Barca vs Atletico Madrid: Following a hard-fought triumph in the cup over third-tier side Intercity, Barcelona travel to Madrid to face Atlético on the 16th matchday of La Liga. The recent form of Xavi’s men can truly concern many, but we would lie if we say that Atléti’s performances would be so convincing, which may result in an exciting, even matchup.
Barca News Network brings you four key talking points ahead of Barca vs Atletico Madrid.
1. A suffering lead-up:
The midweek Copa del Rey fixture didn’t go as expected for Barcelona, and extra time was needed to fight out the win against a third-tier side and thus, it consumed a lot more energy than we would have desired. An extra 30 minutes of play is a sensible burden for the players, especially ahead of such an important game where their fitness and sharpness will surely play a crucial role.
Just take a look at how Xavi rotated in the cup, resting some key players while playing the ones that are less likely to start against Atléti anyway. For example, he didn’t even name Pedri into the travelling squad against Intercity, while the whole starting XI was changed compared to the Espanyol game except only Jordi Alba, who will be suspended from the weekend game anyway.
2. Opponent in crisis?
Thankfully, we aren’t the only ones living tough times. Even though Atlético Madrid won their last two games after returning from the World Cup, if we look at the results, their performances are far from convincing. When they have to break these mid/bottom-table opponents, they are out of ideas and the creativity sorely relies on Griezmann, while they are often beaten at the back on the other side, costing valuable points.
In plus, they failed miserably on the big stage as well, falling out as the last placed in the group to many’s surprise. These shameful results both in Europe and on domestic terrain, the growing problems inside the locker room (Simeone–Félix conflict) and the visible insufficiencies among the club’s ranks – everything adds up to the misery that currently surrounds the club, and this tense situation might come to an ugly fallout soon.
However, maybe this won’t exactly be that moment when the Atléti-bomb will explode, and let me explain why. Against these mid/bottom-table opponents, against whom they have to play as the dominant side, Los Colchoneros visibly struggled to develop a successful plan to overcome these kinds of rivals, meanwhile, against the teams that acted as the ‘big team’, reverted to the good old way that Atléti is known for, and surprisingly, got the results (except against Real Madrid).
This is the Simeone-ball that, with time, coalesced with Atlético’s identity and so, it’s hard to believe that he would be able to change drastically, but for now, let it remain the problem of the future. Against Barcelona, they will be happy to play according to their preference, in an ultra-defensive approach that is the total opposite of our play style. Back to what they do best, it will surely be a challenge for Xavi to figure out how to unlock this massive defence, but as a reminder, he did it brilliantly last year.
4. How to replace Lewandowski?
In contrast with the team that beat Simeone’s men 4-2 in Camp Nou, probably the biggest difference in the attack is the arrival of Robert Lewandowski, arguably the best striker in the world. Thus, the Pole star has become the focal point of the attack, and although Aubameyang has done excellently during his short stint at the Catalan capital, his impact was nowhere near compared to how the ex-Bayern man determines the Catalans’ attack.
So, in the middle of the growing ‘Lewandowskidependencia’, an unfortunate suspension keeps the Polish marksman away from participating in the match, but it might even have a positive impact on the team as a whole, forcing to develop a B-plan as effective as possible.
The answer might be what we could see against Intercity too, having either Ansu Fati or Ferrán Torres as the natural replacement, but many sources indicate that Ansu Fati can be the final chosen one, following a convincing cameo in the midweek Copa Del Rey game.
Nevertheless, unlocking such a defence will be a challenge for the Blaugrana, and we might even see a systemic tweak from Xavi to surprise Simeone. On the other hand, it should not be forgotten how Atléti can hit on the break with quality players like Griezmann, Morata, Carrasco or maybe even Félix too if he plays. It will be interesting to see the battle between two philosophies through the two managers, and overall an exciting but also hugely important game between two of Spain’s biggest teams. Força Barça!