Atletico Madrid could be in danger of dropping out of the La Liga title race already
Espanyol are struggling to win matches but have managed to stay out of the drop zone
Atletico Madrid’s defensive record is uncharacteristically mediocre this season
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Diego Simeone’s side are struggling to keep clean sheets at home and a shut-out could once again elude them here.
Back both teams to score when Atletico Madrid take on Espanyol this weekend. (+127)
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Atletico Madrid have had a rough couple of weeks. Their fate was sealed in the Champions League on matchday five, as a 2-2 home draw with Bayer Leverkusen meant Diego Simeone’s side could no longer finish in the top two of Group B. The favorites to advance to the knockout stage in the first place were instead eliminated from Europe’s biggest competition with a game to spare.
That was a huge blow to Atletico, who have twice finished as Champions League runners-up under Simeone. Just as disappointing was a 3-2 loss to Cadiz at the weekend that has left the Colchoneros in danger of dropping out of the La Liga title race before the division breaks off for the 2022 World Cup in two weeks’ time.
Real Madrid also dropped points on matchday 12 after a 1-1 draw with Cadiz, yet they still gained ground on their cross-city rivals. Atletico are now points adrift of the Blancos at the summit of the standings and eight behind Barcelona, who saw off Valencia at Mestalla. If Atletico fall any further behind, their chances of winning the title will be all but over.
Indeed, perhaps it is more accurate to describe Simeone’s side as being in a battle for the top four rather than for the championship. Having failed to win five of their 12 matches so far this season, Atletico are just one point clear of fifth-placed Real Sociedad and only three in advance of Osasuna in seventh. Qualifying for the Champions League is not a given for the Colchoneros.
Simeone will be targeting six points from six against Espanyol and Real Mallorca, as well as a win in the first round of the Copa del Rey next weekend. Anything less would cap off a frustrating first portion of the 2022/23 campaign for Atletico Madrid.
Espanyol have only won two of their first 12 matches this term, yet they remain some way clear of the bottom three in terms of places. That is because no team in La Liga has drawn as many games as the other club from Barcelona, who have shared the points with their opponents on five occasions to date.
A closer look, though, shows that although Espanyol are up in 14th place at the time of writing, they are just one point clear of the relegation zone. The bottom half of La Liga is extremely congested right now, making it difficult to predict whether certain sides are more likely to be top-half aspirants or basement battlers. It is not yet clear which category Espanyol (among others fit into).
Espanyol finished 14th last term, which was a good achievement given they had been promoted from the Segunda Division the previous year. They ended the season poorly, though, taking only three points from the last 21 available - a slump that led to the departure of manager Vicente Moreno.
Diego Martinez is the man at the helm these days. He is still getting to grips with the squad and the job in general, and a marquee result against a side like Atletico Madrid would do the former Granada head coach a world of good. Espanyol won 1-0 at Athletic Bilbao at the beginning of September but it still feels as if they are yet to really get going this season.
Throughout Simeone’s tenure, Atletico have prided themselves on their watertight defensive unit. When they won titles in 2013/14 and 2020/21, the Colchoneros conceded an average of 25.5 goals. In 2015/16 their backline was breached on just 18 occasions and Atletico kept a total of 24 clean sheets in 38 La Liga matches.
This season, though, Atletico’s defensive record is distinctly average. They have conceded exactly a goal a game on average, placing them only joint-sixth in that particular ranking.
Even more alarming is the fact that 11 La Liga teams have given up fewer expected goals (a useful measure of chance quality) than Simeone’s side, who are yet to keep a clean sheet in front of their own fans at the Civitas Metropolitano.
Espanyol, for their part, have found the back of the net in 10 of their 12 league outings under Martinez, whose team have scored just one goal fewer than Real Betis all the way up in fourth. They should not fear Atletico on Sunday, and while they will struggle to leave the capital with all three points, Espanyol are certainly capable of causing the favorites one or two problems.
Our tip is both teams to score, which looks like pretty good value given Atletico’s defensive difficulties of late.
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|Teams||Atletico Madrid vs Espanyol|
Civitas Metropolitano, Madrid, Spain
Sunday, 6 November 2022, 08.00 AM EDT
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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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