Atlético travel to Levante tomorrow knowing that a win will put us above Juan Ignacio Martinez’ team, and possibly even back into the race for the Champions League places.
Victory at Hannover on Thursday extended our winning run to three in a row, and confidence in the squad will be flowing as we make the journey east.
Kick off in the Ciudad de Valencia is at the early time of 12:00 CET.
A blistering start had seen our opponents take fourth spot for most of the season to this point, but they have stumbled since new year, leading to an incredible race between the teams behind them looking to take advantage.
Away wins have been hard to come by for Atleti though, and despite having won four in a row on our European travels, it’s been three months since out last league success away from the Calderón.
Earlier in the season we scraped a 3-2 win over Levante under Manzano, and a repeat tomorrow would see us move level on points with a superior head-to-head record.
Most fans gave up hope on a return to Champions League following that mind-boggling late defeat at Zaragoza a fortnight ago, but other results have opened things back up as seemingly nobody wants to join Europe’s elite next year.
However, our hectic schedule has lead to growing concerns over the fitness of some of our players, with Radamel Falcao notably unable to take part in full training today. The Colombian is in red-hot form in front of goal at the moment, but was reportedly restricted to gym work this morning due to fatigue.
Luckily, Arda Turan’s physical state has taken a turn for the better and he, like Gabi and Juanfran, are expected to return to the line-up after serving respective suspensions on Thursday.
Koke is banned after picking up his fifth booking in last week’s win over Getafe so Fran Mérida takes his place, and full-backs Sílvio and Antonio López also remain on the sidelines. No return date has been determined for either as of yet.
El Derbi is of course coming up on Wednesday, and many managers would be tempted to give a rest to key players ahead of such a big game. Against a direct rival in Levante we’re not convinced Simeone will go down that route though, as he opted to bring every available player along for the trip.
The Argentine boss spoke in a press conference at the Cerro del Espino this morning, and stressed that for now he was only thinking about Sunday’s match.
“We face a major rival, one who are having a great season,” he said.
“Nobody thought they would stay at the top of the table, but they have shut a lot of mouths. For us, this is a very important and difficult game.”
Cholo also lamented the early kick-off time, saying: “We know the scheduling is out of our hands, but I would like to see those who choose to give us this kick-off time play on Thursday night, arriving home at 5.30am the next morning, and then again at noon on Sunday.”
“It’s not an excuse, it’s the reality.”
For Levante, Asier del Horno is the sole absentee as he has failed to shake off a niggling hamstring injury. Pedro Botelho and Juanfran do make the squad despite doubts over their fitness.
Manager Juan Ignacio has been a revelation since taking over in the summer, and remained wary of the threat posed by Atlético when speaking ahead of the encounter.
“[Atlético] have a very strong squad, and we are convinced that they will come here with a strong team and try to win,” he insisted.
“They have potential in all areas of their game, but we are well prepared.”
Elsewhere, Real Madrid gear up for the derby with a home clash against our Europa League opponents and Champions League rivals Valencia on Sunday night. All Atlético eyes will be placed firmly upon the Bernabéu come kick-off, as we prepare for the three upcoming matches set to define our season.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Asenjo
Defenders: Godín, Filipe Luís, Domínguez, Perea, Miranda
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Tiago, Salvio, Arda, Assunção, Gabi, Fran Mérida, Juanfran, Diego
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao, Pizzi
Levante match selection:
Goalkeepers: Munúa, Keylor Navas
Defenders: Navarro, Juanfran, Venta, Ballesteros, Pedro López, Cabral
Midfielders: Farinós, Barkero, Iborra, Botelho, Xavi Torres, Valdo, El Zhar
Forwards: Koné, Rubén, Ghezzal
Referee: Iglesias Villanueva
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