Atlético de Madrid close what has been a tumultuous week in Spanish football with a Monday night fixture at local rivals Rayo Vallecano.
Atlético Madrid have opened the 2023/24 season with a home win over Granada and a draw away at Real Betis, while Rayo are putting a perfect start on the line Monday night — when Francisco’s men will seek their first victory over Los Rojiblancos in over 10 years.
“We played last week against a great opponent like Betis, who have their strengths, and it was difficult,” Diego Simeone told the media on Sunday. “Our players’ abilities will take us where we want. We’ll find a Rayo team that will begin the first half with a lot of pace, and the speed in the game will have to be present.”
Simeone will no doubt be pleased to count on star right-back Nahuel Molina again after a foot injury cost the World Cup-winning defender the entire preseason (though he played in Thursday’s 2-0 friendly win at Numancia) and the first two league games. Molina and Yannick Carrasco will run the flanks at Vallecas on Monday in support of a defense that is likely to include Mario Hermoso, Stefan Savić, and Axel Witsel.
Thomas Lemar has experienced muscle discomfort this week and will not be included in Monday’s squad, with Saúl Ñíguez set to take the Frenchman's place in the starting 11. Pablo Barrios is also in line for his first start of the new season as the pivot playing behind Saúl and Rodrigo de Paul, while Memphis and Antoine Griezmann have been tested as the starting forward pair.
But Monday’s lineup and the transfer market (“it’s clear the Saudi Arabia thing will continue for two more weeks”) weren’t all that Simeone addressed in his press conference. The head coach also discussed at some length the ongoing controversy surrounding the Royal Spanish Football Federation and its president Luis Rubiales, who defiantly refused to step down after he kissed national team star Jenni Hermoso on the lips without her consent following Spain's win in the Women’s World Cup.
Amidst the tremendous backlash from players and coaches, FIFA have since suspended Rubiales for a period of at least 90 days while it further investigates his conduct.
“After almost a week in which a lot of people have spoken, I join in what 90 percent of society thinks. It's inappropriate behavior from a federation president,” El Cholo said. “It’s a shame that everything the girls did during the World Cup, which was exciting, has been forgotten because we’ve spent the week talking about this issue and not their achievement.”
Date Aug, 28, 2023
Location Campo de Fútbol de Vallecas, Madrid
Kickoff time 9:30 p.m. CEST, 8:30 p.m. BST, 03:30 p.m. EDT, 12:30 p.m. PDT