La Liga 17/18 Gameweek 22: Atletico Madrid vs Valencia– Lineups, Preview and Prediction
The biggest fixture of the weekend sees second face third in La Liga in a truly mouth-watering clash.
19:45 GMT, Sunday 4th February, Wanda Metropolitano (Madrid, Spain) Sky Sports Football
Diego Simeone’s side continue to defy the odds in La Liga and have already all but secured their place in next season’s UEFA Champions League. Under a transfer embargo last summer, Atletico Madrid have made the most of their resources already at the club and are enjoying another impressive league campaign. Atleti have only lost once in La Liga all season, at the hands of Espanyol towards the end of December.
They have only conceded nine goals in their 21 fixtures so far, the best record in the division. Finishing above their great city rivals, Real Madrid, will provide them with motivation enough to keep their focus in the league, despite trailing leaders Barcelona by 11 points.
Valencia have been unable to sustain their exceptional early season form and are out of the title race, 17 points off the top. The prize of a return to the UEFA Champions League looms large and a resurgent Real Madrid and an on-form Villarreal pose a real threat to Valencia’s European ambitions.
Los Che have now lost four of their last six games in La Liga and are in danger of throwing away their hard-earned position. Against Real Madrid last Saturday they ultimately crumbled under the increasing pressure. They cannot afford to do that again this week.
Last Time Out
Atletico Madrid 3-0 Las Palmas
Atleti ended up comfortably dispatched struggling Las Palmas, after enduring a tense first half. The home side were willing to allow their opponents the majority of possession and were rewarded for their patience in the second half when Las Palmas predictably loosened up at the back.
Antoine Griezmann broke the deadlock on the hour mark after a mazy run which saw him past the majority of the Las Palmas team before slotting into the net.
Las Palmas began to crumble and the lively Fernando Torres took his chance well to double his team’s lead after 73 minutes.
The visitors threw bodies forward in the last ten minutes and were eventually caught out by another Atleti counter-attack finished off by Thomas Partey with two minutes left to play.
Barcelona 1-0 Valencia (Copa del Rey Semi-Final First Leg)
Marcelino set his side out to defend deep from the off with the aim of making sure that Valencia remained in the tie heading into the second leg. The visitors defended brilliantly for the majority of the 90 minutes, limiting the number of genuine opportunities afforded to Barcelona, and will be more than satisfied with the narrow scoreline.
One lapse in concentration was all it took for Barcelona to score. Luis Suarez took advantage of a rare moment of defensive disorganisation to give his side the lead in the 67th minute.
Towards the end of the second half Valencia committed more men to the counter and were very nearly rewarded with an equaliser in the final minute of stoppage time when Santi Mina headed over the bar.
Atletico Madrid Lineup
Diego Simeone has a relatively injury free side to choose from once again this weekend.
Defender Filipe Luis (thigh) is a doubt and there are slight concerns over the fitness of Kevin Gameiro (stomach) and Nicolas Gaitan (knock) but none are serious injury worries.
Diego Costa is set to return from injury and will most likely replace Fernando Torres in the starting lineup, despite the former Liverpool man’s impressive form.
Another returning player is Sime Vrsaljko who is back having served his suspension.
Marcelino will have to make the most of his squad as many of his starters looked tired towards the end of Thursday night’s clash with Barcelona.
Ezequiel Garay (knock), Geoffrey Kondogbia (knock) and Jeison Murillo (hernia) are all struggling for fitness but may be forced to start on Sunday as some degree of rotation will be required.
Goncalo Guedes (thigh) and Javi Jimenez (cruciate ligament) are close to returns but are unlikely to play any significant part in this weekend’s fixture.
In more positive news, Gabriel Paulista and Ruben Vezo are both free to play in the league having returned from suspensions.
Key Battle: Saul Niguez (Atletico Madrid) vs Daniel Parejo (Valencia)
Atleti rely heavily on their counter-attacking game and Saul Niguez is so often the creative catalyst able to see the space available to put his colleagues in dangerous positions. The 23-year-old has taken on even greater levels of responsibility this season and has shown a real willingness to assist in the defensive shape of his team.
It is Saul’s ability to play the role of both flashy playmaker and midfield enforcer that makes him so invaluable to Simeone. He is able to adapt quickly to the game situation and is equally dangerous when sitting deep as he is in the final third.
Competing for space with Saul on Sunday night will be Daniel Parejo. The midfielder has started more games than any other Valencia midfielder this season and is an integral part of their style. A multi-dimensional footballer, Parejo is comfortable as both goalscorer and provider.
He has four goals and four assists in La Liga this season and is the creative heartbeat of this high-energy team. The addition of Francis Coquelin has taken some pressure off his partnership with Geoffrey Kondogbia, but as an attacking threat, he is irreplaceable.
Will Valencia suffer a hangover from their midweek clash?
Unlike Sunday’s opponents, Valencia do not have the distraction of European football to contend with this season. Their impressive run in the Copa del Rey, however, has taken its toll in the last month. They have played five cup games since the beginning of January and Thursday night’s game against Barcelona has given them only two days of rest before their encounter against Atletico Madrid.
The nature of their performance against Barcelona will have taken a physical toll upon the Valencia starting eleven. To keep out the Catalan giants they had to produce an incredibly focused defensive performance and held their shape brilliantly throughout. Marcelino does not have a particularly large squad to choose from and whichever team he picks against Atleti, there will be some tired legs involved.
Will Fernando Torres score his 100th goal for his boyhood club?
Much has been made of the return of Diego Costa to Los Rojiblancos this season, but it is the performances of another ex-Chelsea old boy that have caught the eye of late. Fernando Torres has only been a bit-part player this season, but has performed well when given the chance. Against Las Palmas last week he showed shades of his very best form in a display which delighted the Atleti faithful.
The 33-year-old is nowhere near the attacking force that he once was. In an era of significant changes around the club, however, Torres is a rare point of continuity for fans to latch onto. He currently has 99 La Liga goals for the club that he joined as an 11-year-old, and nothing would please the supporters more than seeing him come off the bench to score a winning 100th.
Prediction: Atletico Madrid 1-0 Valencia
At their very best, Valencia can tear apart the best teams in La Liga. Atletico Madrid are the hardest team to break down in the division, however, and the visitors may be too fatigued to produce their best attacking play. The return of Diego Costa should provide the hosts with a significant boost and they should have enough to see them past Valencia on Sunday night.
Will Valencia manage to turn around their deteriorating form?
Let us know in the comments section below…