Five league games, five finals. Atleti are facing the first of those finals on Wednesday night at a difficult venue, the New San Mamés.
It is possibly the hardest away game left for Los Rojiblancos, the rest are at the Calderón (3) and the remaining one is at the Ciutat de Valencia (Levante). Atletico and Barca are level on points and Real Madrid trail by just one.
Barcelona will play in Riazor (Deportivo La Coruna), at a stadium where it has been difficult to win this year and los Blancos will play against Villarreal at the Santiago Bernabeu. They are strong opponents for all three teams and so La Liga's crown could be decided tonight.
Meanwhile, Ernesto Valverde's side are immersed in a struggle to qualify for next year's UEFA Champions League. The Basque country side have six points less than Villareal, who currently lie 4th in La Liga. The coach will have Inaki Williams available, who has recovered from a hamstring injury just a few days ago.
Sabin Merino, Aymeric Laporte and (possibly his most important player and top goalscorer) Aritz Aduriz will not be in the reckoning for the nod when Valverde picks his side. Raul Garcia comes face-to-face with his former teammates and Simeone has surely asked them to be very attentive to Rulo, because stopping him is never easy.
"We depend on ourselves"
Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone left us with some interesting quotes from his press conference before the game and of course did not leave out the "Partido a partido" philosophy: "We are only interested in winning the match in Bilbao. Other things would drive us away from our thoughts. It's all about winning. To be considered as candidates to win all competitions does not remove us from reality and does not condition us. From the moment we arrived at the club, we know the important game is the next one and we have to do it right." When asked about the chances of his team topping La Liga at the end of the season: "I'm not a fortune-teller, It's so difficult to guess what is going to happen. I am certain that we won't depend on others, we depend on ourselves."
The boss also talked about the opponent: "We are going to face a very difficult opponent. They have strengths in all positions on the field and the arrival of Raúl (García) has improved their structure."
In addition, he praised the hard work of Augusto Fernández: "He made a massive effort to be with us. We know the kind of player he is. He gives us help when teams press and has an offensive mind when playing. He also works hard. He had a great performance against Barcelona. I want him to keep this pace," and Griezmann: "He made a step forward in Bilbao last year. He played a stunning game. The merit of all the good things that are happening to him goes to him. His pace is a consequence of his work, to be part of the group and knowing what the club needs from him".
Augusto to play in Gabi's role
The Captain travelled to Bilbao to support his mates but won't be available for Simeone due to a suspension. Gabi is one of the most important players on Simeone's team and often plays a more defensive role since Tiago went down injured and always when Augusto is not on the field.
Augusto's adaptation to the team has been fast and although not a guaranteed starter, he seems to have become one of the key players within the squad. The team look better when Simeone decides to start him or spring him from the bench and he usually helps the offensive situation by controlling possession and defensively by asserting pressure and forcing turnovers.
The only mystery that remains is who will occupy the center of the defense alongside Godin now that Filipe Luis is back at left-back. Gimenez has almost recovered from the injury he suffered about three weeks ago and could not make it in time to be considered by Simeone. Savic was a starter last Sunday after several months sidelined with injuries, but Lucas has been in the initial XI for six consecutive games and has starred in some great performances. We'll see if the coach prefers the experience of the Serbian or the good form of the canterano. If I had to make a bet, I'd say Simeone will choose Savic due to his potential in the air, one of the strengths of the Basque side.
Carrasco, Griezmann and Torres are the team's attacking trio. Although we will surely see the Belgian player popping up in midfield throughout the game, when the team needs bodies in midfield. It is a new chance to watch the Koke-Torres connection where the midfielder brings the vision and assists and the forward contributes the goals. It has been a joy to watch in recent weeks.
Possible XI: Oblak; Juanfran, Savic, Godín, Filipe Luis; Augusto, Saúl, Koke; Carrasco, Griezmann, Torres.
In: Oblak, Moyá, Godín, Savic, Lucas, Juanfran, Gámez, Augusto, Kranevitter, Koke, Saúl, Thomas, Óliver, Carrasco, Correa, Griezmann, Vietto.
Out: Gabi (suspended), Giménez and Tiago (injury).