Atlético Madrid will be looking to make history against Académica de Coimbra on Thursday night, in a Europa League game that manager Diego Simeone will again use to give a rest to some of the team’s bigger names.
If we avoid defeat against the Portuguese side, our unbeaten run will stretch to an astounding 21 matches, a feat that we have never matched before in our history. We can also make it 16 wins in a row in Europe, and 11 in all competitions.
Kick-off in the Vicente Calderón will be 21:05 CET.
Late on Sunday evening, we saw Radamel Falcao curl in a 90th minute free-kick winner to maintain our position as co-leaders of La Liga, but he is one of six players who will get the night off tomorrow.
The Colombian is still yet to make his season debut in the competition he has ripped to shreds in the last two years, as Atleti’s fringe players have proved themselves to be more than capable in the games played so far.
He along with Arda Turan, still recovering from a knock, centre-back pairing Diego Godín and Miranda, and Spanish duo Juanfran and Mario Suárez will all watch from the stands, as we take on – with all due respect – one of the lesser sides in the competition.
Académica finished 12th in the Portuguese league last year, just five points clear of the relegation zone, making it into Europe on virtue of a cup win. At the moment they are mid-table, with just one domestic win to their name so far.
However, they won’t be taken lightly, as Cholo highlighted in his press conference on Wednesday morning.
“Winning tomorrow would be a major step,” said the Argentine. “We want to win the group and a good result would direct us towards it, so we must live up to expectations.”
On the subject of the opposition, Simeone as always made it clear that he had done his homework, and warned his side not to become complacent against Os Estudantes (the students).
“Académica are a competitive team, they play very vertically and make good use of the wings to help support their striker, Cissé,” he said.
Despite his caution though, three youngsters have been drafted into the squad in the absence of those rested: Kader Oueslati, Pedro Martín and Saúl Ñíguez all received call-ups.
Jorge Pulido, Domingo Cisma and Sílvio also return to the squad, but Joel Robles, like youngster Óliver Torres, is ineligible.
Simeone’s opposite number in the dugout on Thursday is a familiar face to a few of our players, Académica’s Pedro Emanuel, a former assistant at Porto who won the treble in 2011 with Falcao and Cristian Rodríguez.
The 37-year-old has also played many times in Portugal against Tiago, who spoke in glowing terms regarding his former rival when addressing the media.
“We played together, I remember a Portuguese Cup final.” he said. “He was a great player who has won many titles with Porto. As a coach he is doing very well, he is a great person.”
The former Benfica and Braga midfielder will be hoping to line-up against his compatriots, and echoed his manager’s words on Atleti’s chances.
“We are favourites but no game is won without playing, so we’ll have to prove we are stronger on Thursday and play better.”
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Asenjo, Courtois
Defenders: Filipe, Pulido, Cisma, Sílvio, Cata Díaz, Kader
Midfielders: Tiago, Koke, Raúl García, Cristian Rodríguez, Gabi, Emre, Saúl
Forwards: Adrián, Diego Costa, Pedro
Académica match selection:
Goalkeepers: Ricardo, Fábio Santos
Defenders: João Dias, Junior Lopes, Halliche, Rodrigo Galo, Nivaldo
Midfielders: Flávio, Keita, Makelele, Bruno China, Cleyton, John Ogu
Forwards: Marinho, N’Gal, Wilson Eduardo, Edinho, Afonso, Cissé
Referee: Bobby Madden (Scotland)