Atletico Madrid’s midfielder Gabi looks on during a press conference at Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on May 1, 2017 on the eve of their UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg football match against Real Madrid. CURTO DE LA TORRE / AFP
Atletico Madrid captain Gabi insisted on Monday it is winning the Champions League not gaining revenge on Real Madrid that motivates him as the Spanish giants face off once more in Tuesday’s semi-final, first leg.
Real have beaten Atletico in each of the past three seasons in the Champions League, including twice in the final in agonising circumstances for the red and white part of Madrid in 2014 and 2016.
“I am not more motivated to play against Real Madrid than any other team,” said Gabi, 33, who has spent 10 years at Atletico in two spells.
“What motivates me is being in the final, to win the long-awaited Champions League that we all want.”
Atletico led until the 93rd minute of the 2014 final when Sergio Ramos’s header sparked a Real fightback as they went onto win 4-1 in extra-time.
A year later Javier Hernandez got the only goal of a bad-tempered tie as Real progressed 1-0 on aggregate in the quarter-finals.
And in last season’s final, Real emerged victorious in a penalty shootout in Milan after a 1-1 draw.
“You always correct things from the past, but above all you learn from defeat,” said Atletico defender Diego Godin.
Both sides are seeking historic firsts as Real eye a 12th European crown in Cardiff on June 3 by becoming the first side to retain the trophy in the Champions League era.
Meanwhile, Atletico are still seeking their first ever Champions League as the only side to lose three finals without ever lifting the trophy.
“What happened in the past is in the past, we can’t rely on that now,” said Real boss Zinedine Zidane.
“It has been positive for us, but now it is a completely different tie and they will be doing their upmost to go through as well.
“The extra motivation comes from it being a Champions League semi-final.”
– Bale absent –
Gareth Bale and central defender Pepe are Real’s only injury absentees.
Isco and Marco Asensio will compete for Bale’s place, whilst the fit again Raphael Varane will replace Pepe in the only two changes Zidane is likely to make from the side that started a 1-1 La Liga draw against Atletico at the Bernabeu just over three weeks ago.
“I’ve been in Madrid for four years and in each of the four we’ve faced them in the Champions League,” said Isco
“Hopefully the outcome will be the same as in previous years.
“They’ll be desperate to beat us after the two Champions Leagues that we’ve won.”
Atletico have more injury worries as Jose Maria Gimenez suffered a groin problem in Saturday’s 5-0 thrashing of Las Palmas to join right-backs Juanfran and Sime Vrsaljko on the sidelines.
Diego Simeone will therefore be forced into a defensive reshuffle with Stefan Savic, a centre-back by trade, the favourite to be moved to right-back with Lucas Hernandez partnering Godin at the heart of the defence.
“I am clear on who is going to play (at right-back),” said Simeone.
“Absences are important, but I understand football as a team game. Many times an important player can be missing an the team overcomes that loss.”
Yannick Carrasco is also a major doubt after the Belgian winger suffered a collarbone injury in last week’s 1-0 defeat to Villarreal.
The return of Kevin Gameiro, though, was a huge boost for Simeone as the French international scored twice in his first start for six weeks at the weekend.