On Thursday night the Europa League really begins when Atlético welcome Celtic to Madrid.
The match at the Vicente Calderón will kick off at 21:05 CET.
The other match in Group I will be played between Udinese and Rennes.
For a while it was uncertain who Atleti would face, after FC Sion had appealed UEFA’s decision to expel them from the competition for using ineligible players in their play-off with Celtic.
The Swiss court ruled in Sion’s favour on Tuesday, but, while both teams were already en route to Madrid, UEFA decided to stand by their earlier decision.
This will be the third time Atleti face the Bhoys. We were victorious both in the semi finals of the Europa Cup in 1973/74 and the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1985/86.
The former confrontation made for a lot of discussion this week, when Celtic legend Billy McNeill recalled the aggressive match in Glasgow and branded the upcoming opponents “scum”.
During the pre-game press conference Celtic manager Neil Lennon played down the comments by the club icon.
“Billy McNeil is an important Celtic figure, but I think he was referring to what happened 37 years ago,” he said.
“This will be a different game.”
The coach was looking forward to the Europa League, but reckoned that his team faces a big challenge in arguably the toughest group of the tournament.
“For me, Atlético are favourites. They are of Champions League level”, he said.
If Atleti want to make it through, then winning the home game is absolutely necessary. With two more home games in the league coming up after this one, we can hopefully win three times in a row, something that hasn’t been achieved since January 2010.
Gregorio Manzano has all players available and made some surprising choices in his match selection. According to the club’s official statement, Joel, Filipe, Sílvio, Assunção, Juanfran and Pulido have been left out to rest.
Only full backs Sílvio and Filipe started against Valencia on the weekend, but their absence begs the question whether Manzano is taking this match very seriously.
The coach explained his decision.
“All our players are in perfect condition,” he said.
“The players that come in now are very fresh, but I will not change my formation. We’ll continue to play 4-3-3.”
Pizzi makes his debut in Atleti’s squad, while Asenjo, Godín, Koke and Salvio return after being left out from our previous match selection.
All eyes will be on Radamel Falcao, who scored a record 17 times in last season’s succesful Europa League run for Porto.
The Colombian was unable to find the back of the net on his official debut for Atlético, but will be eager to open his account for the club in this European tournament.
Atlético match selection
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Asenjo
Defenders: Godín, López, Domínguez, Perea, Miranda
Midfielders: Mario, Tiago, Gabi, Koke, Diego
Forwards: Adrián, Salvio, Falcao, Reyes, Arda and Pizzi
Who do you think will start for Atlético and do you think we will be able to beat Celtic? Let us know in the comments!