Following their 2-0 defeat to Celta Vigo last weekend, experts have all but written off any chance of Atletico Madrid retaining their La Liga title this season.
The setback at the Balaidos left the reigning league champions seven points adrift from first place Real Madrid, with no more matches left to play between the city rivals.
Since the beginning of the campaign, Diego Simeone has insisted that his side’s goal was not retaining their crown as kings of Spanish football but Champions League qualification for next season.
After losing key players in the summer and witnessing the transfer activity of La Liga heavyweights Real Madrid and Barcelona, Simeone admitted that Atletico would set their sights on a top four finish; with their main rivals being Valencia, Sevilla and Villarreal.
Throughout the season, the manager has never wavered from his early proclamation.
Speaking ahead of his side’s weekend encounter with Almeria, Simeone reiterated his pre-season thoughts.
“We’re in the same position in terms of our championship as six months ago,” Simeone said during his pre-match press conference. “We’re up against Sevilla and Valencia.”
“Our goal is the Champions League, and our rivals for that are [currently] Sevilla and Valencia. Villarreal could also get into it, they’re playing very well although now they’ve got a bit of a problem with injuries.”
When asked if the club’s title defense was over after the defeat to Celta Vigo, Simeone responded: “We’re just thinking about Saturday’s game against Almeria. It’s important to keep on the same good track we have been.”
“I hope we can respond to the characteristics of the game. They have a lot of pace in attack. Hopefully we can take the game where we want to go.”
“We’re back at the Calderon, where we beat Real Madrid two weeks ago. We’re back with our fans. Other than our first half in Vigo the team is competitive in all competitions.”
Simeone went on to confirm that striker Fernando Torres will start on the bench this weekend, with the manager opting to use Antoine Griezmann and Mario Mandzukic in attack.
Against Celta Vigo, Simeone attempted a lineup which featured all three of his high-profile attacking players – due to the absences of Koke, Arda Turan and Raul Garcia. But following the loss at the Balaidos, the Atletico boss admitted that his decision cost the team any chance at three points; believing that the “balance” of his squad was unsettled.
With Turan and Garcia back in the squad following their suspensions, Simeone feels better about his side’s chances this weekend.
“We missed Arda [Turan] and Raul Garcia the other day,” the manager added. “It’s different when Arda is out, he gives us control and knows how to link up the midfield with the defense, the full-backs and attack. When he is on form he throws teams off balance. He’s one of our decisive players.”
Never one to make his starting eleven a secret, Simeone confirmed his lineup against Almeria would be: Moya; Juanfran, Godin, Miranda, Siqueira; Saul, Tiago, Gabi, Arda; Griezmann and Mandzukic.
Programming note: Atletico Madrid vs. Almeria will be shown LIVE on Saturday starting at 1:55pm EST on beINSPORTS en español and DishWorld.
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