Camp Nou, Barcelona
6th January, 2011, 2:30 AM IST
Atletico Madrid have always been a difficult adversary for FC Barcelona. The last time these two teams met, FC Barcelona came out with all three points but lost Messi to a reckless tackle by Ujfalusi. What marred the game was the extreme physicality involved. The hapless Mr. David Fernández Borbalán had to dish out as many as 10 cards – 9 yellow and a solitary red. Nevertheless, the game was full of thrills and spills and was topped off by a dramatic end. Lionel Messi got FC Barcelona to a flying start when he put the ball past De Gea with a deft touch, after Villa had hit the post and Pedro delivered the immaculate through ball. Raul Garcia brought parity by heading past Victor Valdes in the 25th minute. Gerard Pique then got the winning goal for his team 7 minutes later.
Atletico Madrid are having a torrid time with just one win from eight league and cup games in 2011, and having lost four of their last five fixtures. El Atleti has conceded 14 goals on their last 3 visits to the Camp Nou. Pep Guardiola’s men too would be looking forward to add to their tally of 67 goals in 21 matches.
Team News and Tactical Brief
FC Barcelona: The defending champions will definitely enjoy the home advantage as they welcome Atletico Madrid. In one of the last sessions of training before the game, 18 first team players trained and Thiago too was a part of the group. After a decent outing in midweek against Almeria, in Copa Del Rey, the team will full of confidence. More so because Guardiola rested several first team regulars and gave the reserves a chance to prove their mettle. Yet the team came out unscathed and also reserved a berth in the final of the League Cup. Iniesta returned from a back strain and looks quite comfortable training with the squad. Injured captain, Carles Puyol and winger Jeffren were the only notable absentees.
The Barcelona attack chooses itself. Messi flanked with Pedro to his right and Villa to his left, will be taking charge. The trio might look too familiar in their respective positions, yet oppositions find it extremely difficult to mark them as they change positions quite fluently. In the midfield Xavi will be partnered by Sergio Busquets and Ibrahim Afellay might just get an opportunity to start. Iniesta’s recent strain might just give Guardiola a chance to exercise Afellay, who had a fantastic game against Almeria. Captain Puyol might miss the game. However, in the presence of Gerard Pique and Eric Abidal, this shouldn’t be much of a concern for the Catalans. Abidal might just move in to replace Puyol with Maxwell filling in for him on the left side. Dani Alves will however, continue to bombard from the right.
Probable Starting Line-up: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Abidal, Maxwell, Xavi, Busquets, Afellay, Messi, Villa, Pedro.
This match couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Rojiblancos. Although, with just one win from eight league and cup games in 2011, and having lost four of their last five fixtures, Atletico have nothing to lose. “It’s the perfect game to gain confidence. There’s nothing to lose, they are an opponent who at home and away are very strong and we have a great chance to lift our morale,” said Portuguese midfielder Thiago, who is on loan from Juventus. The visitors lie 6 places adrift off Barcelona with a humongous point-difference of 28. With more than half the season gone, this gap looks almost impossible to bridge.
All said and done, Guardiola is as cautious as always. “We must try to recover in time for Saturday, as we face one of the strongest teams in the league. This is our hardest month, as we have had little rest,” said the wary manager. Atletico’s recent losses against Sporting Gijon and Athletic Bilbao will not help their cause either. Quique Sánchez Flores will be devoid of the services of promising Spanish midfielder Mario Suarez and Colombian defender Luis Perea, the former due to injury and the latter because of suspension. However, good news for the visitors is that they will have the services of Raul Garcia, who scored for them when FC Barcelona visited them last September. Diego Forlan is expected to start with Aguero. They will be assisted by former Arsenal attacker Jose Antonio Reyes. Defensive midfielders Thiago and Elias are expected to stifle the Barcelona midfield. The defense should accommodate Diego Godin, Lopez , Ujfalusi and Filipe while De Gea will be carrying out his usual duties in front of the goalmouth.
Probable Starting Line-up: De Gea, Godin, Assuncao, Ujfalusi, Filipe, Lopez, Reyes, Thiago, Elias, Forlan, Aguero.
1. Messi has scored 11 goals for Barcelona in 11 official games against Atletico Madrid: 4 at home, 7 away
2. Atletico Madrid has conceded 14 goals on their last 3 visits to the Camp Nou.
3. Messi, Villa and Pedro have 47 league goals between them – 1 short of Real Madrid total goals in La Liga.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)
This section is probably pointless as long as the Messiah keeps playing for Barcelona. When an individual keeps delivering world class performances, week-in week-out, it’s difficult not to ignore him in favor of greater variety.
FC Barcelona 3-0 Atletico Madrid
With the visitors in utter disarray, it seems well nigh impossible for them to snatch anything from the champions. FC Barcelona looks all set to build a 10 point gap between them and Real Madrid. If at all Atletico Madrid succeeds in giving Real Madrid a reason to smile, this will prove to be the best result of their campaign.
TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST