Atlético will want to improve on their abysmal 2011 form when Athletic Bilbao visit the Calderón on Sunday evening.
Los Rojiblancos’ record in the new year has been downright pitiful. After yet another disappointing loss last weekend away at Sporting, Atleti have been defeated in four out of their last five games in all competitions and have been shut out in back-to-back encounters.
The blackout on offense can be partially attributed to the absence of sparkplug Sergio Aguero, along with the missing Jose Antonio Reyes and Tiago, who had all been out with injuries.
Diego Forlán, amidst a swirl of rumours regarding his future, was unable to carry the attack load all on his own and was heavily criticised for his lifeless showing in Gijón.
The Uruguayan superstar will be looking for redemption against one of his favourite opponents. The 31-year-old has scored a remarkable 12 goals in 13 matches against the Basque club, including the first goal away at San Mamés in our 2-1 victory over Athletic back in the second week of la Liga.
Forlán now sits at just two league goals shy of tying Fernando Torres’ record of 75.
Fortunately for los Colchoneros, Kun, Reyes and Tiago all look set to come to the rescue of their free-falling team-mates. The trio trained at full speed on the final days ahead of the match, and will be at manager Quique Sanchez Flores’ disposal.
Sanchez Flores, who himself recognised last week that he is in the hot seat, has some ambitious goals for the rest of the campaign.
“Every season there is always a team that excels in the second half of the season and gets 40 or 42 points, why can’t it be Atletico?” said Quique at the pre-game conference.
“We want to be the team with the most points in the second half.”
Quique will enlist the services of aerial defence specialist Diego Godín, who will be responsible for manning Fernando Llorente’s head. Bilbao’s No. 9 scores roughly 90 per cent of his goals with his noggin.
The Rojiblanco coach practised all week with the game’s probable starting back line composed of Ujfalusi, Perea, Godin and Filipe.
Mario Suarez remains sidelined with a muscle injury, and Raul Garcia will miss out as he was handed a one-game ban for his fifth booking.
Juan Valera, following a string of three straight starts, was surprisingly left off of the match selection.
If we get the point count starting with a win over Bilbao, we will leap-frog the Basque outfit on the Liga table. Los Leones did just that to us last week after their triumph over Hercules, their second consecutive league victory.
Athletic boss Joaquín Caparrós remained cautious about his men’s new-found position in the so-called European spots of the league table.
“This game is important because it’s the most immediate game,” he told the Spanish press ahead of the clash. “What worth would it be to win this match if in the following match we lose to Sporting? We are well-placed in the table, but next week who knows. There’s still a long way to go.”
The Calderón will be the site of the club’s celebration of “100 Years of Red and White Pride”. January 22nd marked the 100th year anniversary since Atleti switched from blue and white stripes to the historic red and white ones. The event was not planned around fellow Rojiblancos Athletic’s visit, which was purely coincidental.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: De Gea, Joel
Defenders: Antonio López, Filipe Luis, Godín, Ujfalusi, Álvaro Domínguez, Perea
Midfielders: Tiago, Elías, Fran Mérida, Paulo Assunção, Reyes, Juanfran, Koke
Forwards: Forlán, Agüero and Diego Costa
Athletic match selection:
Goalkeepers: Iraizoz, Raul
Defenders: Koikili, San José, Iraola, Aitor Ocio, Ekiza
Midfielders: David López, Iturraspe, Gabilondo, Susaeta, Orbaiz, Gurpegui, Javi Martínez
Forwards: Toquero, Muniain, De Marcos and Llorente
Referee: Fernando Teixeira Vitienes
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