FC Barcelona (4th, 31pts) vs Atlético Madrid (3rd, 31pts)
Competition/Round: 2023-24 La Liga, Matchday 15
Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Gavi, Marc-André ter Stegen (out)
Atlético Outs & Doubts: Thomas Lemar, Vitolo, Pablo Barrios (out), Memphis Depay (doubt)
Date/Time: Sunday, December 3, 2023, 9pm CET/WAT (Barcelona & Nigeria), 8pm GMT (UK), 3pm ET, 12pm PT (USA), 1.30am IST (India, Monday)
Venue: Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys, Montjuïc, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
Referee: José María Sánchez Martínez
VAR: Alejandro José Hernández Hernández
How to watch on TV: ESPN Deportes (USA), ITV 4, Viaplay Sports 1 (UK), SuperSport (Nigeria), Movistar LaLiga (Spain), others
Following a huge win over FC Porto to guarantee a spot in the Champions League knockout stages, Barcelona turn their attentions back to La Liga for a gigantic match against Top 4 rivals Atlético Madrid at the Montjuïc Olympic Stadium on Sunday Night Fútbol.
Both teams come into this one on 31 points and seven points behind leaders Real Madrid and Girona, and it’s safe to say both Barça and Atleti really need a win to keep pace with the two at the top of the table. The Colchoneros have the luxury of having a game in hand, however, so this is an even bigger game for the home team.
Barça face Girona a week from Sunday in another huge clash against a title contender, and if the Blaugrana lose both games it would take a historic effort to turn around a double-digit deficit so close to Christmas and come back to win the league. Simply put, the chances of a successful title defense are on the line over the next eight days, and the champions cannot afford a slip-up.
They get to play both games at home, where they’ve been strong this season and where they just played an excellent game against Porto in a must-win situation. Atlético play a similar style to Porto’s but have better players, and are much better equipped to punish Barça’s defensive shortcomings if the Blaugrana make the same mistakes at the back that we saw in midweek.
Diego Simeone has embraced a three at the back formation that has evolved Atlético’s once predictable 4-4-2 and has added more possession and attacking flair to what will continue to be a very well-organized defense. The midfield is tasked with more than just destroying opposition attacks and is crucial in helping Atlético create chances and win games, and the two wing-backs have the freedom to attack and provide numbers in the final third.
But the true star of the team is Antoine Griezmann, who has been the best player in La Liga this season — and it’s not even close. The Frenchman has rediscovered his best form since moving back to Atlético from Barça last year, and has full freedom to move around the attacking half and hurt teams with and without the ball.
Griezmann has perfected every part of his game and is an absolute menace who can link up with teammates and make timely runs into the box to receive passes in behind defenders. His partnership with Álvaro Morata has been nearly unstoppable, and Atlético have a real chance to win literally everything this season if Griezmann maintains the same level.
This is undoubtedly the best version of Simeone’s Atlético — especially in attack — that Barça have faced in at least half a decade. They are legitimately scary and capable of both winning a 4-3 shootout or go back in time and win 1-0 with 25% possession. They are comfortable playing any style, and have a true match-winner in Griezmann.
The margin for error for Xavi Hernández and his players does not exist in this game, and it’ll take Barça’s very best to get all three points from this one.
Atlético are legit. Barça have to prove they are too. This should be all kinds of fun.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Peña; Araujo, Kounde, Iñigo, Cancelo; Pedri, De Jong, Gündogan; Raphinha, Lewandowski, Félix
Atlético (3-5-2): Oblak; Giménez, Witsel, Hermoso; Molina, De Paul, Koke, Saúl, Lino; Griezmann, Morata
This one has all the makings of a highly competitive Top 4 clash with really good football from both teams and no one able to separate themselves in the end: 2-2 draw.