Diego Simeone warned Atletico Madrid against focusing all their energy on stopping Vinicius Junior in Thursday’s Copa del Rey quarter-final against rivals Real Madrid.
Vinicius is enjoying another standout campaign for Carlo Ancelotti’s men, leading his team-mates for goal contributions (16 – 11 goals, five assists) across all competitions as they bid to follow up last season’s LaLiga and Champions League double.
The last Madrid derby was marred by racist abuse being directed towards the winger, who responded by dancing in front of Atletico’s supporters after Los Blancos took the lead in a 2-1 win.
The Brazil international will look to guide Madrid to their first Copa del Rey semi-final since 2019 on Thursday, but Simeone is aware he will not be the only threat for Atleti to deal with.
“They have very important footballers, highlighting just one falls short,” he said at Wednesday’s pre-match press conference.
“We think of Real Madrid as a team, they have a lot of very good tools to compete, we’ll try to take the game where we feel most comfortable to hurt them.
“They’re a competitive team, and when they decide to compete, they do very well. We must show our strength, enthusiasm and desire to play an important game.”
— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadriden) January 25, 2023
Atleti have won five of their seven games since the World Cup, only losing to Barcelona in that run, and Simeone is pleased with the progress displayed by his team.
“I see us better since we returned from the World Cup, with more offensive options to create danger and working very well as a group,” he said.
“I see the group as committed and enthusiastic, and we are going to play an important game, a tie against a very strong team with a coach that I greatly admire.”
For Madrid, Thursday’s game represents their first at the Santiago Bernabeu since a 2-1 win over Cadiz in November, and Ancelotti hopes returning to their iconic stadium will provide his side with a boost.
“It may be that we are favourites because we play at home, but both teams have motivation and enthusiasm,” the Italian said.
“The illusion of going home, I think, will help us. Playing in front of our fans will help us. Going back to the Bernabeu will be special.”
Asked whether the opportunity to effectively end Atleti’s hopes of lifting a trophy this season provided additional motivation, Ancelotti added: “We don’t think about that. It’s an important opportunity to reach the semi-finals of an important competition, nothing more.
“We take into account the strength of the rival and we know that it takes a lot [to win]. It’s a special game, and it’s going to be an entertaining game because Atletico are improving.”