Atlético Madrid’s quest for silverware this season ended with Wednesday’s Champions League elimination to Manchester City, and attention now turns to finishing the league season as well as possible.
Atlético (17-6-8, 57 points) enter Sunday afternoon’s match with 11th-place Espanyol (10-9-12, 39 points) in fourth place, level with Real Betis and two points ahead of Real Sociedad. The champs’ title defense is irrelevant at this point — it practically ended in November, and securing a top-four position ahead of their closest pursuers remains vitally-important for the club’s long-range planning.
“The most important challenge now is to show what the players managed to show in the last game — us as the coaching staff, them as footballers,” Diego Simeone said on Saturday. “They showed, we showed, that they can compete very well, and the challenge is to involve them all, because obviously (competing) is what have to do.”
Atlético have not scored a goal in the past three games, and it appears Simeone is planning to reintroduce Ángel Correa into the starting 11 to kickstart the attack. Correa was suspended for Atleti’s two previous league games and has been playing through a foot injury he sustained over a month ago. The 27-year-old is likely to be paired with João Félix, who has six goals and three assists over his past nine league games.
Šime Vrsaljko, playing for a new contract over the next five weeks, is probable to return to the side as the starting right-back. Neither José Giménez nor Héctor Herrera is expected to play due to their injuries.
Espanyol have beaten Atlético three times across the past seven league meetings. Versatile forward Raúl de Tomás will take some stopping — though he has just one goal over his past six, RdT is the Péricos’ top scorer this season with 14 strikes. Midfielder Sergi Darder has set up Espanyol’s last three goals in LaLiga and is the team’s top provider with eight assists.
“The pride we feel is in knowing who we are, above all else, and the work that we have done during these 10 long years,” Simeone said Saturday. “I remember our fans’ passion, it was the same when I played as it is now. What we have to give back is our work. We have to compete well.”
Date April 17, 2022
Location Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid
Kickoff time 4:15 p.m. CEST, 2:15 p.m. GMT, 10:15 a.m. EST, 7:15 a.m. PST