Competing in finals is becoming the norm for Atlético Madrid. The red and whites have played in no fewer than six over the last few years, and the familiar feeling will resurface on Wednesday as they prepare for the first leg of this year’s Spanish Super Cup.
They are also no strangers to having the odds stacked against them. After doing the hard work in May’s historic cup triumph over Real Madrid, champions Barcelona now lie in wait, and travel to the capital on the back of a rampant 7-0 win on Sunday.
Kick-off in the Vicente Calderón will again be the late time of 23:00 CET.
Atleti began their season at the weekend in similar fashion to how they ended the last, Diego Costa inspiring a late 3-1 win at Sevilla with two very well taken goals.
However, most of the preparation over the summer has been geared towards the Super Cup, and Diego Simeone will not let the chance of winning more silverware go without a fight.
Cholo is the only manager to survive from last season’s top six in La Liga, and will be met with a new face in compatriot Gerardo Martino on Wednesday, after illness forced Tito Vilanova to step down.
The former Newell’s Old Boys boss will look to build on Barcelona’s opening day demolition of Levante with an inaugural title in charge at the Camp Nou.
We could also see the full debut of Neymar in Wednesday’s first leg, with the Brazilian only starting on the bench on the weekend.
For the home side, everyone is available now that Tiago has returned from the suspension that saw him miss the trip to the Sánchez Pizjuán, meaning four players will ultimately have to be cut from the matchday squad.
Simeone commented little on team news during his pre-match press conference, although it is not anticipated that he will make any changes. He did appear to be in a buoyant mood despite recognising the sizeable challenge his team face.
“We will go into the game all guns blazing, with a lot of illusion,” he said. “It is always a great pleasure to play against Barcelona, but we have confidence in ourselves.”
“Two-legged ties are different to the normal match, 180 minutes is a lot and we need to seize the chances that we get in order to take advantage.”
As always, the Argentine technician had great respect for his opponent, in particular, Tata Martino, whom he faces for the first time in the dugout, despite many clashes on the pitch.
“Tata was extraordinary, had an incredible vision of the game. As a coach he’s done very well, with people working around him and working well as a group.”
“Barcelona are the best team in the world, they are the favourites due to their economic power and the ability to build a team that, in recent years, has pleased so many people.”
The 43-year-old hasn’t had much luck against Barça in his managerial career, though, losing three out of three against them so far. Late goals have seen the Blaugrana take maximum points in their last two visits to the Calderón, although were fortunate on both occasions.
New striker David Villa came off the bench for them in the last meeting, before making the move to Atlético over the summer as a replacement for the outgoing Radamel Falcao.
El Guaje spoke to the press on Monday following his debut in Seville, and showed no suggestions that he was going to hold back against his old club.
“I have very good friends there, but when you start the game, for them and for us, it will be the same as always,” he insisted. “If I score, of course I will celebrate. With a degree of respect, less cheerful, but you always celebrate.
“Above all I have really wanted to make my debut in the Calderón, even more so against Barcelona.”
On the other side, Martino highlighted the danger that Atleti possess, and also paid tribute to Villa, who departed shortly before he was appointed.
“Atlético are very intense, without the ball they are very comfortable but attack with pace and commitment,” he said. “In Villa they have a great goalscorer and a player I would have liked to have coached. You always want to coach great players.”
Like his opposite number, Tata also remained coy on his team selection, choosing not to disclose the list of players travelling to Madrid. Carles Puyol, Ibrahim Afellay and Isaac Cuenca are definitely out though, all currently suffering from injury.
After the match, the Rojiblancos will get straight to work in order to ready themselves for Sunday’s league visit of Rayo Vallecano, before making the long trip north for the return leg in the Camp Nou next Wednesday.