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Diego Simeone and Unai Emery are not known for being particularly attack-minded, so one goal could be enough for either team to triumph in the capital – and we fancy the hosts to do so.
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A few years ago, shortly after Diego Simeone had led Atletico Madrid to the Champions League final for the second time, there was a sense that the Argentine would move on soon. The year was 2016, and Simeone had already achieved plenty with the Spanish capital’s second side: a Europa League gong in 2013, a Copa del Rey the following year, a La Liga title in 2014 and two appearances in the biggest game in European club soccer (they were defeated by their crosstown rivals Real Madrid on both occasions).
Chelsea, Manchester United and Inter were just some of the clubs linked with Simeone, who appeared to take an active step towards the exit door when he negotiated with the club to reduce the expiry date of his contract from 2020 to 2018. The idea seemed to be that Simeone would remain with Atletico until after they had both moved into a new stadium and come out of a transfer ban. Once both of those things had happened, he would seek pastures new.
Yet four years on and Simeone remains in Madrid. He has just entered his 11th full season as Atletico boss and may yet extend his current deal, which ends in 2024. Simeone is the best-paid manager in world soccer – one of the reasons why he has not changed jobs. Another is that his style of play suits Atletico perfectly, but would not necessarily go down well with other big clubs across the continent.
The objective for the Colchoneros this term will be to keep pace with Real Madrid and Barcelona at the top of La Liga, but that will be difficult. Atletico finished 15 points adrift of top spot in 2021/22 and have arguably not sufficiently strengthened their squad to close that sizable gap. A 3-0 victory over Getafe last weekend at least meant they got their campaign off to a good start.
Last season was one of mixed success for Villarreal. A seventh-place finish in La Liga was, on the face of it, slightly disappointing given the goal had been to qualify for the Europa League at a minimum. Unai Emery’s side will instead take part in the Europa Conference League this term after finishing three points short of the top six..
Yet Villarreal’s exploits in the Champions League must be taken into account before making an overall judgment on the campaign. Their run to the semi-finals provided the club’s fans with memories that will be remembered for a long time, not least the deserved aggregate defeat of Bayern Munich in the last eight. They also pushed Liverpool hard in the semis, with Jurgen Klopp’s side advancing thanks to a comeback in the second half of the second leg.
Emery is something of a European specialist, so Villarreal will be taking the Conference League seriously this term. Domestically, they are one of several sides that will be looking to challenge for fourth place, with Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid likely to make up the top three.
Villarreal ran out 3-0 winners against Real Valladolid on matchday one, a result that will give them confidence ahead of a tricky trip to the Metropolitano on Sunday. It has been a quiet summer at Villarreal, but Emery will hope that continuity helps his side to make progress this season.
Both of these teams scored three goals on the first weekend of the season, but when they go head-to-head on Sunday we can expect a tighter affair. Simeone and Emery are not defensive managers per se, but both have a tendency towards caution in big matches. They appreciate the importance of clean sheets and routinely produce disciplined, diligent and well-organized teams.
Under 2.5 goals is therefore a wager we considered, but the sportsbooks also believe that is a distinct possibility and the odds are thus not particularly attractive. Instead, consider backing Atletico to win to nil. Simeone’s side are strong in front of their own fans at the Metropolitano, while Villarreal ranked halfway down the away table last term.
Atletico will still be aware of the threat their opponents pose, particularly through the likes of Gerard Moreno and Yeremy Pino, who remains at the club despite being heavily linked with a summer transfer. They will therefore feel their way into the game – a goalless first half is another wager worth considering – but taking everything into account we would recommend a win and a clean sheet for Atletico.
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|Teams||Atletico Madrid vs Villarreal|
|Location||Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid, Spain|
|Time||Sunday, 21 August 2022, 13.30 PM EST|
|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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