Atletico Madrid will be hoping to push for the top spot in La Liga table when they lock horns with Athletic Bilbao on Saturday.
After a disappointing draw with FC Porto in the UEFA Champions League, Atletico Madrid set their attention back to La Liga where they are expected to welcome Athletic Bilbao on Saturday, at Wanda Metropolitano.
The reigning Spanish champions have started the season in a mixed fashion, securing ten points in four games but doing so in a rather sceptic manner. Their most recent game saw them secure a narrow 2-1 win over Espanyol, with Thomas Lemar scoring an astounding 99th minute winner.
Three points, nevertheless, were vital in helping Diego Simeone’s men remain on par with Real Madrid and Valencia at the top of the league table so far. And securing another victory this weekend could be equally important as the hosts look to put further pressure on their league rivals.
For Athletic Bilbao, things have not been particularly bad either, having secured eight points from their four matches so far. The Basque country outfit have remained quite resilient in front of goal, conceding just one goal in four matches and are ahead of Sevilla, Barcelona and Villarreal in the embryonic league table.
Here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides ahead of their exciting match-up at Wanda Metropolitano this weekend.
Team News & Tactics
— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) September 16, 2021
Thomas Lemar was a noted injury scare for Atletico Madrid during the midweek clash against FC Porto. The Frenchman is likely to miss out this weekend, potentially paving the way for either Antoine Griezmann or Rodrigo De Paul to get back into the starting eleven.
Either way, Diego Simeone is almost certainly to make alterations from the team that started in midweek. While Luis Suarez may still spearhead the attack, the experienced Uruguayan is set to be partnered by Antoine Griezmann this time around, although Angel Correa is another option upfront.
In the creative department, Geoffrey Kondogbia has made a solid impression over the past couple of matches. He appears to be a potential target, forming Atletico’s midfield alongside Koke and Marcos Llorente, who is likely to shift into a more central role after a relatively disappointing outing against Porto.
Llorente shifting centrally means there could be a return for Kieran Trippier, in his favoured right wing-back slot while Yannick Ferreira Carrasco remains a guaranteed starter on the opposite flank. These two are vital to Atleti’s chance creation, particularly due to their ability to drive in crosses from wider positions.
As for the defensive unit, Jose Maria Gimenez made quite an impression against Porto. But Simeone will have a decision to make as Stefan Savic is now back available. We are predicting the Argentine tactician to deploy both at centre-back, alongside the ever-so-versatile Mario Hermoso, with Felipe settling for a place on the bench.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Oblak; Savic, Gimenez, Hermoso; Trippier, Llorente, Kondogbia, Koke, Carrasco; Griezmann, Suarez
Unlike Atletico Madrid, Athletic Bilbao are dealing with a major injury crisis with key players Yeray Alvarez and Yuri Berchiche remaining unavailable through injury. It certainly won’t please Marcelino, who will be hoping that his sturdy 4-4-2 holds their own against the mighty Atletico Madrid attacker this weekend.
In Dani Vivian and Inigo Martinez, Bilbao have found a solid central defensive combination that has offered fantastic coverage to goalkeeper Unai Simon. This time around, they will be expecting additional aid from the full-backs in Inigo Lekue and Mikel Balenziaga, who is filling in for the injured Berchiche.
🔥 Come on, Lions! 💪
— Athletic Club (@Athletic_en) September 17, 2021
The key for Bilbao, however, will be the second line of press involving the two central midfielders in Unai Vencedor and Dani Garcia. The two offer excellent balance in the middle of the park, though Marcelino has the option of deploying Mikel Vesga should he require additional defensive reinforcement in the middle of the park.
The visitors, otherwise, have a strong support line as their wide midfielders in Alex Berenguer and captain Iker Muniain are excellent pressers of the ball and have the ability to cause a threat on the counter.
In fact, the two wide players serve as the main source of creativity for the two central strikers in Inaki Williams and former Atleti forward Raul Garcia, whose genuine work ethic could be a massive boon in Bilbao’s first line of press.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Simon; Lekue, Vivian, Martinez, Balenziaga; Berenguer, D.Garcia, Vencedor Muniain; R.Garcia, Williams
- Atletico Madrid have won only two of their last five La Liga games against Atheltic, after winning nine of their previous 11 against them – they lost their last game vs the same opposition in the competition, last losing in a row against them back in 2011.
- At home, Atletico Madrid are unbeaten in La Liga against Athletic under Diego Simeone (W9 D1), after losing three of their previous four games at home against the Basque side in the competition.
- Athletic Bilbao have failed to win in their last seven away league games against Madrilean sides, since a win over Leganes in April 2019.
- The last time Atletico Madrid played a La Liga game on 18th September was in 2011 when they won 4-0 vs Racing de Santander – Radamel Falcao scored his first goal in the competition in that game.
- Athletic Bilbao have won their last two league games, keeping a clean sheet in both – 1 vs Celta Vigo and 2-0 vs Mallorca. They last won three in a row without conceding in the competition back in March 2015 (3) under Ernesto Valverde.
Player to Watch
Antoine Griezmann is yet to hit the ground running since making a deadline day return to Atletico Madrid this summer. There has been much hype over his strike partnership with Luis Suarez, but neither of these two players have managed to impress in the last couple of matches for Los Rojiblancos.
However, this could be a potential breakthrough game for Griezmann, as the Frenchman braces himself for his first start at Atletico Madrid at Wanda Metropolitano, in front of his home supporters, who’d want him to do well.
The former Real Sociedad star did win a red card off Chancel Mbemba in midweek and it is apparent that he has the ability to make things happen for Atletico. As such, Griezmann is the player to keep an eye when Atletico Madrid play hosts to Athletic Bilbao this weekend.
Atletico Madrid 1-0 Athletic Bilbao
This promises to be a low scoring affair as neither of the two sides are particularly attacking. Bilbao are already heading into this tie with the joint-best defensive record in the league, but at the same time, they do lack fuel in the final third and might not be able to trouble Los Rojiblancos too much.
For their opposition, it is an opportunity to get back on track after a couple of disappointing performances against Espanyol and FC Porto respectively. However, with key players set to start, we are expecting the hosts to seal a narrow victory this weekend.