Atlético receive Barcelona on Sunday for a clash of little significance to the madrileños. Kick-off will be at 19:00 CET.
Having secured third place in La Liga on Wednesday, the Rojiblancos have little to play for but their pride in their remaining three games, since second-placed Madrid hold a virtually unassailable eight-point advantage in the standings.
However, the two rivals will meet in the final of the Copa del Rey next Friday. With that season-defining confrontation approaching, Colchonero fans have been debating whether manager Diego Simeone should rest some of his players on Sunday.
Meanwhile, first-placed Barcelona could celebrate their twenty-second La Liga title with a victory at the Vicente Calderón. While their fortunes in other competitions have been mixed, the Blaugranas have consistently performed well in La Liga, occupying first place without a break from day one.
The prospective champions boast an excellent record against the Atlético in recent years, having won their last five encounters with them, including an emphatic 4-1 victory earlier this season.
Falcao was the lone Rojiblanco goalscorer on that occasion, putting his team in the lead with a left-footed chip after a scorching run that sent fans into short-lived ecstasy; Barça quickly equalized and scored three more goals to inflict a heavy defeat upon Atlético.
After training on Friday, midfielder Koke gave his view on Sunday’s clash. “We will play the game and intend to win. Afterwards we’ll see if they win La Liga,” he said. “If they’re champions earlier, we will perform a guard of honour, the way it happened in the past to us.”
Simeone praised his upcoming opposition in his press conference on Saturday: “They’re a formidable team, probably the best in recent years. They’ll go down in history for everything they’ve done recently.”
He continued: “If you want to be competitive, what’s better than to play against them?” In this spirit, the Atleti boss promised to “play with a competitive team,” because “there is no better preparation for a final than to face the best of the world.”
Though Cholo refused to give the names of his starting players against Barça, left-back Insúa announced on his official website that he would replace Filipe.
Simeone has selected a near-full strength squad for Sunday. The only absentee is midfielder Mario, who’s experiencing discomfort after suffering a blow to his back on Wednesday. Tiago is likely to replace the Spaniard in the starting eleven.
Barcelona have three absentees, first and third goalkeepers Víctor Váldes and Oier Olazábal, and defender Éric Abidal. All three won’t feature on Sunday due to injury.
Defender Javier Mascherano has recovered from a knee injury and is participating in full training again, while Lionel Messi is said to be back to full fitness after struggling in recent weeks.
Speaking on Saturday, Blaugrana boss Tito Vilanova was wary of his opponent: “I know they’ll want to beat us. It’s always an added motivation to be playing Barça.”
He continued: “Atlético have the cup final to think about, but they have a big enough squad to be able to cope well enough with this match too. They’ve only let in ten goals at home and are having an excellent season.”
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Asenjo
Defenders: Godín, Filipe, Cata, Juanfran, Insúa, Miranda
Midfielders: Tiago, Koke, Raúl García, Arda, Cebolla, Gabi, Óliver
Forwards: Adrián, Falcao, Costa
Barcelona match selection:
Goalkeepers: Pinto, Masip
Defenders: Alves, Piqué, Bartra, Alba, Adriano, Montoya
Midfielders: Cesc, Xavi, Iniesta, Thiago, Dos Santos, Busquets, Song
Forwards: Villa, Alexis, Messi, Pedro, Tello
Referee: Pedro Jesús Pérez Montero