Champions League hero Saul Niguez and his Atletico Madrid team-mates must turn their attention quickly to domestic matters as Rayo Vallecano seek to derail the hosts’ La Liga title challenge and boost their own survival hopes on Saturday.
Saul scored the only goal of the game, a superb individual effort in which he dribbled past several defenders before beating Manuel Neuer, as Atletico defeated Bayern Munich 1-0 in the first leg of their semi-final at Estadio Vicente Calderon on Wednesday.
That result has put Diego Simeone’s men firmly in contention to reach their second Champions League final in three years, having lost the 2013-14 decider in extra-time to Real Madrid.
The continental crown is not the only major silverware within Atleti’s grasp, though, with the Rojiblancos second in La Liga, level on points with leaders Barcelona and just one point ahead of Madrid.
A thrilling conclusion to the Spanish league season beckons with three rounds remaining.
And Atletico must quickly recover – mentally and physically – from an intense clash against the Bundesliga champions decided by that moment of brilliance by Saul.
“It was one of the most difficult games of my life,” left-back Felipe Luis told AS.
“Saul’s in a great moment of form and remains humble when it goes in his favour. He has a lot [of success] ahead of him, but he has to keep his feet on the ground. He has a great future.”
The goalscorer himself, who has been linked with Barcelona in the wake of his match-winning exploits, was quick to remind his team-mates of their immediate priorities ahead of the return fixture in Munich on Tuesday.
“The second leg is a very important game, but we also have to think about the next league match,” said the midfielder, who spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Rayo.
The club from Vallecas are fighting to avoid relegation and did themselves no favours in their last two matches, giving up the lead twice in successive games to draw 1-1 at Malaga and then lose 3-2 at home to Real Madrid, having been 2-0 ahead against Zinedine Zidane’s side.
“From the moment the game against Madrid ended there was not much time for regret,” wide player Quini said of the latest disappointment, a result that left Rayo 16th, three points clear of the drop zone.
“We are in the final [weeks of the season] and now we have a major battle. We are left with the positives [from] the other day and we have tried to correct the mistakes we made.
“Atletico will not surprise us, because they are a team that always brings a lot of intensity to the games.
“You should not go to the Calderon thinking only about surviving.
“If we play like we did in the first half against Real Madrid, we can surprise anyone, including Atletico. With great respect, we do not fear anyone. We will go [there] to try to and cause a surprise and earn three points.”
Atleti centre-back Diego Godin missed the semi-final against Bayern due to a hamstring problem, while Tiago and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco are lacking match fitness as they continue to recover from a broken leg and an ankle injury respectively.
Rayo have battled frequent injury problems this season, with goalkeepers David Cobeno (back) and Tono (ACL) among the victims.
Wingers Patrick Ebert (Achilles) and Piti (ankle), centre-back Ze Castro (muscle) and defensive midfielder Raul Baena (ACL) are also sidelined.
Key Opta stats:
– Atletico Madrid have lost just one of their last 12 La Liga games against Rayo Vallecano (W8 D3), 2-1 at Vallecas in February 2013.
– Atletico have won their last five league games against Rayo at the Vicente Calderon, which is their best run against Rayo in the top flight.
– Atletico have gone 17 Madrid derbies without a defeat (W14 D3), conceding goals in five of them.
– Diego Simeone’s side have won their last five league games, while they have not gone six or more in a row since April 2014 (nine).
– Atletico have kept 22 clean sheets in La Liga in 2015-16, which is their best season total in club history.
– Rayo have the highest rate of goals scored in the first 15 minutes of their games in La Liga this season (31 per cent).
– Only Celta Vigo (12) have won more games by a one-goal margin than Atletico (11) in La Liga this season.
– Filipe Luis has already assisted more goals in La Liga this season than in any of the previous eight (four).
- Soccer News Like
- Be the first of your friends!