On Saturday, high-flying Atlético will look to prove that their almost perfect start to the 2012/13 campaign is no fluke when they head out to the Mestalla to take on their hosts Valencia.
The battle between the long-standing direct rivals begins at 22:00 CET.
Coming into the weekend on the back of their 13th win in a row following a midweek triump in their Copa del Rey opener, Atleti currently hold an unthinkable 14-point advantage over Los Che, who have claimed third-place the past three seasons.
It is the Valencian outfit’s reputation as the perennial champions of what is informally known as La ‘Otra’ Liga, the ‘other’ league, that has reporters billing this match as Atlético’s hardest test so far, a designation Rojiblanco boss Diego Simeone shot down in a press conference on Friday.
“You have forgotten about Chelsea and Málaga,” the Argentine tactician said.
“We’re going to face off against a great, needy opponent with obligations because of history, because of how they’ve performed in recent years, because of their coach and because of the capacity of their players.”
‘El Cholo’ then harked back to our last venture into the Valencianistas’ stadium, the second leg of last season’s Europa League semi-final, an encounter we ended up winning 1-0.
“We had a hard time in the first half of that game and we have to be prepared for that situation because this match will be similar.”
Finally, Simeone addressed a pair of rampantly circulating rumours with regard to the futures of star striker Radamel Falcao and of former Atleti midfielder Diego at the club.
“I don’t see Falcao leaving in December,” he declared, before adding that ‘El Tigre’ “is an extraordinary and very professional player”.
The Colombian can take his personal scoring streak to 12 straight appearances if he bags a goal against Valencia.
Cholo then dispelled the claims suggesting he is demanding the purchase of Wolfsburg midfielder Diego.
“We’re not thinking about Diego Ribas,” he stated. “I read the news today and it surprised me.”
He continued: “We know that Diego is a great player, who did very well here, but he’s on another team right now and I have nothing to comment on.”
Diego Costa, suffering from “phlebitis” — the club’s official website reports — will not be taking the high-speed train to Valencia.
Cristian ‘Cebolla’ Rodríguez, who got his ‘Onion’ nickname for once “having made the opposing defence cry”, just about had Colchonero fans shedding tears late into Wednesday’s Copa del Rey bout when he was the victim of a ghastly challenge by a Real Jaén player.
TV footage caught the chilling moment when blood began to gush out of a deep wound in the Uruguayan’s thigh that required a stitch afterwards.
The gash didn’t prevent the hard-as-nails former Porto man from appearing in the match selection though.
Valencia manager Mauricio Pellegrino, who replaced Unai Emery over the summer, has failed to live up to the standard set by his predecessor.
Los Che presently find themselves in a ho-hum 11th-place position in the league table as they have only managed to bring home one point from their travels (one draw and four losses away from the Mestalla).
They were shut out 1-0 by Betis last Saturday in Sevilla.
However, it’s a different story when they play on their grounds. There, they remain unbeaten and have put together three wins on the trot.
Valencia hitman Roberto Soldado’s domestic campaign is sputtering a bit, as ‘Bobby Soldier’ only has three league goals so far this term, all scored at Mestalla.
Pellegrino doled out some praise for Atleti in his pre-game press conference.
“They are on a very good run and it is not by chance,” he was quoted as saying by ESPN Soccernet.
“It is the fruit of the work of a team and not of just one player. They will be a very strong opponent and a great test for us.”
Attacking midfielder Sofiane Feghouli is back for Valencia after serving a harsh three-game suspension meted out for his mocking applause of referee Pérez Montero a little over a month ago.
Pablo Piatti, Jeremy Mathieu and Sergio Canales are all sidelined with injuries.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Asenjo, Courtois
Defenders: Godín, Filipe Luis, Sílvio, Cata Díaz, Juanfran, Miranda
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Tiago, Koke, Raúl García, Arda, Cristian Rodríguez, Gabi, Emre
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao
Valencia match selection: TBA
Referee: Fernando Teixeira Vitienes