After a convincing win over Valencia last week, Barcelona is back on song. Will Guardiola’s side continue its series of good results in tonight’s tricky match at Vicente Calderon? Find out in the pre-match analysis of the game after the jump.
Tonight’s match is a game between two big clubs, both of whom demonstrated great form in the European competition. Barcelona dismantled Bayer Leverkusen 1-3 last week, meanwhile Atletico just completed a two-leg 4-1 aggregate win over Lazio in the Europa League. However, in the league, their form differs: Atletico is now on a run of three successive draws and Barca has two wins and a loss in their last three games.
Don’t let the three draws misguide you though, as Atletico’s 1-1 draw at Sporting Gijon last week was the first time they conceded in the league in 7 games since Diego Simeone took charge of the club in the beginning of the year. Godin, Miranda, and their young Belgian goalkeeper Courtois form the backbone of Atletico’s strong defense. Their defensive midfielder Gabi is also excellent at bridging the defense and attack, while acting as the first layer of defense.
Under Diego Simeone, Atletico regularly plays 4-2-3-1 with everyone contributing in every phase of the game especially the wingers. This is one of the reasons why sulky and inconsistent winger Reyes was offloaded to Sevilla. He needs the team to be built around him and he rarely, if ever, tracks back. This season’s signing Arda Turan is also available to play Reyes’ position as right winger, which suits him well to cut in, while their right full-back Juanfran stays wide and provides the crosses.
Talented young Spanish striker Adrián has been Atletico’s breakthrough player this season after several commanding performances brought him into Atletico’s first eleven. Adrián complements Falcao perfectly on the left side of the field doing runs similar to Alexis Sanchez’s role in Barcelona. With Barcelona playing a high defense line, he will definitely be instructed to run into channels to provide goalscoring chances.
In his pre-match press conference, Simeone already let slip part of his plans for the game. He said that he will use speed as the weapon of choice against Barcelona. With Diego out for a one month due to injury, Atletico can’t afford to be as offensive as they were previously. So, it would probably be a safe bet if we read Simeone’s statement as an intent to defend deep and launch quick counter-attacks much like their game in Rome against Lazio in the Europa League.
Barcelona have some advantage having had more time to rest its players, but it will be no easy feat to defeat Atletico in front of their home crowd. One factor that Barcelona can exploit is Atletico’s over-aggressive tackles all over the pitch. This strategy can backfire for Atletico as they can be a man down after excessive fouls or give Barcelona a chance to score from set-piece situations.
Xavi only played for 5 minutes against Valencia but he scored one and with one week of rest surely he’ll be more than ready to marshal the field once again with Busquets and Iniesta. The problem then is where would Fabregas play? Lately, Fabregas has shown glimpses of quality by going forward, but has been a bit unlucky after being so close to score on many occasions. He acknowledged that sometimes his confidence was shaken a little after missing some of the embarrassing sitters he had this season. But rest assured he should be paying no attention to the past as the future is the way forward.
This Atletico side is a totally different beast from the one Barcelona annihilated 5-0 at Camp Nou. Although the 3-4-3 was successful in nullifying Falcao’s threat in 90 minutes by denying any quality passes to be made to him, it’s more likely that 4-3-3 will be Pep’s chosen approach for this game. Atletico’s goals lately seem to be a byproduct of a concerted effort rather than the occasional brilliance.
To answer the question earlier about Fabregas, Pep already has the answer after repeatedly trying the solution. Andres Iniesta is able to play in the left flank of the front three, and tonight’s match will be another test for him. Messi and Alexis will undoubtedly complete the front three as Pep doesn’t have to take any midweek fixtures into consideration.
The midfield will be composed by three midfield maestros in Xavi, Fabregas, and Busquets. Abidal will have to provide the width on the left as Iniesta will almost always cut inside. Another Iniesta-Abidal-Messi combination goal is more than possible since Abidal grows more and more in Barcelona’s attack from the left.
Another question worth asking is whether it will be Pique or Mascherano that will accompany Puyol tonight. Both have their own set of strength and weaknesses but Pique will be given the nod here as last week he improved a little from his worrying lack of focus lately. Pique will also be be needed for his aerial ability.
After a fantastic win against Valencia last week, Barcelona will undoubtedly want to win away from home tonight. Hopefully, the team’s preparations were not disturbed by the constant news surrounding Pep’s contract renewal. Everybody voiced their opinion but if anything, this match will be another excellent chance for the players to show how much Pep means to them.
|FC Barcelona||2 – 1||Real Sociedad|
|FC Barcelona||2 – 0||Valencia|
|Osasuna||3 – 2||FC Barcelona|
|Leverkusen||1 – 3||FC Barcelona|
|FC Barcelona||5 – 1||Valencia|
Villa, Fontas and Afellay are still unavailable because of their long-term injuries, meanwhile Pedro and Xavi are already available after their involvement last week. Xavi might not play the full game and is likely to be replaced by Thiago in the second half. Tello and Cuenca will also be looking forward to take part in the match and will be able to do so from the bench.
Predicted Starting XI: Valdes – Pique – Puyol – Abidal – Dani Alves – Busquets – Xavi – Fabregas – Iniesta – Messi – Alexis
After achieving a great result in the Europa League, Atletico will be ruing the loss of Diego for a month in their time of need. Their defense which only conceded one goal in 7 La Liga games will be tested heavily.
|Atl. Madrid||0 – 0||Valencia|
|Santander||0 – 0||Atl. Madrid|
|Lazio||1 – 3||Atl. Madrid|
|Sp. Gijon||1 – 1||Atl. Madrid|
|Atl. Madrid||1 – 0||Lazio|
Diego Costa has transferred to Rayo Vallecano. Diego and Antonio López are unavailable through injuries, meanwhile Silvio and Godin are doubtful after their involvement midweek. Perea might be given the nod to play at right back meanwhile Juanfran goes forward from the midfield.
Predicted Starting XI: Courtois – Godín – Miranda – Perea – Filipe – Gabi – Suárez – Adrián – Juanfran – Turan- Falcao
It will be a close match, in which Barcelona will be attacked from the flanks heavily. Atletico have a deadly counter attack and a lethal striker in Falcao but their over-aggressive fouls will be one of the factors that will be exploited by Barcelona.
Atletico Madrid 1 – 2 FC Barcelona
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