Atletico Madrid vs FC Barcelona: Match preview and prediction
The battle for La Liga supremacy rages on as Atletico Madrid host FC Barcelona tonight.
The 2019-2020 La Liga season has been unlike past seasons in the sense that it is not a two-horse (or three-horse) race. Sevilla and Real Sociedad are very much in the fight for top spot with Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
Tonight’s major clash is important for both sides to stay in the running for the title and a Champions League spot. A win for Los Rojiblancos will allow them to leapfrog Real Sociedad and FC Barcelona to go third. A win for the Blaugrana will allow them to match Real Madrid’s current tally of 31 points.
The stakes, unsurprisingly, are high for what should be an intense contest at the Wanda Metropolitano.
Current form and past results
Ernesto Valverde’s FC Barcelona are heading into this game on the back of a solid win over Borussia Dortmund in midweek Champions League action. Barca talisman Lionel Messi was at his imperious best as he scored once and assisted twice in the 3-1 win at the Camp Nou.
In the league, the Catalans have won four of their last five with the blemish being the 1-3 defeat to Levante.
Los Rojiblancos, on the other hand, are heading into this game in a precarious position. Diego Simeone’s men have won once in their last six (across all competitions). They’ve also, uncharacteristically, not kept a clean sheet in their last six games. Their previous game, a midweek Champions League encounter against Juventus, ended in a defeat thanks to a phenomenal Paulo Dybala freekick.
In the league, the 10-time La Liga champions have won two of their last five games. Wanda Metropolitano has been a fortress for Los Colchoneros as the club has not last in their last 14 games at the venue.
Simeone will have to make do with a different defensive unit as two of his mainstays - Stefan Savic and Jose Maria Gimenez – will not be taking part in this contest. There is a chance that Gimenez might start but his match fitness is still in doubt.
The visitors will be missing the services of Nelson Semedo and Ousmane Dembele. Sergio Busquets is suspended for the game, which should culminate in a start for Arturo Vidal. Jordi Alba’s status remains in question and it is likely that Junior Firpo will start on the left side of defense.
Mario Hermoso vs Lionel Messi
No defender loves to come up against Messi, especially when the Argentine is in a good run of form.
Mario Hermoso will be in some unenviable shoes tonight as he’ll be tasked with stopping La Pulga.
The Spanish defender’s defensive numbers this season are good and point to Simeone’s pragmatism at the back. Still, these numbers count for nothing when you’re up against one of the finest football players to grace the pitch.
If Hermoso can anticipate Messi’s movement 50% of the time, he stands a chance in limiting the Argentine. Hermoso, however, will definitely need help from his defensive partners to make life difficult for Messi.
The big question for Hermoso is that can he stop Messi from scoring his 30th goal against Atletico?
Saul Niguez vs Arthur Melo
FC Barcelona’s midfield will be in for a tough night when squared up against Simeone’s industrious side.
Saul Niguez is the prototypical Simeone player who puts in a lot of effort in both offense and defense.
The Spaniard’s high pressing is something that will be hard to deal with for Arthur Melo. The Brazilian is one of the best passers in the world and the more time he gets on the ball, the more effective he is.
Saul’s primary objective will be to prevent Melo’s deliveries to either Griezmann or Messi. He’ll also be important during counterattacking situations. The Brazilian midfielder will have to be wary of the Spaniard’s late runs which can give Atletico an advantage while attacking.
Alvaro Morata vs Clement Lenglet
French defender Clement Lenglet’s first season at the Camp Nou was one defined by a learning curve. His career in Barca colors started on the wrong foot but he has grown into his role and has become a dependable center-back for the Catalan side.
Tonight, the former Sevilla man will be tested as he’ll be up against Alvaro Morata. The Spanish forward isn’t the most consistent goal scorer but he’s also not a greenhorn and knows a thing or two about scoring in big games.
With five goals in the league, Morata is Atletico leading goal scorer as of now. He remains an aerial nuisance for opposing defenders. Morata’s ability combined with Kieran Trippier’s excellent service from the right means that Lenglet will have to brace himself to deal with crosses through the night.
FC Barcelona are undefeated in their last eight games against Atletico Madrid. The last five La Liga encounters between the two sides have resulted in three wins for Barca and two draws.
Atletico’s stuttering form and makeshift defense gives FC Barcelona the edge in this game. Simeone relies on his players’ ability to remain compact and limit the opposition from creating chances. Without his preferred XI, the Argentine coach has an uphill task tonight.
That being said, FC Barcelona have struggled to win at Atletico’s home in recent years – two wins in the last five (in all competitions).
Looking at all of this, I expect FC Barcelona to inch through tonight and put the pressure on Real Madrid at the top.
Predicted score: Atletico Madrid 1-2 FC Barcelona