Griezmann back as Atletico face Inter challenge in crunch week

AFP , Tuesday 12 Mar 2024

Atletico Madrid host Champions League runners-up Inter Milan on Wednesday boosted by key player Antoine Griezmann's likely return from injury.

Antoine Griezmann
Atletico Madrid’s French forward Antoine Griezmann reacts during their UEFA Champions League last 16 first leg match against Inter Milan at the San Siro stadium in Milan on Feb. 20, 2024. Photo: AFP

 

Diego Simeone's side stumbled 1-0 in Milan in February in the last 16 first-leg clash, with Griezmann spraining his ankle at the San Siro.

The French forward missed four games since, of which Atletico have won only once, but has returned to training and Spanish media say he is set to feature in the second leg.

Struggling Atletico face an uphill climb against the runaway Serie A leaders after Marko Arnautovic netted the only goal on Simeone's return to Italy to face one of his former teams from his playing days.

The Rojiblancos also have Spanish champions Barcelona's visit on the horizon on Sunday in La Liga, where Athletic Bilbao are battling to overtake them in fourth place.

Atletico were ousted from the Copa del Rey by Athletic and despite a strong start to the season, are 14 points behind bitter rivals and current league leaders Real Madrid.

Perhaps with one eye -- or even two -- on the Champions League, Atletico fell to a dismal 2-0 defeat at lowly Cadiz on Saturday.

It was the Andalucians' first victory in 17 matches and first in La Liga since September.

Despite the woeful performance Simeone backed his men ahead of the Inter clash.

"I feel that the team is giving everything and it's me that is not finding the right way," said the coach.

"I'll go to the death with the players because I know what they can give, I know they can do big things, and I will keep working with them."

Simeone's last chance of silverware this season lies in Europe and the coach will be grateful for Griezmann's potential return.

The 32-year-old forward has 18 goals in 36 appearances across all competitions this season.

Atletico are also boosted by their strong home record. At the Metropolitano stadium they have won 18 of 20 matches this season across all competitions, tumbling just once -- against Athletic in the cup.

Their fans usually create a raucous atmosphere on big nights and the game is tipped to set a new record attendance at the 70,000 seater stadium.

Simeone has doubts in defence as none of his regulars are in good form with the exception of Axel Witsel.

New arrival Gabriel Paulista made errors against Cadiz, while Reinildo Mandava has not been at his best after a long injury lay-off.

"We have to reset and prepare well for the game against Inter on Wednesday," said Witsel after the humbling by the Yellow Submarine.

"There is no time for words, we have to focus on our work and play well against Inter."

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