Atlético Madrid will try to push its unbeaten run to seven games — and its LaLiga winning streak to five — with a victory at Rayo Vallecano on Saturday night.
Atlético (15-6-7, 51 points) continued its resurgence on Tuesday with a 1-0 victory against Manchester United at Old Trafford, which set up next month’s Champions League quarterfinal with Manchester City. Diego Simeone was asked about the enticing matchup in Friday’s press conference, but predictably, he diverted attention back to Saturday’s contest.
“(I have) great admiration for Pep Guardiola and the work he has been doing at City. It will be difficult, they are big encounters for each team, and there will be time to assess the game,” Simeone said. “(But) now, the game against Rayo is the focus and I only think about that.”
Rayo (9-5-13, 32 points) ended 2021 in fourth place but have since tumbled to 13th, having failed to win a single league game since December. Andoni Iraola’s side produced a memorable Copa del Rey campaign though, ultimately bowing out to Real Betis in the final minutes of the semifinal stage.
“(Tuesday’s starters) have been recovering well from the game the other day, and tomorrow we will assess the conditions of those who are more fatigued. From there, we will choose those who are in the best shape to compete,” Simeone said. “We are facing a tough team that generates a lot of dizziness in midfield and forward through the flanks.”
It is hoped that Atlético’s injury problems will clear up following the upcoming international break, but Simeone will once again be without a natural right-back on Saturday night in addition to top playmaker Thomas Lemar and forward Matheus Cunha. Also, Yannick Carrasco is serving a one-game suspension for card accumulation, limiting options further.
Simeone may swap José Giménez for Felipe Monteiro in defense, and Koke is expected to be available in some capacity after exiting Tuesday’s game with what looked like a new muscle ailment. It’s also possible Cholo gives a starting nod to Luis Suárez in an effort to rest one of João Félix or Antoine Griezmann. Suárez last started on Feb. 19, scoring a long-distance golazo in the 3-0 win at Osasuna.
“We always prepare ourselves to compete in the best way,” Simeone said. “Sometimes we reach a certain emotional and competitive state, and then the team shows its best version.”
Atlético have not lost to Rayo in over nine years and have won the past six league meetings dating to January 2015, keeping five clean sheets — including one at the Wanda Metropolitano a couple months ago.
Date March 19, 2022
Location Campo de Fútbol de Vallecas, Madrid
Kickoff time 9:00 p.m. CET, 8:00 p.m. GMT, 4:00 p.m. EST, 1:00 p.m. PST