Atletico Madrid will be hoping to strengthen their grip at the top of the La Liga table when they lock horns with relegation battlers Elche this weekend.

With just five games left to be played in the 2020/21 La Liga, the title race is one of the closest we’ve seen in recent years as the top four is separated by just three points. On Saturday, though, league leaders Atletico Madrid will have a great chance of widening the gap at the top when they take on a lowly Elche outfit at Estadio Martinez Velero.

Atletico Madrid are currently just a couple of points ahead of Real Madrid and Barcelona who are second and third respectively while fourth-placed Sevilla are just three points below. Los Rojiblancos, after a run of inconsistent displays, seemed to have hit the right note again, picking up impressive wins over Eibar and Huesca, but were handed a major blow to their title ambitions when they were beaten 2-1 by Athletic Bilbao last weekend.

However, fortunately for them, both Real Madrid and Barcelona ended up dropping points against Real Betis and Granada respectively, allowing Diego Simeone’s side to stay ahead. And they will be hoping to strengthen their position, with a huge game against Barcelona coming up next week.

Elche, meanwhile, are staring at the prospect of relegation, as they are currently seated in the 18th place in the La Liga table. However, they are just four points shy of Getafe in 15th and are still within a shout of making it to safety, provided they are able to string together a run of positive results in the final leg of the campaign.

Fran Escriba’s men are unbeaten in their last two encounters, having held Real Valladolid to a 1-1 draw before beating Levante 1-0 last time out. With Atletico not in the most consistent of form currently, Los Franjiverdes will be hoping to make the most of it and get at least a point on Saturday afternoon.

The reverse fixture, played in December last year, ended in a 3-1 win for Atletico Madrid with Luis Suarez (2) and Diego Costa scoring while Lucas Boye found the net for Elche. Ahead of their latest meeting this weekend, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.

Team News & Tactics

Elche

Heading into the game, Elche do not have any pressing injury concerns. Defender Johan Mojica is likely to be the only player missing for the home team. Other than that, manager Fran Escriba has a full squad to call upon when Atletico Madrid come visiting with Guido Carrillo back in training while Gonzalo Verdu returns from suspension.

Elche ought to set up in a 4-4-2 setup in front of on-loan Tottenham goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga. He will be shielded by the centre-back pairing of the returning Verdu and Dani Calvo while Helibelton Palacios starts at right-back. Josema should get the nod on the left side of the backline in the absence of Mojica. Both the full-backs are likely to stay tight and compact at the back and not push forward a great deal.

Ivan Marcone will hold down the fort in the centre of the park with help coming from Raul Guti, who will also look to join up in attacks when Elche do break forward. The creative onus will largely rest upon the shoulders of the wide players Tete Morente and Fidel, who have directly been involved in six and eight goals, respectively in La Liga in the current season.

Lucas Boye, who was on target in the reverse fixture ought to start as the centre-forward, with Pablo Piatti set to be his partner, although the latter will likely have a free role playing off the main striker.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Gazzaniga; Palacios, Calvo, Verdu, Josema; Morente, Marcone, Guti, Fidel; Piatti, Boye

Atletico Madrid

Atletico Madrid have been handed a fresh blow as left-back Renan Lodi is set to miss out after sustaining a thigh injury. Club captain Koke, who had been struggling with a niggle and trained by himself for most of the week is fit and available while Jose Maria Gimenez returns to the fold after serving out his suspension.

Lodi’s absence could force Diego Simeone into a change of shape that could see Atletico Madrid set up in a 3-5-2 formation in front of goalkeeper Jan Oblak. Stefan Savic should form the three-man defensive unit alongside the returning Jimenez and Mario Hermoso, whose ability to pick out long passes will be key in this tactical setup.

Kieran Trippier is a certainty out on the right flank while Yannick Carrasco picks himself as the left wing-back from where he will look to provide the forward penetration and support in attack. Captain Koke will sit the deepest of the three central midfielders and look to thwart attacks while also trying to dictate the tempo of the game with his range of distribution.

Hector Herrera has been a regular in recent weeks but is unlikely to start here, with Thomas Lemar, who returned to action last week, likely to get the nod in the middle of the park, along with Marcos Llorente. The duo will be in charge of providing the forward thrust from the centre of the park and lend support to the two centre-forwards, who ought to be Angel Correa and Luis Suarez. Joao Felix will be an option from the bench.

Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Oblak; Savic, Gimenez, Hermoso; Trippier, Llorente, Koke, Lemar, Carrasco; Correa, Suarez

Key Stats

  • Atletico Madrid have won six of their last seven matches against Elche in all competitions.
  • Elche are undefeated in their last six home games in La Liga.
  • Atletico Madrid have won each of their last three away La Liga clashes against Elche, beating them 2-0 in each of the last two.
  • Elche have won only one of their last 14 La Liga meetings against Atletico Madrid (D1 L12) – a 1-0 win way back in 1985.
  • Atletico Madrid have lost two of their last five matches in La Liga including their most recent fixture against Athletic Bilbao (W2 D1). They have not lost two games in a row in the competition since February 2019.

Player to Watch

Luis Suarez

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After having spent a significant time out on the sidelines, Luis Suarez made his return from injury in the last game against Athletic Bilbao, but wasn’t able to inspire Atletico Madrid to a victory over Athletic Bilbao. Having gotten a good thirty-minute runout against the Basque outfit, the Uruguayan veteran is in line to start against Elche this weekend and will need to hit the ground running as the La Liga title race heats up.

With three teams breathing down their neck, Atletico cannot afford any more slip-ups and to ensure that they return to winning ways, Suarez will need to step up vs Elche. The 34-year-old is the Rojiblancos’ top scorer in La Liga this term, with 19 strikes to his name. Should he find the back of the net on Saturday, he will become just the third player for the club to net 20+ goals in the competition after Radamel Falcao and Antoine Griezmann.

Prediction

Elche 0-2 Atletico Madrid

Elche picked up a much-needed win in the last game against Levante but up against an Atletico Madrid side that is baying for blood after the defeat to Athletic Bilbao, they are unlikely to stand a chance. The visitors’ defence will be bolstered by the return of Jose Gimenez while Luis Suarez coming back should add more quality and threat to their attack as well. With that in mind, The Hard Tackle is predicting Diego Simeone’s side to pick up a crucial win on Saturday.

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