Diego Simeone: Antoine Griezmann ‘is one of the best three players in the world’ for Atletico
Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone hailed star forward Antoine Griezmann as “one of the best three players in the world” as Atletico prepare to face local rivals Real Madrid in next Saturday’s Champions League final.
Griezmann has enjoyed his best ever goal-scoring season with 32 goals in all competitions.
However, the French international has been particularly effective in the Champions League as his double against Barcelona in the quarter-finals and vital away goal at Bayern Munich in the last four allowed Atletico to upset the odds and reach a second final in three seasons.
“He has worked very hard, pushed himself and knows how to listen,” Simeone said on Saturday.
“The best way to improve in any job is to listen. Without doubt he is one of the best three players in the world.”
Griezmann also netted the winner when Atletico last met Real back in February.
However, he insisted Atletico’s run to the final will mean little if they don’t finally land the trophy.
“It’s nice (to hear compliments), but the truth is I try to do my best in every training session and my teammates and the coaching staff help me be at this level,” said Griezmann.
“Just because we have beaten Bayern or Barca doesn’t mean we will win this match.
“It doesn’t guarantee anything. We have to give everything we have.”
Griezmann also played down the impact that a two-week layoff since the end of the Spanish league season could have on both sides.
“To play in the final of the Champions League is a dream.
“Now we have to prepare well, we have had two weeks and we have another week still to prepare.
“I don’t feel the pressure. I know there is a lot of waiting, but that doesn’t bother me. I try not to overthink things and that is one of my strengths.”
The majority of the stars will be on Real’s side as Atletico aim to avenge their defeat in agonising fashion in the final two years ago by winning the competition for the first time in Milan next weekend.
Simeone’s men were on course for victory in Lisbon until Sergio Ramos headed Real level deep into injury time and Los Blancos ran out 4-1 winners after extra-time.
Yet, despite the presence of three-time World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo, the world’s most expensive player in Gareth Bale and the likes of Karim Benzema and Luka Modric, Simeone expects the Real to play on the counter-attack.
“In the Champions League that is clearly the route they have chosen,” added Simeone.
“I expect an opponent that will wait for their opportunity. The presence of Casemiro in midfield has given them a lot of power defensively and in the Champions League they have played on the counter-attack.”
Real’s route to the final has been a much easier one on paper than Atletico’s treacherous course past Dutch champions PSV before dumping out Barca and Bayern.
However, Simeone also reserved praise for how Zinedine Zidane has revived Real’s fortunes since taking over as coach from the sacked Rafa Benitez in January.
“He has recovered the confidence, intensity and the speed of their attack,” added the Argentine.
“He has a more concrete style to make the most of the three strikers.
“To get to a Champions League final is an important demonstration of his work.”
Follow us on Twitter @NatSportUAE
Like us on Facebook at facebook.com/TheNationalSport
Updated: May 21, 2016 04:00 AM