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Real Betis-Atlético Madrid: Top-five battle at the Benito Villamarín

Two shorthanded Champions League contenders square off.

Atletico de Madrid v Rayo Vallecano - LaLiga Photo by Alvaro Medranda/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Atlético Madrid are hoping to overcome the disappointment of Tuesday’s midweek draw with Rayo Vallecano, but it won’t be a cakewalk — the Rojiblancos are heading to Seville to face Manuel Pellegrini’s strong Real Betis side on Sunday.

This game against Betis (6-2-2, 20 points) begins a significant week for Atlético (6-2-2, 20 points). The Colchoneros are trying to get back on the winning track in LaLiga (or at least push their unbeaten run against domestic opposition to five games) before hoping to reverse their rotten luck in the Champions League and stay alive in that competition when Bayer Leverkusen pay a visit to the Metropolitano next Wednesday.

Atletico de Madrid v Rayo Vallecano - LaLiga Santander
Álvaro Morata scored on his last visit to the Villamarín in 2019.
Photo by Rubén de la Fuente Pérez/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Atleti’s away form has been nearly impeccable this season, bucking a trend that is several seasons old (with the exception of the title-winning 2020/21 campaign). The team’s home form is another story, but Diego Simeone’s men are an impressive 4-1-0 away from the Cívitas Metropolitano, with hard-earned wins at Valencia, Sevilla, and Athletic Club already.

“We have to make that (same) effort at home, with our fans’ support, so that the team recovers its energy and we, from the inside, get people excited about the team,” Simeone told the media on Saturday.

Racking up the points against reigning Copa del Rey winners Betis has largely not been a problem for El Cholo’s team over the past several years. Atlético have lost only one of the past 21 meetings with the Verdiblancos — all since Simeone took over as coach in 2012, and all but two in LaLiga.

Manuel Pellegrini’s side will be without key midfielder Sergio Canales on Sunday through suspension, while last season’s revelatory attacker Juanmi has been out for nearly two months. The Chilean coach on Saturday confirmed star midfielder Nabil Fékir would be called up for the match after a recent injury, but it is unknown if the Frenchman will play.

Cadiz CF v Real Betis - LaLiga Santander Photo by Fran Santiago/Getty Images

“Betis left a mark last season on the trajectory they had been showing. In the end, they didn’t manage to reach the objective they set for themselves, the Champions League, but they made a great effort in the middle of the season (to win the) Cup,” Simeone said. “The path to follow is (for them to do) what they are doing, because it’s very good — the team plays well, they’re dangerous, with a lot of attacking threat.”

Atlético remain without midfielders Koke, Thomas Lemar, and Marcos Llorente, but the latter touched the ball in training on Saturday and could play again before the World Cup. Defenders Felipe and Sergio Reguilón returned to training on Friday and will be in contention for the squad list.

As for probable starters, Jan Oblak is regarded as a gameday decision, seeing as he continues to recover from a concussion. Saúl Ñíguez is expected to make his fifth start of the league season, joining Axel Witsel and Geoffrey Kondogbia in midfield. Álvaro Morata and Antoine Griezmann will remain the starting striker pair — leaving João Félix on the bench for a seventh consecutive game.

“Griezmann, Correa, and Cunha are not talked about the same way (as João). Talking about João generates opinion and discussion,” Simeone said. “He is training better, with good energy and good feelings.”

Date Oct. 23, 2022

Location Estadio Benito Villamarín, Sevilla, Andalucía

Kickoff time 4:15 p.m. CET, 3:15 p.m. BST, 10:15 a.m. EST, 7:15 a.m. PST

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