Match preview: Athletic vs. Atlético

Sprint for the title begins at San Mamés with crucial clash against Athletic

Raúl García out to stop former teammates' title push

Raúl García out to stop former teammates' title push

Atlético Madrid play arguably their most important La Liga match since they won it back in 2014 tomorrow night, with a tough trip to the Basque country to face Athletic.

This midweek round of fixtures could be crucial in deciding the destination of the title, with Barcelona’s wretched recent form opening the door for the chasing pack.

Kick-off in San Mamés is set for 20:45 CET.

It looked to be all but over when Sporting Gijón came from behind to snatch an improbable win against Atleti a month ago today.

Two goals in the last quarter of an hour resigned Cholo’s men to a demoralising defeat at El Molinón, with nobody giving us a hope of making up an eight point gap at the top of the table.

However it wasn’t just the press writing us off, Barcelona have also taken their eye off it since then, and now lead the way solely on the virtue of head-to-head following three successive defeats and a draw.

Five games remain, and although Athletic looks undoubtedly the biggest test on paper, we have won all three of our visits to the new San Mamés since it opened two years ago.

The Basque side are still in the race for the top 4 though, and can go to within three points of Villarreal should they beat Cholo’s men and the Yellow Submarine lose at the Bernabéu

Star striker Aritz Aduriz is out with a hamstring injury sustained in their Europa League exit to Sevilla last week, although they are boosted by the return of Iñaki Williams after he missed Sunday’s win at Málaga.

Former Atleti favourite Raúl García scored the winner in both of those matches, although it wasn’t enough in the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán as Ernesto Valverde’s side lost out on penalties to their La Liga rivals.

He received a rousing reception on his return to the Calderón back in December, but will be the main threat to the side he played such a big part in helping win the same title not so long ago.

Simeone acknowledge this in his press conference on Tuesday, and spoke about Athletic’s strengths as well as how his team plans to win the game.

“Athletic is a big rival, a very strong side,” he said. “They are dangerous in all areas of the pitch, Raúl [García] has improved their structure and we will need to control the game in order to be comfortable.”

“All we are thinking about is the game in Bilbao. We recently achieved our main objective which was to qualify for the Champions League, and that gives us the strength to continue competing for what’s to come.”

In last season’s meeting, Antoine Griezmann hit a second half hat-trick as Atleti came from behind to win 4-1, but Cholo insisted that previous meetings are in the past now.

“Every game is different to the last,” he said. “Who will win the league? I’m not a fortune teller, but what I am certain of is that it doesn’t depend on anyone else. It is in our own hands.”

The Argentine boss will be without talisman Gabi in midfield, as the rojiblanco captain picked up his 10th yellow card of the season in Sunday’s 3-0 win over Granada.

Augusto Fernández is likely to step in to replace him, and Filipe Luís will also return after serving a suspension at the weekend. The only real selection doubt surrounds whether Stefan Savic or Lucas will partner Godín in defence.

Meanwhile, José Giménez and Tiago continue to train at the same level as the rest of the squad, but both are still waiting for medical clearance before returning action.

With the title race as close as can be heading into the closing stages, half an eye will be on results elsewhere given that all three contenders are in action at more or less the same time.

Barça travel to A Coruña to take on draw specialists Deportivo at the Riazor, whereas Real Madrid are at home against a strong Villarreal side who ran out 1-0 winners in the reverse fixture.

After the game, the red and whites will start work for the visit of Málaga on Saturday, before Bayern Munich come to the Calderón for the Champions League semi-final first leg in a week’s time.

Atlético match selection
Goalkeepers: Moyá, Oblak
Defenders: Godín, Filipe, Gámez, Savic, Lucas, Juanfran
Midfielders: Koke, Kranevitter, Óliver, Augusto, Saúl, Carrasco, Thomas
Forwards: Griezmann, Torres, Correa, Vietto

  • Ringo

    Very interesting game. I hope I’ll be able to watch. If the team plays well in this game it will confirm our great shape, I think. I think we’ll see some Óliver and Correa action, too, in the second half. Interested to see if Torres will extend his goal run again. I’m excited.

    This and the next round might also show if Barcelona gets out of their struggle in time to save their league. If not we might be the new favorite to win the league, without ruling out Real Madrid, who also seem to have gained momentum at some excellent timing.

    Athletic is a very dangerous side and will want to end their season well. The team will have to be very focused. Fortunately that tends to be our main asset. Chances are high this game will end in a draw, I think, but if any of the teams has a chance to win, I’d consider it to be ours. Hopefully I’m right, since Athletic is a team that should never be underestimated.

  • Ahmad Hossainy

    We played against Real, Barca, Valencia, Sevilla, and Villarreal at the first 9 weeks of both rounds .
    It’s normal for Barca even with the MSN to fall in Anoeta -where they lost in their last 5 visits- in El Madrigal, in El Clascio -where normal standards don’t apply- and against Valencia, because as I said before that game : they are always difficult against big teams, no matter what their shape and their circumstances are .
    My point is this :
    We all kept looking to the table and completely forget that there is something called “the schedule” .. and we all were wrong .
    Everybody made that mistake, those at Real, those at Barca, those at Atleti and the neutral observers .
    Well, now everybody has memorized the last 5 games of each of those three teams !

    After reaching this point, this La Liga won’t be won only by feet, but more importantly, by hearts & minds, and for that I think we have a little advantage over Real Madrid, and we both have a big advantage over Barcelona .

  • Karlp

    crap, Oliver is not even in the squad

  • atleti10

    Can’t watch the game, is Godins injury bad?

  • AndersAT

    Torres is really clinical, it is a joy to watch. Give that legend a new contract!

  • Abdil Egriøz

    It would be a disgrace not to give him a new conract with the form he has been in.

  • jodo

    Deportivo are a disgrace…

  • Chewie

    Don’t seem so, possibly just being cautious.

  • Kris

    Damn did we struggle but we pulled it off. Simeone was YEARNING for Oliver in this game, but… Another decisive Torres goal.
    Carrrasco again ineffective in the final third smh. But we got the win!
    Aupa Atleti!

  • Chewie

    Imagine saying to someone a couple of years ago that Torres’s goal would keep us in the title race. And that his goal would prove decisive in knocking Barcelona out of the CL. Strangely enough, with 9 goals and 5 assists, and 4 league games left, if he scores and assists on a couple more goals, this season may become one of his most successful ones league-wise.

  • Ahmad Hossainy

    Don’t imagine saying that to me, because I will have no reaction, I never doubted him, not for a second .
    “Torres’s goal would keep us in the title race” .. I have been repeating for a year that his goals against Villarreal & Levante put us in UCL this season, and without them we would have played in Europa League .

    But yeah, imagine saying that to those who only take their information about Torres from Football Funnys, Football Trolls and the other stupid football jokes accounts .
    I talked about that in length when Torres came back, and by numbers I proved that even his time with Chelsea wasn’t really that bad, considering the number of minutes he played and the many injuries he suffered .
    I will not repeat that, but let me say this :
    In 2012/13 Torres scored 22 goals with Chelsea, in 7 different competitions, a world record that I don’t think it will ever be broken, but still it was considered a bad season and they kept making jokes about him, but win Costa scored only 20 goals last season, none of them in UCL, he was a hero !

    Yes, Torres had a long drought between his 99th and 100th goal, but the whole team was struggling to score, seven 1-0 wins (tonight was the eighth), two 0-0 draws, only once in the first round we scored more than two goals in one game, nobody was able to score, but all the blame was on Torres .
    During Torres’s drought, how many through passes did he get from Koke ?!
    How many accurate crosses like the one tonight did he receive ?!
    Almost none .
    In many games Simeone put 4 CMs behind him and asked him to score, how ?! especially with a very poor first half season from Koke, but instead of criticizing Simeone or Koke, Torres was the easy target .

    I’m really happy for him, and for myself and the other few Atleti fans who stood behind him in the worst moments .
    And they shouldn’t be few .