It’ll be a shorthanded Atlético Madrid that travels to the Basque Country for a showdown with Eibar on Saturday. Alongside new signing Diego Costa (suspension), Gabi (yellow card accumulation), Filipe Luís (hamstring) and Stefan Savić (yellow card accumulation) will be unavailable to Diego Simeone as his men take on the hottest team in LaLiga.
Eibar won just two of their first 11 league games, but have been on an absolute tear since late November. Los armeros have averaged nearly three goals per game over the last seven, with six wins and a draw in that span.
To understand what’s changed for José Luis Mendilibar’s side and how they can threaten Atlético, we sought out Paul Reidy’s (@paulreidy67) Eibar’s expertise.
Into the Calderón: So, Eibar struggled mightily to begin the season, but they’re now the form team in LaLiga with six wins from the past seven! What (or who) has been the key to this turnaround?
Paul Reidy: With the annual revolving door policy at the club over the summer months, this season’s usual bedding-in process was hampered by the injury to Fran Rico and Pedro Leon that saw the side void of a lynch pin in the centre of the field. This was further compounded by an inability to find the net at the start of the campaign with Mendilibar’s side just bagging 4 goals in the first nine games.
ItC: I miss watching Pedro León. What’s the latest on him and his knee?
PR: There was talk of an Autumn return before a relapse and further surgery put that on hold. The club are being wary in supplying too much information but at this point in time I’d say it’s unlikely that we’ll see him in action before Easter.
ItC: But in his absence, ex-Atlético canterano Ivi Alejo has really stepped up and come into his own. Is he Mendilibar’s most important player?
PR: He’s certainly become a key player with his presence, assists and goals being one of the catalysts in the team’s recent excellent form.
ItC: Is it still at all surreal to see this team in LaLiga — and not only that, but for a fourth straight season?
PR: Yes and no. I feel we’ve all moved from from the “town of 27,000 inhabitants” narrative to acknowledge that with the right people in charge, spending wisely and managing realistic expectations, maintaining a small club in the top flight can be done. Eibar should be a beacon to smaller clubs all around the world fighting to survive in a world where bigger budgets usually (but not always) equate to more success.
ItC: Atlético haven’t lost at Ipurua since 2001. What will Eibar have to do to take three points this time around?
PR: Forget their “big team” stage-fright syndrome.... Eibar have struggled against the traditionally bigger clubs in LaLiga and the point at the Bernabéu withstanding last season yet to secure maximum points (or any points) against Madrid, Barça or Atleti in their spell in the top flight.
ItC: Scoreline prediction?
PR: A gritty and not great to watch 0-0!