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Preview: Atlético Madrid get set to take on Levante

Atlético will try to notch a third straight win before next week’s Supercopa semifinal.

Real Betis Balompie v Club Atletico de Madrid - La Liga Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

“In December, drinking horchata/I’d look psychotic in a balaclava/Winter’s cold is too much to handle/Pincher crabs that pinch at your sandals.” - Vampire Weekend

Yes, the winter break is over, and Atlético Madrid are back at work in anticipation of Levante’s visit to the capital on Saturday.

Said work is not limited merely to the players. Atlético’s efforts to bring in another striker will either succeed or fail this month — one player must leave the club so that goalscoring punch can arrive. Paco Alcácer, Cédric Bakambu and rumor fixture Edinson Cavani are among the reinforcements sought.

Atlético enter the season’s midway mark in fourth place, two points behind Sevilla and five behind Real Madrid. Once again, Diego Simeone has his fingerprints all over LaLiga’s best defense. Once again, Diego Simeone’s attack has struggled to put the ball in the back of the dang net — Álvaro Morata has had the most success, with seven of his team’s 20 league goals this season.

Simeone is expected to be without Koke — the captain is not training due to a muscular tweak and is questionable for next week’s flight to Saudi Arabia. The coach also will not have Thomas Lemar available after the France international picked up a hamstring injury earlier this week. Finally, there remain no updates on Stefan Savić’s condition, as the center back’s lengthy, startling absence from the team continues.

Real Betis Balompie v Club Atletico de Madrid - La Liga Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Possible XI: Oblak; Trippier, Felipe, Giménez, Lodi; Herrera, Thomas, Correa, Saúl; Félix, Morata.

Paco López’s Levante will arrive at A Stadium Called Wanda on the fringes of the European places following back-to-back wins. For this, the Frogs can thank goalkeeper Aitor Fernández, who has produced a few really inspiring displays behind the league’s worst defense per expected goals. They can also thank midfield whiz José Campaña, the well-traveled 26-year-old who has built off a strong 2018/19 and become one of LaLiga’s more consistent chance creators.

Prediction: 2-0 Atlético. Simeone played Héctor Herrera on the right of midfield against Real Betis in an attempt to make up for Koke’s absence — with mixed results. Levante’s games tend to be pretty open affairs, the types of contests where the reliance on Koke’s running and defending are not as essential.

Los Colchoneros last month took steps toward fixing their ailing attack and have won each of the past 10 at home against Levante. I foresee both runs continuing Saturday night, and I’ll call a first league goal since September for João Félix.

My record on the season 14-10

How to watch

Date Jan. 4, 2020

Kickoff time 6:30 p.m. CET, 5:30 p.m. GMT, 12:30 p.m. EST, 9:30 a.m. PST

Available TV/streaming Movistar+ (Spain), LaLiga TV (United Kingdom), beIN Sports (United States), DIRECTV Sports (Argentina), SuperSport 7 (Ghana), QQ Sports Live (China), Kayo Sports (Australia)