well might be — you can never rule this Real Madrid team out of any possible scenario that involves tossing any opponent into a Vitamix and pulsing them into oblivion. Consider this, though: While Atletico haven’t been able to find a win in their last five clashes against Real Madrid in the Champions League, they’re also very good at home, having lost just once in 22 homes games under Simeone. It’s hard-pressed to think they’d repeat another dud like they did in the first leg — a match which saw them register just one shot on goal (their lowest mark in the Champions League under the Simeone regime), and a match where Greizmann didn’t register a single shot nor have a single touch in the penalty box.

Atletico’s problem is that, while some of those numbers at home are cute, they need more than cute — they need fucking Thanos to unearth the city of Madrid and form a barricade in front of Ronaldo, Isco, and the rest of the squad who are peaking at just the right time, just as they did last season. Atletico can very well avoid a loss this game, or heck, can even win this by scoring five goals and conceding two — neither of those scenarios would be enough for them to advance. While Simeone’s home record is praiseworthy, his firing line is the most tame offensive armada in the tournament, scoring just 13 goals in 11 games. Their team as a whole, scores .71 goals / game in the Champions League; while Ronaldo on his own scores .79 / game in the knockout phases of this tournament.

So, here we are.

Pre-game quotes

Zidane, on his approach..

"We're going to approach the second leg the same way we have done every game – to start strongly to try to win the game, that's our aim," he said.

"We want to play well and give 100 per cent to win the game, then we'll see what happens. But we're going to keep faith with how we do things, which is to try to win.

"I'm not thinking we're not going to score, the opposite in fact. We're going to try to score, we're going to try to play well and score, like always.

"What we have to do is to give 100 per cent to win because it's been eight or nine months of competition and the players have worked very hard throughout this period, but these things can happen in football. Every three days you're up there, you need to produce the goods, you need to deliver.

"I think we've done a very good job until now, but we've got to prove ourselves again, against Atletico, then on Sunday [at home to Sevilla in LaLiga], and then the next week too.

"There's no divine right, we just have to give 100 per cent."

"The facts are there. We look at the club, how big it is, our fans, those who support us, and we want to achieve the maximum, but we have to prove that we're good enough, starting on Wednesday. We're going to give our all to progress, to qualify for the final.

"We are all rowing in the same direction, the fans too. Everything will be decided now. We like to be in this position. We have a final on Wednesday, three more in the league, but first we're going to focus on the game against Atletico Madrid.

"I don't think there's an issue with the players' attitude [being 3-0 up], there are risks involved in football; you have to play, you don't win before the whistle, and we've got to put in a good performance if we want to go through."

Ramos, on the importance of squad depth...

"This might be one of the most complete squads we have had,"

"We have had many of the best players in the world over the years and it is no different now.

"We are not just 11 players, we are 24, 25 who are always pushing, and those who play less do a great job, and we are benefitting from having those guys ready and able to step in."

"We are not feeling the pressure. We have things in our own hands," he added.

"We can win two trophies and we will do our best to do so. We will respect all our opponents as we always do.

"Wednesday, we will see who gets to the final and then we have LaLiga over the coming weeks too."

Miscellaneous notes

  • Nothing surprising, or noteworthy even, really; but Zidane has opted not to train at the Calderon before the match, and is treating the second leg like a home game. The team will train at Valdebebas at 11am, hold a press conference from there at 1, then roll up to the game individually.
  • Mildly amusing: Isco referred to Tony Adams as a waiter (I called him Crocodile Dundee, but I’ll allow this one too), and Sergio Ramos warped into a time machine to take a picture with Luka Modric.
  • A nice promo to get you amped:
  • And of course, another plug of last night’s ‘Churros y Tácticas’ podcast with myself and two Atletico Madrid journalists. This podcast is really growing, and this one was our most downloaded one yet (please subscribe, rate on iTunes, maybe even donate). We talked about Theo Hernandez, and previewed the second leg, among other things:

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