Atlético find themselves in the Balearic Islands at present, where they arrived on Friday a day after sailing through to the Europa League quarter-finals by convincingly dispatching their Turkish foes Beşiktaş in Istanbul.
While surely los Colchoneros would love to be on vacation at the oft-described Spanish paradise right about now, the reality is they are scheduled to take on local side Mallorca at 16:00 CET on Sunday at the Iberostar Stadium in Palma.
Atleti have quietly strung together a three-game win streak and have managed to banish the shameful reputation they had established in the first half of the season, that of being one of Europe’s worst travelling sides.
This is due in large part, if not wholly, to Cholo-ball, as ever since Diego Simeone arrived to institute his fiery brand of football, los Rojiblancos have gone six games unbeaten (two wins, four draws) in league competition away from the coziness of the Vicente Calderón.
The Argentine tactician prefers hombres over divas, telling ESPN Deportes as much in a short documentary feature entitled “El Cholo Simeone: Espíritu del 96” set to air in the Americas late Sunday night.
“I don’t believe good players strengthen the team; I believe players that want to win strengthen the team,” he told the American television network.
But will desire to win be enough for ‘El Cholo’s’ men on Sunday given their brutally demanding schedule of late?
Our last 11 games have come at a rate of about one match every four days, a breakneck tempo that will continue, for the most part, until the end of the season.
In order to combat the inevitable fatigue and prevent more injuries to key players from creeping up, Simeone has hinted at a heavier rotational policy, suggesting he is considering the idea of handing several of our back-ups some playing time in Palma.
“I might play Assunçao and Mérida, and I have doubts about playing Adrián,” he said in the pre-game press conference on Saturday, assuring he will wait until Sunday to decide upon his starting line-up.
“The match against Mallorca will be a very intense one. Hopefully we’ll be able to respond the way we have been.”
The Rojiblanco boss then proceeded to describe some of our opponents’ characteristics.
“They are a fast team with a lot of speed on the wings, especially through [Michaël] Pereira,” he said.
“[‘Chori’] Castro is a great executor of direct free kicks, one of Mallorca’s strengths, and at defence and in the midfield they have players with a lot of experience, so we must be very attentive.”
This match will certainly test our mettle and should give us an idea of whether or not our boys will be able to handle the grueling nature of our schedule, as last weekend’s triumph over Granada didn’t instill much confidence in the red and white faithful.
Some of our direct rivals for the fourth spot face tough challenges this match week, so a victory on Sunday will be a major boost to our hunt for a Champions League berth.
Filipe Luis will be available for this clash after serving his one-game suspension last weekend.
Antonio Lopez and Fran Merida flew to Mallorca from Madrid to take part in this encounter, while Atlético B member Pedro Martín headed in the opposite direction to once again be at the disposal of reserve side coach Milinko Pantić.
The Portuguese-speaking trio of Diego, Silvio and Tiago are once again out through injury.
Los Bermellones, currently 14th in the La Liga table, held us to a frustrating 1-1 tie at the Calderón back in October with the help of a gifted early penalty call because of an alleged handball by Sílvio in the box that obviously some of us here at AtléticoFans are still a little bitter about (Never Forget!).
Under Joaquín Caparrós, who took over for Michael Laudrup on the 3rd of October, Mallorca haven’t really achieved any level of consistency, but they will come into this bout buoyed by their spirited comeback last weekend at the Mestalla, where they fought to a 2-2 draw after conceding two goals in the first half.
Mallorca defender José Nunes had words of caution for his team-mates in case they are thinking they have an advantage over us having rested during the week while we were out securing our passage to the next round of Europa League in Turkey.
“Sometimes physical tiredness is outweighed because you feel good and are confident,” the Portuguese centre back told his club’s official website.
“We are playing at home and it is very important to take the three points against a rival who is playing well, but it will be difficult.”
Nunes then showered praise on our club’s performance under Simeone.
“The numbers are there, they are a very strong team,” he said.
“The defensive work they are doing is very good, they don’t give away cheap goals and since the manager arrived they are almost unbeaten.
“That shows the good work they are doing, but we have to impose our strengths, will and determination to win the game. We have to take advantage in areas that they aren’t so strong to try to take the three points we need.”
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Sergio Asenjo
Defenders: Godín, Antonio López, Filipe Luis, Álvaro Domínguez, Perea, Miranda
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Salvio, Arda, Assunçao, Gabi, Fran Mérida, Koke, Juanfran, Saúl
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao Pizzi
Mallorca match selection:
Goalkeepers: Aouate, Calatayud
Defenders: Pau Cendrós, Chico, Nunes, Ramis, Cáceres
Midfielders: Pereira, Nsue, Castro, Martí, Alfaro, Tejera, Pina, Tissone
Forwards: Tomer, Víctor, Álvaro
Referee: Javier Turienzo Álvarez
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