Atleti return to La Liga action on Sunday evening after our Europa League exploits, and with a top-four finish still a realistic target, victory will be seen as a must when we travel south to play Real Betis.
Kick-off in the Benito Villamarín is set for the unfamiliar time of 19:45 CET.
On Thursday, our place in a third European final in as many seasons was confirmed as Adrián’s wonder-strike sent Valencia out of the competition, but Simeone and his team can’t afford to lose focus as we enter the crucial stage of our league campaign.
Despite having won four on the bounce since that humiliating derby defeat earlier this month, players are likely to be suffering from fatigue and changes may have to be kept to a minimum as we fight to keep our Champions League aspirations alive.
With Málaga taking on Valencia before we kick-off tomorrow afternoon, we could have the chance move to within just a point of the top four ahead of Manuel Pellegrini’s side’s trip to the Calderón next weekend.
However, the Atlético match selection does suggest we could perhaps see a few players rested, one of whom being Diego who picked up a slight knock in the Mestalla two days ago.
Surprisingly, Cholo has opted to bring in the playmaker from our Juvenil A team Oliver Torres as extra cover for the Brazilian, and B-team striker Pedro keeps his place for the sixth match in a row.
The selection of Oliver is particularly interesting, as although the 17-year-old had a stellar season in our youth team’s title conquest, he has yet to even feature for the reserves, and may now miss Monday’s Copa de Campeones clash against Las Palmas for his regular side.
As has been the case in recent weeks, Pizzi, Fran Mérida and Paulo Assunção all stay in Madrid because of technical decision and after sustaining a muscle injury in training yesterday, Luis Perea will also be unavailable.
Simeone, 42 today, admitted in his press conference that the team could benefit from a rest after months of non-stop football, but refused to take the game lightly.
“At the moment we are taking each game as it comes, and we will be completely focused on the Betis match tomorrow,” he stressed. “The players made a great effort on Thursday and we have had little time to recover, but this is a very important game.”
The Argentine was also asked whether he thought the Verdiblancos could be affected by a lack of motivation given their league position and midweek clash with neighbours Sevilla, but laughed off the suggestion.
“Betis are a very competitive team and still need points to confirm their safety,” he said.
“I don’t think they will be looking more towards the derby, but that’s up to them.”
For their part, Betis have named a strong squad for the match, but will be without the suspended Jorge Molina and José Dorado, both of whom saw red in their 4-0 defeat at Valencia last week.
Returning to the squad is youngster Alejandro Pozuelo, a goalscorer in their 2-0 win in the Calderón back in December, as well as defender José Isidoro.
Portuguese full-back Nelson was quoted earlier in the week, and the former Benfica man backed up Simeone’s view that his team would not be prioritising the game in the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán.
“All the talk is about the derby, but Atlético is just as important for us,” he insisted.
“The fans talk a lot about Sevilla, but the team is thinking about the next match as we want to forget last week’s loss.”
After the game, Atleti will return to Madrid to prepare for successive home matches against Real Sociedad and Málaga, before the Europa League final in just 11 days time.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Asenjo
Defenders: Filipe, Godín, Domínguez, Miranda
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Tiago, Salvio, Arda, Gabi, Koke, Juanfran, Diego, Oliver
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao, Pedro
Betis match selection:
Goalkeepers: Fabricio, Casto
Defenders: Amaya, Nahco, Isidoro, Chica, Paulão, Nelson
Midfielders: Salva Sevilla, Beñat, Iriney, Cañas, Pozuelo, Matilla, Jefferson
Forwards: Rubén Castro, Santa Cruz, Pereira
Referee: José Antonio Teixeira Vitienes
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