It seems that with each passing week, Diego Simeone’s Atlético face an even steeper challenge than the last.
Riding a four-game unbeaten streak since ‘El Cholo’ got a hold of the squad back in December, los Rojiblancos will be looking to ace their latest and biggest test when Valencia come a-knockin’ at their door late Sunday evening.
The match against ‘Los Che’ gets underway in the expected frigid conditions of the Spanish capital at 21:30 CET.
All-too-aware of the importance of the clash – los Rojiblancos will be able to boldly proclaim themselves legitimate contenders for a Champions League berth with a victory – Simeone has called for supporters to pack themselves in tight at the Vicente Calderón to enliven the atmosphere and invigorate the men in red and white on the pitch.
Harking back to his own glory days at the club’s stadium, the Atleti boss also requested that the goal nets be changed back to the traditional red and white ones from the black ones that have been in use since the days of former Atlético coach Quique Sánchez Flores.
The new-look goals will be unveiled this weekend, as will the jerseys bearing montages of supporters’ photos within the numbers on the back of the players’ shirts.
Atleti youth product and team captain Gabi, who returns to the match selection after sitting out last week through a one-match suspension, is confident of a high turnout in spite of the harsh weather that will await the Rojiblanco faithful at the stadium.
“Atlético Madrid supporters have never failed us, whether it’s cold or it’s snowing,” the 28-year-old said in a pre-game press conference.
“They know we need their support, that it’s an important day for us all and that with a victory tomorrow, the dream of finishing within the top four will be very much closer.”
With the match week’s early results favouring Atleti, the stars have aligned for Cholo’s hombres to wrest a European spot from the clubs above them if they can avenge their 1-0 loss at Mestalla from the second round of the season.
Brazilian midfielder Diego, who like Gabi served a one-match ban last week, is back to reclaim his role in the starting line-up as the architect of the Colchonero attack.
Veterans Assunçao, because of illness, and Antonio López, through injury, were left off the squad along with Sìlvio and Fran Mérida, who have yet to convince Simeone they are worthy of a place in the 18-man selection.
The only predicted changes to the starting XI fielded in Pamplona are Diego and Gabi in for Koke and Mario.
Los Rojiblancos will look to flex their defensive muscles once again and extend their very impressive 2012-long clean sheet run, but to do that, they will have to shut out a potent Valencia side led by a lethal Roberto Soldado who is competing head-to-head with our own Radamel Falcao in the league goalscoring chart.
Unai Emery’s men come into the encounter sandwiched between two Copa del Rey semifinal fixtures against Barcelona.
They were able to hold the Liga giants to a 1-1 midweek draw at Mestalla, and will take on the Blaugrana at the Camp Nou in the return leg this coming Wednesday.
Simeone warned earlier in the week that Los Che “will be a tough and difficult opponent on Sunday regardless of what happens in the Copa.”
Midfielder Sofiane Feghouli and defender Ricardo Costa will be unavailable for Valencia through suspension.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Asenjo
Defenders: Godín, Filipe Luis, Álvaro Domínguez, Perea, Miranda
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Tiago, Salvio, Arda Turan, Gabi, Koke, Juanfran, Diego
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao, Pizzi
Valencia match selection:
Goalkeepers: Diego Alves, Guaita
Defenders: Miguel, Barragán, Víctor Ruiz, Dealbert, Rami, Mathieu, Jordi Alba
Midfielders: Albelda, Ever Banega, Tino Costa, Pablo, Bernat, Piatti
Forwards: Jonas, Aduriz, Soldado
Referee: Alberto Undiano Mallenco
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