Charged with inflicting Zinedine Zidane’s first defeat in a final as Real Madrid manager, counterpart Diego Simeone is relishing the challenge come Sunday in the battle for the Spanish Super Cup.
The Atletico Madrid manager, who guided his side to the same title in 2014, will again lead the club in the competition’s showpiece, this time at King Abdullah Sports City in Saudi Arabia. There, they will attempt to put their great city rivals to the sword.
Twice winners of the trophy – Madrid have 10 – Atletico go into the match in Jeddah as the underdogs. However, they can take heart from Thursday’s semi-final comeback victory against La Liga leaders Barcelona, when they bounced back from 2-1 down late on to win 3-2.
"I don't want to say what can happen if we win," Simeone said. "Winning is nice and I don't think I should spend time wondering what could happen later on if we win now. You just need to play.
"There is no thing that is more important now than tomorrow's match – for the fans, for the club, for the players and for the staff of Atletico Madrid."
Real are without a number of key players for the clash, including Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale, although they coped brilliantly against Valencia in the semi-final on Wednesday.
Zidane's side triumphed 3-1 and could have won by a greater margin. The Frenchman now takes charge of his ninth final as Madrid manager. He boasts a 100 per cent record.
"We all know Real Madrid very well, the hierarchy of their players; their coach is an absolute winner," Simeone said. "Every time they play they show that they want to win, and they do it.
“Here they are without Benzema and Bale; [Eden] Hazard is injured. And yet nothing changes for them. They get stronger with the help of any one of their players. We’ll need to find ways to attack them and hurt them.”
Atletico, third in La Liga and five points behind both Barcelona and Madrid, did exactly that against the current Spanish champions on Thursday.
They took the lead at the beginning of the second half and again displayed their fighting spirit to rally late on. Atletico scored twice in the final nine minutes to set up the title match with Madrid.
“I believe in my players,” Simeone said. “I seek to strengthen the club – which has done a great job since I arrived – and the players. You look at their faces and they want to improve. All of this excites me and gives me energy. When I feel they're in good shape, I fear nothing.”
Atletico’s victory against Barcelona has piled the pressure on their manager Ernesto Valverde, with reports in Spain suggesting he could be dismissed this weekend.
Asked in Jeddah about his fellow coach’s predicament, Simeone said: “All due respect to everybody's opinion, same as I always gave mine from my point of view. I think Valverde is an excellent coach and he showed that with the way he led the club and the work he has been doing for years."