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For the first time all season, the pressure is off Atletico Madrid. Two wins in the last few days – Diego Simeone’s side beat Real Madrid in the derby last weekend, then overcame Elche on Wednesday – have secured Champions League qualification for the club from the capital.
That was the minimum expectation at the start of the season, when Atletico were hoping to win the La Liga title for a second season in a row, but it is still an achievement worthy of celebration.
Atletico will be competing in Europe’s premier competition for the 10th consecutive campaign. That is unprecedented in the history of the club. Before Simeone took charge, Atletico had participated in the Champions League/European Cup just eight times. They are now part of the furniture in that tournament.
At times this season some have wondered whether Simeone has taken Atletico as far as he can. The Argentine has been at the helm for more than a decade now – an awfully long time in the modern game. His tendency towards caution can occasionally be frustrating, especially as Atletico’s squad is not necessarily vastly inferior to those of Barcelona and Real Madrid these days. Simeone is the highest-paid manager in the world, so it is not unreasonable to expect a little more attacking endeavor at times.
Yet it is hard to argue with the results the Atletico boss has got on a consistent basis. The Colchoneros have won two La Liga titles and two Europa Leagues in his tenure, as well as reaching two Champions League finals. They still have a considerably smaller budget than both Madrid and Barcelona. Simeone is certainly not beyond questioning, but it is difficult to think of another coach who would do a better job at the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano.
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For a long while it looked as if Sevilla were shoe-ins for the Champions League. At the end of February, after a 2-1 victory over Real Betis in the derby which extended their unbeaten run to 12 matches, Julen Lopetegui’s side were still in the title race.
A six-point gap separated them from Real Madrid and they were clearly the underdogs in what looked like a two-horse race, but an eight-point lead over third-placed Real Betis meant a top-four finish seemed to be in the bag.
No longer. With two rounds of fixtures remaining, Sevilla are yet to book their place in the Champions League. Since that derby win in late February, they have emerged victorious just twice in 10 games.
Their lead over Real Betis, now fifth, stands at five points. Sevilla have the head-to-head advantage, having won both of their games against their arch-rivals in the league. One point from upcoming meetings with Atletico and Athletic Club – both tough matches – would therefore be enough to guarantee a place in the top four.
It would be a shock if Sevilla dropped out now, but there are plenty of questions for the club to answer going into the summer. The chief of those concerns the future of Lopetegui. Reports in recent days suggest the former Spain head coach could be dismissed at the end of the campaign, with his superiors concerned by the recent drop-off. A victory over Atletico on Sunday would do the under-fire Lopetegui no harm whatsoever.
For all that their points return for much of 2022 is unimpressive, Sevilla are still a tough nut to crack. No team in La Liga has lost fewer games this season than Lopetegui’s side, who have been defeated only by Real Madrid, Barcelona and Granada. Since the start of December, Sevilla have lost just two matches – a record that even Madrid, the champions, cannot match.
The problem is that Sevilla have drawn too many games: the scores have finished level in 15 of their 36 contests. Even a draw could be beyond them this weekend. Sevilla were held to a scoreless stalemate by Real Mallorca in midweek and have found it difficult to put the ball in the back of the net of late. At the same time, Atletico seem to have rediscovered the defensive solidity which had deserted them earlier in the campaign.
We recommend betting the moneyline on this occasion. The form book points to an Atletico Madrid win, while home advantage should also work in their favor. Back Simeone’s side to make it three victories on the bounce and leave Sevilla sweating in the race for the top four.
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|Atletico Madrid vs Sevilla Information|
|Teams||Atletico Madrid vs Sevilla|
|Location||Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid, Spain|
|Time||Sunday, 15 May 2022, 12.30 PM EDT|
|How to watch||ESPN+|
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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