Atletico Madrid will resume their La Liga campaign on Sunday when they lock horns with Rayo Vallecano at Wanda Metropolitano.

After a short hiatus, La Liga is set to get back underway this weekend, with defending champions Atletico Madrid kicking things off on Sunday when they take on Rayo Vallecano. It will be a must-win affair for Diego Simeone’s men, who endured a difficult end to 2021.

Indeed, the club from the capital suffered four back to back defeats in the league, including losses to Real Madrid, Sevilla and even RCD Mallorca. Their most recent defeat came against Granada, with the result being enough to drag Los Colchoneros to the fifth spot in the league table. They are now trailing league leaders Real Madrid by a whopping 17 points, with very little hope of retaining the title.

However, with the title out of the equation, Simeone’s men will be keen on at least securing a top-four finish and qualifying for the Champions League next season. But they are up against a Rayo Vallecano side that has been the surprise package in La Liga this term.

With 30 points in 18 matches, the newly-promoted are currently in fourth, leading Atletico by a point heading into this game. They have boasted an excellent defence while possessing an attack that can truly make life difficult for Atleti.

It overall points to an exhilarating encounter as the two top-four candidates lock horns at Wanda Metropolitano this weekend.

Team News & Tactics

Atletico Madrid

Just before the New Year, Atletico Madrid had confirmed that Koke, Antonio Griezmann, Hector Herrera, and Joao Felix have all tested positive for COVID-19. They are all likely to be ruled out of this game, while Diego Simeone will not be on the touchline after contracting the coronavirus himself.

In addition to the COVID-related absentees, Atletico are expected to miss Marcos Llorente and Stefan Savic through injuries. It could lead to a real selection dilemma for Simeone, who is likely to revert to a back-four in order to accommodate just the two centre-backs in Mario Hermoso and Jose Maria Gimenez.

Elsewhere in defence, Kieran Trippier and Renan Lodi remain favourites to occupy the fullback positions, with the latter much more comfortable in a back-four. At the same time, Simeone may have good reasons to start Geoffrey Kondogbia in the defensive midfield spot.

The Frenchman can effortlessly drop in as an auxiliary centre-back, thus retaining the balance of the team in case Simeone wants to retain the three-man setup. Otherwise, Kondogbia should feature alongside Rodrigo De Paul and Thomas Lemar in the middle of the park.

Yannick Ferreira Carrasco should operate in midfield as well, but the Belgian is ideally expected to start in a more attacking role. Theoretically, he could form the front three alongside Luis Suarez and Angel Correa, thus giving Atletico the flexibility to retain the 4-3-3 shape but also effortlessly switch to a 4-4-2 or a 3-5-2 formation.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Oblak; Trippier, Gimenez, Hermoso, Lodi; De Paul, Kondogbia, Lemar; Correa, Suarez, Carrasco

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Rayo Vallecano

Rayo Vallecano are also facing the risk of missing several players due to COVID-19 infections. As for the injuries, Martin Merquelanz and Alvaro Garcia are expected to be ruled out, giving coach Andoni Iraola some important decisions to make.

The 39-year-old tactician usually prefers to play with a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Sergi Guardiola more than likely to spearhead the frontline. However, it remains to be seen if Radamel Falcao can recover from his coronavirus scare, although chances remain minimal.

Elsewhere in the Rayo attack, left-winger, Alvaro Garcia is the club’s joint top-scorer. But his absence through a hamstring injury means the visitors may have to pin their hopes on Bebe. The former Manchester United forward is expected to form the creative trifecta alongside Isi Palazon and club captain Oscar Trejo.

In midfield, Rayo Vallecano are likely to persist with the double-pivot of Santi Comesana and Oscar Valentin. But coach Iraola can always opt for Mario Suarez if he prefers more defensive solidity and muscle in the middle of the park. It could be particularly useful in dealing with Geoffrey Kondogbia.

Speaking of the defence, the onus will once again be on Esteban Saveljich and Alejandro Catena to form a solid central defensive pairing. Given Atletico Madrid’s struggles in breaking down defences this season, Rayo Vallecano may operate with a deeper defensive line, with the full-backs in Ivan Balliu and Fran Garcia offering additional aid while providing the width going forward, if required.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Zidane; Balliu, Saveljich, Catena, Garcia; Comesana, Valentin; Palazon, Trejo, Bebe; Guardiola

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Key Stats

  • Atletico Madrid have won their last five La Liga games against Rayo Vallecano, keeping a clean sheet in their last four – their longest winning run against them in the top-flight.
  • At home, Atletico Madrid have won their last seven La Liga games against Rayo Vallecano since a 2-0 loss in August 199 under Claudio Ranieri.
  • After their 1-0 vs Barcelona in October, Rayo Vallecano could become the first newly-promoted side to win against both Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in a single La Liga season since Hercules in 2011/12.
  • Atletico Madrid are unbeaten in their last six La Liga home games against sides from Comunidad de Madrid, while Rayo Vallecano have lost their last seven such games away from home in the competition.
  • Atletico Madrid are unbeaten in their last first La Liga game in each of the last 12 calendar years, while Rayo Vallecano have avoided the defeat in that game in their last three years in the top-flight.

Player to Watch

Kieran Trippier

Transfer News: Newcastle United close in on Kieran Trippier

Kieran Trippier has endured a difficult season so far. The wing-back is yet to be involved in a single goal or assist in La Liga so far while a shoulder injury had kept him out of action for almost a month. His return to the team has not quite made the difference either, with Atletico Madrid losing their last two matches despite his involvement.

While Trippier still remains one of the most important players in the Atletico Madrid setup, his struggling form has been detrimental to the team. And it appears the club is now running the risk of losing him in the January transfer window amid interest from Newcastle United and Manchester United, among other English clubs.

One would imagine Trippier himself may prefer a return to the Premier League, and with that in mind, he will be hoping to make an impression against Rayo Vallecano this weekend.

Prediction

Atletico Madrid 1-1 Rayo Vallecano

Atletico Madrid are enduring one of the worst seasons in recent years. The Rojiblancos are also on a run of four back to back defeats and have not been helped by the multiple absentees, including the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Joao Felix, Koke and even Diego Simeone.

It could certainly impact their performances against a Vallecano side that has shown a lot of spirit this season. They have a strong unit and an ideal mix of quality and experience that could make life difficult for Los Rojiblancos. In fact, we are expecting Vallecano to dominate the proceedings, but they may fall victim to Atletico Madrid’s never-ending desire to break the backs of the opponents in the final minutes of games.

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