Atlético are set to face off against Real Zaragoza on Saturday evening at La Romareda. Coincidentally, the two teams find themselves in exactly the same positions in the league as they were in the last time they met, with Atleti floundering mid-table and Zaragoza struggling to avoid the drop.
When Atleti visited los Maños last season we were in 11th place whilst the home side were fighting to avoid relegation in 17th. Though our 2010-11 season got off to a solid start, we have since stumbled into the bottom half of la Liga.
Zaragoza on the other hand, got off to a terrible start but have seen some slight improvement since former Atleti coach Javier Aguirre took control of the squad back in November.
The Mexican manager was sacked by the Rojiblanco board in February 2009 following a seven-game winless streak just months after steering the club back into the Champions League. Atleti were in seventh place after an irregular first half of the season in which the team had only managed to get 32 points from 21 league matches and ‘el Vasco’ was shown the door.
The board has shown more patience with current manager Quique Sanchez Flores, whose men have only taken 30 points from 23 matches, and in 11th, sit in a far worse position.
“We’re looking forward to going to Zaragoza with the clear idea that if we win the game we’ll get back into or very close to the European spots,” Quique told the club’s official site ahead of the encounter.
The Rojiblanco boss talked about the team’s collective psyche following a string of four league losses.
“I believe that when one has lost four consecutive matches, even more so when they continue to work in the same way, the only thing that needs to change for the player’s mental state to change is the result,” he said.
“We’re still chasing that and we’ll try to play the best possible match to win and dedicate it to our fans and, hopefully, we’ll come back from Zaragoza with the points.”
Mario Suarez and Diego Godín will be serving their one-match suspensions this weekend, whilst Tomas Ujfalusi returns to the selection after being banned from playing against Valencia last Saturday.
Filipe Luís has recovered from his hamstring injury and Elias is back in the selection after being left out from the match versus los Che due to a tactical decision.
Aguirre, whose men coughed up a 1-0 lead in Alicante on Sunday en route to a 2-1 defeat to Hércules, had some words of support for his colleague Sanchez Flores.
“All coaches have been questioned at some stage,” he told reporters in the pre-match press conference. “Quique has given them two titles in a short period of time and that is very difficult to achieve.
“He deserves all the respect and support from the fans because I think Atletico are in very good hands.”
The Spanish media has speculated that the coach will employ a five defender set up to try and stop the attack duo of Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero, who Aguirre described as “lethal.”
Striker Ikechukwu Uche is back from a long injury lay-off, but budding star midfielder Ander Herrera is suspended. Winger Ángel Lafita will miss out through injury.
A 10-man Atlético bested los Maños at the Calderón 1-0 back in September. Diego Costa scored the only goal of the game and Atleti secured a hard-fought shut out even after Jose Antonio Reyes was harshly sent off early in the second half.
Rojiblanco striker Ibrahima Baldé, currently on loan at Numancia, stunned La Romareda last season with a thrilling injury time goal that leveled the score at 1-1 and salvaged a point. Reyes had also seen red in that draw.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: De Gea, Joel
Defenders: Valera, Antonio López, Filipe Luis, Ujfalusi, Álvaro Domínguez, Perea
Midfielders: Tiago, Raúl García, Elías, Fran Mérida, Paulo Assunção, Reyes, Juanfran, Koke
Forwards: Forlán, Agüero and Diego Costa
Referee: Carlos Delgado Ferreiro
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