Atletico seek home comforts in new stadium debut
Atletico Madrid begin a fresh era on Saturday when their new 310 million-euro ($370 million) home opens with the visit of Malaga to the Wanda Metropolitano.
Diego Simeone’s side have been forced to play their first four games of the season away as the finishing touches were made to the 68,000-capacity venue, nearly 20 kilometres north-east from their old Vicente Calderon stadium.
Work will continue outside the ground for much of the rest of the season with access roads still to be completed, forcing Atletico to launch a marketing campaign this week encouraging as many fans as possible to access the remote location close to the city’s airport by public transport.
“The people at the club are worried that the atmosphere is good and that everything goes perfectly, but perfection doesn’t exist,” said Simeone, after showing his commitment to Atletico’s future by extending his contract to 2020.
“It will take months for everything to take shape. When you build a house, there are problems with the bathroom, or the air conditioning, or the heating, you need a plumber or you have an argument with the architect.
“In a stadium of this size, of course we’ll have those issues, but above all outside the ground.”
Inside it is a different story with an immaculate pitch laid last week the final touch.
The stands hug the touchline on all four sides of the ground, much to Simeone’s delight, despite the initial construction on the stadium being done with an eye to Madrid’s failed bid to host the 2020 Olympics.
“The stadium, the stands, the seats, it is all marvellous,” added Simeone.
“Imagining the Atletico fans here and knowing them well, this will be a pressure cooker because the fans are glued to the pitch.
“It generates hope and enthusiasm and when there is hope and enthusiasm, good things always happen.”
Atletico have held up well under the strain of playing away as they remain unbeaten this season and should have comfortably won a 0-0 draw at Roma in their Champions League opener on Wednesday but for a series of wasted opportunities.
Antoine Griezmann returns from his two-game domestic suspension, whilst Atletico couldn’t have hoped for a more amenable guest as Malaga travel to the Spanish capital without a point from their opening three games and with coach Michel fighting for his job.
– Real Ronaldo-less –
Like Atletico, Real Madrid have taken just five points from their first three games, but in very different circumstances after disappointing home draws against Valencia and Levante.
Coach Zinedine Zidane also has a lack of strikers to choose from for the trip to Real Sociedad — who top the table alongside Barcelona — on Sunday.
Cristiano Ronaldo serves the final game of his five-match domestic ban, while Karim Benzema is out with a hamstring injury.
Zidane lamented Real’s failure to replace the departed Alvaro Morata in the transfer market this week, particularly in the absence of Ronaldo, who showed what Real have been missing by scoring twice in a 3-0 win over APOEL Nicosia on Wednesday.
“He is a key player for us, he is always scoring goals,” said Zidane.
“We’ll be without him again on Sunday and I hope it is for the last game this season.”
Elsewhere, Barcelona will be expected to keep their fine run of form rolling with a fifth consecutive win when the visit newly-promoted Getafe on Saturday.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Eibar v Leganes (1900)
Levante v Valencia (1100), Getafe v Barcelona (1415), Real Betis v Deportivo la Coruna (1630), Atletico Madrid v Malaga (1845)
Alaves v Villarreal (1000), Girona v Sevilla (1415), Las Palmas v Athletic Bilbao (1630), Real Sociedad v Real Madrid (1845)
Espanyol v Celta Vigo (1900)
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