Atletico Madrid have plenty of options when they kick off new La Liga season against Valencia

Andy West 20/08/2018
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Antoine Griezmann will again lead the attack for Atletico Madrid

Last season’s fourth host second as Atletico Madrid travel to Valencia in the outstanding game of La Liga’s opening weekend at Mestalla on Monday night.

Both teams are heading into the season with high expectations after making waves in the summer transfer market, making this showdown a must-watch encounter.

The outcome could tell us a great deal about whether the two sides are ready to mount a serious challenge for the league title, and here Sport360 picks out three particularly enticing storylines ahead of a potentially memorable contest.

Debut sensation Batshuayi to sink Atletico again?

Valencia have seriously strengthened their frontline ahead of the new season by adding two new strikers in the form of French international Kevin Gameiro – signed from Atletico – and Michy Batshuayi on loan from Chelsea.

The prospect of Gameiro taking on his former teammates is an exciting one, but Atletico could face an even greater threat from Batshuayi, who is already familiar to Diego Simeone’s men after netting a late winner for Chelsea in last season’s Champions League group stage, making the London club the first visitors to triumph in Atletico’s new Wanda Metropolitano stadium

Michy Batshuayi spent the second half of last season on loan at Borussia Dortmund

Michy Batshuayi spent the second half of last season on loan at Borussia Dortmund

The Belgian striker also has an exceptional record on debut, having netted on his first-ever Champions League appearance for Chelsea against Qarabag, also scoring in his maiden Bundesliga outing for Borrusia Dortmund last season in a 3-2 win over Koln and in his first Europa League game against Atalanta.

With Rodrigo and Santi Mina also available it’s by no means certain that Batshuayi will start, but he will be a very appealing option from the bench for Valencia boss Marcelino.

Farewell for Filipe?

Atletico left-back Filipe Luis could be making his final appearance for Los Rojiblancos after being heavily linked with a move to Paris St Germain before the transfer window closes at the end of the month.

The veteran Brazilian defender has been included in the squad by Diego Simeone, who stated that Luis will start the game despite the speculation, but the Argentine coach refused to rule out the prospect of his reliable defender departing in the near future.

Filipe Luis could play his last game

Filipe Luis could play his last game for Atletico

Simeone may be prepared to wave goodbye to Luis due to the emergence of 22 year-old Lucas Hernandez, who won the World Cup with France in the left-back slot and will surely soon become first choice for Atletico – if he isn’t already – irrespective of whether Luis stays or goes.

And with another core element of Atletico’s recent success, Juanfran, coming under pressure for his place in the team from new signing Santiago Arias, the next few weeks could well mark a new defensive era for Simeone’s team, with only Diego Godin remaining from the back five which played such a key role in the 2014 league title triumph.

Bench options key for Simeone?

With Antoine Griezmann struggling as he attempted to regain match fitness during Wednesday’s UEFA Super Cup clash with Real Madrid, Simeone was able to change the game by introducing substitute striker Angel Correa, who promptly teed up rampaging Diego Costa for the leveller.

Two more substitutes helped pave the way for victory in the second half, as midfielder Thomas Partey set up Saul for a memorable go-ahead strike before winger Vitolo found Koke for the fourth goal to seal the deal.

And the contribution of those three players – Correa, Partey and Vitolo – sums up exactly why Atletico are so well placed to challenge for major honours this season: strength in depth. Summer signings Thomas Lemar – who had a great game against Real – Gelson Martins and Nikola Kalinic are also available to Simeone to give Atletico arguably the widest range of attacking options in La Liga, and Simeone no longer has to worry that his team’s goalscoring efforts more or less rest on the shoulders of Griezmann alone.

For perhaps the first time ever, Simeone can now conceive of a Plan B and C to complement his starting eleven, and he will not be slow to explore those options if necessary at Valencia on Monday night.

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Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde says he will not make the Champions League their priority over retaining the La Liga title this season.

The Catalan giants have won the league in seven out of the last 10 season but have struggled in Europe, advancing to only one final since 2011.

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“We prioritise everything, we will always fight for the Champions League,” Valverde said ahead of their La Liga opener against Deportivo Alaves on Saturday.

“Barca will always be like that, we are very excited but the way to win the Champions League is to win the league. You focus on being better for a year, and if so, you are closer to winning the Champions League.”

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Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde says he will not make the Champions League their priority over retaining the La Liga title this season.

The Catalan giants have won the league in seven out of the last 10 season but have struggled in Europe, advancing to only one final since 2011.

Valverde’s side suffered defeat to Roma in the quarter-finals of the Champions League last season, after taking a commanding 4-1 lead in the first leg.

Real Madrid went on to clinch a third straight title but Valverde insists his focus will not switch from domestic to European matters this season.

“We prioritise everything, we will always fight for the Champions League,” Valverde said ahead of their La Liga opener against Deportivo Alaves on Saturday.

“Barca will always be like that, we are very excited but the way to win the Champions League is to win the league. You focus on being better for a year, and if so, you are closer to winning the Champions League.”

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