Luis Suárez has tested negative for COVID-19 and is back in contention for Diego Simeone. The striker will train with his teammates on Friday ahead of Atlético’s clash against Real Valladolid. Suárez had been training on his own, with LaLiga’s permission.
Suárez missed the past four games after he contracted the illness on international duty with Uruguay. He was absent against Barcelona and Valencia in LaLiga and Lokomotiv Moscow and Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
Lucas Torreira, another player who picked up the virus while on international duty, is back in contention Saturday as well. But José Giménez is out after limping out of the Bayern game on Wednesday with a muscle injury. He will likely miss the rest of 2020.
The news of Suárez’s return is a boon for Simeone with important games against Salzburg and Real Madrid in the next week. Atlético Madrid could sleep soundly on Saturday night at the top of LaLiga with a victory as Real Sociedad do not play until Sunday.
Simeone has been forced to adapt his strategy in Suárez’s absence. Diego Costa, suffering from a deep vein thrombosis, was concurrently unavailable and Atlético were left with no number nine in their ranks. They were unbeaten in the four games Suárez missed — but in some of those games, there was a distinct lack of a penalty area threat.
Against Barcelona, Costa came on late, held the ball up well and a nine was not needed. Against Valencia, with Ángel Correa and João Félix starting as the team’s attackers, Atlético struggled to break down the opponent. The same happened against Bayern despite the Portuguese youngster getting a goal in the first half to put Atlético ahead. Los Colchoneros’ inability to get a second despite a spell of second half dominance frustrated Simeone.
Suárez gives Simeone options now and makes Atlético more dangerous, period. The 33-year-old stretches the field and plays on the shoulder of the last defender, which theoretically means more space for Félix to thrive in.
We enter a crucial period of the season for Atlético’s title challenge, with LaLiga planning to play football over Christmas and forego the annual winter break. Atlético’s ability to keep players fresh and available will go a long way toward deciding the league title.