Atlético Madrid begin a Basque Country road trip with a date at San Mamés. Atlético enter this match in form, having won four of the past six LaLiga matches, but this will be a huge test for the players as they face one of the most intense and stubborn teams in the whole of Spain.
Earlier in the week, Atleti capped off an impressive attacking display at the Vicente Calderón against Eibar. The 3-0 win essentially put los colchoneros into the Copa del Rey semifinals and Diego Simeone will hope to see this attacking flair continue against Athletic Club.
This is one of three consecutive trips to the Basque Country for Simeone and his side. On Sunday afternoon, they will lock horns with Athletic, then Eibar in the Copa quarterfinal return leg on Wednesday and finally Alavés next week.
San Mamés is a tough stadium to visit for many teams, but Atlético have a good record at the new stadium since it opened in 2013, with four wins from four. Last season, Fernando Torres scored the only goal in an intense April fixture. Athletic are one of Antoine Griezmann’s favorite victims; he scored a hat trick at San Mamés in December 2014 and netted a brace at the Vicente Calderón in December 2015.
The reverse fixture in May will be the last ever league match played at the Calderón - that is, if the legal and economic issues surrounding the Wanda Metropolitano can be sorted in time.
Focusing on our opponents, Athletic are enjoying another solid season in the Primera División, and can go level on points with Villarreal with a win on Sunday. However, Ernesto Valverde will be without two of his key players in playmaker Beñat and forward Aritz Aduriz. Both players are suspended after receiving yellow cards at Leganés last week.
This fixture seems like an opportune time for Kévin Gamiero to return to the XI to link up with Griezmann, who has started to find form again. Nico Gaitán should keep his place after a couple impressive performances. Elsewhere, Diego Godín and Gabi should start after entering as substitutes against Eibar in midweek.
Los Leones’ main attacking threat will come from former Atlético favourite Raúl García, but they also have Iker Muniain back fit and in form as well as the pacy Iñaki Williams up front. Atleti will have to be alert and cautious to keep up with the speed and pace of a fresher team (no midweek Copa game for Athletic). That is why José Giménez may be preferred to Stefan Savić in central defense.
Atleti are in form whereas Athletic have been hit-or-miss in attack of late. Scoring on the division’s second-best defence will be that much harder without Aduriz. That said, this should still be an intense, action-packed affair with little margin for error. I’ll go with a 2-1 win for the visitors.
Goalkeepers: Moyá, Moreira
Defenders: Godín, Filipe, Savic, Vrsaljko, Lucas, Juanfran, Giménez
Midfielders: Koke, Saúl, Carrasco, Gabi, Gaitán
Forwards: Griezmann, Torres, Correa, Gameiro
Lucas Hernández is available after he received the medical all clear following a muscle injury, but Jan Oblak (shoulder injury), Tiago (knee injury) and Augusto (knee injury) are still sidelined.