Atlético will be protecting a 4-2 lead when they square off against Valencia at the Mestalla Thursday evening in the second leg of their Europa League semi-final matchup.
Kick off, on a day which just so happens to be Atlético’s 109th anniversary, is set for 21:05 CET.
Should they hold off their foes, Atleti will be taking part in their second Europa League final in three years, having been crowned kings of the tournament back in May of 2010.
Radamel Falcao struck twice in the first leg last Thursday, taking the Colombian striker to the top of the competition’s scoring chart, while Miranda and Adrián each added a goal apiece. But two stoppage time goals in each half by Jonas and Ricardo Costa left los Che with a heartbeat coming into the return leg of this fixture.
“Is this real life?” is a question Atlético fans across the globe have been asking themselves all week long, incredulous as to how a season, which at times had seemingly hit rock bottom – elimination from the Copa del Rey at the hands of Spanish football third-tier outfit Albacete as just one example – has yielded such a positive outcome and that we are only two matches away from lifting our third trophy and participating in our fourth final in just 36 months.
But los Colchoneros have one last stop to make before packing their bags for Bucharest: a Valencian stadium expected to be jam-packed with roughly 52,000 spectators pushing for the home team to erase our two-goal advantage.
But the Rojiblanco faithful in attendance, relatively small in number at about 2,000 to 2,500, will be mighty in spirit as they have proven time and time again in the past, something Atleti winger-turned-right-back Juanfran is well-aware of.
“We know Valencia are only thinking about the comeback and they think they can do it, but we have the same hope and desire they do,” the former Osasuna man told reporters at a club marketing event Tuesday.
“The players are the ones that play the games and we’re going to give our all in Mestalla. Plus, the stadium will also be a bit Rojiblanco because 2,000 of our own fans will be out there.”
Colchonero boss Diego Simeone will have his fantastic four at his disposal. The lethal quartet composed of Falcao, Adrián, Diego and Arda have led the team to a remarkable run of 10 straight victories in UEFA play, a record for the men in red and white.
Can we make it 11?
The Brazilian and the Turk must be extra careful not to see yellow, as a booking for either one would result in suspension for the final–a devastating scenario. Luis Perea and Miranda are on the same boat.
Midfielder Assunçao and winger Pizzi were not handed a train ticket to Valencia through tactical decision, while Fran Mérida is ineligible having played in the Europa League with Braga in the first half of the season.
Antonio López and Sílvio remain out with injuries.
Che coach Unai Emery, who has already reportedly announced to his squad that he would not be returning for the following campaign, is shooting for one last piece to his four-year legacy at the Valencian side.
“It’s a very important match, perhaps the most important one of the year, and that’s how we consider it,” Emery said in the pre-game press conference.
“It’s a game between two very similar teams but with the result from the first leg Atlético are the favourites.”
The 40-year-old then channelled his inner-‘Cholo’.
“It’s a match in which men are above names.”
Are you nervous about the match, or are you relaxed, confident that we will make it to the Romanian capital?
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Sergio Asenjo
Defenders: Godín, Filipe Luis, Domínguez, Perea, Miranda, Juanfran
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Tiago, Salvio, Arda Turan, Gabi, Koke, Diego
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao, Pedro Martín
Valencia match selection: TBA