(For US viewers: Atletico Madrid v. Barcelona will be shown LIVE on Saturday, January 11th at 2pm EST on beINSPORT)
For the first time in recent history, there’s a fixture on the La Liga schedule worth watching other than ‘El Clasico’. Atletico Madrid v. Barcelona won’t rival the global television ratings produced by the bi-annual El Clasicos, but this game will still pull in a massive viewing audience from hardcore football fans from inside and outside of Spain.
Following their respective league wins on Saturday and Sunday, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona will finally lock horns at the Vicente Calderón Stadium next Saturday in a match that will determine first place in La Liga. This is the match which experts, as well as Spanish football fans, have pointed towards since very early in the Primera Division schedule.
Both clubs currently sit on top of La Liga after accumulating 49 points, with Barcelona holding a narrow goal difference advantage over the Atleti. Each team is on course to amass over 100 points in the Spanish Primera Division and have advanced to the Last 16 of the Champions League as their respective group winners; the Atleti are one of only three teams to go through the group stages undefeated.
Only an away goal separated the two clubs when they met in August during the Spanish Super Cup. The signs that this season in La Liga was going to be different were seen early on as David Villa’s volley put Atletico on top in the 12th minute. But Brazilian superstar Neymar scored with a 66th minute header which salvaged a crucial draw for Barcelona in the first leg. The clubs then battled to a nil-nil draw at the Camp Nou, which was enough to hand Barcelona their eleventh Spanish Super Cup.
Barcelona has been ‘the’ club in Spain for close to a decade; and arguably the best club in Europe over that time. Since 2004-2005, the Catalan club has won six La Liga titles, two Copa del Rey cups and three Champions League titles.
But the ‘way’ Barcelona plays is more important than winning trophies in the minds of many of their supporters…as crazy as that may sound to people outside of the Catalan club. For many of them, Barcelona is a different kind of club; it’s about ‘how’ it’s done.
When Pep Guardiola was promoted to first team manager from Barcelona’s B-team in 2008, the club had just finished eighteen points behind Real Madrid in La Liga. The manager immediately began to mold the squad into the one he had envisioned. Guardiola let go of three big name players: Ronaldinho, Deco, Samuel Eto’o.
The manager already had Lionel Messi, Xavi and Iniesta in the squad; then Guardiola brought in Gerard Pique, Dani Alves and promoted Sergio Busquets from the Catalan club’s B-team. How Guardiola envisioned and ultimately utilized those players would eventually have a huge impact on Barcelona and European football’s history.
Guardiola’s philosophy was an extension of the one founded by legendary European footballer and manager, Johan Cruyff. He blended a high pressing style with short passing and movement; working the ball through various channels and maintaining possession; or “tiki-taka”. But whatever you choose to call it, the work ethic and tactical intelligence Guardiola brought to Barcelona was the key to sculpting one of the greatest club sides ever witnessed.