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Aug 28, 2014

Atletico Madrid need maximum points against Eibar

ESPN FC's expert panel break down Diego Simeone's eight-match suspension following his confrontation with the match officials in the Super Cup second-leg.

There will be a strange atmosphere at the Vicente Calderon on Saturday. Atletico Madrid will finally get their hands on the league trophy they won in May at the Camp Nou.

Why Saturday? Well, that is because Spanish football's head honcho, Angel Maria Villar, chose the final day of last season to be otherwise occupied "travelling," and therefore unable to attend the game and present the league winners with their prize. The mind boggles.

Some who played no part in last season's outstanding achievements will lift a trophy they did not win, while many players who played a pivotal role will not have the chance to see the silverware before Los Rojiblancos take on the Basque newcomers. As the saying goes: "Spain is different."

The suspended Diego Simeone -- who awaits the outcome of his appeal against an eight-game ban -- will however, be hoping that the chance to lift their second trophy in just over a week (lest we forget the Super Cup victory over Real Madrid) will act as a catalyst for his players. They'll need it after their sluggish start to La Liga, in which they drew 0-0 against fellow Madrid outfit Rayo Vallecano.

While no league is won or lost after one match, the reigning champions can ill-afford to be playing catch up to their more illustrious, newly reinforced rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid. If La Liga is indeed to be a "100-point league" this season, Atleti dropped two of the 14 they'll be allowed on the way to retaining their crown.

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As said in the immediate aftermath, it might well be one of those games at the end of the season both manager and fans alike look back on and think, "If only we'd have nicked a win." One of those scrappy wins that this Atletico Madrid side were so good at grinding out last season. It is a habit they need to quickly get back into.

The side from the capital did not lose until halfway through October last term, and their first draw only came in November. With the derby against Real Madrid to come immediately after the international break, Los Rojiblancos will settle for nothing less than a win against Eibar, the smallest side to ever play in Spain's top division.

Despite winning the Segunda last season, the visitors were almost relegated to the third division on a financial technicality. After overcoming this obstacle, they carried on their fairy tale with a win over neighbours Real Sociedad on the first day of the season.

Los Armeros, as they are known, showed themselves to be a competitive side at this level, and looked solid all over the park. An early goal for the home side might change all that.

A lot is expected of the two marquee arrivals Mario Mandzukic and Antoine Griezmann. They were both disappointing -- in different ways -- against Rayo. Mandzukic got into good positions, however failed to find the target when presented with two guilt-edged chances.

Expect Antoine Griezmann to pose more problems against Eibar as Atletico Madrid should return to the 4-2-3-1 in which he shone against Real Madrid.

The Frenchman, on the other hand, looked a little lost in a more conventional 4-4-2, having previously shone in Simeone's usual 4-2-3-1 formation against Real Madrid; struggling to find the usual pockets of space he is able to exploit so well.

It will therefore be interesting to see if the Argentine reverts to the system that led them to glory both last season and in the Super Cup, given Raul Jimenez, the Croat's partner in attack, probably outperformed them both at Vallecas. One suspects he will, with Mandzukic leading the line and Jimenez acting as the cavalry from the bench, just in case.

A back four that has for so long been a fixture now presents a selection headache, but the kind that no manager minds. Guilherme Siqueira, who was due to start at left-back against Rayo only for a knock in the warm-up to delay his league debut. His replacement Cristian Ansaldi -- another debutante -- was one of Los Colchoneros star performers on the night, thwarting countless attacks and laying on a cross that Mandzukic somehow contrived to steer into the side netting. The other three positions, it goes without saying, pick themselves: Juanfran, Diego Godin and Miranda.

With the end of the transfer window fast approaching, and a relatively kind Champions League draw -- Juventus the only potential banana skin in a group that also features Olympiakos and Malmo -- it would not be a surprise to see one or two faces arrive before September 1 to bolster a squad seeking a repeat of last season's European exploits.

According to AS and other Spanish publications, a deal for Xherdan Shaqiri might be in the offing, with the Switzerland international known to be unhappy at a lack of playing time in Germany, while Alessio Cerci's name also refuses to go away.

It will be an interesting few days on the banks of the Manzanares River, and as is often the case with Atleti, you just never know what might happen next.

Joseph Walker

Joseph is a sports journalist based in the Spanish capital and can regularly be seen in the Vicente Calderon press box trying not to celebrate when Atletico Madrid score. Follow him on Twitter @Joe_in_espana.

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