La Liga comes back spectacularly after the end of the international Break as Barcelona and Atletico Madrid get ready to lock horns at the Wanda Metropolitano.

To the joy of football fans around the world, the horror of the international break has finally ended, with club football coming back this weekend. With it comes back the La Liga, with some spectacular games like Villarreal vs Real Madrid, Sevilla vs Celta Vigo, Athletic Bilbao vs Real Betis ready for the grill. Headlining all of these, however, is Atletico Madrid vs Barcelona at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Atletico, led by Joao Felix and Luis Suarez, seem to have finally found a balance on the offensive end of the pitch, while they continue to thrive defensively as always. The forward line, coupled with the dynamism of Marcos Llorente, has scored 17 goals, only three behind leaders Real Sociedad, who have played two games more.

Barcelona, meanwhile, are under a huge transitional phase, with Ronald Koeman leading the charge from the sidelines. The Dutchman is yet to find the perfect starting XI, and as a result of constant experiments, Barça sit 8th in the league, with just three wins out of seven games. In their last encounter, the Catalans faced Real Betis scoring five goals for the first time since the end of last season, winning 5-2.

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In their last meeting, Barcelona and Atletico were a subject to a game riddled with refereeing controversies. The game saw three penalties as the game ended 2-2 courtesy of a brace from Saul Niguez. It also featured a certain midfield masterclass from Riqui Puig, who is yet to experience more game time than the 11 minutes he got vs Deportivo Alaves.

Ahead of this blockbuster encounter coming our way from the Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.

Team News & Tactics

Atletico Madrid

Diego Simeone, despite leading a solid team on the pitch faces a squad riddled with injuries and absences. Topping this list is the Luis Suarez, the league’s joint second-highest top scorer with five goals. The forward was tested positive for COVID-19 during the international break and will miss the game against his former team. He joins Lucas Torreira, Hector Herrera, Sime Vrsaljko, Diego Costa, and Stefan Savic on the sidelines.

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Angel Correa, naturally a winger by trait, will be used as a central striker, in Suarez’s absence. He should be partnered by the Portuguese forward Joao Felix who is in red-hot form.

The duo will be supplemented by Marcos Llorente, who will start in the right-midfield capacity as part of the midfield quartet. Yannick Carrasco caused a bunch of problems for Barcelona last time, winning two penalties for his team, and is expected to start in the left-midfield role. Llorente and Carrasco will be flanking the double pivot of Saul Niguez and Koke.

Savic is a doubt for the game and will be replaced by Felipe in the starting XI, partnering Jose Gimenez at the heart of the defence. The very versatile Mario Hermoso has been playing as a left-back this season and will start in that role, hoping to deal with the threat Ousmane Dembele poses on that flank. Kieran Trippier will be on the opposite side of the back-four which will guard Jan Oblak.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Oblak; Trippier, Felipe, Gimenez, Hermoso; Llorente, Koke, Saul, Carrasco; Felix, Correa

Barcelona

Much like his counterpart on the opposition dugout, Ronald Koeman will have to cater to several injuries in his squad but misses no player due to Coronavirus. Barcelona will be without Ansu Fati, who picked up an injury against Real Betis and is ruled out for four months, at least. Sergio Busquets, too, misses out after an injury to the knee ruled him out, joining Samuel Umtiti and Ronald Araujo on the sidelines.

Fati is expected to be replaced by Pedri on the left-wing, with the rest of the front-four remaining pretty much the same for the encounter against Atletico. Ousmane Dembele will feature on the opposite side while Antoine Griezmann leads the line.

None other than Lionel Messi will complete the puzzle of the frontline, playing in the No.10 position. He will constantly trade places with Griezmann essentially making a fluid 4-2-4 on the offensive front while structuring as a 4-4-2 in the defence.

With Busquets out, it leaves a clear pathway for Miralem Pjanic to start in the centre of the park, alongside one of Koeman’s favourites Frenkie de Jong. Barcelona have conceded just two goals when this duo has started together while scoring nine goals.

Gerard Pique, who was free of any international duty, will return to the side and marshal the backline, starting alongside Clement Lenglet, who looks like a shadow of his former self right now. Sergino Dest is expected to be preferred over Sergi Roberto at right-back, while Jordi Alba starts at left-back. This backline will screen Marc-Andre ter Stegen in goal, who looks solid as ever since returning from injury.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): ter Stegen; Dest, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Pjanic, de Jong; Dembele, Messi, Pedri; Griezmann

Key Stats

  • Atlético Madrid are undefeated in their last 23 La Liga games, their longest unbeaten run in the competition and the longest current such streak in Europe’s top five leagues.
  • Atletico Madrid are among six of the only unbeaten teams this season in the top five leagues.
  • Barcelona have only won one of their last five La Liga games, which came in their most recent fixture against Real Betis (D2 L2).
  • In 17 appearances, Lionel Messi has scored 12 goals against Atlético.
  • Diego Simeone has failed to beat Barça in 17 La Liga games, losing 11 times and drawing six.

Player to Watch

Joao Felix

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There are several in-form players currently in Atletico Madrid’s squad, with the likes of Jose Gimenez, Marcos Llorente, Kieran Trippier all in fine nick. But none of them top prodigy Joao Felix, who has – quite frankly – been on fire.

After an underwhelming first season under Diego Simeone, the Golden Boy award winner has found his feet in the Spanish capital, scoring five goals this season in the league while giving two assists, equalling his overall tally for last season in 20 fewer appearances.

He will be at the centre of everything Atleti do on Saturday, and it will not be surprising to see him give Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet a run for their money.

Prediction

Atletico Madrid 2-1 Barcelona

This seems like a hard game for Barcelona, who come into this fixture yet to find their best-attacking quartet, let alone their best starting XI. Ronald Koeman’s unbalanced team, while convincing in the attack, is constantly let down by poor defensive prowess.

Atletico Madrid, who are stable on both ends this season, do not look like conceding more than a goal to this Barcelona team. As it stands, despite Luis Suarez being absent, everything points towards Diego Simeone getting his first victory against Barcelona in the league.

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