Atlético’s defence of the Copa del Rey final is becoming more and more of a possibility, and we are now just one match away from a possible semi-final next week against last year’s runners-up Real Madrid.
Standing in the way though is Athletic Bilbao – in form, unbeaten in their new home, and only a goal down from the first leg – and the Basques will not go down without a fight.
Kick-off for the Colchoneros’ first visit to the new San Mamés is set for 20:00 CET.
A Diego Godín header was all that could separate Atleti and Athletic in last week’s first leg, and has left Wednesday’s decisive clash in a beautifully poised position for the neutral.
The two red and white striped teams are enjoying excellent seasons and are on course to make Champions League, although the main goal for both, especially for Athletic, given their heartache in 2012, is surely to win a trophy.
Under Ernesto Valverde, Los Leones are fierce and competitive, much more consistent than in recent seasons and particularly tough to beat at home. Barcelona have already failed and Real Madrid will try on Saturday, but should Atleti win tomorrow, we will become the first visiting team to do so San Mamés Barria.
A draw will do, but as we know with Cholo Simeone, the team makes the trip north for nothing less than a victory. Our away form is good too, with just one defeat in our last 26 ventures outside of the Vicente Calderón.
In his press conference, the Argentine analysed the game with caution and in typical style, paid tribute to the transformation of Athletic so far this season.
“Athletic at home are a strong team and can mix it up in attack,” he said.
“The tie right now is 50/50. It will be a tough, tough game but we have the intention of playing our style and hopefully make it through to the next round.”
“Given the history and tradition of Athletic, we expect to be met by a big, passionate crowd, which for any footballer who feels the game, is an extra motivation.”
Squad-wise, the main news from Atlético’s perspective is the long-awaited return of Mario Suárez, absent since late October with knee troubles.
The two-time Spanish International will most likely start from the bench but returns right on time, with fellow midfielders Tiago, Guilavogui, and Óliver Torres, out for a month after suffering a dislocated shoulder at the weekend, all injured in the last week.
Arda Turan has also sustained a knock and remains in Madrid, although the rest of the first team squad do travel.
Valverde names the same squad that went to El Sadar and thrashed rivals Osasuna 5-1 on Sunday, boosted in particular by the presence of Iker Muniain who couldn’t recover quite on time for the first leg.
Having not scored in the capital a week ago, the Athletic boss acknowledged the importance of not allowing Atlético an away goal. Should the visitors find the net, his team would need to find 3 to progress.
“Atlético are effective in this situation, they do not concede many chances and will come for the win,” he told local media.
“1-0 is dangerous for us, but we are enjoying a great moment right now, and with the fans support we can push and score goals.”
On Tuesday, Real Madrid became the first side to qualify for the semi-final having overcome Espanyol, and a first leg date is already set for next Wednesday in the Bernabéu against one of these two teams.
Atlético match selection
Goalkeepers: Aranzubia, Courtois
Defenders: Godín, Filipe, Alderweireld, Manquillo, Giménez, Juanfran, Insúa, Miranda
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Koke, Raúl García, Cristian Rodríguez, Gabi, Sosa
Forwards: Adrián, Villa, Diego Costa