Atlético hit the road again to face fourth in La Liga Villarreal, back from relegation just one year later and looking as lean and mean as in the old days when they gained the ‘Yellow Submarine’ nickname.
Kick-off at El Madrigal is set for 19:00 CET on Sunday.
For those of us who have lived a relegation, the team that sends you down for good takes all the blame in a supporter’s filled-with-grief view.
For Atleti, the blame will always be on Real Oviedo, the side against whom we certified a terrible season on the dark day of 5 May 1999. Should we blame Oviedo for being relegated? By all means no. Did they get the blame for sealing our fate? Of course they did. That sets the tone for the unfriendly environment we will find at the Madrigal.
The atmosphere between the Madrileños and the Yellow Submarine has never been even close to friendly.
Villarreal prevented Atlético from qualifying for UEFA (the current Europa League) twice (especially painful was the 2004 defeat in an Intertoto showdown at Vicente Calderón).
On the other hand, the Rojiblancos don’t have an outstanding record at the Castellón stadium. Quite the contrary, in fact.
Besides Falcao’s stinging goal that sent Villarreal to Segunda two seasons ago, there is only one other Colchonero victory recorded at El Madrigal (in 2007). A goal by the very notorious Fabiano Eller, scored while a Villarreal player was injured on the pitch that Atlético players ignored, gave us the win.
Ever since, Atlético have been labelled a sworn enemy of the Yellow Submarine for their lack of fair play, and on Sunday, a sweet welcome shouldn’t be expected.
The record against Villarreal is not a favourable one, but Diego Simeone has earned credit for overcoming negative statistics and beating the odds.
With Cristiano Ronaldo scoring a hat-trick, flu-stricken Diego Costa will probably knock in a couple of aspirins and press to stay in the fight for top scorer.
The upcoming World Cup intercontinental play-off has taken a big bite out of Atleti’s squad. The Jordan-Uruguay tie will see Godín, Giménez and Cebolla Rodríguez miss the match in what seems another unfortunate misplanning by FIFA and national leagues.
Filipe Luis will also serve the suspension produced by being sent off two match days ago. With the defence taking the biggest hit, Insúa, Alderweireld, Miranda and Juanfran should be our starting back line.
17-year-old defender Lucas Hernández has been added to the list to complete the bench. The youth academy member is the son of former Atlético and Rayo defender Hernández. ‘Cholo’ doesn’t seem too bothered by the missing starters or players in doubt, such as Arda Turan or Adrián. The Argentine gave a lesson of lemons and lemonade, stressing how well Toby and Insúa had been working all week.
“When we have required their participation, they have never let us down,” he said.
Hopefully, tomorrow things will remain the same.
For the home team, number four in La Liga and proving to be consistent, Giovani’s injury has been a huge hit on their offensive potential.
Sergio Asenjo, on loan but not banned from playing versus Atlético, will want to prove how wrong everyone at the Vicente Calderon has been not considering him starter material these last seasons.
Atleti need a win to keep the five point gap with Real Madrid and stay in the fight versus Barcelona for the leadership, while Villarreal are currently tied with Athletic and will be interested in gaining some breathing room in the struggle to remain in the top positions.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Bono
Defenders: Juanfran, Manquillo, Miranda, Lucas, Insúa, Alderweireld
Midfielders: Tiago, Gabi, Arda Turan, Óliver, Koke, Raúl García, Guilavogui
Forwards: Diego Costa, Adrián, Leo Baptistão, Villa.
Villarreal match selection:
Goalkeepers: Asenjo, Juan Carlos
Defenders: Mario, Pantic, Jokic, Jaume Costa, Musacchio, Gabriel
Midfielders: Bruno, Pina, Trigueros, Hernán Pérez, Aquino, Cani, Moi Gómez
Forwards: Uche, Perbet, Jonathan Pereira
Referee: Pedro Jesús Pérez Montero