After our midweek heroics and ensuing festivities, one would almost forget Atlético has one more game to play this season.
The Rojiblancos take on Villarreal in a game that decides in which competitions the two team will be playing next year. Atlético must win to have a chance of qualifying for the next edition of the Champions League, while the Yellow Submarine are involved in a fight with 5 other teams to avoid relegation to the Segunda División.
Villarreal do still have everything in their own hands, because a win will guarantee they stay above Rayo and Zaragoza in the league table. Would they fail to get the three points on Sunday, then they could drop behind their rivals and into 18th place.
Atleti are currently 5th with 53 points, but a loss could see us drop as far as to 8th position. However, we don’t have to worry about losing our Europa League spot, because by winning this year’s title we have automatically qualified for next season’s campaign.
Instead of looking down, Atlético will be looking up the table where Málaga are situated two points above us. If we can overtake the nouveau-riche then we’ll qualify for the Champions League, but we’re relying heavily on the result at La Rosaleda where Málaga host Sporting Gijón. Only if Atlético win and Málaga fail to do so will we finish in 4th, in all other scenarios we’ll have to settle for another run in the European competition that we have become more than familiar with.
The final match of the 2011/2012 La Liga season also signals the end of a handful of players all around the league. As always the futures of many Atlético players will remain uncertain until the transfer window closes, but it’s clear that this will be the last time that our longest serving player and captain, Antonio López, will suit up in red and white.
Luis Perea also departs the club next month, but unfortunately won’t be able to say goodbye on the pitch. The foreigner with most appearances in club history (314) is unavailable due to injury.
The loan deals of two regulars, Thibaut Courtois and Diego Ribas, are also expiring, but hopefully the duo will return to the Vicente Calderón after the summer.
Arda Turan misses this game through suspension, while Tiago returns to the squad after missing the Europa League final.
In the pre-match press conference Diego Simeone spoke of Atlético’s limited options to end the season on another high.
“When we [the coaching staff] started, we were 10 points off the 4th spot. Now there’s a minimal chance, it doesn’t depend on us, but at least we are at the final game and we still have options.”
The Argentine coach realized that his team will have to play with a lot of intensity from the start: “If we’re going to sit back, then this won’t go well. We’ll be looking to start strong.”
If Atlético want to get off to a great start, then it’s likely Radamel Falcao will be involved. The Colombian striker netted early in Wednesday’s Europa League final against Athletic and added a second later on. El Tigre has had a great campaign, scoring 35 goals in all competitions, and is feared at El Madrigal. In three previous meetings with the yellows he has scored 7 goals, including a brace when the teams last met in January.
Villarreal head coach Miguel Ángel Lotina, the third coach this season at the normally stable club, labelled the game as “the game of the year.”
“For us it’s clear, this is the game of the year and we’ll be playing for everything. Not just the team, but also the club, the fans, the city… everyone is playing an important game for our future.”
“Atlético has convincingly won the Europa League and they are in good form. They have been playing well at the end of this season and they could make it even better. We’ll have to play a great game [to win].”
Lotina called up all his available players, but will miss Jonathan De Guzmán through suspension. Italian superstar Giuseppe Rossi is still sidelined with a knee injury.
Villarreal match selection
Goalkeepers: Diego López, César
Defenders: Gonzalo, Joan Oriol, Musacchio, Ángel, Marchena, Zapata, Mario, Catalá, Jaume Costa
Midfielders: Senna, Cani, Hernán Pérez, Castellani, Camuñas, Wakaso, Borja Valero, Bruno
Forwards: Nilmar and Marco Rubén.
Atlético match selection
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Asenjo
Defenders: Godín, Antonio López, Filipe, Domínguez, Juanfran, Miranda
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Tiago, Gabi, Koke, Salvio, Diego
Forwards: Falcao, Pizzi, Adrián and Pedro.
Referee: Estrada Fernández
The game will kick off on Sunday at 8 PM (CET).
What do you think the score will be? Predict now in the AtléticoFans Prediction League!