Boosted by stadium blessing, Atletico takes on Real Madrid
MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid’s president and club officials looked on as its new Wanda Metropolitano Stadium was blessed in a private pitch-side ceremony this week.
Cardinal Carlos Osoro led the blessing which may have come at the right time for Atletico ahead of this weekend’s city derby against Real Madrid - with the team needing all the help it can get to overcome its struggles at the new 68,000-capacity home.
Diego Simeone’s team has only two wins in six games since the Metropolitano was inaugurated this season, losing once and drawing three straight going into Saturday’s match.
“We want to win the first ever derby at the Wanda Metropolitano,” Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann said in an interview with La Liga’s website. “It’s a very important match for the fans, for the club. It’s a match every player wants to be a part of.”
The inaugural derby at the new stadium could be decisive for the teams’ title hopes this season, as Barcelona has already opened a significant advantage at the top of the league standings.
The loser this weekend may find itself facing an 11-point deficit against the thriving Catalan club.
Barcelona plays at mid-table Leganes on Saturday. Second-place Valencia, four points behind Barcelona and four points in front of both Madrid clubs, plays at Espanyol on Sunday to try to extend its seven-game winning streak in the league.
Atletico remains unbeaten in La Liga but has won only two of its last nine matches in all competitions.
“It’s been difficult to score goals and to win matches,” Griezmann said. “We are solid on defense, we just need to turn things around on offense. We have to keep working hard to try to improve.”
Real Madrid is coming off a home victory over Las Palmas in the league, a result that helped restore order after two consecutive losses sparked a wave of criticism against Zinedine Zidane’s team.
“Focused,” was Cristiano Ronaldo’s message on Instagram this week along with a photo of him training for Saturday’s match.
Atletico got off to a good start after moving from its beloved Vicente Calderon Stadium to the modern Metropolitano on the outskirts of Madrid. It made its debut in the new venue with a 1-0 win against Malaga, and followed it with a 2-0 victory against Sevilla.
But things started going wrong when Atletico made its European debut at the stadium in a Champions League match against Chelsea. It scored first but ended losing 2-1 after conceding in the last minute of injury time.
In its next league game, Atletico was ahead of Barcelona until late in the match, but conceded an equalizer by Luis Suarez and ended with a disappointing 1-1 draw. It also was held by Villarreal to a 1-1 draw, then endured its worst setback yet - a 1-1 draw against 10-man Qarabag in a result that practically ended its hopes of advancing from the group stage of the Champions League.
And with its title chances hanging by a thread in Europe, only a home victory on Saturday may keep Atletico in contention for a significant trophy this season.
The team’s faithful haven’t given up.
“I’m sure that we will eventually have the same success at the new stadium that we used to have at the Calderon,” Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak said. “We will see how it goes this weekend, but hopefully there will be a happy ending for us.”
More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni