Diego Simeone believes Atletico Madrid’s La Liga clash at Malaga will be pivotal in determining what his team can achieve this season.
Atleti travel to La Rosaleda on Saturday nine points adrift of leaders Barcelona in their bid to defend the Spanish title they sensationally won on the final day of last season at Camp Nou.
The champions’ disappointing away form has been the difference so far this term, with Atleti registering just seven league wins on the road as opposed to the 11 recorded by Barca and Real Madrid.
Simeone’s men’s upcoming league visits to Malaga and Deportivo La Coruna are sandwiched by the first leg of the UEFA Champions League quarter-final against Real on Tuesday.
And Simeone is fully aware that his side can ill afford to slip up on the road in those two games.
He said: “We are entering complex matches. Playing away from home in this instance is not the same as in the first round of play because the rivals play differently and have more needs.
“Tomorrow’s [Saturday] and the next game are away and will be almost determining for what is left in the league.”
Turning his attention to the threat posed by Malaga, Simeone added: “We have to be strong, very intense and, above all, look for our attacking speed to harm them and take the match where we want to.
“They have a good grasp on set pieces and play good football, and that demands you to play a great match and we will try.”
Atleti defender Juanfran is to return from suspension, but Mario Mandzukic (ankle) and Raul Garcia (elbow) are still on the sidelines.
Malaga’s hopes of securing European football have been dented in recent weeks by a run of three games without a win, which has seen them fall five points behind sixth-placed Villarreal.
Coach Javi Gracia is plotting to inflict a damaging defeat on the champions and end his side’s poor form of late.
He said: “What Atletico Madrid do on the pitch deserves great credit. They’re not going to give anything away; despite being a major team they don’t have the vices of a big squad.
“Looking at their results can be somewhat discouraging. We’re up against a solid, competitive team who are dangerous on set pieces.
“Atletico have a lot of variants, and although we’ll try and impose our style of play at our home ground, it won’t be easy. They are a candidate to take the league title again this season, but I hope their chances are diminished after this match.
“We are looking ahead to this match with courage and enthusiasm, knowing how demanding it will be and that we must perform as well as we can.”
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