Atlético will put their rich vein of form to the test on the road once again as they make their way into Asturias to take on a floundering Sporting Gijón side.
The battle of the red and whites kicks off at El Molinón at 18:00 CET on Sunday.
Los Colchoneros come into the encounter on the back of a historic 3-1 victory in Rome over Lazio in midweek Europa League knockout round play, and are currently riding a seven-game unbeaten streak.
Though Atleti shipped their first goal of the ‘Cholo’ era following an uncharacteristic lapse by young goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, they showed true character to bounce back quickly and conquer their Roman foes in a dazzling exhibition of football at the Stadio Olimpico.
Head coach Diego Simeone customarily did his best to temper the euphoria in Rojiblanco land though.
“This is a game and things can change from one match to another,” he told reporters at a press conference Saturday, before adding that his squad’s style is now “defined” and his men will “continue to grow and get stronger”.
“We all have to improve in the work we perform, starting with me,” he said.
“In Rome, the team was convincing and [finished] their chances. In Santander, Toño was incredible and it wasn’t the same. Nonetheless, this is the path to follow.”
The reputation of lethal attack duo Radamel Falcao and Adrián took a huge shot in the arm in Italy after being shut out in back-to-back games in La Liga. The pair were involved in all three goals scored against Lazio.
Adrián is proving to be an overflowing fountain of talent and quickly put his subpar performance against Racing behind him when he took the field against the Biancocelesti Thursday. Of the young striker, Simeone said: “He’s an extraordinary player who hasn’t hit his ceiling yet.”
Colombian strike partner Falcao is averaging an impressive one goal per game since El Cholo took charge of the team, and will want to replicate his showing from back in September when he put two past Sporting at the Calderón in our 4-0 win.
Arda Turan hobbled off the practice field Saturday morning as a result of a knock he sustained to his left leg and was a late scratch from the match selection.
Tiago and Antonio López were also left off the 18-man squad again through injury, while Filipe Luís’ booking for an alleged dive last weekend was rescinded by the league’s disciplinary committee, so the Brazilian will be available to take part in this game.
Fran Mérida will not travel to Gijón through tactical decision.
All signs point to a repeat of the starting line-up rolled out at Lazio, which means Atlético youth products Koke and Mario will most likely get another chance to nail down a spot for themselves in Cholo’s starting XI.
Because of Turan’s injury, Simeone was able to avoid a little controversy in deciding between including Arda or Koke in the fold after opting to go with the latter in Rome.
Diego Godín and Falcao, like Filipe, are all on four yellow cards and will be wary of being booked a fifth time and missing out on Barcelona’s visit to the Vicente Calderón next weekend.
Former Spanish national team boss Javier Clemente agreed to take over at Sporting through the summer, replacing Iñaki Tejada, who was appointed as a temporary replacement following the sacking of beloved manager Manolo Preciado.
Clemente was dealt a squad buried in the Primera División relegation zone, and will be tasked with the difficult job of digging Sporting out and into safety.
His first mission will be to bolster a defence that has let in 13 goals in their last four games. Sporting have conceded a league-leading 43 goals this season, but only 13 of those were at their home stadium.
Things could get ugly in Gijón, as the defensive-minded tactician assured at his formal presentation at Sporting: “I don’t waste my time with beautiful plays, the only beautiful thing to me is winning.”
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Sergio Asenjo
Defenders: Godín, Filipe Luis, Sìlvio, Álvaro Domínguez, Perea, Miranda,
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Salvio, Paulo Assunçao, Gabi, Koke, Juanfran, Diego
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao, Pizzi
Sporting match selection:
Goalkeepers: Juan Pablo, Cuéllar
Defenders: Botía, Gregory, Canella, Orfila, Galvéz
Midfielders: André Castro, Rivera, Carmelo, Ayoze, Eguren, De las Cuevas, León
Forwards: Bilić, Colunga, Barral, Trejo
Referee: David Fernández Borbalán
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