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Diego Simeone’s side can boost their chances of a top-four finish with a win at St Mames.
Back Atletico Madrid to beat Athletic Bilbao in the Caesars sportsbook.
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In many ways this season has not gone to plan for Atletico Madrid. They began the campaign as the defending champions, and many tipped them to retain the La Liga title.
That was always going to be difficult despite Barcelona’s problems, but it has been a disappointment for Atletico that they have not been able to challenge at the top of the table. The race is not mathematically over just yet, but it is inevitable that Real Madrid will soon be crowned champions of Spain.
Instead of the title, Atletico are fighting for a top-four finish as the finish line comes into view. Champions League qualification has not been secured yet. Atletico are fourth with a four-point buffer above Real Betis. Three wins in their final five matches would probably be enough for Diego Simeone’s side to get over the line, but it will not be as comfortable as they would have hoped at the beginning of the campaign.
It is important not to go too overboard in criticism of Atletico’s failure to contend for the title this year. The latest edition of the Deloitte Money League shows that Atletico’s revenue for 2020-21 was the 13th-highest in the world at $349.9m, but Barcelona ($611.7m) and Real Madrid ($673.3m) rank fourth and second respectively. Finishing above both of those clubs is extremely difficult. It is to Simeone’s immense credit that his side have managed to do so twice in the last decade.
Atletico have had problems this season. They usually have the best defensive record in the division, but 10 other teams have conceded fewer goals. There has been talk of an identity crisis, with Simeone struggling to get the most out of some of the attacking talent at his disposal.
Yet no one should lose sight of the progress this club has made under the Argentine. In the grand scheme of things, a fourth-place finish would be far from disastrous.
Inconsistency throughout last season undermined Athletic Bilbao’s European ambitions and it has done so again this time around. In fairness to Marcelino, his team are not officially out of the race for the Europa League, while the Basque outfit are just four points adrift of Villarreal in seventh – the sole qualification spot for the Europa Conference League. No one really expected Athletic to fare much better than that this term.
Even so, there is still a sense of ‘what might have been’ at San Mames this term. Their defensive record, like last season, has been good: only Real Madrid, Barcelona, Real Sociedad, Sevilla and Villarreal have conceded fewer goals. But Athletic have once again been disappointing in attack, averaging only 1.18 goals per game. Of the current top eight in La Liga, only Real Sociedad have a worse record going forward.
Athletic are naturally limited by their Basque-only recruitment approach. It is frankly remarkable that they are able to consistently finish so high up the La Liga table while restricting themselves to players born or trained in the Basque Country. For as long as that model is in place (and there will not be a change any time soon) it would be harsh to expect Athletic to qualify for Europe season in, season out.
Atletico were disappointing last time out. Not only did they fail to score in a 0-0 draw with Granada, they hardly looked like finding the net. Without Joao Felix, who has become increasingly important to the team in recent months, Atletico lacked a spark in attack. Granada created even fewer chances than the Colchoneros, but they did a good job of keeping Simeone’s side quiet.
Before that, though, Atletico had won seven of their last eight matches. The uptick began with a 3-0 victory over Osasuna in February, since when Atletico have looked more like their old selves. They have kept four clean sheets in their last nine outings; in each of the other five games, they conceded just one goal. Atletico’s rejigged defense is starting to come good.
San Mames has the reputation of being a tough place for visiting teams to go, but relatively speaking Athletic have been stronger away than at home this season – they sit eighth in the away table but only 10th in the home one.
Atletico’s improving defense should be able to keep out Athletic’s hit-and-miss attack, which is why we recommend backing Simeone’s charges to triumph in this one.
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|Athletic Bilbao vs Atletico Madrid Information
|Athletic Bilbao vs Atletico Madrid
|San Mames, Bilbao, Spain
|Saturday, 30 April 2022, 3.00 PM EDT
|How to watch
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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