Defending champs prepare for Europa League action

September 19th, 2012 - 5:35 pm ICT by IANS  

Madrid, Sep 19 (IANS) Reigning Europa League champions Atletico Madrid begin the defence of their crown when they travel to Israel to face Hapoel Tel Aviv Thursday night.

Atletico have enjoyed a positive start to the domestic season, scoring four goals in both of their home games, but coach Diego Simeone is considering resting Colombian striker Radomal Falcao for the trip to Israel, where Atletico have never played before, reports Xinhua.

Falcao played at the weekend after returning from international duty with Colombia and Simeone prefers the striker to rest rather than suffer the effects of another long journey.

Adrian Lopez and Diego Costa are set to replace Falcao in Atletico’s starting 11, while others such as ‘Cebolla’ Rodriguez and Raul Lopez will also start the game.

Last season’s beaten finalists Athletic Club Bilbao are also in Europa League action.

Athletic have the weakest defence in the Primera Liga this season and Bielsa would look to give minutes to Borja Ekiza, while Oscar de Marcos will drop back to cover at left back.

However, there is no doubt that the centre of attention will be striker Fernando Llorente. The centre-forward, who has said he doesn’t want to extend his contract with the club at the end of the season, marked his return to action with a goal in the 3-3 draw away to Espanyol Sunday and can expect a warm reception from a crowd that hopes to help him change his mind over his decision to leave the Basque club.

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