Kick Off: Saturday, January 2, 2010. 22:00 CET
Vicente Calderon, Madrid
Vicente Calderon, Madrid
Turning Over A New Leaf
Atletico Madrid’s beginning to the 2009-10 season could kindly be described as inglorious. The capital club lurched from disaster to disaster, tumbling meekly out of the Champions League and slumping to a position near the foot of La Liga.
Signs of recovery have been relatively thin on the ground, with a 4-0 spanking of Espanyol at the Vicente Calderon an undoubted highlight of their campaign thus far.
Despite sitting 15th in the table, having drawn 1-1 against Tenerife prior to the Christmas pause, there still appears to be an upbeat mood in the camp, with both Diego Forlan and Simao hopeful that there is better to come from one of Spain’s great underachievers.
“We know where the problems are, and we are on the way to solving them. We are on the right track,” the Portuguese explained to Europa Press. "We are more united on the pitch. We need to have more confidence in ourselves.
"I expect that we will improve in the new year."
Meanwhile, two-time Pichichi Trophy winner Forlan was somewhat more ambitious. “We want to claim a title,” he boomed to AS, considering the possibility of claiming either the Copa del Rey or the Europa League.
Before focusing on either of these competitions, los Rojiblancos, who allowed Florent Sinama-Pongolle to depart to Sporting this week and who are primed to let go of Maxi Rodriguez, must secure their place in the top flight for next term. A match against Sevilla by no means holds the promise of points.
Currently nine points off Barcelona’s pace and lagging behind Real Madrid by seven, Sevilla are Spain’s ‘Best of the Rest’ to this point. Los Rojiblancos had been tipped for something of a surge towards the ‘Big Two’ this term, but a series of disappointing home results have rather stunted their progress.
The latest of these came prior to Christmas, when Getafe caused something of a stir by claiming maximum points at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, running out 2-1 victors.
On the road there are few better than Manolo Jimenez’s side, and this has clearly bred confidence in the players.
“We are alive in three competitions and the team has shown a very high level of play. We should aspire to do well in all competitions we compete in and be there as contenders in the final days. I also want to continue with the national team and do well,” Jesus Nava told AS.
He is simply echoing the confident mood of coach Jimenez, who is preparing his side for an exceptionally difficult January, during which they will meet Barcelona on no fewer than three occasions. The coach has indicated that a strong month could lead Sevilla en route to glory, and a quick start against Atleti would be ideal.
DREW 1-1 (a) Tenerife (La Liga, December 20)
LOST 2-1 (h) Villarreal (La Liga, December 13)
LOST 3-0 (h) Porto (Champions League, December 8)
WON 2-0 (a) Xerez (La Liga, December 5)
WON 4-0 (h) Espanyol (La Liga, November 29)
LOST 2-1 (h) Getafe (La Liga, December 19)
WON 1-0 (a) Sporting Gijon (La Liga, December 13)
WON 1-0 (h) Rangers (Champions League, December 9)
DREW 1-1 (h) Valladolid (La Liga, December 5)
DREW 1-1 (h) Malaga (La Liga, November 28)
Maxi Rodriguez should be available again but there are doubts over Sergio Aguero and Pablo Ibanez.
Juanito and Tomas Ujfalusi are both banned after treading over the disciplinary threshold.
Probable Starting XI: Sergio Asenjo; Perea, Pablo, Dominguez, Lopez; Assuncao, Santana; Reyes, Camacho, Simao; Forlan
One of the reasons January will prove a difficult month of the Andalusians is the African Cup of Nations; Didier Zokora, Arouna Kone and Frederic Kanoute have all departed the club to represent their countries.
However, there are also some key injury issues, with Luis Fabiano expected to miss the majority of the month due to an ankle injury.
A more immediate concern is the goalkeeping situation. Andres Palop damaged his left knee turning sharply in training on Thursday and is a doubt. Javi Varas is out for a week after colliding with Abdoulay Konko in training.
Adriano and Lolo should be fit.
Probable Starting XI: Palop; Konko, Squillaci, Dragutinovic, Fernando Navarro; Romaric, Duscher; Navas, Renato, Perotti; Negredo
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Los Colchoneros need Diego Forlan to hit his best level if they are to move up the table steadily. Their defensive problems won’t be remedied overnight, but the Uruguayan striker can win a match in an instant. With only six goals so far this term, a better return is expected.
Midfielder Koffi Romaric seems to believe he has a point to prove after being left out of the Ivory Coast squad for the African Cup of Nations. Ironically this snub will provide him with a chance to flourish for around a month at club level. Should he take it, he will boost his hopes of rejoining the Elephants’ setup in time for the World Cup.
Neither side goes into this match without their share of battle scars, and it promises to be a difficult encounter to predict. Atleti, for all their struggles, still remain seemingly confident, though their defence remains woeful. In usual circumstances Sevilla would be strong enough to take advantage, but the depleted Rojiblancos have problems of their own on the selection front. This seems a good time to sit on the fence.
Atletico Madrid 2-2 Sevilla
Robin Bairner, Goal.com