A severely-shorthanded Atlético Madrid head for Catalonia on Wednesday, where relegation-threatened Espanyol will hope to take a big step toward LaLiga survival.
Atlético (22-6-7, 72 points) can move closer to locking down second place in LaLiga with a win over Espanyol (8-10-17, 34 points). But the Catalan side is desperate to escape the drop zone, and Atleti will have several absences again — this time including forward Álvaro Morata, whose season is over due to a neck injury he sustained in Sunday’s home win over Osasuna.
“We still have footballers. We know that situations like this have to be resolved during a season, and with the help of kids from the B team, we will be as competitive as ever,” Diego Simeone told the media on Tuesday.
Espanyol have won only four games at home all season, and the Parakeets have just two victories from the past 12 league games. But Atlético have won just one of the past four trips to Cornellà, and Simeone was quick to put Wednesday’s match into perspective.
“It will be hard, difficult. The rival will play as if they are on their last life, and they will have the fans on their side,” Simeone said. “We must compete as we always have.”
However, Wednesday’s game was not the only topic under discussion during Simeone’s presser. The coach was also asked about the biggest story in Spanish football right now — the racial abuse inflicted upon Vinícius Júnior during Real Madrid’s loss at Valencia on Sunday, and the player’s subsequent war of words with LaLiga chief Javier Tebas.
Simeone called racism a “very deep problem” and said there is now “an opportunity to improve,” even as the perception seems to be that a point of no return has been reached in relation to how LaLiga and the Spanish football federation address racist chants at games.
“It is a great opportunity to say ‘enough is enough,’” Simeone said. “In Spain, we all get used to living in a very good way. Whoever doesn’t want to will have to experience football in a different way.
“Spain is not a racist country in any way,” he continued, disputing one of Vinícius’s claims. “We who are exposed to it are seen more, but (racism) is also found on the street. It is not an issue specific to the stadium, it is a social issue, of young people. You have to take care of them, because they are the future.”
The squad list for Espanyol vs Atleti. pic.twitter.com/kydPLKIxFg— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) May 24, 2023
Date May 24, 2023
Location RCDE Stadium, Cornellà, Barcelona, Catalunya
Kickoff time 10:00 p.m. CEST, 9:00 BST, 4:00 p.m. EST, 1:00 p.m. PST