Atlético Madrid are in Champions League action on Tuesday night, taking on Benfica as they return to the Estádio da Luz for the first time since the 2014 final.
Having sealed qualification two weeks ago, the red and whites need three points to win the group and take their place as a top seed in next week’s knock-out stage draw.
Kick-off is set for 20:45 CET.
Atleti have a score to settle when they take to the field in Lisbon, and will be keen to bury some demons with a win against a Benfica tomorrow evening.
We’re sure that many of the sports’ dailies will be keen to remind us of our last trip to the Luz, but we’ll gloss over that and focus on the matter at hand as Cholo’s men look to wrap up top spot in Group C.
Back in September, the Portuguese champions stunned the Calderón when they came from behind to grab a 2-1 win, in what was the first ever competitive meeting between the two sides.
It was a game that left a sour taste both on and off the pitch, and was marred by crowd trouble as a two year-old was hit by a flare thrown from the away end after one of their goals.
Both clubs were fined for the incidents, although Os Aguias did invite the child to the return fixture as a gesture of goodwill – one that was politely declined by his father.
Since then, Atleti have gone on a twelve match unbeaten run and finally started to click into gear, moving up to second in La Liga and conceding just four goals in the process.
However, injury to Tiago has put a dampener on things, and Benfica will be relieved to see their former midfielder and indeed another familiar face in Jackson Martínez on the sidelines.
The former Porto striker is out for the sixth game in a row with a muscle problem sustained on international duty last month, and will not return until 100% fit according to reports last week.
Simeone has called-up the other 20 players at his disposal, admitting in his press conference that he has still not decided exactly who will play yet.
“I’ll pick the team tomorrow, that’s why I’ve brought the whole squad along,” he told press. “We need a big performance, so I’ll wait to see how players recover from the Granada game before deciding.”
The Argentine tactician insisted that his team will go out to win, but conceded that winning the group doesn’t guarantee anything in terms of the draw for the last 16.
“I’d consider being top to be a postive thing. It’s no guarantee, but winning the group is the best solution for us. As usual, we’re taking it game-by-game and right now this our priority,” he said.
“There are no secrets in football, the reality is what happens on the pitch. Benfica played really well in Madrid and we need to be at our best to overcome them.”
Switching focus to our opponents, Benfica come into the game on a run of form of their own, safe in the knowledge that they only need to avoid defeat to win the group thanks to the head-to-head ruling.
Rui Vitória’s team are level on points with Atleti, but their win in Madrid means that they will have the advantage should Tuesday’s clash end all square despite having an inferior goal difference.
They will be without defensive duo Luisão and Nélson Semedo, as well as Eduardo Salvio despite having welcomed the ex-rojiblanco back to full training this week following a long term injury.
Fellow former player Sílvio is (surprisingly) fit enough to make the squad, and there is also a place for Raúl Jiménez, who salvaged an important point at Astana two weeks ago with a couple of goals.
Atleti will be staying at the same hotel in Lisbon as they did before the Champions League final in 2014, and although many will focus on the outcome, the trip gives us a chance to remember where the most successful season in recent history came to a close.
Hopefully we can lay the ghost of that night to rest with a memorable performance, and keep our good run going ahead of another big clash on Sunday at home to Athletic Bilbao.
The draw for the Round of 16 takes place next Monday 14th December in Nyon.
Atlético match selection
Goalkeepers: Moyá, Oblak
Defenders: Godín, Filipe Luís, Siqueira, Savic, Gámez, Lucas, Juanfran, Giménez
Midfielders: Koke, Óliver, Gabi, Saúl, Thomas, Carrasco
Forwards: Griezmann, Torres, Correa, Vietto
Referee: Ovidiu Hategan (Romania)