It’s third against fourth at the Vicente Calderón on Sunday evening, as Atlético welcome an in-form Valencia side, who can boast six wins from their last seven in their pursuit of the last automatic Champions League place.
Atleti will know that anything but a win will put a serious dent in the defence of their championship crown. Kick-off in Madrid is set for 21:00 CET.
Diego Simeone has said all season that our rivals are the clubs fighting us for third. Villarreal, Sevilla and Valencia. And with Los Che only a point behind us in the league, it looks like he may have been right to be cautious.
However the race for the title is still on, regardless of what you read elsewhere. Real Madrid, top of the table and leading Atleti by seven points, lost to Athletic at San Mames on Saturday afternoon, meaning that a win over Valencia for Atleti will see them go within four points of their eternal rivals.
Even if Barcelona beat Rayo tomorrow, there may still only be a five-point gap between Atleti and the top. With El Clasico on the horizon, that isn’t a bad position to be in.
A victory over tomorrow’s visitors is very far from assured though, and Atleti will have to be wary going into the match. The last time these two squared up, Atleti were 3-0 down inside 15 minutes.
“This is not just another match,” Simeone told the press at his pre-match press conference. “We are both rivals competing for third place. This is a different type of match.”
“We said this at the beginning of the season. Both Sevilla and Valencia are going to compete with us for the important third and fourth positions. Valencia have improved massively since last year. They are an important team with a lot of experienced players. They attack dangerously and score from midfield. Not only that, but they’ve won four in a row,” Cholo added.
Atlético have a good record of their own, and they are currently undefeated in 32 of their last 33 home games in La Liga. It’s time for Fortress Calderón to play its part again.
“Our aim is to go out and take the season game by game, trying to win, and perform well,” Simeone finished.
It’s mixed news for Atlético in terms of the players available. Saúl is still absent following his kidney injury against Leverkusen, whilst both Miranda and Antoine Griezmann will miss the game through suspension, after picking up their fifth booking of the season against Sevilla last weekend. With Griezmann out, what of his dynamic partner, Mario Mandzukic?
“We need people who understand that nobody is more important than the team,” said Simeone, after he opted to throw Fernando Torres into the mix last week. Rumours have surfaced that Cholo is unhappy with the Croatian.
“Mandzukic is very important to us,” Simeone said. “He is a player who creates a lot of dangerous situations, be it by drawing fouls or supporting the players who come forward. He’s a critical player for our team.”
“We are evaluating who will start, because we can play with Mandzukic and Torres, Torres and Raúl or even Raúl and Mandzukic. These are all possibilities.”
There is also a strong possibility that Giménez will make his return to the starting eleven, with Miranda suspended. Also coming back into the side is Siqueira, who has fully recovered from the injury he picked up against Bayer Leverkusen.
Koke also looks set to make his first start since the 4-0 win over Real Madrid last month.
Last season’s tie at the Vicente Calderón ended in a 3-0 win for Atleti. Let us pray for a repeat performance.
Atlético squad list:
Goalkeepers: Moyá and Oblak.
Defenders: Siqueira, Ansaldi, Giménez, Godín, Lucas, Juanfran and Jesús Gámez.
Midfielders: Koke, Arda, Raúl García, Mario Suárez, Gabi, Cani and Tiago.
Forwards: Raúl Jiménez, Mandzukic and Torres.
Form guide (last six in the league)
Atlético – WWWLWD
Valencia – WLWWWW