Midfielder Tiago says Club Atlético de Madrid have "nothing to lose" on what is certain to be an anxious night as the Rojiblancos try to avoid letting their UEFA Europa League crown slip at the first hurdle.
Facing a concluding Group B fixture away to section winners Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Atlético must better the result achieved by second-placed Aris Thessaloniki FC – who host Rosenborg BK – in order to maintain their interest in this year's competition.
"Although we are going to Germany with only victory in mind, we know we are not depending solely on ourselves," said Portuguese international Tiago, recognising that a win for the second-placed Greek side at their Kleanthis Vikelidis Stadium would seal the holders' elimination.
The unwanted tag of 'El Pupas' (the jinxed) – seemingly banished when the team added the UEFA Super Cup in August to their UEFA Europa League triumph in Hamburg in May – has since crept back into the lexicon of the Vicente Calderón faithful. Yet far from blaming bad luck for their continental toils this season, players and coaching staff alike have sought to find concrete reasons for their slump in form.
Speaking after the Matchday 5 home defeat by Aris, coach Quique Sánchez Flores could not restrain his anger as he attempted to explain how his side had surrendered a 2-1 lead to lose for a second time to Héctor Cúper's men. "
I have never seen a team perform so poorly tactically, we completely lacked the intelligence to win that game," he said.
Echoing those comments ahead of Thursday's encounter, Tiago – on loan from Juventus – insists he and his team-mates are doing their best to remedy the situation. "We were pretty bad against Aris, it's true. We've had some poor moments in games," the 29-year-old said.
"We were OK in the first half at home to Aris but, as has happened in other games, our level then dropped. We've been losing possession easily in midfield and as a result our confidence goes," the former Chelsea FC and SL Benfica player continued.
"We need more consistency. When you are losing games everything becomes more difficult – day-to-day training, getting on with each other, there are issues with the coach etc. But we are improving and we know that it's completely the opposite case when you start winning games."
Whether Atlético, sixth in the Spanish Liga, will be afforded any more time to demonstrate a winning mentality in this UEFA Europa League campaign remains to be seen. For Tiago, though, focusing on Leverkusen is all they can do. "
We're the third-placed team so it's obvious what we have to do in Germany. Doing that puts the onus on Aris to win their match too."
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