It’s the start of a new era for Atlético Madrid, as the stadium named Wanda officially opens this weekend. The 68,000 capacity ground becomes home for the Rojiblancos on Saturday, and it’s Málaga who will attempt to put a dampener on the housewarming party.
From rags to riches and back again, it’s been a rollercoaster decade for the Albicelestes. Playing in the Segunda Division as recently as 2008, heavy investment and big money signings saw the club rise up to LaLiga and come within seconds of a Champions League semi-final appearance in 2013. But then the purse strings were not only tightened, they were thoroughly knotted: the expensively-assembled playing squad was sold off piece by piece, the club was banned from European competition for a year and investment in the team stopped.
Since then, the side from the South have seen some stability in four successive mid-table finishes. Clouds are gathering on the Costa del Sol though, with Málaga making an awful start to this league campaign. A 1-0 away loss to Girona was sandwiched between defeats to both Eibar and Las Palmas at La Rosaleda, with only their solitary goal scored keeping them from rock bottom of the table.
Another summer of squad upheaval saw several first team players leave. Losing Atleti target Sandro Ramírez to Everton has put a dent in Malaga’s goalscoring threat, as has the sale of promising attacker Pablo Fornals to Villarreal and Ignacio Camacho to Wolfsburg.
Player to watch: Borja Baston
Tasked with filling Sandro’s shoes is former Atlético canterano Borja Bastón. A serial loanee during his time as a Rojiblanco — which included an impressive spell at Eibar in 2015/16 — his chance to make an impact never came and he was sold to Swansea for £15.5m, becoming their record signing.
After only 18 appearances in his one Premier League season, he made a swift return to LaLiga and will be hoping to rediscover the instinct that saw him touted for big things as he became a one-in-two striker at both Zaragoza and Eibar.
Atlético have had the best of recent encounters with Malaga. Last season saw an ill-tempered 4-2 win at the Calderón, and a comfortable 2-0 victory in the reverse at La Roselada.
Martin Demichelis once swapped the Abiceleste for Rojiblanco, as Atleti picked up the rugged defender from Málaga in 2013. The defender would never play a game for the club, as he was flipped to Manchester City for a profit only two months later. After returning to La Rosaleda in January, the Argentinian announced his retirement in July, robbing us of what surely have been an emotional return to Madrid.