Atlético are preparing for their fifth Champions League match of the season, away to Zenit St. Petersburg on Tuesday.
The club are already safe in the knowledge that their place in the knock-out stages is assured.
Parallel to their league form, the Rojiblancos have blitzed the competition so far in Europe, so much so that they can afford to send a significantly weakened squad to Russia for their penultimate group stage encounter.
Kick-off in the Petrovsky is set for the early time of 18:00 CET.
Three weeks ago, after Zenit and Porto played out a 1-1 draw, Atleti had the chance to become the first group winners of this year’s tournament, and did so in style–thrashing Austria Vienna 4-0 in the Spanish capital.
Now, with two games remaining and nothing to play for (other than keeping form going), some of the fringe players will get a chance to prove their worth on the big stage.
Simeone has allowed the likes of David Villa, Diego Costa, Tiago, Filipe Luís, Diego Godín and Arda Turan a deserved rest for the trip, meaning they should be fighting fit and raring to go when we visit Elche at the weekend.
Mario Suárez misses out once again through injury, although there is a welcome return for Léo Baptistão. Cristian Rodríguez has also jetted in to join the squad following the birth of a baby girl.
Teenage defenders Javi Manquillo and José María Giménez come in and could be in line for a starting role in St Petersburg, with fellow youngsters Lucas Hernández, Momar Ndoye and Alex Díaz drafted in to make up the numbers.
On Saturday, Cholo’s men hit local rivals Getafe for seven, but the Argentine boss refused to get carried away and insisted that his only focus at the moment is the game on Tuesday. We expected nothing less.
“My only focus is the match against Zenit,” he told press. “I expect a difficult game for both teams.”
The 43 year-old addressed questions about his team selection as well as the sub-zero temperature his team will have to play in, not seeming particularly concerned by either.
“It does not matter if we have gone through or not, nor the way we’ve played before,” he said. “We always believe in playing the best team that can compete. I remember back in the Europa League in Israel giving a chance to one Diego Costa. Now we see what a player he is.”
“How will we deal with the cold temperatures? We will have to run, that is the best way not to feel the cold.”
Zenit currently sit narrowly top of the Russian league, leading Lokomotiv Moscow on the virtue of having scored more goals. However, they have not been in form lately, and are on a run of five winless matches going into the clash.
However, they still have a very good chance of qualifying should they win, so should be extra motivated. A late Kerzhakov header last month saw them beat nearest challengers FC Porto, meaning it is they who have the head-to-head advantage.
Manager Luciano Spalletti confirmed in his pre-match press conference that they will be without top scorer Danny, as well as Argentine defender Cristian Ansaldi. There are also doubts surrounding fellow full-back Aleksandr Anyukov and goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev.
“We have a lot of important absences, Atlético have left important players in Madrid but our situation is comparable, I don’t see any advantage.” said Spalletti.
“We’re going to use four defenders, we’re not going to use five defenders simply because we don’t have five defenders available for the match.”
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Aranzubia
Defenders: Alderweireld, Manquillo, Giménez, Juanfran, Insúa, Miranda, Lucas
Midfielders: Koke, Raúl García, Cristian Rodríguez, Gabi, Guilavogui, Óliver, Alex Díaz
Forwards: Adrián, Léo Baptistão, Ndoye