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Club Atlético de Madrid coach Quique Sánchez Flores knows Valencia CF inside out but due to the adventurous playing style of the two teams, he believes their UEFA Europa League quarter-final tie represents a step into the unknown.
"The Mestalla – it is a place where I have unique feelings and I don't hide them," said the 45-year-old, who spent much of his playing career as a full-back at Valencia and was in charge of the club from 2005 to 2007. "It's the only place where I feel this special emotion. I learned a lot here." This season's domestic two meetings between the sides attest to that, with Atlético making a mockery of the Liga standings by taking four points, including a tempestuous 4-1 victory in the Spanish capital in February.
The teams' head-to-head record since they first met in 1935 suggests a closer contest – if not literally. "These are two teams with plenty of scoring punch," Quique Flores said. "Crazy matches going back and forth are nice for the spectators but not the coaches, though if it happens like that we hope to take the right decisions at the decisive moments." Atlético are without José Antonio Reyes and Juan Valera after the pair picked up knocks during Sunday's 3-2 defeat by Real Madrid CF, and Juanito was a late withdrawal through gastroenteritis. However, their coach concedes his problems pale in comparison to those of Unai Emery.
Valencia have been decimated by injury, particularly at the back where Miguel, Carlos Marchena, Jérémy Mathieu and David Navarro are all missing. There was a further blow on Wednesday when Alexis suffered a bruised shin in training and is rated 50-50 for the opener. Yet Emery's optimism befits a man whose side are unbeaten in 11 European home games. "Our ambition has grown and grown in this competition," said the 38-year-old, who will also be without the suspended Éver Banega. "I think the first leg is unlikely to be defining but we will endeavour to impose our style on the game."
They failed to on Sunday, losing 3-0 at a Real Zaragoza side 14 places beneath them in the Liga standings. The talismanic David Villa was absent with concussion and though he returns on Thursday, eager to add to his five UEFA Europa League goals this season, Emery is more interested in the other end of the field – understandable given his absentees. "Away goals count double so we must keep a clean sheet," he said. "We must be smart and not lose sight of the next match because the tie lasts 180 minutes. We'll do our best."
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