Atlético welcome Abel Resino back to the Vicente Calderón on Sunday, as they take on the former Rojiblanco goalkeeper and coach’s Granada side at 12:00 CET.
Diego Simeone’s men must shift their focus back to their quest for a Champions League berth, facing off against the last coach to take them there in Resino.
With Málaga defeating Levante on Saturday, the uphill path to the elite UEFA tournament has gotten all the more steeper.
It’s been a tale of two competitions for Atleti this season. Their Europa League campaign has been virtually flawless, while they have yet to have found consistency – with only 13 matches left to go – in the domestic league.
Suffering from a severe case of tetraphobia, los Rojiblancos have blown a number of opportunities to grab hold of the fourth spot in the Liga table and have fallen back down to ninth having failed to come out triumphant in five straight games.
While it is plainly obvious for anyone watching that the team isn’t necessarily slumping in form or attitude, a combination of bad luck, injuries and poor finishing have contributed to our points stall but, as usual, Simeone karate chopped at all excuses.
“I think you have what you deserve,” the Atlético boss told reporters in the pre-game press conference Saturday.
“There are no excuses; it’s not fatigue, it’s not noon [matches], it’s not [player] absences, there’s a shirt involved here, a lot of people that come to the stadium and an excitement that remains intact and that can’t stop this team, one that is obviously in a state of growth.”
Atleti will hope for a carryover effect from their midweek trouncing of Beşiktaş…well, from the first 45 minutes of play from that clash at least, described by ‘El Cholo’ as “the best half” of football since his arrival.
With playmaker Diego still sidelined and Arda set for a late second half test run as he returns from his own ailments, the red and white trio of Falcao (returning from suspension), Adrián and an enhanced version of Salvio will be assigned front-line duties when proceedings get underway.
The Argentine forward is currently enjoying his best spell while at Atleti, having scored in back-to-back matches and having dazzled the home fans with two exquisite goals against the Black Eagles on Thursday.
“It’s no coincidence what is happening,” said Simeone about his young compatriot.
“It’s hard work. Just like Juanfran started winning a place, Salvio is winning his place. I don’t have a commitment with anyone, but rather, with the field and with what I see.”
Cholo continued: “It made me happy the other day that the fans applauded him and appreciated his efforts,” he said.
“Let’s hope the effort and appreciation of Salvio is the same [on Sunday], because he is a kid that always gives his all.”
Midfield chief Tiago, captain Antonio López and full back Sílvio will all be out with injuries.
Filipe Luis will serve a one-match ban (five yellows) and Pizzi was left off the selection through tactical decision.
While Arda made the cut for this weekend’s encounter after missing our last two games, Simeone said he would “accompany us on the bench” and “could come in towards the end of the match” as he continues his recovery.
Canteranos Saúl Ñíguez and Pedro Martín received their second straight call-up to the first team.
El Graná are only four points clear of the drop zone despite their improvement under their former Colchonero coach, who only had kind words for the Atlético faithful.
“I identify with the fan base a lot and will be well-received,” he said.
“I lived very good and some bad moments there, but I will always carry Atlético and their fans in my heart. I have done all kinds of things there and very few people know that home better than me.”
Our Andalusian opponents, coming off the back of consecutive losses to Osasuna and Valencia, will look to ward off the threat of relegation in spite of being forced to field a depleted squad.
According to football statistics site WhoScored.com, several of Granada’s players intentionally picked up yellow cards last week in order to serve their suspension against us and be available for what they apparently feel is a more winnable home tie versus Sporting next weekend.
Those banned for this clash are midfielders Dani Benítez and Fran Rico, playmaker Franco Jara, and left back Guilherme Siqueira.
Roberto, Pape Diakhaté, Hassan Yebda and Carlos Martins will be unavailable through injury.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Sergio Asenjo
Defenders: Godín, Domínguez, Perea, Miranda
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Salvio, Arda Turan, Assunçao, Gabi, Fran Mérida, Koke, Juanfran, Saúl
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao, Pedro Martín
Granada match selection:
Goalkeepers: Julio César, José Juan
Defenders: Allan Nyom, David Cortés, Íñigo López, Mainz, Pamarot, Álex Carmona, Borja Gómez
Midfielders: Mikel Rico, Moisés Hurtado, Manolo Lucena, Jaime Romero, Abel Gómez
Forwards: Odion Ighalo, Álex Geijo, Henrique Almeida, Ike Uche
Referee: Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz
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