BARCELONA (Reuters) - Sevilla are among the top four sides in Spain and can realistically challenge historical heavyweights Barcelona and Real Madrid for trophies, Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone said on Saturday.
La Liga leaders Atletico travel to third-placed Sevilla on Sunday in the first ever meeting between Simeone and Jorge Sampaoli, two Argentine coaches who have transformed soccer in their own way.
Simeone broke the Real/Barcas stranglehold on La Liga by leading Atletico to a first title for 18 years in 2014 while Sampaoli guided Chile to their first major trophy at the 2015 Copa America win.
Sampaoli has also made an impression on Sevilla since succeeding triple Europa League winner Unai Emery, transforming them into a breathtaking attacking force and overseeing their third best start to a season this century.
“I see Sevilla and us as part of an excellent foursome, fighting with hope and enthusiasm to compete against Real Madrid and Barcelona,” Simeone told a news conference on Saturday.
“They keep growing year after year, winning trophies, competing well and they have made a brilliant start. They have a competitive style of play, a clear and brave tactic designed by their coach to press a lot and attack down the wings. That makes them dangerous.”
Simeone and Sampaoli’s paths have not crossed on a pitch but the two coaches were both interviewed for the Universidad de Chile job in 2010.
Sampaoli was appointed by the Santiago club and oversaw a treble of the league title, domestic cup and Copa Sudamericana.
“We’ve never faced each other and we don’t have a tight relationship but there is a lot of respect here for what he has achieved in making Atletico one of the best teams in Europe,” Sampaoli said of Simeone.
A Sevilla midfielder before joining Atletico in 1994, Simeone has never lost to his former club as a coach, winning six games and drawing five in the league and King’s Cup.
Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Ed Osmond