PREVIEW | FC Barcelona v Atlético Madrid

PREVIEW | FC Barcelona v Atlético Madrid

One of the biggest games of the season at Estadi Olímpic between two sides that need to win to keep in touch with the top of the table

Sunday at 9pm CET brings a massive encounter at the Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys, possibly the most important of the season so far. Following the 1-1 draw at Rayo Vallecano last week, Barça can't afford to drop any more points, but that will be easier said than done against an Atlético Madrid side that is always going to be a tough opponent and even more so given their stupendous form of late.

The two sides are currently tied in third place on 31 points, but Atlético have the advantage of having a game in hand. And neither side's cause was helped by the results on Saturday.

Girona and Madrid march on

Having drawn with Athletic Club the week before, one might have been forgiven for believing that it was the beginning of the end for Girona's fine start to the season when they went 1-0 down at home to Valencia with mere minutes to go. But no. A late brace from Cristhian Stuani meant yet another amazing comeback for the Catalan side. Afterwards, Real Madrid had little trouble seeing off Granada 2-0 and the long and short of it is that there are now seven points between the front pair and the two sides that play this evening.

It's still only December and there's a lot of football still to play, but whichever side loses out of Barça and Atlético will be facing a very difficult battle to get back in touch with the top of the table.

Games between these two have tended to be tight, speculative affairs in recent years, but both managers will know that that won't do this time. The only option to go out and win.

Familiar faces

With goals needed, it will be interesting to see where they come from, with some of the biggest forwards playing against former colleagues. João Félix finally ended his goal drought against Porto on Tuesday and today faces the very side from which he is currently on loan to FC Barcelona.

Meanwhile, Antoine Griezmann has been the main artifice of Atlético's highest scoring season ever under Diego Simeone, and is once again the darling of the Civitas Metropolitano. winning back the friends he lost when he departed for Barça in 2019. Another of Atlético's frontmen, Memphis Depay, is also a familiar face at Barça. The Dutchman has put his injury trouble behind him and now needs to win back a place in an attack where the Argentine coach is spoilt for choice, and Álvaro Morata's place certainly doesn't look like its up for grabs.

Atlético come into the game in outstanding form having win nine of their last ten games, the only blot on their record being an uncharacteristically bland display in Las Palmas where they were beaten 2-1. Like Barça, they have also got the job done in Europe with a game in hand, their 3-1 victory over Feyenoord ensuring that they will once again be among the last sixteen in the Champions League.

Xavi says

Ahead of the game, the Barça manager spoke of his admiration for Diego Simeone, of the utmost support that he is receiving from Joan Laporta and the board, and also of how important it is for the fans to come in big numbers to support them team through such a big game. 

The players have been chipping in with their comments too. Ilkay Gündoğan says "We are focused on picking up points. We have to keep working and the first step is to be beat Atlético Madrid", while Robert Lewandowski also spoke to the press, admitting there is a lot still to improved in the side and highlighting the importance not just of this game but also the one with Girona in a week's time:


Team news

Gavi, of course, is going to be out for some time, while Xavi also confirmed on Saturday that Ter Stegen, who has missed the last two games with back trouble, will be sitting this one out too. However, the German's stand-in, Iñaki Peña, has been hugely praised for his performances, especially against Porto, so there is nothing at all to worry about in the goalkeeping department. Marcos Alonso is also left out with what is hopefully just a minor fitness issue.

The visiting side are only missing two midfielders. Pablo Barrios was injured against Feyenoord midweek, while Frenchman Thomas Lemar has been out since September.


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