FC Barcelona vs Atletico Madrid: La Liga Preview and Prediction
After a string of underwhelming performances, FC Barcelona’s La Liga title defense has hit a roadblock as they trail first-placed Real Madrid by two points. Quique Setien’s side’s title ambitions are slated to navigate murky waters tonight as FC Barcelona play host to Atletico Madrid.
FC Barcelona’s 2-2 draw against Celta Vigo and Real Madrid’s 1-0 win over Espanyol has put the latter in the driving seat for the 2019-2020 La Liga title. The Catalan side occupies second place with 69 points and Real Madrid are on top with 71 points.
Atletico Madrid, meanwhile, are staving off Sevilla for third place. Los Rojiblancos have tallied 58 points on the board and Sevilla are chasing them with 54 points.
All in all, this blockbuster La Liga fixture will be important for both sides but the hosts have more at stake.
Both sides are yet to lose since La Liga restarted on June 11. FC Barcelona, however, have drawn one game more than the visitors in this four-game stretch since the restart.
FC Barcelona might have been undefeated since the restart, but they have stuttered in their recent games. The Catalan side narrowly defeated Athletic Club before playing out a disappointing 2-2 draw with Celta Vigo.
Lionel Messi provided two assists for Luis Suarez in the game but strikes from Fyodor Smolov and Iago Aspas restored parity. Celta Vigo left it late to break Blaugrana hearts as Aspas struck in a stunning free-kick to beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen in stoppage time.
Atletico Madrid played out a 1-1 draw with Athletic Club when La Liga resumed. Since then, Diego Simeone’s men have been on a great run, winning four in a row. Three of those wins have come by a one-goal margin, showcasing Atletico Madrid’s superb defense. They fourth one was a 5-0 thumping of CA Osasuna.
Simeone’s side overcame Deportivo Alaves, 2-1, in their last La Liga fixture. Goals from Saul Niguez and Diego Costa (penalty) sealed the win despite Joselu converting a penalty for Babazorros El Glorioso.
Head to Head
FC Barcelona might have a superior head-to-head record against Atletico Madrid, but Los Rojiblancos would be the last opponents the Catalan side would like to face while fighting for the league title.
The hosts have won three of the pair’s last six meetings across all competitions. Those victories, however, have been very close ones. FC Barcelona have scored eight goals in this duration and conceded five. Atletico Madrid have only managed to win once in this period.
In this season’s reverse fixture at the Wanda Metropolitano, Barca took the three points thanks to an 86th minute strike from Messi. The game was evenly fought and it took a moment of Messi magic to inspire FC Barcelona to victory
Los Rojiblancos defeated FC Barcelona in their most recent meeting – a 3-2 win in the Supercopa de Espana. Koke opened the scoring in the game before Barca fired back through Messi and Antoine Griezmann. Simeone’s men saved their best for the last as Alvaro Morata slotted in an 81st minute penalty before providing the assist for Angel Correa’s 86th minute winner.
The Arthur Melo-Miralem Pjanic swap deal has been made official by both FC Barcelona and Juventus. The Brazilian midfielder will remain with Barca till the end of the season. Do not expect him to be part of the lineup, however.
Atletico Madrid will be without Koke as the Spaniard is suspended for this game along with Stefan Savic. Sime Vrsjalko and Mario Hermoso are sidelined due to injury.
Lionel Messi vs Felipe
Messi might have scored 31 times against Atletico Madrid in his career but he also knows that penetrating that defense is one of the hardest tasks out there.
With FC Barcelona looking in poor shape, Messi has had to bear the brunt. He’s been assisting his teammates left, right and center but his goalscoring has taken a hit in the past few games. La Pulga has not scored for three straight La Liga games.
Felipe will be looking to ensure that Messi’s struggles in front of goal continue. The Brazilian defender has put in impressive shifts this season in spite of being a squad rotation player. He has all the characteristics of a classic bruising defender but it remains to be seen if he can nullify the twinkle-toed Messi.
Ivan Rakitic vs Saul Niguez
Having been a bench player for most of the season, Ivan Rakitic has clawed his way back into the starting XI with assured performances in the middle of the park. His goal was the difference maker in the tough win over Athletic Club recently.
The Croatian’s job to rotate possession and dictate play will be made tough by the energetic Saul Niguez. The Spanish midfielder has put the world on notice with his dynamism, toughness and versatility. Saul can provide defensive stability as well as offensive impetus if needed.
Barcelona have looked sluggish in midfield in recent games and Saul’s energy will be another headache for Setien to contend with.
Gerard Pique vs Diego Costa
At a moment when FC Barcelona are reeling due to internal strife (the Arthur Melo-Miralem Pjanic transfer was not desired by Setien), Diego Costa would be rubbing his hands in glee.
Costa has historically not been at his best against the Catalan side but Barca’s off-field issues are bound to taper on to the field which could result in opportunities for the former Chelsea forward.
The Spanish forward’s output has declined with his advancing age but he still remains a force to reckon with, especially in a situation where FC Barcelona will be bereft of confidence.
Costa remains an aerial menace and Pique will have to be wary of the former Chelsea man’s positioning. More importantly, Pique will have to keep his mental cool in front of a player who is an expert at getting under his opponent’s skin.
FC Barcelona have had Atletico Madrid’s number in recent seasons but tonight, Los Rojiblancos come in as favorites.
The Catalan side is ailing due to issues with the top brass and they can be seen on the pitch. The side has looked uninspiring and dull – the hunger to win seems to be gone.
Atletico Madrid, on the other hand, are on an impressive march. They have La Liga’s second-best defense and will be looking to make it five wins in a row. Furthermore, they scripted an incredible comeback against Barca last time out and will have the belief that they can hand another loss to the Blaugrana.
I see both sides finding the net in this game with Atletico Madrid getting the win.
Predicted scoreline: FC Barcelona 1-2 Atletico Madrid