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Real Sociedad-Atlético Madrid: Now the games begin

A matchup of Champions League aspirants.

Valencia CF v Atletico de Madrid - LaLiga Santander Photo by Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The dust has settled, the summer transfer window has shut, and Diego Simeone can breathe a sigh of relief as his Atlético Madrid side take on Real Sociedad on Saturday night.

Atlético (2-0-1, 6 points) reinforced marginally during the window and do not quite have the look of a team ready to compete for the title again. The club sanctioned less than €30 million in spending this summer and did not pay a transfer fee for center-back Axel Witsel or injured left-back Sergio Reguilón. One of the four players Atleti signed, winger Samuel Lino, is playing on loan at Valencia.

“I lived (deadline day) calmly,” Simeone told the media on Friday. “I trust the people with whom we work, and we knew the path they had planned to follow (in the market).”

Cholo’s squad still looks short in defense, though, and the coach has five first-team players (from a 22-player squad) unavailable for the trip to San Sebastián.

Reguilón (groin surgery), Nahuel Molina (suspension), and Stefan Savić (hamstring) remain out, while Matheus Cunha (muscle problem) and Thomas Lemar (suffered a blow during the Valencia game) will remain in Madrid hoping to be ready for Wednesday’s Champions League group stage opener against Porto.

“I think the most important thing we can achieve among us is competing with one another in a healthy way,” Simeone said. “I like the team that’s been left to compete (following the end of the window), and we can show it on the field.”

Though Real Sociedad (2-0-1, 6 points) sold forward Alexander Isak to Newcastle for a club-record fee late in the window, coach Imanol Alugacil has a competitive squad of his own, even without injured vice-captain Mikel Oyarzabal.

UD Almeria v Sevilla FC - LaLiga Santander
Umar Sadiq of UD Almeria runs with the ball during the LaLiga Santander match between UD Almeria and Sevilla FC at Juegos Mediterraneos on August 27, 2022 in Almeria, Spain.
Photo by Silvestre Szpylma/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

La Real moved quickly to replace Isak with Almería forward Umar Sadiq for a fraction of the Swede’s cost. The txuri-urdin also recruited Atleti-killer Take Kubo, who scored a 90th-minute game-winner for Mallorca against the Rojiblancos at the Metropolitano last December.

“LaLiga is very competitive. Teams are playing better and better,” Simeone said. “It is increasingly difficult to defend because of the different problems posed by each team. That’s why we see more teams sit back. It’s difficult to come out pressing because of the opponent’s quality.”

Cholo does not seem to be planning wholesale changes to his starting 11 for Saturday evening. Yannick Carrasco should re-enter the team at left wing-back in Saúl Ñíguez’s place, and local reports say the coach will maintain the Koke-Kondogbia-de Paul midfield trio — as well as the João Félix-Álvaro Morata forward pair.

On the bench once more will be former Real Sociedad star Antoine Griezmann. Simeone confirmed recent speculation that the club has ordered him to play Griezmann for a half-hour or less until Barcelona, the player’s parent club, renegotiate the €40 million buy obligation Atlético are slated to pay for him next year.

“You’ve known me as the manager here for a decade,” Simeone said. “I am a club man, and I always will be.”

Date Sept. 3, 2022

Location Reale Arena, San Sebastián, Basque Country

Kickoff time 6:30 p.m. CEST, 5:30 p.m. BST, 12:30 p.m. EST, 9:30 a.m. PST

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