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Saturday, 20 October, 2018

Simeone still hungry for success with Atletico Madrid

Borussia Dortmund seem to have found their man

Antoine Griezmann leads the Atletico Madrid line
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Atletico Madrid Manager Diego Simeone
Most managers would be satisfied with three European finals in five years, but Diego Simeone is not most managers.

Having won the Europa League last season and reached two Champions League finals, Simeone is desperate to claim Europe's elite trophy this season with the final taking place at Atletico's Madrid's own Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.

Atletico's top man, World Cup winner Antoine Griezmann, resisted the urges of Barcelona to remain at the club and an aggressive recruitment policy saw Thomas Lemar, Rodri, Gelson Martins, Santiago Arias and Nikola Kalinic arrive among others.

Expectations have risen, particularly after they beat arch-rivals Real Madrid 4-2 in the European Super Cup, but it is crucial that Atletico don't stray too far away from the defensive basics which have made them such awkward customers for more illustrious opponents.

Atletico conceded just 22 goals in last season's La Liga, easily the fewest in Spain, as they finished second, and they should be capable of greatly improving on their shock group-stage exit last term.

Borussia Dortmund Lucien Favre
Given that Marco Reus has been managed by Jurgen Klopp and Joachim Low it is perhaps telling just how highly he regards Borussia Dortmund's new manager Lucien Favre that he recently said: "Favre is probably the best coach I have ever had."

Reus struck up his beautiful relationship with Favre when the pair worked together at Borussia Monchengladbach, helping the club go from relegation certainties to Champions League qualifiers, and the experienced Swiss boss looks better suited to the role than last season's shockers Peter Bosz and Peter Stoger.

With such problems in the dugout Dortmund nearly missed out on a top-four spot in the Bundesliga, reaching the Champions League only on goal difference, and a clearout was needed this summer with Gonzalo Castro, Nuri Sahin, Sokratis and Andriy Yarmolenko among those to exit.

Goalkeeper Marwin Hitz, centre-back Abdou Diallo and midfielder Axel Witsel are charged with improving the defensive effort and Paco Alcacer, who has had two wasted years at Barcelona, gets an opportunity for regular minutes as a replacement for January departee Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Monaco Leonardo Jardim
The 2016-17 season must seem like a lifetime ago for Monaco, who reached the Champions League semi-finals and and won Ligue 1 but have lost most of their stars in the subsequent two summers.

Thomas Lemar, Joao Moutinho, Keita Balde and Fabinho left in the last transfer window, following Benjamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva, Kylian Mbappe and Tiemoue Bakayoko out of the principality and putting pressure on sporting director Michael Emenalo to sign up another batch of potential superstars.

It's a difficult job and realistically Monaco can only hope rather than expect that their scattergun approach pays off.

Pele (no, not that one) and Nacer Chadli (yes, that one) were two of the more surprising arrivals, but better bets to come off are Russian World Cup star Aleksandr Golovin and big German hope Benjamin Henrichs, while teenager Willem Geubbels arrives from Lyon with a tasty reputation.

A deep run is unlikely but Monaco are set to battle Dortmund for second spot.

Club Brugge Ivan Leko
Belgium reached the World Cup semi-finals, but don't go expecting their domestic champions Club Brugge to make any kind of impact in this season's Champions League.

Just reaching Europe's premier club competition courtesy of claiming the Pro League title was an achievement for Brugge, who some had suggested would slip back when Ivan Leko replaced Michel Preud'homme in the managerial hotseat.

However, the Croatian, with the help of 15-goal Abdoulay Diaby, finished three points clear of Preud'homme's Standard Liege in a convoluted playoff system despite early exits in the Champions League and Europa League.

Diaby departed for Lisbon to join Sporting and was replaced by Charleroi's prolific hitman Kaveh Rezaei. The Iranian is set to partner Wesley up front in Leko's preferred 3-5-2 formation.

Zimbabwe's injury-hit Marvelous Nakamba is part of a midfield which includes the influential Ruud Vormer and who could hold their own, even at this level, but the lack of quality in both boxes means Brugge are set for bottom spot.  


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Just reaching Europe's premier club competition courtesy of claiming the Pro League title was an achievement for Brugge
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