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Kings in defence
Having conceded just eight goals in 21 league games to date, Atlético Madrid has the best defensive record in Europe. They’ve kept a staggering 14 clean sheets, and not since December 20 against Malaga, 453 minutes of football ago, have they conceded a single goal.
So far this league season, only one team has managed to score more than one goal against Diego Simeone’s tightly disciplined defence. And here’s the good news. That team was FC Barcelona, when Neymar Jr and Messi were on target in the 2-1 win at the Calderón.
Arda v former club
This is the first time that Arda Turan has faced his former club since he became eligible to play. But after training just twice this week due to the flu, it’s unclear whether he’ll be in the starting line-up on what will also be his 29th birthday.
Atlético played Barça no fewer than 14 times in the Turk's four seasons there, but he was not on the winning side once. Although the red-and-whites did beat the Catalans in a Champions League game, he was forced to sit that one out through suspension.
Luis Enrique 100%
That was one of six games between the teams in the 2013/14 season alone, and Barça failed to win any of them, one of the main reasons why the campaign ended without a trophy. But since Luis Enrique has been in charge, it's been a very different story..
[[DES_1]]Last season, he led the team to wins home and away in both league and cup, and he made it five out of five with the 2-1 win in September. Does that mean he’s got Diego Simeone sussed? He didn’t seem to think so in his Friday press conference, saying that “those were only good results because we played so well.”
How big is big?
In the same press conference, the Barça manager insisted that that the Liga title is by no means hinging on the outcome of this one game. A man in his position would be expected to say nothing less, but this is very much a ‘six-pointer’ that we have in store.
A win would send Barça three points clear of their most direct rivals, and they still have a game in hand at Sporting Gijón in February. But in effective terms, it would be a four-point lead, because in the Spanish championship, if teams are tied on points, it’s their head-to-head aggregate results that count.
Atlético crashed out of the Copa del Rey midweek with a gruelling 3-2 loss to Celta. That was hardly a boost for their morale going into Saturday’s game, but these things can often work both ways. While Barça have a semi-final with Valencia to think about, Atlético have a free schedule next week.
Luis Enrique, however, doesn’t think these things matter a hoot, arguing that “before a game of this magnitude, I don’t think it makes any difference who qualified or not in the cup.”
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