A resounding 3-1 victory in the first leg of Atlético’s Europa League round of 16 match-up with Beşiktaş in Madrid sees Diego Simeone’s men with one foot through the door to the quarter-finals of the UEFA tournament, but they have one last stop to make on Thursday night (21:05 CET) before they get there.
Los Colchoneros will have to pick up their tickets to the next round…in hell.
Or at least, that’s what a banner awaiting los Rojiblancos at the Istanbul Airport claimed.
The warm welcome being displayed by a group of Black Eagles fans that greeted our players when they arrived in Turkey on Tuesday evening read:
“Lucky you, you’ll get to visit hell while you’re alive! WELCOME TO HELL!”
What our Turkish friends don’t seem to realise is that we’ve already visited the inferno; no, not Manzano’s last few weeks in charge, rather, Galatasaray’s Ali Sami Yen Stadium, site of our 2-1 victory en route to lifting the tournament title back in 2010.
Istanbul native Arda Turan, who happened to have taken part in that memorable thriller, could return to Atlético’s starting line-up for the first time since our loss to Barcelona.
The 25-year-old is very familiar with our opponents’ Fiyapı İnönü Stadium, having played there multiple times with the tenants’ cross-town rivals, who he spent his entire career with prior to his Turkish record-breaking transfer to Spain.
“Istanbul has always been a tough trip for European teams,” Arda told UEFA.com.
“This makes our task very difficult. We must start the match as if the first leg score was 0-0. Beşiktaş have turned the tables in similar circumstances before and could do so again.
“We must be careful.”
In a press conference on Wednesday, the newly-appointed Turkey national team captain assured that he is fully fit and recovered from the knocks that have prevented him from seeing much action lately.
‘El Cholo’, who will once again be without his choice playmaker Diego, will be happy to have Arda in his depleted armory, though he would not reveal what formation he planned to roll out with in protection of our two-goal advantage.
“We will resolve who plays after the training session today,” Simeone said at Wednesday pre-game presser.
“We will see if we play with a [4-5-1] or [4-4-2 formation], as we have been doing lately.”
Because of former Rojiblanco Simao Sabrosa’s strike at the Vicente Calderón, Atleti will feel obliged to nab their own away goal that would force their foes to score at least three times just to stay alive.
A 2-0 scoreline in favour of the local outfit would spell our elimination because of the UEFA away goals rule.
Cholo’s crew are gunning for their seventh Europa League win on the trot, having broken their win streak record in European play a week ago when they claimed their sixth successive victory.
Atlético B stars Saúl and Pedro Martín make their third straight appearance in a first team match selection, while Pizzi, who was left off the squad that took on Granada, was handed a plane ticket to Istanbul and also appears on Simeone’s list.
Despite having been given a clean bill of health earlier in the week, captain Antonio López will remain in Madrid along with Sílvio, whose left knee surgery was deemed a successful one on Tuesday, and Diego and Tiago, who are both still nursing injuries.
Atlético announced on Tuesday that the team will spend the night in Istanbul after the game and depart Turkey on Friday, flying directly to Mallorca in preparation for Sunday’s league match against the local Primera División side.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Sergio Asenjo
Defenders: Godín, Filipe Luis, Domínguez, Perea, Miranda
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Salvio, Arda Turan, Assunçao, Gabi, Koke, Juanfran, Saúl
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao, Pizzi, Pedro Martín
Beşiktaş match selection: TBA