For their first challenge of 2012, Atlético Madrid travel south into Andalusia to take on seventh-place Málaga.
The match, which is set for a 22:00 CET start time on Saturday, will be freshly-appointed coach Diego Simeone’s debut at the helm of the club he appeared in over 150 games for during his highly decorated playing career.
Simeone’s predecessor, Gregorio Manzano, failed to get Atleti’s 2011/12 La Liga campaign off the ground and was sacked just before the holiday break.
With Manzano steering the ship, the squad was unable to secure a single victory away from the Vicente Calderón in league competition.
Progressively playing worse as the year came to close, the final straw came in the form of elimination from the Copa del Rey after twice losing to Segunda División B outfit Albacete.
Only one hand is needed to count off our wins in league play so far this season. Add another hand to reveal our current position in the Primera División standings.
Now smack yourself with your third hand. Yeah, you feel that. Does it sting? Yes? Well then, welcome back to Atleti.
Under the leadership of ‘El Cholo’, los Rojiblancos will aim to banish an altogether unremarkable 2011 from their memories.
One memory that was quickly erased over the holidays was that of star winger José Antonio Reyes, who was virtually given away to one of our major rivals on Thursday.
Simeone left Joel and Jorge Pulido off his first match selection through tactical decision, while Paulo Assuncao will serve a one-match ban (five yellows) on Saturday. Sílvio remains sidelined with a knee injury.
There’s no question who the underdogs are this weekend.
A triumph over well-funded Málaga would be a tall order for Simeone to fill, especially when comparing our putrid away record to los Boquerones’ impressive form at home this season.
But Málaga come into this game just a few days after blowing a 2-0 advantage over league-leaders Real Madrid in Copa del Rey action at the Bernabéu.
Los Blancos stormed back – scoring three unanswered goals – to secure the come-from-behind victory; though Manuel Pellegrini’s men will seek to capitalise on their two away goals when Madrid visit their stadium on Tuesday for the second leg of the domestic cup fixture.
Atlético may have a slight advantage if their opponents’ focus is elsewhere, and could also benefit from having rested while los Malagueños engaged in a fierce battle with Real.
Of his counterpart Simeone’s baptism by fire this weekend, Pellegrini told reporters at a press conference on Friday:
“He’s already coached several years with some very important achievements, and he’s very familiar with Atlético Madrid. [Simeone] is an asset to a team that was having some sporting problems and we’ll see if that is reflected on the pitch.”
The former Real Madrid boss continued: [Atlético] have a great squad and have made some significant investments, with some very explosive players in midfield and up front that didn’t have time to gel in the first part of the campaign,” he said.
“But they’re a team that are structured for very important things.”
Mr. Pellegrini must not be too familiar with the dysfunctional pair that sits atop our club’s organisational structure.
Talking points ahead of the match:
- Will Simeone really leave Arda and Adrián out of the starting line-up and start Juanfran and Salvio instead of arguably two of our top performers of the season so far?
- Will the squad respond quickly to Simeone’s leadership and play aggressively and with more intensity–the way Cholo has called for?
- Will we see a more defensive version of Atleti as some fear because of Simeone’s coaching style?
- Do we have the right personnel to get us back to our counter-attacking roots?
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Asenjo, Courtois
Defenders: A.López, Domínguez, Filipe, Godín, Miranda, Perea
Midfielders: Arda, Diego, Gabi, Juanfran, Koke, Mario, Salvio, Tiago
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao, Pizzi
Málaga match selection:
Goalkeepers: Rubén, Willy Caballero
Defenders: Gámez, Weligton, Demichelis, Mathijsen, Monreal, Sergio Sánchez
Midfielders: Toulalan, Apoño, Santi Cazorla, Maresca, Duda, Buonanotte, Isco
Forwards: Van Nistelrooy, Seba, Rondón, Juanmi
Referee: José Antonio Teixeira Vitienes
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