After reaching the halfway point of the league season with a record-breaking amount of points, the business end is approaching for Atlético, with a crucial cup quarter-final on the horizon on Thursday.
High-flying Real Betis travel to the capital for tomorrow’s first leg clash, and will be looking for revenge following the Rojiblanco’s contentious league win over them back in September.
Kick-off in the Vicente Calderón is set for 22:00 CET.
The luck of the draw means Atleti avoid the other teams involved in Europe on the road to the final, but in Betis they face one of the most in form teams in Spain, who boast the second best away record in the league this season.
However, Diego Simeone’s team won for the 16th time in a row at home on Sunday, and, as stats back up, are Europe’s meanest outfit when playing in front of their own fans.
Both teams occupy Champions League spots as things stand, and with the red and whites having established a comfortable cushion, the suggestions are we may now give more attention to the cups and try and add further silverware to our growing recent haul.
Squad players and canteranos have been regular fixtures in the Europa League and Copa del Rey up until now, but Cholo has snubbed this approach for tomorrow’s clash, naming the strongest squad at his disposal.
There had been doubts over the fitness of star man Radamel Falcao after the Colombian reportedly suffered a knock at the weekend, but he’s recovered and is set to start. Elsewhere, there are no differences to the 18 that overcame Zaragoza a few days back.
Reports in the local press say we could see a few changes made to counter things and keep legs fresh, but as we’ve seen many times under Simeone, every player is counted on and can do a job if needed.
In his press conference, the Argentine boss spoke about the match and also his current situation with the club, also highlighting the great season our opponents are having.
“We will be facing an in-form team, which is clear due to the way they play, with a lot of fast players,” he said.
“Quick and technically very good. Betis have recovered from a blow after the derby against Sevilla, and that speaks highly of them. I see this one as 50-50. We are in the quarter finals of the Cup and the games start to be really exciting.”
As well as dispelling doubts over Falcao’s fitness, Simeone took some time to talk about the impending renewal of his contract, which Colchoneros all around the world are praying will be sorted out in the near future.
“I always look to the present and not the future,” he insisted. “Atleti is my home, I could’ve gone to [Real] Madrid, but thank God they signed Redondo instead and I took the best path, that of red and white.”
“I’ve been a player and a coach here, and hopefully we’ll all be able to continue and grow in the future.”
In the away camp, manager Pepe Mel has decided not to publicise his squad selection just yet for the trip to Madrid, but the likelihood is that he will also field a strong team and play up to the spectacle.
Beñat, Cañas and Salva Sevilla are all set to return in midfield after missing the weekend win against Levante, with former Atleti canteranos Rubén Pérez and Nono dropping out.
Back in September, Betis were mightily unlucky to lose 4-2 in the corresponding league fixture in Seville as a number of decisions went against them, although Mel insisted that he is not thinking about a repeat performance from the officials on this occasion.
“I worry about the opponent, who are a great team,” he said. “We cannot worry about the referee as we can do nothing, our aim is to win the match on the field.”
Revenge in the cup would be the perfect revenge for los Verdiblancos, with the winner of the tie drawn to play against Zaragoza or Sevilla, who drew the first leg 0-0 in the Romareda on Wednesday, in the semi-finals.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Sergio Asenjo, Courtois
Defenders: Godín, Filipe Luis, Cata Díaz, Juanfran, Miranda
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Tiago, Koke, Raúl García, Arda Turan, Cristian Rodríguez, Gabi, Emre
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao, Diego Costa