MADRID: Zinedine Zidane has hailed the remarkable job done by Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone ahead of his first taste of the Madrid derby as Real Madrid boss on Saturday.
“We are going to play a team who have a great coach. He is very important for his team and someone I have appreciated as a player and a coach,” said Zidane.
“He has a competitive team. Now I must find the keys to play our best and win the match.”
Simeone has seen off three previous Real coaches in Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Rafael Benitez during his four-year spell at Atletico in which he has turned around the history of their rivalry with Real.
Atletico hadn’t won a derby for 14 years before winning the Copa del Rey at Real’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium in 2013, but haven’t lost a La Liga fixture to their city rivals in five games since.
“I can’t evaluate what happens at other teams, but I do value the continuity and the work we have done with the players and the club to obtain this stability,” said Simeone.
“I am thankful for that and the results also help.”
Both sides have seen their title hopes fade in recent weeks as Barcelona have moved eight points clear of Atletico at the top of the table with Real a further point behind in third.
Indeed, the European champions have stretched their lead over Real by seven points since Zidane took over from Rafael Benitez last month.
And ahead of his biggest match in charge, Zidane admitted it is normal that some have doubts over his ability to transform from a great player into a great coach.
“It is a special match because it is a derby. I understand that people have doubted my abilities as a coach,” he added.
“It is normal, people can think what they want, but I have to concentrate on what I do. I am clear about the ideas of what I want to do as a coach.”
Zidane confirmed that left-back Marcelo will join Welsh star Gareth Bale on the sidelines with a calf problem.
However, Zidane insisted that Real won’t give up on the title race even if they lose against Atletico.
“No matter what we are not going to give up until the end. There are points to play for.
“It is always going to be harder if we drop points, but we have games to play, we have the Champions League and we need to concentrate only on ourselves. Our season doesn’t end tomorrow.”