In a cruel test of patience (and consciousness), Atlético and Levante fans will have to wait until 23:00 CET Sunday for their respective sides to set sail to their 2012/13 La Liga campaigns.
Yes, you read that correctly.
The midnight showdown between the two Europa League challengers will begin late Sunday night and end in the early hours of Monday morning.
The chink in our reigning Europa League champions’ armour last season was their away form, which wasn’t even inconsistent–it was outright awful just about all the time.
So if Diego Simeone and his hombres want to achieve their objective of, as midfield veteran Tiago put it, “winning the other league” and thereby secure the Champions League berth they narrowly missed out on in 2011/12 by finishing fifth, they’ll have to improve on their abysmal record away from home (4W, 6D, 9L) from the former term.
‘El Cholo’ has had all summer to whip his squad into shape, so there will be little room for excuses for the coach, as opposed to last season when he replaced Gregorio Manzano in late December.
The Ciutat de València will bring back haunting memories to our returning players. Just a few months ago in April, the stadium was the site of a disastrous start that perfectly exemplified our struggles on the road.
Less than a minute into action, Valdo headed in a cross by Barkero. Just 10 minutes later, Arouna Koné headed in his side’s second in a clash that ended 2-0–the same scoreline by which we were defeated their two seasons ago.
Simeone tapped 19 men for the task of bringing back the three points to Madrid and get the season started on the right foot.
That mission will be slightly more difficult than originally thought though, as both starting full-backs Juanfran and Filipe Luís succumbed to injuries this week, which will keep them from taking part in our debut.
Sílvio is set to appear in the fold for the first time since November, replacing Filipe on the left, while Atlético B member Kader will take the place of Juanfran.
Striker Adrián, who was handed a ticket to Valencia, is a bit nicked up after suffering a minor ankle sprain in training a few days ago, but the Asturian wonder is expected to start, helping to avert an attacking crisis for los Colchoneros as third striker Diego Costa stayed home as he recovers from a minor knee surgery.
But the most glaring absence, of course, is that of last year’s midfield maestro Diego, who returned to Wolfsburg after his one-year loan spell with Atleti–much to the dismay of Colchonero supporters. The Brazilian even suited-up on Saturday for a starting appearance in the German Cup against FC Schöneberg 95 (wipe away those tears Colchoneros).
Arda Turan returns for his sophomore campaign in red and white, and the Turk is the leading candidate to replace Diego in the role of playmaker and feed our insatiably hungry ‘Tigre’ Radamel Falcao, also back for his second term at Atleti following a sensational 36-goal inaugural year.
It comes as somewhat of a surprise that Simeone has called-up cantera phenom Óliver Torres given his recent insistence of taking it slowly with the youth academy jewel, though the decision probably won’t disappoint supporters dazzled by the youngster’s performances over the summer.
Former Porto man Cristian ‘Cebolla’ Rodríguez will likely be making his first official appearance in his new stripes on the left-wing, while fellow newcomers Emre and Cata Díaz will have to wait.
Levante face the challenge of repeating their successes of a year ago, when they held onto fourth place for the vast majority of the season before dropping down to sixth, but nonetheless qualifying for UEFA play for the first time in their history.
Los Granotes parted ways with top striker Koné over the off-season though, and will count on Ángel, who was signed from Elche, to fill the Ivorian’s shoes.
Greek forward Theofanis Gekas was also brought in from Samsunspor to shore up the Valencian outfit’s attack.
Four days after this opening bout, Levante will fly out to Scotland to take on Motherwell in the first leg of their Europa League qualifier, so here’s to hoping they’ll be squarely focussed on that much, much, much more important game!
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Asenjo, Courtois
Defenders: Kader, Miranda, Godín, Sílvio, Cata Díaz, Pulido
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Gabi, Tiago, Cristian Rodríguez, Arda, Raúl García, Emre, Koke, Óliver
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao
Levante match selection: TBA
Referee: Carlos Clos Gómez
Feel free to take a stab at El Cholo’s starting XI for our Liga opener!