After a tough game in Barcelona on Tuesday evening, Atlético find themselves with another trip up north when they must face Espanyol in the league on Saturday evening.
Kick-off at Estadi Cornellà-El Prat is set for 18:15 CEST.
Atleti return to league action just four days after a gruelling fixture in the Champions League, where they played for an hour with ten-men after Fernando Torres’ early departure.
You can expect to see El Niño line up for Los Rojiblancos, not only because the striker has been in good form for Atleti, but also because he must sit out the return leg against Barcelona on Wednesday night through suspension.
It’s the 32nd game of Atleti’s league campaign, and although six points behind Barcelona, it’s effectively seven due to the Catalans’ superior head-to-head record this season against Simeone’s men.
I’ve been criticised for giving up on the title, but with Barcelona travelling to San Sebastian this weekend, a place where they haven’t won a league game in almost ten years, there’s a very faint glimmer of hope for Atleti’s championship chances.
Even so, a win for Atlético against Barcelona’s local rivals is going to be key if they are to put any sort of pressure on the defending champions.
Tiago is still out through injury, and won’t play in the fixture that he picked up his injury 132 days ago.
José Giménez and Savic are both still injured, so we will likely see Godín line up alongside the impressive Lucas, who was named to the UEFA Champions League team of the week following his defensive performance against Barcelona.
In the same fixture last season, Atleti couldn’t manage much more than a 0-0 draw. It will be interesting to see which version of the Atlético attack turns up on Saturday. Will it be the free-scoring forwards that dominated Real Betis, or the goal-shy strikers that we’ve seen all too many times this season?
Either way, with a team that played its heart out on Tuesday, there is going to be some tired legs. With Torres starting up front, this may let Simeone rest Antoine Griezmann, who is also one yellow card away from suspension.
Kranevitter and Augusto again make the squad, but Óliver still misses out through injury.
“Atlético fans know that the Espanyol game is a difficult one for us – and an important one,” said Simeone at his pre-match press conference, where he also talked about the renewal of Fernando Torres.
“We have the chance to continue aspiring to our objective with the prospect of being able to compete during the last five games of the season.”
Espanyol are sitting 15th in the league, eight points clear of relegation but not completely safe just yet.
“Now we have another tough opponent, Espanyol, who have a midfield full of players who work hard. We will have to play differently to how we played on Tuesday.”
Just how different we’ll play remains to be seen, especially with the vital return leg against Barcelona on the horizon.
Atlético squad to face Espanyol
Goalkeepers: Oblak and Moyá.
Defenders: Godín, Filipe Luis, Gámez, Lucas, Juanfran, and Monsalve.
Midfielders: Koke, Carrasco, Kranevitter, Augusto, Gabi, Saúl, and Thomas.
Forwards: Correa, Vietto, Griezmann, and Fernando Torres.