Atletico Madrid host FC Barcelona at the Vicente Calderon as La Liga returns following the international break. We look at three key battles that will define which way the match swings.
Both, Atletico Madrid and FC Barcelona have made a winning start to their La Liga season and will look to continue their run in this game. While Barcelona are unbeaten at the Vicente Calderon since 2009/10 season, Atletico will be looking to regain the run of form at home between 2005 to 2009 that saw them beat Barcelona in 4 of the 5 games played.
The three key battles that may prove decisive on who comes out on top are:
1 – Lionel Messi vs Filipe Luis
As he has been for much of the time under Luis Enrique, Lionel Messi will be expected to start from the right-hand side of the FC Barcelona attack. The task of stopping him will rest on Atletico Madrid’s Brazilian left-back Filipe Luis, who has just returned from an unsuccessful spell at Chelsea FC.
Messi had scored a last gasp equalizer to rescue Argentina against Mexico in a friendly in Dallas, USA. While Luis himself, was in the USA to play against the host nation in a friendly.
While the Premier League fans may not have seen the best of Filipe Luis, over the years in La Liga and especially in the 2013-14 season when Atletico won the league for the first time since 95/96, he has shown what a good player he is.
Luis’ quality will be tested to the limit when he faces Lionel Messi. And if he can stop Messi, Atletico stand a good chance to come away with something from the game.
2 – Luis Suarez vs Diego Godin
It is fair to say that FC Barcelona have benefited immensely from Luis Suarez’s international ban. As the South American players of most top Spanish team travel half-way around the world, Suarez is not only well rested but seething at the fact that he is still serving the ban for biting Chiellini in the World Cup 2014.
And the responsibility to stop the feisty Uruguayan will fall on his fellow countrymen Diego Godin. Godin was hailed as one of the best defenders in the world when Atletico Madrid won the league, a couple of seasons ago; he has shown no signs of dropping his level. Godin will not only have to be at his best against Suarez, he will have to guard against any complacency that may creep into his game due to the international friendly he played in Costa Rica for Uruguay.
Godin’s battle against his countrymen Suarez will be crucial to ensure that Blaugrana’s attack does not have the same ‘bite’.
3 – Javier Mascherano/Vermaelen vs Antoine Griezmann
Antoine Griezmann is the only current La Liga player to feature in the Team of the Year 2014/15 from a club other than FC Barcelona and Real Madrid.
The French star scored 38 goals in the last two seasons in the league, with 22 of those coming last year. He started in the same way he left off, with a brilliant goal to guide Atletico to a 1-0 win over Las Palmas on the opening weekend of the La Liga.
The dangerous forward also grabbed a couple of assists as Atletico Madrid thrashed Sevilla 3-0 in their own backyard– no mean feat, that.
The attacker usually plays a free role from the middle, which means, both Vermaelen and Javeir Mascherano will have their task cut out to mark the attacker. If between themselves, the duo can stop him, it will go a long way in blunting out Atletico Madrid’s attack.
Although if Griezmann starts picking up the ball in little pockets between the central midfield and the defence, it will be interesting to see if one of the two leaves the defensive line to come and deal with him or Sergio Busquets drops in to help out.