Barcelona will be aiming to take one step closer to defending their La Liga crown when they welcome Atletico Madrid to Camp Nou on Saturday night.

Just eight more matchdays remain to be completed for the 2018-19 La Liga season to come to an end. Barcelona, who currently enjoy an eight-point lead atop the table, will have the chance to stretch their advantage when they play hosts to their nearest title challengers Atletico Madrid at Camp Nou on Saturday.

Barcelona have been on quite a roll lately, having not been beaten in their last 15 games across all competitions, the second longest run in all of Europe. But, their 4-4 draw against Villarreal earlier this week showed that the Blaugrana are still heavily dependent on Lionel Messi, which Ernesto Valverde has been looking to address all season long.

Atletico Madrid, on the other hand, closed the gap down to the La Liga champions to eight points after being Girona 2-0 earlier this week. Los Rojiblancos have picked up their form in the league recently, with the UEFA Champions League ouster at the hands of Juventus a rare blip over the last months, wherein they have won seven domestic games without conceding a goal.

The reverse fixture, played at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium back in November, saw Barcelona come from behind to hold Atletico Madrid to a 1-1 draw courtesy Ousmane Dembele’s final minute equaliser. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the La Liga encounter.

Team News & Tactics

Barcelona

Barcelona will be hoping to regroup after stuttering against Villarreal. (Photo by Jose Jordan/AFP/Getty Images)

Barcelona will be hoping to regroup after stuttering against Villarreal. (Photo by Jose Jordan/AFP/Getty Images)

Ernesto Valverde does not have many pressing injury concerns to deal with ahead of the visit of Atletico Madrid. On Saturday, the Barcelona boss will have just Rafinha remaining on the treatment table, with Ousmane Dembele resuming light training.

The game on Saturday though, will have come too soon for the Frenchman, who will be hoping to be fit to face Manchester United in the Champions League quarter-final first leg next week. The final absentee for Barcelona on Saturday will be Arturo Vidal, who misses out due to suspension, accrued due to an accumulation of yellow cards.

Vidal’s absence means Barcelona’s midfield trident picks itself, with Arthur set to join Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets in the middle of the park. The Brazilian will be in-charge of pulling the strings for the hosts, with Rakitic being the workhorse while Busquets will be screening the backline.

Speaking of defence, the back four should see a couple of changes, with Samuel Umtiti dropping to the bench after disappointing against Villarreal. Gerard Pique will return to the side to face Atletico Madrid, with Clement Lenglet being his partner at the heart of the Barcelona defence.

Jordi Alba is nailed on for the left-back spot, with Nelson Semedo expected to line up on the opposite flank. Upfront, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez are certain starters for a game of such stature. The final slot in the side will likely be taken by Philippe Coutinho, despite his continued lull in form, although he is running out of chances.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Arthur; Messi, Suarez, Coutinho

Barcelona

Atletico Madrid

Diego Simeone has a number of regulars sidelined with short and long-term injuries. The major issue is pertaining in the attacking department, with Diego Costa (thigh) and Alvaro Morata (ankle) both missing out for Atletico Madrid.

In the duo’s absence, Angel Correa is likely to be the player who partners Antoine Griezmann in the visitors’ strike partnership. Thomas Lemar is another major absentee for Los Colchoneros, and in his stead, Koke is likely to line up on the left side of the midfield.

Koke’s role on the left means Saul Niguez will be deployed on the opposite flank, with Thomas Partey stringing together the holding midfield partnership with Rodri. At the back, the major void is provided by the absence of Lucas Hernandez, who has seen his season come to an end prematurely.

The French international has thus, played for the final time for Atletico Madrid and in his absence, Filipe Luis will be the Atletico Madrid left-back. On the opposite flank, Santiago Arias should be the second full-back, with Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez forming the central defensive partnership.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Oblak; Arias, Gimenez, Godin, Luis; Saul, Rodri, Partey, Koke; Griezmann, Correa

Atletico Madrid

Key Stats

  • Barcelona and Atletico Madrid have previously met in La Liga on 163 occasions. The Blaugrana hold the edge in the head-to-head record, having won 73 games (D40 L50).
  • Atletico Madrid have won each of their last seven La Liga games, without conceding a single goal (14 goals scored).
  • Diego Simeone has never managed to oversee a win for Atletico Madrid against Barcelona in La Liga in 14 attempts (D5 L9).
  • Antoine Griezmann has not scored a single league goal against Barcelona in Atletico Madrid colours (nine attempts). The Frenchman has six goals in 16 other games versus the Catalans.
  • Only Sevilla (36) have conceded more goals to Lionel Messi than Atletico Madrid (28 goals in 37 games).

Player to Watch

Saul Niguez

Better call Saul (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

Better call Saul (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

Antoine Griezmann is the go-to man for Atletico Madrid whenever Diego Simeone needs the goals. But, if there is one player who has shown a tendency to chip in with important contributions for Los Rojiblancos, it is Saul Niguez.

Currently in the news for his links with Manchester United and Manchester City, the Spanish midfielder will be eager to help Griezmann out while constantly looking for scoring opportunities. Should he manage to score another important goal for his side, Atletico Madrid might just be in business.

Prediction

Barcelona 1-1 Atletico Madrid

One of the oldest and most fabled rivalries in La Liga history will be renewed on Saturday, and the agenda will be the title race. While Barcelona can take a huge step towards confirming what looks like the inevitable at the moment, Atletico Madrid will be hoping to cut the gap to the hosts for the second time this week.

There are unlikely to be a lot of goals in the fixture, with Jan Oblak looking impregnable in recent weeks. But, with Lionel Messi being in such irresistible form, Los Colchoneros will be on their toes all throughout. While the defence should not disappoint, it is the attack that does not always step up.

However, with Antoine Griezmann back among the goals against Girona, one can expect the Frenchman to be fired up to net his first league goal against Barcelona as an Atletico Madrid player. In the end, there is unlikely to be anything to separate the two sides, and The Hard Tackle predicts a 1-1 draw.

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