Along comes Matchday 16, as FC Barcelona travel to the Metropolitano stadium to face 4th placed Atletico de Madrid in what is a highly anticipated fixture in the La Liga Santander calendar.
Date: Sunday, 08th January 2023
Competition: La Liga Santander
Venue: Cívitas Metropolitano Stadium (Madrid)
Time: 09:00 pm Central European Time
In what is surely one of the Spanish top division’s most hotly anticipated clashes, league leaders FC Barcelona take on 4th placed Atletico Madrid following a 1-1 draw against local rivals RCD Espanyol in their previous outing in the league. Xavi and his players will be going into this game hoping to take away all 3 points as rivals Real Madrid stay at a breath’s distance in terms of league standings and being level on points.
Following a pulsating 4-3 win over 3rd division side Intercity CF in the Copa Del Ray, the Catalans do not look in the best of shape given the level of opponent they struggled against in their previous game. Despite the win, they were unable to capitalize on their abundance of shots and clearly superior amount of chances during the game. Worrying as it may have been against Intercity, it will be a far more taxing ordeal against a top side like Atletico Madrid.
The win in their previous games now makes it 4 wins and 1 draw for FC Barcelona in their previous 5 official outings including 4 games in La Liga and one game in the Copa Del Ray. On the other hand, Atletico Madrid come into this game in fine form as well, having won 5 of their last 5 games, although 3 of those wins have been in the cup. In terms of league form, the team from Madrid has 2 wins, 2 losses, and a draw in their last 5 outings, while Barca themselves have had 4 wins and 1 draw in the same amount of games.
Having thus far accumulated 27 points in the league after 15 matchdays, Atletico sit 11 points behind Barcelona as of right now. In terms of scoring, they have been dangerous enough, having so far scored 23 goals while having simultaneously conceded 14, leaving them with a positive goal difference of 9.
On the contrary, La Blaugrana themselves have been goliaths of sorts in terms of both statistics, having scored 34 goals while simultaneously having maintained the best defensive record in the league with only 6 goals conceded. This means they currently have a positive goal difference of 28.
Both Xavi and Diego Simeone come into this titanic matchup with wins prioritized, and both managers will be hoping to gain an upper hand first into this game. A major miss for Barcelona will undoubtedly be Robert Lewandowski, as the Polish talisman is suspended for the next 3 games. Yet despite this setback, the Catalans can find refuge in the form of their returning star defenders Ronald Araujo and Jules Kounde, who are both fit and eligible to start this game simultaneously.
Goalkeeper: Marc Andre Ter Stegen
Rested against Intercity to give Inaki Pena a chance for once, Ter Stegen will indefinitely be the man for Barcelona in between the sticks come Sunday. Barcelona’s new 4th captain will be hoping to continue his fine form for the Catalans into this game against the side from Madrid.
Left-back: Alejandro Balde
With Jordi Alba suspended for this game against Atletico, Alejandro Balde remains the best natural option at left-back for Xavi. His speed and agility, alongside his rather daring runs, could prove to be just the X-factor the Catalans need at some point during the game.
Centre-back: Ronald Araujo
Barca’s pillar in defense, the Uruguayan was sorely missed by all those supporting the Blaugrana colors. Returning against Intercity and scoring shortly afterwards, Araujo simultaneously managed to showcase his defensive virtues as well with a goal-line clearance. Will be key against Atletico.
Centre-back: Andreas Christensen
Adds a certain maturity in terms of ball retention and progression, Christensen seems a very viable fit in this expected back-line for Barcelona. Moreover, the Danish defender may prove to be pivotal in breaking down Atletico’s resilient defensive lines as well courtesy of his passing prowess.
Right-back: Jules Kounde
Not a natural right-back by any means, but the quality of his versatility makes him more than a viable option in that position. Smart, fast, and a quick adapter, Kounde ensures both stability and creativity on that right-hand side of the defense.
CDM: Sergio Busquets
The veteran will potentially be expected to lead the young Barcelona midfield with both maturity and quality. Busquets having a solid outing may just turn the tides in his team’s favor substantially.
CM: Frenkie De Jong
Given a rest just like expected partner Pedri against Intercity, the Dutchman’s capabilities as a ball carrier remain understated by most. Crucial for the Netherlands as always during the World Cup in Qatar, there remains hope that the best of De Jong is yet to come in Blaugrana colors.
Not played against Intercity to give him some much-needed rest, Pedri will be expected to slot right back into the starting eleven against Atletico. The youngster will need to be at the top of his game in order to aid his team’s ball retention and chance creation against Los Colchoneros.
Left-Winger: Ousmane Dembele
Solid against Intercity, scoring a crucial goal, and consistently remained a threat for the opposition through both pace and link-ups, Dembele on his day can single-handedly create moments of magic for Barcelona. If played smartly against Atletico, he could end up being a real headache for the opposition.
Centre-forward: Ansu Fati
Despite scoring the winner against Intercity, Fati still has not quite reached the heights of his pre-injury self. Whether this remains an issue of confidence or not remains to be assessed, but another opportunity to prove himself is possibly on the horizon for Fati come this clash against Atletico.
The Brazilian was also amongst those who got on the scoreline against Intercity, and he remains a wild card of sorts for Barcelona. Talented indefinitely, as he has shown himself to be, Raphinha is still yet to consistently amaze those in the Barca camp, but should he manage to play a good game, he can be a vital asset against a top opposition.
Goalkeeper: Ter Stegen
Defenders: Balde, Christensen, Araujo, Kounde
Midfielders: Pedri, Busquets, De Jong
Forwards: Dembele, Fati, Raphinha