Atlético de Madrid on Saturday will go to Galicia in search of its fifth consecutive league win, as Diego Simeone and Rafa Benítez will renew acquaintances at Celta Vigo’s home ground of Balaídos.
This international break went a lot smoother for Atlético Madrid (6-1-1, 19 points) than the last one did. Several players — including Pablo Barrios, Ángel Correa, and Çağlar Söyüncü — are in contention to return to the squad for Saturday night’s game. Barrios could even start in midfield as one of the interiors next to Koke.
“I don't know what kind of game the opponent will play,” Diego Simeone told reporters on Friday. “They’ve put in good performances, but they don’t have the points they deserve.”
Indeed, it has been a difficult start to the season for Benítez and Celta (1-3-5, 6 points). Los Celestes have failed to win any of their past five games, which included good performances against Mallorca (in a 1-0 defeat), Barcelona (in a 3-2 loss after being 2-0 up), and most recently Getafe (a 2-2 draw). Star forward Iago Aspas has yet to score this season as bad luck in front of goal has pervaded Celta’s squad.
“It’s a team that plays very well in transition,” Simeone said. “They have Aspas, who is one of the best in buildup and combination play, and at playing with his back to goal and letting others run into space. When they’ve been in their own third, they've defended very well.”
Celta will get to face a somewhat-rotated Atlético in the first game following the international break. Argentina internationals Nahuel Molina and Rodrigo de Paul are unlikely to feature from the start, which would see Barrios step back into the side immediately — and either César Azpilicueta or Marcos Llorente feature at right wing-back.
Jan Oblak will be eyeing his first clean sheet since Sept. 21, while Antoine Griezmann — whose last goal for Atlético away at Celta came in 2016 — will seek to draw even closer to the club’s all-time goalscoring record. Atleti have won the past four meetings with Celta and have not lost any of the past nine, dating to 2019.
Former Celta star Javi Galán is expected to start from the bench once more as he struggles to gain prominence in Simeone’s plans. But El Cholo is not losing faith in the left wing-back — even as Samuel Lino remains the starter — and reminded the media that adaptation sometimes takes a while.
“We must remember Oblak, Griezmann, and Giménez, who didn’t play in his first year,” Simeone said. “Galán is showing desire and enthusiasm, he’s earning minutes as we are seeing. This is the path to follow.”
¡Nuestra para el partido de hoy! pic.twitter.com/TvPAOeo7bh— Atlético de Madrid (@Atleti) October 21, 2023
Date Oct. 21, 2023
Location Balaídos, Vigo, Pontevedra, Galicia
Kickoff time 9:00 p.m. CEST, 8:00 p.m. BST, 3:00 p.m. ET, 12:00 p.m. PT