Atletico Madrid face three more matches this season that could define the club’s history and it all starts with Sunday’s trip to relegated Levante.
Diego Simeone’s men battled through to the Champions League final despite Tuesday’s second-leg loss to Bayern Munich and will face rivals Real in Milan on May 28.
The Liga title is also up for grabs, with Atletico second to leaders Barcelona only by virtue of an inferior head-to-head record against Luis Enrique’s side.
While this weekend’s visitors to the Estadi Ciutat de Valencia have their sights set on domestic and European glory, the hosts are heading for the Segunda Division.
Levante’s fate was sealed by Monday’s 3-1 loss to Malaga, ending their six-year stay in La Liga.
Such contrasting fortunes mark Atletico as clear favourites for maximum points, but the gulf in class was not so apparent in January’s reverse fixture.
It took until the 81st minute for Atletico to break the deadlock on that occasion, with Thomas Partey’s goal ultimately settling matters.
And there is perhaps a more telling warning from the past that should ensure Simeone’s side are on their guard against complacency.
When they last won the title in 2013-14 – the same year they lost the Champions League final to Real – Atletico were beaten 2-0 at Levante in the closing stages of the campaign.
This weekend’s match will be an emotional one for Levante captain Juanfran, as it will be his final appearance on home soil.
The 39-year-old announced following the club’s failure to avoid the drop that he would retire at the end of the season.
He started his career at Levante and returned in 2010 to help the club gain promotion to La Liga.
Speaking to Marca about his decision, the defender said: “These are not easy situations and when one is possibly not going to play anymore.
“I’ve been six years with Levante. For me it has been a success, but the truth of football is in the present.”
Diego Godin (hamstring) and Tiago – who recently returned from a fractured tibia – may be rested for the visitors.
Levante welcome back Jefferson Lerma from suspension, but Jose Mari is serving a ban for Rubi’s side.
Key Opta Facts:
– Atletico Madrid have won their last six league games, without conceding in the last four, their best run this season.
– Levante have not lost any of their last four games at Ciutat (W2 D2), their best such run with Rubi in charge.
– The last time Diego Simeone’s side recorded as many wins in a row in La Liga was in 2014 (nine) and they finished the run at Ciutat.
– Fernando Torres is the only Spanish player to have scored for Atletico against Levante in the last nine goals scored by Atletico players.
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