Having had such a great season up until this point, it will be a little strange to see a depleted and confidence-shot Atlético take to the field against Real Madrid on Tuesday night, although there is still a cup-final place up for grabs.
On the back of two defeats, missing key players and 3-0 down from the first leg, the odds could not be any further stacked against the Rojiblancos, but not for one moment will they be taking this game likely.
Kick-off at the Vicente Calderón is set for 21:00 CET.
Pride is at stake for Atleti against their eternal rivals tomorrow, and on the back of humiliation in last week’s first leg at the Bernabéu – including two goals at the wrong end – Diego Simeone and his team will be desperate to get back on track.
At the weekend they saw their lead of La Liga abruptly halted in a 2-0 defeat to Almería, and are at risk of falling away from two competitions at least should they continue in the same manner over the next few weeks.
Not only that, but the injuries are also piling up, with less than 18 first team members available for what many are already dismissing as ‘Mission Impossible’ tomorrow evening.
Diego Costa will definitely miss out through suspension, and fellow starters David Villa and Filipe Luís are also absent through injury.
Perhaps most importantly though, we will be without Thibaut Courtois again in goal due to back discomfort. The Belgian has not been named in the squad, so Dani Aranzubía is expected to get another chance following his nightmare in Almería.
Koke does return having served a ban of his own, but may have to drop back into midfield as Tiago is also now on the sidelines. The former Portuguese international was subjected to a horror challenge by compatriot Hélder Barbosa on Saturday, and will be out for the next few weeks.
José Giménez is another player not fit enough to make the squad, whereas making up the numbers in attack is B-team striker and top scorer Rubén Mesa.
Simeone experimented using a much changed team during Monday’s training session, with just two of his preferred 11 involved.
A win of any kind will be the aim given we’ve not beaten Real in the Calderón since June 1999, although the Argentine boss – who has been reluctant to rotate this season – appears to have his priorities elsewhere now.
“We will play in the knowledge that it will be very difficult to make the final, but nothing is impossible in life,” he told the press in Majadahonda.
“The goal is to work and improve, that is the only way to keep us where we are right now. I invite my players, the club, the fans not to look for excuses but work together, if not 100% then 110%, or 120%.”
“I’m expecting a good game and a strong crowd, we’ll play a competitive team and hopefully continue as we have been all season.” he finished.
The visitors make the short journey south in the knowledge that one goal would mean it would take five for Atleti to qualify, and will also be buoyed by the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo, available in the cup despite a three-match league ban.
Carlo Ancelotti has confirmed that Raphaël Varane will start his first match since November, and flavour of the month Jesé Rodríguez is also likely to keep his place in the line-up.
Real Sociedad and Barcelona face off in the other semi-final on Wednesday but, barring a miracle, our focus will most likely switch to Saturday’s crucial league clash, as Real Valladolid gear up for a trip to the capital.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Aranzubia, Bono
Defenders: Godín, Alderweireld, Manquillo, Juanfran, Insúa, Miranda
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Koke, Raúl García, Arda, Cristian Rodríguez, Gabi, Diego, Sosa
Forwards: Adrián, Rubén Mesa