Atlético head into Asturias to face off against fellow rojiblanco side Sporting Gijón on Sunday evening at the Estadio El Molinón.
The teams last met in the season opener at the Vicente Calderón, a 4-0 rout by Atleti just days after our Super Cup triumph over Inter Milan that had us all living in a fool’s paradise. José Manuel Jurado had opened up the scoring against the Gijoneses in what was to be his final game with Atlético, prior to his move to Schalke.
Back then, everyone was jumping on the Atleti bandwagon. Pep Guardiola and Iker Casillas were lured in by our charms and even had us tabbed as legitimate title-contenders.
“If they always show this attitude and aggressiveness, they are capable of beating anyone, even (Real) Madrid,” the Blaugrana boss had said. “If they keep it up throughout the year, they are candidates for the title.”
“Atletico appear to be title-contenders,” Casillas told Real Madrid’s official site back in September. “They are playing good, effective football. They deserve to be among the top teams, which will also make the league more exciting.”
After we had thrashed his squad, Sporting coach Manuel Preciado sounded like he had fallen under the red and white spell.
“They have strengthened excellently,” he said. “I still think Barca are a step above, but Atletico may be an alternative.”
Fast forward four months later and you will find an Atlético squad that is a far cry from the world-beaters of the early days of the 2010-11 campaign.
Two catastrophic losses to lowly Greek outfit Aris in the Europa League ended our hopes of defending our crown from last year’s edition of the competition, and back-to-back losses in the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey against arch-rivals Real Madrid shattered our chances of avenging our loss in the cup final last season.
We have also burned three out of the four chances that we were given to end the winless run against los Merengues this year, taking the streak to 20 matches since our last victory over our neighbors in 1999.
Quique’s men must now hit the reset button and focus solely on holding on to our last life-line: achieving a Champions League spot. Otherwise, as Colombian defender Luis Amaranto Perea said, if we don’t, “it would be an athletic failure.”
“We have to be amongst the best, both at a Club and personal level, and that means being in the Champions League,” the full-back told the club’s official site.
Against Preciado’s side, los Colchoneros must scrape by without attack masterminds Sergio Aguero and Jose Antonio Reyes, both out with injuries.
Kun continues his recovery from the hamstring injury suffered in the first leg of the cup quarter-final against Real Madrid, and Reyes sustained an ankle sprain following a vicious challenge by Alvaro Arbeloa in the second leg that will keep the Andalusian out for about two weeks.
Without our primary playmakers against los Blancos on Thursday, we struggled mightily to create goalscoring chances.
An out-of-form Diego Forlán must step up his game if we are to threaten the Asturians at all. Fran Mérida and Diego Costa will also be relied upon to spark our attack.
Mario Suarez will remain in Madrid as he is not fully healed from his thigh injury yet. Antonio Lopez returns after a one-match suspension, and may replace Filipe in the starting line-up.
Sporting ended a woeful winless spell of 13 games by shutting out Hércules 2-0 at home last week for only their third league victory of the season. The result took some of the pressure off of their coach, who had spent much of the first half of the season in the hot seat with rumours of his imminent sacking running rampant in the Spanish media.
Preciado’s men presently sit 17th in the league table and are just two points clear from bottom feeders Almería. Sporting would sink into the relegation zone with a loss on Sunday coupled with an Almería win over Osasuna, so we can expect the Asturians to be highly-motivated.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: De Gea, Joel
Defenders: Valera, Antonio López, Filipe Luis, Godín, Ujfalusi, Álvaro Domínguez, Perea
Midfielders: Tiago, Raúl García, Elías, Fran Mérida, Paulo Assunção, Juanfran, Koke, Alberto Perea
Forwards: Forlán, Diego Costa and Borja
Referee: Javier Estrada Fernández
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