Atlético Madrid begin 2022 with a home game against Rayo Vallecano, LaLiga’s most surprising team thus far.
With nearly half the season gone, Atlético (8-5-5, 29 points) sit fifth, 17 points behind first-place Real Madrid. One of the teams Diego Simeone’s men are chasing is Andoni Iraola’s Rayo (9-3-6, 30 points), the newly-promoted city rivals occupying fourth place after a hot start to the year.
“We are going to face a brave team that plays very well, and a coach with very clear ideas that he has shown in all the teams he’s passed through,” Simeone said on Saturday. “(They play) very fast, (they’re) very dynamic, with a lot of depth, a lot of speed, and a lot of collective work.”
Atlético are desperate to end its longest losing streak in nearly 11 years and jump back into the Champions League places. The Wanda Metropolitano has not hosted an Atleti win since Nov. 20, and a smaller-than-capacity crowd will be on hand for Sunday afternoon’s game given new attendance restrictions across Spain.
Surging COVID-19 cases in the country have affected virtually every team in LaLiga, and the Rojiblancos will have four players unavailable for Rayo’s visit due to positive COVID tests — Koke, Antoine Griezmann, Héctor Herrera, and João Félix. Simeone, who returned a positive for the virus earlier this week, confirmed Saturday that he has since tested negative.
“I feel perfect. Yesterday I took the test again in a laboratory that isn’t LaLiga’s and I tested negative. Today I repeated the test with LaLiga, and we are waiting for the result to know whether I can be with the team tomorrow,” the coach explained.
Simeone reported that José Giménez is finally back from injury and will start in central defense, a big boost to a unit that leaked goals throughout his December absence. However, Stefan Savić remains out with an injury, as does Marcos Llorente.
Cholo also responded to rumors about Kieran Trippier, who appears ready to depart Atlético this month and sign for Newcastle United.
“We have always dealt with these situations. Very good and important players have had a chance to leave, and it depends on what the player wants. We will have to adapt to what happens,” Simeone said. “As coaches, we convey to Trippier how important he is for the team, and we will act (in the transfer market) based on what happens.”
Date Jan. 2, 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