A win over Real Betis on Sunday night will ensure Atlético Madrid remain top of LaLiga with eight games to go — but a difficult encounter awaits the colchoneros, who will be missing their top two scorers.
Marcos Llorente and Luis Suárez have combined for 55 percent of Atlético’s league goals this season — neither one will play Sunday due to yellow card accumulation. Llorente will be back next week, but a muscle pull in Suárez’s left leg is likely to rule him out for the rest of April in a big blow to Atlético’s title challenge.
“To win, you need everyone in the team (to contribute),” Diego Simeone said Saturday. “And when one has the need to compensate for the absence of Suárez, who has scored 19 goals, it calls for strength from the whole group in order to protect itself.”
Betis coach Manuel Pellegrini confirmed his team will be without veteran Andrés Guardado and red-hot Borja Iglesias when Atlético (20-6-3, 66 points) come to town. Iglesias has scored six times in his past seven league appearances and is level with midfield star Sergio Canales for the team lead in goals.
Atlético last traveled to face Betis (14-4-11, 46 points) pre-pandemic and have not lost there in over two calendar years. Atleti have won five, drawn two, and lost one of the eight league meetings at Estadio Benito Villamarín with Simeone in charge. This one might turn out to be the most important, especially given Barcelona‘s loss to Real Madrid in El Clásico on Saturday night. A draw will keep los colchoneros top, but a win would maintain a three-point gap over Madrid and open a four-point advantage over Barça.
Without Suárez, Cholo will turn to João Félix and Ángel Correa — who has two goals and three assists in eight career games against Betis — as his forward pair. Yannick Carrasco is coming off a suspension and an ankle injury, but he will start after Renan Lodi was hooked after only half an hour at Sevilla last weekend. Héctor Herrera is set to make his first start since December and displace Saúl — the former Spain international also had a miserable outing last Sunday. Thomas Lemar and Koke — with two goals of his own against the verdiblancos — are expected to complete the midfield trio.
“We lose Suárez, (though) we had already lost him (for this game), and he is very decisive because of his forcefulness,” Simeone said. “We have Correa, who needs vindication. I imagine João as I did against Chelsea (in the second leg)...I trust my players. I know the squad that we have and we continue to grow, especially in the league, and hopefully we can maintain it.
“We always play against everything and against everyone, no?”
Betis are one of LaLiga’s most effective teams late in games. Pellegrini’s men have scored 13 goals in the final 15 minutes this year, and two-thirds of Betis’ 39 goals overall have come in the second half. Nearly one-third of the 19 goals Atlético have conceded this season have come within that final 15-minute frame.
The squad Llorente, Suárez, and Geoffrey Kondogbia are the suspended trio for this game. Atlético’s medical team has yet to clear Moussa Dembélé for a return to full training following his collapse over international break, so he misses out as well.
Date April 11, 2021
Location Estadio Benito Villamarín, Seville, Andalucía
Kickoff time 9:00 p.m. CET, 8:00 p.m. GMT, 3:00 p.m. EST, 12:00 p.m. PST
Available TV/streaming Movistar LaLiga 1 (Spain), LaLiga TV (United Kingdom), beIN Sports (United States)