Huub Stevens may rank Club Atlético de Madrid alongside Liverpool FC as the sides most likely to progress from Group D, but having guided PSV Eindhoven to two wins in two he is not ruling out his own charges just yet.
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Huub Stevens may rank Club Atlético de Madrid alongside Liverpool FC as the sides most likely to progress from Group D, but having guided PSV Eindhoven to two wins from two games at the start of the Eredivisie season he is not ruling out his own charges just yet.
'Depth of quality'
"When the draw was made I thought Liverpool were clear favourites, but after watching Atlético a couple of times I now rate them just as highly," said the PSV coach. "They have a depth of quality and can change their playing style from counterattack to a more pressing game." Olympique de Marseille complete a tough-looking section, and the 54-year-old underlined that neither they nor PSV are there to make up the numbers, saying: "Every team in the group is capable of taking points off the others."
The Dutch champions bowed out after the group stage last term, finishing third in their pool, with a return of three goals in six matches underpinning the premature exit. Consequently, Stevens has stated his intention of getting his side playing "20 metres further up the pitch than last season", and with the visitors possessing a strike force of Diego Forlán, Simão and Sergio Agüero, the meeting could be explosive. The coach, who arrived from Hamburger SV during the summer, is not prepared to throw caution to the wind, however. "I want to win playing attractive football, but first and foremost I want a good result," he said.
Ibrahim Afellay scored the only goal of the game as PSV made it two wins from two against Sparta Rotterdam on Saturday. Yet for all the early promise, Stevens looks likely to make changes and summer signing Nordin Amrabat could replace Stefan Nijland in attack. Edison Méndez is also back in contention after being rested at the weekend. Likewise Atlético's Forlán, whose flight back from Uruguay was delayed because of heavy fog so he sat out his team's 2-1 defeat at Real Valladolid CF.
Atlético coach Javier Aguirre will be without suspended pair Maxi Rodríguez and Mariano Pernía, while Pablo Ibáñez picked up an injury in training on Sunday and did not travel to the Netherlands. There is also concern about Dutch international John Heitinga who has been hampered by a knee problem, although the player expects to be fit. "As a former AFC Ajax man, you can only imagine how happy I would be to help my team beat PSV here in Eindhoven," he said.
It will not be easy though, according to Aguirre, who is preparing for his club's first UEFA Champions League outing in eleven years. "It will be very difficult to leave the Philips Stadion with the points," said the 49-year-old Mexican. "PSV are a team with lots of experience at this level. Once you give them the ball it's hard to get it back." Not that that will diminish his players' eagerness. "They have worked very hard to get here, so I don't have to give them any extra motivation."