The other Madrid went ahead and smashed Málaga Wednesday evening so any ideas of an especially early La Liga party for FC Barcelona were put to bed. Still Barça are eight points clear of Real Madrid, with a game in hand, ahead of either one playing this weekend with four match-days remaining. Mou’s men travel to Barcelona to face Espanyol and dependent on the result there, a fiesta may break out. A victory for Tito Vilanova’s men Sunday against Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid will clinch FC Barcelona’s 22nd La Liga title and hand Tito his first cup as head boss, irrespective of Real Madrid. Yet, while trips to the Vicente Calderón, or any match against Atlético for that matter, are routine visits for Real Madrid, historically this fixture has in general been arduous for Barcelona. Though from a purely footballing standpoint this matchup is usually a proper spectacle with a high tempo, defensive lapses and normally plenty of goals. Atlético have locked the 3rd place spot so in that sense have nothing much to play for, though this Diego Simeone has their manager’s fight to the end spirit. What could potentially play beneficially into Barça’s hands is the Copa del Rey final on Friday May 17th where the Madrid sides square off and provides the only opportunity for Atlético to pick up silverware this season.
La Liga is the only thing left to play for so no pressing reason to consider rotation or rest. Some guys are probably more banged up and jaded than others and possibly Tito Vilanova will take that into consideration when selecting his starting lineup. Perhaps some of the men in the squad need the remaining matches to hit the game quota that allows them to receive a league medal and Vilanova may be the type of manager to take such an element into consideration. At the very worst, Barcelona will enter match-day 35 with an five point cushion, a game in hand, and therefore victory versus Valladolid at home next weekend will finally secure the title. As high a standard, at times seemingly impossible, as Barça are held to matches versus Atlético should never be considered easy, especially under the excellent stewardship of Cholo Simeone.
Form wise Atlético enter the match somewhat strongly. Despite the standard defeat to Real Madrid a few weeks earlier they are undefeated in eight matches, though 0-0 draws to Deportivo and Getafe are not superb results. It appears that with one eye on the Copa del Rey final, Simeone will rest some starters. Two Brazilians, forward Diego Costa and left back Filipe are reported to sit on the bench making room for the likes of Emiliano Insua. Truthfully this news does not drastically change the team nor impact its strength by very much. The match will still be hard-fought and remember there is always Radamel Falcao, this season at least.
Key man Arda Turan returns from injury and is expected to start and gain match practice ahead of the Copa. Tiago Mendes similarly returns after a two and a half month injury. Mario Suárez is injured and Tiago will take his place in the starting 11.
Predicted Lineup: Courtois; Juanfran, Miranda, Godín, Insua; Tiago, Gabi; Koke, García, Turan; Falcao
Match squad: Asenjo, Courtois, Godín, Filipe Luis, Cata Díaz, Juanfran, Insua, Miranda, Tiago, Koke, Raúl García, Arda Turan, Cristian Rodríguez, Gabi, Óliver, Adrían, Falcao, Diego Costa
The entire first team squad has travelled to Madrid, both fit and injured. Tito has done so in the event the league is sealed and that everyone is together and nobody misses out on the celebrations. Valdés and Abidal are officially ruled out, but earlier in the week Pedro was passed fit and even Mascherano was training with his colleagues. The fitness of Busquets has not been reported on much so it is possible Song steps in again, but after his top draw performance versus Bayern Munich he would have earned this faith.
Predicted Lineup: Pinto; Alves, Piqué, Bartra, Alba; Xavi, Song, Iniesta; Alexis, Messi, Tello
Match squad: All squad has travelled, 18 to be named on match-day.
FC Barcelona will certainly like to win the title tonight and revel in a well-earned trophy that can assist in forgetting the disappointments some weeks ago. Simeone however is not going to let anyone walk over his team and I expect a very competitive match. Thankfully Messi appears fit and Atlético is his absolute favorite victims with 20 goals scored, including three hat-tricks and three braces. He has also managed to score against them in the last five fixtures. But Atlético have the most stingy defense in the league with only 27 conceded and Falcao is in hot form with five in his last five. Strangely Los Colchoneros have only won one of their last five home matches, but Barça don’t come in with much away form themselves having been victorious on the road just once in the last seven. So all in all this is an extremely evenly matched affair that could go either way.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti