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Atlético de Madrid - Rayo Vallecano: Metropolitano mini-derby

A chance to solidify top-four positioning.

Atletico Madrid v Valencia - LaLiga EA Sports Photo by David S.Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

Atlético de Madrid can widen the gap to fifth place in LALIGA — and narrow it with respect to the top of the table — with another home victory Wednesday night against local rivals Rayo Vallecano.

Atlético Madrid (14-2-5, 44 points) extended its home unbeaten run to 27 games after swatting aside Valencia on Sunday night, and winning this Supercopa-enforced make-up game against Rayo (5-9-7, 24 points) would move Los Rojiblancos five points clear of Copa del Rey semifinal rival Athletic Club in fifth.

Atlético could also reduce the gap to Girona, 11-point leaders for now pending the result of Real Madrid’s visit to Getafe on Thursday night. Atleti visit Real Madrid in the derby on Sunday.

“I don’t have time to think about that many things relating to a rival. I’m only thinking about Rayo, then Sunday’s game, and then Athletic,” Diego Simeone told the media on Tuesday. “When do we play again, (next) Thursday? Ah, Wednesday, I thought it was Thursday.”

Simeone isn’t the only one whose head is spinning due to all the recent activity on and off the pitch. Atlético’s proposed loan move for Juventus striker Moise Kean fell through on Tuesday afternoon after it was revealed that the player failed his medical — he will return to Italy, and the club will not incorporate another forward before the transfer window shuts on Thursday. This means Ángel Correa, heavily linked with a move to Saudi Arabia, will remain under Simeone’s orders until at least the summer.

“Correa is eager, he’s good physically, he's happy and hopefully everything we see is in reference to him staying with us and continuing to give us important moments as always,” El Cholo said.

Instead of bringing in competition for Memphis Depay (four goals and one assist in his past four games) and Álvaro Morata (who will not play Wednesday due to a knock), Atlético have pivoted toward adding a new central defender while César Azpilicueta and José Giménez recover from injuries — and while Çaglar Söyüncü is on loan at Fenerbahçe.

Long-serving Valencia center-back Gabriel Paulista is the chosen defender, and he arrived in Madrid on Tuesday in order to join Atlético on a six-month contract to the end of the season. Gabriel terminated his expiring deal with Los Che, and Atleti will pay the 33-year-old the remaining €1.3 million he is owed at Mestalla.

Atlético on Wednesday morning confirmed Gabriel’s arrival and handed him the #4 shirt that Söyüncü wore during the first half of the season. The rugged veteran has made 219 appearances in LALIGA across eight-and-a-half seasons with Villarreal and Valencia — he won the Copa del Rey with the latter in 2019.

Gabriel ended Sunday’s game with muscle discomfort, so he might not play immediately against Rayo. Atlético dominated its first meeting with the Vallecas-based side this season, a 7-0 win back in August. Atleti have not lost any of the past 13 meetings with Rayo, although Los Franjirrojos’ last visit to the Metropolitano in October 2022 ended in a 1-1 draw — clinched via a late penalty from former Colchonero hero Radamel Falcao. The 37-year-old has scored one goal in 12 appearances for Rayo this season.

Date Jan. 31, 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

Available TV/streaming ESPN+ (United States), Movistar+ (Spain), Viaplay Sports 1 (United Kingdom)