With a Champions League spot well within their reach, Atlético will be looking to get off to a running start in 2011 by besting Racing Santander before a home crowd.
Before year’s end, los Rojiblancos seemed to have figured out their defensive woes. In our last four matches in all competitions, we only conceded one goal.
Our previous three games against Spanish competition have all ended in shutouts in our favour, helping us close the gap in our quest for the Champions League following consecutive league triumphs over Deportivo and Málaga.
Racing’s back-line has also seen some notable improvement however, as they haven’t allowed a goal in their last two league matches; an impressive 1-0 away victory at Mallorca and a 0-0 draw at home against Hercules.
“Racing is a very dangerous team,” Quique told the official site ahead of the game. “In their last matches they have conceded very few goals.
“They’ve had an irregular season but they have the advantage of playing with the same block of players and have the same coach.”
The four points recently earned by Miguel Ángel Portugal’s side bumped them up a safe distance from the relegation zone they had been flirting with earlier in the season as they coped with the big loss of young phenom Sergio Canales, who left for greener pastures over the summer.
Manager Quique Sanchez Flores will be fielding a makeshift line-up while we seek to resolve shortcomings in our squad during the winter transfer window. Out went Simao, Camacho and Asenjo, and in came Elias from Corinthians.
Many of us were excited at the prospect of the Brazilian debuting against Racing, as he had trained with most of the presumable starters in the final practices ahead of the game, but he was ultimately left out of the match selection.
“Elias is adapting himself,” Quique said. “He’s coming back from a vacation period and we have to help him get adapted, although he is not in bad shape. He arrived in great condition and with a lot of desire.”
With the suspension of Reyes and the departure of Simao, Quique will likely be going with Merida and Raul Garcia on the wings.
The biggest surprise in the selection is the call-up of reserve squad members Borja and Koke. Since his recent return from his knee injury, Borja has only seen 13 minutes of action with the Atlético B team. Koke, a central midfielder, may also be an option on the wing as Quique used him on the flanks in two games last year.
Diego Forlán will be kept out of the match as he continues his recovery from the ankle sprain sustained in the clash against Espanyol just before the break, so Diego Costa is likely to get the nod up front alongside Aguero.
Ujfalusi brushed off the knock to his ankle suffered at training last week after a tough tackle by el Kun and will probably start.
A win at the Calderón coupled with a tie between Espanyol and Valencia at Mestalla would place us in fourth in the classification table. Though we would be level with Espanyol and Valencia at 29 points, we would go ahead because of our superior goal differential.
We thrashed Racing when they last visited the Calderón in our Copa del Rey encounter last season, but we have not beaten the Cantabrian outfit in three straight league matches.
Atlético match selection
Goalkeepers: De Gea, Joel
Defenders: Valera, López, Filipe, Godín, Ujfalusi, Domínguez, Perea
Midfielders: Mario, Tiago, Raúl García, Fran Mérida, Assunção, Koke
Forwards: Agüero, Diego Costa and Borja
Referee: Javier Turienzo Alvarez
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