Raul Garcia insists he will not let the occasion of his return to the Vicente Calderon get the better of him when Athletic Bilbao visit Atletico Madrid on Sunday.
Atletico host Athletic aiming to keep place with La Liga leaders Barcelona at the top of the table. Diego Simeone’s men trail the defending champions by two points going into this weekend’s fixtures.
Meanwhile, Athletic are just four points adrift of the top four and head into the game having lost just one of their last nine league matches.
Athletic sealed top spot in their Europa League group with a 2-2 draw with AZ on Thursday, 48 hours after Atletico won at Benfica to top their Champions League pool.
But it is Garcia’s reunion with the team he left for San Mames just over three months ago that is likely to dominate the build-up to this fixture.
Garcia is highly thought of at Atletico and left on good terms having helped them to the league title and the Champions League final in 2013-14. The 29-year-old also won the UEFA Europa League, the Copa del Rey and two UEFA Super Cups with the club.
Speaking about his imminent return to Madrid, Garcia told AS: “It’s a special day for me. When you say goodbye you think about returning. Then the moment arrives.
“I left a lot of friends, in the squad and at the club. I’m in constant contact with them. Every week I speak with some of them.
“It’s a mental issue. I have a good mind for different situations. Maturity allows you to isolate yourself from your feelings. It’ll be nice to play at the Calderon, but it’s three points. I’m motivated to do well against the people who saw me for so many years.
“People know who my friends are. I won’t try to hurt them, but I want to compete and win. If anyone wants me it’s because I always try to win and to do the right things.”
Colombia forward Jackson Martinez will again miss out despite Atletico revealing he had entered the final phase of his recovery from an ankle injury sustained while on international duty.
Winger Iker Muniain appears set to make his return from a hamstring injury for Athletic, while goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz should be fit after missing the game with AZ due to a muscle strain in his left leg.
Ibai (knee) is unavailable and defender Mikel San Jose is suspended as Athletic aim to end Atletico’s seven-game winning streak in all competitions.
Key Opta Stats:
– Atletico have gone four league games in a row without conceding – they have not gone five in a row since February 2012, when Simeone took charge (6).
– Athletic have not won a league game at Vicente Calderon with Simeone in charge (D1 L3). The last time they defeated Atletico at their home ground was in 2010-11.
– Antoine Griezmann’s six goals against Athletic are tied for the most he has scored against any La Liga side. The Frenchman has also netted six times versus Real Valladolid.
– Atletico have conceded the fewest shots on target in La Liga this season (35).
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