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Atlético Madrid-Valencia CF: Rojiblancos seek seventh straight win

Atleti can beat Valencia twice in the same season for the first time since 2016/17.

SD Eibar v Atletico de Madrid - La Liga Santander
Valencia are Luis Suárez’s favorite victim — he has scored 12 goals against Los Che. Ángel Correa has netted three times against Gracia’s men.
Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

Atlético Madrid host Valencia to close matchday 20 in LaLiga, looking to notch its second seven-game winning streak and extend a 12-game unbeaten run against Los Che.

Atlético (14-2-1, 44 points) enter this match fresh off a huge result in the Basque Country, where Luis Suárez’s doblete guided the team to a comeback win over Eibar. Suárez’s 89th minute penalty — his second late winner on the road this month — continued a theme to Atlético’s season. Exactly one-third of Atleti’s 33 league goals have come inside a game’s final 15 minutes.

“They’re numbers,” Diego Simeone said Saturday. “The team competes for 90 minutes, trying to win the game, and there is a part toward the end where we figure it out. I see them as numbers, nothing more.”

But these goals are sealing these wins, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a player more clutch than Suárez this season. Since Dec. 30, the 34-year-old has scored winning goals against Getafe, Alavés, and Eibar. Last season, Atlético took only four points from those three games. This season? Nine from nine.

“Since I spoke with Luis on the phone (in September), I have found what he said he would give us,” Simeone said. “Enthusiasm, hunger, rebellion...the team is helping him so that he can be at his best — scoring goals, which has defined his entire career.”

SD Eibar v Atletico de Madrid - La Liga Santander Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

Suárez’s 11 goals this season have him one away from the Pichichi lead, while Jan Oblak’s 11 clean sheets are tops among all goalkeepers — even in a restructured system. Simeone acknowledged that this has hurt players like Renan Lodi, but the competition is healthy and Lodi could return to the lineup on Sunday.

“Last year, (Lodi) almost always played,” Simeone said. “Football changes. There are the moments, the competition, the players that are best suited (to a situation), and you have to choose one. It is very difficult for everyone to play.”

It could be Mario Hermoso’s place that Lodi takes, as the center back is training normally but still working to overcome a sprained ankle. He may not be risked. Koke will return to Simeone’s midfield after he served a one-game suspension against Eibar for yellow card accumulation.

Atlético have won seven and drawn five from the past 12 league meetings with Valencia (4-8-7, 20 points). The visitors completed their worst first-half of a season in 1983 after drawing 1-1 at Osasuna midweek, and Javi Gracia’s team hasn’t beaten Atlético in the capital since 2011. Goalkeeper Jaume Doménech could be a busy man once more, as he was when these teams met at Mestalla earlier this season — the 30-year-old has made more saves than anyone in LaLiga.

Date Jan. 24, 2021

Location Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid

Kickoff time 9:00 p.m. CET, 8:00 p.m. GMT, 3:00 p.m. EST, 12:00 p.m. EST

Available TV/streaming Movistar+ (Spain), LaLiga TV (United Kingdom), beIN Sports (Singapore/United States), DIRECTV Sports (Uruguay)