Atlético Madrid play arguably their most important La Liga match since they won it back in 2014 tomorrow night, with a tough trip to the Basque country to face Athletic.
This midweek round of fixtures could be crucial in deciding the destination of the title, with Barcelona’s wretched recent form opening the door for the chasing pack.
Kick-off in San Mamés is set for 20:45 CET.
It looked to be all but over when Sporting Gijón came from behind to snatch an improbable win against Atleti a month ago today.
Two goals in the last quarter of an hour resigned Cholo’s men to a demoralising defeat at El Molinón, with nobody giving us a hope of making up an eight point gap at the top of the table.
However it wasn’t just the press writing us off, Barcelona have also taken their eye off it since then, and now lead the way solely on the virtue of head-to-head following three successive defeats and a draw.
Five games remain, and although Athletic looks undoubtedly the biggest test on paper, we have won all three of our visits to the new San Mamés since it opened two years ago.
The Basque side are still in the race for the top 4 though, and can go to within three points of Villarreal should they beat Cholo’s men and the Yellow Submarine lose at the Bernabéu
Star striker Aritz Aduriz is out with a hamstring injury sustained in their Europa League exit to Sevilla last week, although they are boosted by the return of Iñaki Williams after he missed Sunday’s win at Málaga.
Former Atleti favourite Raúl García scored the winner in both of those matches, although it wasn’t enough in the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán as Ernesto Valverde’s side lost out on penalties to their La Liga rivals.
He received a rousing reception on his return to the Calderón back in December, but will be the main threat to the side he played such a big part in helping win the same title not so long ago.
Simeone acknowledge this in his press conference on Tuesday, and spoke about Athletic’s strengths as well as how his team plans to win the game.
“Athletic is a big rival, a very strong side,” he said. “They are dangerous in all areas of the pitch, Raúl [García] has improved their structure and we will need to control the game in order to be comfortable.”
“All we are thinking about is the game in Bilbao. We recently achieved our main objective which was to qualify for the Champions League, and that gives us the strength to continue competing for what’s to come.”
In last season’s meeting, Antoine Griezmann hit a second half hat-trick as Atleti came from behind to win 4-1, but Cholo insisted that previous meetings are in the past now.
“Every game is different to the last,” he said. “Who will win the league? I’m not a fortune teller, but what I am certain of is that it doesn’t depend on anyone else. It is in our own hands.”
The Argentine boss will be without talisman Gabi in midfield, as the rojiblanco captain picked up his 10th yellow card of the season in Sunday’s 3-0 win over Granada.
Augusto Fernández is likely to step in to replace him, and Filipe Luís will also return after serving a suspension at the weekend. The only real selection doubt surrounds whether Stefan Savic or Lucas will partner Godín in defence.
Meanwhile, José Giménez and Tiago continue to train at the same level as the rest of the squad, but both are still waiting for medical clearance before returning action.
With the title race as close as can be heading into the closing stages, half an eye will be on results elsewhere given that all three contenders are in action at more or less the same time.
Barça travel to A Coruña to take on draw specialists Deportivo at the Riazor, whereas Real Madrid are at home against a strong Villarreal side who ran out 1-0 winners in the reverse fixture.
After the game, the red and whites will start work for the visit of Málaga on Saturday, before Bayern Munich come to the Calderón for the Champions League semi-final first leg in a week’s time.
Atlético match selection
Goalkeepers: Moyá, Oblak
Defenders: Godín, Filipe, Gámez, Savic, Lucas, Juanfran
Midfielders: Koke, Kranevitter, Óliver, Augusto, Saúl, Carrasco, Thomas
Forwards: Griezmann, Torres, Correa, Vietto