Julen Lopetegui’s side have been poor at the start of the campaign and they could come unstuck again here.
Back Atletico Madrid to beat Sevilla this weekend.
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Six games is too early in the season to draw hard and fast conclusions, but it is fair to say that Atletico Madrid have considerable work to do if they want to challenge for the La Liga title. Diego Simeone’s side, who sit seventh as club soccer gets set to resume after the pause for Nations League matches, are already eight points off the pace. That is partly because Real Madrid have made a blistering start with six wins out of six, but it is also a consequence of their own inconsistency.
Atletico’s most recent encounter brought a 2-1 home loss to their rivals from across the Spanish capital. The Colchoneros really needed to avoid defeat by Carlo Ancelotti’s charges, but two first-half goals from the champions gave them a mountain to climb. It is not like that was their only slip-up of the first six matchdays, though: Atletico also lost 2-0 at home to Villarreal and drew 1-1 with Real Sociedad on their travels.
Simeone’s side won the title in 2020/21 when both Madrid and Barcelona had an off-year. It was a fantastic achievement given that the big two still earn considerably more money than Atletico, but they will struggle to replicate it unless Madrid and Barcelona once again suffer a downturn at the same time. The early signs this season suggest the opposite: while Atletico are not quite on it, both of their chief competitors have come flying out of the traps.
There would be no shame in finishing third, especially if the Colchoneros can go deep in the Champions League and potentially win the Copa del Rey. But it is nevertheless a little deflating for Atletico to be this far behind top spot at such an early stage of the campaign. A failure to win this weekend would in effect end their title hopes in October.
Julen Lopetegui is on the brink at Sevilla. Some predicted that the club would make a managerial change over the international break, but the former Real Madrid head coach appears to have been handed a reprieve. But Lopetegui knows as well as anyone that he must turn results around quickly if he wants to keep hold of his job.
With Barcelona and Atletico struggling, it looked for a time last season like Sevilla might be Real Madrid’s closest challengers for the title. But a slump in 2022 soon put paid to that idea. Curiously, Sevilla did not lose many matches. They did, however, draw far too many, often as a result of Lopetegui’s cautious tactics. From mid-January onwards, seven teams in the division collected more points than Sevilla, who ultimately finished fourth.
Unfortunately for Lopetegui, his side were not able to get the negative effects of that downturn out of their system over the summer. Sevilla took one point from the first 12 available this campaign, and although they registered a confidence-boosting 3-2 victory over Espanyol on matchday five, the Rojiblancos let a 1-0 lead slip to draw 1-1 with Villarreal last time out. That was not a bad result in isolation, but it leaves Lopetegui under pressure ahead of the visit of Atletico.
Perhaps the most worrying element of Sevilla’s poor start to the season is how defensively slack they have been. No team in La Liga conceded as few goals as Lopetegui’s men last term – not even Real Madrid. This time around, Sevilla are still awaiting their first clean sheet and only five teams have conceded more goals. Given they have never been prolific by top-four standards under their current boss, that is cause for concern.
That is something Atletico should be looking to take advantage of. If the visitors to the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan score the first goal, Sevilla’s fragile self-belief will be dented further. Simeone is a relatively conservative manager, but he needs to let his attacking players off the leash here (although Antoine Griezmann will probably be back on the bench due to the ongoing stand-off between Atletico and Barcelona).
Sevilla won this fixture last season but that was when they were in much better shape than they are today. Lopetegui is still an astute coach but there is a growing sense that he has reached the end of the line with his current employers. A defeat here could spell the end for the 56-year-old – and we fancy Atletico to deliver the final nail to the coffin by emerging triumphant on Saturday.
|Teams||Sevilla vs Atletico Madrid|
|Location||Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, Seville, Spain|
|Time||Saturday, 1 October 2022, 12.30 PM 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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