A week after their English counterparts, La Liga finally begins again, and what a game to end week one on, as Atletico Madrid travel to Valencia.
The Rojiblancos have had a stunning summer, transfer-wise, bringing in the likes of Thomas Lemar from Monaco, Gelson Martins from Sporting Portugal, and Nikola Kalinic from AC Milan. Not to mention the return of Rodri, who spent six years at the club’s academy.
Their pre-season form until their stunning UEFA Super Cup win over Real Madrid, hadn’t been the best, the side only beating Arsenal on penalties in the International Champions Cup and losing to both Paris Saint-Germain and Internazionale.
It should be noted, of course, that the World Cup has played havoc with the schedules of most of the top clubs, with some players only having just returned after their holidays. One of those, Antoine Griezmann, will be expected to make an immediate goal-scoring impact.
Valencia are still desperately trying to procure Goncalo Guedes from PSG on a permanent basis, and the two clubs are getting closer to a deal which could be completed in time for kick-off.
In the meantime, Marcelino has done some decent business of his own, taking Michy Batshuayi on loan from Chelsea and Kevin Gameiro from Atleti.
The latter will make his debut against his old side and will be keen to show Diego Simeone that he’s made his first mistake of the campaign.
Opening games of the season tend to throw up the odd surprise or two, as teams ease themselves back into a new campaign, but if there’s one thing that Simeone and Marcelino have in common, and expect from their staff, it’s an incredible work ethic.
Regardless of the pre-season performances and results, everything will have been building toward this titanic tussle. Both teams like to play on the front foot at all times, and the midfield battle in particular will be one to keep a keen eye on.
Valencia’s Geoffrey Kondogbia will aim to get forward at every opportunity, and in so doing he becomes a real threat. His forays will need to be covered by Thomas Partey or Saúl Niguez, meaning the fleet-footed Dani Parejo, or Guedes if he plays, will have space to work and provide the ammunition to Simone Zaza.
At the opposite end alongside Griezmann, is the rampaging Diego Costa. As he showed against Real there’s nothing he likes more than a battle, and Ezequiel Garay and Jeison Murillo will certainly give him a harder test than he faced against Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane.
There have only been four goalless draws in this fixture in the last 37 meetings, so we can be assured of goals. By virtue of their greater firepower, Atleti to score in both halves at 16/5 with Karamba is a sound bet.
In the last four games, home and away, Los Che have failed to find the net against Atleti. There have been plenty of occasions when Valencia have been knocking on the door, but that little bit of quality in front of goal has been lacking.
They’ve strengthened in key areas and will mix up the direction of their attacks rather than consistently hitting it long to Zaza, however, the Rojiblanco back four, as a unit, remain one of the best in Europe.
It took a stunning acrobatic scissor-kick from Lautaro Martinez for Inter to win their ICC game, and against Real Madrid, both of the goals that were conceded were lamentable. They were far superior to Los Blancos as a threat going forward.
Even if Valencia are able to get in behind, and that’s no easy task in itself, they still have to beat Jan Oblak aka ‘The Wall’ in goal, a keeper that has won the Zamora award for least goals conceded for the last three years running.
It’s a massive year for Antoine Griezmann. After leading his side to victory in the Europa League, he enhanced his credentials with a solid World Cup performance for France.
For the first time in almost a decade, it looks as if there’s a chance of someone other than Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi winning the Ballon d’Or, and with Neymar seemingly out of the running, Griezmann is a genuine contender.
How he starts this campaign could help sway some of those voters who are ‘on the fence’ and put him in pole position. Against Valencia, he will absolutely benefit from Costa’s more rudimentary style of play, as he did on numerous occasions in the second half of last season.
In close proximity to his colleague and ready for any knockdowns, Griezmann has the ability to drift left or right and score from range or close in. At 5/1 to be first or last goalscorer with Bet365, backing the Frenchman is a no brainer.