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La Liga: Atletico Madrid vs FC Barcelona: Match Preview

A preview of Barcelona's crucial La Liga fixture against Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

FC Barcelona are just one win away from reclaiming the La Liga title, and they will be aiming to claim that victory tomorrow in poetic fashion against the reigning champions, Atletico Madrid. Of course, Culés will remember how the Blaugrana squared off against Atleti last season with the La Liga title on the line only for Diego Simeone’s side to escape the Camp Nou with a draw to be named as champions; now, a year to the day after that result, a win behind enemy lines for Barça would seal the deal.

However, it goes without saying that a victory at the Calderon is far from being a foregone conclusion; FC Barcelona have won just one of their last four trips to Atleti, but Luis Enrique will be encouraged by our last visit – an enthralling 3-2 win in the Copa del Rey.

With a narrow 1-0 lead from the first-leg, Barça were under pressure and immediately fell behind to a goal from Fernando Torres. The crowd was baying for Blaugrana blood, but we held firm and displayed a lot of character to equalise not once, but twice, courtesy of Neymar and own-goal from Miranda. And when Neymar provided us with a winner, it was a signal that our luck had turned. Last season, Atletico had stood between us and glory; now, we were starting a streak of our own against them.

Three matches, three victories – Gerardo Martino might not have had Diego Simeone’s number, but Luis Enrique sure has. Tactically, he has got it right every single time and Simeone has been powerless to stop him. Whether he’s tried to go toe-to-toe with our star-studded squad, park the bus, or try a mixture of the two, Barça and Enrique have emerged victorious.

The secret to our success, typically, has been the quality of our frontline as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and especially Neymar have ran riot against the reigning champs; but with Suarez doubtful for tomorrow’s clash, Barça’s chances might have taken a hit. Certainly, the second-half of our clash with Bayern in midweek illustrated Suarez’ importance, but I suppose it is difficult to draw conclusions from a match that was already over.

Thankfully, we have a little more room for error this year as compared to last year; a draw, or even a loss wouldn’t be the end of the world. All we need is one win from our remaining two games and after last season, well, let’s say I’m willing to take the patient approach just so long as it still ends in glory.



Luis Suarez is injured, or maybe he isn’t; FC Barcelona have been keeping their cards close to their chest with the fitness of their Uruguayan striker. First, we’re told that he’s a doubt for tomorrow’s match, and then he’s working out the group in training. That would suggest a return is on the cards, but without medical clearance, Suarez won’t feature at all. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see on this one, but really, it’s our only concern headed into the match which naturally, is good news.

Ergo, we can probably send out our strongest possible line-up in a bid to get the win that would wrap up the title. That means a start for Claudio Bravo in goal with the Chilean on a streak of five successive clean sheets, his second longest streak of the season. From Jornada 1 to Jornada 8 of course, Barça didn’t concede a single goal to start the season off strong; now here we are at the end of the campaign with a similar streak under our belts. It just goes to show, under Luis Enrique our squad is at its best when it really matters.

In defense, Dani Alves should start on the right after scoring a sensational goal in training today, and he is likely to be joined in defense by Gerard Piqué, Javier Mascherano and Jordi Alba. The latter has promised, reportedly, to shave his head if Barça end the season lifting the UEFA Champions League trophy in Berlin – perhaps giving some Culés a reason to root for Juventus.

All joking aside, it’s our strongest backline and while Jeremy Mathieu might fancy his chances at earning a start tomorrow, Mascherano has been an ever-present against Atleti this season and it’s hard to see Piqué being dropped. There’ll be plenty of opportunity for the Frenchman, and our other fringe defenders next week once the title is secured when we host Deportivo La Coruna.

In midfield, Sergio Busquets should start at pivote and I expect that he will be supported by Ivan Rakitić and Andrés Iniesta. Xavi Hernández is a lock to start next week against Deportivo given that it may be his final La Liga match at the Camp Nou, but he is a candidate to come off the bench, either to help us play out a win, or perhaps make the difference in a close-fought encounter. Don’t count out Rafinha either, but I’d be surprised if we saw him challenging Iniesta or Rakitić for a start.

Then, the attack selects itself irrespective of Suarez’ status. Lionel Messi and Neymar will start, that much is guaranteed and alone could be enough to secure victory. Messi is the greatest player of all-time after all, and Neymar has scored 11 goals in his last 10 appearances, or 37 across the course of the campaign. They have the talent to put Atleti to the sword even without Suarez, but it would of course be an easier ask with him in the line-up.

However, I don’t want us to risk his fitness if there are any doubts; we need him to be fit for the two finals and can make do until he is 100% if there’s even the smallest chance of a relapse. You never know, Pedro might have another chilena up his sleeve...


The title might be out of reach for Diego Simeone’s side but that doesn’t mean that they will be any less disciplined, any less focused and any less intent on claiming a victory tomorrow. After Real Madrid dropped points last weekend, Atleti know that their actions this weekend won’t really help out their rivals so there’s less talk of them "throwing the game" than there was last week, and in my opinion that’s a good thing. We always want to see teams striving for victory, and yes, neither side would have wanted Real to win the title, but there’s never an excuse for giving less than 100%.

The good news for the hosts is that Diego Godin is back and in the squad for tomorrow’s match, although Portuguese midfielder Tiago is out, suspended after he picked up his 5th yellow card of the season last week against Levante. No matter who starts though, we know what to expect from Atleti. The question is: will we be up to the challenge?


Barcelona: WWWWW

Atletico: WLWWDD


Atletico Madrid 2-3 FC Barcelona – 28th January 2015 – Copa del Rey

A brace from Neymar stole the show and the win, as the Brazilian was at his sensational best to inspire the Blaugrana to their first victory at the Calderon in four attempts.


Barcelona (4-3-3): Bravo; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Rakitić, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Neymar

Atletico (4-2-2-2): Moya; Juanfran, Godin, Miranda, Siqueira; Gabi, Suarez, Koke, Arda; Torres, Griezmann


If Suarez starts and is firing on all cylinders, we win 2-1 – but if he doesn’t, I see us drawing instead. Officially though, I’m sticking with 2-1 Barça.

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