Simeone eyeing third-place finish

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Simeone’s side capitalised on dips in form by both of Spain’s giants last season to win their first La Liga title in 19 years.

This season, however, has had a different outcome with Barca back to their best.

The Catalans sealed the league crown last weekend with 1-0 win at Atletico, with Lionel Messi scoring the goal.

“In order to return to be champions we have to work to be second and third,” Simeone said to Spanish radio station Onda Cero. “Then, when Real Madrid and Barca get distracted, we can take advantage.

“That happened last year and we were able to achieve it. Valencia and Sevilla are also aware of this now and this strengthens La Liga.”

Atletico have won 23 and lost six of their 37 league games this season to sit third in the standings, 16 points adrift of Barca.

“To finish third in the standings would be important,” Simeone said. “This year has been more difficult because the aims we set ourselves were high.

“It’s not enough if you are not champions. But our fans are intelligent.

“Beyond the passion they feel, they understand the reality. Real Madrid and Barcelona have very high budgets.”

Atletico sold several key members of last season’s title-winning squad last summer.

The club lost top-scorer Diego Costa, defender Filipe Luis and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to Chelsea, while Spanish striker David Villa also left to sign for Major League Soccer outfit New York City FC.

“It wasn’t easy with so many changes,” he said. “Nevertheless, we’ve had an important season.

“I think my players have done a brilliant job. Next season we will try to build on this with the aim of growing.”

Atletico need a point from their last game at relegation-threatened Granada to be certain of a third-place finish in the standings.

The Rojiblancos are three points clear of Valencia and four above fifth-place Sevilla heading into the season finale.

“There is going to be a lot of anxiety and nerves in every pitch in Spain this weekend,” Simeone said.

A top-three finish would see Atletico join Barca and Real Madrid in the group stages of next season’s Champions League.

The team that finishes fourth has to go through the qualifying round.

“When we said that our opponents would be Valencia and Sevilla we weren’t wrong,” Simeone said. “I cannot evaluate our season until after our last game.”