Atlético commence their Copa del Rey campaign on Thursday evening with a trip to Albacete.
On the back of two successive wins, the game against the local Segunda B outfit will serve as a chance for some of the fringe players to make an impression in the first team.
Kick off at the Carlos Belmonte Stadium is scheduled for 20:00 CET.
Just six years ago, Albacete Balompié were taking on the likes of Atlético in La Liga, but relegation last season meant a return to the third tier for the first time in two decades.
Like many clubs in Spain, they have suffered as a result of financial problems and earlier in the week it was announced that Andrés Iniesta had taken over as majority shareholder. The Barcelona playmaker recently invested €420,000 into his hometown club.
They currently sit sixth in Segunda B Group I, two points above Atlético’s B team. When the sides met in Madrid back in October, the game ended in a closely fought 1-1 draw.
Playing as a substitute for los Rojiblancos that day was top scorer Pedro Martín, who is included in the squad for tomorrow’s game as a reward for his excellent form of late.
Also called up is defender Javi Manquillo, the right-back from our Juvenil A team. Despite having never even played at reserve level, the 17-year-old has impressed behind the scenes and could even be in line for a start against el Queso Mecánico (“A clockwork cheese”).
Both players will be debuting should they make it onto the pitch, although Manquillo joined the team on last month’s trip to Cairo and, like Pedro, spent pre-season training with Manzano’s squad in Los Ángeles de San Rafael.
Rested for the trip are Radamel Falcao, Diego Godín, Luis Amaranto Perea, Gabi, Filipe Luís, Diego Ribas and Mario Suárez, all of whom featured in Sunday’s win over Rayo.
Suspended for that game were Arda Turan and Thibaut Courtois, and the two will also sit out the trip to Castile-La Mancha. Right-back Sílvio continues his recovery from a knee injury.
Jorge Pulido is set for his first start since May, whereas ‘keeper Sergio Asenjo will make his third consecutive appearance ahead of Joel.
Another player in contention is José Antonio Reyes. Rumours of a move to Galatasaray have become increasingly stronger this week, but the winger is included in the squad.
The Copa is a tournament that Manzano has always taken seriously, having reached the semi-finals in two of the last three seasons and even winning it with Mallorca in 2003. He spoke ahead of the game in a press conference on Wednesday.
“Our aim is to go as far as possible in the Copa del Rey,” he said.
“We will take the game very seriously, as every year you see surprises.”
Alba manager Antonio Gómez admitted that his team go into the game as underdogs, but remained upbeat on their chances of an upset.
“We will tackle the game as a prize,” he stressed.
“If the tie was a single match it would be different, but over two legs Atlético have a 70-75% chance of progressing.”
The return match will take place on December 21st at the Vicente Calderón.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Joel, Asenjo
Defenders: Antonio López, Domínguez, Miranda, Pulido, Manquillo
Midfielders: Tiago, Salvio, Reyes, Assunção, Koke, Juanfran
Forwards: Adrián, Pizzi, Pedro