Time to get serious for Atlético. After using the group stages to test their resources and see what was out there, today Atlético Madrid begin the real defence of their Europa League crown against tricky opponents, the Russian side Rubin Kazan. Falcao and Arda will be included in the starting eleven for the first time this season after sitting out the early part of the tournament and Simeone is also set to continue with Asenjo in goal, the No1 for the European ties.
Other subs that have previously disappointed will also get another chance. Due to the four-game ban for Diego Costa, Adrián will be given his place in the starting line-up. After being taken off at half-time in the game against Rayo, 'El Cholo' praised the player in yesterday's press conference. Another suspension, this time to Godín, who will also miss the return leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final in Seville, will see Cata included.
The test will be far from straightforward: Rubin already showed what a threat they can be in the 3-0 demolition of Inter (and a fine 2-2 in Milan), besides also strengthening their squad in the January transfer window, adding French player M'Vila - a quality midfielder that arrived at the club for 12 million euros - who, nevertheless, will be a doubt until just before kick-off. Should M'Vila not make it, he will be replaced by Orbaiz, who will join César Navas and Marcano to complete the Spanish trio in the first team.
Another familiar face, ex-Málaga player Rondón, will also add to a Rubin side with more talent than their prestige would suggest (another one to watch is the Israeli midfielder Natcho). One big unknown will be the form of a side that hasn't played a competitive game since 10 December due to the winter break in the Russian league.
'El Tigre', three goals away from Larsson
Falcao returns today to his favourite competition. 'El Tigre' will play his first game of the season in the Europa League, the competition in which he has been top scorer for the last two seasons. Falcao was 'pichichi' when he won the trophy with Porto in 2010-11 and in 2011-2012, this time with 'los rojiblancos'. Falcao's record in the Europa League reads: 30 goals in 31 games, a tally that sees him as the second highest scorer in the history of the tournament. The first is Henrik Larsson, who scored 33 in stints at Celtic and Helsingborg in both the UEFA Cup and the new Europa League.