Atlético return to Europa League action tomorrow evening, and will look to put their La Liga woes behind them by getting a crucial three points away to Italian high-flyers Udinese.
While we wait for UEFA’s decision on whether to let FC Sion back into the competition, both teams should be going all out for the win in the Stadio Friuli on Thursday, where kick-off is scheduled for 19:00 CET.
When the draw for the Group Stages was made, many pinpointed the trip to Udine as the toughest of our fixtures. The tie with Rennes back in Matchday 2 means that los Rojiblancos cannot afford to lose if they want to qualify for the last 32 of the competition.
Just hours before that draw, Atlético were returning from Portugal on the back of an impressive 4-0 win over Vitória de Guimarães.
Since then, Atleti have been considerably poor away from home and have found the net on just one occasion.
Tomorrow’s game is made even tougher for Gregorio Manzano’s team with the news that Arda Turan, Eduardo Salvio, Antonio López and Sílvio will remain unavailable due to injury problems, although all could be in contention for Sunday’s home game against Mallorca.
Another player who didn’t travel with the squad this morning is Sergio Asenjo, who was replaced in the squad by Joel.
However, despite coming off the back of two goalless draws, the players remain upbeat of finding the net against the Zebrette.
José Antonio Reyes was guilty of missing chances in both of those games but, in a press conference earlier this week, he stressed that the team would soon start scoring.
“We know that the streak will change and we’ll start scoring goals,” said the former Spanish international.
“We must look ahead and think about Thursday’s game, which is important. We’ll try to score a goal and win”
Striker Adrián echoed Reyes’ comments in a separate meeting with the press yesterday, and also highlighted the importance of victory against the team currently joint-top of Serie A.
“It will be a tough game, especially at their home. We know that as an Italian team they will make things difficult.” the 23-year-old said.
Our opponents will have been keeping a particularly keen eye on our stalemate with Granada on Saturday, as they have a total of five players out on loan at the Andalusian outfit.
Much like Atlético, Udinese were frustrated by a newly promoted club at the weekend, as Atalanta held them to a 0-0 draw in Bergamo.
Still unbeaten in the league, the black and white’s also have a perfect record at home this season, although they were beaten by Arsenal in a Champions League qualifier back in August, dropping into the Europa League as a result.
Slovenian goalkeeper Samir Handanovič has been one of the star performers of their season so far, and spoke about his team’s chances earlier in the week.
“Atlético are a top team, we have to be ready as it will be a difficult test for us,” he told Gazzetta dello Sport.
“We are doing well domestically, and we hope to get three points against Atlético to get closer to qualifying for the next round”
Missing for the home team will be Giovanni Pasquale and Paulo Barreto through injury, and reports in Italy also suggest that captain and top scorer Antonio di Natale will be rested ahead Sunday’s match against Novara.
Manzano will address journalists in the Stadio Friuli after a training session on Wednesday evening, accompanied by one of the captains in Gabi.
The Jaén born manager has made just one change to the squad from Saturday’s game, but will hope that on this occasion they will return with the three points.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Joel
Defenders: Godín, Filipe Luis, Álvaro Domínguez, Perea, Miranda, Pulido
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Tiago, Reyes, Assunçao, Gabi, Koke, Juanfran, Diego
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao, Pizzi
Udinese match selection:
Goalkeepers: Handanovič, Padelli, Romo
Defenders: Armero, Basta, Benatia, Domizzi, Ekstrand, Larangeira, Pereyra, Piccoli
Midfielders: Abdi, Asamoah, Badu, Doubai, Isla, Pinzi
Forwards: Di Natale, Fabbrini, Floro Flores
Referee: Alon Yefet (Israel)
Who do you want to see in our starting XI on Thursday?