Armed with three games in hand, first-place Atlético Madrid will look to go three points clear atop LaLiga on Saturday afternoon.
Elche come to town for the first time since a Copa del Rey meeting in 2017, back when the Alicante-based side played in Segunda B. Three seasons later, Jorge Almirón’s men find themselves back in the top flight after being condemned to relegation for financial irregularities five years ago. They’ve been hard to beat — despite being outshot by nearly 100 attempts this season, Saturday’s visitors have four draws from their past five games and sit three points above the drop zone.
Atlético climbed atop LaLiga on goal difference following Real Sociedad’s loss at Barcelona on Wednesday. Rather than playing a league game that day, Los Rojiblancos advanced in the Copa del Rey, where they will face Segunda B side Cornellà in January. That might as well be never for Diego Simeone, who didn’t comment on the cup during Friday’s media availability.
“Elche are doing well, perhaps the results don’t reflect fairly on what they’ve done,” Simeone said. “(They have) a possession style, an Argentine coach (who took) a great step forward in soccer there, and he will surely do well in Spain. They will be a demanding opponent.”
Atleti have never lost a home match to Elche and have a staggering 23 wins from 26 meetings between the league and the cup. On Saturday, Simeone will reintroduce the star talent he rested at Cardassar midweek. The coach also welcomes back Diego Costa to the fold, much earlier than expected, following his deep vein thrombosis diagnosis.
“I see (Costa) spectacularly, he is a very positive guy, strong mentally and nothing takes him out of his fighting spirit, in life and in the game,” Simeone said. “We hope that he is well on a personal level and, when he is available, demand what he can give us, which is a lot.”
Costa scored in each of Atlético’s 2-0 wins over Elche during the 2013/14 season, but it remains to be seen what kind of role he’ll have in this game — the latest iteration of a 61-year-old fixture — with João Félix and Luis Suárez set to start up top. There are lingering coronavirus concerns around the first team after backup goalkeeper Ivo Grbić tested positive Friday morning, but the expectation remains that the game will go on as planned.
(Grbić is the ninth first-team player to test positive for coronavirus since May.)
“The doctor told us (Friday) morning that there had been a positive, and we have to live with this situation,” Simeone said. “It is a difficult year, with many circumstances to face and it will happen to us, and to others and we have to find a way to solve it.
Date Dec. 19, 2020
Location Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid
Kickoff time 2:00 p.m. CET, 1:00 p.m. GMT, 8:00 a.m. EST, 5:00 a.m. PST
Available TV/streaming Movistar+ (Spain), iQiyi (China), LaLiga TV (United Kingdom), ESPN Sur (Uruguay), beIN Sports (United States)