ATLETICO MADRID vs. BARCELONA
PREVIEW: Usually, whenever there is talk of a battle for first place in La Liga one immediately thinks of two clubs – Barcelona and Real Madrid. But this season there is one club that has arisen in an attempt to break up the hold that these two mega-clubs have had over the league. That would be the other club from Madrid, Atletico, tied with Barcelona atop the table (though Barcelona is the first-placed club based on a better goal difference). Defending champions Barcelona have been in many of these matches before and should have an advantage based on the big-match experience of their players. Even better news for the Catalan club is the return of Lionel Messi, who has missed the past eight weeks with a thigh muscle injury. But Atletico Madrid will have the luxury of having this match at home and Vicente Calderon Stadium should be rocking as the home fans will be pushing to see their club take a big step forward on its quest for a first league title since 1996.
MANAGERS: Atletico Madrid have been ascending as a club ever since Diego Simeone took over as manager. His club is a reflection of the Argentine when he was a player – physical and energetic. Since taking over, Atletico was won the Europa League Cup, the UEFA Super Cup (for the winner between the Champions League and Europa League champions), and the Copa del Rey (beating Real Madrid – for the first time in 25 matches – in the finals). Simeone led his club to a third place finish in La Liga last season and has it in even better position this season. Barcelona’s man in charge – Gerardo Martino – is also an Argentine. He has come in this season to replace Tito Vilanova. While we are sure that Martino is a good manager, and that his football philosophy (high-pressing, attacking football) fits with the way Barcelona wants to play, what really does he have to do other than not screw things up? Barcelona have been like a fine-tuned machine for years.
Advantage: Atletico Madrid
DEFENSE: Barcelona and Atletico Madrid rank first and second respectively in terms of goals allowed in La Liga. How is it that Barcelona has allowed just 12 goals? We don’t consider Barcelona is a great defensive club. We love Gerard Pique (not as much as we love his wife Shakira), but Carlos Puyol is at the twilight of his career, Javier Mascherano is a midfielder forced to play as a defender, and goalkeeper Victor Valdes has just been cleared to return following a long injury layoff (though he may depart this month). Credit Barcelona’s great possession game (tiki taka) for camouflaging their defensive flaws. Think about it, how can you attack Barcelona when you hardly have the ball? On the other side, we love Madrid’s defensive intensity and physicality to go along with their talent. Look for players like Juan Francisco Torres (Juanfran), Miranda, Diego Gordin and company to make this a very uncomfortable match for Barcelona’s attacking players. Also do not forget about goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois who’s on loan from Chelsea. The 21-year old Belgian may be the best young keeper in the world.
Advantage: Atletico Madrid
OFFENSE: Barcelona possesses one of the best offenses in Europe, along with Real Madrid, and Manchester City. Barcelona’s 53 goals scored lead La Liga, and that was without Lionel Messi for two months. But Atletico Madrid is not far behind with 47 goals. Most of the credit should go to Diego Costa who is second in La Liga with 19 goals, as well as ex-Barcelona striker David Villa (8 goals) and midfielder Raul Garcia (6 goals). Still, the advantage goes to Barcelona who will have Messi back for this match. Messi is a goal-scoring machine and in the Barcelona system seems almost unstoppable. Another concern is Neymar. The Brazilian had been brought along slowly but stepped up to provide the goals during Messi’s absence. He too has been declared fit for the Atletico Madrid showdown. Can’t go against an offense featuring two of the top five players in the world!
X-FACTORS: Barcelona’s experience has got to be their X-factor in this match. This may be the biggest match in recent history for Atletico Madrid. Could it be that some players might be overhyped for this one? Could some be nervous? Barcelona has been involved in countless showdowns both in La Liga and in Europe (Champions League) so we expect Martino’s boys to be more relaxed. Being at home is the X-factor for Atletico Madrid. Can you imagine what the atmosphere will be on Saturday afternoon? The energy of the home crowd could help spark their players to perhaps the biggest win in the club’s history.
PREDICTION: This has the making of a classic. The thing with Atletico Madrid is that the players won’t be content to just sit back and “park the bus” in front of their goal like most opponents do against Barcelona. They have the skills out wide to hit Barcelona on the counterattack. I also like the overall physical nature of the players, and that include striker Diego Costa. But how can you go against Barcelona with Messi, Neymar, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Pedro, and Cesc Fabregas? Tough one to call so we’re taking the safest choice.
Score: Atletico Madrid 1 (Costa) Barcelona 1 (Messi)
Who will win our European Football Match of the Week?
- Barcelona (67%, 2 Votes)
- Atletico Madrid (33%, 1 Votes)
- Draw (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 3