Madrid, Feb 14 (IANS) The battle for La Liga’s top four takes precedence as Champions League challengers Valencia take on Atletico Madrid in an eagerly awaited clash at the Mestalla.
Both Valencia and Atletico go into the game separated by just two points and three places in the table, with two of Spain’s biggest historic rivals caught up in a very dramatic race to secure a place in the top four of LaLiga Santander.
Last weekend saw Atletico get a much needed three points when Angel Correa’s early goal was enough for a 1-0 victory over a feisty Granada team at the Wanda Metropolitano, returning Diego Simeone’s team to fourth place in the table.
Valencia’s previous good run of results ended with a 3-0 defeat away at in-form Getafe, with Los Che’s frustration at their drop to seventh position summed up by winter window signing Alessandro Florenzi’s red card later on.
Valencia will be happier back at Mestalla, where they have won seven and drawn five of their 12 LaLiga games so far, with reigning LaLiga champions Barcelona beaten 2-0 there just last month. Meanwhile, Atletico’s away form has been a concern so far in 2019/20, with Diego Simeone’s side winning just one of their last six on the road in LaLiga.
However, Los Rojiblancos have an excellent recent record at Mestalla, where they have won two and drawn two of their last four visits; the last Valencia victory at home to Atletico was back in 2014.
October’s reverse fixture at the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid was a tight affair, which Atletico seemed to have won thanks to Diego Costa’s first half penalty only for Valencia captain Dani Parejo to equalise later with a superb trademark free kick.
Injuries are a major current concern for Simeone, with forwards Costa, Joao Felix and Alvaro Morata among the first team squad members sidelined. Correa has stepped up impressively in recent weeks to fill the gap in attack, with the Argentine having either scored or assisted five of his team’s last six LaLiga goals.
Los Che coach Albert Celades also has fitness worries, with centre-back Ezequiel Garay suffering a serious knee injury in the recent 1-0 victory over Celta and goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen also sidelined. Centre-forward Maxi Gomez has no such worries, though; the Uruguay international scored his eighth LaLiga goal since arriving from Celta last summer in the recent victory over Barça.
LaLiga’s scheduling of this weekend’s meeting also allows both teams to prepare for Champions League last 16 first legs the following midweek. Atletico are set to welcome Premier League leaders Liverpool at the Wanda Metropolitano, with Valencia travelling away to Serie A surprise package Atalanta.
Before then, though, there are three very important LaLiga points to play for… as both Simeone and Celades well know.