The Vicente Calderón will be the site of Saturday evening’s showdown between Atlético and Málaga, la Liga’s two hottest clubs at the moment.
Atleti, the domestic league’s “April champions”, continued their points spree last weekend when they shut out Deportivo 1-0 in Coruña, moving up to sixth place and taking their unbeaten streak up to five matches.
The Rojiblanco surge can be attributed to manager Quique Sanchez Flores’ decision to finally settle, for the most part, on a set XI, coupled with Sergio Aguero’s sublime form.
‘El Kun’ has tallied a stunning nine goals in his last seven appearances, taking his league total to 17. The Argentine wonder is now just two goals shy of reaching the century mark at Atlético, and will surely be looking to nab his 100th official goal on Saturday.
Málaga, who were sitting in the drop zone at 19th place just a month ago, have since taken an elevator up to 14th as Pellegrini’s men have now won three games on the trot, defeating Hércules by a convincing 3-1 margin at their Rosaleda stadium last Sunday.
Ahead of the clash, Atleti boss Quique Sanchez Flores, speaking to the club’s official site, warned, “We’re doing well but it’s certainly true that Málaga is also among the best teams of the second round; therefore, I understand that this will be a complicated match against an opponent that is a much stronger squad than the one it showed itself to be in the first part of la Liga.
“We will have to be cautious and do things well if we want to win the game,” he said.
One player los Colchoneros will not want to lose track of is Brazilian striker Júlio Baptista, who arrived to los Boquerones from Roma this past winter transfer window and has been incredibly effective for his new squad.
The former Real Madrid attacker has netted seven goals in eight appearances and five times in just the last three games since returning from injury. Along with talented forwards José Salomón Rondón and Sebastián Fernández, Baptista could spell some real trouble for Quique’s men.
Fans will be on the lookout for former Atlético man Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Camacho, who should feature against his old buddies in his first visit back to the Calderón since being sold to Málaga in late December.
The 20-year-old told MARCA earlier in the week: “It’s a special week for me in my return to the place I, in the end, call home. It’s the place where I have lived my best experiences: where I debuted, I was raised as a footballer and I have won titles, and I am very happy about going back.
“It will be a great moment for me to return to the Calderón. I have good friendships with Raúl García, Fran Mérida, Domínguez and Sergio Asenjo. They’d like to see me again despite me being on the opposing team,” Camacho said.
There were some doubts about Diego Costa’s availability coming into this encounter after the 22-year-old sprained his ankle in training on Wednesday. This led to speculation about Diego Forlan’s possible return to the starting line-up, but Quique, who included the Brazilian in his match selection, told reporters Friday morning, “[Costa] did well in training, is strong, and I feel that he will be available at one hundred per cent.”
Atleti supporters will be pleased to see that midfielder Koke is back in the selection. The canterano appears to be fully recovered from his left knee sprain suffered against Espanyol three weeks ago, and took the place of Tiago, who is out with a back injury.
Quique has once again left Juan Valera and Fran Mérida out of the squad.
Atletico match selection:
Goalkeepers: De Gea, Joel
Defenders: Antonio López, Filipe Luis, Godín, Ujfalusi, Domínguez, Perea
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Raúl García, Elías, Paulo Assunção, Reyes, Juanfran, Koke
Forwards: Forlán, Kun Agüero, Diego Costa
Referee: Ignacio Iglesias Villanueva
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