Atlético Madrid (13-2-1, 41 points) head to the Basque Country for a far-from-straightforward showdown with José Luis Mendilibar’s Eibar (4-7-7, 19 points) on Thursday night.
Eibar won this fixture last season and have been a thorn in Diego Simeone’s side for years. But this season, Mendilibar’s men have just one home victory from nine tries. They are one of LaLiga’s lowest-scoring teams — no team has averaged fewer goal-creating actions per 90 minutes in the top flight — and they sit only two points above the relegation zone. Los Armeros’ defense has been solid, though, as its 18 goals conceded are the fewest of any team outside the top six.
“We will go to a difficult field, in front of an opponent that pressures significantly all over the pitch,” Diego Simeone said Wednesday. “Their mister is convinced of what he has been doing for many years. They have improved a lot, and it will be a match that we will try to take where it suits us best.”
Simeone and co. will have to take the game where they want it without captain Koke (suspension) and key defenders Mario Hermoso (sprained ankle) and Kieran Trippier (FIFA ban). Thursday will be another opportunity for Šime Vrsaljko to step up in Trippier’s absence, while Saúl could start in Koke’s place as he looks to follow up on his positive, goal-scoring performance versus Sevilla last week.
Cholo could also see fit to introduce new signing Moussa Dembélé at Ipurua, who has recovered from an arm fracture and made the squad.
“He arrived a few days ago (and) he is trying to adapt as best he can,” Simeone said. “He has teammates who will help him with translating, (such as) Carrasco, Kondogbia, Lemar.
“We will have time to talk about what we need from him. He’s a penalty-area forward, we hope we can get everything we’ve seen out of him in the past.”
The 24-year-old’s presence further ratchets up the already-brutal fight for places in Atlético’s attack. Ángel Correa started in João Félix’s stead and scored against Sevilla, while Thomas Lemar has thrived in Simeone’s modified 3-5-2. Félix’s form — one goal and one assist in the past 12 games — is concerning, but Cholo believes the Portuguese is improving. Eibar were his first victim last season, way back in September 2019.
“He hasn’t started the games lately, (but) he has managed it in the best way — (by) being important to the team from that place,” Simeone said. “When it was his turn (to play), he showed all his talent when he entered. The team needs him, and he will surely generate a lot of offensive opportunities for us.”
Atlético have lost once from 12 league meetings with Eibar since the latter won promotion in 2014. Simeone and Mendilibar will match wits for the 11th time in LaLiga (and the 13th overall) — the Argentine has overseen seven wins and two draws from the previous 10 encounters.
Date Jan. 21, 2021
Location Ipurua Municipal Stadium, Eibar, Gipuzkoa, Basque Country
Kickoff time 9:30 p.m. CET, 8:30 p.m. GMT, 3:30 p.m. EST, 12:30 p.m. PST
Available TV/streaming Movistar LaLiga 1 (Spain), LaLiga TV (United Kingdom), beIN Sports (United States)