Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone has declared that English clubs are a force once more in the Champions League, and described Chelsea as most intense opposition he has known.
The Argentine coach also admitted that he feels Diego Costa was a bargain this summer – the only player of his level that Atletico would have been able to afford.
In an interview with Spanish radio Cadena Ser Simeone was asked if the Champions League was more difficult for his team this season after reaching the final twice in the last four years.
He replied: ‘The English teams have improved so it’s much more open. There is less margin for error now.’
Asked about the defeat to Chelsea last week he added: ‘We had never faced a team with the intensity of Chelsea. We struggled to press them effectively. We improved when (Antoine) Griezmann went on (Tiemoue) Bakayoko and left David Luiz free. But we were imprecise.’
Simeone took Griezmann off at the weekend as Atletico failed to beat Madrid minnows Leganes. The French forward’s form has dipped since his dalliance with Manchester United in the summer.
Simeone said: ‘It is not that he is giving everything it is just that we have been spoilt by him in the past.’
Asked if he thought Griezmann would really leave in the summer he added: ‘I spoke to him and he said that he would ring me a week later. And he told me what was going to happen. I was convinced he would not go anywhere.’
Simeone also revealed in the interview that the signing Costa of was made possible by the player’s fall-out with Conte keeping his price down.
He said: ‘Last year we were close. I spoke a lot with him. If he had not made the effort this summer the transfer would not have been possible.’
Asked if Costa is the ideal forward for Atletico, Simeone added: ‘Of the players of his level he is the one for us. Another one of that level or better and we would not be able to afford.
‘Of all the players I have had he is the one that has surprised me the most. He brings together all the qualities of goals, workrate, effort and leadership.’