Match preview: Atlético vs. Athletic

Colchoneros at full strength for important clash in the Calderón

Atleti looking to continue good league form

Atleti looking to continue good league form

Atlético Madrid can seal Champions League qualification this weekend, and know that nothing less than a win will do on Saturday when Athletic come to town.

The visitors have a score to settle following their 4-1 home defeat back in December, and will be a much different proposition this time round after a recent upturn in form.

Kick-off in the capital is set for 18:00 CET.

Antoine Griezmann stole the show in San Mamés just before Christmas with a second half hat-trick, but Los Leones felt hard done by a number of refereeing decisions that they felt decided the game.

That triple strike sparked a spectacular run of form for the Frenchman that is still ongoing, and with 22 in total he has the record for the most league goals in a debut season at the Calderón in sight (24, held by Falcao, Hasselbaink and Vieri).

On Wednesday, the red and whites took a big stride in the race for third with a 1-0 win at Villarreal, Fernando Torres scoring to open up a six gap point over the chasing pack.

Valencia were held at Rayo on Thursday, and should Sevilla lose at home to Real Madrid, victory for Atleti tomorrow would make sure of a third consecutive year at Europe’s top table.

Athletic always provide a difficult test and had a good record on the River Manzanares until Simeone took the reins, having lost all three trips since then.

The Argentine boss has a full squad at his disposal as well, calling up 19 players for the match.

Cristian Ansaldi, frozen out since his arrest back in January, and Cani will watch from the stands due to technical decision, but everybody else should be fit and firing.

In his press conference, Cholo seemed as focused and motivated ever, and was keen to stress the importance of getting the three points.

“Tomorrow we have to play with a lot of intensity, and to let the fans coming to the stadium that it’s a big occasion,” he said. “I’m convinced that tomorrow’s game is much more important than the one against Barcelona.

“The team is competing well but we can still improve. As I said in pre-season, Valencia and Sevilla would be our rivals this year and they have fought with us until the end.

“It has not been easy, tomorrow we have to respond and have an obligation to win.”

Simeone also responded to allegations surrounding the potential transfer ban for breaking rules on signing underage players, but remained tight lipped.

“I spoke to the club yesterday and there’s nothing official yet. When there’s something to say officially I’ll say it then.”

Athletic come into the game in 8th place, despite having languished in the lower reaches for much of the campaign.

Ernesto Valverde’s side struggled to juggle La Liga with the Champions League, but have found form since exiting Europe and have a cup final against Barcelona to look forward to at the end of the month.

Iker Muniain is on the long term injury list having ruptured knee ligaments against Sevilla in April, and Ibai Gómez is also unlikely to be fit in time.

After the match, Atleti have a rare midweek without any action, so preparation can begin early for the trip to Levante next Sunday lunchtime.

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, Raúl Jiménez, Torres