Sports Mole brings you the team news, predicted lineups and a full preview of Saturday’s La Liga clash between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
Barca currently have an eight-point lead at the top of the table, but a victory for Atletico this weekend would certainly blow the title race wide open entering the final stage of the campaign.
It did appear that Barca were going to lose against Villarreal on Wednesday night. Indeed, Ernesto Valverde‘s side trailed 4-2 heading into the final moments of the clash at the Estadio de la Ceramica.
Lionel Messi came up with a stunning free kick in the 90th minute for 4-3, however, before Luis Suarez struck in the third minute of added time to ensure that the champions would pick up a welcome point.
The result ended Barca’s six-game winning run in Spain’s top flight, but has still left them with a healthy advantage entering what is a very important fixture at home to Atletico on Saturday night.
It is a huge period of the season for the Catalan giants when considering that they will host Atletico before visiting Manchester United next Wednesday for the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final. Valverde’s side will then head to Huesca before hosting United on April 16 for the second leg of their last-eight tie.
The treble is very much on for Barca as they will also face Valencia in the final of the Copa del Rey at the end of next month. Victory over Atletico this weekend would all but secure the league title and they will be the favourites to lift the Spanish Cup once again, which would mean another domestic double.
The Champions League is the competition that Barca really want to win this season, though, and Liverpool might well be waiting in the semi-finals if they manage to find their way past Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side.
It goes without saying that Barca’s squad is packed full of talent, but they would not be in such a strong position this season without Messi. The 31-year-old scored his 42nd goal of the campaign against Villarreal on Wednesday night and his form in recent months has been absolutely staggering.
A record of 21 wins, seven draws and two defeats from their 30 league matches this season represents a strong campaign. Barca have won 11 and lost just one of their 14 home fixtures, meanwhile, and their recent league record over Atletico is outstanding, which is an indication of the away side’s task on Saturday night.
Recent form: WWWWWL
Recent form (all competitions): LWWWWD
Atletico have faced criticism this season, particularly for their performance in the second leg of their last-16 Champions League tie with Juventus last month. Diego Simeone‘s side entered the clash with a two-goal lead from the first leg, but were completely outplayed in a 3-0 loss in Turin.
As a result, Atletico are not present in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, but they have enjoyed an impressive league season to date. Indeed, a total of 62 points from their 30 matches has left them in second spot in the table, eight points off Barca ahead of this weekend’s clash.
Atletico will enter the match off the back of a 2-0 win over Girona on Tuesday night, which was their 18th league victory of the campaign. Simeone’s side are now five points clear of second-placed Real Madrid and will be looking to at least secure the runners-up spot if they cannot win the title.
It will not come as a surprise to learn that Atletico once again have the best defensive record in the league this season. Indeed, they have conceded just 19 times in their 30 matches, with Jan Oblak enjoying another excellent campaign between the sticks.
The capital giants are the fourth-highest scorers in the division, meanwhile, with their 45 goals at this point bettered by Sevilla (47), Real Madrid (53) and Barcelona (79). It would be fair to say that they are not the most entertaining team in the league, but continue to pick up impressive results.
Atletico will head to Camp Nou having won six of their last seven in the league, including a 4-0 victory at Alaves in their last away fixture on March 30. Next up after this one is a home game with Celta Vigo on April 13, before facing Eibar, Valencia and Real Valladolid before the end of the month.
May, meanwhile, brings Atletico’s final three league games against Espanyol, Sevilla and Levante. Barca are still the overwhelming favourites to retain the title this season, but a win for the visitors on Saturday night would certainly make things very interesting indeed.
Simeone’s side are missing some key players ahead of the match, however, and their recent league record against the Catalan giants suggests that it will be very difficult to secure all three points.
Recent form: WWWLWW
Recent form (all competitions): WWLLWW
Midfielder Arturo Vidal, meanwhile, is suspended having picked up another yellow against Villarreal.
As for Atletico, Simeone is short of attacking players heading into the clash. Diego Costa will miss out with a muscular problem, while Alvaro Morata picked up an ankle injury against Girona on Tuesday night.
Theo Hernandez, who is joining Bayern Munich this summer, is also unavailable after undergoing knee surgery.
Barcelona possible starting lineup:
Ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Arthur, Busquets, Rakitic; Coutinho, L Suarez, Messi
Atletico Madrid possible starting lineup:
Oblak; Luis, Godin, Gimenez; Saul, Rodri, Koke, Thomas, Arias; Correa, Griezmann
Head To Head
Barca have won 93 of the 208 meetings between the two teams in all competitions, with Atletico recording 65 victories and the remaining 50 games finishing level.
Barca have dominated the recent La Liga matches, meanwhile, and are unbeaten in Spain’s top flight against Atletico since February 2010. Indeed, the Catalan giants have won 12 of the last 17 league games between the two teams, remaining unbeaten in the process.
Atletico’s last away victory over Barca in the league came back in February 2006, but the pair played out a 1-1 draw at the Wanda Metropolitano in the reverse fixture earlier this season.
We say: Barcelona 2-1 Atletico Madrid
Atletico are missing a number of attacking players this weekend and that could cost them at Camp Nou. Barca will have more than one eye on next week’s trip to Old Trafford, but we expect them to shade a close match on Saturday night.