Coming off of their disappointing draw at home against Sevilla, which saw them miss out on a precious chance to take over the top spot of La Liga, Atlético must shift gears when they host Athletic Bilbao at the Vicente Calderón on Thursday.
The first leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final matchup gets underway at 21:00 CET.
Atleti have already defeated their midweek foes once this season, back on November 3rd. David Villa and Diego Costa each contributed a goal in that 2-0 victory at the Calderón.
A similar result against the league’s current fourth-place outfit would see los Rojiblancos get one foot through the door to the semi-finals of the King’s Cup.
‘El Guaje’ enters the bout having ended a seven-game goalless streak by notching his first goal in 2014 in our 1-1 tie versus Sevilla this past weekend, while our ‘Beast of the Manzanares’ has yet to find the back of the net in the New Year.
In fact, Costa doesn’t have a single goal in cup play at all in the present campaign.
Is the Brazilian burned out from all the tussling and fighting on the pitch?
Regardless, he’ll once again be the focal point of our attack when the referee blows the whistle to open up proceedings.
But, according to Spanish paper AS, Simeone will be resting a number of regular starters, including: Miranda, Gabi, Tiago (who is injured and did not make the match selection), Arda and David villa.
A disgruntled Toby Aderweireld, along with Guilavogui, Raúl García, Cebolla Rodríguez and Adrián, are all expected to be in the fold.
Diego Simeone’s ‘Little Prince’, José Sosa, did not make it into the match selection this time, though the other little prince, Óliver, did.
Mario Suárez has recovered from his knee injury and has been back in training with his teammates, but the midfielder was not called upon just yet as he has yet to receive full medical clearance.
Defenders José Giménez and Javi Manquillo were left off the selection through tactical decision.
Simeone, whose men are undefeated in their last 13 Copa matches, assured on Wednesday that Atleti have a “50 percent” chance of qualifying to the semis.
“Athletic are a tough rival, with a squad that have been playing together for a long time and that have achieved solid growth,” the Argentine tactician said.
“They’re a dangerous team, good at set pieces. It will be an interesting game.”
‘Cholo’ then stressed the importance of the first leg.
“I analyse knockout fixtures as if they are normally decided in the first match,” he said.
“The second one is played in response to how the first one went. It’s the key one, and [Thursday’s] will be.”
Though he’s expected to roll out with a heavily rotated squad, Simeone refused to admit his men are tired.
“It’s normal that when a positive result doesn’t appear, the press look for explanations,” he said.
“But, we know that we are okay and, hopefully, tomorrow we can show that.”
Asked about the inclusion of young ‘Oli’, Cholo responded: “The best way for him to grow is by being on a team in first place and in the round of 16 in the Champions League.
“He’s played as a starter in five games and he’s 19 years old. We’re happy with him and we hope that he continues his growth and can offer us great things in these remaining months.”
Athletic came back from a 1-0 deficit to Betis to make it through to this round of the cup, beating the Verdiblancos 2-0 at the San Mames a week ago.
On Monday, Bilbao hammered four past Valladolid to retain their grasp on the last Champions League place on the table.
Ernesto Valverde’s men have won their last three matches in all competitions, but the Basques will reportedly be without injured Iker Muniain and Gaizka Toquero.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Aranzubia, Courtois
Defenders: Godín, Filipe Luís, Toby Alderweireld, Juanfran, Insúa, Miranda
Midfielders: Koke, Raúl García, Arda, Cebolla, Gabi, Guilavogui, Óliver
Forwards: Villa, Costa, Adrián