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)