Club Atlético de Madrid welcome a favourite son back to the Vicente Calderón for their UEFA Europa League round of 16 opener against Beşiktaş JK, who, like themselves, are hoping the match could spark an upturn in form.
The return of former Atlético playmaker Simão to the Spanish capital 15 months after he left the club for Beşiktaş has provided an interesting subplot to a tie which both teams enter on the back of an indifferent sequence of results. While Beşiktaş has lost their past three matches in all competitions, not to mention six of the last nine, the 2010 winners have not won a Liga fixture since the end of January.
"It's not easy to imagine that we are a candidate to win the Europa League after five matches without a victory in the Spanish league," said coach Diego Simeone, who has included three youth-team players in his squad to cover for the absence of Arda Turan, Tiago, Silvio, Antonio López and Diego.
"Beşiktaş are a team to be afraid of if you look at who plays for them. It's a long tie, so it's not easy to know which team is in better condition. Football is beautiful and anything can happen."
A positive result for the visitors, fourth in the Turkish Süper Lig, would be the ideal platform from which to launch their bid for a first European quarter-final in nine years. Their record of six defeats in seven encounters in Spain hardly augurs well, though.
"It's a game for our history," said Beşiktaş coach Carlos Carvalhal. "We can equal Beşiktaş's greatest success [in Europe] since 2003. We are proud of our work and our players. It's an honour to represent this team and the supporters. We want to keep our chances alive for the match in Istanbul because we will play there with 12 players − our supporters make the difference."
Those in attendance on Thursday are sure afford Simão a warm reception. The 32-year-old served Atlético for three and a half seasons from 2007/08, registering 20 times in 113 top-flight outings, and in April 2009 scored the club's 4,000th league goal. Should he find the net on his return he has promised a show of restraint, however.
"It's great to be here again because I have a lot of friends in Madrid," said the former Portuguese international, who signed for Beşiktaş in December 2010. "It's going to be a very important match for both sides. If I score I won't celebrate the goal out of respect to my former team."
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