Atlético return to Europa League action on Thursday, with Czech outfit Viktoria Plzeň travelling to Madrid to provide the opposition for our first home match of this year’s competition.
Like in the first match day against Hapoel, the game will be used as another opportunity to rest some of our stars and give minutes to those who haven’t played, with Sunday’s crucial clash against Málaga a priority for manager Diego Simeone.
Kick-off in the Vicente Calderón is set for 21:05 CET.
As we all know, Atlético are currently on a record run of 14 straight wins in European competition, stretching back to October of last year when we were beaten at Udinese.
However, after missing out painfully last season, this year our full attention looks to be on finishing in a Champions League position come next May, as Cholo has again opted to ring the changes.
Sunday’s win at Espanyol pushed our team’s fitness levels right to the limit, and so seven of our more regular performers will be given the night off tomorrow, including our recovering star striker Radamel Falcao.
The official squad for the game has still yet to be made public, but it’s been widely reported that Arda Turan, who came off injured at the weekend, Mario Suárez, Juanfran, Courtois, Miranda and Filipe will not be risked either.
As reported by Dani Hidalgo in AS last week, Sergio Asenjo will take the goalkeeping spot that in Europe belongs to him for now, and there could well be places in the line-up for Emre, Sílvio, Cata Díaz, Tiago, Cristian Rodríguez, Cisma and Kader, who if chosen will be making his full debut.
Also, B-team regulars Saúl Ñíguez, Javier Manquillo and Momar Ndoye all trained with the first team this morning which suggests they may be involved, as did the ineligible Óliver Torres.
In his press conference , Simeone made it clear that for now his attention was all on the Viktoria match, and reiterated yet again that his preparation is done on a day-by-day basis.
“Sunday is still far away, what matters is today,” he stated. “On Thursday we face a very direct and vertical team, one with a strong, creative midfield.”
He continued: “It’s an important game in ensuring qualification, against a team who won their first match in the Europa League.
“This is a competition we respect and love, as it has given the fans a lot of satisfaction in recent years.”
With Falcao missing out, it’s unclear whether we’ll see Adrián or Diego Costa against the Czechs, and although the two have looked a little low on fitness at times, Cholo insisted that they’re in fine shape.
“Diego Costa is doing very well and Adrián is getting better every day,” said the Argentine tactician.
“We have a squad that gives us the possibility of competing in every competition and we want to get the best from each player.”
Also, it’s likely that one of Raúl García and Koke will start in the attacking midfield position, which would indicate that whoever doesn’t play will be used against Málaga instead.
Both of them lined-up in the Cornella El-Prat, and although current form is with the former Osasuna man, Koke was still in confident mood alongside his manager this morning.
“We are very happy knowing that we are doing things right at the moment, but we only think day-by-day and go game-by-game,” said the 20-year-old.
“We think of tomorrow, not the weekend. Now we can only think of the Europa League, and after that we’ll see.”
In similar fashion to ourselves, Viktoria have started the season well and sit 2nd in the Gambrinus liga, level on points with leaders Jablonec.
They came from behind in their opening game to beat Académica 3-1, and also competed against Barcelona and Milan in last year’s Champions League, managing an impressive home draw with the latter.
Manager Pavel Vrba was respectful of the Rojiblancos in his pre-match press conference, but remained upbeat in his team’s chances at the Calderón.
“Atlético are one of the best teams in Europe,” he said. “For us it will be like playing in the Champions League, they are on the same level as Barcelona and Milan.”
“I have shown the players a few of their games, and we know what to expect. We are not going to enjoy the experience, but to play at our maximum.”
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Asenjo, Courtois
Defenders: Godín, Pulido, Cisma, Sílvio, Cata Díaz, Kader
Midfielders: Tiago, Koke, Raúl García, Cristian Rodríguez, Gabi, Emre, Saúl
Forwards: Adrián, Diego Costa, Ndoye
Referee: Antony Gautier (France)