Atlético commence their Copa del Rey title defence this Saturday, with Barcelona-based outfit Sant Andreu the host for the incumbent champions’ opening game. Kick off is scheduled for 16:00 GMT.
Last season’s Copa del Rey final was the stage on which Atlético ended their Madrid curse, conquering their cross-town rivals at the Bernabéu to claim another trophy.
It was the Rojiblancos’ tenth triumph in the King’s Cup, their highest tally for a competition they’ve played in.
His men may be competing in the Champions League this year, and be level on points with Barça in La Liga, Diego Simeone stays true to his philosophy and refuses to let the Copa take a back seat.
“Since I started as the coach, we’ve had a clear idea of being competitive in everything we play: friendlies, the Copa, La Liga, the Supercopa. This is what we aspire to,” the Colchonero boss said on Friday.
He added: “Tomorrow, we meet opponents with a lot of excitement, enthusiasm, humility and eagerness to show everything they have. We have to show the same humility, commitment and intensity.”
Looking back on last year’s cup success, Cholo remarked that a final is “a special and unique game. At that time we played to win and live an unforgettable moment in the history of Atlético de Madrid.”
He continued: “It assured us that we were on the right track to continue growing. From there, we started the pre-season and we’ve continued to where we are now.”
Asked about the playing conditions at Sant Andreu’s ground—the Catalans play on artificial turf—the Argentine answered in a decided manner.
“Football is football. Whether there is wind, rain, mud, or an artificial pitch; it’s a part of the sport. Undesirable situations always occur, but they have to be resolved. There are no excuses.”
“The artificial turf is not natural. It has to be seen how fast the ball moves. The pitch is narrow and there will obviously be more interruptions and lots of players in small spaces.”
Sant Andreu have been in Spanish league football’s third tier since 2008. They reached the playoffs for promotion to the Segunda twice in recent years, but failed to progress on both occasions.
After succumbing to Atlético Baleares on Sunday, they sit in eleventh place in their regional Segunda B league, having collected only twenty points in their sixteen league games so far.
In the Copa del Rey, the Catalans defeated Santa Eulàlia and Olot in the first two rounds before a bye in the third allowed them to reach the sixteenth-finals.
Courtois misses out for the first time this season. The goalkeeper of the year was forced to withdraw from training on Friday with a muscle strain in his thigh.
Mario is still recovering from his knee injury, Léo is struggling with his left ankle, Cebolla has muscle fatigue, and Juanfran continues to experience discomfort in a toenail.
Gabi has to sit out Saturday’s trip. The captain incurred a one-match ban with his dismissal in last year’s final. Finally, Miranda is rested.
Atlético match selection
Goalkeepers: Aranzubia, Bounou
Defenders: Godín, Filipe, Alderweireld, Manquillo, Giménez
Midfielders: Tiago, Koke, Raúl García, Arda, Guilavogui, Óliver
Forwards: Adrián, Villa, Diego Costa
Referee: Alberto Undiano Mallenco