Atletico Madrid go into Saturday’s La Liga match at Espanyol with one eye on their Champions League tie against Barcelona, leaving the hosts hopeful of springing a surprise.
Atletico had Fernando Torres sent off and surrendered a one-goal lead at Camp Nou on Tuesday to lose 2-1 in the first leg of their quarter-final clash.
And while Luis Enrique’s men now appear in charge of the last-eight showdown, their Clasico loss against Real Madrid last weekend saw Atletico close to within six points of the Liga leaders domestically.
Diego Simeone’s men will be hoping for another slip from Barca this weekend when they travel to face Real Sociedad.
The second leg of the Champions League quarter-final could yet count in Espanyol’s favour, though, with midfielder Victor Sanchez hopeful Atletico rest players for their trip to Cornella-El Prat, where they have only won once since the stadium opened in 2009.
“Hopefully it can help … that they are coming from … difficult games in the Champions League,” he said.
“It would be ideal if they rest players against us, but they [have] a strong squad.
“In recent years Atletico have not done too well at Cornella, and I hope it continues like this.
“It will be a game against a difficult opponent, who plays well. But it will be intense, and they [the fans] like that here.”
Espanyol are 13th, eight points clear of the relegation zone, leaving goalkeeper Pau Lopez determined there should be no let-up during the final matches of the campaign as they seek to secure their top-flight status.
“Until we get to 42 points we won’t [relax]. Then we can talk about whatever you want but we still have to win two more matches to be at ease. We must focus on Saturday’s match,” he said.
Atletico are likely to still be without centre-backs Stefan Savic (calf) and Jose Gimenez (muscle), meaning French youngster Lucas Hernandez will continue to deputise alongside Diego Godin.
Oliver Torres is also out for Atleti with an adductor problem, while Tiago is yet to make his return from a broken leg suffered in November.
Espanyol gave up a 1-0 lead to draw 1-1 at Malaga last time out, while Atleti hammered Real Betis 5-1.
This season’s reverse fixture at the Vicente Calderon ended 1-0 to the hosts thanks to Antoine Griezmann’s early goal.
Key Opta stats:
– Espanyol have won just one league game against Atletico in Simeone’s time in charge (D1 L6).
– Espanyol have won both of their last two league games at home, while they have not gone three or more since February 2013 (5).
– Atletico’s Antoine Griezmann has scored in six games in succession for the first time in La Liga (seven goals).
– Only Luis Suarez (12) has assisted more goals in La Liga this term than Atletico’s Koke (10 – equalling Lionel Messi, Neymar and Gareth Bale).