Atlético heads out to Greece today in preparation for its Europa League opening match against Aris Thessaloniki FC. The game takes place tomorrow night at 19:00 CET at the Greek side’s Harilaou Ground.
Atleti will be looking to maintain their impressive form, which has carried the team to three straight victories against Inter Milan, Sporting Gijón and Athletic Bilbao to jump-start the 2010-11 campaign.
The Greeks are coming off a disappointing 1-0 home defeat to Panathinaikos and currently sit in 7th place in their domestic league, having finished 4th in the Greek Super League last season.
Aris disposed of Polish side Jagiellonia Białystok and Austrian club FK Austria Wien in the preliminary rounds of the Europa League in order to make it through to the first round of the competition.
Los Colchoneros seek to bring the local side’s 40-year unbeaten home record in European play to an abrupt end. Aris have never lost at home since debuting in UEFA Club competition in 1970.
The sold out Kleánthis Vikelídis Stadium, which holds a modest 22,800 spectators, is famous for being one of the loudest and most intimidating grounds in Greece. Undying flares, fireworks, smoke and chants convert the stands into a throbbing inferno that pays true homage to the side’s god of war namesake.
Ahead of the match, Atleti super-striker Diego Forlán assured that the intense atmosphere is hardly of any concern to the squad.
“If we can play well in San Mamés, we can play well anywhere. The game is played on the field, not off of it,” said the Uruguayan.
Our Cacha may not be too worried about Aris’ rabid fans, but Atlético club officials have expressed deep concerns about the terrible pitch conditions and will be crossing their fingers hoping to avoid any sort of injury.
While Kun Agüero’s absence from the rojiblanco side is a notable one, it pales in comparison to the line-up crisis Aris manager Héctor Cúper could be facing. The Argentine coach will possibly be left without the services of up to six of his regular starters due to injuries and suspensions.
Though it was widely reported earlier this week that Atleti defender Tomas Ujfalusi would recover from his Achilles tendinitis in time for this clash, coach Quique Sánchez Flores ultimately left the defender’s name off the official match selection.
On a positive note, Fran Mérida appears to have overcome his hip injury and will travel with the squad. The Catalan youngster should get some minutes in as Quique is expected to spare a few of his regulars ahead of our huge game against Barcelona on Sunday. Others who could see significant action are Filipe Luís, Tiago and Diego Costa.
English referee Mark Clattenburg has been assigned to officiate this encounter.
Atlético’s 18-player match selection:
Goalkeepers: De Gea and Joel
Defenders: Valera, Antonio López, Filipe Luís, Godín, Domínguez and Perea
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Tiago, Camacho, Raúl García, Fran Mérida, Assunçao, Reyes and Simão
Forwards: Forlán and Diego Costa
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