All eyes will be fixed on the Vicente Calderón on Sunday (21:30 CET), where Atlético will square off against a Barcelona side fighting for a chance to retain their Primera División crown.
With a Champions League berth well-within their grasp, los Colchoneros will be inspired to make a bold statement against the reigning European Super Cup champions.
Los Rojiblancos suffered a heavy-handed defeat at the Camp Nou back in the fifth match week of La Liga.
The 5-0 thrashing at the hands of the Blaugrana seemed to sap Gregorio Manzano’s men of all their confidence, as, prior to that drubbing, the team had been flying high and coming off of a three-game win streak that included back-to-back 4-0 victories over Racing and Sporting.
Evidently plagued by the mental blow of that huge defeat, the team suffered a precipitous decline in form and went winless for over a month, never regaining their early season lustre.
That is, until ‘El Cholo’ came along to right the ship following Manzano’s sacking.
Diego Simeone has sparked life and intensity back into what had been a beleaguered squad, leading the club to an incredible run of nine matches without a loss.
The swagger is back.
The players have bought into Simeone’s patented warrior mentality, fighting tooth and nail for every ball, for every inch of space on the pitch.
This hasn’t only been reflected by actions on the playing field, but off the pitch as well, as evidenced by Tiago’s – pardon the hyperbole – now legendary Hombres pre-game ritual and such remarks as Koke’s pledge to “fight to the death on the field for Cholo”.
This weekend’s clash will likely serve as a barometer of what the future holds for Atleti, a make or break sort of game so to speak, though Cholo doesn’t really see it that way.
“It’s an important match, but there aren’t more than three points up for grabs in this encounter,” he told reporters at Saturday’s pre-game press conference.
When asked by our good friend Garreth Nunn of Madrid Atléticos if he’s worried that Barça could come in and destroy all the hard work and progress achieved thus far, Simeone shot back with a resounding “No”.
El Cholo also seemed little concerned with the injury blow to midfield architect Diego, and doubts surrounding the availability of Arda Turan, who sustained yet another muscle strain in our midweek match against Lazio, assuring that all substitutes “have responded well”.
The Rojiblanco hero affirmed he would not alter his approach because of the opponent at hand.
“We’re going to play the same way we have been, trying to be a compact team that will attempt to close out spaces for a team with huge potential, and search for our possibilities when it comes to how to attack,” he said.
“It will be difficult, because of the characteristics of Barcelona’s game, to attack them with speed.”
Simeone enlisted all the manpower at hand for this bout, submitting a 20-man match selection on Saturday that marked the return of Fran Mérida to an Atleti squad list.
Antonio López and Diego were the only ones not included as they continue their recovery from their respective injuries.
Atleti will look to return to serving their role as the thorn in Pep Guardiola’s side. Last season, the Culé boss achieved his first win at the Calderón in three tries in league play, having suffered defeats in the previous two campaigns.
Due largely to their poor away form this season, Barcelona sit 10 points out of first place in the league standings behind bitter rivals Real Madrid.
Anything less than three points against us will spell the death knell for Barça’s hopes of continuing their three-year reign as the kings of La Liga.
Our bolstered back line will certainly be tested by a Lionel Messi coming off a four-goal performance versus Valencia last week.
The Argentine phenom bagged a hat-trick in our 5-0 loss back in September, and has scored 17 total goals in his career against us, his favourite prey, all of which have been compiled in a video posted by some jerk here.
But, there’s really no need to fear the three-time Ballon d’Or winner, as our loopy club president told the Catalonia-based ONA FM radio station Friday, “Messi is one of the best in the world, but if he scores a hat-trick, then we’ll score four goals.”
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Sergio Asenjo
Defenders: Godín, Filipe Luis, Sílvio, Domínguez, Perea, Miranda
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Tiago, Salvio, Arda Turan, Assunçao, Gabi, Fran Mérida, Koke, Juanfran,
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao, Pizzi
Barcelona match selection: TBA
Referee: Miguel Ángel Pérez Lasa
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