Atleti begin the defence of their Europa League title in Israel on Thursday night, with a game against Hapoel Tel-Aviv that Diego Simeone will use to give a rest to some of his key players.
The holders are currently on a record run of 13 successive wins in European competition, although ‘El Cholo’ has opted to jeopardise extending that sequence by leaving the likes of Falcao, Arda, Gabi, Filipe and Godín back home in Madrid.
Kick-off in the Bloomfield Stadium is set for 8:00 PM local time, or 19:00 CET.
Over four months ago now, Atlético ended a perfect Europa League campaign in Bucharest with a fine 3-0 win against Athletic Bilbao, to ensure we lifted the trophy for the second time in three years.
After going on to also win the Super Cup again in Monaco, the Rojiblancos now embark on a new campaign, but having pretty much conquered this tournament, the early indications are that we may take one eye off of continental silverware in order to focus on qualifying for next season’s Champions League.
The club has made no secret of the desire to return to Europe’s main stage, with the financial and sporting benefits identified as the next step in potentially moving forward.
As mentioned above, a number of key names, along with the suspended Tiago, were given a rest for the long trip, giving the chance to some of the fringe players and canteranos banging on the first team door.
Having been left out of Sunday’s chaotic win over Rayo Vallecano, Sílvio is back in contention, and Jorge Pulido features in his first squad of the season. There’s also a place for new signing and former B-team defender Domingo Cisma, who could finally make his debut for the club.
Meanwhile, youngsters Javi Manquillo, Saúl Ñíguez and Pedro Martín come into the 18, looking to build on the handful of appearances they have each made so far.
However, Kader and Óliver Torres will not be at our disposal for those wondering, due to injury and ineligibility respectively.
On his decisions, Simeone defended the choice to leave out some of our stars, stressing that for the good of the team, the squad needs to be fully utilised.
“I don’t think more than on a game-by-game basis in every competition, that is our philosophy,” said the 42 year-old.
“We still have Cata [Díaz] who I think is a top player, the Turkish captain in Emre, Raúl García who scored 12 goals at Osasuna, and Diego Costa who scored 11 at Rayo.”
“We come to win, not to put on a show.”
He also highlighted the danger posed by the Tel-Aviv outfit, and had praise for their style of play.
“Like all Israeli teams, they have good dynamics and use the ball well. They are a dangerous team when they have possession of the ball,” he said.
The former Argentina international will be hoping for a much more solid defensive display from his team on Thursday, with our backline capitulating in the final stages against Rayo at the weekend.
Three late goals were conceded on to give us all a momentary scare, and in our first ever game in Israel, some of our second choices will get a chance to stake their claim for regular inclusion.
If Mundo Deportivo are to be believed, we can expect to see the likes of Asenjo, Cata Díaz, Sílvio and Cisma to start, as well as the likes of Raúl García, Emre and Cristian Rodríguez further forward.
Diego Costa will be looking to build on his impressive showing on Sunday too, and should line-up alongside the returning Adrián in attack.
As for our opponents, they come into the game as distinct second favourites by all accounts, although not without pedigree of their own. They currently sit second in the Israeli league on goal difference, finishing runners-up last year as well to qualify for the competition.
Nicknamed the Red Demons, they are currently on a six-game winning streak, during which they have conceded just the solitary goal, and will certainly provide a testing atmosphere for our players.
Their links to Spanish football are scarce, but they do have Ghanaian defender John Paintsil in their ranks, who watched from the Fulham bench as we won our first Europa League title back in 2010.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Asenjo
Defenders: Pulido, Cisma, Sílvio, Cata Díaz, Juanfran, Miranda, Manquillo
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Koke, Raúl García, Cristian Rodríguez, Emre, Saúl
Forwards: Adrián, Diego Costa, Pedro
Referee: Pol van Boekel (Holland)