Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone has talked up the importance of Hector Herrera and backed the midfielder to fill the void left by injured captain Koke against Real Betis.
Koke has started 16 of his side’s 17 LaLiga games this term, coming off the bench in the other, but is absent for Sunday’s trip to Betis after straining his hamstring in last week’s 2-0 win over Osasuna.
That opens the door for Herrera to return to the starting line-up at Estadio Benito Villamarin, and Simeone has faith the Mexican midfielder can step up.
“We have spoken a lot about Koke – he’s really important for the tactics of the team,” Simeone said at Saturday’s pre-match news conference.
“But the replacement we have is ready. Hector is ready to do a great match.”
Herrera has started just six league games since arriving from Porto on a free contract in July, most recently lasting 84 minutes of the goalless draw with Villarreal on December 6.
Simeone has been pleased with his performances of late, saying: “Hector is an important player. He has been participating a lot in our game over the past two months.
“He gives us hierarchy, personality, great plays coming from the midfield line. I hope he plays a great game tomorrow.”
Atletico returned to winning ways in LaLiga against Osasuna last time out following a three-match winless run that saw them lose pace with Barcelona and Real Madrid.
They are winless in seven away games in all competitions since early October, though, and Simeone is expecting another tough test against Betis this weekend.
“Every time we play we will do the best we can and we want to keep growing,” he said.
“Betis are working great and have been playing good games for a few weeks ago, picking up some good results.
“They are focused on attack and are heavily attack-oriented from the midfield and forward, so as usual, we will have to play in a way we can hurt them.”
The loss of influential skipper Koke is a blow for Atletico in their final match of 2019, but Renan Lodi has been confirmed fit after missing the Osasuna victory with a bruised ankle.
“This game is as important as every other game of the LaLiga season,” Simeone said. “They are a difficult rival and play in a great stadium with fans that really carry their team.
“As usual we will be focusing on one game at a time, looking to improve day after day.”