Atlético spurned the chance to move into the top four last week following a stalemate against Valencia, but Diego Simeone and his team can put that right on Saturday with victory at Racing Santander.
Kick-off in El Sardinero is set for the evening time of 18:00 CET.
The stage was set last week for the rojiblancos to leapfrog Levante in fourth place, but in typical fashion, we couldn’t take advantage.
However, tomorrow we are faced with a similar situation. The final Champions League spot is well and truly up for grabs, and, depending on other results, it can temporarily be ours should we come away from Cantabria with the points.
Our last meeting with Racing was a memorable one, although both clubs have experienced dramatic change since the September fixture. Birthday boy Radamel Falcao hit a hat-trick on that occasion as Atleti ran out 4-0 winners.
Although still 18th in the table, the verdiblancos have seen a major improvement in form since the managerial trio of Juanjo González, Fede Castaños and Pablo Pinillos took over in November, already taking points from Real Madrid, Villarreal, Sevilla, Athletic and Valencia this season.
The task is not made any easier for Atlético by the news that current first choice centre-backs Diego Godín and Miranda will both be unavailable. The latter accumulated his fifth booking of the season in an otherwise impressive performance against los Che, whereas Godín hobbled out of the same game after a clash with Diego Alves.
Because of this, Cholo has made the decision to bring B-team captain Paco Regalón into his squad. The 24 year-old has been an ever-present in Milinko Pantić’s defence this season, and could finally make a first team appearance after more than six years in the reserves.
Coming back into contention is right-back Sílvio. The Portuguese international had been sidelined for 10 weeks with a knee injury, but is now ready to feature for the first time under the new regime. Juanfran has stepped in admirably during his absence, so it will be interesting to see who gets the nod.
Antonio López is still missing due to a calf problem, and technical decision means that Paulo Assunção will also not be making the trip.
Simeone spoke to the press after yesterday’s training session, and insisted that the team would do everything to get back to winning ways following last week’s minor blip.
“The most important game for us now is against Racing and we must play as if it were our last,” he said.
“They are a good side, with quick players like Munitis up front, as well as the likes of Lautaro Acosta who work the ball very well.”
Regarding the defensive situation, Cholo stressed that his squad are sufficiently covered.
“We are working very hard with Luis [Perea] and Álvaro [Domínguez], players who know that position very well.” said the former Colchonero idol.
“The squad is well protected.”
As of this moment, Atlético have played nearly 9 hours of football without conceding a goal, a run that dates back to December 22 when a first minute strike from Albacete’s Victor Curto resigned Gregorio Manzano to the sack.
Racing have not been prolific at home this season, but will surely provide a stern test for our makeshift backline.
One player who will be hoping to end our defensive revival is forward Lautaro Acosta, who was interviewed earlier in the week.
“We are in a good moment and feel we can beat anybody,” he said.
“At home we have to be strong and put in a good performance. There are many teams within two or three points of us, so we must give everything have.”
Acosta may not be ready for the match because of a hamstring sprain, but he has been included in the Racinguistas 19-man squad.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Asenjo
Defenders: Filipe, Sílvio, Domínguez, Perea, Regalón
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Tiago, Salvio, Arda, Gabi, Koke, Juanfran, Diego
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao, Pizzi
Racing match selection:
Goalkeepers: Mario, Toño
Defenders: Christian, Cisma, Álvaro, Francis, Bernardo, Torrejón
Midfielders: Diop, Arana, Edu Bedia, Marcos Gullón, Adrián, Jairo
Forwards: Acosta, Munitis, Babacar, Luque, Stuani
Referee: Javier Estrada Fernández
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