Atletico Madrid, keen to continue atop Spanish Liga
Practically all football experts in Spain predicted that twin giants Barcelona and Real Madrid would continue with their bipolar hegemony in La Liga this season.
However, the team on top of the greasy pole at the moment is not one of that pair but instead hard-working Atletico Madrid, who are keen to repeat their surprise title snatch-and-grab of three years ago.
“We have not spent the last 10 days staring at the league table. We do not want to attach too much importance to the table so early in the season,’’ Atletico coach Diego Simeone said ahead of Saturday’s home clash with bottom club Granada.
“But I must admit that it is good to be top, above clubs which have a much higher budget than us Now our aim is to stay up there.’’
Simeone might be tempted to give a rare start to veteran Fernando Torres or even little Angel Correa, given that Antoine Griezmann, Kevin Gameiro and Yannick Carrasco returned weary and bruised on Wednesday, after playing two full matches each for France and Belgium respectively.
Griezmann is joint top Liga scorer along with Barca’s Luis Suarez, though he has missed four of his last six penalties for Atletico.
In spite of his spot-kick nightmare, Griezmann has recently convinced almost the entire footballing world of his quality – although compatriot Franck Ribery of Bayern Munich has said: “Griezmann is clearly a good player, but not yet one of the very highest class.
“When he has been at the very top for 10 or 11 years like me, then we will be able to say he is world class.’’
Back on the troubled Granada bench will be old hand Lucas Alcaraz, who has replaced the unpopular Paco Jemez. This will be Alcaraz’s fourth spell at his hometown club.
“What we need here is tranquility and hard work. The situation of a football team can change very quickly, with those two ingredients.’’
Atletico have a better goal difference than neighbours Real, who will be without Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Casemiro and Luka Modric for Saturday’s visit to lowly Real Betis.
Bossing the midfield for The Whites will be the elegant Toni Kroos, who extended his contract to 2022 this week.
Also Saturday, stumbling Barcelona will host midtable Deportivo La Coruna.
Barca have made their worst start since 2005, already dropping eight points, and will be without injured full-backs Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba.
However, Lionel Messi will be ready to return, as will Samuel Umtiti.
Barca are fourth, two points behind the Madrid leaders, and one below third-placed Sevilla, who will visit solid Leganes.
Sunday will see fifth-placed Villarreal host Celta Vigo, and Athletic Bilbao – who are sixth – host Basque rivals Real Sociedad.
The weekend’s other games are Las Palmas v Espanyol, Alaves v Malaga, Sporting Gijon v Valencia and Eibar v Osasuna.