Rubén Baraja is urging his Valencia CF team-mates to start on the front foot in their all-Spanish UEFA Europa League quarter-final against Club Atlético de Madrid CF.
The 34-year-old midfielder said they had to take the game to their Liga rivals and profit from home advantage against Atlético in the first leg at the Mestalla, where they are unbeaten in eleven European matches.
Baraja said: "We are doing well in the Spanish league and this means we'll go into this tie with plenty of motivation. We have to be aggressive; we're playing at home in front of our supporters. The fans know the importance of the game and as in the previous rounds they will support us.
"It's a very even-looking tie – at this stage any opponent is difficult," he added. "We're excited about it and we must seize the opportunity. We're in good shape and can look ahead with optimism."
Baraja has faced Liga opponents in Europe before as part of the Valencia side that defeated Villarreal CF in the UEFA Cup semi-finals in 2004, en route to winning the trophy. That proved a closely-fought encounter won 1-0 on aggregate by Valencia, and Baraja - who should start with Éver Banega suspended - expects this tie will be decided only after the return in Madrid.
"It's a shame one Spanish team is going to be knocked out but at this stage it is important to know your opponent and that applies for us as well as for Atlético," he said. "We are two consistent teams and whoever finds the better balance between attack and defence will come out on top. It's a final over two games so it's no use being good in one and not the other; we need to do well in both of them."
The match pits Valencia against ex-coach Quique Sánchez Flores, who held the reins at the Mestalla from 2005-07. Baraja said: "Quique did an excellent job at Valencia for two years. He knows us very well, he knows how we operate but at the same time we know him and his team."
It finished 2-2 when Quique Flores visited the Mestalla with Atlético in September, while Valencia, third in the Liga, crashed to a 4-1 defeat away to their rivals only last month in a tempestuous encounter featuring the dismissals of Valencia duo Carlos Marchena and Miguel.
Baraja says that will have no bearing. "There are no thoughts about revenge for the match at the Calderón – it was a different game with red cards and so on. We have to be very focused to not give the slightest chance to our opponent."
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