Verdict: Home win
Best odds: 4/6
On Saturday afternoon, Atletico Madrid will welcome Villarreal to the Wanda Metropolitano stadium for a game that will be only the third of the 2020/21 La Liga season for the hosts; the fifth for the visitors.
Diego Simeone’s side had their opening two games of the campaign (against Sevilla and Levante) postponed due to their involvement in the Champions League over the summer, where they were knocked out by RB Leipzig in the quarterfinals after going past holders Liverpool in the previous round before the Covid-19 pandemic struck. Therefore, they started from round three where they utterly thrashed Granada at home, by 6-1. However, they played a disappointing 0-0 draw away to SD Huesca earlier this week.
With these four points, Atletico are currently in 12th place, but with two games in hand over most of the league, they won’t be worried about it just yet. However, with Real Madrid and Barcelona building up steam at the moment, they can’t afford to relax at all.
As for their transfer business this summer, the biggest story without a doubt was their acquisition of Luis Suarez from Barcelona. The experienced Uruguayan striker slotted in straight away, scoring twice in the Granada rout. Atletico are reportedly now in talks with Arsenal on two separate issues. They want midfielder Lucas Torreira on loan, but their willingness to pursue the deal to the end apparently depends on whether they manage to offload Hector Herrera before the window closes on Monday. Meanwhile, the Gunners are keen on Thomas Partey, whom Atletico don’t want to sell and have therefore pointed to his release clause set at €50 million.
Simeone has a few defensive problems to ponder for this game. Centre-back Jose Gimenez, heavily linked with Manchester City before the Premier League club signed Ruben Dias from Benfica, won’t be able to play due to a positive Covid-19 test, with fullback Sime Vrsaljko out through injury. The rest of the squad should be at the head coach’s disposal.
Atletico weren’t the only team unable to beat Huesca this early in the season. Villarreal were held to a 1-1 draw against them at home in the opening round. A 2-1 triumph over Eibar came next, followed by a heavy 4-0 defeat at the hands of Barcelona at Camp Nou and a 3-1 home win over Deportivo Alaves. The results so far have the top four teams in the table with the same tally, of which Villarreal are fourth on goal-difference.
Having appointed former Sevilla, Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal boss Unai Emery as head coach this July, Villarreal signed winger Tafekusa Kubo on loan from Real Madrid, the midfield pair of Dani Parejo and Francis Coquelin from Valencia, left-back Pervis Estupinan from Watford who spent last season on loan at Osasuna, and goalkeeper Gero Rulli from Real Sociedad. Strikers Karl Toko Ekambi (joined Olympique Lyon) and Enes Unal (Getafe) were among the notable departures, as well as winger Javi Ontiveros, centre-back Alvaro Gonzalez (Olympique Marseille) and left-back Xavi Quintilla (loan to Norwich City).
Emery has a rather painful left-back crisis going on at the moment; Alberto Moreno, Alfonso Pedraza and Estupinan are all doubts through fitness issues. It means 32-year-old Jaume Costa is likely to start on Saturday. Coquelin has been ruled out through a hamstring injury and won’t be able to play alongside Parejo in the middle of the pitch, which leaves the boss to decide between Vicente Iborra and Manu Trigueros.
Atletico have for a long time been the only side to even come close being in the race against Real Madrid and Barcelona for the La Liga title, and they will look to battle it out against the two giants as best they can. That means that a game at home against any other team in the league will feel like a must-win, and given the quality they possess, it’s hard to imagine Villarreal stopping them.
Verdict: Home win
Best odds: 4/6
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