Qualification to the last 32 of the Europa League can be sealed on Thursday night, as Atlético host the group’s bottom side Hapoel Tel-Aviv at the Vicente Calderón.
Despite defeat at Académica on the last matchday, Diego Simeone has again decided to rotate his squad for the visit of the Israeli outfit, with Sunday’s clash against Sevilla perhaps in mind.
Kick-off in the Spanish capital is set for 21:05 CET.
On Sunday, the red and whites secured a second successive win at Granada after our early November blip, and will be looking to continue building momentum ahead of some of the games we have coming up.
In September our fringe players put in a commanding performance away at Hapoel to win 3-0, and they will be looking to replicate that showing in front of the home fans tomorrow.
Only a win will 100% guarantee our place in the next round at this stage, and with Viktoria Plzeň level at the top of the group, anything other than victory against a side already eliminated from the competition will be seen as unacceptable.
As far as squad news goes, Radamel Falcao, Arda Turan, Gabi, Diego Godín, Juanfran and Filipe have all been given a rest, with Domingo Cisma, Sílvio and Jorge Pulido returning to the squad.
B-team players Saúl Ñíguez, who turns 18 today, Kader Oueslati and Pedro Martín are also called-up, as has been the case throughout the competition so far.
The defeat in Portugal two weeks ago has complicated things slightly as far as winning the group goes, but Cholo stressed in his press conference that his team will be fully motivated to put things right.
“We need to have a good game, stay top of the table and qualify as group leaders,” he told them. “The game against Hapoel has our full attention, as we want to be back in the Europa League in the new year.”
Simeone will also complete his 50th game in charge against the Red Demons on Thursday, but refused to give too much significance to individual statistics.
“Managers live for the next match. After the losses to Valencia and Académica we were not comfortable. We need to to focus, because, as I said long ago, these types of statistics are situations that you will leave behind.”
On the pitch, Cholo is likely to pair Adrián and Diego Costa in attack, with both playing for a starting role against Sevilla at the weekend.
Our Europa League regulars such as Sílvio, Cata Díaz, Emre, Cristian Rodríguez and Pulido will probably play too, and Mario Suárez is also expected to start given that he’ll be suspended on Sunday.
In addition to those, our designated goalkeeper for this competition, Sergio Asenjo, will also come in for Thibaut Courtois, and he spoke to the press about his role at the club earlier in the week.
“Last year I felt very good, it was a year of transition. Now I am happy to play in Europe and help the team, as it is an important step”, he said. “Nobody’s place is safe, and I hope Simeone will continue to be confident in me.”
As for the visitors, only pride is at stake following their premature exit in Plzeň a fortnight ago. They have also seen the departure of manager Nitzan Shirazi since our last meeting, now under the guidance of his assistant Yossi Abukasis.
Currently joint-top of their domestic league and in a race for the title, they are not expected to field their strongest team in the Calderón, with Walid Badir, Toto Tamuz and the suspended Eric Djemba-Djemba all left in Tel-Aviv for the match.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Asenjo, Courtois
Defenders: Pulido, Cisma, Sílvio, Cata Díaz, Miranda, Kader
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Tiago, Koke, Raúl García, Cristian Rodríguez, Emre, Saúl
Forwards: Adrián, Diego Costa, Pedro
Referee: Martin Hansson (Sweden)