Match preview: Atlético vs. Real Zaragoza
Atlético return to the Vicente Calderón for a trio of home games that get off to a start on Sunday when they host Real Zaragoza in La Liga.
The action gets underway at 19:00 CET.
Los Rojiblancos will want to make a strong statement ahead of Betis’ Copa del Rey quarter-final first leg visit to Madrid on Thursday and next weekend’s clash against Levante at the Calderón, the latter of which marks the opening of the second half of the season.
Following consecutive ties away from their stronghold at Mallorca and Getafe, Atleti will be eager to secure their first victory in 2013 and extend their club record win streak at home, which currently stands at 15 games in all competitions.
Diego Simeone’s men are coming off the back of having dispatched Getafe in the Copa del Rey Round of 16, but they did so in uninspiring fashion with a 0-0 draw at the midweek.
This clash versus Zaragoza is the last of one of los Colchoneros’ best first halves in their history, but ‘El Cholo’ wisely pointed out that his hombres haven’t accomplished anything yet.
“The players have worked very hard to complete a good first half,” he said.
“That doesn’t take away from what is to come, because seasons are evaluated based on how they finish. We’re only halfway through the competition.”
Mr. Cholo, the badass that he is and we all love, then spoke about his hopes for Atleti’s future as a club.
“The team is working well to this day,” he said. “We hope to be able to continue growing and improving to get the best performances out of everyone.”
He continued: “I’d love for Atlético Madrid to not be a trampoline team, and that it could find stability and be competitive. To achieve that, we have to win games, which gives you better financial possibilities.
“The responsibility lies with everyone: the club, the coaching staff and the players.”
While Tiago trained apart from the group throughout the week with a sore Achilles tendon and Adrián missed out from recent practices with a stomach ailment, Simeone enlisted all 20 of his men for this match.
Zaragoza are a side that, curiously, have performed better away from home this season, though only marginally so. They have won four league matches on the road as opposed to just three at La Romareda in the present campaign.
Boss Manolo Jímenez, a former team-mate of Simeone’s for whom Cholo had praise for on Saturday, miraculously rescued los Maños from the relegation spots when he took over for Javier Aguirre a little over a year ago.
Jímenez has led his men to a better-than-usual first half start this term.
Their 22-point haul leaves them with a somewhat thin cushion keeping them comfortable enough for now, as they are seven points clear of the drop zone.
Though they fell to Betis at home in league play in the previous matchweek, Zaragoza qualified to the Copa del Rey quarters with a 2-0 defeat of Levante (3-0 aggregate) at their stadium.
Los Maños’ last two exits in La Liga have resulted in victories, over Rayo Vallecano and Athletic Bilbao.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Sergio Asenjo, Courtois
Defenders: Godín, Filipe Luís, Pulido, Cisma, Cata Díaz, Juanfran, Miranda
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Tiago, Koke, Raúl García, Arda Turan, Cristian Rodríguez, Gabi, Emre
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao, Diego Costa
Real Zaragoza match selection:
Goalkeepers: Roberto, Leo Franco
Defenders: Paredes, Lanzaro, Loovens, Sapunaru, Abraham
Midfielders: Edu Oriol, Apoño, Montañés, José Mari, Wílchez, Zuculini, Pintér, Tarsi, Víctor Rodríguez
Forwards: Postiga, Javi Álamo
Referee: José Luis González González