Atletico Madrid look to extend their lead at the top of La Liga when they entertain an in-form Athletic Club Bilbao on Wednesday night in a game rescheduled from the start of January after a snowstorm led to it being postponed.
Sunday’s 1-1 draw at home to Real Madrid saw Atletico miss the chance to kill off their neighbor’s title challenge, while it allowed FC Barcelona to move to within three points of the top of the table, all be it after playing two more games.
Three points against Athletic would see Atletico stretch their lead over Real Madrid to eight points and give them a six-point advantage over an improving Barca.
Atletico coach Diego Simeone is unlikely to make too many changes to the side that drew with Real Madrid, which means that Joao Felix is once again likely to start on the subs’ bench with the impressive Marcos Llorente given a free role just behind Luis Suarez.
Suarez scored his first goal in six games at the weekend and will once again lead the Atletico attack.
The only players unavailable for Simeone are injured defender Jose Gimenez and midfielder Hector Herrera, who misses the game for personal reasons.
Several players will need to be careful as they are a booking away from a suspension that would see them miss Saturday’s visit to Getafe, with Joao Felix, Suarez, Felipe, Yannick Carrasco and Geoffrey Kondogbia all on four yellow cards.
Simeone may well have preferred to have played Athletic in January just days after Marcelino Garcia Toral replaced Gaizka Garitano as Athletic coach, as the last two months have seen Marcelino transform the club and renew the players’ self-confidence making them a much tougher prospect to play against.
Under Marcelino, Athletic have won the Spanish Supercup and qualified for the final of this season’s Copa del Rey (which they will play on April 17th, two weeks after they face Real Sociedad in 2020 final).
They are currently in an eight-game unbeaten run that has lifted them to eighth in the table and a win in Madrid would keep alive their hopes of playing in Europe next season.
Marcelino rested nine first-team regulars in Sunday’s 2-1 win at home to Granada and will field his strongest available team in the Metropolitano with just the suspended Inigo Martinez unavailable. Enditem