Atletico Madrid will be hoping to bounce back to winning ways when they take on Espanyol at RCDE Stadium on Sunday.

Atletico Madrid resume their La Liga campaign on Sunday, as they travel to Catalonia to face Espanyol. The reigning champions of La Liga had started their campaign with back to back wins over Celta Vigo and Elche, before they were held to a draw by Europa League champions Villarreal, just before the international break.

It makes this a must-win encounter for Diego Simeone’s men as they look to get back to their winning ways. A lot of excitement surrounding this particular game, however, revolves around Antoine Griezmann.

The revered French striker has rejoined the club on FC Barcelona on deadline day, on a season-long loan deal. Atletico fans will be excited about his debut, hoping that his addition to the club can significantly improve the firepower, and help them oust Espanyol this weekend.

The Catalans are no walk in the park, though, and have enjoyed a rather sturdy start to the campaign. They are yet to register a single win in three matches but have conceded only one goal in the process, churning out two draws. The hosts will certainly be looking to hold on to that defensive record when they welcome Atletico at their home turf.

Vicente Moreno’s men did so quite comfortably in this fixture last season back in March, but things are bound to get more challenging this time around. And here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides ahead of their much-awaited match-up in Laliga this weekend.

Team News & Tactics

Espanyol

Given Espanyol’s defensive record during the first three games of the season, it isn’t hard to predict their gameplan against Atletico Madrid this weekend. Unfortunately, though, head coach Vicente Moreno is missing one of his key defenders, Sergi Gomez, through suspension, and given the lack of depth in central defence, he could be forced to field David Lopez as his deputy at centre-back, alongside Leandro Cabrera.

Things are a bit more stable elsewhere in the defensive unit. There is even a growing belief that left-back Adrio Pedrosa could return in time to start the game for Espanyol. Pedrosa and Oscar Gil will occupy the fullback positions but are expected to primarily support the central defence and in extension, protect Diego Lopez in goal.

In midfield, Lopez potentially starting at centre-back could Moreno to make a difficult decision. Sergi Darder remains a guaranteed starter in the double-pivot, but alongside him, the onus could be on Manu Morlanes, given that new signing Yangel Herrera is not available due to injury.

These two are set to play a vital role in Espanyol’s second line of press. They may even have to drop deeper in defence when Atletico are dominating possession. But at the same time, they must be aware of the runs made by the two central strikers in Landry Dimata and Raul de Tomas.

Loren Moron is another option, either centrally or out wide. Espanyol, though, should stick to the wide attacking setup of Adrian Embarba and Javi Puado.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Diego Lopez; Gil, Cabrera, David Lopez, Pedrosa; Embarba, Morlanes, Darder, Puado; De Tomas, Dimata

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Atletico Madrid

Diego Simeone will need to be extremely careful with his team selection this weekend as both Luis Suarez and Joao Felix are doubts heading into this game, despite training with the team. It won’t be surprising to see them both being rested, Simeone keeps one eye on midweek’s Champions League fixture against FC Porto.

But on a bright note, Antonio Griezmann is in contention to start, and may even spearhead the Atletico Madrid attack, alongside Angel Correa. The latter is the club’s top scorer this season with three goals, but it will be interesting to see how he partners with former teammate Griezmann this weekend.

Atletico Madrid will require as much firepower as they can, up against the sturdy Espanyol defence. So it is absolutely essential that the wide players in Yannick Ferreira Carrasco and Kieran Trippier offer a lot of crosses from wider areas, though the former is likely to drift into a more central role to potentially form a three-man attack.

Such a manoeuvre should see Correa drifting out to the right. But either way, the centrally oriented chance creators like Thomas Lemar and Marcos Llorente will need to be at the top of their game, with captain Koke servicing them in the holding midfield position.

As for the defence, Los Colchoneros have not been dealt with any real injury woes, which means coach Simeone will have the freedom to persist with the tried and tested three-man backline involving Stefan Savic, Jose Gimenez and Mario Hermoso.

Probable Lineup (3-1-4-2): Oblak; Savic, Gimenez, Hermoso; Trippier, Lemar, Koke, Llorente, Carrasco; Correa, Griezmann

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Key Stats

  • Espanyol have won three of their six La Liga games against Atletico Madrid (D1 L2), after winning one of their previous 11 matches against them in the competition.
  • Atletico Madrid failed to in in their last three away La Liga games against Espanyol, after winning on three of their previous five visit to them in the top-flight.
  • Atletico Madrid have won 81 of their 158 La Liga games against Espanyol (D30 L47), more than against any other opponent. Los Rojiblancos could score 300 goals for the first time against a single opponent in the competition this weekend (299 goals scored so far).
  • Espanyol have failed to win in their last 13 league games against could equal their second-longest winless run in the competition – 14 games between November 2008 and February 2009 (W0 D6 L8).
  • Espanyol have failed to score in their last eight league games, equalling the longest run without scoring by a team in the competition’s history (CD Sadadell in 1987 and Castellon in 1990).

Player to Watch

Antonio Griezmann

MADRID, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 23: Antoine Griezmann of Atletico Madrid celebrates scoring his sides second goal during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Club Atletico de Madrid and PSV Eindhoven at Vicente Calderon Stadium on November 23, 2016 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

Ready for his second stint at Atleti. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

As mentioned earlier, Griezmann is the main attraction of this show as the Frenchman looks to make his presence felt upon his return to Madrid. Not only that, but the former Real Sociedad man is also expected to spearhead the Atleti attack in the potential absence of Suarez and Felix.

It will be interesting to see how Griezmann links up with his former teammates in Koke, Yannick Carrasco and Angel Correa and whether or not he will be able to revive his career in Madrid. Fortunately for Atletico, the on-loan Barcelona star is coming on the back of an excellent performance for France in the international break, as he starred in the win over Finland, thus making him the one to watch out for, in this encounter.

Prediction

Espanyol 0-1 Atletico Madrid

This game promises to be a low-scoring one judging the style of play professed by the two teams. Espanyol, in particular, have a strong defensive record in the first three matches of the season and will try everything they can to stop the defending champions in their tracks, in the hopes of securing a point.

However, the hosts may have a difficult time scoring. Not to mention, they are currently on a 13-game winless run, which may get worse as they lock horns with an Atletico Madrid side who have been boosted by the return of their prodigal son. We are thus expecting a narrow in for the Rojiblancos this weekend.

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