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Atletico Madrid have work to do to fulfill their minimum objective of a top-four finish
Osasuna are enjoying an excellent season and have gone three games unbeaten
Atletico Madrid may need to grind out a win in this important match on Sunday
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This will probably be a tight game but we fancy Diego Simeone’s side to edge it and boost their position in the race for the top four.
Back Atletico Madrid to beat Osasuna on Sunday. (+120)
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There have been several points during Diego Simeone’s long tenure as Atletico Madrid manager when it seemed as if the end might be near. Some expected him to walk away at the end of the 2015/16 season after Atletico had lost their second Champions League final to Real Madrid in three years.
A few months later, Simeone reduced the length of his contract from 2020 to 2018, and it was widely assumed that he would thus depart in the latter year. Yet the Argentine again committed his future to the club before that deal expired, and his current contract at the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano runs until 2024.
Simeone has done an extraordinary job in his 11 years at the helm, winning two La Liga titles, two Europa Leagues, and a Copa del Rey, and reaching two Champions League finals. But it is hard to shake the feeling that things have gone a little stale at the start of 2023.
More than anyone else, Simeone is responsible for Atletico’s new-found status as one of Europe’s elite clubs (albeit they are probably in the second tier rather than the first). Yet progress on that scale brings raised expectations.
As Atletico have spent more money and attracted better players to the club, there is now a question mark over whether Simeone’s more conservative style of play is still the best fit for a team with the Colchoneros’ aspirations.
In recent days reports in Spain have suggested the Atletico hierarchy is now beginning to plan for life after Simeone, with Luis Enrique thought to be at the top of its wish list.
We have been here before and Simeone has in the end stayed on, but with his team fourth in the division and after more than a decade at the helm, a change could be on the horizon.
Osasuna are the dictionary definition of a mid-table team. In 2019/20, following the promotion the previous campaign, they finished 10th. In 2020/21, they came 11th. Last season, they were back up to 10th again.
Followers of Spanish soccer, together with the best online sportsbooks, expected more of the same this term. For now, though, Osasuna are in the hunt for European qualification as we approach the midway point of the campaign this weekend.
Given how tight things are in that part of the table, we should not go overboard. If results go against them this weekend - including their own at the Estadio El Sadar - Osasuna could be back in the mid-table. They might be just three points adrift of Atletico in fourth, but they are only three clear of Real Mallorca in 10th place.
Still, Jagoba Arrasate is doing an excellent job in Pamplona. With just 17 goals conceded in 18 matches, Osasuna are tricky to score against. They have only found the net 18 times themselves, however, which shows how tight their games tend to be.
It would be a surprise to see Osasuna qualify for the Europa League or the Europa Conference League this season. They do not have the same quality in their ranks as some of the teams around them in the table, like Real Betis, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao.
However, they are a tough nut to crack and no opponent will expect to be in for a straightforward encounter when they meet Arrasate’s charges - including Atletico Madrid on Sunday.
Given the financial disparity between Atletico Madrid and Spain’s top two, Barcelona and Real Madrid, it would be unfair to expect the Colchoneros to challenge for the title every single year. Yet Atletico have grown accustomed to finishing in the top three and they have not missed out on the Champions League since 2012/13, Simeone’s first full season at the club.
They have a real fight on their hands this term. Real Sociedad are threatening to open up a significant gap between themselves and the teams below them: they are currently eight points clear of fourth-placed Atletico.
That means Simeone’s side could be fighting for the final Champions League qualification spot with the likes of Villarreal and Real Betis. Losing that battle would be a huge source of disappointment, regardless of whether Simeone sticks around or not.
Atletico will have to dig deep to beat Osasuna, but that is what they do best. Arrasate’s side have lost a third of their home games in 2022/23 and are eminently beatable if you can shut down their attack.
Osasuna are a well-coached side who compete for every ball, but we recommend backing Atletico Madrid to win this one.
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Teams: Osasuna vs Atletico Madrid
Location: Estadio El Sadar, Pamplona, Spain
Time: Sunday 29 January 2023, 10.15 AM 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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