Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone has declared that English clubs are a force once more in the Champions League, and described Chelsea as most intense opposition he has known.
The Argentine coach also admitted that he feels Diego Costa was a bargain this summer – the only player of his level that Atletico would have been able to afford.
In an interview with Spanish radio Cadena Ser Simeone was asked if the Champions League was more difficult for his team this season after reaching the final twice in the last four years.
He replied: ‘The English teams have improved so it’s much more open. There is less margin for error now.’
Asked about the defeat to Chelsea last week he added: ‘We had never faced a team with the intensity of Chelsea. We struggled to press them effectively. We improved when (Antoine) Griezmann went on (Tiemoue) Bakayoko and left David Luiz free. But we were imprecise.’
Simeone took Griezmann off at the weekend as Atletico failed to beat Madrid minnows Leganes. The French forward’s form has dipped since his dalliance with Manchester United in the summer.
Simeone said: ‘It is not that he is giving everything it is just that we have been spoilt by him in the past.’
Asked if he thought Griezmann would really leave in the summer he added: ‘I spoke to him and he said that he would ring me a week later. And he told me what was going to happen. I was convinced he would not go anywhere.’
Simeone also revealed in the interview that the signing Costa of was made possible by the player’s fall-out with Conte keeping his price down.
He said: ‘Last year we were close. I spoke a lot with him. If he had not made the effort this summer the transfer would not have been possible.’
Asked if Costa is the ideal forward for Atletico, Simeone added: ‘Of the players of his level he is the one for us. Another one of that level or better and we would not be able to afford.
‘Of all the players I have had he is the one that has surprised me the most. He brings together all the qualities of goals, workrate, effort and leadership.’
Chelsea to wait on Morata
Alvaro Morata is targetting a return from his hamstring injury in Chelsea’s next Premier League game against Crystal Palace.
Morata limped off during the first half of Chelsea’s 1-0 defeat by Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday but initially travelled to Spain for international duty earlier this week.
However, the 24-year-old withdrew from Julen Lopetegui’s squad on Monday ahead of the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers against Albania and Israel.
The Spanish Football Federation claims the striker has a grade-two hamstring injury, but he returned to Chelsea on Tuesday for further assessment.
Morata posted on Instagram: “I have no time to lose! Working hard towards recovery! [target emoji] Crystal Palace.” He then re-edited the post and removed the mention of Palace.
The Blues have seven games in the next five weeks, including two Champions League games against Roma and the visit of Manchester United to Stamford Bridge on November 5, and will need their current top scorer.
Morata has bagged seven goals in nine appearances since a £60million move from Real Madrid in the summer.