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Club Atletico de Madrid v Rayo Vallecano - La Liga Santander Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

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Rayo Majadahonda-Atlético Madrid: The Copa del Rey opener

With LaLiga all but gone, the domestic cup represents a premium trophy opportunity for Atleti.

Atlético Madrid’s 2022 Copa del Rey campaign begins Thursday at the Wanda Metropolitano, where the Rojiblancos will face “hosts” Rayo Majadahonda.

This Copa del Rey round of 32 fixture was slated initially to take place at Cerro del Espino, where Rayo play and Atlético train. But the game was moved to the Metropolitano in order to accommodate more supporters for a midweek, one-off cup clash.

Atlético exited this competition to lower-tier opposition in 2020 and 2021 and have not even reached the quarterfinal stage since the 2017/18 edition. Diego Simeone plans to field a stronger team relative to Atleti’s most recent Copa del Rey fixtures, a choice that becomes easier to justify with one look at the current league table.

“The Copa is a very beautiful competition, and in recent years we have not lived up to what the competition demands,” Simeone said on Wednesday. “We hope this season to learn from mistakes and face it with more forcefulness, with more stability, and more balance in our game.”

Atletico De Madrid V Rayo Vallecano - La Liga Photo By Irina R. Hipolito/Europa Press via Getty Images

Though backup keeper Benjamin Lecomte will replace Jan Oblak in the starting 11, Simeone is likely to start Matheus Cunha and Luis Suárez (who is possibly entering his last few months as an Atlético player), giving an idea of how seriously Atleti might take the King’s Cup this year.

In addition, Koke, Antoine Griezmann, Héctor Herrera, and João Félix are all training again after testing negative for COVID-19. Marcos Llorente has ramped up his recovery from a gluteal injury and is close to returning, but he may be saved for Sunday’s game at Villarreal.

“The only thing that matters to us is the day-to-day, not even the game-by-game,” Simeone said. “With the coronavirus, the positive tests, the situations that have impacted us...I am not looking at Villarreal or (next week’s) Supercopa. I focus on the day-to-day so we can prepare for this game with a team that has been doing very well in its division.”

One player who will not be available at all is Kieran Trippier, who is in England and expected to complete a move to Newcastle United by week’s end. Simeone addressed his first-choice right-back’s imminent departure and thanked him for being a vital contributor to last season’s LaLiga title.

“I’m thankful for everything he has done here with us. The club has given him 48 hours to resolve his situation. I’m grateful to him. He has worked very hard, and he has been a very important player for us,” Cholo said. “Now, we look ahead and seek solutions for what’s to come.

“The club knows well what we need and want.”

Date Jan. 6, 2022

Location Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid

Kickoff time 9:30 p.m. CET, 8:30 p.m. GMT, 3:30 p.m. EST, 12:30 p.m. PST

Available TV/streaming ESPN+ (United States), Cuatro (Spain), Premier Sports 1 (United Kingdom)

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