Atlético’s first trip to the Basque Country this season will see los Rojiblancos go head-to-head against San Sebastián-based outfit Real Sociedad, with proceedings getting underway on Sunday at 21:30 CET.
Only bitter memories come to the minds of the Rojiblanco faithful upon the mere mention of La Real, given that the Donostiarra, through a late Carlos Vela goal at the Vicente Calderón (let’s all take a moment of silence in memory of our Champions League hopes murdered by the Mexican on 2 May 2012 in extra time of our home clash against Real Sociedad that ended in an excruciatingly painful 1-1 tie……………………………………………………okay), pretty much eradicated our chances of earning a place in the elite UEFA tournament for the present term.
The Txuri-urdin are doing a great impression of Gregorio Manzano’s Atlético of a year ago, winning all three of their home games while losing all four of their matches away from their Anoeta fortress.
In fact, Sociedad have not suffered defeat at home since March, stringing together an eight-game unbeaten streak at their ground.
Atlético though, as we all know, have a pair of remarkable streaks of their own: 19 straight matches without a loss and 9 wins on the trot.
Colchonero goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who has had the least amount of work to do among his net-minding colleagues in Primera División–AS journalist Dani Hidalgo reported on Saturday that Atleti’s defence has given up the fewest shots in La Liga in 2012/13 thus far–feels his squad has earned the admiration of their peers.
“Atlético are always a big team and many sides have a lot of respect for us, but maybe now they have more respect and more fear of us because we’ve won matches,” Thibaut said in a pre-game press conference.
“Opponents change their game-plan against us, they stay further back and we have to go further up the field to win games.”
The Belgian will feature between the sticks off the back of two impressive shut-outs with his national team, tallying 12 saves over the recent FIFA break.
“I’ve just had two good games with my country, with two wins and zero goals conceded,” he said.
“Since the game against Valladolid, which I played well, but made a mistake in, I’ve had good games. I want to be important for this team and I feel like I’m in good form.”
With regard to the team’s top scorer Radamel Falcao, whose name is to blame for the current European ink crisis, the 20-year old said: “He’s very strong, scoring a lot of goals and it’s better that he’s on my team. We hope he’ll keep scoring.”
Falcao has scored 47 goals in 57 games at Atleti, and if ‘El Tigre’ repeats his performance from last season’s visit to Anoeta, he will take his total up to 50.
La Real boss Philippe Montanier warned that while “Falcao is one of the best strikers in the world”, “Atlético aren’t only about Falcao”.
The French tactician continued: “We have to perform almost perfectly against Atlético. They are one of the best teams in Europe and perhaps the most in form club in Europe at the moment.”
Montanier added words of praise for Atleti coach Diego Simeone, saying the Argentine “has transformed the team incredibly and is doing an exceptional job”.
‘El Cholo’ will have to make do without our Turkish wonder Arda, who is dealing with a right ankle sprain and will miss this, along with possibly our next two matches.
Joel, Domingo Cisma and Jorge Pulido were left off the match selection through tactical decision while Kader was included and will make the trip north.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Asenjo, Courtois
Defenders: Godín, Filipe Luis, Sìlvio, Cata Díaz, Juanfran, Miranda
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Tiago, Koke, Raúl García, Cebolla, Gabi, Emre, Kader
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao, Diego Costa
Real Sociedad match selection: TBA
Referee: Miguel Ángel Ayza Gámez