After Barcelona in last year's Champions League quarter-finals, this time it’s Real Madrid. We are up against a team who start the season preparing to win the competition. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain are teams that are obliged to win the Champions League. We are competing to get closer to that possibility and, over time, I am sure we will have the chance.
A derby is always special, whether it’s Real Madrid-Atletico or Estudiantes La Plata-Gimnasia and Esgrima La Plata. Wherever you are, you live these matches in a different way and the fans constantly make sure you know just how special it is.
For us, it is important because of the moment in which we find ourselves. To be among the eight best teams in Europe again, for the second year running, is fantastic for Atletico Madrid – and it shows that this team has been able to reinvent itself because we are back in the quarter-finals with 10 different players to last year. That says a lot about this team.
Let’s hope we can continue to compete and approach this next match with attention, commitment and a desire to give the very best version of ourselves.
There is something special about the Champions League. I don’t know if it’s a romance, but a bohemian feel, with the music, the travelling and the fans – the people make you feel it in a different way to other competitions.
For a coach, there is a lot of tension and so much expectation, plus the need to commit as few errors as possible. If you get it wrong, you are out – and there is no opportunity to put things right. That tension in a particular game or a tie makes it different to a match in La Liga.
Fernando Torres and Mario Mandzukic are very different players – but both are extremely important to Atletico Madrid.
Mandzukic is a player who links up much more with his team-mates, holds the ball up, wins loose balls and lays off to others as well.
Fernando is faster and much more explosive. He looks for the spaces and tries to exploit them. And that means we have two different options, two different solutions.
The decision is made depending on the needs of the team and the needs of the match you are going to play.
The Griezmann-Torres partnership is good because it has pace and can exploit spaces. But the Mandzukic-Griezmann combination is also important because when there are no spaces, they are able to operate in reduced areas, pivot and make play for the midfielders, with Koke, Arda Turan, Saul and Raul Garcia all very good at getting into attacking positions.
Griezmann had some difficulties at the beginning. He came from a team with different needs to Atletico, but has worked hard to improve his qualities and it is clearly paying off.
When he arrived, everyone told me he couldn't play as a second striker. But I insisted that he could because he has the speed, that change of pace, good control, he is an aerial threat, can go past players and he has a strong shot.
I believed he needed to be closer to the area and his numbers in terms of goals this season are close to the best of his career.
Griezmann is still very young and he is working much better defensively as well. I believe his improvement cannot be measured only in goals. He is also becoming a much more complete footballer to the player we saw last year.
After the 1903 Copa del Rey final between Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao, a group of Basque students decide to form a new branch of their club in the capital. They wear the same red and white stripes and first play Real in December 1906, losing 2-1.
Luis Marin of Atletico scores the first derby goal in La Liga’s first season in 1929, but Real Madrid win 2-1. Atletico get their first win the following season, emerging 2-1 victors at home with Marin on the scoresheet again.
By 1940, Real Madrid have won five derbies in a row, though matches are few and far between due to Atletico’s relegation in 1930 and the three-year Spanish Civil War. By 1944, however, Atletico have turned the tables by winning five straight themselves.
In 1947, Atletico beat their rivals 5-0. Larbi Ben Barek, European football’s first African star, inspires further 6-3 and 4-0 victories in 1950 and 1951 and two Spanish titles in a row. “If I am the king of football, then Larbi Ben Barek is the god of it,” Pele later said.
Three weeks after that 5-0 defeat, Real move to the Santiago Bernabeu. Between 1952 and 1956 they win eight of 10 derbies and all five games at their new stadium and in 1958 they progress to a European Cup final after defeating Atletico in the semis.
Real win their fifth European Cup in a row in 1960 and are hot favourites for the Copa del Rey final at the Bernabeu. With Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas and Francisco Gento leading the charge they go 1-0 up but Atletico storm back to a famous 3-1 victory.
Hugo Sanchez, one of Real Madrid’s most prolific goalscorers of all time, makes his derby debut for Atletico in 1981 but suffers a 2-1 defeat. The likes of Luis Aragones, Bernd Schuster, Santiago Solari and Jose Antonio Reyes also played for both clubs.
In 1994, Real Madrid beat Atletico 4-2 and Raul, who will go on to become the club’s all-time top scorer, nets his first goal at age 17. New signing Diego Simeone gets his first for Atletico in the same game and they win the 1995-96 league and cup double with the Argentine in midfield.
Atletico have not beaten Real in 25 attempts and Cristiano Ronaldo scores the first goal in the 2013 Copa del Rey final, which, as in 1960, is played at the Bernabeu. But Simeone masterminds an unlikely comeback to secure his first domestic trophy as Atletico coach with a 2-1 victory.
Newly crowned league champions Atletico are moments away from completing an astonishing double by winning the Champions League, but Sergio Ramos’ last-gasp equaliser forces extra time. Real put three more goals past Simeone’s brave but exhausted team to claim their 10th European title.