On Sunday evening, Atlético will be looking to avenge the 4-1 pounding suffered at the hands of Hércules back in January when the two sides face off at the Vicente Calderón.
It will be manager Quique Sanchez Flores’ last match at the stadium he brought two European titles to.
Saturday morning, the Rojiblanco boss admitted what was pretty much a foregone conclusion: he will not be returning for another campaign.
“It will be my last game at the Calderón,” Quique announced during the pre-game press conference. “I hope to be able to control my emotions.”
On the subject of controlling emotions, this clash comes just days after a widely-publicised bust-up between the coach and forward Diego Forlan. On the bus ride back to the airport following Tuesday night’s loss to Racing Santander, the pair reportedly had to be separated following a heated verbal altercation.
“I’m not here to deny what has been said,” Quique told reporters, “Those who know Forlan’s manners and my manners know that we wouldn’t get past a verbal exchange of opinions. I’m not going to judge the reports. You read and hear about them and that’s it.”
To make matters worse at Atleti, Quique’s men have hit another rough patch, having lost consecutive matches against Málaga and Racing. Fortunately, direct rivals Athletic Bilbao and Sevilla have also stumbled lately and we are still a safe bet to qualify for a Europa League berth.
Currenty in seventh place, los Colchoneros can clinch a European spot with a victory on Sunday coupled with an Espanyol loss or draw.
Though the squad’s objective at the beginning of the 2010-11 season was to book their return to the Champions League, Sanchez Flores assured that Europa League play “is very important for the history of the club,” arguing that “there have been players here like Fernando Torres that left without experiencing a European competition.”
The Rojiblanco boss will have to roll out a patchwork defence on Sunday given Tomas Ujfalusi’s one-match ban, and Luis Perea and Diego Godín’s unavailability through injuries.
Godín was expected to recover from an undisclosed muscle strain in time for this encounter and even fully participated in Saturday’s practice session however, the Uruguayan surprisingly asked to be left off the match selection. Quique explained to MARCA, “[Godín] was at the training session and he told me he was at the limit. He says he can’t make it.”
Wild conjecture: Could this be an act of protest by Godín for Quique’s treatment of his compatriot Forlán?
Conspiracy theories aside, Godín’s unavailability opens the door for Atleti youth product Jorge Pulido, who is set to make his Liga debut alongside Alvaro Dominguez. “I’m especially excited that he’ll get a chance to play,” Quique admitted about Pulido’s more than likely inclusion in the starting line-up.
Juanfran returns to the squad after missing out on Tuesday, as he mourned the loss of his father, and Diego Costa is back from suspension.
Hércules will be playing out of pride, as their relegation from the Spanish top flight was confirmed earlier this week with a draw versus Mallorca.
According to an EFE report, Hércules coach Miroslav Đukić will have to make-do without several of his starters.
Colombian midfielder Abel Aguilar is suspended, while Sendoa Agirre, Nelson Haedo Valdez, Olivier Thomert and Royston Drenthe have all picked up knocks and will be sidelined. A crop of reserve squad players are expected to fill in for those first team absences.
While Colchonero supporters will be saying goodbye to Quique on Sunday, could this also be the last time they get to see Kun, Forlan, Tiago, David de Gea or others don the Atleti crest?
For his part, young phenom De Gea assured: “I will decide my future on the 30th of June.”
The goalkeeper told MARCA ahead of what might be his last home match with his lifetime club, “God willing, I will continue playing for Atlético Madrid for many years. Making a lot of money is not always the most important thing,” he said.
When asked about his and Kun’s future, De Gea responded: “I see myself with him at Atlético Madrid.”
Some late changes were made to the match selection. Diego Forlán has been replaced by Borja while Fran Mérida is also left off.
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: De Gea, Joel
Defenders: Valera, Antonio López, Filipe Luis, Domínguez, Pulido
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Tiago, Raúl García, Elías, Fran Mérida, Paulo Assunção, Reyes, Juanfran, Koke, Noguera
Forwards: Forlán, Kun Agüero, Diego Costa, Borja
Referee: Eduardo Iturralde González
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