19:15 BST, Saturday 25th August, Wanda Metropolitano, Eleven Sports
After earning a creditable draw in last weekend’s season opener against Valencia, Atletico Madrid are ready to return home for the first time this season with the task of overcoming top-flight newcomers and city neighbours Rayo Vallecano.
The visitors will face an almighty task in subduing the attacking threat of Diego Simeone’s recently strengthened squad, especially considering the alarming defensive deficiencies displayed during the 4-1 home defeat against Sevilla which brought Rayo back down to earth with a bang.
To maintain their status among the favourites for the title, this is the kind of game Atletico need to be winning comfortably. However, they do have a historic tendency to make heavy weather of overcoming inferior opposition.
There’s enough talent in this squad for Atletico to take a step forward and start dismantling opposition of Rayo’s limited stature rather than just scraping by. If they display sufficient attacking intent there could be goals galore for Antoine Griezmann and Co. on Saturday night.
Last Time Out
Valencia 1-1 Atletico (La Liga)
A Monday night thriller lived up to expectations as Atletico and Valencia – last season’s second- and fourth-placed teams – shared the points in a pulsating encounter at vibrant Mestalla.
Atletico were on top in the opening period and held a deserved advantage at the interval after a wonderfully disguised pass on the edge of the box from Griezmann released Angel Correa, who underlined his impressive start to the season with a composed low finish.
But Valencia bounced back after the break and levelled when a deep cross was nodded back across goal by Daniel Wass and Rodrigo Moreno thundered home a rising strike.
Atletico were forced onto the back foot for much of the second half but a pair of late saves by Jan Oblak secured a point.
Rayo 1-4 Sevilla (La Liga)
After the euphoria generated by last season’s title-winning Segunda Division campaign, Rayo were handed a hard dose of reality by an opening day thumping at the hands of rampant Sevilla, who could very easily have scored six or seven.
The chief beneficiary of Rayo’s defensive frailty was Andre Silva, who marked his league debut for the visitors by netting a hat-trick, including two in the first half to seal the result.
Franco Vazquez also scored for Sevilla before Rayo picked up a consolation — their first goal of the season — as captain Adri Embarba converted a VAR-assisted penalty in the latter stages.
But on the whole it was a miserable experience for Rayo, who now know just how hard it will be to maintain their top-flight status.
Atletico Madrid Lineup
With a whole new set of cards at his disposal, especially in the attacking positions, Simeone is still working out the best way to shuffle his pack and will probably make changes from the team that drew at Valencia.
Gelson Martins made his debut from the bench on Monday night and could push for a start.
Another substitute winger on Monday night, Vitolo, has been ruled out of action after suffering a knee injury during the game.
PSG-bound Filipe Luis will be replaced at left back by Lucas Hernandez.
Rayo Vallecano Lineup
Rayo coach Michel will be tempted to make wholesale changes from the team which was so easily overpowered by Sevilla and the club are also aiming to make several much-needed additions to the squad before the transfer window closes next week.
Two experienced players who could come into the starting lineup after being omitted last week are striker Javi Guerra and midfielder Gorka Elustondo.
Speedy full back Luis Advincula could also be given a first start in the top flight.
Key Battle: Antoine Griezmann vs Abdoulaye Ba
When last season came to a conclusion with a triumphant Europa League Final against Marseille, it appeared inevitable that Atletico’s two-goal hero from that glorious night in Lyon was merely marking his farewell in style.
However, Antoine Griezmann then surprised the watching world by announcing – in a heavily publicised documentary – that he had rejected the chance to join Barcelona and decided to stay in the Spanish capital. He then continued his golden summer by helping France win the World Cup.
Griezmann has started the new campaign with understandable signs of a lingering hangover, failing to score or complete a full game so far. This will be tolerated for a while but, before long, he will be expected to start justifying the huge contract he was awarded to keep him at the club.
Against a leaky Rayo defence Griezmann should fancy his chances of registering his first goal of the season.
However, experienced Rayo defender Abdoulaye Ba has already experienced one opposing striker scoring a hat-trick against him (Sevilla’s Andre Silva last weekend) and will be determined to offer a vast improvement on that defensive effort by making life much more difficult for the Frenchman.
Home debuts for new boys?
Atletico head into the first game at their Wanda Metropolitano home ready to showcase an exciting trio of new signings, all of whom will hope to receive game time on Saturday evening.
Powerful Serbian striker Nikola Kalinic, who should prove to be a more than useful deputy for Diego Costa, is the only one of the three not to have featured so far this season with Thomas Lemar starting in both the UEFA Super Cup and Monday’s league opener. Gelson Martins came off the bench to limited effect at Valencia.
The ‘KLM’ new boys might have to be patient for their chance to take flight but this could be the ideal game for Simeone to allow them to rev up their engines and give lift-off to their spells with the club.
All change for Rayo?
Rayo were taught a valuable lesson in last weekend’s heavy loss against Sevilla: if they don’t significantly improve, their return to the top flight will not last for more than one season.
Losing against a strong opponent in La Liga can happen, but the manner of the defeat was exceptionally concerning as Sevilla created chance after chance without much resistance from the Rayo defence.
Manager Michel will no doubt make several changes in the next few weeks, hopefully incorporating some new signings, in an attempt to make his team more competitive.
More than the identity of the specific players, however, Rayo desperately need to improve their collective efforts, especially at the back, if they want to avoid a long and painful winter.
Even if they lose at Atletico, Michel will be eager for his team to regain some lost pride by at least putting up a decent fight.
Prediction: Atletico 4-0 Rayo
This is a golden opportunity for Diego Simeone to prove he is ready to exploit the wide array of attacking talents at his disposal by punishing an inexperienced and defensively frail opponent. Expect Atletico to cruise home in this encounter.
With Griezmann hungry for his first goal of the season, Diego Costa and Angel Correa in great form and new signings Kalinic, Lemar and Martins eager to impress on their home debuts if given the chance, Atletico have every chance of running riot.