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Athletic Club-Atlético Madrid: Leones, Rojiblancos square off at San Mamés

Will Atlético re-enter the “Suárez Zone” and take a big step toward Champions League qualification?

Club Atletico de Madrid v Granada CF - La Liga Santander Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Atlético Madrid are likely to lose its grip on the league title this weekend, with Real Madrid one point away from snatching the trophy back from the Rojiblancos. But a victory for Atlético over Athletic would be a huge step toward clinching a top-four place and Champions League football for next season.

Even with seven wins from the past nine in LaLiga, Atlético (18-7-8, 61 points) remain in a fight to secure a spot in the top four for the 10th consecutive year. Diego Simeone’s side is only four points clear of Copa del Rey winners Real Betis, and six points clear of Real Sociedad (with a direct meeting still to come).

“I’m thinking about the Athletic match,” Simeone said on Friday. “That’s the only thing that worries me.”

Marcelino’s Athletic Club de Bilbao (12-12-9, 48 points) seem destined for a solid mid-table finish. Led by playmaker and captain Iker Muniain (13 goal contributions in 30 games), Athletic are looking to avoid defeat against Atlético for the third time this season. Los Leones took a point from a goalless draw in Madrid last September and beat Atleti in the Supercopa de España in January.

Cadiz CF v Athletic Club - La Liga Santander
Iker Muniain of Athletic Club celebrates after scoring his team’s second goal during the LaLiga Santander match between Cadiz CF and Athletic Club at Estadio Nuevo Mirandilla on April 21.
Photo by Juanjo Ubeda/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

“Athletic have a playing style we know well, especially because of their coach, a great coach,” Simeone said. “Their players are proud and will compete as always, especially when they play at home. It’s a fast, dynamic team.”

Atlético have beaten Athletic just once since 2019, and Cholo is expected to chop and change some more in an effort to end his team’s poor form in front of goal. Luis Suárez (still Atlético’s top scorer this season) and Antoine Griezmann (12 career goals against Athletic) will be the starting forward pair. Now-healthy Héctor Herrera is expected to slot into midfield for Koke, while José Giménez should make his return in central defense after missing nearly the entire month through injury.

“I am convinced Luis will always score goals, at any age, whether he’s playing with his friends, with the Uruguayan national team, when he stops playing — he has the goal gene inside him,” Simeone said. “Hopefully, if he starts tomorrow, he finds it. And if he has to come on toward the end of the game, he can find the goal then. It’s what he feels and what he lives for.”

Date April 30, 2022

Location San Mamés, Bilbao, Basque Country

Kickoff time 9:00 p.m. CEST, 8:00 p.m. BST, 3:00 p.m. EST, 12:00 p.m. PST

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