La Liga’s number two and number three outfits collide at the Vicente Calderón when Atlético Madrid host Málaga on Sunday.
The kick-off, which overlaps with an affair of less importance between the league’s first place and sixth place sides, is set for 21:30 CET.
Given the late start time, ticket prices for the encounter have been slashed by fifty percent in order to maximise attendance at the Rojiblanco fortress.
Those present will witness the return of La Liga’s current top scorer Radamel Falcao, back in the squad from a groin injury that forced him to miss the trip to Barcelona last weekend and to come off shortly after the break in both of our two previous league bouts.
“Falcao worked at the same rate as the rest of the group, so he’ll probably start and we’ll watch closely as the match goes on to see how he’s feeling,” said Atleti boss Diego Pablo Simeone, who has led his men to a marvelous undefeated start to their 2012/13 campaign.
‘El Cholo’ continued, telling reporters in attendance at Saturday’s pre-game press conference: “We have a very tough, difficult and dangerous match ahead of us.
“It’s an important game against one of the best teams in La Liga. [On Sunday], there will most likely be a great match at the Calderón.”
The bout pits two of Spain’s last three clubs without a loss against each other, and can serve as a ‘statement’ game for the team that comes away with the triumph.
Though few consider either outfit a legitimate contender for the domestic title, Sunday’s winner will take home a significant advantage in the race for a Champions League berth for next season’s edition of the prestigious European tournament.
In addition to the great news of ‘El Tigre’s’ recovery, midfield maestro Arda has overcome the knock he sustained at the Cornellà-El Prat and should also be at Cholo’s disposal.
Somewhat surprisingly, Simeone did not include Sílvio in his 19-man match selection days after opting to go with youngster Kader on Thursday at right-back versus Viktoria Plzen.
The curious case of the former Braga man remains unresolved and at this point it would be a surprise if the Portuguese fullback does not leave the club come January.
Goalkeeper Joel and defender Jorge Pulido, the latter having turned in a fine performance in our midweek clash, were also left off the squad set to face the Boquerones.
Our now fixed backline composed of Juanfran, Miranda, Diego Godín and Filipe Luís will be charged with the hefty challenge of stonewalling Málaga’s potent quartet of Saviola, Isco, Eliseu and Joaquín–the former Valencia winger looking as if he’s been dunking his water bottle in a fountain of youth of late.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men convincingly defeated Anderlecht 3-0 in Belgium in Champions League play this past Tuesday after hammering Betis 4-0 last Saturday.
Their staunch defence has strung together four straight games without conceding a goal.
“The truth is [Pellegrini] is doing an extraordinary job,” Simeone said about his Chilean colleague.
“He’s changed the attack, continues to play very dynamic football with a lot of movement. They always stand out, with experienced centre-backs, a tall team…it’s pleasing to watch Málaga play.”
Our opponents will be without the injured Júlio Baptista, Jérémy Toulalan and Sergio Sánchez.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Asenjo, Courtois
Defenders: Godín, Filipe Luis, Cisma, Cata Díaz, Juanfran, Miranda
Midfielders: Mario, Tiago, Koke, Raúl García, Arda, Cebolla, Gabi, Emre
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao, Diego Costa
Málaga match selection:
Goalkeepers: Kameni, Willy
Defenders: Gámez, Weligton, Demichelis, Monreal, Onyewu
Midfielders: Camacho, Joaquín, Iturra, Duda, Eliseu, Isco, Recio
Forwards: Saviola, Seba, Santa Cruz, Juanmi, Portillo
Referee: Miguel Ángel Pérez Lasa