"Midfield will be key," Diego Simeone told the assembled media on Monday, adding that Club Atlético de Madrid must approach the final like any other game.
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Less than 48 hours after guiding Club Atlético de Madrid to the Spanish title, Diego Simeone was understandably in relaxed mood at the Estadio Vicente Calderón, joking that the audio issues which plagued the start of his open day press conference were a secret ploy not to speak to the media.
Rest assured, his silence did not last long as he dispelled talk that his side's quest for a maiden UEFA Champions League crown will hinge on the fitness of star striker Diego Costa. Instead Simeone, who is seeking to become the third European Cup-winning coach from outside Europe, sees the Lisbon final being won or lost behind the strikers in a tense midfield battle.
"The final is 50-50," he said, calling for his charges to not get carried away by the occasion. "They have better players individually. We are highly motivated, while they have a great desire. However, that does not mean that we do not have that same desire. The midfield will be the key. I anticipate a game high on tension and the team who can focus most on the match will be the team that lifts the trophy."
Costa's muscle injury means he remains a doubt, while Arda Turan, who also limped off in Saturday's title decider at FC Barcelona faces a similar struggle to prove his fitness. "We will wait to see how the Diego Costa and Arda Turan injury situation evolves by the end of week," added Simeone. "We will seek alternatives if they do not recover in time."
One alternative is Adrián López, who scored the opener against Chelsea FC in the semi-final second leg and is highly rated by Simeone. "Adrian is a real player and those who follow us every day know what I think of him," explained the coach. "He's talented, he can score goals and depending on the status of Arda and Costa we can make our choice."
The joy of a first league title in 18 years, the tenth in the club's history, is still fresh in the minds of the Rojiblancos but their coach is not concerned about the need to motivate his players for another decisive game. "The players' motivation is just wearing the shirt. The motivation is to play for Atlético, not based on who the opponent is.
"Motivation should come from within each player; if not, it's difficult to get results. A final is a final, and is motivation in itself. Each player needs to look at himself and prepare well." Simeone obviously will; the question is whether or not Costa and Arda will get the chance to ready themselves, too.