Sunday, December 16, 21:00 GMT
Camp Nou, Barcelona
The 1st and 2nd placed team in La Liga, one from Barcelona, the other from Madrid and the two top scorers in La Liga who both made history last week, will be going head to head this Sunday at Camp Nou. Sounds familiar? Well, this time the team representing Madrid is Simeone’s Atlético and the on-fire striker in question is Radamel Falcao rather than Cristiano Ronaldo. In very surprising fashion, the biggest challenge to Barcelona in La Liga so far has come from Madrid, but from the likes of Simeone and Falcao; Atlético currently sit in second place, six points behind Barcelona.
A potential win at Camp Nou, albeit perhaps unlikely, would significantly boost their title aspirations, although a defeat could crush them for good. This match is more decisive for Atlético than it is for Barcelona, as they really can’t afford a loss if they want to be taken as serious title contenders. It will obviously also be a duel between the two most in form goalscorers in the world at the moment: Lionel Messi vs Radamel Falcao.
Team News And Tactical Brief
15 matches, 14 wins and 1 draw; 50 goals scored, only 13 conceded. This is Barcelona’s incredible record so far in La Liga; the only team able to take points off the Catalan juggernaut was Atlético’s neighbours Real Madrid, with a 2-2 draw at Camp Nou back in October.
Tito Vilanova knows that a win this Sunday will create a nine point gap over their closest followers and further launch Barcelona towards yet another league title. Having no key player apart from Cesc Fabregas injured or suspended at the moment will allow Tito to field the lineup he feels is the strongest and most adequate for a game of such importance. Valdés will be in goal as usual, with Alba and Alves as full backs and two of Mascherano, Puyol and Piqué (probably the latter two) in the center of defense. Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta should be the midfield trio, with Pedro, Sanchez (or perhaps David Villa) and of course Lionel Messi up front. There’s a chance Tito Vilanova will opt to play Iniesta up front, with Thiago in midfield, but it does not seem the most likely scenario, especially with Thiago only recently coming off a prolonged injury spell.
As always, Barcelona will look to dominate the match through possession and constantly probe for gaps in the Atlético defense, but this is a match that demands far more defensive precautions than the average La Liga match. Atlético are one of the most powerful attacking forces in La Liga and their star striker Radamel Falcao is in the form of his life, becoming the first player in a decade to score five goals in a La Liga match last week; Puyol, Piqué and Mascherano know that they can’t give him an inch, and Busquets will need to help shield the defense as well. With Falcao at the tip of their attack, Atlético do not need many chances to crash the party at the Camp Nou.
Probable Lineup: Victor Valdés (GK); Jordi Alba, Carles Puyol, Gerard Piqué, Daniel Alves; Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez, Andrés Iniesta; Pedro Rodriguez, Alexis Sanchez and Lionel Messi
Atlético Madrid are having an absolutely remarkable season so far under Simeone, defying even the highest expectations anyone could have from them. Two weeks ago, they faltered at the Santiago Bernabeu, meekly falling to a 2-0 defeat without putting much of a fight. Simeone and the players are aware that they did not do themselves justice in that match and have vowed to put on a better performance at Camp Nou against the league leaders.
Simeone is expected to employ his usual 4-2-3-1 formation and use the backbone of the lineup that has brought so much success so far this year. Courtois will be in goal, with Juanfran, Miranda, Godin and Filipe Luis ahead of him in defense, shielded by Mario Suarez and Gabi. Koke and Raul Garcia will play through the wings, with Arda Turan play as a ’10’ behind Radamel Falcao.
Atlético will be forced to defend more than in probably any other match this season, their so far very solid defense will really be put to the test by Lionel Messi and co. But they will not just defend, but also launch quick counterattacks and try to get the ball to Falcao in the best possible positions up front. Raul Garcia and Koke will play a vital role in this match, both trying to stop Barcelona’s attacks down the flanks and sending quality deliveries to Falcao in the box.
Probable Lineup: Courtois (GK); Juanfrán, Miranda, Godin, Felipe Luis; Mario Suarez, Gabi; Raul Garcia, Arda Turan, Koke; Radamel Falcao
Key Match Facts
- Atlético have dropped all their 8 points so far on the road, and Barcelona all their two at home.
- Messi and Falcao have scored a combined 39 goals, more than any team in La Liga bar Barcelona.
- Barcelona have won 5-0 in last season’s corresponding match, In fact, the matches in the Guardiola era ended 6-1, 5-2, 3-0 and 5-0, which dosn’t bode well for Atlético at all.
TheHardTackle’s Players To Watch Out For
Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)
All eyes will be on Lionel Messi yet again. He has recently improved his already astounding record of most goals scored in a single calendar year (88 now) and he’s usually extremely prolific against Atlético so he’ll be confident of further improving that record and lead Barcelona to victory. You’d be ill advised to bet against him as he keeps breaking records one after another, even his own.
Radamel Falcao (Atlético Madrid)
If Messi is the best scorer in La Liga, Falcao comes right next, having even scored 5 goals last weekend. His talent is definitely not on a par with Messi’s, but he makes up for that with an extraordinary work ethic and willingless to keep improving his game year after year to reach the very top. Falcao is a man for the big matches, so Barcelona will really need to watch out if they don’t want to be El Tigre’s latest victim.
FC Barcelona 2-2 Atlético Madrid
Atlético will continue their amazing campaign, this time with a great performance and a draw at Camp Nou. Messi and Falcao will be the starts of show as expected and each score a brace for their respective side. It will an extremely open and high quality affair from beginning to end.