Despite last week’s crushing Champions League exit, the games are still coming thick and fast for Atlético Madrid as they seek to tie up a top three finish in La Liga.
On Wednesday, the rojiblancos head to the coast to face an out of sorts Villarreal, with revenge for defeat suffered earlier in the season on their mind.
Kick-off in El Madrigal is set for 22:00 CET.
Back in December, the Yellow Submarine became the only team in the last two seasons to come away from the Vicente Calderón with three points, as Luciano Vietto usurped former manager Diego Simeone with the winning goal.
The game was overshadowed by a protest from the Fondo Sur which transferred itself onto the player’s performance, and resulted in Atleti losing vital ground at a time when they were still in contention at the top of the table.
In the last few months however, Villarreal have seen their form nose dive as they continue stretching tight resources to the limit.
After exiting the Europa League in March, they are on a run of seven league games without a win and scored just one goal, having gone 18 unbeaten around new year.
Real Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Sevilla also all managed wins at the Madrigal in their respective visits, so there can be no excuses if Atleti fail to do the same.
When speaking to press in Majadahonda, Simeone – 45 today – insisted that he was still expecting a tough game against Villarreal, regardless of their recent woes.
“I think [Villarreal] are one of the best team’s in Spain, as in every game they have a clear identity,” he said. “They are fast, always organised and very strong tactically. Marcelino has done a very good job.”
“Teams like them are always a pleasure to watch, and very dangerous to play against. Hopefully we can put in a big performance and continue as we have been.”
As well as his birthday, Cholo also celebrates his 200th game as Atlético manager against the Yellow Submarine, and the took the chance to pay tribute to his team whilst targeting further improvement.
“I am proud of my decision to re-join the club at such a difficult time, and thank all the players for these 200 games as without them, the ideas and dreams of the coaching staff would never have been possible.
“This team has always been rebellious, they have a never say die attitude and can relate completely with the people. We will continue to fight for everything with the same hunger in every game.”
The Argentine boss has a near full strength squad at his disposal, only missing Cani given that he is on loan from Villarreal.
Eyebrows were raised when the veteran playmaker made the move to the Calderón back in January, and he has featured only very sparingly in that time.
Cristian Ansaldi and Raúl Jiménez will stay in Madrid for technical reasons, although Mario Suárez and Guilherme Siqueira have shaken off injuries and do make the trip.
Villarreal are likely to be without a number of players, including on loan Real Madrid winger Denis Cheryshev and top scorer Luciano Vietto, two of their shining lights this season.
Fellow attackers Giovani dos Santos and Ikechukwu Uche are also listed as doubtful, whereas Bruno Soriano and Mateo Musacchio are on the long term injury list.
With so many absentees, it’s not hard to see why Marcelino’s team have struggled as of late, but he remains optimistic of their chances.
“We are looking to boost our self esteem,” he said. “We are competing well, creating chances but have been without luck, so the most important thing for us is to perservere and to keep going.”
Atlético match selection
Goalkeepers: Moyá, Oblak
Defenders: Godín, Siqueira, Gámez, Juanfran, Miranda, Giménez
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Tiago, Koke, Griezmann, Raúl García, Arda, Gabi, Saúl
Forwards: Mandžukić, Torres