First-place Atlético Madrid will look to expand its one-point lead on Sunday afternoon when last-place Eibar arrive in the Spanish capital.
Atlético (20-7-3, 67 points) have no margin for error with eight games to go. One glance at the schedule shows very winnable fixtures for an Atleti team that has battled injuries and suspensions over the past couple months. Including this meeting with Eibar (4-11-15, 23 points), Diego Simeone’s side plays only two more games against teams currently in LaLiga’s top half. Copa del Rey finalists Barcelona and Champions League semifinalists Real Madrid have at least four fixtures each still to come against opposition fighting for European places or midtable positioning.
In fact, Barcelona’s presence in Saturday’s cup final against Athletic Club means this week’s fixtures — originally scheduled for matchday 33 — were pushed forward, and will all take place on Sunday.
“We have a very important game tomorrow against a team that has the same goal as us, which is to win,” Simeone said on Saturday. “We have focused all week, thinking about this match.
“We have worked with great enthusiasm and desire. We will try to take the game to where we believe we can hurt our opponents.”
Atlético are catching Eibar in crisis mode. José Luis Mendilibar hasn’t been able to arrest his team’s alarming slide down the table. Once a model of midtable consistency, Mendilibar’s pressing machine is melting down — zero wins in 13 games, and just one win from the past 19 in LaLiga. Wonderkid Bryan Gil is dealing with a thigh problem and won’t be available on Sunday, which further complicates the Basque side’s efforts to notch a first-ever away win at Atlético.
“We know (Mendilibar’s) qualities, what he has conveyed to his team in recent years,” Simeone said. “I cannot imagine any other situation (Sunday) than finding a competitive opponent as we’ve found all these years.”
The best news for Simeone is he gets to welcome back Marcos Llorente from suspension. Atlético trained at the Wanda Metropolitano on Thursday and back in Majadahonda on Friday — where fans placed a new banner reading “whoever doesn’t believe shouldn’t show up” — and indications are that Cholo will start Llorente at forward next to the embattled Ángel Correa. Mario Hermoso, Thomas Lemar, and Kieran Trippier all trained normally Friday after fitness problems prevented each player from completing 90 minutes against Real Betis last weekend (or even playing in the match).
“There are still a few matches ahead, they’re very important,” Jan Oblak said in an interview with the club Friday. “Every match will be difficult because every side is fighting for something, but I think we’re in good shape.
“The results that went against us will change, and we will win games.”
Status of the squad In addition to the aforementioned returning players, Simeone will also have Moussa Dembélé (unfit) and Geoffrey Kondogbia (suspended) available in reserve for Sunday. João Félix will miss out with an ankle sprain, and Luis Suárez is still on the mend from a muscle pull in his left leg. Right back is a position to watch — Šime Vrsaljko injured his foot at training on Saturday, and Trippier may not be 100 percent yet.
Date April 18, 2021
Location Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid, Spain
Kickoff time 4:15 p.m. CET, 3:15 p.m. GMT, 10:15 a.m. EST, 7:15 a.m. PST
Available TV/streaming Movistar LaLiga 3 (Spain), LaLiga TV (United Kingdom), beIN Sports (United States), DIRECTV Sports (Uruguay), beIN Sports CONNECT (Qatar), Guangdong Sports Channel (China)