Safely through to the semi-finals, Club Atlético de Madrid can seriously entertain the prospect of repeating their triumph of two years ago when they claimed top prize in the inaugural UEFA Europa League. Summer signings Adrián López, Diego and Falcao, the team's leading scorer in the Spanish Liga and in Europe, have played a vital role in Los Rojiblancos' campaign thus far. Furthermore, the winter arrival of coach Diego Simeone has helped to form a special bond between players and fans.
Story of the season
Los Colchoneros began their European journey in the third qualifying round with a 4-1 aggregate victory against Norwegian side Strømsgodset IF, while Vitória SC were Atlético's subsequent victims, losing 6-0 over two legs. A successful group stage ensued with the men in red and white finishing ahead of Udinese Calcio, to top the section with 13 points. Simeone's first European game in charge came against former club S.S. Lazio in the round of 32, in which he oversaw a 4-1 aggregate win.
Beşiktaş JK were then dismissed by the Spanish side en route to a quarter-final tie against Hannover 96. A narrow 2-1 win at the Vicente Calderón preceded a victory by the same scoreline in Germany, setting up a last-four meeting against familiar opposition: Valencia CF, the team Atlético overcame in the 2010 quarter-finals.
Semi-final pedigree (UEFA Europa League / UEFA Cup)
P3 W1 L2
Last: 2009/10 v Liverpool FC (1-0 home, 1-2 away, won on away goals)
Record against semi-final opponents
Atlético are obviously very familiar with Valencia, their opposition in the last four. As mentioned, the Spanish rivals have met before in this competition when the capital side came through a tight tie on away goals. There is hardly anything between them on the domestic front, too. They have met 144 times in the Liga, with Atlético winning 51 times, and Valencia on 55 occasions. Their last encounter was a 0-0 league draw in February.
2009/10 UEFA Europa League quarter-finals
Valencia CF 2-2 Club Atlético de Madrid
Club Atlético de Madrid 0-0 Valencia CF (agg 2-2, Atlético win on away goals)
Simeone's arrival on 23 December brought about a change in playing style and reignited a passion among fans that had been fading in previous months. As a member of Atlético's 1996 Liga and Copa del Rey winning squad, 'El Cholo' received a hero's welcome on his return to the banks of the Manzanares river.
Diego, Atlético midfielder
"I hope we can win the Europa League this year but it's still too early to be thinking of such things. We must get past what will be a difficult semi-final first. The tie against Valencia will be a special occasion between two Spanish teams."
Along with hitting 20 goals in 27 Liga appearances in his debut season at the Vicente Calderón, Falcao has also managed eight in twelve in the Europa League – a competition in which he struck a record 17 times en route to victory with FC Porto last term.
Not quite receiving as many headlines as Colombian international Falcao, striker Adrián has been no less important to Atlético's cause this season and has featured in every game from the third qualifying round up to the quarter-final, second-leg win in Hannover – 16 matches in total. The adidas Golden Boot winner with a victorious Spain side at last summer's UEFA European Under-21 Championship, Adrián has found the target six times in the UEFA Europa League (group stage on) this season.
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