Vicente Calderon, Madrid
13 May 2013; 18:00 hrs
Real Madrid failed to beat Espanyol this weekend, and in the process handed over the la Liga title to Barcelona for the forth time in five seasons, even before the Catalans have kicked off against Atletico Madrid. Having been at the pole position, in the domestic, for 34 gameweeks now, is no mean feat, but a little dissection will bring to the fore the glaring fallacies that they have in their squad. Humiliation at the hands of Bayern Munich, very recently, proved that it’s perhaps the inertia of the Guardiola-era, that perhaps saw them through to their 22nd league title. Vilanova certainly has his work cut out for next season.
Atletico Madrid are anything but pushovers. Diego Simeone has forged a side that kept Real Madrid in the 3rd position for a considerable amount of time. Eventually, their tempo slackened and they fizzed out. With a massive 14-point lead over the 4th placed team, and a secure Champions League spot next season, Atletico might just go into this game a little easy, so as to reserve their energy for the upcoming Copa del Rey final against Real Madrid.
Last time these two teams met, Barcelona won convincingly, by a margin of 4 goals to 1. Radamel Falcao, who have many European powerhouses vying for his signature, opened the scoring for Atleti. Barcelona struck back with a goal each from Adriano and Busquets and later the little magician from Argentina struck a brace to complete the rout.
Team News And Tactical Brief
Barcelona go into this match without Victor Valdes, Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano. The custodian has been the centre of a lot of speculation, criticism and subsequently unnecessary pressure for the team. His decision not to extend his contract at his boyhood club has had the repercussions which fans expected. Recently reports have emerged that Valdes has been aloof and has had very little contact with the club or his friends at the club outside the confines of the Camp Nou. Amidst a lot of speculations, Barcelona are perhaps considering a move for ex-Masia player Pepe Reina and German Ter Stegen as his protégé. The former is expected to cover for the next 2-3 years thereby allowing the German to acclimatize.
Defense has been a perennial concern and the absence of Puyol, further adds to the misery. Against Atletico, Vilanova should give Bartra a run in, alongside Pique. On either flank, Alba and Alves are expected to carry out their regular duties. Midfield should comprise the trio of Xavi, Busquets and Iniesta. Of late, Xavi’s form has been on a downhill and perhaps it is time to draw curtains to an illustrious career. The problem however is that Barcelona doesn’t have anyone to replace the maestro. As a matter of fact, the propensity to play Total Football has crippled the team in such a way that they are not more or less sterile against oppositions with sturdy physical presence, proper game plan and a tight defense. Moreover if these things are coupled with incisive offensive players, who can take whatever chances come their way, beating Barcelona is perhaps one of the easier jobs on the planet. The rest of the matches in this season will give Vilanova the opportunity to gauge the areas where work needs to be done. Moreover, it will also give him an insight into the players that he really wants into the team – be it a Thiago Silva or a Mats Hummels, an Isco or a Gundogan.
In the offense, Lionel Messi has finally shrugged off his niggling injuries. His presence is certainly a boost for Barcelona. Alongside Messi, Alexis or Villa will perhaps get the final few opportunities to prove their worth to the manager. Winger Cristian Tello has been a subject of interest amongst a host of clubs in Europe (Liverpool, most prominently). However, Vilanova will not try to risk losing the youngster by giving him some minutes on the pitch. Tello has had comparisons with Henry. Albeit, the youngster is millions of miles away from being compared to Henry, it is however, undeniable that his style and finishing matches the legendary Frenchman.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Pinto; Alves, Pique, Bartra, Alba; Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets; Messi, Villa, Tello.
Diego Simeone has transformed the side. Albeit, much of the limelight is hogged by the mercurial Radamel Falcao, the other players, who live in his shadows, play equally vital roles. In defense, Diego Godin has been phenomenal and has what it takes to deal with the Barcelona offense. But he is expected to be rested, keeping in mind the crucial cup final against Real Madrid. In defense, Cata Diaz and Miranda are expected to be in the centre. Juan Fran and Luis Felipe are to man either flank.
In the midfield, the double pivot of Tiago and Gabi has proved to be quite successful – especially Gabi. These two offer proper balance against any side and provides cover to the defense. In offense, Arda Turan is expected to start on the left, Garcia in the centre and Rodriguez on the right. These three have good understanding and can provide enough supply to the lone striker. Moreover Gabi also works well in linking with these three and providing supply.
Up front Radamel Falcao is expected to start on bench. The stout South American, might make a cameo in the game, but Costa will fill in for him. The midfield has enough potential to trouble the Barca defense and score past Pinto.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Courtois; Juanfran, Miranda, Diaz, Luiz; Tiago, Gabi; Turan, Garcia, Rodriguez; Costa.
- Barcelona have scored at least 2 goals in 28 of their last 31 matches in La Liga.
- Atletico have seen over 2.5 goals in their last 14 matches against Barcelona in all competitions.
- Barcelona have won their last 5 matches against Atletico in all competitions.
Stats Courtesy – WhoScored
Player To Watch Out For
Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)
Whenever the Argentine takes the pitch, there’s hardly anybody who hogs the limelight more. With only the league to hope for, Lionel Messi looks certain to cross the 50-goal barrier once again.
Atletico Madrid 1-2 FC Barcelona
While Atleti are expected to score, Barcelona seem likely to win the game at the Vicente Calderon.
Blast From The Past