MADRID-“It’s not about advice, said Thomas Lemar. “It’s more when he talks, the way he talks, his honesty. That’s what makes you play out of your skin.”,Lemar knows better than anyone the power of Diego Simeone. After joining Atletico Madrid for 60 million euros ($65 million) from Monaco in 2018, Lemar struggled. He scored four goals in his first two seasons and many assumed Atletico would look to cut its losses the following summer.,Yet Simeone saw a player that needed help not a transfer. He moved Lemar from left wing to central midfield and, together, they got to work. Last season, Lemar was an ever-present in the midfield three and fundamental to Atletico winning La Liga.,”I had a discussion with the coach last year and we spoke about how to improve my situation in the team,” Lemar said in an exclusive interview with AFP.,”He listened, he found a role that suited my strengths. I was more comfortable and it made it easier for me to fit into Atletico’s style. Now my aim is to repay him as much as possible on the pitch.”,When Lemar came from Monaco, he was a winger, creator and scorer, one of the world’s most exciting young attackers, who had drawn interest from the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal.,But when that role failed to translate at Atletico, Lemar had to adjust. “I worked hard on my negative points and turned them into positive points, and I became a better, more versatile footballer,” said Lemar.,”Especially defensively, in recovering the ball, in getting into the right defensive position. I worked on it, I added more strings to my bow. I’m a more complete player now.”,The 26-year-old played for France at last summer’s European Championship and is determined to be in the squad for this year’s World Cup.,”It’s a big goal for me, I have to show what I’m worth,” he said.,That Lemar has become more defense-minded at Atletico comes as little surprise given Simeone is considered the preeminent defensive coach in the game, a master of how to play without the ball.,Those methods have lifted Atletico out of mediocrity and into Europe’s elite－bringing two La Liga titles and a pair of Champions League finals along the way－but aesthetically, it is a style that continues to frustrate.,Atletico was beaten 1-0 by Manchester City last week in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal, but statistically it suffered a hammering.,City had 15 shots to Atletico’s zero, and afterward, City boss Pep Guardiola said: “In prehistory, today and in a hundred thousand years, attacking a 5-5-0 (formation) is very difficult.”,Atletico captain Koke responded on Instagram with a picture of the club’s crest and the caption: “In love with your story since prehistory. Proud to be from Atleti.”,Asked what he would say to Simeone’s critics, Lemar replied: “I have nothing to say to them, except look at the results over the years. Look at the results since the coach arrived at Atletico Madrid.,”It might not look pretty, but it works. Atletico wins, that’s the most important thing.”,And while there has been a subtle shift－a greater emphasis on possession－this season, if only to accommodate the team’s attacking talents, Lemar says Simeone’s principles are unwavering.,”If you knew Simeone as a player, that’s still the identity of Atletico now,” Lemar said.,”We’re a feisty team. We get to every ball. We never accept defeat, in matches or in training.,”Everyone has to fight for their place. The coach always tells us never to take our spots for granted. He says competition and rivalry is what makes us grow.”,Atletico has tended to grow in adversity too. Simeone’s sides find their fires burn brightest when their backs are against the wall.,It is why even though Manchester City was so clearly superior in the first leg, there is belief that a comeback is possible in the return at the Wanda Metropolitano on Wednesday night.,”It’s always been that way with Atleti but I’m not going to lie, and maybe it helps, but we get scared as well sometimes when we have to come from behind, even if we know we can change the game in a second,” Lemar said.,”It was annoying to concede that goal against City but if you want to go through, you have to score. We saw there were some opportunities to get at them and we’re going to go hard in this second leg. Let’s hope it comes off.”,AFP
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