Soccer: Barca game not a political protest, says Atletico president
By Richard Martin
BARCELONA (Reuters) - Atletico Madrid president Enrique Cerezo wants the club's fans to avoid turning Saturdayâ€™s game with Barcelona into a political demonstration following weeks of rising tensions between the Spanish government and Catalonia.
Catalan club Barca visit the Spanish capital for the first time since a banned vote on independence from Spain took place in Catalonia on Oct. 1.
Barca decided that day to play their game with Las Palmas at the Nou Camp behind closed doors to show opposition to police violence against voters, Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu said at the time.
The Frente Atletico (Atletico Front) supporters' group have called for a mass display of Spain flags in the Wanda Metropolitano stadium for the visit of Barca.
Yet the game has not been classified as a high-risk event by the Spanish football federation as no Barcelona fans will be present due to a disagreement between the two clubs over a ticket allocation.
"I want the game to be played with the same sporting spirit as always against Barcelona, Saturday's game is not a political demonstration, it's a game of football," Cerezo said in an interview with radio station Onda Cero on Friday.
"Atletico won the league in the Nou Camp (in 2014) and the whole stadium applauded us, we can't forget that."
Barcelona are the only team that Diego Simeone has been unable to beat in La Liga since he took over Atletico in 2011 and transformed the club's fortunes.
He has failed to win in 11 league encounters between the teams, although his side have twice eliminated the Catalans in the Champions League.
"Theyâ€™ve always scored one goal more than us, they've been decisive in the key moments and they are a very good team," Simeone told a news conference ahead of the game.
"We have been stronger in the Champions League and I hope tomorrow we can overcome this obstacle."
Barca have a 100 percent record in the league and in Europe this season and lead the standings by five points over nearest challengers Sevilla. They are six points clear of Atletico in fourth.
"They are one of the best teams in the world, right now Iâ€™d say Real Madrid are slightly better, but they have reinvented themselves very quickly after the departure of Neymar and their players never tire of winning," added the Argentine coach.
Simeone, however, was unapologetic about the state of the pitch at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium, with Spanish media questioning the length of the grass.
The pitch has been a topic of debate in the month since the ground opened and in the lead up to Saturday's match, with Barca's passing game thriving off a slick playing surface.
"I'm not a groundsman, I'm a coach, but if you invite me to your house I use your plates and if you come to my place you use my things," Simeone said.
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Toby Davis)