Leading sides in world football often reflect the man in charge, but perhaps no side on the European stage bears the characteristics of their manager quite like Atletico Madrid.
Chelsea are the latest Premier League side to face the fearsome prospect of the Spanish league leaders in continental competition, the two sides meeting in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 encounter this evening.
El Cholo’s Atleti bring the tenacity and work-rate that defined his playing career to each and every contest, their deep defensive line untroubled when asked to soak up pressure – indeed, they thrive upon it.
Simeone often acts as the chief conductor in animated style on the touchline, working the crowd into a frenzy to the club’s advantage as his side often deploy the dark arts of time-wasting and play acting.
Four European finals in the past nine seasons is evidence that their style is utterly effective at the very highest level, here are five times Simeone’s Atletico famously shithoused their way to Champions League success:
Atletico Madrid 1-0 Barcelona, Champions League quarter-final second leg (09/04/2014)
Simeone’s Atletico made their first mark on the Champions League seven years ago, with a tense victory over Spanish counterparts Barcelona in the last eight booking the club’s place in the semi-finals for the first time since 1974.
The previous four meetings between the two sides had all ended in stalemates but after battling to a 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou just a week earlier, Atleti once again demonstrated all of their fighting spirit to shackle the Catalans in the return fixture at the Vicente Calderon.
Koke’s goal after just five minutes put Simeone’s side ahead in the tie and led to a feverish atmosphere in the Spanish capital, and despite conceding 71% of the possession to the visitors, Atletico held firm to keep a clean sheet and book their place in the last four.
The likes of Lionel Messi and Neymar were restricted to half chances by a resolute home defence, the club’s back four unwavering in their ability to preserve their lead and seal a famous victory.
Atletico Madrid 1-0 Juventus, Champions League group stage (01/10/2014)
Having suffered an agonising defeat in the final of the previous season’s competition to city rivals Real Madrid, Atletico began their bid to reach successive finals with defeat to Olympiakos and headed into a huge group stage meeting with Juventus in need of three points.
The Italian champions had enjoyed an unbeaten start to the season and were in fine form with six consecutive wins ahead of their trip to Madrid, but soon find themselves up against one of the most formidable propositions in European football.
Simeone’s side again conceded the majority of possession but very few chances, their defensive solidity providing the platform for Arda Turan to snatch three points, the Turkish international getting on the end of Juanfran’s cross with 15 minutes remaining.
The win proved crucial as Atletico eventually topped the group, finishing ahead of a Juventus side who went on to reach that season’s final.
Atletico Madrid 2-0 Barcelona, Champions League quarter-final second leg (13/04/2016)
Two seasons after their previous last eight clash, Atletico and Barcelona were drawn together once again at the quarter-final stage in a meeting between two of Spanish football’s leading clubs.
The two teams did battle in a fascinating contest between Atletico’s defensive destruction and the famed tiki-taka style of their Catalan counterparts, Simeone’s band of brothers viewed as the anti-football to Barcelona’s long held footballing philosophies.
Unlike previous encounters, however, Atletico were forced to come out in the second leg having lost 2-1 at the Camp Nou, Simeone’s side facing a huge challenge to overcome a first leg deficit against the holders.
An intimidating atmosphere greeted Barcelona upon their arrival and the visitors struggled to gain a foothold in the game, visibly rattled by the intensity of Atletico in an ill-tempered clash that saw eight bookings shared between the two sides.
Remarkably Barcelona had won all seven of the previous meetings between the two sides since their quarter-final defeat in 2014, though Luis Enrique’s men exited the competition as Antoine Griezmann’s double – including a late penalty – condemned the club to defeat in the capital.
Diego Godin starred at the heart of the defence for Atleti as held firm, frustrating the five-time winners as tempers flared to seal their place in the last four.
Atletico Madrid 1-0 Bayern Munich, Champions League semi-final first leg (27/04/2016)
Having dispatched of Barcelona in the previous round, Simeone’s side faced another European heavyweight as they clashed with German giants Bayern Munich at the semi-final stage.
With the first leg held at their Vicente Calderon home, Atletico were in no mood to concede any advantage to their visitors from the Bundesliga. Simeone’s team headed into the contest having conceded just five goals in the competition thus far, whilst they were also on a run of four consecutive clean sheets at domestic level.
Their water-tight back four was protected in expected fashion by a narrow midfield quartet, tenacious runners providing the defensive screen ahead of a backline missing influential Uruguayan international Godin.
Pep Guardiola’s Bayern side enjoyed 74% of the possession and had 20 attempts on goal, though there would be no way through the Atletico resistance as Saul Niguez’s stunning individual goal secured a vital first leg victory.
A 2-1 defeat in the return fixture sealed the Spanish side’s progress on away goals, Simeone’s side advancing to a second final in three seasons.
Atletico Madrid 2-0 Juventus, Champions League last-16 first leg (20/02/2019)
Atletico Madrid and Juventus renewed hostilities once more during the 2018/19 Champions League, the Italian champions boosted by the capture of the tournament’s all-time record goalscorer Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid.
Atleti were more than familiar with the Portuguese superstar’s talents after almost a decade at their cross-city rivals, though Simeone’s side were more than up for the challenge and stifled the five-time Ballon d’Or winner, a fierce Ronaldo free-kick tipped over the crossbar by Jan Oblak the closest he would come to scoring.
It was the Spanish side who eventually secured a huge victory, in a meeting between two sides who had lost four of the past five Champions League finals.
Defensive stalwarts Godin and Jose Gimenez – so fundamental to the club’s seemingly impregnable rearguard in recent years – were the heroes, scoring twice inside the final 12 minutes as Atletico took a two-goal lead into the return fixture.
The win maintained Simeone’s unbeaten home record in European competition as Atleti won the battle, though Juventus would win the war in the return fixture via a Ronaldo masterclass, the forward scoring a brilliant hat-trick to turn the tie around.