On the heels of stunning back-to-back losses in La Liga, Atletico Madrid look to regroup and maintain their hold on the top spot of Group D in the Champions League on Wednesday when they host PSV Eindhoven at Estadio Vicente Calderon.
Diego Simeone’s squad, considered one of the best in the world when it comes to defence, have lost their way in recent weeks. After conceding a miserly three goals in their first 12 matches in all competitions, Atletico have been breached for nine in the last four and lost their last two matches in stunning fashion.
Having gone into the international break following a 2-0 setback at Real Sociedad, Cristiano Ronaldo applied the hurt after it with his 39th hat trick for Real Madrid in a 3-0 shellacking at Vicente Calderon on Saturday, ending a 22-match unbeaten streak there in all competitions.
It was the first time Atletico Madrid shipped three goals in a league match since a 3-1 defeat at Barcelona on Jan. 21, 2015, and matched the heaviest loss at home for Simeone, who absorbed a 4-1 beating by Real in his first season with the club on April 11, 2012.
“We are annoyed for losing against our eternal rival, but we have to go on, there’s a lot of league ahead of us and without a doubt, we’re going to improve because we have a great team,” Koke said after the defeat.
Koke, though, may face disciplinary action after Spanish radio station Cadena Cope reported the midfielder called Ronaldo a “faggot” during an incident in the second half in which they both received yellow cards. Cadena Copa made the claim after reportedly overhearing Ronaldo talk about the incident to a teammate in the visiting changing room.
Simeone felt the match swung on the penalty Ronaldo converted in the 71st minute, giving Real an unassailable 2-0 lead. He added his third eight minutes later to complete the scoring.
“We were better in the first 20 minutes of the second half when we created chances and controlled the game,” Simeone said. “We were fine up until the penalty, that ended any hope we had of getting into the game.
“It’s always annoying to lose.”
Returning to Champions League play may be the elixir for Atli. They have taken the maximum 12 points from their four matches and clinched passage into the knockout round. A victory in this game coupled with a non-win by Bayern Munich against FC Rostov would make next month’s match at Bayern a dead rubber.
Additionally, this would be an ideal time to re-establish Vicente Calderon as a fortress – Atletico are 27-3-2 in their last 32 European matches at home and PSV are winless in 13 trips to Spanish soil (0-5-8). One of those draws came last year in the round of 16, but Atletico eliminated the Dutch side 8-7 on penalty kicks after the teams played 210 scoreless minutes over two legs.
PSV have one point and arehead of Rostov on goal difference for third place in the group, which carries entry into the Europa League. Eindhoven are in third in the Dutch Eredivisie, six points behind first-place Feyenoord, and have only one win in their last five contests (1-2-2) after playing to a scoreless draw at Willem II on Saturday.
“Many players are out of form and are playing at a low tempo,” manager Phillip Cocu lamented post-match. “Our forwards were never put clean through. We had chances to wrap up the points between the 55th and 75th minute but sent all our efforts straight at the goalkeeper.”
The Dutch side also took a hit when they learned Monday defender Joshua Brenet will miss at least two weeks with an ankle injury suffered over the weekend. They also will be without influential midfielder Andres Guardado, who suffered a thigh injury in Mexico’s 2-1 victory over the United States on Nov. 11 in World Cup qualifying.
Cocu, though, did welcome back first-choice goalkeeper Jeroen Zoet, who had been sidelined a month with a thigh injury. Zoet finished with his fifth clean sheet in all competitions, but still may give way to Remko Pasveer for this contest.
PSV have gone 343 minutes without a goal against Atletico since Danny Koevermans scored in the 47th minute of a 2-1 defeat during Champions League group play on Nov. 26, 2008. Saul provided the lone goal in the reverse fixture at Philipsstadion in September, but Guardado also missed a penalty that would have leveled the match right before intermission.
Atletico are unbeaten in five all-time matches versus PSV Eindhoven, outscoring them 6-1.
Aleksei Kulbakov heads a Belorussian officiating crew for this match, and only Atletico Madrid right back Filipe Luis is in danger of missing the final group match due to a yellow card accumulation.
Probable Lineups: Atletico Madrid (4-4-2) – Oblak, Luis, Godin, Savic, Juanfran, Carrasco, Gabi, Koke, Gaitan, Gameiro, Griezmann. PSV Eindhoven (3-4-3) – Paveer, Moreno, Isimat-Mirin, Schwaab, Willems, Ramselaar, Propper, Arias, Lombardi, de Jong, Narsingh.
Prediction: Atletico Madrid, 2-0.