Since Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid side established themselves as a major force in world football, matches against the capital club and Barcelona have always been absorbing.
It’s the European game’s equivalent of the unstoppable force against the immovable object. The Catalans, with arguably the finest attack ever assembled in domestic football, up against one of the most aggressive and intelligent defensive setups put together.
Given Atletico now represent a serious challenge to Barcelona and Real Madrid in the chase for the La Liga title, it’s also a fixture that carries enormous significance. Such are the standards this trio of teams set, any loss of points represents a major blow to their championship hopes, especially given Real are currently on a 16-match winning streak in the league.
So the contest at the Camp Nou on Wednesday will be fiercely contested, with both sides having already slipped up in the first four rounds of the season. A loss for either, even at such an early point, would make them big outsiders for La Liga glory given the deficit that’d have to be clawed back over the coming months.
The pattern of these games have been similar for a long time, with Atletico likely to entrench themselves in defensive shape, soak up Barcelona’s probing attacking play and spring on the counter attack. But the intricacies in each individual fixture make for an absorbing watch.
It’s the first enormous fixture of the 2016-17 La Liga season and given Atletico eliminated Barcelona from the Champions League last season, the Catalans will have a score to settle. Those kinds of high-intensity occasions are what this Madrid side, and especially their manager Simeone, tend to relish.
Where to find the game on TV and streaming:
Date: Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Time: 4 p.m. (ET), 1 p.m. (PT)
TV Info: beIN Sports USA and beIN SPORTS en Español
Streaming Info: fuboTV (free 24-hour trial)
After the shock loss to Alaves in Week 3, Barcelona have got Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez back into the team and, unsurprisingly, they’re back to winning ways once again.
Indeed, the 5-1 triumph at Leganes on Saturday was the second in the space of four days; that’s 12 goals in the last two matches for the Blaugrana, with the two aforementioned stars adding a vital incision to their attacking play. It’s important that’s preserved against Atletico.
Barcelona have rotated their XI in recent contests, although you sense Enrique will have a team at full strength out here. The Blaugrana bolstered their squad tremendously in the summer, although in terms of the first team, it’s only Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Sergi Roberto that’ll step in compared to last season’s best side.
Patience will obviously be key in this one, as Atletico can be testing to break through, even for an attacking setup packed with quality such as Barca’s. In this fixture in 2015-16, the capital side defended resolutely for nine men at times and were eventually a little unlucky to lose 2-1.
Atletico had an edge over Barca when the two met in the Champions League late last term, although it was a Blaugrana side that looked jaded at the end of the campaign. With players refreshed and rotated at this early stage, the hosts will feel capable of posing a more pertinent attacking threat.
Expect a raucous atmosphere at the Camp Nou for the first marquee clash of the campaign and for Barcelona to throw absolutely everything at one of their two rivals for the championship.
After consecutive draws to start the campaign, Atletico have looked a little more like themselves again in recent outings.
Simeone recruited well in the off-season, although he’s often faced a challenge when trying to integrate new attacking players. The likes of Kevin Gamerio and Nicolas Gaitan will add something to the final third, although including them in the starting XI and maintaining the pragmatism that’s taken this team so far will be a fine balancing act.
There have been signs Simeone has done that lately. As you’d expect, Atletico have been robust at the back, with just one goal conceded in La Liga so far. But they’ve also netted nine in their last two, with Antoine Griezmann rediscovering the form that made him such a feared forward last term and at the European Championships.
While there may be an intent from Simeone to shift the emphasis of the side a little in the weeks to come, for this one you suspect he’ll revert to a tried and tested formula. Gaitan made his first league start against Celta following his summer move from Benfica, although the adaptability of Saul Niguez will most likely be utilised on the right flank.
The back four and front two will pick themselves for this one, although the makeup of the rest of the midfield will be fascinating. Koke’s position in particular, having played across the pitch already this term, should make for an interesting tactical tussle, with a strong presence in the middle of the field naturally so important against Barca.
Gameiro, who came close to joining Barcelona in the summer, and Griezmann will be a major threat on the counter-attack and will work hard to harry their illustrious opponents. Should Atletico hold firm at the back, that pairing has the attacking potency to win this one for the visitors.
Key Battle – Kevin Gameiro and Antoine Griezmann vs. Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano
Coping with Messi, Neymar and Suarez will be a huge challenge for Atletico, although in the past Simeone has found a way of stifling their impact. What will be key is just how Atletico’s new front two fares in tandem against a quality opponent for the first time.
Barcelona’s defensive pairing of Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano will be in for a tough evening. Both of the French forwards are excellent on the counter and make such clever movements off the ball. Given how Barca push forward and open the game up, this two-on-two tussle could materialize on a few occasions.
While Fernando Torres has a fine record against Barcelona, Gameiro brings so much more to the attack after his switch from Sevilla. He’s a powerful runner, links up play well and should the ball drop to him in the box, is a dead-eye finisher. Blend those traits with Griezmann’s surges from deep, any defense will be troubled.
Pique and Mascherano have developed excellently as a defensive pair down the years and dealt with some of the best attackers in the world. If they limit the impact the Atletico pair have on the game, Barcelona should be able to sustain enough pressure to get over the line.
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