The thrilling La Liga title race could be set for another twist when Barcelona welcome Atletico Madrid at Camp Nou on Saturday.
The battle for supremacy in Spain’s top-flight is going right down the wire, with the top three teams – Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Barcelona – all separated by just two points. On Saturday, yet another chapter of this exciting title race will unfold, when Barcelona play hosts to Atletico Madrid at Camp Nou.
Barcelona have made giant strides under the tutelage of Ronald Koeman, and have been by far the most entertaining team in La Liga this season. However, the Blaugrana have also been prone to the odd underwhelming performance, as was most recently evident against Granada. While Ronald Koeman’s men have the third best record at home, they also have dropped points in six of their 17 at Camp Nou.
Atletico Madrid were, for months, the pace-setters in La Liga, with their lead at the top of the table once even going into double figures. However, having managed to win just seven of their last 14 league games, their gap on top has been trimmed to just two points. However, their fortunes still remain firmly in their hands and with the best defensive record in the top-flight, Diego Simeone & co. will fancy their chances.
The reverse fixture, played at the Wanda Metropolitano back in November, saw Atletico Madrid eke out a narrow 1-0 win over Barcelona, with Yannick Carrasco scoring the only goal in the game. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) May 7, 2021
Ronald Koeman has been handed a boost on the team news front ahead of the visit of Atletico Madrid. On Saturday, the Barcelona manager will be bereft of the services of two first-team players, with Philippe Coutinho (knee) and Ansu Fati, who has undergone an arthroscopy on his left knee this week, the only players unavailable.
The good news, though, is the return of Martin Braithwaite to the squad, with the Dane now adding to Koeman’s options in attack. Braithwaite, though, has no chance of making the starting lineup and will be an option on the bench alongside Ousmane Dembele and Francisco Trincao, with Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann forming the strike partnership for Barcelona.
The midfield trifecta of Frenkie de Jong, Pedri and Sergio Busquets pick themselves and will hold the key for Barcelona against Atletico Madrid. Busquets, who will receive defensive support from de Jong and Pedri, will aim to keep a lid on the tricky Marcos Llorente, while de Jong and Pedri will also be in-charge of providing the creative impetus higher up the pitch by linking up with Messi.
At the back, the key decision will be the choice between Ronald Araujo and Oscar Mingueza, with the former getting the nod to partner Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet in the three-man central defensive unit. Sergino Dest and Jordi Alba ought to feature as the two wing-backs while there is no looking past Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the Barcelona goal.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): ter Stegen; Araujo, Pique, Lenglet; Dest, de Jong, Busquets, Pedri, Alba; Messi, Griezmann
Unlike his counterpart in the Barcelona dugout, Diego Simeone does not have any fitness issues whatsoever to deal with ahead of the trip to Camp Nou. In fact, on Saturday, the Atletico Madrid boss will have a full-strength squad at his disposal, with Renan Lodi available again.
Lodi, though, is likely to miss out from the back three, where Stefan Savic, Jose Maria Gimenez and Mario Hermoso are likely to be favoured by Simeone. The three centre-backs will provide cover to Jan Oblak, who will be making his 300th appearance between the sticks for Atletico Madrid.
SQUAD 🔴⚪ pic.twitter.com/uWdnvlH6N0
— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) May 7, 2021
Kieran Trippier and Yannick Carrasco pick themselves as the wing-backs, with Trippier essentially playing as a right-back during the defensive phases, when Los Rojiblancos will sit in the shape of a 4-4-2.
Up ahead in midfield, Koke will sit at the base of the three-man unit, with Marcos Llorente and Thomas Lemar getting the nod ahead of Geoffrey Kondogbia, Lucas Torreira, Hector Herrera and Saul Niguez, who has recently been linked with a move to Barcelona.
Llorente and Lemar will provide defensive support to Koke while also giving the forward thrust from the middle of the park, which will enable them to link up with the two Atletico Madrid strikers – the in-form Angel Correa and former Barcelona star Luis Suarez.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Oblak; Savic, Gimenez, Hermoso; Trippier, Llorente, Koke, Lemar, Carrasco; Correa, Suarez
- Barcelona have lost just one of their last 21 La Liga games against Atletico Madrid (W14 D6), a 1-0 defeat in the reverse fixture. In fact, Atletico Madrid have failed to win any of their last 14 away league games versus Barcelona (D4 L10), their longest current winless run on the road against any La Liga side.
- Barcelona have collected a league-high 49 points in 2021 (W16 D1 L2), eight more than Atletico Madrid during this period (41 – W12 D5 L3).
- Atletico Madrid conceded the fewest goals in La Liga (22) this season, whereas Barcelona are the side that have found the back of the net the most times (80).
- Barcelona have the best offensive home record in La Liga (43 goals scored), while Atletico Madrid have the best defensive record on the road (13 goals conceded).
- Only against Sevilla (38 goals in 43 appearances) does Lionel Messi have a better record in all competitions than versus Atletico Madrid (32 in 42 outings).
Player to Watch
In what has proven to be a promising campaign for Barcelona, it is Lionel Messi who has once again led by example. While he has received enormous support from Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele at different stages of the season, no Barcelona player has been as consistent as the captain fantastic.
The Argentine wizard was in fine touch last time out against Valencia, scoring a match-winning brace, which has taken his tally in La Liga to 28 for the season. The focus will now turn towards extending his fabulous record against Atletico Madrid, having netted 26 league goals versus the Colchoneros. Will Messi deliver the goods in Barcelona’s most important game of the season?
Barcelona 1-o Atletico Madrid
Both sides come into the game knowing a win will put them in the driver’s seat in the La Liga title race, provided Sevilla can take some points off Real Madrid on Sunday. Both Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are in a situation where they have their fortunes in their own hands, but Diego Simeone knows that with the Blaugrana breathing down his side’s neck, even one misstep can be harmful.
In the end, it should essentially prove to be the battle between the in-form Barcelona attack and the indomitable Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak. With Messi in inspired touch, the hosts should edge this contest by the slightest of margins. With that in mind, The Hard Tackle predicts a 1-0 win for Ronald Koeman & co.