Barcelona will hope to drop no further points in the league as they play hosts to Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.
Barcelona’s title hopes were dented further when they visited the Municipal de Balaidos to lock horns with Celta Vigo in a game that ended 2-2 courtesy of a late free-kick from Iago Aspas. Real Madrid were able to capitalise on this when they travelled to Catalonia to play rock-bottom RCD Espanyol and won the contest thanks to Casemiro who scored the only goal of the game.
Quique Setien’s men sit two points adrift of Real Madrid who are perched on the top. They are, however, still 11 points clear of Atletico Madrid who sit third in the table. Barcelona will have the chance to put pressure on Real who will face a tough opponent as well, when they welcome Getafe to the Santiago Bernabeu. But to do that the Blaugranas will have to put on a show much better than their previous two games.
Atletico were made sure to make the best use of Sevilla dropping points against Real Valladolid with a victory against Deportivo Alaves at the Wanda Metropolitano. Saul Niguez and Diego Costa were on target for the hosts in the second half which was enough to put them over the line despite a late consolation from Joselu from the spot.
The previous time these two sides met in the league, Atleti were able to hold off Barcelona for about 85 minutes after which Lionel Messi took matters into his own hands and scored a stunning curler into the near post and won the game for the visitors, as he so often does.
However, let’s not forget, Los Rojiblancos came out on top against Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup in January which led to the sacking of Ernesto Valverde. The Hard Tackle now takes a deeper look at this top of the table tie.
Team News & Tactics
There are no fresh concerns for Quique Setien’s side ahead of tomorrow, but they will be without the services of Frenkie de Jong and Ousmane Dembele, both of whom are dealing with long term injuries. The former could be out for the season as well after picking up a serious calf injury in training.
Sergio Busquets returns from suspension and will start as the deepest of the midfield trio replacing Ivan Rakitic who has been putting in stellar performances for the club since the restart.
Busquets will be arched by Arturo Vidal on the right and Arthur Melo on the left. Arthur remains a Barcelona player till the end of the season even though his sale to Juventus has been officially confirmed. As for Vidal, he is pretty much a compulsion to tackle the Atletico Madrid’s physical game.
Riqui Puig also remains an option in midfield after his impressive performances against Athletic Bilbao and Celta Vigo, but will probably be benched to avoid fatigue.
Gerard Pique will be glad to start alongside Clement Lenglet in the heart of the defence who did not take part in the outing against Celta since he is one yellow card away from suspension. Samuel Umtiti’s shambolic display last week triggered a huge part of the Barcelona fanbase who were embarrassed to see how little effort the Frenchman put into the game.
Sergi Roberto returned to group training today, but might lack the match fitness to get the nod ahead of Nelson Semedo who has done a fairly good job dominating the right side. Jordi Alba will retain his spot on the left. This back four will be guarding Marc-Andre ter Stegen in goal, who has been one of Barca’s best players this season.
In attack, we will have the pleasure of witnessing Lionel Messi again, who will start his sixth game in a row without a single minute of rest. He will be joined by his forever companion Luis Suarez and former Atletico forward Antoine Griezmann.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Vidal, Busquets, Arthur; Messi, Suarez, Griezmann
Diego Simeone has been faced with a number of problems ahead of the trip to Barcelona. Captain Koke is suspended after picking up his fifth yellow card for the season. He will also be without the services of Sime Vrsaljko, Felipe and Mario Hermoso with all three facing injury concerns.
Stefan Savic and Jose Gimenez will continue in the heart of the defence, flanked by Renan Lodi on the left and Kieran Trippier on the right. That said, Lodi had a very average game against Alaves and could be replaced by Saul Niguez who is capable of playing in that role, and adds more defensive depth than the Brazilian.
Jan Oblak, who reached 150 appearances for Atletico Madrid on the weekend, will continue in goal. The Slovenian is on 14 clean sheets for the season and would be hoping to add to this amazing tally against Barcelona.
Saul will replace Koke on the left of the four-man midfield as Angel Correa continues on the right despite a sub-par performance against Alaves. Thomas Partey, too, will retain his spot in the double pivot but will be joined by Hector Herrera who adds a considerable amount of grit in the centre of the park.
Atletico were able to win the three points against Alaves thanks to Diego Costa’s goal which will be enough to warrant a start tomorrow. His record against Barcelona, however, is quite poor. The Spaniard has only one goal and one assist in 14 games in all competitions against the defending champions. He also has one red card to his name which he received last year, followed by a eight-game suspension.
Joao Felix was one of the best players for Atleti last week and is expected to start alongside Costa as the shadow striker. Marcos Llorente, too, is contention for this spot since Simeone started using him as a makeshift forward post-football resumption.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Oblak; Trippier, Gimenez, Savic Lodi; Correa, Partey, Herrera, Saul; Felix, Costa
Player to Watch
Despite a poor defensive season for Barcelona, Gerard Pique has managed to live up to his tag of one of the best defenders in the league and the continent this season as well. He has managed to keep eight clean sheets, averaging one tackle and four accurate long balls per game.
But more than that, the Spaniard has delivered some extremely clutch performances, like the away game against Borussia Dortmund, the home game against Real Madrid and the reverse fixture against Atletico Madrid among many others.
The Barcelona defence had done enough to earn four clean sheets in a row after football resumed, but it was all undone by Iago Aspas last week. That said, Pique still had a good game, and has been the key man for Barcelona’s defence for nearly a decade now. He will face tough competition against an in-form and motivated Atletico on Tuesday.
FC Barcelona 2-1 Atletico Madrid
Atletico Madrid have won four games on the bounce now, and will pose a tough challenge to Barcelona who seem to be drowning at the moment.
But, we cannot overlook Atletico’s poor record at Camp Nou. Their last victory away to Barcelona dates back to the 2005/06 season when a certain Fernardo Torres put two past Victor Valdes to set up a 3-1 win. Moreover, Barcelona are undefeated at Camp Nou since Real Betis won there in stunning fashion registering a 4-3 win in November, 2018.
Lionel Messi has scored twice and set up five other goals for his teammates in the five games Barcelona have played post resumption. He will be looking to add to this tally and his amazing tally against Atletico Madrid with another stellar performance on Tuesday and lead Barcelona to a win.