After a painfully frustrating week, Atlético return to Europa League action on Thursday night as Bundesliga outfit Hannover 96 visit the Calderón, with a place in the semi-finals up for grabs.
Apoño’s killer injury time penalty all but ended our Champions League aspirations on Sunday lunchtime, meaning that regaining the title we won in Hamburg two years ago can be given full attention by Diego Simeone and his team.
Kick-off in the Spanish capital will take place at 21:05 CET.
Cholo’s incredible start to his Atlético tenure had us all dreaming of a return to the continent’s elite competition next year, but recent results have even had some going as far as questioning whether he is the right man to take the club forward.
However, the Europa League has provided salvation from our La Liga woes, with Lazio and Beşiktaş having been convincingly set aside in the earlier rounds. Next up we face an unpredictable Hannover side, who already dumped Sevilla out of the competition back in August.
Die Roten arrive in Madrid on a decent run, despite finding themselves only eighth domestically. An unfortunate 2-1 defeat at Bayern on Saturday should not dampen the confidence of Mirko Slomka’s side too much after impressive victories over FC Köln and Standard Liege, who they have met four times in Europe this season, the previous week.
Simeone decided against naming his official squad for the match in his press conference, but had 20 players at his disposal during this morning’s training session, including the recovered Tiago and Diego.
The latter is familiar with our opponents from his spells with Werder Bremen and parent club Wolfsburg, although Cholo suggested that the Brazilian still may not be ready for a starting berth.
“Diego played good minutes at Zaragoza, and I think it will be the same on Thursday,” said the Argentine. “Consequently, we will grow in the minutes he has on the field, and not risk any further injury.”
The former Racing Club boss also confirmed that Arda Turan is back to full fitness for this crucial stage in the season, something that has been a cause of concern ever since his arrival.
Atleti are moving closer to a clean bill of health, although full-backs Antonio López and Sílvio remain on the treatment table for the foreseeable future. Wonderkid Saúl Ñíguez will also be unavailable because of international duty and Fran Mérida is ineligible.
Miranda is expected to return to the line-up following what we assume was a rest on Sunday, and Gabi and Juanfran are also likely to be restored after serving suspension.
Accompanying Simeone in the press room this morning was teenage ‘keeper Thibaut Courtois, and the Belgian prodigy was in a confident mood ahead of Thursday’s encounter.
“I know Hannover well from their games against Standard Liege and Club Brugge,” he said.
“They are well-organised in midfield and strong on the counter, making them difficult to play against. It would be important for us to win 2-0 or 3-0, and of course to keep a clean sheet.”
In the other camp, American defender Steve Cherundolo has been speaking this week, and insisted that his team did stand a good chance of reaching the final four.
“[Atlético] combine a lot of good skills and play nice football, but they’re not unbeatable,” he said.
“I’m sure our coaches have done their homework and will prepare the team like in previous games.”
It seems our staff have been busy researching too though, as Juanfran claimed on Monday: “Not a single detail about Hannover has escaped our coach.”
On Sunday it’s back to La Liga as we host Getafe at the Calderón before heading out to Germany for the return leg in a week’s time. The winner will face either Valencia or AZ Alkmaar in the semi-finals.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Asenjo
Defenders: Godín, Filipe Luís, Domínguez, Perea, Miranda
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Tiago, Salvio, Arda, Assunção, Gabi, Koke, Juanfran, Diego
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao
Hannover match selection: TBA
Referee: Stéphane Lannoy (France)