Sandwiched between two Champions League ties against eternal rivals Real Madrid, Atlético journey to A Coruña on Saturday evening for a match against Deportivo. What’s odd, is that this weekend’s game might be the most tense of them all.
This will certainly be the case off the pitch, as Atlético do battle with Deportivo for the first time since Jimmy Romero was pulled from the River Manzanares in November.
It’s of course the return fixture, as Atlético and their fans make the first trip to Deportivo since the tragedy. Kick-off at the Riazor is set for 18:00 CEST.
On the footballing side of things, Atleti will be without Mario Mandzukic, who only made a return from injury to play against Real Madrid on Tuesday night. The striker was kicked, elbowed, bloodied and allegedly bitten – although the Croatian moved to deny those claims.
However the forward didn’t train following the 0-0 draw with Real Madrid, and is left off the squad-list for the trip to Deportivo. It looks like it could be a recurrence of the ankle injury that has plagued him in recent weeks.
Also absent for Atlético is captain Gabi, who has picked up too many yellow cards and will sit this one out through suspension.
This means Atleti are likely to start with Antoine Griezmann up front on his own, with the trio of Saúl, Arda and Koke supporting the Frenchman. The ex-Sociedad man has 18 goals in the league this season for Atleti, including two in the last league game, a 2-2 draw with Málaga.
Atleti still sit a point above Valencia in third place, and will be looking to shore up their position with three points against newly-promoted Deportivo.
What remains to be seen is if Simeone will play the strongest side available, in true partido a partido fashion, with a vital Champions League decider against Real Madrid on the horizon.
“We are only thinking of tomorrow’s match,” Simeone told the media. Of course.
“We have to think about playing a good match [on Saturday] and be strong to play against Deportivo,” he continued.
“Our opponents need to win this game just as much as we do, but in a different manner. Tomorrow’s is a classic game of a team fighting relegation, that will demand us to be at our best.”
“This fixture is key because it’s the next one and because we need to keep competing with Valencia and Sevilla.”
Our Argentine hero also talked about the absence of Gabi and Mario Suárez, and what this means for our Spanish maestro Koke.
Atlético fans all over the world have been waiting for the days where Koke gets to line up regularly in the centre of midfield. Many think this is his best position.
“It’s clear to me that I see Koke more and more as playing in the centre of midfield,” Cholo said.
“Tactically he is almost perfect. He is a player that I like very much in that position and I am convinced that with the passing of the months we will see him more in that position in the midfield than on the wing.”
“I imagine that it will happen with more continuity next year. Tomorrow it can be a possibility,” he finished.
Atleti fans are practically drooling at the prospect, but the 23-year-old may not be the one grabbing the headlines tomorrow – I sure hope the football is.
Atlético Madrid’s squad list:
Goalkeepers: Oblak, Moyá.
Defenders: Juanfran, Gámez, Godín, Miranda, Giménez, Siqueira, Ansaldi.
Midfielders: Tiago, Koke, Cani, Raúl García, Arda Turan, Saúl.
Forwards: Griezmann, Fernando Torres, Raúl Jiménez.