Since taking over at Atlético Madrid back in December 2011, only one trophy has eluded Diego Simeone – the Champions League.
The Rojiblancos were seconds away from European glory in Lisbon a year ago, but have the chance to avenge that defeat against rivals Real Madrid starting with Tuesday’s quarter-final first leg.
Kick-off in the Vicente Calderón is set for 20:45 CET.
Having lost further ground in their title defence on Saturday, Europe’s top prize could well be Atleti’s best chance of silverware this season.
Two goals from Antoine Griezmann were only enough to secure a draw away at Málaga, leaving the champions trailing their cross-town neighbours by 7 points heading into the run-in.
However, the rojiblancos have had the better of Carlo Ancelotti’s men since that painful loss in Lisbon, and will still be confident of upsetting the odds and beating them once more to make it through to the semi-finals.
In the six derbies so far this campaign, Atleti are yet to taste defeat and have won on four occasions, most notably back in February when they handed out a memorable 4-0 thrashing in La Liga.
Madrid were weakened that day, playing a makeshift defence and without midfield maestros James Rodríguez and Luka Modric. They will be pulling out the stops to avoid a repeat performance tomorrow night.
This time they come into the game with a clean bill of health, including Gareth Bale and Pepe who were both passed fit following recent knocks.
Atlético also received good news on the fitness front on Sunday, as both Raúl García and Mario Mandzukic received the medical clearance to return to action after respective spells on the sidelines
Simeone confirmed in his press conference that the Croatian would play, as well as Jan Oblak in goal ahead of Miguel Ángel Moyá.
“We’re expecting a great match against an intense Madrid team,” said the Argentine on Monday. “We need the fans to be vocal and animated from the very first minute.”
“The league is the league, and tomorrow’s game will be different [from the 4-0]. The presence of Modric will give Madrid an aggressive edge and they will have much more presence in the centre of the pitch with him. This is a key area of any game.”
“We need to focus on what is going to happen tomorrow. What happened in the past is over, and now we have a great chance to do something important.”
Real Madrid come into the game on the back of three successive wins, and appear to be hitting form just at the wrong time for Atleti.
With a full squad to choose from, Carlo Ancelotti has a selection dilemma as one of James and Isco will most likely have to settle for a place on the bench.
Los Merengues also have Cristiano Ronaldo back on the goal trail, and after a slow start to 2015, the world’s second most expensive player has found the net seven times since the international break (albeit five in one game).
When speaking to the press, Ancelotti spoke highly about his opposite number.
“He’s a great manager, one of the best in the world and has demonstrated that in every aspect,” he said when asked about Cholo. “It’s an honour to come up against him, but a problem as well.”
“The defeats against Atlético have all differed, it’s tough to pinpoint what happened. Now we have two games to play and it’s going to be difficult for us again.”
“We don’t have an obsession with Atlético. We have an obsession with the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Our objective isn’t just to win tomorrow, but to win the Undecima (eleventh title).”
Back in January, the two sides met in a Copa del Rey aggregate tie, which Atlético came out on top of following a 2-0 first leg win. We also won over the same format in the Spanish Super Cup, but Madrid were 5-0 overall victors in last year’s cup semi-final.
Five players are in danger of missing the return leg in the Bernabéu next Wednesday, with Gabi, Mario Suarez, Torres, Ansaldi and Jesús Gámez one booking away from a suspension.
Kroos, Marcelo and Coentrão also walk the disciplinary tightrope for Real.
Atlético match selection
Goalkeepers: Moyá, Oblak
Defenders: Godín, Siqueira, Ansaldi, Gámez, Juanfran, Miranda, Giménez, Lucas
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Tiago, Koke, Griezmann, Raúl García, Arda, Gabi, Saúl, Cani
Forwards: Mandžukić, Raúl Jiménez, Torres
Real Madrid match selection
Goalkeepers: Casillas, Navas, Pacheco
Defenders: Varane, Pepe, Ramos, Coentrão, Marcelo, Carvajal, Arbeloa, Nacho
Midfielders: Kroos, Khedira, James, Bale, Lucas Silva, Modric, Isco, Illarramendi
Forwards: Ronaldo, Benzema, Chicharito, Jesé
Referee: Milorad Mazic (Serbia)