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Atletico Madrid face a prolonged fight to finish in the top four of La Liga this season
Back-to-back wins have seen Celta Vigo move clear of the bottom three and into mid-table
Goals could be at a premium if Atletico Madrid attempt to grind out a win in Vigo
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Diego Simeone’s side have been far from flawless of late, but if they dig deep they should get over the line in this one.
Back Atletico Madrid to beat Celta Vigo this weekend. (+115)
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Atletico Madrid have gone four games unbeaten heading into this weekend. But not all non-defeats are created equal. Diego Simone’s side did not lose to either Almeria or Getafe in their recent La Liga assignments. But the 1-1 draws were a source of frustration more than celebration.
Atletico have dropped too many points in matches they should have won this season. Of course, home defeats by Real Madrid and Barcelona are painful for supporters who want to see their side compete for the La Liga title. But if Atletico were more reliable in other games, those memorable losses would not be as problematic.
Atletico have dropped points against the likes of Cadiz, Real Mallorca, Espanyol, Almeria, and Getafe this term. The outcome of those matches, more so than the defeats by Barcelona and Real Madrid, explain why the Colchoneros are so far off the pace: after 20 rounds of fixtures, they are 18 points adrift of the top spot.
Finishing ahead of Barcelona and Real Madrid should never be expected of Atletico given the disparity in financial resources, but Atletico should certainly be doing better than this. They also trail Real Sociedad and could be in danger of dropping out of the top four, with Rayo Vallecano, Villarreal, and Real Betis all in hot pursuit.
Atletico are out of the Champions League (and, after finishing bottom of their group, they did not even drop into the Europa League) and the Copa del Rey, so La Liga is all they have left to play for this season.
That is not what they would have wanted, but it means there can be no excuses for Simeone and co. Anything less than a top-four finish would be hugely disappointing, but Atletico must improve their performance levels to realize that objective.
Things are very tight in the bottom half of La Liga. Elche finally picked up their first win of the campaign last weekend, but they are surely doomed to relegation. Los Franjiverdes have only nine points to their name and are already 11 adrift of safety. It would take a monumental effort for them to finish above the dreaded dotted line.
However, a gap of just six points separates Girona in 11th to Getafe in 19th. A couple of losses can send a team sliding down the standings. A couple of victories, conversely, can make a side’s situation look a lot more favorable.
Take the example of Celta Vigo. After a 1-0 defeat by Real Mallorca two and a half weeks ago, they were 17th - just one place above the bottom three. But after consecutive triumphs over Athletic Bilbao and Real Betis, they are up to 12th and suddenly not too far off the top half of the table.
Both victories were hugely impressive. Celta showed considerable grit and resolve to run out 1-0 winners over Athletic. They then showed another side to their game in a thrilling 4-3 defeat of Champions League-chasing Betis last weekend.
Celta scored 18 percent of their goals this season in that game. Putting the ball in the back of the net has at times been an issue for them in 2022/23, with Celta still as reliant as ever on their talisman Iago Aspas.
Celta will be buoyed by those defeats of Athletic Bilbao and Real Betis, neither of which was anticipated by the best online sportsbooks.
They will now believe they can cause another upset by beating Atletico, despite the fact that the latter’s best performance of the campaign probably came in the reverse fixture, when they beat Celta 4-1 at the Estadio Civitas Metropolitano.
On the plus side for Atletico, they have not conceded a goal from open play in their last three games. There are signs that they might be rediscovering the defensive solidity that defined Simeone’s sides for so long. Despite the fact they have at times looked uncharacteristically shaky at the back, Atletico’s defensive record this season is inferior only to that of Barcelona.
Celta have struggled against the big boys in 2022/23. They are yet to pick up a single point against the current top four of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Real Sociedad, and Atletico.
With all that in mind, we favor an away win in this one - especially as the odds are so attractive. Atletico are far from a perfect team right now, but they have what it takes to come out on top at the Estadio Municipal de Balaidos on Sunday.
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Teams: Celta Vigo vs Atletico Madrid
Location: Estadio Municipal de Balaidos, Viga, Spain
Time: Sunday 12 February 2023, 10.15 AM EST
How to Watch: ESPN+
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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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