17.30 BST, Saturday 28th October, Wanda Metropolitano (Madrid, Spain)
Despite poor performances in Europe this season, Simeone’s 4th-placed side remain unbeaten in the league this season and trail Real Madrid by only one point. Catching Barcelona may prove impossible for anyone in La Liga this year. A bigger concern for Atletico is the emergence of Valencia as a challenger for European qualification. Their position as guaranteed top-four finishers seems less secure than in previous seasons and victories against pretenders such as Villarreal are important to create some breathing room.
Having only finished outside of the top 6 in 2 seasons out of the last 10, Villarreal have shown a remarkable consistency. However, they will remain determined to break into the Champions league places this time around. After two poor losses at the start of the season, El Submarino Amarillo have rallied well and sit within striking distance of 4th-placed Atletico. This is their first test against one of last season’s top 4 and should provide a real marker of their progress.
Last Time Out
Celta Vigo 0-1 Atletico Madrid (La Liga)
An unconvincing performance at Balaidos was enough to see off an unfortunate Celta Vigo. Atletico ultimately kept out the opposition but relied heavily on a brilliant individual performance from goalkeeper Jan Oblak. Kevin Gamiero managed to secure the 3 points after taking advantage of some poor set-piece defending.
Villareal 4-0 Las Palmas (La Liga)
Javier Calleja’s men enjoyed a successful trip to the Canary Islands, coming away with an emphatic 4 goal victory. Cedric Bakambu’s firmly struck effort in the 48th minute set the tone for a second half where Villareal really ran away with the game. Further goals from Mario Gaspar and Nicola Sansone, as well as an own goal from Ximo Navarro, added even more gloss to the score line.
Atletico Madrid Lineup
Simeone will be delighted to once again be able to pick from a full roster of players and will likely field a full-strength side for the visit of a Villarreal who are looking to encroach upon the top four in La Liga.
Goalkeepers Andres Fernandez and Sergio Asenjo both remain long-term absences. Bruno Soriano should continue to miss out through his leg injury. Portuguese centre-back Ruben Semedo is also out with a muscular injury.
Key Battle: Saul Niguez (Atletico Madrid) Vs Samu Castillejo (Villareal)
In Saturday’s matchup, these two tricky young Spaniards, both 22, will seek to act as the attacking catalyst for their respective teams.
Saul Niguez has continued to play an important role for Atleti this year and was a key part of the 1-1 draw with Barcelona two weeks ago. A reported £71 million bidfrom Chelsea shows just how highly he is rated by manager Antonio Conte and Atletico would do well to keep him if they are serious about maintaining their Champions league status. The prospect of his linking up with Diego Costa in January will excite fans and to see Saul go the other way would frustrate many.
Samu Castillejo is also subject to the interest of Premier league clubs including Manchester United who are thought to be offering in the range of £35 million to tempt him away from Spain. Nicknamed ‘El Fideo’, or ‘The Noodle’, Castillejo will be hoping to twist his way through a usually resolute Atletico defence.
Is there more congestion in the battle for top 4 than last season?
For the past few seasons, Atletico Madrid have sought to break down the duopoly of Real and Barcelona and establish themselves as regular challengers for the title. Sevilla looked as though they would join them at points early last season but ultimately both had fallen away by the end of the season. This term Valencia have appeared to join in the party and others including Villareal, Real Betis and even surprise candidates Leganes, are looking increasingly impressive. Saturday will be another indicator of how genuine a challenge these teams pose to Atletico’s chances of European qualification.
Can Villarreal’s attack continue to fire?
The talented Congo international, Carlos Bakumbu is yet to score more than 12 goals in a La Liga season yet has begun the season in blistering form scoring 8 in the first 9 games. Accompanied by Carlos Bacca, on loan from Milan, the two could form a potent striking pair that could well fire them into the 4th place spot.
Prediction: Atletico Madrid 1-1 Villarreal
Atletico have managed to get away with some slightly shaky performances through some characteristically sturdy defensive showings. Nevertheless, Villareal have the attacking quality to break through and could come away with an impressive victory. Despite this fact, the Atletico defence should hold out in the end.
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