La Liga is back. Yes, you heard that right. After four weeks of Bundesliga action, we finally have an offering from another major league for football fans to get stuck into.
Nine fixtures remain for each team this season and there is still plenty to play for at both ends of the table. The title race is ever so tight, the battle for the Champions League spots is fierce, and the relegation places are far from decided. The league returns on Thursday, but the first taste of action for Athletic Club and Atlético Madrid is a clash this Sunday, with plenty at stake for both sides.
Athletic sit tenth, with a chance of securing a Europa League spot still very much alive. Atlético, after a difficult start to the season, secured a Champions League quarter final place after an empathic victory over Liverpool prior to the suspension of football in March. They sit sixth in La Liga, but spots from third down remain up for grabs.
When Is Kick Off: Sunday 14 June
What Time Is Kick Off: 13:00 (BST)
Where Is it Played: San Mamés Stadium
TV Channel/Live Stream: Premier Sports (UK), FuboTV (US)
Athletic go into their comeback match without full back Iñigo Lekue, who has only just returned to training after an ankle sprain. Long term absentee Oscar de Marcos is back after ankle surgery, but hasn’t played all season and is unlikely to be risked.
Sadly, they have also had to say a sad farewell to veteran striker Aritz Aduriz during the suspension of play. The scorer of 141 goals for the club needed an urgent hip replacement and had to call it a day, meaning his chance at long awaited silverware in the now postponed Copa del Rey final was cruelly snatched away.
Atlético will be without record signing Joao Felix, who picked up a milestone booking in their last league match before the break. Right back Šime Vrsaljko is also absent for Los Rojiblancos.
Renan Lodi has recovered after contracting Covid-19 and is ready to take his spot at left back, with Diego Costa also back in the fold and raring to go.
Athletic Club: Simon; Capa, Alvarez, Martínez, Yuri; D. Garcia, Vesga; R. Garcia, Muniain, Córdoba; Williams.
Atlético Madrid: Oblak; Trippier, Gimenez, Savic, Lodi; Saúl, Partey, Koke, Llorente; Morata, Costa.
Atlético lead the head-to-head very comfortably, with 22 wins to Athletic’s seven. The last time the sides met was in October, when Atletico ran out 2-0 winners at the Wanda Metropolitano with goals from Saúl Ñíguez and Álvaro Morata.
That being said, the last time these two met at San Mamés, Athletic turned the tables with a 2-0 win of their own thanks in part to talented striker Iñaki Williams, whose stock has risen in the last year.
Everyone remembers the last action of Atlético’s season before the suspension of games in March. A 3-2 win at Anfield sealed their progress to the quarter finals of the Champions League, the game painfully etched in Liverpool supporters’ minds.
Atlético’s league form and defensive work has been solid ,despite losing twice to Real Madrid in January as well as an embarrassing Copa del Rey exit to third tier side Cultural Leonesa.
Their biggest problem this season has been their lack of goals. The departure of Antoine Griezmann has left them short up top and it has really shown this campaign.
Athletic have enjoyed a fantastic cup run, including a brilliant win over Barcelona, and find themselves in the Copa del Rey final against Real Sociedad in the first ever all-Basque derby final.
Understandably perhaps, their league form has dipped drastically, winning just two La Liga matches since the start of the year. They did, however, win their most recent game 4-1 away at Real Valladolid with goals from Williams, influential playmaker Raúl García, Unai López and Iñigo Córdoba.
Here is both sides’ recent form in all competitions.
Real Valladolid 1-4 Athletic Club (8/3)
Granada 2-1 Athletic Club (5/3)
Athletic Club 1-0 Villarreal (1/3)
Alaves 2-1 Athletic Club (23/2)
Athletic Club 0-1 Osasuna (16/2)
Liverpool 2-3 Atlético Madrid (11/3)
Atlético Madrid 2-2 Sevilla (7/3)
Espanyol 1-1 Atlético Madrid (1/3)
Atlético Madrid 3-1 Villarreal (23/2)
Atlético Madrid 1-0 Liverpool (18/2)
Atlético will be hungry to keep their positive pre-lockdown form going and need the points to get a firm hold on a top four position. Although focused on a high finish, Athletic’s main aim should be to keep their best players fresh and firing for their big chance at silverware coming up.
Both sides are very good defensively so we shouldn’t expect a barrage of goals here, but if the returning Costa can get under the skin of Athletic’s backline, Atlético should reap the rewards.
Prediction: Athletic Club 0-1 Atlético Madrid