La Liga: FC Barcelona vs Atletico Madrid: Match Preview

The colour of the stripes may have changed, but Falcao is still a huge threat

 

In the last four games, FC Barcelona has ventured from one extreme to the next. Starting the run with an implosion of epic proportions against Real Sociedad, the Blaugrana have decimated Osasuna, dominated AC Milan before conceding a late equaliser and just two days ago were "found out" defensively against Valencia. So...how are you feeling about Barcelona’s chances against Atletico Madrid?

Traditionally, Los Rojiblancos serve as the bogey team for the Catalans, and in recent years, the other capital club has caused problem after problem for Barca’s defence. Kun Aguero, Diego Forlan; just two names that strike fear into any defender’s heart, and luckily enough, two names that now ply their trade outside of La Liga. Saturday will not be a repeat of the Kun Aguero show a la March 2008, but instead Barcelona has to deal with a new threat...

…Radamel Falcao. Sharing the surname of a famous futsal player, and named after the 1980’s star of Brazil and AS Roma, he too has a name to strike fear into the opposition. Although to solely worry about the name would be a grave mistake.

The Colombian started his career in Argentina with River Plate, and since then, his rise has been fairly meteoric. A steadily increasing strike-rate coupled with fewer injuries has ensured that Falcao can showcase his abilities, and boy, this guy can play football.

Last season he struck 38 times in 42 matches, including a record-breaking haul of 17 goals in the UEFA Europa League, and already netted five goals, in his last two outings for Atletico. While Lionel Messi and Cesc Fabregas are in the form of their careers, the same can be said of the versatile Colombian.

Personally, I have always been a fan of Falcao, stretching back to his days at River Plate with Alexis Sanchez and Diego Buonanotte, and Saturday could prove to be the biggest game of his career.

That being said, he may have to face off with a full-strength Barcelona defence as Gerard Pique is nearing ever closer to a return. Carles Puyol may not be at 100%, but his presence is a calming influence on his colleagues, maybe the return of the centre-back duo will eliminate the carelessness that has became evident in the past few matches?

I anticipate a return to the 4-3-3 after the failed experiment on Wednesday, and with any luck, this will entail a return for the MVP trio, who have not played together in the league since the 2010/11 campaign. Needless to say, everyone should be excited by that prospect, especially with an uber-creative midfield of Xavi, Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Busquets behind them.

One of the many problems from the match at the Mestalla was the ball retention. Valencia did very well to pressurize Barcelona, almost playing them at their own game. With many passes going astray, Lionel Messi in particular was forced into making silly runs to create chances and surprisingly, there was a noticeable lack of movement.

When Xavi got on the ball, there were few options, and Seydou Keita in particular was guilty of hiding behind a Valencia player so as not to receive the ball. Whether it was down to fatigue, lack of motivation, or the sheer mental effects of the Valencia pressing I cannot specify, but it was unacceptable.

Maybe a little more credit should go to Valencia and Unai Emery in particular; on the other hand, it was still down to the inadequate movement displayed by the Blaugrana that Valencia did not have to defend their goal, and could focus on attacking the Barca weaknesses.

On the Atleti side of things Falcao is easily the most dangerous player, though Diego has impressed since his loan signing from Wolfsburg, along with Eduardo Salvio (previously of Lanus) and Adrian Lopez. The latter was always going to be a steal from relegated Deportivo La Coruna. Sure, there is no Kun Aguero, but this side is infinitely better than last season, and the Blaugrana will have to be at their best to ensure victory.

How confident do you feel now? I couldn’t blame you if you felt a little apprehensive about this match, but a quick glance at the games Barcelona have played at the Camp Nou this season:

Won: 5-0 vs Napoli

Won: 5-0 vs Villarreal

Draw: 2-2 vs AC Milan

Won: 8-0 vs Osasuna

I’m not ready to give up yet...unless Fontas plays ;)

 

Match Prediction:

Barcelona to win 3-1, with goals from Lionel Messi (2) and David Villa. Sorry Cesc, but Falcao is the only new signing scoring this weekend.

 

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