No matter which way you look at it, it's safe to say that FC Barcelona's start to the 2015/16 season has been a little underwhelming. Their pre-season preparations were fraught with travel and the accompanying jetlag, while a combination of the Copa America and player injuries ensured that Luis Enrique started the campaign with a number of his most key personnel. As a consequence, Barcelona's sluggish squad only narrowly avoided giving up a four-goal lead against Sevilla FC in the UEFA Super Cup, before an incisive performance from Athletic Bilbao left the Blaugrana stunned in the Spanish Supercopa.
The intensity, fitness and sharpness of their opposition ultimately proved to be too much for Barcelona to contend with and that trend has continued into the opening two matches of the La Liga season. Both Athletic Bilbao and Malaga CF both came close to stealing a share of the spoils in their matches with the reigning champions, while from a Catalan perspective, the two 1-0 wins were met with as much apprehension as celebration.
Lionel Messi is yet to score or register an assist in two matches (!), while Neymar is still working his way back to match fitness after his bout of the mumps. Heck, we've reached a stage where Thomas Vermaelen has been the club's standout performer -- a fact that screams of early season shenanigans; certainly, this is far from the ideal time to be taking on a title rival, especially when that rival in question is Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid.
Rewind a few years and the mere mention of Atleti was enough to elicit a chortle from most La Liga fans; they were soft at the back and repeatedly found lacking in the big matches but fast-forward to the present day, and Atleti are perhaps one of the most feared teams in world football. The current iteration of Atletico are a complete antithesis of their previous self -- disciplined...intense...winners.
A trip to the Vicente Calderon fills us with dread at the best of times, but when we're talking about a Barcelona that are 50 or 60%, it's extra disconcerting.
William Hill is the best site for Barça bets and their odds consider the Blaugrana to be narrow favourites for Saturday's mouth-watering showdown; although Cules would be wise to temper their expectations. Barcelona have won just two of their last five visits to the Calderon and Atletico appear to be in imperious form -- at least that's if their 3-0 demolition of Sevilla FC at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan is anything to go by.
The likes of Koke, Antoine Griezmann and Gabi remain as dependable as ever, while the addition of Jackson Martinez appears to be paying dividends. Both sides enter the match with a 100% record -- Barcelona will have to be at their very best to maintain theirs into Jornada 4...