On Sunday, Atlético will visit cross-town outfit Rayo Vallecano, with whom los Colchoneros have a very neighourbly relationship with.
It’s hard to call the Community of Madrid-based sides rivals, as the two have conducted quite a bit of business of mutual benefit with each other in recent times.
Nonetheless, that didn’t prevent the State Commission against Violence, Racism, Xenophobia and Intolerance in Sport to declare the match, which gets underway at 21:00 CET at the Estadio de Vallecas, a “High Risk” one given that a large number of fans from both teams are expected to be in attendance for the clash.
Imagine how they would have categorised the encounter if Diego Costa was available to take part in it.
With the exception of the ‘Beast of the Manzanares’, suspended after being shown his fifth yellow last weekend, Atleti boss Diego Simeone has all his men at his disposal as the Rojiblancos seek to end their 10-game winless streak on the road in all competitions.
All eight Colchonero internationals returned unscathed from their respective national team duties over the midweek FIFA break, and lone winter transfer window signing Emiliano Insúa has recovered from a minor muscle injury–though he was not included in Simeone’s list for this game.
“We know it’s going to be a difficult match,” midfielder Koke said in a press conference held on Friday.
“Rayo are playing some great games at their stadium. It’s a tiny field and it’s tough, but we’re going to work hard to try to take home the three points.”
With regard to his teammate Costa, the 20-year-old said: “He’s a great footballer. He has a lot of character and he shows it on the field. He goes out to play and do his job. What happens on the pitch, stays on the pitch.”
Since being called-up by Vicente del Bosque, Mario Suárez has apparently restaked a claim to a starting job at Atleti after having lost his place to Tiago.
“Mario is happy,” Koke said of his fellow youth academy buddy, who debuted with Spain’s senior side last Wednesday.
“So are Miranda and Filipe, who have returned from their national team. Playing with your Selección is always nice, and they are all happy.”
In addition to Costa and Insúa, Jorge Pulido will also watch from home, the central defender being left off the match selection through tactical decision.
Óliver Torres was tapped by ‘El Cholo’ for this bout, but it remains to be seen if the gifted youngster’s call-up will just be another tease for our cantera enthusiasts, or if he’ll actually be handed some minutes this time.
The 18-year-old midfielder has only participated in one game, a 26-minute stint in our first match of the season away at Levante.
Rayo boss Paco Jémez, whose club have held their own in the present campaign after narrowly avoiding relegation on the last match day of the previous term, lauded his team’s upcoming opponents.
“If Atleti are [in second place] it’s because they are doing things well,” he said.
“We are going to face off against a very tough team. It motivates us to take on one of the best teams in Europe. We’ll try to have our people go home happy.
“To be in second place, you have to have a lot of virtues. They don’t give you anything for free and press very well in their half and are very intense.”
Jémez then reminisced about his days as a Rayo defender, recalling a time he defeated Atleti.
“I did beat Atlético as a Rayo player,” he said. “I have some very good memories of that game. I have great memories of having man-marked Futre and of defeating that Atleti in Vallecas.”
Rumoured future Rojiblanco Leo Baptistão is expected to make his return from injury lay-off, and could feature in the fold for the Franjirrojos.
“Leo is ready to contribute from the start,” Jémez said.
“He has to keep calm about all kinds of rumours that come out during these days.”
Striker Piti is also back for Rayo, while Tito, Rodri and Mikel Labaka are out.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Sergio Asenjo, Courtois
Defenders: Godín, Filipe Luis, Cisma, Cata Díaz, Juanfran, Miranda,
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Tiago, Koke, Raúl García, Arda Turan, Cristian Rodríguez, Gabi, Óliver Torres
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao
Rayo match selection: TBA
Referee: Javier Estrada Fernández