Fresh off of a terrific 2-1 derby win at the weekend, Atlético Madrid begin their 2014/15 Champions League campaign on Tuesday night with a tough trip to Group A rivals Olympiacos.
Diego Simeone will again be absent from the touchline as he serves a one-match European ban, but can expect a hostile reception for his team against the current champions of Greece.
Kick-off in the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium is set for 20:45 CET (22:45 local time).
Beaten finalists back in May, the Rojiblancos have gone some way to avenging their cruel defeat in Lisbon with two wins already this season against winners Real Madrid.
The latest came on Saturday as Arda Turan’s late show stunned the Bernabéu, with Atleti’s new team demonstrating that they can replicate the high-intensity performances we got used to seeing in the previous campaign.
However, having had just three days’ rest the 3000 mile round-trip to Athens does not come at the best time, and will require maximum concentration once more with the games coming thick and fast in all competitions.
Simeone has called-up everyone at his disposal for the second match running, only missing Cristian Rodríguez due to a muscle problem sustained on international duty last week.
Having come so close, the Argentine boss will be desperate to add the Champions League to his collection and complete a full set of major trophies at Atleti, but as usual was not thinking past Tuesday’s clash when speaking to the press.
“Tonight and tomorrow we’ll decide the best way to deal with a very tough match – possibly one of the most difficult of the group – because of the stadium, the atmosphere and the intensity of the rival’s game”, he said.
“We know that this starts again. The past Champions League, like last year’s La Liga and Copa del Rey, where we reached the semi-finals, were very good but they are over.”
“Now we live day-to-day and know that it’s a very tough competition, and that we have to give each game its individual attention. We need play well tomorrow, be strong and interpret the game we’re going to play.”
In Olympiacos, we face a team very much familiar with the Spanish game. Managed by Real Madrid legend and former Getafe boss Míchel, they have six La Liga imports in their squad including goalkeeper Roberto Jiménez, who came through the youth ranks as Atleti and joined the Erythrolefkoi on a permanent deal earlier this year.
“Atlético is the club of my life,” Roberto revealed in an interview on Monday. “I grew up and learned everything I know here. I spent 15 years at this club and have a great affection for them and the many friends I made.”
“Gabi, Mario and I have exchanged text messages and we all know how important this is. This match is crucial for both teams.”
“Our goal is clear, we want to qualify from the group stage and make it to the knock-out stages again. We’ll fight for all six games and hopefully repeat what we did last year,” he finished.
Like Atleti, the Greeks gave a good account of themselves last time round, coming through a tough group containing the likes of PSG and Benfica.
Despite an impressive first leg win in their last 16 tie with Manchester United they ended up going out 3-2 on aggregate, but proved that the Karaiskakis is one of Europe’s most daunting places to visit for an opposing team.
With 16 wins from 17 in front of their home crowd in last season’s Super League, nobody is feared and the bigger the occasion, the bigger the atmosphere.
This year we have been to the Bernabéu, San Siro, Stamford Bridge and Camp Nou and gotten results, but this will be an altogether different type of challenge and one that should make for a fascinating match-up.
Olympiacos are without Giannis Maniatis and Dimitris Siovas through injury, but have the big names – namely Ibrahim Afellay, Éric Abidal and Kostas Mitroglou – ready to play from the start.
Atlético match selection
Goalkeepers: Moya, Oblak
Defenders: Godín, Siqueira, Ansaldi, Gámez, Juanfran, Miranda, Giménez
Midfielders: Mario, Tiago, Koke, Griezmann, Raúl García, Arda, Gabi, Saúl, Cerci
Forwards: Mandžukić, Raúl Jiménez