Atlético Madrid will meet high-powered Athletic Club de Bilbao on Saturday night, as the Colchoneros look to put UEFA Champions League disappointment behind them.
Atlético (5-1-2, 16 points) are level on points with two other teams in fourth place but can overtake third-place Athletic (5-2-1, 17 points) by winning at San Mamés for the first time since 2017. Atleti have done well in LaLiga so far despite an undefined starting 11 and reported problems with record signing João Félix, which Diego Simeone addressed in Friday’s press conference.
“I think of João the same way I think of Ángel Correa and the other forwards,” Simeone said. “As soon as he is fit again in training and recovers the form that we need, he’s going to play. But as long as I’m here, it’s about performance. That’s why his teammates are playing. It’s clear that every time he trains well, he plays (more).”
Meanwhile, returning manager Ernesto Valverde has Los Leones flying. The Basques are playing a vibrant, high-octane style that has helped them to the second-largest goal difference in LaLiga (+12), and they have shipped only five goals in eight games.
That’s not great news for an Atlético side that has scored just five times from its past 86 shot attempts, including 0 goals from 21 tries in Wednesday’s draw with Club Brugge in the Champions League.
“It’s a good thing to have situations to score,” Simeone said. “The team looks for these, generates (these chances) and tries to take advantage to win the game. Forcefulness comes through mettle, calmness, and confidence.
“The only way to score is by creating chances.”
Recent form against Athletic is not encouraging, either — Atleti have lost three of the past four meetings with Athletic. The four-game run without a win is the Rojiblancos’ longest against this particular opponent, with both teams playing in the top flight, since 1960.
But Simeone’s personal record against Valverde is very good — nine wins and five draws from 17 meetings with the Spaniard’s Valencia and FC Barcelona teams, in addition to his Athletic sides.
“I love how they’re playing,” Simeone said. “Valverde has found his line of play in Bilbao after his time at Barcelona, with fast players (and) transitions. I like how they play, how they press, and how they work. I don’t expect anything other than an important game.”
La para el Athletic-Atleti pic.twitter.com/Qj65v260oi— Atlético de Madrid (@Atleti) October 15, 2022
Date Oct. 15, 2022
Location San Mamés, Bilbao, Basque Country
Kickoff time 9:00 p.m. CET, 8:00 p.m. BST, 3:00 p.m. EST, 12:00 p.m. PST