Racing Santander v Atletico Madrid, Copa del Rey semi-final second-leg, February 11, 2010
Surely even Atletico Madrid can’t balls up a four-goal lead from the first leg.
Despite appearing to have some of the best players plying their trade in Spain on their books, the Rojiblancos are famed for their inconsistent form and repeated failure to live up to expectations. The second biggest club in Madrid have been put the shadows for years now by their city rivals Real, and Atletico have failed to scoop any sort of silverware since 1996 when the club won the league and cup double.
Sitting in abject 12th place in the league, Atletico have no chance of reaching the Champions League next season and, being currently 11 points off Deportivo in sixth, their chances of claiming a Europa League berth via the league also seems highly unlikely. That means that the Copa del Rey is far and away the club’s best chance of success this season, and, riding high after a 4-nil success last week in the first-leg of their semi-final, Atletico cannot let this opportunity slip through their fingers. (Atletico are 11/8 to win the Spanish cup.)
Parallels have already been drawn with the disastrous campaign of 1999-2000, in which Atleti dropped through the relegation trapdoor despite reaching the Copa del Rey final. Boasting players of the ilk of Diego Forlan, Sergio Aguero, Jose Antonio Reyes and Simao, it would seem impossible for relegation to even be conceivable, but such has been the hit-or-miss nature of the side, it remains a possibility.
By the time Thursday night’s fixture comes around Racing and Atleti will surely be sick of the sight of each other. After playing last week’s first-leg, the sides met again last weekend in La Liga, where the match ended 1-all in Santander. Accordingly, the second-leg will be the third time in a week the sides have faced-off, leaving both sides acutely aware of the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents.
While Atleti will be looking to their forwards to carry them in to the final, arguably the visitors’ defence will make or break Quique Sanchez Flores’ side’s progress to the final. Having conceded 34 goals in just 21 league matches this season, Atleti’s defence remains a constant weak link of the team. (Atletico are 12/5 to keep a clean sheet, 2/9 against.)
Alongside 30-something defenders Antonio Lopez Guerrero, Tomas Ujfalusi and Luis Amaranto Perea, arguably the Rojiblanco’s most impressive player at the back is youngster Alvaro Dominguez. Able to feature either on the left or center of the rearguard, the 20-year-old has already featured for the Spanish Under-21 side and is on the right track to feature for the full national team in the future.
On the hosts, Racing’s biggest confidence boost ahead of kick-off will be the fact the club have nothing to lose heading into this fixture. 4-nil down, Racing should have no chance of reaching the final, which in turn may allow the Racinguistas the freedom to play without fear.
Coach Miguel Angel Portugal has inspired his side to a magnificent run of form of late. Since losing back-to-back fixture against Real Madrid and Deportivo La Coruna back at the end of November, Racing have only suffered only one further league loss in nine fixtures.
During this period, the rise of 18-year-old striker Sergio Canales has the been the major story at Racing. The striker, who is reported to be heading to Real Madrid next summer, became a household name after scoring a brace in Racing’s fabulous victory at Sevilla several weeks ago. And the lean forward with a sharp eye for goal then further his reputation scoring against Valladolid and Osasuna in recent weeks. (Racing are 5/1 to score in both halves.)
Flanked by strikers Pedro Munitis, Mohamed Tchite and former Newcastle flop Xisco, Racing will be hoping that they can bag one, if not two goals in the first half, and then they can go on a have a really go at always-likely-to-collapse Atletico in the second period. In turn Atletico will know that attack is probably their best form of defence, and from a neutral’s perspective this match could prove to be a goalscoring-fest. (Over 2.5 goals is EVS, under 21/20.)
101gg predicts: Racing Santander 3 – Atletico Madrid 2 (28/1)
Full match odds here.