Luis Suárez and Iago Aspas lead their teams into a Monday night showdown in Madrid to wrap up matchday 22.
Atlético Madrid (16-2-1, 50 points) just completed its joint-best first half to a league season. Los Rojiblancos are one of seven teams in LaLiga history to ring up 50-plus points through 19 games, and they hold a seven-point lead over Real Madrid with two games in hand. Atlético’s 2013/14 vintage — the last one to win the league — also had 50 points through 19 games played.
“(The 2013/14 and 2020/21 teams) can’t be compared until the end of the season,” Diego Simeone said Sunday. I never look to make comparisons. “We’ve wrapped up the first part of the season. We look at what we have in the team today, to empower these players in accordance with the club’s objectives.”
Atlético are eyeing its first nine-game winning streak since 2014, with 34-year-old Suárez’s form — nine goals in eight games, a league-best 14 in all — key in establishing a solid lead atop LaLiga. However, Simeone will have to contend with more absences Monday night, as João Félix and Moussa Dembélé joined Mario Hermoso as COVID-positive colchoneros this week.
However, Yannick Carrasco tested negative and trained alone on Sunday, so it is possible the Belgium international will make the matchday squad.
“It is something that can happen to any of us,” Simeone said about COVID. “We are in a time when you can take care of yourself and you can still catch it, it was my turn (when I caught it).
“We try to take care of ourselves as the protocols indicate, but there are times, no matter how much you take care of yourself, where it will infect you.”
Sans Carrasco, Simeone’s plan is to start Saúl and Marcos Llorente in the wingback positions, as he did in last week’s win at Cádiz. Geoffrey Kondogbia is in line for his first league start at the base of midfield, while Suárez and Ángel Correa — the only healthy forwards — will begin the game in attack.
Eduardo Coudet’s Celta Vigo (6-7-8, 25 points) are changed immensely with 33-year-old Aspas available again. Celta’s talisman was on a nine-game run to end 2020 which saw him notch six goals and six assists — but he missed nearly all of January due to injury, and Celta have not won since Dec. 30. Celta haven’t won a league game away at Atlético since June 2007.
“Coudet’s arrival has given the team much more personality and strength in attack,” Simeone said of his countryman. “(Celta apply) a lot of pressure in the opponent’s half, which places them very close to the goal after recovering the ball.
“They want to play on the front foot, so we will have to take the game to where we believe (we can win).”
Date Feb. 8, 2021
Location Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid
Kickoff time 9:00 p.m. CET, 8:00 p.m. GMT, 3:00 p.m. EST, 1:00 p.m. PST
Available TV/streaming Movistar+ (Spain), LaLiga TV (United Kingdom), beIN Sports (United States)