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Atlético de Madrid-RCD Espanyol: Healing Rojiblancos aim to consolidate 3rd place

What will the Metropolitano atmosphere be like in the final home game before the World Cup?

FC Porto v Atletico Madrid: Group B - UEFA Champions League
Yannick Carrasco, who scored in both meetings with Espanyol last season, is expected to start Sunday.
Photo by Diogo Cardoso/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Atlético Madrid have only the league and domestic cup to worry about following Tuesday’s disastrous exit from European competition. On Sunday, the Rojiblancos will welcome Espanyol in the final home match before this month’s World Cup.

Atlético (7-2-3, 23 points) are looking to stay a step ahead of closest pursuers Real Betis (playing a derby against Sevilla on Sunday night) and Real Sociedad (hosting Valencia in Sunday afternoon action) in the top four race. Visiting Espanyol (2-5-5, 11 points) sit 16th in the table with only one win from the past five in LaLiga. The Catalan side last beat Atlético away in May 2018.

But Atleti have struggled since beating Betis two weeks ago, suffering an ignominious Champions League elimination and shipping three goals in a shock loss to Cádiz last weekend. The loss of form has been so profound that club CEO Miguel Ángel Gil Marín on Thursday penned an open letter to supporters, asking them to keep the faith.

“All of us who are part of the club, managers, technicians and players, are responsible for (the Champions League elimination) ... It is a time for self-criticism, to analyze the mistakes made and correct them as quickly as possible,” Gil wrote.

Gil also blamed the midseason World Cup — which begins two weeks from Sunday — for the packed calendar and for certain players’ struggles, saying the looming competition is “altering the performance of a squad of this level.”

FC Porto v Atletico Madrid: Group B - UEFA Champions League Photo by Diogo Cardoso/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

“Throughout (Diego Simeone’s 11 years as coach), we have experienced difficult situations and the group has always overcome them,” Gil wrote. “The season is far from over. Right now we are third in LaLiga and we will soon begin our participation in the Copa del Rey, in which we haven’t played a final for a long time, and which should be an important objective of the season. There is no other formula than to be all together to achieve the club’s objectives.”

Simeone received a rare bit of good news this week — all first-team players trained normally on Friday, with Marcos Llorente set to return to the 11 this weekend after missing the previous eight games through injury. In a lineup tested during Friday’s training session, El Cholo reportedly rolled out a midfield four of Llorente, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Rodrigo de Paul, and Yannick Carrasco. Koke remains unavailable through injury and Saúl Ñíguez is suspended.

Jan Oblak will start in goal, while José Giménez and Stefan Savić are expected to keep their places in central defense. Up top, Antoine Griezmann and Álvaro Morata are likely to start, which would send Ángel Correa and João Félix back to the bench.

“Diego Simeone is one of the best coaches in the world,” Espanyol manager Diego Martínez told the media on Friday. “I’m not just discovering him now, (Atlético’s) trajectory speaks for itself. We’re talking about one of the great coaches. It’s true that immediacy makes us forget and take for granted that he has been a league champion.”

Date Nov. 6, 2022

Location Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano, Madrid

Kickoff time 2:00 p.m. CET, 1:00 p.m. GMT, 8:00 a.m. EST, 5:00 a.m. PST

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