After suffering defeat at the hands of Valencia on Saturday, Diego Simeone will be trying to get Atlético back on the winning trail in Thursday’s Europa League visit to Académica.
The Rojiblancos need just a point to ensure qualification to the knockout stages, but will want to keep up their excellent continental run that currently stands at 16 consecutive wins.
Kick-off in Coimbra is at the earlier time of 19:00 CET.
Joint-top of La Liga, 13 victories in succession and a 23-match unbeaten run was the pedigree Atleti brought into the Mestalla last weekend, but saw their best run of all-time come to an abrupt end with a disappointing 2-0 defeat.
However, spirit in the camp is still positive, and as ‘Cholo’ made clear recently, one poor result will not be enough to put a stop to his team’s excellent form this season.
Having made the short trip across the border to Portugal, los Colchoneros are now focused on beginning what they hope will be another impenetrable run, with the Argentine tactician again opting to ring the changes and keep his squad on their toes.
Staying in Madrid this week are Arda Turan, Diego Godín, Miranda, Juanfran, Gabi, Cristian Rodríguez and star man Radamel Falcao, who may still be feeling the affects of a head injury sustained in Saturday’s game.
Brazilian forward Diego Costa, a goalscorer in our 2-1 win in the reverse fixture a fortnight ago, is also unavailable because of injury, so it is likely that we’ll see either Adrián or even Raúl García in the forward position.
Another option up top could be B-team striker Pedro Martín, who is one of five canteranos who made the travelling party. Saúl Ñíguez, who scored twice at the weekend, Kader Oueslati, Momar Ndoye and Javier Manquillo are also in contention.
Third choice ‘keeper Joel Robles is of course unregistered for UEFA competition and cannot play, with the same going to Óliver Torres, who came on as a substitute against Jaén last week.
Some would deem it a slight risk from Simeone not to call on our big names in a game that we could do with winning, but as reported by Mundo Deportivo on Tuesday, Académica are likely to be weakened by an injury crisis that has left 9 players sidelined.
Cholo also took the opportunity to defend his decision when speaking before this evening’s training session, giving a vote of confidence to some of the fringe players and youngsters.
“We have come to win,” he stressed. “There are guys in the cantera who are working very well and are close to the first team. They know our dynamics and I hope to give them minutes.”
“Académica are a strong team and we expect a tough game. They play a very direct style and showed in the last fifteen minutes of the game at the Calderón their danger. We are prepared.”
On the subject of who will play in attack, the 42 year-old didn’t give too much away, suggesting it may not be Adrián who gets the nod.
“Adrián can play in a variety of positions, but he is not a goalscorer,” he said. “Hopefully soon he’ll begin adding more goals, as he is happy and getting better each day.”
As mentioned above, the hosts come into the game with a number of absentees, and with just one point in the Europa League so far and a trip to champions Porto coming up at the weekend, may not be at full strength on Thursday either.
Despite winning the Portuguese cup last term, defeat at home to newly promoted Estoril on Sunday has cranked up the pressure on manager Pedro Emanuel, who’s side have won just one of 8 league games so far.
“We know Atlético won’t relax, they are very close to qualification so we don’t expect them to facilitate us,” he said earlier in the week. “They are a team of high quality and will be competitive, even when using different faces to those in the league.”
After the game, Atleti will return to Madrid and begin preparation for Sunday’s visit of Getafe, where we we’ll be looking to get our domestic campaign back to winning ways.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Asenjo, Courtois
Defenders: Filipe, Pulido, Cisma, Sílvio, Cata Díaz, Manquillo
Midfielders: Mario, Tiago, Koke, Raúl García, Emre, Saúl, Kader
Forwards: Adrián, Pedro, Ndoye
Académica match selection:
Goalkeepers: Peiser, Ricardo, Fábio Santos
Defenders: João Dias, João Real, Nivaldo, Ferreira
Midfielders: Flávio, Keita, Makelele, Bruno China, Cleyton, John Ogu
Forwards: Marinho, Wilson Eduardo, Edinho, Afonso, Cissé
Referee: Lee Probert (England)