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FC Barcelona go head-to-head with Atlético Madrid on Sunday night as La Liga action returns. Ernesto Valverde’s team face their biggest challenge of the season thus far, when they travel to the Spanish capital to face Atlético, with kick-off at the Wanda Metropolitano at 9:00pm (CET).
On the back of the victory over Borussia Dortmund at the Camp Nou on Wednesday, which secured Barça’s place in the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League last 16, a win over Atlético will tighten the Blaugranes lead at the top of the table, making it 10 wins from 15 games should they secure the victory.
Last season, Barça had to settle for a 1-1 draw against Diego Simeone’s side at the Wanda Metropolitano. Ousmane Dembélé netting right at the death to cancel out Rodri’s opener, as the spoils were shared in Madrid.
Here are three key battles to watch out for…
Antoine Griezmann v Felipe
Antoine Griezmann will return to face his former side for the first time, having spent five seasons and scoring 133 goals for Atléti. The 28-year-old is likely to be the main focal point on Sunday night and former Porto centre-back Felipe is likely to be the man tasked with trying to stop him. Griezmann will look to continue his current fine run of form having netted a rasping drive and Barça’s third goal against Dortmund on Wednesday.
The French international, who will most likely take up the left-wing position in the front three, is to come up against the Brazilian who has filled the void left by Griezmann’s good friend and former Atlético centre-back Diego Godín. Felipe will no doubt have his hands full with Barça’s attacking threat, and do all he can to stop the Frenchman from adding to his current La Liga goals tally of five at the Wanda Metropolitano.
Having made a total of nine appearances so far (721 minutes) in La Liga, Felipe may only have a 44% clean sheet record (4/9 matches), but he has proven why he is the man Simeone trusts to lead the Atléti line at the back, with Jose Giménez and Stefan Savić both out injured. The experienced 30-year-old, who has a pass success rate of 77.3%, may have been resolute and commanding at the back so far since joining Atlético last summer, but with Griezmann brimming confidence, and the likes of Luis Suárez and Leo Messi applying pressure in the danger areas as always, it could force Felipe into mistakes.
Due to the injury of Dembele in mid-week, Griezmann will look to hit the ground running and start firing on all cylinders in his new position and what better place to do so against a side where Barça have netted a total of seven goals in the past five years on the road against Atléti in La Liga.
Gerard Piqué v João Félix
Another interesting duel will be from Gerard Piqué and youngster João Félix. Piqué has the upper hand in this one, especially due to his experience and reading of the game. The 32-year-old has faced Simeone’s side 27 times to date, registering 20 wins, drawing nine, whilst losing on just one occasion.
Piqué, who has been an ever present in the Barça backline when available for selection, has made 12 La Liga appearances so far this campaign, averaging 3.3 aerial duels per game. Despite trying to stop the movement of Felix, the Spaniard will also be eyeing a goal on Sunday. The last time Piqué netted against Atlético was back in September 2010, as Barça secured a 2-1 victory at the Vicente Calderón.
He will be relishing the chance of trying to stop the likes of Félix, who was named best under-21 player in Europe, having won the Golden Boy award. The Portuguese international, made his international debut in August of last year, having netted 20 goals in 43 appearances for Benfica, has scored two goals in 10 La Liga appearances so far this season for Atlético, and will provide a constant threat going forward due to his blistering pace and technique on the ball. Barça will have no doubt made a note of the 20-year-old’s credentials and attributes, especially runs in behind defensive lines.
Félix broke Atlético’s UEFA Champions League record back in October becoming the clubs youngest ever scorer in the competition, netting in the 2-0 victory over Lokomotiv Moscow, and his eyes will be solely set on netting against the La Liga champions in his own back yard.
Luis Suárez v Jan Oblak
Luis Suárez will come up against one of the best shot stopper’s in the world - Jan Oblak when both sides lock horns on Sunday. Barça’s Uruguayan talisman has netted seven goals in 11 appearances so far domestically (743 minutes), and goes into Sunday’s clash having scored in the 3-1 victory over Dortmund in mid-week.
The 32-year-old, who is two assists away from 100 for Barça, has featured against Atlético 15 times, securing 10 victories, whilst drawing four and losing just once in all competitions. The last time Suárez netted against Simeone’s men at the Wanda Metropolitano was in October 2017, cancelling out Saúl Ñíguez’s opener and earning Barça a point in the Spanish capital.
Standing in the way of Suárez will be Slovenia international shot-stopper, Oblak. The 28-year-old has become part of the Atléti furniture since his arrival from Benfica in 2014. Oblak has helped his side to an impressive 50% clean sheet ratio (seven in 14 appearances so far) and is a key player under Simeone’s guidance.
Oblak has shipped a total of 19 goals when facing Barça to date, having made 13 appearances against the Blaugranes. Just one win and nine losses will not help his confidence though. It will be difficult to see how he can stop Suárez in full-flow, who continues to be lethal and clinical in front of goal, and will also have the likes of Messi and former teammate Griezmann to think about too.
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