ATLÉTICO - VILLARREAL
Atleti face up to spitting image
Diego Simeone is in no position to pick his team with one eye on Europe as Los Rojiblancos face Villarreal at the Calderón (20:30 CET).
Atlético Madrid close out a week that saw them relinquish their status as 'winter champions' with the first of four tricky turns in the road immediately up ahead. That's the fixture list that Los Rojiblancos have been handed, one which over the next ten days would not look out of place in the NBA: no fewer than four games in the period.
And some opening bend is in store for Diego Simeone's men, as they face a Villarreal side who offer up a very similar challenge to Atlético themselves: both teams score few (35 and 30 La Liga goals respectively), concede even fewer (11 and 18) and reap the maximum return from their output, with the hosts on 54 points and the visitors on 48. Almost in carbon copy territory.
Four of the clubs' last five meetings have ended 1-0. On the most recent occasion, Villarreal boss Marcelino García Toral admitted that his players had celebrated the result with cheese, ham and win in the dressing room. Today, he'll afford himself another luxury, resting the likes of Mario Gaspar, Roberto Soldado and Bruno Soriano with a view to their midweek Europa League clash with Napoli.
Posing a threat to Atlético will be two familiar faces in Leo Baptistao (whose loan deal from Los Colchoneros does not include a clause preventing him from coming up against his parent club), and Adrián López. Baptistao it was who did for the capital side in the teams' first league encounter this term, and with former Villarreal men Diego Godín, Óliver Torres and Luciano Vietto at Atleti, it'll be an evening on which the 'ex-factor' is set to weigh heavily.
Faced with four players out injured and José Giménez serving a suspension, meanwhile, Simeone is not in a position to afford himself any luxuries in his team selection. Despite PSV Eindhoven being just around the corner, 'El Cholo' has little room for maneouvre to pick his eleven with one eye on Europe. As he looks for three points to keep chase at the top, he'll have to put out what he's got, with Stefan Savic back in time to play, Óliver or Vietto in for Yannick Ferreira Carrasco, and a Fernando Torres-Antoine Griezmann forward pairing.
It's funny: now that Torres has come to life in front of goal (two in his last two), Griezmann has fallen dormant; as if it were impossible for both to be on fire at the same time. It's a shame, because in football there's nothing like hitting the net to turn the tricky turn ahead into a smooth straight.