The big games keep on coming for Atlético Madrid, and on Thursday the Vicente Calderón welcomes back an old friend as Beşiktaş make the trip to the Spanish capital.
Former favourite Simão’s return is the main talking point ahead of a game that the Rojiblancos’ will have to play using a considerably weakened squad, deprived of seven first team players for various reasons.
Kick-off is set for the earlier time of 19:00 CET.
In the previous stage of the Europa League, Diego Simeone went back to haunt former team Lazio with a 4-1 aggregate win, and will be looking for similar success against the Kara Kartallar this time round following a disappointing league run.
Saturday’s 1-1 stalemate at Sevilla has cranked up the pressure on the Argentine boss, and a convincing win will be required to give us a cushion going to Istanbul in a week’s time.
As always at this time of the season, injuries are kicking in, which means Cholo has been forced to draft a trio of youngsters into his matchday squad, two of whom have yet to debut in the first team.
Missing for Atlético are long term absentees Diego and Antonio López, the increasingly injury prone Sílvio, and Arda, who will not be able to face his former cross-town rivals after injury with the Turkish national team.
Midfielders Paulo Assunção (suspended) and Tiago will also be unavailable, the latter, with a knock, is also on paternity leave because of the birth of a baby daughter this week. As will be the case for the rest of the season, Fran Mérida cannot play either due to featuring for Braga in the group stages of the competition.
Radamel Falcao does return to the squad after serving his league suspension at the weekend, and reserve team players Saúl Ñíguez (17), Pedro Martín and Kader Oueslati (both 20) come in to make up the numbers.
When quizzed upon the match earlier this morning, Simeone insisted that his squad was still strong enough to win the match, but admitted that it will be tough.
“We go into the Beşiktaş game with great humility,” he said. “They are a difficult opponent with great players.”
Cholo also had encouragement for the included canteranos, who are among six second string players he has called since taking charge in late December.
“In principle we have three kids from the cantera here to give us a hand,” said the 41-year-old.
“They have trained well and can help us if needed.”
Beşiktaş have never won on Spanish soil, and come into the game on a run of three successive losses, albeit against strong opponents. Defeat to Trabzonspor saw them drop to fourth in the Turkish Süper Lig on Sunday, 17 points behind leaders Galatasaray.
Managed by Carlos Carvalhal, the Black Eagles will play the first leg without star striker Hugo Almeida, one of a number of players struggling with injury at the moment.
Compatriot Simão was on the plane however, and is set to line-up in the Calderón for the first time since his departure last year. The Portuguese veteran faced Atleti in a 45 minute friendly back in July, but will experience a much more emotional welcome tomorrow in the stadium he describes as his home.
“This is going to be a very special day, because Atleti is a home for me,” he told Onda Cero.
“I still have a lot of affection for everyone at the club, and if I score, I will not celebrate.”
Another player who could feature is the infamous Júlio Alves, who you may recall transferred to Beşiktaş via Atlético back in the summer without playing or even training for the Colchoneros. The former Rio Ave man has yet to start a match for his new club, but is in Carvalhal’s travelling party.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Asenjo
Defenders: Godín, Filipe, Domínguez, Perea, Miranda
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Salvio, Gabi, Koke, Juanfran, Saúl, Kader
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao, Pizzi, Pedro
Beşiktaş match selection:
Goalkeepers: Rüstü, Cenk, Umut
Defenders: Köybaşı, Toraman, Egemen, Sivok, Sidnei, Atınç
Midfielders: Quaresma, Fernandes, Ernst, Simão, Necip, Ekrem Dağ, Kavlak, Muhammed, Julio Alves
Forwards: Pektemek, Holosko, Edú
Referee: Jonas Eriksson (Sweden)