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Atlético Madrid-Villarreal CF: Perfect start hangs in balance

The champions are seeking to win their first three league games for the second time in three years.

Club Atletico de Madrid v Elche CF - La Liga Santander
Luis Suárez is in line to make his first start this season.
Photo by Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images

It’s arguably LaLiga’s game of the weekend — Champions League sides Atlético Madrid and Villarreal will close out matchday three before the season’s first international break.

“Villarreal are a great team and always have very good footballers,” Diego Simeone said Saturday. “They now have a great coach who knows how to compete well, and he has passed that on to his team. Matches against Villarreal are always very close — any detail can break (the gameplan) for one side or the other.”

Unai Emery helped to guide Villarreal to a Europa League title in Poland just a few months ago, but the Yellow Submarine is off to a slow start in 2021/22 — they have yet to score in 180 minutes of action thus far. And even less encouraging for the visitors is Emery’s all-time record against Simeone — no wins, six draws, eight defeats.

RCD Espanyol v Villarreal CF - La Liga Santander Photo by Joan Valls/Urbanandsport/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Club Atletico de Madrid v Elche CF - La Liga Santander Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Atlético will try to enter the break with a sixth consecutive league win (dating to last season) before worrying about which players will depart for World Cup qualifiers next week.

Simeone’s provisional 11 for Villarreal’s visit includes Kieran Trippier at right back and Luis Suárez at forward, while the coach might drop Saúl Ñíguez to the bench after picking him to start the season’s first two games. In a surprising turn, Saúl is now likely to stay at Atlético — neither club nor player was convinced after Chelsea submitted a loan offer.

New arrival Matheus Cunha trained for the first time Saturday, too, and Cholo confirmed the forward will be available to play Sunday.

“(Cunha is) the player we went looking for because we always need competition in this part of the pitch,” Simeone said. “He knows European football. He’s come with great enthusiasm and desire, you can see he has a lot of energy. We hope that he can show, above all, what he has shown with Brazil.”

This game preview also serves as our live gamethread — start a conversation in the comments!

Squad news João Félix and Héctor Herrera will return from injury after the international break, while Atlético are hoping Felipe (knee sprain) can make his season debut around the same time.

Date Aug. 29, 2021

Location Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid, Spain

Kickoff time 10:00 p.m CEST, 9:00 p.m BST, 4:00 p.m EST, 1:00 p.m PST

Available TV/streaming ESPN+ (United States), Movistar LaLiga (Spain), LaLiga TV (United Kingdom)