Defeat at Mallorca on Sunday has seen Atlético concede yet more ground in the race for the Champions League, with victory needed against Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday to keep the dream alive.
Los Leones are in a similar situation, having taken nothing from their last two in the league. Despite their European exploits, a loss in the Calderón could see them fall seven points adrift of the top four.
Kick-off in Madrid is set for 20:00 CET.
The Europa League has proven a welcome salvation for both Atlético and Athletic since the turn of the year, but realistically, neither club wants to be playing in the competition next season.
11 games remain in La Liga, and the race is hotting up for one of the chasing pack to join the continent’s elite. Málaga have moved into the driving seat in recent weeks following an improvement in form, but there is still plenty of time for the order to change.
Domestically, Diego Simeone started like a house on fire upon his new year appointment, but has since seen his team stumble to just one win from the last seven matches. Three times Atleti missed the chance to move into the ascendency, meaning we have to play catch-up for the remainder of the season.
Around half a dozen teams are in serious contention, several of whom still have to visit the Calderón before the summit. Málaga and Espanyol come later on, and tomorrow’s clash against Athletic comes at a crucial time as we enter the final stretch.
Our matchday squad has not been named just yet, although Diego, Tiago and Sílvio will definitely miss out because of injury.
Saúl looks likely to continue with the first team for the match, but we will not be able to call on the 17-year-old next week when he and Javi Manquillo join up with Spain Under-19s.
Another canterano, albeit a little older one, who may also feature is captain Antonio López. The veteran left-back has made a full recovery and is available for the first time since January.
Cholo spoke in a press conference ahead of this evening’s training session, taking the chance to praise the character of his team.
“The team have consistently shown their bravery and we need to continue like this in such a crucial stage of the season,” he said.
“I have great respect and admiration for [Marcelo] Bielsa, but this is a game I want to win at all costs.”
Diego Ribas was also interviewed by journalists on Tuesday morning, and assured fans that the wait for him to return would not be long.
“It is difficult to say when I’ll be back, I need to wait and see what the doctor says, but the feelings are good and I’m desperate to return,” he said. “I am close.”
The Brazilian went on to talk about the Athletic game, and remained upbeat on our chances of Champions League qualification.
“The Athletic game will be a difficult one against a direct rival, but we are strong at home and are going for the three points,” he stressed.
“We definitely have a chance to make the Champions League.”
Athletic, on the other hand, will be without talisman Fernando Llorente because of a thigh injury. The Spanish international limped off early against Manchester United last Thursday, and is still not fit enough for a return.
Also missing is suspended captain Andoni Iraola, although Gaizka Toquero, scorer of two goals in the Calderón last season, and defender Fernando Amorebieta return from their respective bans.
Manager Marcelo Bielsa spoke briefly about the game earlier in the week, and like his opposite number and compatriot, underlined the significance of getting the three points.
“The Atlético game is hugely important,” said the Argentine. “We are playing against a rival and hopefully we can achieve the result we need.
“If we can win tomorrow and then on Sunday against Sporting we will be back in the fight for the Champions League.”
El Loco also confirmed that Óscar de Marcos would fill in at right-back in place of Iraola. Squad lists can be found below.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Asenjo
Defenders: Godín, Filipe, Dominguez, Perea, Miranda
Midfielders: Mario, Salvio, Arda, Assuncao, Gabi, Mérida, Koke, Juanfran
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao, Pizzi
Athletic match selection:
Goalkeepers: Iraizoz, Raúl
Defenders: Amorebieta, Koikili, San José, Aurtenetxe, Ekiza
Midfielders: Javi Martínez, De Marcos, Gabilondo, Susaeta, Ander, David López, Iturraspe, Iñigo Pérez
Forwards: Toquero, Muniain, Ibai
Referee: Javier Estrada Fernández
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