Propelled by an on-fire Antoine Griezmann, Atletico Madrid stand
on the brink of a fourth consecutive Champions League
quarter-final, determined to finally end their tag as Europe's
Griezmann has experienced that feeling more than most.
In 2016 the Frenchman proved himself as one of world football's
most deadly forwards, but also missed out in agonising fashion in
the Champions League and Euro 2016 finals, as well as finishing
third behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi for the Ballon
Burdened by that disappointment and the physical and mental
fatigue of carrying France to the final of Euro 2016 on home
soil, Griezmann's form tailed off as he failed to score a league
goal between October and January.
However, the new year has seen Griezmann, and as a consequence
Atletico's form, revitalised with the 25-year-old scoring 12 of
his 21 goals this season in 2017.
Once again under the tutelage of Diego 'Cholo' Simeone, Atletico
are coming good at the right time of the campaign to launch
another bid for a first ever Champions League title.
Bayer Leverkusen will need to launch a comeback of Barcelona
proportions when they visit the Vicente Calderon on Wednesday
needing to overcome a 4-2 first-leg defeat at home three weeks
The esteem with which Griezmann holds Simeone was key to him
remaining at the Calderon last summer and why he says he will
stay when Atletico move into the new 67,000-capacity Wanda
Metropolitano next season despite rumours Manchester United are
willing to pay the 100 million euro ($107 million) release clause
in his contract.
"Simeone is the one who has made me take the leap I needed. I was
promising but in three years, Cholo has helped me take the leap
to in 2016 be among the three best players in the world,"
Griezmann told Television Espanola this week.
"To take that leap, Simeone is the best coach I could possibly
"The weather helps a lot, my teammates are amongst the best and I
have a top coach, so I am very happy here and there is no reason
To put the scale of Simeone's achievements at Atletico into
context, Los Rojiblancos had only reached five European Cup
quarter-finals in their history before the Argentine took over in
However, getting so close to glory and falling at the final
hurdle has been all the more painful for Atletico and Simeone,
especially as they have lost to cross-city rivals Real Madrid for
the past three seasons in the Champions League, twice in the
Atletico are the only club to ever lose three European Cup finals
without winning the trophy.
And Griezmann, who missed a penalty in last season's final,
believes he and Simeone have unfinished business with the
Champions League before they look to pastures new.
"He likes it here, he sees in us a squad that has more to give
and he does as well," added Griezmann.
"He wants to go very far in Champions and La Liga and soon we
will have a new stadium. I am sure he will continue with us."