As is all too often becoming the case, Atlético Madrid head into La Liga action on the back of another appalling performance, this time in midweek Copa del Rey play.
Los Colchoneros will take on Espanyol at the Cornellà-El Prat on Sunday, with kick off set for the unusual time of 21:30 CET.
While it’s true only two regular starters were in the fold for the match at Albacete Thursday evening, one would expect any line-up composed of players of a club of Atleti’s stature to cruise past any Segunda División B side.
But los Rojiblancos’ notorious, bewildering inconsistency came into play against the ‘Clockwork Cheese’ and the clash turned out to be an authentic debacle for Gregorio Manzano’s men; though Adrián was able to help the club save face and pull one back after missing a penalty kick and going down 2-0.
The former Deportivo man’s away goal may prove crucial when Albacete visit the Calderón in about two weeks for the second leg of the fixture—an almost laughable concept.
If Atleti front office personnel weren’t considering dismissing Manzano prior to the game at the Carlos Belmonte, they surely have to be tossing a couple of names around now.
The under fire manager will hope his squad can put together a convincing display of football in Barcelona, as the last couple of matches – even in triumph – have been a series of eyesores for the Rojiblanco faithful.
With 2011 coming to a close, Atlético have yet to record a victory away from home in league play this campaign. Only a mightily struggling and depleted Villarreal have scored less goals (2) than Atleti (3) outside their grounds.
Fortunately, a Champions League spot is still well within reach for Atlético. With more than half a season left to go, only seven points separate us from fourth place-holders Levante.
A good run of positive results would propel Atleti up the standings and help us secure our primary objective of a Champions League berth.
Left back Filipe Luís, who was rested along with most of our starters for our Cup match, can’t wait for the game against los Pericos to get underway.
“We’re eager for the match against Espanyol to arrive in order to win and take off,” he said in a pre-game press conference.
“In Glasgow, we found the path to winning away from home,” he assured.
Speaking to the press on Saturday, Manzano highlighted that “there will be many players that will have fresh legs after having rested the other day in Albacete.”
He continued: “We must give our all, leave everything on the pitch. Tomorrow, we have to leave our skin on the field from the first to the 90th minute.
“Each match away from home should be a personal goal, a matter of profesional pride, not only because of our crest, but also because we have to break the mold of being the worst team away from home.”
A situation that will certainly incite debate is Manzano’s decision to leave José Antonio Reyes off the match selection.
When asked about it, Manzano said: “He’s negotiating with Galatasaray. I need people that are 100 per cent committed to the group.”
The winger, whose transfer this upcoming window now looks all-the-more inevitable, took to Twitter to express his feelings about not being handed a ticket to Barcelona.
“I’d like to be able to help the team in these times, but…” he wrote, leaving fans wondering what he deleted before posting the open-ended tweet.
“…Manzano’s a prick!”? “…I have attitude problems”? “…I lack professionalism and maturity”?
The situation between manager and player is obviously coming to a head, and the likely outcome is that the dilemma will end exactly the same way the previous player-coach feud did: both go out the door.
Pizzi, Pulido, Joel, Tiago and Sílvio were also left off the match selection for this clash.
Arda Turan, Diego Godín and Thibaut Courtois are all back having served their one-game suspensions last weekend.
Arda, according to MadridAtlético’s writer Garreth Nunn, trained normally on Friday and has apparently overcome the muscle injury that forced him to leave our game at Celtic early.
Espanyol haven’t exactly dominated at their stadium this year, and the hosts of the weekend’s ‘anti-Clásico’ come into this encounter riding a five-game winless streak.
Despite their poor run, Mauricio Pochettino’s men – currently in 10th place with 17 points – can surpass Atleti in the standings by taking all three points up for grabs.
Blanquiblaus goalkeeper Cristian Álvarez is unconcerned with his squad’s recent slump.
“There have been situations in recent games where the results have not gone in our favour, but we are staying calm and confident that we are doing things the right way,” he was quoted as saying by ESPN Soccernet.
“I understand the game is important, as was against Valencia and as Tuesday’s Copa del Rey match will be, but the team are playing good football and the results will come.”
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Asenjo
Defenders: Antonio López, Godín, Filipe, Domínguez, Perea, Miranda
Midfielders: Mario, Salvio, Arda, Assunçao, Gabi, Koke, Juanfran, Diego
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao
Referee: José Luis Paradas Romero
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