A critical week in Atlético Madrid’s season begins Wednesday night in Valencia, when Diego Simeone’s men meet Levante for the first of consecutive meetings.
In one of the strangest scheduling quirks in recent memory, Atlético (17-3-1, 54 points) will make up its postponed matchday two fixture against Levante (6-9-7, 27 points) before heading back to Madrid for a rematch on Saturday. After that, Atleti must travel to Bucharest for a “home game” against Chelsea in the Champions League round of 16.
“We will try to think first about the first game, and after tomorrow’s game ends, we will think about the second,” Simeone said Tuesday. “Levante are having a great season, with a coach (whose energy) is infectious and who makes his team compete as he competes. You have to look at what they are doing in the Copa del Rey.”
Led by attacking tandem Roger Martí and José Luis Morales, Levante are Copa del Rey semifinalists for the first time in over 80 years and have a good chance next month to progress to the final. Paco López’s men have been a thorn in Atlético’s side over the years — most notably, Atleti went more than a decade without beating Levante away — but the rojiblancos have won five out of six against the Valencian side since it won promotion back to LaLiga in 2017.
Simeone will have José Giménez available after he recovered from a slight muscular problem. He will also have João Félix back at his disposal Wednesday night, as the Portuguese tested negative for COVID-19 on Tuesday and returned to training. The 21-year-old is likely to start on the bench, but his return will be huge for an attack that had been reduced to Ángel Correa and Luis Suárez.
“He hasn’t had many symptoms,” Simeone said. “He has been training at home since his fourth day (in isolation). It is great we’ll be able to count on him tomorrow.”
On Suárez, Cholo said he doesn’t fear injury to his star striker and addressed reporting that the Uruguayan will be free to leave Atlético on June 30 if he so chooses.
“Normally, I don’t talk to players about their contracts,” Simeone said. “I talk about sporting issues, not personal issues.”
Simeone’s captain will reach a sporting milestone Wednesday, as Koke will pass former right back Tomás Reñones for second on Atlético’s all-time appearances list. Legendary midfielder Adelardo holds the record with 553 caps for Atleti — Koke will reach 484 appearances before his 30th birthday and is on course to break the record in a couple seasons.
Date Feb. 17, 2021
Location Ciutat de València, Valencia
Kickoff time 7:00 p.m. CET, 6:00 p.m. GMT, 1:00 p.m. EST, 10:00 a.m. PST
Available TV/streaming Movistar+ (Spain), LaLiga TV (United Kingdom), beIN Sports (United States), Migu (China)