Match preview: Atlético vs. Benfica

Rojiblancos face Portuguese side for the first ever time in battle to top group

Benfica training in the Calderón on Tuesday

Benfica training in the Calderón on Tuesday

Champions League football returns to the Vicente Calderón on Wednesday night, as Atlético Madrid welcome Benfica to the Spanish capital for a tasty all-Iberian clash.

With the season’s first Madrid derby on the horizon, the red and whites will be looking to get back to winning ways after a disappointing defeat to Villarreal over the weekend.

Kick-off is set for the usual time of 20:45 CET.

Every year it happens. Players move across the continent to a new league and team, only to find themselves back at their old stomping ground just a few months later through the luck of the draw.

No less than 7 players in Atlético and Benfica’s current squads have represented one another at some point, and ties between the club’s hierachy have become stronger and stronger over recent seasons.

However, despite their close relationship in the boardroom – and Cholo’s men playing a Champions League final in the Estádio da Luz – never before have the two sides met in a competitive match.

It may seem hard to believe, especially as we have played in Portugal on seven occasions in the last 6 years, but when Os Águias trained in the Calderón this evening it was the first time they had ever set foot in the historic ground.

Goals from Diego Forlán and Raúl García did earn Atleti a 2-1 friendly win in Lisbon back in 2009, and only one player from the squad that day still stands after the Basque midfielder’s painful departure last month.

That man is Koke, now an established star and full international, but at the time just a talented 17 year-old looking for his big break.

He didn’t make it onto the pitch that day, and won’t do on Wednesday either as he continues his recovery from a hamstring problem sustained at Eibar the other week.

Thankfully he is the only injury worry we have at the moment and could be back in time for Real Madrid’s visit on Sunday, but will be joined on the sidelines tomorrow by Jesús Gámez, Thomas and Lucas, all left out for technical reasons.

Simeone, who had the players involved in an impromptu boxing tournament in training this morning, was predictably having none of the derby talk in his press conference earlier on, but did underline what a big match lies in wait against Benfica.

“We are playing against a team who are used to winning,” said the Argentine. “They won the League last year, reached the final of the Europa League and kept players who remain in the team.”

“Their squad is very competitive, and they have lots of danger on the wings. We have a lot of respect for them, but we know that we are strong at home when we have our people in the stadium supporting us.”

“We hope to play an intense match from the start and have an advantage right from the first whistle.” he finished.

Our opponents, now under the stewardship of Rui Vitória after former manager Jorge Jesus moved across town to Sporting in the summer, come into the game in good form, and have bought some familiar faces along with them.

Raúl Jiménez, Pizzi and Sílvio are all in Benfica’s travelling squad, although they are without Eduardo Salvio due to a long-term knee injury expected to keep him out until the new year.

Other than that they are at full strength, and have included the likes of Jonas, often a thorn in our side in his time at Valencia, and Nico Gaitán, perenially linked with the rojiblanco club.

In their first game they overcame Kazakh newcomers Astana by a 2-0 scoreline, although domestically they trail joint leaders Porto and Sporting by a couple of points after winning the title in each of the last two years.

They also made Europa League finals in both 2012 and 2013, but haven’t enjoyed as much success in the Champions League as of late, exiting at the group stage three seasons running and winning just one of their last 12 away matches.

With the reverse fixture at the Luz set for the final matchday, Atleti will be desperate to grab all three points tomorrow and take control of Group C at the earliest possible opportunity.

Atlético match selection
Goalkeepers: Moyá, Oblak
Defenders: Godín, Filipe, Siqueira, Savic, Juanfran, Giménez
Midfielders: Tiago, Griezmann, Óliver, Gabi, Saúl, Carrasco
Forwards: Torres, Jackson, Correa, Vietto

Referee: Gianluca Rocchi (Italy)

  • Ahmad Hossainy

    7 players who represented both clubs are actually not much for perhaps two of the three favorite “stepping stones clubs” of Jorge Mendes that help him marketing his players, alongside Porto .

    One of the things I love most about El Cholo is that he is keep making Mendes’s “control” over the club smaller and smaller .

  • Jeronamo Pakor Jones

    Of course I want us to win but I also want us to win big. This game is about proving ourselves after losing the way we did and finally scoring some goals with the attacking talent we have. I just hope Cholo doesn’t start as man defensive type midfielders as he has been doing thus far

  • Ringo

    I hope to see Griezmann, Correa and Torres starting up front, with Oli, Saúl and Gabi playing midfield. Tiago could use a little rest and could come on in the second half if the game proves to be a little tough in midfield. Vietto could come on to force something and at the moment I’d put Jackson on only if we’re ahead already. Then again, he knows the Benfica defenders quite well.

    I want Filipe to get in shape fast, too. He isn’t that bad, but he can do so much better. Siqueira needs to get into shape too, because he was even more below his own par. In form I think Filipe is way better, so I’d prefer to get him back into top rhythm first.

    I see Savic starting, perhaps he should start alongside Giménez, so Godín could get some well deserved rest, but is this the right time to do so? He is our leader in defense… Especially with Miranda gone it would be a huge gap in defensive experience and composure.

    At right back we’ll play with Juanfran, of course. Oblak on goal.

  • starvs

    I like these ideas, except resting Godin. Yes he will need a break at some point, but second game Champions League is not the place. This is an important game against the second best team in the group, winning here would go along way to securing first place in the group, cannot take chances resting best player/leader.

  • Ringo

    Preview: we played terribly against Villarreal, but I actually have high hopes for this game. I think we can lock Benfica down on their half and dominate if we use our midfielders wisely. Giving Saúl and Óliver some faith, with Gabi backing them up with his tremendous experience and intelligent positioning, will make them very able to link up with the midfielders up front. But to do that, I think they both have to be part of a midfield trio.

    Saúl is strong defensively and knows how to pass forward very well. He’s a great allrounder. Oli can bring you the control of a game if he’s found enough by his comrades. Griezmann and Correa can play in between the lines, both aiding Óliver and Torres depending on the moment in play. I really think Correa should het his chance to start up front. He links up greatly with both Torres and Griezmann.

    Grizi and Correa shouldn’t be stuck to the wings, though. Filipe and Juanfran should dominate there when playing offensively and Torres can move to the sides during play as well. The offensive play should have a certain level of fluidity instead of static positions, but a lot of times that’s already the case with Atleti’s gameplans (when not purely based on defending).

    Like this, sort of a 4-2-1-2-1, but in reality 4-5-1 in defense and 4-2-1-3 or 4-1-2-3 in attack:

    Juan – Giménez – Savic – Filipe
    – – – – – – Gabi – – Saúl
    – – – – – – – – Óliver
    – – – – Grizi – – – – Correa
    – – – – – – – Torres

    To get back to the preview part of my post instead of repeating my wished formation: I think we’ll be able to dominate this game, but Benfica has proven over the past to be able to play very strongly. There’s a chance they’re the better side today. They’re a dangerous team. Atleti might be a little broken after the Villarreal fiasco, but I think they’re able to get back into shape.

    The team is still growing, so we won’t be as consistent as we might hope, yet. This could be our best game yet, but it could also be a repeat of the Villarreal performance. In case of the latter scenario, it’s probably extra important to give Correa a place in the first XI.

    If I had to expect a final score, I’d say 2-0 in (our favour). Benfica could stun us, but I think in a worst case scenario we’ll be able to force a 1-1ish draw.

  • Ringo

    Yeah you’re probably right. Savic and Giménez are pretty good at the build-up play we’re trying to put down lately, though. Godín, although sometimes showing some great passes and dribbling, is probably our least talented passer.

    But his presence in defense is so crucial for us, both mentally and defensively (and in the air), that I’m too afraid to take the risk of letting him out of the team.
    Real is coming up, too, though… It’s probably tough being Simeone right now, even if he’s mister partido a partido.

  • atleti10

    I can’t wait to see Correa start tonight. I never thought I’d see the day where we would have 4 real attacking threats starting. I think Koke is a box to box cm, not an attacking midfielder and I feel him playing wide has held us back. Tonight hopefully we’ll see more link up play and a bit more attacking threat. I’m excited.