With the La Liga seemingly headed for a three-way finish to the title, Barcelona face a dangerous obstacle in Atletico Madrid on Sunday and need to win it if they are to harbour dreams of a title defence
Things have looked considerably bleak for Barcelona in recent weeks with the Champions League result against PSG still very much on the back of the minds of Luis Enrique and his players.
The Blaugrana fought their way out to a last-minute win over lowly Leganes needing a last-minute Messi penalty to seal the deal at home.
Sunday’s clash at the Vicente Calderon against Atletico Madrid will be an apt litmus test for Barcelona ahead of their second leg showdown against PSG where they will be tasked with overcoming a spectacular 4-0 deficit in order to progress through to the next round.
Atletico Madrid look all but out of the title race but with fixtures against the trio of Barcelona, Sevilla and Real Madrid pending, Diego Simeone’s men could still have a telling impact on the title race.
Team News and Tactics
In what will be Diego Simeone’s 300th game in-charge, Atletico will look to add some sparks on a rather poor title challenge this time around as they continue to play the catching game behind the likes of Barcelona, Sevilla and Real Madrid.
At the Vicente Calderon on Sunday, the boss will look to add further weight to Barcelona’s recent worries and will look to capitalize on the troubled state of affairs.
Atleti need to replicate the dominance they have achieved in Europe as they have appeared short on the domestic stage.
Going into the encounter on Sunday, Simeone will be left inhibited in his midfield forces as he will be without the services of Tiago, Augusto Fernandez and Juanfran.
Los Rojiblancos have tasted success against the Blaugrana in the Champions League under Simeone’s leadership, but they have failed to replicate the same in La Liga and they will look to change that on the boss’ 300th outing.
There was speculation surrounding Diego Godin’s participation on Sunday and having featured in training on Friday, he’s very likely to make the starting XI against Barcelona.
If the Blaugrana’s recent outings are any indicator, they seem to face trouble dealing with a direct attacking style of play and it’s something the likes of Antoine Griezmann and Kevin Gameiro thrive for Atleti.
The forwards have done well for Los Rojiblancos with the French duo along with Fernando Torres all making their way to the clean sheet in recent weeks. Although only two of the aforementioned names will start on Sunday.
Possible Starting XI (4-4-2) : Oblak; Vrsaljko, Savic, Godin, Luis; Saul, Koke, Gabi, Carrasco; Griezmann, Gameiro.
A positive result is of paramount importance to Luis Enrique if he is to extend his stay at the Camp Nou beyond this season. With Sevilla securing a victory at Betis, they sit level on points with Real Madrid and a point ahead of Barcelona, albeit with games in hand.
The Catalans delivered a far from convincing performance against Leganes at the aftermath of their Parisien nightmare. Hence, a visit to Vicente Calderon couldn’t have come at a poorer time for Enrique’s men who are looking to keep the pressure on Real Madrid, who entertain Villarreal later on Sunday.
With Atletico going for the win to keep their top 4 place, Barcelona can expect an attack-minded Atletico on Sunday as against the tactics they have adopted in past fixtures.
Sergio Busquets returns to the fold having served his one-match suspension, while Javier Mascherano continues to remain sidelined.
With Aleix Vidal ruled out for the season due to a knee injury, Sergi Roberto is expected to continue keeping his place at right-back while Jordi Alba will return to the starting XI at the expense of Lucas Digne.
There is no change expected in the attacking line-up with Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi forming a three-pronged attack in a standard 4-3-3 formation adopted by Enrique.
The midfield could see Busquets return to his deep-lying role while Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta will be dealt with marshaling the midfield along with the Spanish international. Samuel Umtiti could enjoy his run in the starting XI further in the absence of Javier Mascherano.
Possible Starting XI : ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Neymar.
- Atletico Madrid have won their last three Liga games, but Diego Simeone’s side are yet to win four in a row in the Primera Division this season.
- Barcelona are one of two Liga teams unbeaten against Diego Simeone (drawn three, lost 10 against the Blaugrana), alongside Alaves (drawn two).
- This will be Diego Simeone’s 300th game in all competitions as Atletico coach.
- Only against Sevilla (27) has Lionel Messi scored more goals than against Atletico (26) in all competitions.
Player to watch out for
Atletico Madrid : Antoine Griezmann
Without a doubt the Frenchman remains one of the Atleti’s biggest threats against Barcelona. The forward has scored against the Blaugrana early on this season so Simeone will hope he delivers the goods once again and can help his side to a famous win over the Catalan giants.
FC Barcelona : Lionel Messi
Where would the Catalans even be without Leo Messi? One would run out of fingers trying to count the number of fixtures the Argentinean has effected a crucial impact in with their hard-fought recent win against Leganes standing testament to that.
Enrique will once again pin his hopes on the 5-time Ballon D’Or winner as he bids to keep his side alive in the title race.
Atletico Madrid 2-2 Barcelona
The deployment of tactics from Simeone in recent weeks is what promises to make Barcelona’s visit on Sunday mighty interesting.
Los Rojiblancos in the absence of Godin have largely resorted to attacking tactics and sought to outscore their opponents rather than taking the cautious approach of preventing them from creating chances or scoring.
Since they have historically resorted to such tactics against Barcelona, an attacking edge to their game should make for great viewing.
On paper, Barcelona should be taking this by the scruff of the neck, but given how strange things have gone in past few weeks, both sides will come away with a point at the end of what promises to be an enthralling encounter at the Vicente Calderon.