Failure to beat Real Betis at home Sunday could see Atlético Madrid fall too far behind their rivals in the intense LaLiga title fight.
The start to the 2021/22 season has been tough for sixth-place Atlético (5-4-1, 19 points), which last recorded a victory on Oct. 3. Diego Simeone’s men struggled from preseason, with so many players unavailable and returning late due to international commitments. The defending league champions have not been fully healthy, with midfield a particular sore spot, while the once-gradual transition to a fluid, attack-minded playing style has sped up rapidly for a still-unsettled team. Atleti have conceded 14 goals from 13 games in all competitions, including seven in the past three games.
Simeone acknowledged Saturday that the rojiblancos are in a fragile state.
“There are always difficult moments in every season,” Cholo said. “Last season, ours was between March and April, and almost at the end (of the season) when it was difficult for us to find results and the first half to the season had been fantastic.
“Perhaps we are going through a difficult moment (now). Everyone goes through it, and those who come out of these situations stronger are those who meet their objectives,” he continued. “Tomorrow is an important game, and I ask the fans to support us because we will need them.”
Real Betis (6-3-2, 21 points) are fourth and in fine form, entering this match on a three-game winning run in LaLiga. Manuel Pellgrini has developed a team that attacks well and defends with possession. Nine different verdiblancos have scored at least once this season, with Juanmi and Willian José leading the way on five goals apiece. Midfielder Nabil Fékir is one of Spain’s best.
“Betis are playing very well under Pellegrini, who has teams that take control and translate his feelings about football onto the pitch,” Simeone said. “Betis are in a great moment. We look to improve as a team, and from there we will do so in both offensive and defensive situations.”
Atlético have won seven of the past eight home league meetings with Betis, but the 2021/22 season has already shown that recent history means little in such a balanced division — Atleti have won just twice at the Metropolitano. Simeone’s midfield options will remain few on Sunday, as none of Geoffrey Kondogbia, Thomas Lemar, or Marcos Llorente has been declared fit.
For Betis, full-back Héctor Bellerín, on loan from Arsenal, will be unavailable due to a stomach virus.
Date Oct. 31, 2021
Location Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid
Kickoff time 5:15 p.m. CET, 4:15 p.m. BST, 11:15 p.m. EST, 8:15 a.m. PST