Atlético Madrid could very easily find themselves dumped out of the Europa League on Thursday evening as they travel to Germany to take on group B leaders Bayer Leverkusen.
Atleti have had a poor group stage so far, taking just seven points from five games, including two losses to Greek underdogs Aris Thessaloniki.
Despite wins over Rosenborg home and away, Los Rojiblancos find themselves needing a favour from the Norwegian outfit if they are to progress to the next stage of this year’s competition and defend their crown. Rosenborg go to Greece to take on Aris, and Atleti have to hope for anything but three points for the Greek side.
Quique’s men have some work to do of their own though, as they play away at the group leaders in Leverkusen, with the added pressure of knowing that a loss would effectively knock them out of the competition.
The two sides already met in Madrid in late September and Los Rojiblancos managed a 1-1 draw after Simao leveled the scoreline by converting a penalty.
Leverkusen largely dominated the affair at the Vicente Calderón, with Diego Forlán the only player able to test Rene Adler’s net with a single shot on goal from open play.
Los Colchoneros have a good excuse for that lacklustre showing however, as they were without their Argentine virtuoso Sergio Agüero, who sat out with an injury. El Kun has since returned to the squad in arguably the best form of his life, and a lot of our hopes rest on his small-but-sturdy shoulders.
Unfortunately, many will say, our chances also lie in right-back Juan Valera’s likely substitution for Tomas Ujfalusi. The Czech defender did not travel with the squad due to fatigue and Valera is his natural replacement.
The only other novelty in Quique’s match selection is the inclusion of goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo, who has finally overcome the knee injury he sustained roughly seven months ago.
Possibilities of qualifying to the next round look bleak for Atlético, but not impossible. Leverkusen have been firing on all cylinders lately, and come into the encounter boasting a 10-game unbeaten streak in all competitions, so there is simply no room for error for our boys.
Last year, our most inspired performances came while our backs were pressed against the wall, and the pressure cooker is certainly set on high for this bout.
Atleti supporters will be keeping a close eye on the scoreboard from Salonika, and our loyalty will be divided between Atlético and our adopted sons from Trondheim. Let’s hope both of our sides can pull off the miracle, and that we live to see another day in our Europa League title defence.
Atlético match selection
Goalkeepers: Asenjo, De Gea and Joel
Defenders: Valera, Antonio López, Filipe Luis, Godín, Domínguez and Perea
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Tiago, Raúl García, Fran Mérida, Assunçao, Reyes and Simão
Forwards: Forlán, Agüero and Diego Costa
Projected starting line-up for Atlético: De Gea; Valera, Perea, Domínguez (Godín), Filipe; Simao, Raúl García (Assuncao), Tiago (Mario Suárez), Reyes; Aguero and Forlan
Referee: Alexandru Dan Tudor (ROU)
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