La Liga 17/18 Gameweek 24: Atletico Madrid vs Athletic Club– Lineups, Preview and Prediction
Diego Simeone’s men seek to mount the pressure on league-leaders Barcelona as they welcome mid-table Athletic Bilbao to the capital.
15:15 GMT, Sunday 18th February, Wanda Metropolitano (Madrid, Spain)
Atletico Madrid have not yet given up on the La Liga title this season. They still trail Barcelona by seven points, yet only two weeks ago the margin was 11 points. Rather than be disheartened by Barcelona’s apparent dominance, Atleti have stuck to their task and are now best-placed to take advantage of any further slip ups by the league-leaders.
Their 1-0 loss to Espanyol in December remains their only league defeat of the season and they are unbeaten in their last six La Liga fixtures. The title may still be a way off, but Atletico are giving themselves every chance of staying in the picture until the end of the season.
Athletic Club Bilbao will surely be disappointed with their season so far. The Basque club are sat in 13th-place and are in danger of settling for mid-table mediocrity already. Athletic Club are ten points clear of relegation, yet have failed to win in their last five league games.
If Ziganda’s side cannot improve their form soon then they may find themselves sliding into relegation trouble. Eight points separate Athletic Club from sixth-placed Sevilla, and their hopes of European qualification will continue to slip away if they do not start picking up points.
Last Time Out
FC Copenhagen 1-4 Atletico Madrid (Europa League Round of 32-First Leg)
Atleti all but secured their place in the Last 16 of the Europa League with a dominant away performance against Danish side FC Copenhagen.
The visitors never really looked out of control and took their chances well after suffering an initial scare when Viktor Fischer gave the home side the lead after 15 minutes.
It did not take long for Atleti to respond and Saul Niguez equalised with a header in the 21st minute.
Some sparkling attacking play gave Kevin Gameiro the opportunity to put his side 2-1 up at half-time.
The second half was largely one way traffic and further goals from Antoine Griezmann and Vitolo added greater emphasis to the scoreline.
Spartak Moscow 1-3 Athletic Bilbao (Europa League Round of 32-First Leg)
Athletic Bilbao easily dispatched the side who are currently third in the Russian Premier League. The visitors employed their counterattacking approach brilliantly and comfortably outscored their opponents despite seeing very little of the ball.
Aritz Aduriz was once again the start performer and gave Athletic Club the lead after 22 minutes.
The veteran striker then doubled his side’s lead five minutes before the break with a simple finish following a deflected free-kick.
The match was effectively over at halftime as an own goal from Ilya Kutepov gave the away team a three goal advantage just before the interval.
Luiz Adriano grabbed one back for Spartak Moscow on the hour mark, but Athletic Club held out to secure an impressive result.
Atletico Madrid Lineup
Diego Simeone has few injury problems to content with this week, with only defender Stefan Savic (thigh) a serious doubt.
Goalkeeper Jan Oblak (flu) and striker Diego Costa (muscle) have both struggled in midweek, but should be fit to start on Sunday.
Athletic Club Lineup
Jose Angel Ziganda will have to do without the services of defender Mikel Balenziaga (thigh) who is yet to recover from injury.
Suspension to key players, midfielder Raul Garcia and striker Aritz Aduriz will be keenly felt by Athletic Club this weekend.
Attacker Iker Muniain (cruciate ligament) remains a long-term injury absentee.
Key Battle: Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid) vs Inaki Williams (Athletic Club)
Talismanic forward Antoine Griezmann has been in exceptional form of late and looks to be playing with real confidence. The arrival of Diego Costa has freed up the Frenchman, both psychologically and on-the-pitch, and Atleti are beginning to reap the rewards.
The 26-year-old has scored five goals in his last six games in all competitions, including three man-of-the-match performances. Griezmann is starting to find his stride, and with Atletico Madrid starting to rein in Barcelona, it could not have come at a better time.
Inaki Williams will have to step up on Sunday to fill the boots of top-scorer Artur Aduriz. Williams has not had a bad season himself on the wing, having scored five goals and contributed four assists in La Liga.
The 23-year-old can, however, disappear in games where space is at a premium. Against Atletico Madrid this weekend, he will have to be at his very best to break down one of the league’s most resolute defences.
Can Atletico catch Barcelona?
Much of the winter break was dominated by talk of Barcelona’s brilliance and how the Catalan side had built up a seemingly unassailable lead at the top of La Liga.
The remarkable form of Atletico Madrid has gone somewhat under the radar as a result. Los Rojiblancos have lost only one of their 23 games so far in the league and remarkably, have only conceded nine goals in that period.
Barcelona have slipped up recently with consecutive draws against less-fancied sides. WIth the Catalans focus soon to shift to the Champions League, Atleti may well begin to close the gap even further.
Can Ziganda keep his job?
Jose Angel Ziganda was appointed last summer as a replacement for Barcelona-bound Ernesto Valverde. They have proven to be difficult boots to fill as last season’s seventh-placed finish looks increasingly unlikely. Athletic Club are not yet in any serious danger of relegation, but their lack of goals (only 24 in 23 games), is beginning to cause them problems.
Athletic Club have enjoyed great success in the Europa League this season, but their European experience only increases the expectations of their fans that they will feature at that level next season.
Ziganda played 255 times for the Basque side between 1991-1998 and consistently hit double figures. He needs his players to start to reproduce his own clinical play if he is to keep his job.
Prediction: Atletico Madrid 2-0 Athletic Bilbao
Atletico Madrid are really starting to find their top gear and looked particularly impressive in the Europa League in midweek. Simeone’s men will be further encouraged with every Barcelona slip-up and the narrowing gap at the top will give them focus. Athletic Bilbao have not yet had a terrible season, but they are running out of time to make it a great one. The absence of top-scorer Artur Aduriz will come as a significant blow. It should be a relatively comfortable win for the home side.
Will Atletico Madrid keep up the pressure on Barcelona?
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