Atlético de Madrid kick off 2024 with one of its most important games of the season so far — a Wednesday night visit to co-leaders Girona.
Atletico Madrid (12-2-4, 38 points) can close to within four points of Girona (14-3-1, 45 points) with a victory. Crucially, Los Rojiblancos can also gain the head-to-head advantage over the Catalan club that they already enjoy over Real Madrid (also on 45 points) — tiebreakers that could be immensely important when May rolls around.
“Girona are having an extraordinary season, they have the numbers to get excited about being champions,” Diego Simeone told the media on Tuesday. “The coach has very clear ideas, and now he has a group of players who follow him, with a great idea of what they want and how to play. ... They’re forceful in front of goal, they aspire to the best finish possible, and they are what you see, a great team with youth and freshness from the bench.”
️Simeone:— Belén Sánchez García (@Belen_Boli) January 2, 2024
"El Girona está haciendo una temporada extraordinaria, con números para ilusionarse por salir campeón"
"Madrid y Barça son dos monstruos de España y del mundo"
Propósito para 2024: "Generar ilusión, porque en la vida sin ilusión no hay nada"#JUGONES pic.twitter.com/GQayEzzdJY
Girona are LaLiga’s top scorers with 42 goals from 18 games, and Míchel’s men have won seven of their nine home games this season — including all four since their 3-0 loss to Madrid at the end of September. Meanwhile, Atlético have lost three consecutive away games in the league and have only one win all-time at Montilivi — a last-minute 1-0 triumph in March.
Simeone: "We will look for where we can hurt Girona. They work very well in a mid/low block, while also taking advantage of the speed they have upfront, they sustain attacks well because they recover the ball well and they work very well in that part of the game.."— The Partido a Partido Podcast (@ThePaPPod) January 2, 2024
At training this week, Simeone has worked with a lineup that includes Axel Witsel as the deepest-lying midfielder with Koke (who can now negotiate with any club as a pending free agent) and Rodrigo de Paul as the interiors. César Azpilicueta, José Giménez, and Mario Hermoso (also free to negotiate with any club) will be the central defense trio if Witsel starts as the pivot. Marcos Llorente could start at right wing-back following his winning cameo against Sevilla prior to Christmas, while the race is on to see whether Samuel Lino or ex-Girona star Rodrigo Riquelme will start on the opposite flank.
Antoine Griezmann and Álvaro Morata will start up top, with Griezmann again in position to surpass Luis Aragonés as the club’s all-time top scorer after he failed to find the net against Sevilla.
On the injury front, Pablo Barrios is still recovering from a meniscus tear and is not expected to return until the end of the month. Thomas Lemar is said to be making stellar progress following an Achilles tendon rupture four months ago and could return as soon as next month. Reinildo Mandava has joined up with his Mozambique teammates for the African Cup of Nations and could miss up to 10 club games while participating in the tournament.
The squad list for Girona vs Atleti! pic.twitter.com/jcPkxcFbmJ— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) January 3, 2024
Date Jan. 3, 2024
Location Estadi Montilivi, Girona, Catalunya
Kickoff time 9:30 p.m. CET, 8:30 p.m. GMT, 3:30 p.m. ET, 12:30 p.m. PT
Available TV/streaming ESPN+ (United States), Movistar+ (Spain), Viaplay Sports 1 (United Kingdom)