FC Barcelona (5th, 35pts) vs Atlético Madrid (4th, 36pts)*
*Points and positions at the time of writing on Saturday
Competition/Round: 2021-22 La Liga, Matchday 23
Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Ansu Fati, Memphis Depay, Eric García, Clément Lenglet, Alejandro Balde, Sergi Roberto, Samuel Umtiti (out)
Atlético Outs & Doubts: Antoine Griezmann, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Marcos Llorente (out)
Date/Time: Sunday, February 6, 2022, 4.15pm CET/WAT (Barcelona & Nigeria), 3.15pm GMT (UK), 10.15am ET, 7.15am PT (USA), 8.45pm IST (India)
Venue: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
Referee: Jesús Gil Manzano
VAR: Ignacio Iglesias Villanueva
How to watch on TV: Not Available (USA), TSN 3 (Canada), LaLigaTV (UK), SuperSport (Nigeria), MTV (India), Movistar LaLiga (Spain), others
Following a two-week international break in which most of the squad stayed in Catalonia to train together, Barcelona return to action in La Liga for a giant Top 4 six-pointer as they welcome defending champions Atlético Madrid to the Greatest Stadium on Earth in what will be Barça’s first game at Camp Nou in 2022.
When these two teams played exactly four months ago at the Wanda Metropolitano, Atlético quite simply wiped the floor with Barça and won with scary ease. The Blaugrana were still mismanaged by Ronald Koeman then, and Atleti looked like a force ready to defend their title. But how times have changed on both sides.
Barça haven’t exactly been world-beaters ever since Xavi Hernández took over, but the improvement is undeniable in the quality of football and the fighting spirit in the squad. Some important reinforcements came in January, and Barça begin a crucial February confident in their ability to finish in the Top 4 in the league and maybe win the Europa League if they can beat a great Napoli team and get lucky in the draw.
Atlético have been a mess lately, with injuries, Covid absences and inconsistent performances leading to some very strange results and virtually no chance to catch up to Real Madrid in the title race. Diego Simeone made some big investments in the summer and has a stacked squad, but the Colchoneros have struggled all season to translate all the talent into good football and consistent results.
If I told you right after that early October night in Madrid that Barça would arrive at this Sunday’s match with a legitimate chance to beat Atlético and be in the Top 4 for the first time since September, you would think I’m crazy. But that is indeed the case, and Barça have a huge chance to beat a direct Top 4 rival and make a serious statement about their improvement and their ambitions for the rest of the season.
They also have more firepower up front now, with Ferran Torres hitting the ground running and both Adama Traoré and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ready to contribute as well. The rebuild is obviously still a long process and the team is far away from true contention, but Atlético are there for the taking and Barça absolutely can win on Sunday if they play their best game.
This should be fun. Let’s dance.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Alves, Araujo, Piqué, Alba; F. De Jong, Busquets, Pedri; Adama, Ferran, Gavi
Atlético (4-4-2): Oblak; Wass, Giménez, Savic, Hermoso; Carrasco, De Paul, Koke, Lemar; Correa, Suárez
The game wasn’t even competitive when they met four months ago, but both teams are different now and I expect a close, hard-fought game, perhaps lacking some quality but not intensity: 2-2 draw, and the type of result both teams will be happy with because of the performances.