Atlético can punch their ticket to the Copa del Rey quarter-finals with a win or draw against Espanyol in the second fixture of the two-legged Round of 16 tie.
Los Rojiblancos will come into the away clash with the 1-0 advantage secured at home just before Christmas, a minimal margin especially considering los Pericos’ dominance at their Cornellà-El Prat stadium this season.
Quique Sánchez Flores’ men will come out fired up and will be looking to help their supporters quickly forget the points left behind in Madrid earlier this week as a result of their scoreless draw versus Racing Santander.
The squad will be boosted by the return of José Antonio Reyes to the fold. The talented winger was sorely missed on Monday as Atleti failed to score at home for the first time in their 2010-11 campaign.
Unfortunately, Diego Forlán, whose absence was also felt against the Cantabrians, did not recover from his ankle sprain in time for this match.
Tiago will not play having sustained a hamstring injury in our tie against Racing, and it looks like we’ll have to wait at least another game before we get to see Elias make his debut. The Brazilian midfielder was not included in Quique’s selection, as his transfer has not been officialised yet.
Los Colchoneros have rounded out their selection with the inclusion of several youth products. Midfielder Koke was impressive in the 20 minutes he was allotted against the Verdiblancos and is available again. Striker Borja, who was also called up for our last game, is at hand and will hope to see some playing time against Espanyol.
19-year-old winger Alberto Perea has finally been promoted back to the senior side and is at Quique’s disposal.
The clean sheet at home left our main objective clear for this bout. If we score a goal in Barcelona, our opponents will be forced to score at least three to qualify. We’ll be resting our hopes once again on our freshly-appointed vice-captain Sergio Agüero. The Argentine talisman, who recently extended his contract through 2014, will want to improve on his performance in our first match of the week.
Our defence will seek to take their streak of not allowing a goal versus Spanish opposition up to five straight games.
Mauricio Pochettino’s men will be pumped up as well after experiencing an unjust, heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Valencia on the weekend. The Catalans were robbed of a point in injury time following a late goal by Juan Manuel Mata, who scored from a clearly offside position.
We caught a huge break with the news that Espanyol’s biggest attacking threat, Pablo Daniel Osvaldo, has been ruled out with a knee injury. The Argentine striker netted a pearler at the Calderón in our last league match against the Barcelona-based outfit that ended up being the game-winner.
The victor will measure itself up against a daunting Real Madrid side in the quarter-finals, unless of course Levante come back from their 8-0 deficit.
Reinforcements will reportedly only arrive if we qualify to the next round
According to Spanish paper AS, Atlético directors will be waiting out the result of this encounter in order to determine if more signings will be made during this transfer window. The rumours basically suggest that if we qualify to the next round, then we will sign an additional winger.
The team is in obvious need of offensive reinforcements following the recent departure of Simão, and the exits of Salvio and Jurado over the summer. Quique made it clear just how dire the situation is when he was forced to line-up Raúl García on the right flank against Racing, and later had to bring in Valera to perform that role when Tiago came out limping with his hamstring injury.
Regardless of whether we make it through to the quarter-finals, we need help if we want to qualify for a Champions League spot. Though we would all love to see our canteranos thrive on the first team, we could really use the addition of a proven, experienced winger.
Atlético match selection
Goalkeepers: De Gea, Joel
Defenders: Valera, Antonio López, Filipe Luis, Godín, Ujfalusi, Álvaro Domínguez, Perea
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Raúl García, Fran Mérida, Paulo Assunção, Reyes, Koke, Alberto Perea
Forwards: Kun Agüero, Diego Costa and Borja
Espanyol match selection
Goalkeepers: Kameni, Cristian Álvarez
Defenders: Chica, Didac, Forlín, Amat, Raúl Rodríguez
Midfielders: Javi Márquez, Baena, Verdú, Javi López, Duscher, Dátolo, Molina
Forwards: Callejón, Luis García, Sergio García, Iván Alonso and Álvaro
Referee: Miguel Ángel Pérez Lasa
Don’t forget to get in your predictions for the AtleticoFans Prediction League!
Who do you think Quique will line-up to start the match?