It’s becoming somewhat familiar for Atlético fans. The dream of more silverware is on yet again, and on Thursday, Diego Simeone’s team can book their place in the Copa del Rey semi-finals if they avoid disaster at Real Betis.
With a 2-0 advantage from the first leg, the Rojiblancos travel south as strong favourites, but will be presented a tough challenge from one of Spain’s most dangerous attacking sides and one they will need to be alert for in order to overcome.
Kick-off in the Benito Villamarín is 20:00 CET.
Of course, the main news heading into this game is that Radamel Falcao misses out, and is looking at up to three weeks on the sidelines following injury in Sunday’s win against Levante.
The Colombian hitman did not find the net before limping off in that game, but opened the scoring in our first leg win against tomorrow’s opponents. Filipe Luís was also on target, ensuring a commanding lead going into the second leg.
It’s the work of the defence that has been the centre of attention this week, with our 10 successive home clean sheets a club record.
Filipe also earned a well-deserved recall to the Brazilian national team along with Miranda, and, as I’m sure you have all seen, Thibauting, in tribute to our Belgian goalkeeper, has gone viral thanks to one of our very own.
Also, teenage defender Javi Manquillo received tonnes of plaudits after making his full La Liga debut in the Levante game, putting in a solid performance and even claiming an assist in Juanfran‘s absence.
The regular incumbent of our right-back position remains on the sidelines, so Manquillo will most likely get another chance to shine against Betis.
Arda should return to the line-up, and with Falcao out, Diego Costa is expected to come back in with either Adrián or Raúl García moving to the bench.
Simeone has named every available first team player for the trip, so Jorge Pulido and Domingo Cisma will also get a rare chance to experience matchday.
When speaking earlier, Cholo highlighted the importance of giving full importance to the game despite our advantage, and made it clear that there is no room for complacency amongst the players.
“We expect a difficult game against an opponent who play well and, above all, are very dynamic in attack,” he stated. “The Betis fans always support their team, so we must be strong and committed, and show the identity of our team.”
If Atleti can get an away goal then the home side would need to score four to make it through, but the absence of Falcao will make things tougher. The Argentine boss also addressed those concerns in his press conference.
“Radamel is a very important part of our system, but we have Adrian, Diego Costa and Raul García who can all provide good cover in attack. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll prove that we can maintain the same level without Falcao.”
With Sevilla awaiting the winner of the tie in the semi-final, motivation is still sky-high for Betis with a derby in prospect should they overturn the deficit. They remain fourth in La Liga and have everything to play for, and will most likely come out all guns blazing on Thursday.
Manager Pepe Mel recognised the difficulty of the task facing his team, but remained optimistic of causing an upset.
We always try to make the best outcome possible, and as hard as it is, we cannot ignore the possibility of scoring three goals against Atlético,” he said.
The verdiblancos will be without Eder Vilarchao and Mario, whereas Salva Sevilla, Cañas and Paulão are all doubtful. Mel also took the chance to lament his team’s mounting fitness problems.
“We’re not having much luck and things are getting worse as the weeks pass, but we’ll try and cope with what we have. Our aim is to entertain the fans and make them proud of their team.” he underlined.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Asenjo, Courtois
Defenders: Godín, Filipe Luis, Pulido, Cisma, Cata Díaz, Miranda, Manquillo
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Tiago, Koke, Raúl García, Arda Turan, Cristian Rodríguez, Gabi, Emre
Forwards: Adrián, Diego Costa