Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso says Atlético are now established as one of the top five sides in Europe as his Bayern team prepare to face them in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals.
“It’s no surprise to see Atleti in the semis,” added the 34-year-old. “They’re among the European football elite, competing for everything: the Liga, UEFA Champions League. They’ve installed themselves up there very quickly. They’ve always been a difficult side to play against and their progress in recent years has helped them grow into formidable opponents.”
It is a measure of how far the red-and-white half of Madrid have come that when the teenage Alonso first emerged at Eibar and Real Sociedad in the early 2000s, Atlético were in the second division. The picture had shifted significantly when he returned home after half a decade at Liverpool in 2009, joining Real Madrid.
Five subsequent years of ever more competitive cross-city rivalry in the Spanish capital means Alonso needs no introduction to the threat that awaits Bayern over the next seven days. “It will be 180 minutes – at the very least – of great intensity against a very good team,” continued the Basque player, who was suspended when the Madrid clubs met in the 2014 UEFA Champions League final. “I am full of respect for them.
“The first leg will be a tough, intense game, and their fans will get behind them. We want to get a good result to take back home. They’re obviously good players and we know them well. We’ve prepared well, getting to know them and what they can do. They’re one of the best sides in the world and we need to know everything.”