Bayer Leverkusen boss Roger Schmidt has hailed the qualities of striker Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez ahead of the club's Champions League clash Tuesday, but acknowledges it will take a team effort to down Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid.
Schmidt knows his Spanish opponents well, having been put out of the European competition by Atleti a mere two seasons ago, and feels the task ahead could be even tougher than it was in the past due to the Liga side's experience – especially in attack.
Speaking exclusively with Goal , the 49-year-old German shared his thoughts ahead of the anticipated clash.
Goal : In a short while you will meet Atletico Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League. Two years ago, you went out against the Spaniards, losing on penalties. What memories do you have of those matches?
Roger Schmidt: Many memories, many positive ones, too. Prior to those matches we knew that it was a difficult task. We were brave in the first match and deservedly won. In the second leg, the clarity of our offensive play was partly missing. Because of the high intensity of Atletico's play we had to defend deep. Although falling behind early in a unlucky manner, we fought back, in a very passionate way going for the next round. And we made it to the penalty shootout.
Goal : Did going out feel like an injustice?
RS: Not unjust. We were simply disappointed to be out, to have missed out on the next round despite delivering a top performance. All this against an Atletico team that is very hard to play against because it has an extraordinary mentality. Therefore, we're very much looking forward to competing with them again.
Goal : One thing that springs to mind was your argument with Atletico's assistant German Burgos and coach Diego Simeone. Do you look forward seeing them again?
RS: It's true that there was a lot going on, next to the pitch, too. After the match we shook hands, so that is over. There's nothing to discuss. Emotions are part of the game. And it's part of the game that a coach supports and defends his team during the match. I have great respect for Diego and his work at Atletico.
Goal : Is this Atletico stronger than the one from 2015?
RS: Their style of play is almost identical. The squad, especially the attack, has really been strengthened. Because of the many battles they have fought, they now have even more experience and substance. It's a gift they have that can influence a match, especially tight matches, in their favour, and to find solutions in certain situations.
Goal : How can you beat Atletico?
RS: We will stay true to our style of play. We're in the process of changing our squad and refreshing our team. The team should play with a lot of joy, without any worries. They should play their game, like they recently did in the Bundesliga, and give all they've got.
Goal : Speaking of the mentality of Spanish teams... your striker Chicharito has experience in that field. Can he be the X-factor in this one?
RS: He's a player with extraordinary qualities. His goals and his experience are very important for us. But I don't want to focus too much on one player. We need the mentality, the desire to win in every player of our team. That's the next step for the development of the young players in our squad.