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RC Celta-Atlético de Madrid: Going to Galicia

Atlético could open up a little breathing room in the race for top four.

Atletico Madrid v Getafe - La Liga Santander Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

Atlético Madrid pay a visit to Celta Vigo on Sunday afternoon, when club captain Koke will set a new club record with his 402nd appearance in LaLiga.

Atlético (10-5-5, 35 points) are on a four-game unbeaten run in LaLiga and will remain fourth regardless of this weekend’s results. Beating Celta (6-5-9, 23 points) away for the third year running will help the Colchoneros consolidate their position ahead of pursuers Betis, Villarreal, and Rayo Vallecano.

“Celta change their system according to their opposition, and that gives options to an improving team,” Diego Simeone told the media on Saturday. “It will be a difficult and complex game.”

Carlos Carvalhal’s Celta did Atlético a favor last weekend, traveling to the Benito Villamarín and beating Betis 4-3 thanks to a brace from young star Gabri Veiga. The 20-year-old scored Celta’s only goal in a 4-1 loss to Atleti in September — a result that is part of an impressive run for Simeone’s men against Los Celestes. The Rojiblancos have won the past three meetings with the Galician side and last lost this fixture in 2018.

Real Betis v RC Celta - LaLiga Santander Photo by Fran Santiago/Getty Images

Atlético have shipped only one goal from open play in the past four league games and only FC Barcelona have conceded fewer goals in LaLiga this season. The Mario Hermoso-Stefan Savić pairing is largely responsible for the recent defensive improvement, and the pair is expected to start once more on Sunday.

“What you see on the field speaks for itself,” Simeone said. “Savic has a defensive security that he’s shown over the years at this club. Mario has grown in terms of the security he offers. We think of Savić and Mario (to start), but we intend for them to compete with José (Giménez) and Axel (Witsel). No one can relax. We need everyone until the end, for sure.”

Sunday is another opportunity for new signing Memphis to impress as well. The Dutchman has played only 66 minutes since signing from Barcelona, and he’s not expected to start at Balaídos. But Atlético’s inability to create or put away high-quality chances cost the team two points against Getafe last weekend, and Simeone needs genuine competition for Morata, who has completed 90 minutes only twice this entire season.

“This has been his best week since he’s been with us,” El Cholo said. “He’s worked very well, and if he has to start or come on as a substitute tomorrow, hopefully he can solve any difficulties we face. He gives us alternatives to Álvaro (Morata), who has different characteristics, but they can play together.”

Date Feb. 12, 2023

Location Abanca-Balaídos, Vigo, Pontevedra, Galicia

Kickoff time 4:15 P.M. CET, 3:15 p.m. GMT, 10:15 a.m. EST, 7:15 a.m. PST

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