Two days before Christmas will mark Diego Simeone’s ninth anniversary as Atlético de Madrid coach. So glorious has been his time, the greatest in the 117-year history of this club, that the achievements of the combative Argentine seem to have no end. They are not, of course, but it would not be difficult to be seduced by the illusion.

Count them: six European finals, four trophies returned to Madrid from Monaco, Tallinn, Bucharest and Lyon against Chelsea, Real Madrid, Athletic Club and Marseille. Copy. Although the two defeats in the Champions League final continue to sting like salt in an open wound, perhaps leaving scars for the rest of his life, they are nevertheless part of the hundreds of millions of euros that his work, in partnership with the German “Mono” Burgos, has won the club.

Simeone’s tenure is marked not only by Atleti vastly exceeding its weight in the transfer market, also operating excellently repeatedly, but by the fact that The Rojiblancos never in its entire history had it seen such revenue flood into the club’s coffers. True, this has catalyzed an unexpected take on risk, such as huge salaries and two deals, Thomas Lemar and Joao Felix, breaking Atleti’s previous transfer records. But Simeone is still a money maker for the men who employed him.

I believe that Simeone is the highest paid soccer coach in the world and Atleti has never questioned reports that his contract, which runs until the summer of 2022, is for 22 million basic euros.

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He won the club that loves its first Spanish league title since 1996. Nirvana!

It ended with the brutal 14-year-old hoodoo that Real Madrid rivals had on them: Atleti were not only unable to win at that time, but they fully deserved the infamous banner “Looking for a worthwhile rival to have derbies again. competitive – “apply here” that The whites ‘ The fans held out shortly before the Simeone effect came home and Atleti routinely won again, a process that began with victory in the 2013 Copa del Rey final at the Bernabéu in José Mourinho’s last match against position.

Atleti’s simeone-ification has seen them win in Porto, Milan, Rome, London, Eindhoven, Lisbon, Leverkusen, Moscow, Liverpool and Istanbul, a record for which even coaches considered “great” would give their teeth. But what this smart, durable and warrior coach cannot do for love or money, despite having eliminated them twice from the Champions League and winning the title with a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou, is to beat Barcelona. in the league.

By definition (otherwise they would not have been champions), Madrid’s rojiblanco team did not need to beat Tata Martino’s Blaugrana in 2013-14, but that won’t wash out this time. That campaign was a three-way race; 2020 is a real battle where there are possibly up to six title contenders: La Real, Madrid, Barcelona, ​​Sevilla, Villarreal and Atleti.

Laugh if you like, fire the dark horse strangers as soon if you dare. But this will not be a season in which the fourth classified (Athletic in 2014) is 20 points behind the winner and 17 points behind the teams that finished second and third. This is a league in which every crucial point earned is like freeing a prisoner that your enemies desperately want to hold.

If Simeone can put an end to the most embarrassing stat of his entire coaching career, anyone who thinks he’s losing two Champions League finals to Madrid can go ahead and take a leap in the race, beating Barcelona at the Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday night, the celebrations will not be simply about shoving another album in your photo album. Instead, it will be a strong statement of credibility for the title.

Let’s put some meat on these horrible bones.

– In the League, Atleti de Simeone has played 17 times against Barcelona, ​​with 11 defeats and six draws
– Goals scored: 13. Goals received: 27.
– Atleti has kept a clean sheet once.

The most common marker? It’s 2-1, that with the other three 1-0 losses, four 1-1 draws plus one 0-0 draw, all helps to suggest how little it would have taken in the past nine years to move from tight draws or a just goal. defeats to a glorious and endless victory. Still, it never happened.

Overall, it’s not as egregious a record as the one Simeone did break, that shaky 14-year wreck festival against Madrid, but it’s still very poor. Simeone, devastating kryptonite for most of Europe’s elite coaches, has not been able to defeat Pep Guardiola, Tito Vilanova, Tata Martino, Luis Enrique, Ernesto Valverde or, yes, it’s true friends, Quique Setien while they have managed a variety of the Barcelona teams through thick and thin.

Of course, the main thorn in Simeone’s side has been a fellow Argentine, how ironic that is.

Lionel Messi has 15 goals or assists in the absolute dominance of Atleti in the Spanish First Division since 2011. He has scored penalties and direct free kicks, has scored or assisted in the last seconds to turn losses into draws, draws into wins and every so often time has created goals of an authentic masterpiece of all time like the one that won this match, in the Metropolitan, the last time it was played.

Remember it? Barcelona was not particularly impressive or pushy throughout, completing many passes, but around 70% of them going forward or backward, with Koke playing. catenaccio-Close to Messi until minute 41 of the second half.

It took a loose cross pass from Lemar, Sergi Roberto nodding his head towards Frenkie de Jong in the open space, a test run in the style of the Dutchman’s Ajax and Messi yelling down the right wing. Once delivered to his feet, with the Atleti midfield puffing furiously even to come back within visual range, regardless to avoid catastrophe, Messi took the ball for a sprint inside the box, made Thomas Partey and Saúl Twister played inadvertently, he played the one-two pass from Luis Suarez and the laser guided a left-handed shot that screamed in an arc from the outside in past the bewildered and fully stretched Jan Oblak.

Mario Hermoso put his head in his hands, Felipe leaned down to beat the grass, Oblak kicked the ball with helpless fury. As for Simeone? He began to adopt a defiant way of waving his arms and shredding his voice, realized that he had witnessed absolute football brilliance and … he clapped. It was all absolutely incredible and a microcosm of the nine-year grip that Barcelona has exercised in this match as they won five La Liga titles against one from Atleti.

I call their rivalry ironic, because imagine if Messi’s “Holy Grail” task of trying to beat Argentina to the World Cup had a young Simeone behind him in midfield. Or if coach Simeone had been in charge of Argentina during Messi’s golden years.

They are perfect companions on both counts, but they seem doomed to be respectful enemies, with one of them clearly leading the way. But now things are different, or at least Simeone, Oblak, Félix, Koke and Marcos Llorente must do it that way. That the game is on a Saturday after the generally shocking international break favored Atleti slightly, at least until Suarez tested positive for COVID-19.

Atlético are at home, thus avoiding additional trips: they will face Messi when, at best, he is tired and jet lagged.

Peru vs. Argentina finished around 3:30 am on Wednesday morning Spanish time. With general confusion after the game and an absolute minimum flight time of 13 hours as Messi travels directly from Lima to Barcelona in a private plane, taking Lucas Ocampos, Guido Rodríguez and Nehuen Pérez back to their various La Liga clubs, He will land in his hometown in the early afternoon, not much less than 72 hours before events begin at the Metropolitano.

This is horrible. It is also assumed (fingers crossed) that you are not injured or exposed to the coronavirus.

What a blow that is not the first time that Messi and Suárez meet in club football. Suárez has played more against Kozakken Boys, Libya, FK Gomel and Tahiti than against FC Barcelona (once each and zero respectively). Yes, he is 34 in January and would have had the same threat of tiredness, jet lag as Messi, plus a tougher game against Brazil. However, this was going to be his first chance to hit Barcelona, ​​even those who recently left the club, who didn’t think it was worth keeping him. Would you have bet against him scoring?

Perhaps now we have moved to the territory of Antoine Griezmann. He broke his drought, against Real Betis, the last time and instead of Suarez, it is the Frenchman who has a great chance of damaging his old club. But Atleti, for me, seems a favorite here. They are driven by a combination of the need to win and, it seems, the knowledge of how to do it. More than that, I think the addition of Geoffrey Kondogbia has just made Atleti the favorite for the title.

His already fierce midfield now has the figurehead that can win tackles and advance into game-winning spaces. He will also add an aerial threat, the odd goal and he has a pretty good record against Barcelona, ​​losing two of his last seven games against them.

With no Ansu Fati or Sergio Busquets for the Catalans, and only one point earned from their last six available away from home, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen working outright overtime to prevent opponents from scoring, this really must be the moment when Atleti he inspects the force coming from the north and decides that they can, and will, prevail.

When Simeone led Atleti to the title six years ago, his mantra was “one game at a time” in reference to never getting ahead. This season, with a great chance of repeating that La Liga triumph, this one November game can’t be anywhere near being crucial to the title. But victory would leave them nine points ahead of Ronald Koeman’s team and would also become a huge pillar of Atleti’s self-confidence and determination.

On the contrary, if this is not the time to put Barça to the sword after years of trying and not doing it in La Liga, then … when Simeone, when?