Atletico Madrid v Valencia, Europa League quarter-final second leg, April 8, 2010
Backing Atletico this season has been a fools game.
The Rojiblancos have had a miserable season, which kicked off in the worst possible manner with one win in their opening 11 league matches which saw former coach Abel Resino lose his job in October. Sanchez Flores was then installed and, though they remain a relatively lowly 10th in the league, their season has steadily improved, and they’ll feel they hold the slight edge on Thursday night having drawn 2-2 at the Mestalla in the first leg.
That encounter was much like Atletico’s personality at large: fast-paced and exciting but also with goals regularly flying in at both ends. Atleti twice lost the lead, with strikes from Diego Forlan and Antonio Lopez cancelled out by Manuel Fernandes and then David Villa eight minutes from time.
Yet coming back to the Vincent Calderon also poses some statistical headaches for Atleti. They failed to win a single home game in the Champions League group stage and they’ve also drawn with both Galatasaray and Sporting Lisbon in front of their own fans since dropping into the Europa League.
In La Liga though, the hosts have been far more formidable on their own home turf. Like Jekyll to the Hyde, they have won the last five straight home domestic matches, with a comprehensive 3-nil victory over Deportivo last weekend boosting morale and confidence ahead of Valencia’s visit.
Valencia though aren’t daunted by travelling to their fellow Spaniards. Los Che progressed in the last round after pulling out an incredible 4-all draw at Werder Bremen, offering every suggestion that they could pull off such a feat again. Left winger David Silva couldn’t have made the point much clearer when he said “We did it the difficult way in Germany and we are capable of repeating that in Madrid.”
The main reason to doubt Valencia comes when their absentee list is probed. Ever Banega and Bruno are banned, while Carlos Marchena and David Albelda, Luis Miguel, Jeremy Mathieu and Angel Dealbert are all sidelined. Completing the full doctors report, Alexis and David Navarro are both doubtful after picking up knocks in the 3-0 win over Osasuna last weekend.
Even with their missing in action, Valencia will have a star-studded line-up ready and able. Up-top Los Che have goal-scoring machine David Villa leading the line, flanked by his busy-bee sidekick Juan Mata. And the strike-force has plenty of back up from midfield with David Silva and Vicente willing runners while Ruben Baraja will patrol the centre of the pitch.
Atletico have no such selection headaches, but they do have concerns over the fitness of Jose Antonio Reyes and Juan Valera.
On the more positive side though, Madrid coach Quique Sanchez Flores withdrew striker Diego Forlan with over 25 minutes remaining last week in order that the Uruguayan should be in rude health for Valencia. The former Manchester United man has been in sparkling form of late having struck in each of his last five games, while he has found the net three times in his last two games against Los Che.
Forlan isn’t Atletico’s only marquee player, with Kun Aguero always dangerous up front, Simao offering tireless energy down the flanks, and the highly-promising Jurado will anchor the midfield in a slightly more defensive role.
The problems for Atletico come at the back. None of defenders Antonio Lopez, Mariano Pernia, Tomas Ujfalusi nor Alvaro Dominguez come highly recommended, and the backline is always susceptible against the quality Valencia possess. It doesn’t take a genius to work out a team is lopsided when their league goalscoring charts reads 47 for, 45 against.
101gg predicts: Atletico Madrid 2 – Valencia 2 (12.65) (Valencia to win in extra time)