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Levante UD-Atlético Madrid: Eyeing the top

Atlético will hope to avoid the upset bug that’s been going around LaLiga in matchday 11.

Club Atletico de Madrid v Real Sociedad - LaLiga Santander
Koke needs one goal to tie Paulo Futre on Atlético’s all-time scoring chart.
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Reigning Spanish champions Atlético Madrid can join the party atop LaLiga with a victory over struggling Levante on Thursday night.

A stunning batch of Wednesday night games saw FC Barcelona upended at Rayo Vallecano (leading to Ronald Koeman’s dismissal) and Sevilla held to a 1-1 draw at Mallorca before Osasuna took a point at Real Madrid. Diego Simeone may not be familiar with “Dune,” but he’ll be hoping the House Harkonnen-style sabotage doesn’t come for Atlético next.

“We know that Levante are always a complex opponent, difficult for us,” Diego Simeone said Wednesday morning. “Last season they had a great campaign, this year they have a good coach who is looking for ways to respond better.

“It will be like any LaLiga game, very competitive and with many difficulties.”

Sevilla CF v Levante UD - La Liga Santander
Levante captain A.J. Morales nabbed a brace against Sevilla over the weekend, albeit in a 5-3 loss.
Photo by Jose Luis Contreras/DAX Images/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The results have not been consistent for Atleti (5-3-1, 18 points), but the team’s new, decidedly-attacking style is coming together. Simeone’s men launched two comebacks last week — where the one against Liverpool fell short, a Luis Suárez brace ensured Atleti would grab a point against Real Sociedad on Sunday.

“We are looking for the balance that all teams have to have in order to compete at a high level,” Simeone said. “We’ve suffered a lot from shipping goals at the start of games, which has led us to chase the game. In many, we’ve come back. In those we couldn’t come back, we were close.

“That speaks very well of the team’s reaction to what may happen during the game.”

Cholo’s team will be light in midfield for Thursday’s game, as Geoffrey Kondogbia (groin problem) and Thomas Lemar (muscular injury) will join Marcos Llorente on the shelf. The expectation is Simeone will compensate in part by turning to his Suárez-João Félix-Antoine Griezmann trident. But the lack of midfield solidity nearly doomed Atlético against La Real last weekend.

Club Atletico de Madrid v Real Sociedad - LaLiga Santander Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

“Marcos’ game has a lot of depth, he stretches the team a lot. Lemar plays more between the lines, and links defense to attack very well. Kondogbia has a more defensive profile and balances the team’s needs for us,” Simeone explained. “(Héctor) Herrera, (Rodrigo) De Paul, and Koke are very similar. Those three have a combination-based playing style, and they can quietly play well together. Tomorrow, we will decide what to do.”

Levante (0-5-5, 5 points) are often a challenging opponent for Atlético and took four points from six off the eventual champs last season. Captain José Luís Morales and midfielder Enis Bardhi, who each scored against the rojiblancos in 2020/21, are set to start for the hosts. However, new coach Javier Pereira is expected to be without key midfielder José Campaña and forward Roger Martí (who scored 12 times) due to injury.

Date Oct. 28, 2021

Location Ciutat de València, Valencia

Kickoff time 9:30 p.m. CET, 8:30 p.m. BST, 3:30 p.m. EST, 12:30 p.m. PST

Available TV/streaming ESPN+ (United States), Movistar LaLiga 2 (Spain), LaLiga TV (United Kingdom)