Madrid, Feb 9 (IANS) Atletico Madrid’s head coach Diego Simeone has praised Real Madrid and its Croatia midfielder Luka Modric ahead of a La Liga derby game that pits the bitter cross-town rivals against each other.
Simeone made these remarks during a press conference ahead of their Saturday’s home game that will see both teams fight for the second spot in Spain’s top tier league standings, which Atletico currently holds with a two-point lead over its powerhouse rival, reports Efe.
“Modric is still the most decisive player at Real Madrid,” Simeone said on Friday, stressing the improvement Madrid has made since the arrival of his fellow Argentinian coach Santiago Solari.
Halfway through the first half of the season, Madrid was at a lowly ninth spot in La Liga’s table after their heavy 1-5 defeat to Barcelona that cost then coach Julen Lopetegui his post.
But under Solari, Madrid has worked its way back into the top five and is now third with 42 points, but it trails leader Barcelona by eight points after 22 matches into the season.
Simeone also stressed the depth Madrid has gained under Solari, with players such as forward Vinicius of Brazil and Spanish winger Lucas Vazquez, who opened the scoring during Madrid’s 1-1 draw against nemesis Barcelona in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinal also referred to as a Clasico.
The good state of form that France forward Karim Benzema has been experiencing did not go unnoticed by Simeone, who said the French international has been going through a “fantastic moment”.
Benzema found the back of the net three times over the most recent two league games – scoring twice in Madrid’s 4-2 win over Espanyol and opening the scoring in their 3-0 win over Alaves, while he assisted on their lone goal in the 1-1 draw against Barcelona.
Atletico could face one of its former players, should Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois play. He joined Madrid after a four-year spell at the cross-town rival.
“Courtois is a great goalkeeper and when he was with us, he did a really good job and now he has been experiencing a good moment as he has proved at all the teams he has been in,” Simeone said.
The coach said he did not think about the fatigue Madrid may have been struggling with after playing Barcelona on Wednesday, adding that this factor did not form any part of his plans for the game.