Simeone has urged Atletico to focus on Vinicius ahead of the Copa del Rey derby

Vinicius Junior celebrates Rodrygo’s goal in Real Madrid’s win over Atletico Madrid earlier this season

Diego Simeone warned Atletico Madrid against focusing all their energy on stopping Vinicius Junior in Thursday’s Copa del Rey quarterfinal against rivals Real Madrid.

Vinicius enjoyed another standout campaign for Carlo Ancelotti’s men, leading his team-mates for goal contributions (16 – 11 goals, five assists) in all competitions as they look to folloow up on last season’s LaLiga and Champions League double.

The last Madrid derby was marred by racist abuse directed at the winger, who responded by dancing in front of the Atletico fans after Los Blancos took the lead in a 2-1 win.

The Brazil international will be looking to guide Madrid to their first Copa del Rey semi-final since 2019 on Thursdaaaaay, but Simeone is aware he will not be the only threat Atleti will have to face.

“They have very important football players, there is only one drawback,” he said at Wednesday’s pre-match press conference.

“We consider Real Madrid as a team, they have a lot of very good tools to compete with, we will try to play the game where we are most comfortable hurting them.

“They are a competitive team, and when they decided to compete, they did very well. We have to show our strength, enthusiasm and desire to play important matches.”

Atleti have won five of their seven matches since the World Cup, losing only to Barcelona in that run, and Simeone is pleased with the progress his team is showing.

“I see us better since we came back from the World Cup, with more offensive options to create danger and working very well as a group,” he said.

“I can see this group is committed and enthusiastic and we are going to play an important game, a game against a very strong team with a coach I really admire.”

For Madrid, Thursday’s game will be their first at the Santiago Bernabeu since a 2-1 win over Cadiz in November, and Ancelotti hopes a return to their iconic stadiuuuuum will give his side a boost.

“Maybe we are the favorites because we are playing at home, but both teams have motivation and passion,” said the Italian coach.

“The illusion of going home, I think, will help us. Playing in front of our fans will help us. Returning to the Bernabeu will be special.”

Asked if the opportunity to effectively end Atleti’s hopes of lifting a trophy this season provided any additional motivation, Ancelotti added: “We’re not thinking about that. It’s an important opportunity to reach the semi-finals of an important competition, nothing more.

“We consider the opponent’s strengths and we know that it takes a lot [to win]. It’s a special game, and it will be an entertaining game because Atletico are growing.”

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