It is back to LaLiga for Atlético Madrid on Saturday night, as los colchoneros make the trek to Catalunya for an important match against Espanyol.
We are now deep into the most critical portion of the 2016-17 season, with Atlético (19-8-5, 65 points) in a fight for third place and qualified for the semifinals of the Champions League. Sevilla’s 2-0 victory over the Fighting Tony Adamses of Granada on Thursday brought the Pizjuán side level on points with Atlético (remember, Atleti have the head-to-head advantage). Atleti will have to balance the race for third place with the fact that Real Madrid await in the first leg of the Champions League semifinal in 10 days’ time.
Espanyol and Atlético played out a goalless draw at the Vicente Calderón on Dec. 3. At that time, Atlético were transitioning from a more attacking style back to the more-familiar Cholismo-infused 4-4-2. Quique Sánchez Flores was more than happy to play his team on the counter and let Atleti have 67 percent of the ball without a sniff of goal.
Flores has guided Espanyol (13-10-9, 53 points) to within four points of the final Europa League place for next season, and the Parakeets haven’t lost at home since Feb. 10. Gerard Moreno (11 goals) and Pablo Piatti (10 goals, nine assists) are the danger men on the counter, and Flores can also call upon Felipe Caicedo and former colchonero Leo Baptistao to chase a game. David López is the durable presence at the back, and Diego López can still do a job in goal at 35 years old.
Diego Simeone will have to get creative with his starting XI, as he will not have a natural right back at his disposal following Juanfran’s quadriceps malady. The good news is Šime Vrsaljko is training and on the mend from a partially torn left ACL. Aside from those two players and the ever-injured Augusto Fernàndez, Atlético are healthy.
Predicted XI: Jan Oblak; Filipe Luís, Diego Godín, Stefan Savić, Lucas Hernández; Gabi, Saúl Ñíguez, Koke, Yannick Carrasco; Antoine Griezmann, Kévin Gameiro.
Prediction: Whereas Leicester City have been likened to a mini-Atlético, Espanyol are like a mini-Leicester. This is another organized, counterattacking side, and it will be a difficult match with the risk of a Champions League hangover following Atlético’s midweek trip to England. Atleti have not lost away in any competition since Dec. 12, and that should continue, but the resolute hosts stand a good chance of getting something from this and Atleti do love late-season drama. 1-1, with goals from Koke and Moreno.
Location: RCDE Stadium, Cornellà-El Prat, Barcelona, Spain
Kick-off time: 20:45 p.m. GMT/BST, 2:45 p.m. EST, 11:45 a.m. PST
SB Nation opposition blog: N/A
TV/streaming: beIN LaLiga (Spain), Sky Sports 3/Sky Go (United Kingdom), beIN Sports en Español/fuboTV (United States)
For more listings, check out livesoccertv.com.