Madrid, Spain, Mar 14 – Fernando Torres is set to make his return just two weeks after losing consciousness in a sickening head clash as Atletico Madrid look to seal their place in the Champions League quarter-finals on Wednesday.
Atletico are strong favourites to reach the last eight for a fourth straight year as Torres was on target in a 4-2 first leg win against Bayer Leverkusen in Germany three weeks ago to give the Spanish side a commanding lead.
Torres has been included in Diego Simeone’s squad for the first time since being knocked out in a challenge with Deportivo la Coruna’s Alex Bergantinos that provoked consternation among those on the field and watching around the world.
And the chances of the 32-year-old starting have been boosted by the absence of Kevin Gameiro with an abdominal strain.
“We have to evaluate the options we have and the characteristics of each player,” said Simeone when asked if Torres would start.
Atletico will be without captain Gabi and left-back Filipe Luis due to suspension as they picked up yellow cards towards the end of the first leg to ensure they will be free to play in the quarter-finals.
Despite that apparent show of Atletico’s confidence that they already have one foot in the quarters, midfielder Koke warned against complacency.
“We have a great result from the first leg but we can’t be complacent. We need to give our all again on Wednesday,” said the Spanish international.
Leverkusen travel to Spain under new management after Tayfun Korkut replaced the sacked Roger Schmidt after the Germans’ first-leg defeat was followed up by a 6-2 thrashing at Borussia Dortmund.
Atletico have only lost one of 20 Champions League games at home under Simeone.
However, Leverkusen are hoping for a comeback of Barcelona proportions after the Spanish champions fought back from a 4-0 first-leg defeat to beat Paris Saint-Germain 6-1 last week.
“It is the best example that anything can happen in football,” said Atletico defender Diego Godin.
“You always have to respect the opponent and go out to win the game.”
Korkut warned Atletico will not be as naive defensively as the French champions were at the Camp Nou.
“It was a miracle,” said the former Turkish international. “But it is a different situation. We are two very different teams and we are not playing at home.
“Atletico are a team that knows what they need to do to get through and they will not play so open.”
Leverkusen are also depleted by injuries and suspensions.
Benjamin Henrichs and influential midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu are banned, whilst Omer Toprak, Jonathan Tah, Stefan Kiessling and captain Lars Bender are out injured.