Match preview: Athletic vs. Atlético
Atlético Madrid travel to Bilbao on Sunday to take on Athletic Club in round 21 of La Liga.
The match in San Mamés kicks off at 21:00 CET.
The battle between the Rojiblanco brothers sees two teams with different ambitions. The Madrilenians are looking to keep up with Barcelona and stay ahead of Real Madrid, while the home side desperately need three points to steer clear of the relegation zone and avoid a crisis.
Marcelo Bielsa’s men have picked up only a single point from their last four games and have struggled all season to get back to the amazing form they displayed last season in their amazing run to the final of the Europa League.
Of course, Atlético Madrid were the opponents in that all Spanish final in Bucharest, and the Colchoneros took home the trophy after an incredible performance in a 3-0 win, leaving Athletic fans and players in tears.
Los Leones were no match for El Tigre, as Falcao dealt them two stunning blows in the first half.
The Colombian again ravaged Athletic Club at the start of the current campaign, when he scored a hat-trick in a 4-0 drubbing.
Radamel Falcao has scored seven goals in his last three games against Athletic, but in Sunday’s clash the Colchoneros will have to do without their top scorer and superstar. Falcao has stayed behind in Madrid to recover from his hamstring injury.
There’s little reason for the Basque defenders to rest easy though, as they will most likely face the ‘Beast of the Manzanares’ in Diego Costa, who has been in fine form these last weeks and who scored a goal in Sevilla this week to help Atleti advance to the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey.
Also missing for Atlético is captain Gabi, who will sit out a one-game suspension. He’ll be replaced by Tiago and Mario in midfield.
Atleti’s newest signing Emiliano Insúa has not been called up for this game by Diego Simeone, who does have a spot for Atlético B players Óliver Torres and Javi Manquillo. The latter has done an excellent job in replacing Juanfran, but the Spain international is expected to start after returning from injury.
Not called up by Cholo are defenders Jorge Pulido and Domingo Cisma, who get to spend Sunday at home.
The news in Bilbao this week centred around striker and World Champion Fernando Llorente, who finally officially announced his transfer to Juventus. Llorente will see out the remainder of his contract at Athletic though, and will be available for the game.
While San Mamés was known to be a fortress, the Basque football cathedral has been far from a good place for Athletic this season. Only five teams have collected less points at home than the team in red, white and black, which stands in stark contrast to Atleti’s perfect record at the Vicente Calderón.
At least Marcelo Bielsa will have all of his men available on Sunday. Mikel San José returns from suspension, while Carlos Gurpegui and Joan Aurtenetxe seem to have recovered in time to take on the Colchoneros.
Right back Andoni Iraola said how tough it will be for his team to get their first win in five games when they face a strong rival.
“In our previous game we had good spells, but unfortunately we couldn’t win. That makes us want our next victory even more”, said the captain.
He continued:”We’ll need to play a great game tomorrow, because our opponents give away little space and they defend well. And then they hit you on the counter attack.”
“They might let us have the ball and they will retreat a little bit. But then Atleti will try to catch you on the break. We’ll have to be focussed.”
Atlético match selection:
Goalkeepers: Asenjo, Courtois
Defenders: Godín, Filipe, Cata Díaz, Juanfran, Miranda, Manquillo
Midfielders: Mario, Tiago, Koke, Raúl García, Arda Turan, Cristian Rodríguez, Emre, Óliver Torres
Forwards: Adrián and Diego Costa
Do you think Atlético can overcome Athletic even without Gabi and Falcao? Let us know in the comments below or in the AtléticoFans Prediction League!