After returning to training on Boxing Day, it’s back to La Liga action for Atlético Madrid tomorrow as they make the short journey south to face Rayo Vallecano in a must-win clash.
Defeat to Málaga before Christmas saw us blow the chance to leapfrog Barcelona into top spot, and Simeone’s men can’t afford any more slip ups heading into new year.
Kick-off in Vallecas is set for 18:15 CET.
Usually, players get two weeks off during the festive period but this season the LFP decided to cut their holidays short and play a round of matches before the turn of the year.
Atleti’s fifteen match unbeaten streak came to a disappointing end last time out in La Rosaleda, and they will need to pick themselves up in order to keep the pace at the top of La Liga at this crucial stage.
The big South American presence in the team means many of the players have been halfway around the world to spend Christmas in the last few days, but Cholo made sure his squad were back promptly to prepare for the trip to Rayo.
However, Gabi‘s red card at Málaga means he, along with the injured Tiago, is out of action, leaving us looking a little threadbare in midfield against a typically fast and hungry team.
Filipe Luís also misses out through suspension, so the team will have to be much improved if they are to get all three points given that they will be without three of their most experienced figures.
One player who stayed in Madrid over the break was Jackson Martínez, who opted to continue training and work towards a recovery from his recent ankle injury rather than go home to Colombia.
The 29 year-old striker’s dedication has paid off, as he received the medical clearance to make his return today and is in the squad for the first time since the win against Sporting Gijón in early November.
French teenager Lucas Hernández is the only other absentee for technical reasons, although Matías Kranevitter – who trained for the first time with his new teammates today – will be available from next Monday.
The Argentine midfielder was incorporated into the squad almost straight after arriving in the Spanish capital this morning, and is expected to be joined at the club by Augusto Fernández from Celta Vigo in the coming days.
Simeone was keen to welcome his compatriot to the club, and spoke about Kranevitter, Augusto and the visit to Vallecas in his press conference earlier this afternoon.
“We’re still waiting for confirmation on Augusto, but I can talk about Kranevitter now that he is with us,” he said. “He has a lot of enthusiasm, and although adapting is not always easy he is a player who can help us a lot in midfield.”
“Rayo? They are always a dangerous opponent. Their courage is both their strength and their weakness, as they showed in the last game where they were the better team for 15 minutes.”
“They are always a bold team and their attacking football is incisive, so we will have to be careful.” he finished.
The former River Plate boss was asked how he would line-up without Gabi and Tiago, and confirmed that Koke, Óliver Torres and Saúl will all start in midfield.
Rayo come into the clash on the back of a 10-2 mauling at the hands of Real Madrid, although the scoreline doesn’t quite tell the scoreline given that they were ahead before going down to nine men.
Raúl Baena and Tito saw red in the Bernabéu so will be suspended tomorrow, as well as Nacho Martínez for an accumulation of yellow cards. Paco Jémez is boosted however by the returns of defenders Răzvan Raț and Diego Llorente.
The home side will need a response, and although they find themselves in the relegation zone, you know what you are going to get from them. Good football, high intensity and lots of attacking.
Last season, they held champions Atleti to a goalless draw on the on the first day of the season, and were also 2-1 winners in the same fixture a couple of years earlier.
Wednesday’s clash is the first of a quick-fire triple bill between the two capital clubs, who will face off in the last 16 of the Copa del Rey in early January.
Atlético match selection
Goalkeepers: Moyá, Oblak
Defenders: Godín, Siqueira, Savic, Gámez, Juanfran, Giménez
Midfielders: Koke, Óliver, Saúl, Thomas, Carrasco
Forwards: Griezmann, Torres, Jackson, Correa, Vietto