Atletico keen to keep top spot

> Good chance as they face bot­tom club Granada

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

PRAC­TI­CALLY all foot­ball ex­perts in Spain pre­dicted that twin gi­ants Barcelona and Real Madrid would con­tinue with their bipo­lar hege­mony in La Liga this sea­son.

How­ever, the team on top of the greasy pole at the mo­ment is not one of that pair but in­stead hard-work­ing Atletico Madrid, who are keen to re­peat their sur­prise ti­tle snatc­hand-grab of three years ago.

“We have not spent the last 10 days star­ing at the league ta­ble. We do not want to at­tach too much im­por­tance to the ta­ble so early in the sea­son.” Atletico coach Diego Sime­one said ahead of to­mor­row’s home clash with bot­tom club Granada.

“But I must ad­mit that it is good to be top, above clubs which have a much higher bud­get than us ... Now our aim is to stay up there.”

Sime­one might be tempted to give a rare start to vet­eran Fer­nando Tor­res or even lit­tle An­gel Cor­rea, given that An­toine Griez­mann, Kevin Gameiro and Yan­nick Car­rasco re­turned weary and bruised on Wed­nes­day, af­ter play­ing two full matches each for France and Bel­gium re­spec­tively.

Griez­mann (pix) is joint top Liga scorer along with Barca’s Luis Suarez, though he has missed four of his last six penal­ties for Atletico.

De­spite his spot­kick night­mare, Griez­mann has re­cently con­vinced al­most the en­tire foot­balling world of his qual­ity - al­though com­pa­triot Franck Ribery of Bay­ern Mu­nich has said: “Griez­mann is clearly a good player, but not yet one of the very high­est class.

“When he has been at the very top for 10 or 11 years like me, then we will be able to say he is world class.”

Back on the trou­bled Granada bench will be old hand Lu­cas Al­caraz, who has re­placed the un­pop­u­lar Paco Jemez. This will be Al­caraz’s fourth spell at his home­town club.

“What we need here is tran­quil­ity and hard work. The sit­u­a­tion of a foot­ball team can change very quickly, with those two in­gre­di­ents.”

Atletico have a bet­ter goal dif­fer­ence than neigh­bours Real, who will be with­out Ser­gio Ramos, Marcelo, Casemiro and Luka Mo­dric for to­mor­row’s visit to lowly Real Betis.

Boss­ing the mid­field for The Whites will be the el­e­gant Toni Kroos, who ex­tended his con­tract to 2022 this week.

Also to­mor­row, stum­bling Barcelona will host midtable De­portivo La Coruna.

Barca have made their worst start since 2005, al­ready drop­ping eight points, and will be with­out injured full­backs Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba. How­ever, Lionel Messi will be ready to re­turn, as will Sa­muel Umtiti.

Barca are fourth, two points be­hind the Madrid lead­ers, and one be­low third-placed Sevilla, who will visit solid Le­ganes.

Sun­day will see fifth-placed Vil­lar­real host Celta Vigo, and Ath­letic Bil­bao – who are sixth – host Basque ri­vals Real So­ciedad.

The week­end’s other games are Las Pal­mas vs Es­panyol, Alaves vs Malaga, Sport­ing Gi­jon vs Va­len­cia and Eibar vs Osasuna. – dpa

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