When Diego Simeone took over at Atlético Madrid just before Christmas of 2011, Valencia CF were the only challenger to FC Barcelona and Real Madrid as the two giants continually fought for the LaLiga Santander title. The Argentine coach arrived at Los Colchoneros with the objective of returning the club to the place where their history and social standing merited. That initially meant taking the third place that Valencia CF occupied in the table as Los Che had 13 points more than 10th-placed Atlético Madrid when Simeone arrived. In 2013/14, Simeone led Atleti to the league title, succeeding in his mission. That triumph means that Atlético Madrid and Valencia are the only two teams to have won a championship in Spain in the last 20 years, besides Barcelona and Real Madrid. Both clubs know that this current LaLiga Santander season is the most open in recent times, with no clear favourite for the title, and both clubs know that this is a year in which great things can be achieved.
This is why the meeting between Valencia and Atlético Madrid at Mestalla next Saturday promises to be a special one, especially because the tables have turned since that 2011 Christmas time. Nowadays, it’s Valencia who are looking to return to former glories, while Atlético Madrid are flying high, especially after their victory against FC Barcelona last weekend. Atleti also travel to Mestalla aware that they often perform well there.
Valencia’s home stadium has always been one of the toughest grounds to visit for title contenders, but not for Simeone and his team. Since losing there in 2014, Atleti have won twice and drawn three times on their most recent five visits to Mestalla. However, they’ve never travelled to Mestalla with Valencia in such desperate need of points and Los Che are a team who tend to perform best when facing adversity. The bigger the threat, the better they perform. As they showed last Sunday, overcoming a 2-0 against Deportivo Alaves. As such, both teams have reason to believe that they can achieve a good result in this match.
Kondogbia’s return to Mestalla
It’s less than one month since Geoffrey Kondogbia was a Valencia player, but the release clause transfer of Thomas Partey to Arsenal on the final day of the market allowed Atleti the opportunity to sign a replacement and they opted for Kondogbia, a midfielder with significant LaLiga Santander experience. Although he was a starter at Valencia, he was keen for a new challenge and made the move to the Spanish capital for a fee of around 10 million euros.
Simeone gave the midfielder his debut straight away, in a match against Cádiz, and Kondogbia will look to achieve starter status as soon as possible. There will be a lot of noise as he returns to Mestalla so soon after leaving, but if the player can ignore that then there’s no doubt that he can make an impact in Atleti’s short-term and medium-term future.
João Félix and Gonçalo Guedes, the two Portuguese forwards capable of anything
There will be a particularly fascinating duel in this match as two of the best young Portuguese players go up against each other. João Félix and Gonçalo Guedes, though, are experiencing different starts to this season. Atleti’s 21-year-old has had a very successful beginning to his second season at the club and is one of the top scorers in the division, while Guedes has spent time on the Valencia bench recently.
Luis Suárez and Maxi Gómez, the goalscoring Uruguayans
Even if the two Portuguese forwards don’t manage to score, both Valencia and Atlético Madrid have their Uruguayan centre-forwards to look to.
Luis Suárez and Maxi Gómez are two players who live for goals and they’ll be more motivated than ever when this game comes around. Suárez recently tested positive for COVID-19 and had to miss Atleti’s win over Barcelona, so he’ll be particularly keen to get back to the pitch and back to scoring ways.
The match is just as important for Gómez, who has apparently overcome injury to show the world that Valencia shouldn’t be counted out yet. With all this in mind, it’s clear that there’s much more than three points at stake at Mestalla on Saturday afternoon.
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