Atletico coach wary of Lisbon threat

Atletico Madrid continue their quest for a cup double when they
host Sporting Lisbon in the first leg of their Europa League
last-16 tie.

Atletico have had a largely miserable Primera Division
campaign, with 10 defeats in 25 games leaving them down in 10th and
closer to the relegation zone than the Champions League places, but
it has been a different story in the cups.

They have reached the Copa del Rey final for the first time
since 2000, where they will play Sevilla, while in the Europa
League they bounced back from a miserable performance in the
Champions League group stage by dumping out Turkish giants
Galatasaray in the last 32.

Portuguese side Sporting will provide another firm
examination for Atletico, though, as they make the short hop across
to the Spanish capital in fine form, having recorded convincing
victories in their last three games against Everton (3-0), Porto
(3-0) and Belenenses (4-0).

Striker Liedson scored all four goals in the second half of
Sunday’s win over Belenenses.

Atletico coach Quique Sanchez Flores should know plenty about
Sporting having been in charge of their city rivals Benfica prior
to taking up the reins of the Rojiblancos late last year, and he
said of Thursday’s clash: “The tie is going to be very tough
because it’s between two high-level teams.

“Sporting did not have a good start to season, but recently
they have been getting good results. Their players will be very
motivated to get a good result at the Vicente Calderon.

“Sporting have been the second best team in Portugal in the
last few years. They’ve shown they work very well collectively and
it’s that which concerns me more than the individuals.”

Atletico warmed up for the match with a 1-1 draw at Real
Zaragoza on Sunday, youngster Ibrahima Balde heading home an
injury-time equaliser to salvage a point for the capital club.

Sporting booked their spot in the last 16 after recovering
from a 2-1 first-leg deficit against Everton to progress 4-2 on
aggregate thanks to three goals in the final 25 minutes of the
return leg.

Coach Carlos Carvalhal looks set to have almost a
full-strength squad to choose from, with the only absentees from
yesterday’s final training session being injured duo Daniel Carrico
and Yannick Djalo.

Striker Florent Sinama Pongolle is also ineligible to face
his former club having represented Atletico in Europe before
Christmas.