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With his Club Atlético de Madrid team well placed to reach the last four of the UEFA Europa League following a 2-2 quarter-final first-leg draw with Valencia CF, Quique Sánchez Flores admits he "couldn't have imagined this" when he took over in the autumn.
When the former Valencia coach was handed the reins in late October, Atlético were enduring their worst start to a domestic campaign for 15 years and sat bottom of their UEFA Champions League group with no goals from three matches. Slowly but surely, however, Sánchez Flores has steered Atlético into mid-table safety in the Liga and guided Atlético to the verge of a first semi-final appearance since the 1998/99 UEFA Cup.
The feel-good factor has been restored to such an extent in the red and white half of Madrid that fans are literally queuing around the block to see their team. "I couldn't have imagined this situation a few months ago and I'm enjoying it," said Sánchez Flores, who can call upon forward José Antonio Reyes after a knee injury but will be without defender Juan Valera because of a thigh problem. "Fans are waiting at the ticket offices and we'll try to give them a good result tomorrow."
Despite needing to score, Unai Emery will not send his Valencia side out to attack from the off. "We want to look for the goal but with by playing a balanced game," said Emery, who is without five defenders – Carlos Marchena, Ángel Dealbert, Jérémy Mathieu, Miguel and Bruno Saltor – while Éver Banega is suspended. "They have good attacking ability and will want to do the things right in front of their fans. We must play our game with sense and make sure our style helps us prevail."
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