In a league fixture sandwiched between a Champions League quarter-final match-up with Barcelona, Atlético welcome Villarreal to the Vicente Calderón.
Saturday’s clash against the Yellow Submarine gets underway at 16:00 CET.
Atleti come into this bout winners of five straight La Liga matches and following an impressive, albeit costly, 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou on Tuesday.
That game saw the likes of Diego Costa and Arda come off limping, leaving them unavailable for Villarreal’s visit, and perhaps beyond this weekend.
In addition to that pair of regular starters, los Rojiblancos will be without their skipper Gabi, who saw his 10th yellow card of the season at San Mamés last Saturday and will serve a one-match ban.
Costa’s absence places the spotlight on David Villa, who will share the attack load with Raúl García–both players more than equipped to step in for the ‘Beast’.
The last time ‘El Guaje’ replaced Costa, during our trip to Vigo early last month, he led the charge with a double in our 2-0 win.
Though ‘The Real’ Raúl’s goals-per-start average has dwindled of late, the Pamplona-born man still has 15 goals in 26 appearances in the fold.
Nonetheless, the men in red and white will have to hombre-up if they want to keep the three points in Madrid and retain their place at the top of the mountain.
“This is an important match against tough opponents,” Diego Simeone warned during Friday’s pre-game press conference.
“Positionally, they resemble us and we have a lot of respect for them. They have players in midfield and up with quality, allowing them to put together good combinations.
“It will be a very important match [to win] if we want to continue on the same path.”
Simeone made it clear his squad must focus on La Liga in spite of next week’s second leg match against Barça.
“We cannot divert our attention,” he said. “We need strength to win tomorrow.”
Midfielder Diego enters this game on the back of a strike-heard-round-the-world type of goal against the Blaugrana, and is set to feature as a replacement for Arda.
“He’s been starting quite a few matches and the other night, he put in a very good performance, Simeone said of the Brazilian.
“We need him just like we need all of the other players who have not had many minutes. To continue as a competitive side, those who have played less will become more and more important to us but that depends on them making the most of the minutes the coach gives them.”
The Argentine tactician continued: “I’m really happy with how Diego is progressing. It’s normal that after spending two years away from us, he’s found it hard to reclaim his place. You can’t be a competitive side with eight top class players – you need at least 11 and if we find ourselves in that position now it’s because of the players who are waiting in the background and who have had less opportunities.”
In addition to our trio of absentee stars, Javi Manquillo (victim of assault) and José Giménez (victim of our insanely solid back line), were not included in the match selection.
Cholo called-up Samuel Saíz, who apparently goes by Samu, an Atlético B attacker that arrived at the youth academy from Almería during the past winter transfer window.
According to Vavel, the 23-year-old has struggled as a professional not because of a lack of quality, rather, because of disciplinary issues.
The kid likes to party. He spent the entirety of his youth career — almost a decade — at Real Madrid, before moving on to Sevilla’s reserve side, then Getafe’s, then Almería’s, and now he’s had the luck of finding himself at the best club in the universe according to the football experts at Harvard (not Sir Alex Ferguson).
And there you have it–way too many lines about a player that will almost certainly not take part at all on Saturday.
Another youngster that will watch from the stands is our beloved Óliver Torres. Though he was loaned out to our foes on the last day of January, they chose not to pay the 200,000-euro fee that would allow him to face-off against his favourite club.
Marcelino García Toral’s men currently sit in seventh place in the Primera standings–an impressive position given that this is their first season back from Segunda.
Villarreal have an outside shot of landing the last Champions League qualification spot, and a very decent chance of earning a Europa League berth.
El Submarino Amarillo are the fourth-best travelling side in Spain with seven victories on the road.
The last time they defeated us at the Calderón was back in 2009, when their current goalkeeper, Sergio Asenjo, was minding our goal.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Aranzubia, Courtois
Defenders: Juanfran, Miranda, Godín, Filipe, Alderweireld, Insua
Midfielders: Koke, Mario, Diego, The Real Raúl, Tiago, Sosa, Cebolla
Forwards: Villa, Adrián, Samu Sáiz