Atlético de Madrid are hoping to extend its home unbeaten streak to 27 games on Sunday night, when surprise European contenders Valencia visit the Spanish capital.
Atlético Madrid (13-2-5, 41 points) are hoping to build off the momentum of Thursday’s Copa del Rey quarterfinal win by winning for the third time in four league games. However, Valencia (9-5-7, 32 points) have already beaten Atlético once this season — snapping an eight-year, 17-game winless run against Los Colchoneros — and will be confident of securing back-to-back wins over Diego Simeone’s men for the first time since El Cholo became the head coach. Valencia’s second-year coach Rúben Baraja — a former Atleti midfielder — has Los Che four points off sixth place.
“I love how Valencia play,” Simeone told reporters on Saturday. “They have young players following a very clear idea from their coach. Their 4-4-2 works very well, they know how to make it very flexible, very functional. It’s not a coincidence they’re having the season that they’re having.”
Sunday could be the first opportunity for Simeone to deploy new midfield signing Arthur Vermeeren, who joined Atlético on Friday in an €18 million transfer from Royal Antwerp. Simeone made it clear that he approves of Vermeeren’s addition, explaining to the media that the 18-year-old can play anywhere across his three-man midfield or as part of a double pivot.
“Arthur has a good present and an important future ahead. We will have to work with him, to provide internal competition, to help him grow and develop what we see in him,” Simeone said. “I’ve already told him that age doesn’t matter in football. Axel Witsel is 35 years old, and he plays every game. A player’s head and legs determine his age on the field. The sooner he adapts, the better, because we believe in his qualities and what he will become.”
This week in football was one for impending managerial change. While Simeone in November extended his contract to 2027, Liverpool boss Jürgen Klopp on Friday confirmed he would leave Anfield at season’s end — and FC Barcelona legend Xavi Hernández stunned many on Saturday by announcing he would leave his post as the club’s manager on June 30.
“Klopp is a great manager, he’s done great work at Liverpool, he put together a great team this season,” he said of his German counterpart. “The job is not easy, it’s hard. It seems easy to win and to keep winning, but it’s not. The job is stressful, it’s dizzying.”
Atlético are only beginning a stressful stretch of games that will last through all of February and encompass three separate competitions. Atlético will be playing, on average, every three-and-a-half days for the next four weeks, so rotating wisely will be key. Antoine Griezmann will need to have a proper rest at some point, while Witsel and Mario Hermoso have played the most and third-most minutes among Simeone’s outfield players.
“When we make the squad, we do it thinking about all the competitions we play in, and we will see in each game who is the better fit,” Simeone said. “There are 13 games until the next international break, so (we continue to go) game by game. I don’t look beyond that, and even less so now.”
Nuestra para el encuentro de hoy pic.twitter.com/eJuqOgXVMd— Atlético de Madrid (@Atleti) January 28, 2024
Date Jan. 28, 2024
Location Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano, Madrid
Kickoff time 9:00 p.m. CET, 8:00 p.m. GMT, 3:00 p.m. ET, 12:00 p.m. PT