Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has praised Atletico Madrid head coach Diego Simeone for turning them into title contenders.
Simeone has been the architect of significant progress since taking over at the Vicente Calderon in 2011, guiding the club to fifth and third in La Liga, while also lifting the UEFA Europa League and the Copa del Rey.
When Hasselbaink played for Atleti they were relegated from the top flight and he is impressed with the changes that have taken place in the years since.
Atleti now sit top of the table with seven games to go and are in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League, and Hasselbaink, who spent a season at the club from 1999-2000, believes Simeone is the catalyst for their success.
“He has given them a style that (means) they can compete with the big teams,” the Royal Antwerp manager told Perform.
“Ok, it’s not as flamboyant as the others but it’s working, it’s competitive, he’s getting results and they’re hard to beat.
“This year he has taken them to the top with good football, the organisation is really good, (the) understanding between the players (is good), the togetherness, the fight.
“I am very impressed.”
The emergence of Diego Costa, who has scored 25 league goals this season, has given Atleti a focal point within the team and Hasselbaink feels Simeone’s tactical plans have worked perfectly to get the best out of his squad.
“What he’s brought is a system, a way of working where everyone knows what he wants, he gets them to play in a way that everyone is comfortable,” he continued.
“They know who their star player is, they are all happy with their star player, and give him the best possible chance to score.
“And they don’t concede goals because they work really hard for each other when they don’t have the ball.
“He’s lucky he’s not the favourite, and he doesn’t have to do it in the style as the other two (Real Madrid and Barcelona) have to do it so those are his benefits.”
Costa limped out of Tuesday’s 1-1 UEFA Champions League draw with Barcelona after suffering a hamstring injury and is facing a spell on the sidelines.
Hasselbaink believes it is imperative Atleti adapt quickly if they want to stay in the hunt for a first title since 1996.
“I think it’s a big impact (Costa’s injury) because he’s their star player,” he added. “They play a way to suit him, on the counter-attack, so they will need to adjust playing style a bit.”
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