On Sunday, Atlético host Espanyol at the Vicente Calderón, whose blades of grass are still warm from los Rojiblancos having run riot over Valencia in Thursday night’s Europa League semi-final clash.
This weekend’s game will be another European battle of sorts as both sides, equal at 45 points apiece, are vying for a final push to secure UEFA tournament play for next season by finishing within the top six spots of the league table.
Proceedings on El Día del Niño, or Kid’s Day at the Colchonero stadium, get underway at 18:00 CET.
Los Colchoneros come back from their Europa League adventures, or their very own Narnia – a place they stumbled upon where they are renowned as almighty conquering kings, feared and revered across the land – to the gloomy reality of their domestic life in Spain as relative nobodies that trail seven other teams.
Diego Simeone has some delicate decision-making on his hands ahead of this encounter. Does he rest key players in consideration of our semi-final second leg trip to Valencia, or does he take a shot at a Champions League berth by rolling out our most potent starting line-up?
In Saturday’s press conference, ‘El Cholo’ gave an inkling that he would opt for the latter.
“Since I arrived, all the matches have been important,” he said.
“I don’t remember a single one that wasn’t.”
The 41-year-old former Atlético player then proceeded to challenge his deadliest weapon, Colombian striker Radamel Falcao, whose shot-heard-’round-the-world goal against Valencia added 32 strikes to his name in the current campaign.
Despite the fact that ‘El Tigre’ has scored fully half of our 44 league goals this season, his coach, most likely in an attempt to motivate his chief predator, demanded more.
“Falcao is in a rich vein of form right now, but still, more can be demanded from him because he can give us more and be in even better form,” Simeone said.
As usual, El Cholo called for fans to attend in droves and get behind their players.
“The Calderón vibrated on Thursday and hopefully against Espanyol we’ll once again see the stadium packed,” he said.
The Argentine tactician will most likely get his wish as the popular bring-your-children-to-the-park festivities tend to draw a big crowd.
Sílvio and Antonio López will be two of those spectactors, as they continue their long recovery processes from their respective injuries.
It is even being whispered that ‘El Capi’ López has already seen his last action in red and white.
Also left off the squad were Fran Mérida, Paulo Assunçao and Pizzi.
Back in December, Espanyol played us off the pitch of their Estadi Cornellà-El Prat, a completely catastrophic visit that saw us going down 3-0 before 20 minutes had even elapsed.
Much like us, the Catalan outfit’s inconsistency and poor road form has led to their current 10th place Primera División position.
But also like us, los Periquitos are coming off a four-goal performance against los Che, though they are winless in seven straight trips.
Mauricio Pochettino will be without on-loan winger Vladimir Weiss and midfielder Juan Albín, both injured.
But budding starlet Philippe Coutinho, borrowed for the second half of the season from Inter Milan, as well as Juan Forlín, return for Espanyol from suspension.
“To win the three points will allow us to keep the dream alive of qualifying for a European competition,” said Pochettino in the pre-game press conference, before adding some words of caution for his men.
“[Atlético] have decisive players,” he said.
“You can’t allow them a single millimeter. They generate a lot of football.”
He continued: “They have footballers with a great deal of skill, with individual or collective play. They also perform well in set piece situations and we must remain attentive.”
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Asenjo
Defenders: Perea, Godín, Domínguez, Miranda, Filipe Luís, Juanfran
Midfielders: Arda, Diego, Mario, Gabi, Koke, Salvio, Tiago
Forwards: Falcao, Adrián, Pedro Martín
Espanyol match selection:
Goalkeepers: Kiko Casilla, Cristian Álvarez
Defenders: Raúl Rodríguez, Amat, Moreno, Forlín, Didac
Midfielders: Baena, Verdú, Romaric, Javi López, Coutinho, Cristian Gómez, Víctor Sánchez
Forwards: Rui Fonte, Sergio García, Uche, Pandiani, Álvaro
Referee: Carlos Clos Gómez
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