Barcelona continue their busy schedule to start the new year with one of the toughest games of the season as they travel to the Spanish capital to face Atlético Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano on Sunday in the marquee game of the La Liga weekend.
Barça will most likely start the game in second place in the table if Real Madrid don’t lose to Villarreal on Saturday, so the Blaugrana must look for a win against Diego Simeone’s side. Atlético have had an inconsistent season and while they aren’t title contenders at this point, they will get closer to the two top teams with three points and could start dreaming big.
These are always very tough battles that require Barça to be at their best, and here’s how we think they’ll line up on Sunday night in Madrid.
After rotating his squad against Intercity in the Copa del Rey, Xavi Hernández will go back to his starters for this one. At the back, one of his starters is out as Jordi Alba was sent off against Espanyol and misses out through suspension. The left-back role should go to Alejandro Balde, but Marcos Alonso still remains a main option for Xavi despite his mostly poor performances since joining the club.
Sergi Roberto will be looking for some consistency at right-back after playing well there recently, and Andreas Christensen will need a partner in the middle. It could be Alonso with Balde at left-back, but Jules Kounde is back in the fold and should start getting a long run of games as an actual center-back. Ronald Araujo played 60 minutes in midweek and doesn’t seem ready to start twice in four days, so the Uruguayan will probably watch this one from the bench.
Sergio Busquets played all 120 minutes in the Cup on Wednesday, which suggests the captain won’t be starting this one and Xavi will stick with Frenkie De Jong as the defensive midfielder for now. The Dutchman didn’t even play against Intercity, and it’s safe to assume he’ll start in Madrid.
Pedri was rested for the Cup trip and will return to the lineup in this one, and if Busquets is indeed on the bench then the third spot in the middle will go to Gavi, who is fully recovered from a knock suffered against Espanyol and is ready to go.
Xavi will have a big headache for the next three league games: Robert Lewandowski will indeed serve a three-game ban and won’t be available this or next weekend, so the job of finding a way to replace the team’s top scorer is a tough one.
Barça did score four goals in midweek and had a productive night in attack, and their best stretch of play came with Raphinha, Ansu Fati and Ousmane Dembélé together up front. That attacking trio hasn’t played together for any meaningful period of time before Wednesday, but they all scored against Intercity and have the required speed and skill to go up against a tight Atlético defense.
Memphis Depay and Ferran Torres didn’t do themselves any favors in the Cup, so a front three with no strikers and three wingers could very well be Xavi’s choice for Sunday.
Possible XI: Ter Stegen; Roberto, Kounde, Christensen, Balde; Gavi, De Jong, Pedri; Raphinha, Fati, Dembélé (4-3-3)
How do you think Barcelona should line up against Atlético Madrid? Let us know your thoughts, predictions and teams in the comments below!