Atlético Madrid go into the second leg of their Copa del Rey last 32 tie with L’Hospitalet in a commanding position, and will be aiming to finish the tie in a professional manner when the Catalan side visit the Vicente Calderón on Thursday.
Goals from Antoine Griezmann, Gabi and Cristian Rodríguez sealed a 3-0 first leg win two weeks ago, meaning Diego Simeone can afford again to give some of his fringe players a chance and allow others a much needed rest.
Kick-off in the capital is set for 20:00 CET.
Luciano Vietto silenced the Calderón with a late goal that earned all three points for Villarreal at the weekend, inflicting the red and whites’ first home loss in La Liga since May 2013.
Many questions have since been asked of the team and whether Frente’s ban has an impact on their performance, so a game like this could be the perfect chance to get the confidence flowing once more.
Cholo has shown that – despite some criticisms in the past – he is willing to give chances to young players, calling up no less than six Atleti B players to the matchday squad.
Lucas Hernández will play again alongside Jose Giménez in the centre of defence, and he is joined by Sekou Keita, Carlos Ramos, Nacho Monsalve, Borja Martínez and Iván Pérez. The latter is set to debut at left-back.
8 of the XI from Sunday get the night off, although there is no place for Alessio Cerci – injured in training this morning – nor Antoine Griezmann, which makes it five matches now since his last start.
However, the Frenchman should line-up at Athletic Bilbao on Sunday given that Koke and Mario Mandžukić will be suspended. They are both in Simeone’s team for Hospitalet, which he more or less confirmed in his press conference earlier today.
“The team will almost certainly be Oblak; Gámez, Giménez, Lucas, Iván Pérez; Mario, Saúl, Koke, Cebolla; Raúl Jiménez and Mandžukić.” he asserted.
The Argentine challenged those players coming into the side to impress him and stake their claim for more regular inclusion, and also called on the fans to give the team a good send off ahead of 2015.
“What matters tomorrow is that the guys with lesser minutes prove their worth. There is always a chance for any one of the squad to play, so I hope those involved take their opportunity and continue in the same vein,”
“I’m not sure how many people will turn up, but hopefully we can close the year in the best way. We’ve lived a very important year and the target is to then start 2015 in similar fashion.”
Hospitalet have been in good form since the first leg, winning their first league match away from home against Mallorca’s reserve side, and following that up on Sunday with a 2-0 win over Eldense.
Home games at this stage of the Copa have not always been an easy ride for Atleti, with only a last gasp Toby Alderweireld winner enough to beat plucky Sant Andreu last year.
We were also subjected to defeat at the hands of Albacete back in 2011, who’s 1-0 win was the last match of the pre-Simeone era and resulted in Gregorio Manzano losing his job. The likes of Universidad de Las Palmas and Orihuela have also managed draws at the Calderón in recent years.
Despite having gone 23 home La Liga matches unbeaten before the Villarreal match, our last cup match on home soil ended in defeat – our only one of last season – at the hands of arch rivals Real Madrid.
Barring an almighty collapse, it will be los Blancos who await us in the next round for a new year double header.
Atlético match selection
Goalkeepers: Moyá, Oblak
Defenders: Gámez, Giménez, Lucas, Nacho, Iván Pérez
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Koke, Saúl, Cristian Rodríguez, Carlos Ramos, Borja Martínez
Forwards: Mandžukić, Raúl Jiménez, Keita