Atletico Madrid will be looking to bounce back from their Champions League exit when they face Espanyol at home in La Liga on Sunday afternoon.

Atletico Madrid will return to the Wanda Metropolitano on Sunday, four days after an ill-tempered and tense Champions League showdown with Manchester City. They will now need to pick themselves up and get back to winning ways sooner rather than later, as there is still work to be done in order to guarantee a spot in next season’s top-tier European club competition.

Diego Simeone’s troops put up an excellent fight against the English champions, thwarting City’s attacking threat in a way that only a few sides on the continent are capable of doing while they camped just outside the visitors’ box throughout the second half. However, their positive attacking intent came only in the last quarter of the two-legged tie, as they ultimately lost 1-0 on aggregate.

The Rojiblancos suffered a surprise 1-0 defeat at Mallorca prior to the Man City clash, which ended a six-game winning streak in La Liga. The reigning champions currently sit in the fourth spot in the table with 57 points, with their top-four hopes being seriously threatened by the chasing pack of fifth-placed Real Betis (57 points) and sixth-placed Sociedad (55 points), both of whom are in excellent form of late.

With no cup distractions, they can concentrate on finishing what will be a trophy-less season on a high note. It is a must-win game for Diego Simeone’s men as they aim to make a late push to claim the runners-up spot behind Real Madrid.

Espanyol are no walk in the park, though, and as they head into the clash off the back of a 1-0 La Liga win over Celta Vigo in their last fixture. The Catalan outfit have been in strong form recently, having won three of their last five in the league (D1 L1), although all three of those came in front of their home support.

Vicente Moreno’s men have been pretty poor on their travels, picking up a measly six points out of a possible 45 this campaign. That said, the overall season has been a massive success for them. Having only been promoted as Segunda Division winners last year, they have not only completed their objective of consolidating their top-flight status but are heading towards a potential top-half finish.

Espanyol lost 2-1 to Atletico Madrid in the reverse fixture at RCDE Stadium earlier this season, although they have a recent away triumph over the capital giants, coming out 2-0 victors back in May 2018.

Team News & Tactics

Atletico Madrid

Atletico Madrid will remain without the services of Hector Herrera owing to a thigh issue, while Jose Gimenez is also unlikely to be in contention to feature here as he is nursing a muscular injury. Diego Simeone made wholesale changes for last weekend’s game, but that experiment backfired as they lost to lowly Mallorca.

Hence, he will not make the same mistake again and is unlikely to make many changes to the team that faced Manchester City in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-finals.

However, the Argentine might need some rotation to freshen up the side, with Rodrigo De Paul and Yannick Carrasco likely to be the beneficiaries, while Luis Suarez, Angel Correa, and Matheus Cunha will all be hoping to earn minutes to impress here.

Jan Oblak is a certain starter in goal for the home side. Stefan Savic is expected to start at the heart of Atleti’s backline, whereas Reinildo Mandava will feature at the left centre-back spot. Felipe, who received a late red card against Man City last time out, will occupy the right centre-back position.

The width in attack will come from the wing-back duo of Carrasco and Marcos Llorente, who will be given the licence to maraud forward to cause the opposition problems and provide the quality in attack to help break down the stiff Espanyol defensive unit.

Due to his dynamism and physical dominance, Geoffrey Kondogbia will once again play as the’ primary holding midfielder, while Rodrigo De Paul and Koke are expected to fill the other central midfield positions. The latter duo would be determined to set up some clear-cut goal-scoring chances for the front men.

Luis Suarez is unlikely to feature from the start, since Simeone has repeatedly preferred a starting eleven without the Uruguayan hitman up top, nowadays. So, Joao Felix and Antoine Griezmann will form their customary strike partnership upfront. The duo will look to link up and cause havoc for the opposition while also trying to find the back of the net.

Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Oblak; Felipe, Savic, Reinildo; Llorente, De Paul, Kondogbia, Koke, Carrasco; Felix, Griezmann

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Espanyol

Espanyol’s Yangel Herrera is the only player unavailable for selection as the midfielder is suspended for the fixture due to an accumulation of yellow cards. Otherwise, the visitors are in good shape at the moment, with head coach Vicente Moreno having a fully-fit squad to pick from for the clash at Wanda Metropolitano.

As usual, Moreno will set his team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with 40-year-old Diego López manning the goal. The rest of the team will look to hold their defensive shape and deny Atletico Madrid room to limit their attacking actions.

Fernando Calero and Leandro Cabrera should be the two centre-backs, flanked by the full-back duo of Oscar Gil and Adria Pedrosa on the right and left sides, respectively. The full-backs are expected to tuck in to support the central defence.

The onus of keeping things tight in the middle of the park will fall on the shoulders of Manu Morlanes, who will be replacing Yangel Herrera, and Keidi Bare, while attacking midfielder Sergi Darder will need to take up the creative burden, slotting in as the No. 10 for the visitors.

The threat from the wide areas ought to come from Adrian Embarba and Javi Puado. Raul de Tomas, who has scored 14 La Liga goals this season, missed the recent trip to Real Sociedad but started last weekend. This could be a huge boost for Espanyol’s season. Wu Lei netted a late winner against Celta after coming on as a substitute. He could also pose a threat off the bench with his clever positioning.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Lopez; Gil, Calero, Cabrera, Pedrosa; Bare, Morlanes; Embarba, Dardar, Puado; De Tomas

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Key Stats

  • Atletico Madrid have won eight of their last ten home matches against Espanyol in all competitions.
  • The Wanda Metropolitano has been a fortress for Diego Simeone’s side this season, with Colchoneros boasting the third-best home record in La Liga this season, picking up 33 points from 15 matches (W10 D3 L2).
  • Espanyol have failed to win 14 of their 15 away La Liga matches this term, winning just once on the road all season.
  • The visitors have failed to keep a clean sheet in an away match this season in the league.
  • Atletico have only conceded three goals in their last five home matches, but they have only scored one goal in their last three matches in all competitions.

Player to Watch

Joao Felix

Embed from Getty Images

It has taken Joao Felix some time to hit his best form at Atletico Madrid, but things finally appear to have clicked. The Portuguese forward has been in a rich vein of form this season, having scored 10 goals and assisted a further six in all competitions, already equaling the tally from last season.

Ten of his 16 goal contributions have come in his last 13 outings (seven goals, three assists), reflecting his hot scoring form, which the 22-year-old will aim to continue against an Espanyol backline that has been leaky away from home.

Prediction

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Espanyol

Atletico Madrid showed incredible resilience against Man City. The two legs demonstrated that they have not lost the principles that have made them such a tough side to face over the last decade, which was a source of deep concern in the earlier part of the season when they were capitulating in games while trying to play expansive football.

Espanyol will be the fresher of the two teams and are more than capable of making life uncomfortable for Simeone’s team. But goals have appeared few and far between in their recent games, with just a sole strike being the difference in each of their last three games.

Atletico Madrid have now gone three games without a goal or a win, but considering the attacking quality at their disposal, The Hard Tackle predicts the home side to triumph with a narrow 1-0 scoreline this weekend.

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