After a busy preseason — which followed a summer laden with international tournaments for several players — Atlético Madrid kick off its league title defense on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s important that debates (over the 2021/22 title favorites) occur, it’s the best way to change opinions,” Diego Simeone said in his pre-game press conference on Saturday. “We will not change our path, which is game-by-game, understanding how the league looks (this season). There is no better way to compete than how we have been doing it in the last nine-and-a-half years.”
Atlético are regarded in many corners as a prime contender — if not the overall favorite — to win LaLiga for a second consecutive season. But as ever, Simeone will focus only on going partido a partido, game-by-game. As last season showed, LaLiga is a marathon, and the talent distribution now is much more equitable than in years past.
“It will depend on the growth of all the teams (in LaLiga) to build a competitive league without having either (Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo), as England has done,” Simeone said.
Take this Celta Vigo team, for example — an energetic, attack-minded side that nearly qualified for Europe last season after narrowly avoiding relegation the year before.
“We are going to come up against a dangerous opponent, one who played their best football last season after (coach Chacho Coudet) arrived,” Simeone said. “They recover the ball well after losing it, their inside players (play well), and they have competed in a very successful way. We will have to take the game to where we think we can hurt them.”
Atlético have won only one of the past four meetings with Celta — that win was at Balaídos last October. Celta have beaten Atleti once in LaLiga over the past six calendar years, and star striker Iago Aspas has scored just one goal in 15 lifetime appearances in this fixture.
Though he’s expected to start this match from the bench, Luis Suárez put three goals past Celta’s defense in 2020/21 — and in his Atlético debut roughly a year ago, he scored two goals and set up another during a 6-1 thrashing of Granada.
Watch out for an Ángel Correa goal on Sunday — the Argentine has scored in three of Atlético’s past four season-opening games.
The squad Neither João Félix nor Héctor Herrera is available for matchday one. Santiago Arias and Nehuén Pérez have been left out, too, as the club works to find new loan destinations for them.
Date Aug. 15, 2021
Location Balaídos, Vigo, Galicia, Spain
Kickoff time 5:30 p.m. CET, 3:30 p.m. GMT, 11:30 a.m. EST, 8:30 a.m. PST