On the back of defeat to Barcelona at the weekend, Atlético Madrid now face another difficult task in securing Copa del Rey qualification at the Santiago Bernabéu on Thursday evening.
Despite winning 2-0 in last week’s first leg, maximum concentration will be required from Simeone and his team to prevent rivals Real Madrid from pulling off would would be a famous derby comeback.
Kick-off in the Spanish capital is set for 20:00 CET.
Just when it looked like the red and whites were back on the up following December’s defeat to Villarreal and the fan controversy, they were halted in their tracks on Sunday by a superior Barcelona side supposedly in the midst of a ‘crisis’ period.
The loss leaves us a little off track now in La Liga, but that should not detract from the performance put in last week with a heavily rotated side against Real Madrid, current Copa del Rey holders.
Having made 8 changes from the previous league match, Atleti took control of the last 16 tie courtesy of goals from Raúl García and José Giménez, and also kept a clean sheet to ensure Carlo Ancelotti’s side don’t take an away goal into tomorrow’s secnd leg.
However, the suggestions are that Cholo will turn to his trusted eleven to see out the tie rather than keep faith in the players who started the job.
Jan Oblak will most likely stay in goal having impressed in the Calderón, but the likes of Fernando Torres, Saúl and Jesús Gámez will probably not feature from the start.
However, with Cristian Ansaldi injured and Guilherme Siqueira listed as doubtful, Lucas Hernández may be in line to keep his place. The young Frenchman did a good job against Gareth Bale last week.
Reports also suggest that Miranda will come back in for just his second appearance in two months, taking the place of teenager José María Giménez. Not involved are Cani and Cristian Rodríguez for fitness reasons.
In his press conference, Simeone addressed some of the selection issues he has at the moment and responded to criticism from certain Real Madrid players after the first leg.
“I have no chosen my team yet, lots of players came out of the Barcelona game hurt so we will have to see how they are tomorrow,” he said. “Mandžukić was also ill today and didn’t train, so I’m not sure yet if he or Torres will play.”
“Criticism is not something I dwell on. We are going to play against a great rival, strong and powerful, and a stadium full of people supporting them.”
“Do we have the beating of Real Madrid this season? I don’t see it that way. Tomorrow will be a different game to those in the past and I will choose the team that will help us reach the next round.”
Having just about calmed down from Cristiano Ronaldo’s Ballon d’Or win on Monday, the Madrid press – neutral as ever – are now predictably talking up a remontada (comeback) from the home side.
Real dropped ticket prices for both home and away fans for the clash, selling 2,500 in the hour after the final whistle last Wednesday.
Fans are expectant, but manager Carlo Ancelotti spoke in a levelled, respectful manner when quizzed by the local media. However, he did seem confident in his team.
“We know how we have to play against Atlético. We need to show intensity but keep cool heads,” said the Italian. “We have 90 minutes so there is no rush, especially against the most organised defensive team in Europe.
“Atlético are the toughest opposition out there, and it’s not just me that thinks that. Everyone in Europe feels the same way”.
“The fans will help us, first as it’s a derby so it’s very important to them, and also because we have to come back from a very difficult scoreline. We’re raring to put in a good performance and make it to the quarter-finals.”
We can safely say that Barcelona will await the winning team in the next round, as they take a 5-0 lead into their second leg at Elche tomorrow night.
For whoever does get through, the cup will represent a real chance of success given that only one of the top three can make it through to the semi-final.
After the game, Atleti will switch their focus back to La Liga, and the visit of lowly Granada to the Calderón on Sunday afternoon.
Atlético match selection
Goalkeepers: Moyá, Oblak
Defenders: Godín, Siqueira, Gámez, Juanfran, Miranda, Giménez, Lucas
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Tiago, Koke, Griezmann, Raúl García, Arda, Gabi, Saúl
Forwards: Mandžukić, Raúl Jiménez, Torres