After breezing through the first of a bundle of seven games to be played within a 22-day stretch in Tel Aviv on Thursday, Atlético return to Spain to host Real Valladolid on Sunday.
Proceedings at the Vicente Calderón on the club’s annual Day of the Peñas (fan clubs) celebration get underway at 18:00 CET.
Diego Simeone’s wise decision to leave his celebrities behind in Madrid for our midweek clash in Israel will allow the Argentine manager to roll out with a star-studded cast against the newly-promoted Pucela outfit.
That means Radamel Falcao, forced to fast while his team-mates feasted on Hapoel in Europa League action en route to their UEFA record 14th victory in European competition, will be released from his cage slobbering from the mouth in search of his next prey.
Look-a-like Arda Turan will be close behind at ‘El Tigre’s’ paws, while Filipe Luís, Gabi, Diego Godín and Tiago also return to the squad.
A lot of the excitement heading into the new season resulted from the idea that Simeone would have all summer long to whip his hombres into shape considering the tremendous job he did over the last winter break when he assumed control of the squad from Gregorio Manzano.
So far, the Rojiblanco faithful’s collective intuition has proven accurate, as Cholo’s boys have soared (with the exception of a 1-1 draw in Levante to open the 2012/13 campaign) under his command, and currently ride a four-game win streak since clobbering Chelsea 4-1 in Monaco.
In the same span, Atleti have scored a whopping 15 goals. But the best news of all is that more than half of that total belongs to someone other than Falcao.
Miranda, Arda (twice), Mario, Koke, ‘Cebolla’, Diego Costa and Raúl García have all added their names to the scoresheet within the past month.
The what-is-becoming-a-yearly trend of raving admiration for los Colchoneros in the Spanish and European press has begun, but Simeone seeks to curb all the enthusiasm.
“That the fans perceive good sensations is healthy, positive and good,” the 42-year-old told reporters at Saturday’s press conference.
“We’re happy when our supporters are happy, but the truth is that ours is a day-by-day reality.”
He continued: “What we’ve done is already behind us, what is coming is what is most important. We want to be competitive and aspire to improve game-to-game. We’re not going to stray from that path.”
Analysing our weekend opponents, El Cholo said:
“[Valladolid] are a team that play well, that have featured prominently in these four matches that they have played. They are a team that control the ball well in midfield, where they put a lot of people together. They have Omar, who opens the field up well to gain superiority in midfield, Guerra, who is very dangerous up top, and Óscar’s experience. They are, without a doubt, a competitive team.”
Simeone will have a pair of key decisions to make ahead of the encounter:
- Should he continue to start a very-in-form Diego Costa over a struggling Adrián?
- Should he reshuffle the back line a bit after last weekend’s seven-minute debacle?
Despite having taken part in Thursday’s 3-0 shutout, fullbacks Sílvio and Cisma were left off of El Cholo’s 18-man list for this clash.
Defender Jorge Pulido and goalkeeper Joel were also not included in the selection.
Atleti youth product Kader is back in training with the group after recovering from a fractured collarbone he suffered in practice a month ago, but the youngster will not be participating in this game.
After getting off to a flying two-win start to their return to La Liga following their third-place finish and promotion from Segunda División, Valladolid have lost in back-to-back games to Athletic Bilbao and Betis.
Miroslav Djukić, who will be without injured German winger Ebert, warned his men they must not be fearful as they make their way over to Madrid to face off against the top capital side.
“If you go to the Calderón to see what happens, with fear, they will paint your face [a Spanish figure of speech that loosely translates to: you will have your ass handed to you on a platter],” the Serbian coach said.
“The only way to win there is to be brave.”
After this bout, Atlético will head to Sevilla for a make-up game from the third Match Day against Betis on Wednesday before heading off to Barcelona next weekend to square off against Espanyol.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Asenjo, Courtois
Defenders: Godín, Filipe Luis, Cata Díaz, Juanfran, Miranda
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Tiago, Koke, Raúl García, Arda Turan, Cebolla, Gabi, Emre
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao, Diego Costa
Valladolid match selection:
Goalkeepers: Jaime, Dani Hernández
Defenders: Rukavina, Rueda, Sereno, Valiente, Peña, Balenziaga, Baraja,
Midfielders: Álvaro Rubio, Víctor Pérez, Sastre, Óscar González, Omar Ramos
Forwards: Lolo, Bueno, Manucho, Guerra
Referee: César Muñiz Fernández