Barcelona will travel to Estadio Wanda Metropolitano to face off against La Liga title challengers Atletico Madrid on Saturday night.
Barcelona are set to lock horns with Atletico Madrid this weekend, as La Liga returns to action after the final international break of 2018.
The Catalans are perched at the top of the league table after twelve rounds of fixtures, just a point above Sevilla and Atletico, who occupy the second and third spots in the standings respectively. Having been beaten 4-3 in their last game by Real Betis, Ernesto Valverde’s men will be gunning to bounce back strongly, but face a stern test against Los Rojiblancos.
Having earned qualification for the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League, the manager will not be hesitant to field his strongest side on Saturday ahead, despite the Catalans being scheduled to play PSV Eindhoven on Wednesday.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen was not involved for Germany during the international break, as he was recovering from some minor injury issues. He will feature from the kick-off for Barcelona against Diego Simeone’s men. At right-back, Sergi Roberto is expected to hold on to his spot ahead of Nelson Semedo, while Jordi Alba is a certainty at left-back.
The Catalans have been handed an injury boost in defence, with Samuel Umtiti returning after more than a month out on the sidelines.
Speaking about the Frenchman in his pre-match presser, Valverde said: “We’ve been playing with the same centre-backs and they’ve done well but now we have another option. Looking at the games we’ve got coming up it’s great news he’s back with us.”
However, despite the Frenchman being available for selection, the manager is expected to stick with the partnership of Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet against Atletico.
Ivan Rakitic is suspended for the game, having been sent off against Real Betis last time out. His place in the side is likely to be taken up by summer signing Arturo Vidal, who was on the scoresheet against Betis. Sergio Busquets is a guaranteed starter for the Catalans in the middle, with Brazilian Arthur set to take up the third midfield slot.
Philippe Coutinho was not involved with the Brazil national team during the break, owing to an injury. While the playmaker has participated in a few training sessions prior to the game, Valverde will not be risking him on Saturday night.
“He has trained this week, not every session, we’ll see how he is. We don’t want to run too many risks because there are other big games ahead,” the manager said about the former Liverpool star’s situation.
Coutinho’s place on the left flank is up for grabs, with Ousmane Dembele and Malcom vying for the starting berth. However, it is the latter who might get the nod on Saturday ahead of the Frenchman.
Club captain Lionel Messi made a quick return from an arm injury to score a brace against Real Betis last time out. He is a definite starter on the right side of the attack, with Uruguayan international Luis Suarez set to lead the line for the Blaugrana on Saturday night.