The arrival of last week’s international break caught Sevilla and Atletico Madrid at opposing points of form. Sevilla, unbeaten in three matches, looked to be slowly steadying the ship after a rough start to the season. Two draws against Villareal and Copenhagen succeeded their first La Liga win of the season the weekend before. As for Atleti, they said goodbye to their international players off the back of two consecutive defeats. A lousy away performance in Leverkusen followed by a defeat in the Madrid derby has left Diego Simeone with much to ponder ahead of the trip to his former club at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan this Saturday.
Both teams have welcomed back seven internationals each. There were varying degrees of success among those players, with both coaches potentially having their performances in mind when thinking about which team they will select.
Alvaro Morata – benched against Real Madrid – scored the key goal in Spain’s winner-takes-all match against Portugal on Tuesday night. From the opposing dressing room, Joao Félix had very limited minutes as he continues to recover from a knock picked up against Real Madrid at the Metropolitano. Matheus Cunha and Angel Correa also had little game time, and the less said about Antoine Griezmann’s cameos for France this week, the better. In that case, it’s difficult to predict who El Cholo will select up top to face Sevilla’s shaky looking defence, although Morata seems to be the most likely candidate.
Former Spanish national team coach Julen Lopetegui also faces question marks over his starting front men, as En-Nesyri and Papu Gómez didn’t play a minute in their respective nation’s final games. Rafa Mir was in no danger of being called up for La Roja by Luis Enrique. However, summer signing Kasper Dolberg not only started, but scored in Denmark’s 2-0 dismantling of France on Sunday evening, making him a potential candidate for his first La Liga start of the season.
Whilst the prospect of any Sevilla versus Atlético Madrid match never fails to whet the appetite, this clash between 15th and 7th does have a slightly different feeling to it this time around. Last season, this fixture saw Sevilla climb to the summit of the La Liga table after coming out 2-1 winners thanks to a thunderbolt strike from Ivan Rakitic and a dramatic 90th minute winner from Lucas Ocampos, which sent the Pizjuan into delirium. It was a match that sent a statement to the rest of the league, cementing themselves as the team most likely to join Real Madrid in a title race. This year, that feeling has vanished. Perhaps a “who is less bad” feeling is instead pervasive.
Two losses against Villareal and Real Madrid might not feel like the end of the world for Los Colchoneros – especially having put out a respectable performance against the latter – but boasting an injury hampered defence and a midfield as random as this week’s lottery numbers, Atleti fans will be craving 3 points back in the capital.
Lopetegui seemed to have saved his job by avoiding defeat in his last three games, but he will still feel on thin ice. If there’s any way to prove to club president Pepe Castro that he can steer the Sevilla ship to steadier seas, it will be with a win against fierce rivals Atleti.
There will no doubt be more fall out and discussion points come the final whistle on Saturday evening, with both teams looking to give their campaigns the kick start they both desperately need.