MADRID (AP)This time, defense alone won’t be enough to keep Atletico Madrid alive in the Champions League.
Diego Simeone’s team needs its attack to wake up if it wants to overcome the 1-0 first-leg loss to Manchester City in the quarterfinals of the European competition.
The team was held scoreless and managed a total of one shot on target in its last two matches. To reach its first Champions League semifinals since 2017, Atletico needs its stars to step up when City visits on Wednesday.
Joao Felix, Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez have combined to score only four goals since early March – two by Felix and two by Suarez in the same Spanish league game. Matheus Cunha and Angel Correa, the other Atletico forwards, also haven’t helped much recently, being unable to score since February.
”Hopefully our players with greater hierarchy will have a fantastic night tomorrow,” Simeone said Tuesday. ”It will be a game in which anything can happen.”
Other than the double against last-place Alaves on April 2, Felix is scoreless in six matches in all competitions, including two with Portugal’s national team. Suarez hadn’t found the net since Feb. 19. The 35-year-old Uruguay striker was key for Atletico in its Spanish league title-winning campaign last year but has played a reduced role this campaign.
Griezmann has been struggling the most, though, with no goals in nine consecutive matches for Atletico in a scoreless streak that dates back to a Copa del Rey match in January. He also didn’t score in two recent matches with France. The 31-year-old forward returned to Atletico this season after a lackluster stint with Barcelona but hasn’t fully met expectations.
Simeone rested Felix against Mallorca on Saturday and started with Suarez and Griezmann in attack, but they struggled in a 1-0 loss that left the team fourth in the league standings with seven rounds to go, in danger of not securing a Champions League spot next season.
Atletico had only one shot on target against relegation-threatened Mallorca and none in the first leg against City.
Still, Simeone hinted Atletico won’t change its style much on Wednesday.
”We won’t steer away from what we usually do,” Simeone said. ”We will try to get the timing right to create our opportunities, and hopefully we can combine better in transition and take advantage of our counterattacks.”
Besides its offensive struggles, Atletico’s recent home record in European competitions also has been disappointing. It hasn’t won in its last six home games in the Champions League, with four draws and two losses. It lost to Liverpool and AC Milan this season, with draws against Porto in the group stage and Manchester United in the first leg of the round of 16.
To make it worse, the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium won’t be at full capacity on Wednesday after UEFA charged the club with ”discriminatory behavior” and ordered a 5,000-seat section of the stadium to be closed after an Atletico fan was filmed making a Nazi salute in the first leg in Manchester. Atletico, which tried to overturn the ruling, will also have to display a UEFA banner there, saying ”(hash)NoToRacism.”
Simeone, who was insulted and nearly hit by objects thrown from the stands in the round-of-16 match against Manchester United in England, said he wished the sanctions handed to clubs were ”more equal.”
The coach also hinted at a lack of respect by some other coaches and former players toward him and Atletico’s style recently, saying that from his part ”there will always be respect” toward his colleagues.
Atletico’s defense, which has carried the team under Simeone in recent years, was largely effective in Manchester but it will remain without central defender Jose Maria Gimenez, who hasn’t recovered from a muscle injury that kept him from playing in the first leg. Midfielder Hector Herrera also will not to play because of a muscle injury.
Not having the away-goals rule in place this season could be key for Atletico after it failed to score in England.
Playing in the quarterfinals for the sixth time in nine seasons, the Spanish club is seeking its first Champions League title.
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