With the derby looming, Atlético have an equally important trip to Sevilla to deal with first, as Unai Emery’s side look to get revenge for their cup exit at the hands of the Rojiblancos back in February.
Real Madrid moved five points ahead of us on Saturday with victory over Betis, so Simeone and his team will need to do the same if they are to overtake them next weekend.
Kick-off in the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán is set for 21:00 CET.
After a run of just one win in six matches, Atleti returned to winning ways in style last Sunday with a 5-0 demolition of Granada, but need to address their away form heading into this crucial last stage of the season.
The league is long gone, but there is still the matter of who finishes second, and splitting the monopoly at the top would be a great sign for La Liga as a whole.
However, we will be without two of our regular starters in Arda and Tiago still, despite the latter’s return to full training. Fingers crossed they will both be ready to go in a week’s time.
Mario Suárez does return to the squad though, replacing Javi Manquillo in what is the only change made by Simeone.
As mentioned above, our last visit to the Sánchez Pizjuán was particularly memorable as we sealed our place in this year’s Copa del Rey final, but otherwise our record there is pretty rotten with just 1 win in 17.
Sevilla are strong at home too, having won every league game under Emery so far in front of their own fans.
That will not discourage El Cholo though, who, as always, had confidence in his team when speaking to the press, paying respect to his former club at the same time.
“Sevilla are a tough opponent, ready and eager,” he said. “Whenever we play there, and in my time as a player, the atmosphere is amazing whoever they’re playing against.”
“They are a team who create a lot of chances per game because they have great players in attack. Navas is dominant, Negredo is a decisive player in the area and they have Rakitic who comes from deep as well.”
The Argentine coach also commented on his team selection, and whether he would consider resting Diego Costa or Koke, both a booking away from a suspension and at risk to miss the derby.
“I always feel it’s a lack of respect to the opponent to say that there is a game more important than another, and therefore I always look to the current game which is Sevilla,” he insisted.
Reports suggest he will go with the same XI that swept aside Granada, which would mean Koke partnering Gabi in midfield and starts for Raúl García and Cebolla Rodríguez.
Debuting in that win was Emiliano Insúa, and although the 24 year-old left-back will most likely start again as a substitute, he showed great promise in his brief cameo appearance. He spoke to the press on Friday.
“We expect a fierce and very competitive Sevilla,” he stated. “For now this is our focus and we have to get the three points and go game by game. Qualifying for the Champions League is not mathematically secure yet.”
Our opponents, on the other hand, can move up into the final Europa League spot should they get the win. The Andalusians will be without the influential Gary Medel in midfield, who saw red in their chaotic 3-3 derby draw at Betis last Friday.
Federico Fazio is also suspended, although Fernando Navarro returns after serving a ban of his own. Javi Hervás and Miroslav Stevanović have also been added to the squad.
Despite having probably suffered nightmares of Atlético’s cup wins over his sides down the years, manager Unai Emery also appeared optimistic, and challenged his team to take the initiative and secure a return to Europe next season.
“This is a huge game for us because it’s at home, where we have been building the foundations of our possibilities,” he told reporters. “On Sunday we need to build on those foundations to give ourselves a strong chance of achieving our goals.”
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Asenjo, Courtois
Defenders: Godín, Filipe Luís, Cata Díaz, Juanfran, Insúa, Miranda
Midfielders: Mario, Koke, Raúl García, Cristian Rodríguez, Gabi, Saúl, Óliver
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao, Diego Costa