Atlético welcome Real Betis to the Vicente Calderón on Sunday for Primera División action after failing to convince fans, despite a 3-1 victory, in midweek Europa League play against visitors Rennes.
The match, Atleti’s last league clash of 2011, will get underway at 12:00 CET.
Los Rojiblancos have quietly strung together an impressive five-game win streak at home, but massive failures in their travels around Spain have exhausted the patience of their supporters.
Atleti boss Gregorio Manzano, who has survived the itchy trigger fingers of Atlético’s directors against all odds, is perhaps a third of the way onto earning himself an extended stay in Madrid.
This past Monday, the club’s board reached the decision to re-evaluate ‘Goyo’ during the Christmas break, essentially granting the manager immunity for the final three games of the year.
Sporting director José Luis Caminero fooled no one when he came out in defense of the Jaén-born tactician earlier in the week, claiming Manzano will stay on board because he is a “valid manager for Atlético Madrid.”
The fact of the matter is, there simply are no viable candidates available at the moment to replace the 55-year-old.
In spite of the storm of criticism that surrounds him, the former Sevilla coach remains resolute.
“It’s not a question of justice or injustice, the criticism is accepted and respected,” he told the media in Saturday’s pre-game press conference.
“I feel strong. I’m perhaps stronger than ever. I don’t like criticism but it motivates me to show those people that they can trust in my work.”
He continued: “We have to focus on the opponent and in doing our job on the field. What’s important is that the fans go home happy, that’s the objective.”
Unfortunately for Manzano, regardless of the weekend’s outcome, it appears to be too late to sway the Colchonero faithful; especially considering very few were pleased with his appointment in the first place.
Puzzling is the manager’s decision to call up winger José Antonio Reyes this time around after leaving him off the match selection last week because of his supposed lack of commitment.
Citing Reyes’ negotiations with Galatasaray, which have since fallen through, Manzano justified not taking him to Barcelona. With reports suggesting the 28-year-old is on the verge of agreeing to a move back to Sevilla, Goyo included him in the squad versus the Verdiblancos. Go figure.
Midfielder Gabi is available again after serving a one-match ban on Thursday against Rennes.
Joel, Antonio López, Jorge Pulido, Pizzi, through tactical decision, and Sílvio, still recovering from injury, did not make the squad.
Pepe Mel’s men have had their own series of ups and downs, currently sitting in 13th place in the league standings with 16 points and just one point clear of the relegation zone.
Betis, like Atleti a week before, were shamed in midweek Copa del Rey play when they visited Segunda División outfit Córdoba. Fielding a line-up composed primarily of backups, they were shut out by their hosts 1-0.
They are, however, coming to Madrid on the back of a heroic, last-minute comeback victory over Spanish heavyweights Valencia in Sevilla last Saturday.
Betis striker Jorge Molina feels his squad should aim to capitalise on the tumult at the Calderón.
“Atlético are not having the best of times at the moment but we must try and focus more on ourselves,” he was quoted as saying by ESPN Soccernet.
“We will go there and try to get all three points.”
Talking points ahead of the match:
- Has Sergio Asenjo won the goalkeeping job over the on-loan Belgian Thibaut Courtois? When asked about it on Saturday, Manzano refused to reveal his choice, only saying “there will be a great ‘keeper in goal”.
- Will Reyes be granted some playing time despite being left off the match selection last week because of his supposed “lack of commitment”?
- Will Mario and Gabi (returning from suspension in Europa League) man the midfield again, or will Assuncao and Koke – starters against Rennes – be given another opportunity?
Atletico match selection:
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Sergio Asenjo
Defenders: Godín, Filipe Luis, Domínguez, Perea, Miranda
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Tiago, Salvio, Reyes, Arda, Assunçao, Gabi, Koke, Juanfran, Diego
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao
Referee: José Luis González González
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