Commenting on Atletico Madrid’s progress in the UEFA Europa League, Brazilian centre-half Miranda is both optimistic about his side’s chances of lifting the trophy yet evidently disappointed they do not have more to play for at this, the business end of the season.
“We’re going to try and salvage the year by winning the competition,” the rangy stopper told FIFA.com. “It’s the team’s top priority now.”
That contrast is the product of the inconsistent form of Los Colchoneros, who have excelled on the European stage to move within three games of repeating their 2010 Europa League triumph, but have struggled to string results together in the league. Eighth in the table, six points behind fourth-placed Malaga and with games running out, they look unlikely to claim one of La Liga’s four UEFA Champions League berths. All the more essential, then, that they finish the campaign on a high note.
“We’ve got a vital month ahead of us, one that will define this season and set our objectives for the next,” explained the player, who has been at the club for nearly a year. “We haven’t been performing as well as we can, and it’s got to be all or nothing now.”
Miranda and his team-mates begin what will be a decisive few weeks on Thursday evening, when Liga rivals Valencia visit the Vicente Calderon for the first leg of their Europa League semi-final, a competition in which Atleti have impressed so far.
“We’ve done well I think because it’s an international tournament and there’s much more motivation,” ventured the Brazilian. “We’ve been giving our all in the Europa League because we haven’t been doing as well as we can in La Liga. It’s kept our season alive.
“It won’t be an easy tie because we know each other well and I don’t think you can pick a favourite. My feeling is, though, that the first leg will be decisive. If we can get a good result at home, it’ll set us up nicely for the return.”
European campaigning aside, however, Atletico also have the obligation of emerging from the domestic doldrums, a task so far beyond them, despite the additions of Radamel Falcao, Diego, Tiago, Adrian, Arda Turan and Miranda himself to the squad.
While relegation has never been an issue this season, something that has not always been the case, the fact remains that spluttering Atleti have never once broken into the top five, their problems coming to a head when coach Gregorio Manzano was relieved of his duties in December.
“Atletico spent a lot of money and hopes were high among the fans,” said the former Sao Paulo man. “At the same time though, we’ve changed virtually the entire starting XI, so there were always going to be some ups and downs. We have put in some good performances all the same, and I feel next season will be the breakthrough one for us. We’ve got the potential to be among the top three or four sides in Spain.”
The arrival of former idol Diego Simeone in the dugout triggered something of a revival, with Atletico embarking on a nine-game unbeaten run in January and February and gaining some much-needed solidity in defence.
As Miranda confirms, the players have welcomed El Cholo’s input: “There were a lot more rotations before and it wasn’t easy to adapt. Simeone put an end to all that. He named his first team and that’s given us more confidence.”
The Argentinian’s appointment proved a turning point for Miranda in particular, who was out of favour under Manzano and the subject of transfer speculation. Promptly restored to the first team by Simeone, he has stayed there ever since, displaying the kind of form that won him Central Defender of the Year awards in Brazil in 2008 and 2009.
“At the first team meeting he [Simeone] said he’d seen me play at Sao Paulo and that he knew what I could do, which helped me a lot,” said the central defender, who underlined his increasing confidence by scoring a fine volley against Granada. “I’ve had to adapt the way I play, passing the ball more and running with it less. But people know what I’m capable of and they’ve had good things to say about me.”
That said, Miranda is not entirely satisfied with his season or Atletico’s, which explains his desire to make the most of these last 25 days of the campaign and set the tone for the future.
Regardless of whether Atleti win a trophy or not, Miranda’s main concern is to cement his place in a side he believes is about to come into its own: “It’s going to be a crucial month for me. I got back into the side after a good while out and I’m now looking to finish the season on a high. If I can do that, I’ll be taking a big step towards making a positive start next time around, when I’ll be out to make a real impact.”