Five years, five trophies and 500 goals - but Simeone's Atletico at lowest point ahead of Barca tie

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The Rojiblancos have hit greater heights ever since the arrival of the Argentine coach at the end of 2011, but are struggling somewhat this term


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"Loves that kill never die." That was the message on one of the numerous banners held aloft by Atletico Madrid fans outside the team's hotel on Tuesday ahead of their side's Copa del Rey semi-final first leg against Barcelona on Wednesday.

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Another simply stated: "We want to win the Copa." Atletico are just two matches away from the final and hundreds of supporters congregated to offer their support to the team.

Coach Diego Simeone later took to social media and posted a photo. "Simply exhilarating," he wrote. It was and the tie shoud be too. Meetings between Barcelona and Atletico have been hard-fought encounters in recent times and this one is like an early final in the cup competition.

Simeone has had many memorable moments versus Barca. The Argentine coach led his team to La Liga in 2013-14, clinching the title with a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou on the final day, and the Rojiblancos knocked the Catalan club out in the quarter-finals of the Champions League last season en route to the showpiece at San Siro.

Luis Enrique Diego Simeone Barcelona Atletico Madrid

There is no doubt that Simeone has changed the course of this team. When he arrived at the end of 2011, Atletico were stranded in mid-table with seemingly little hope of competing for the major prizes. But they ended the season by winning the Europa League, before adding a UEFA Super Cup, a Copa del Rey, a Liga title and a Spanish Supercopa in the next two years - sweeping aside some of Europe's elite clubs along the way. 

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Atletico have also reached two Champions League finals in that time, losing both to Real - first in Lisbon after Sergio Ramos' late leveller forced extra time in 2014, and then in Milan on penalties last May. And just recently, Argentine forward Angel Correa scored the 500th goal for the club in the Simeone era.

Nevertheless, the current campaign has been more difficult for Simeone's side. Atletico advanced to the last four of the Copa despite a surprise 3-2 loss at home to Las Palmas in the last 16 and the Rojiblancos are already off the pace in La Liga - 10 points adrift of city rivals Real Madrd and only one ahead of fifth-place Real Sociedad.

Defensively, the team has lost some of its famous solidity and Atletico were very much second-best in a goalless game at Alaves on Saturday that saw tensions boil over with defender Diego Godin involved in a spitting incident with Deyverson and Belgian winger Yannick Carrasco react angrily after he was substitued by Simeone.

Antoine Griezmann Alaves Atletico Madrid La Liga

Diego Simeone Eibar Atletico Madrid LaLiga 07012016

"I'm absolutely proud of these players," Simeone said in Tuesday's pre-match press conference. "In my five years here as coach, we are going to play in our sixth semi-final. With the difficulty there is to have that continuity in work, for them to follow me and to be here for a sixth time fills me with pride, emotion and joy."

And the 46-year-old, whose contract is up in 2018 after he cut the agreement by two years back in September, also added: "I can't imagine a better scene than the one which will present itself at the Vicente Calderon."

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Indeed, if the show of support from Atletico's fans on Tuesday is anything to go by, this should be another rousing occasion on what will be the third anniversary of the passing of club legend Luis Aragones.

Asked on Tuesday whether this match could define Atleti's season, Simeone simply said "no". But with the team's form dipping in La Liga this term and another assault on the Champions League an extremely tough ask, the Argentine could do with some Copa cheer in the tie against Barca.

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