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On Sunday at 9.00pm CET, FC Barcelona go to Atlético Madrid for one of the most crucial games of the league season. Let’s take a closer look at the mattress-makers.
Founded by Basques living in the Spanish capital (hence the name and red and white shirts modelled on those of Athletic Club) Atlético Madrid is one of the biggest clubs in the world. But competing in the same league as the even more gargantuan Real Madrid and FC Barcelona means trophies have been harder to come by than one would expect for a club of such stature.
They have won ten leagues, most recently in 1996 and 2014, and have won the Europa League three times in the last decade, while also reaching the Champions League final twice, suffering the pain of losing on both occasions to their city rivals Real.
Located in the Rosas neighbourhood, the Wanda Metropolitano replaced the Vicente Calderón as the home of Atlético in 2017. It is an expansion of an abandoned stadium originally built for an unsuccessful bid to win the World Athletics Championships. Holding over 68,000 supporters, it takes its name from the Chinese real estate company that acquired the naming rights. It was here that Liverpool beat Tottenham 2-0 to win last season’s Champions League.
The other side of the first game at the Wanda Metropolitano
HEAD TO HEAD
Games between Barça and Atlético developed a tradition of being absolute humdingers, with goals flying in at both ends, but perhaps as a result of Diego Simeone’s ‘caution first’ approach, encounters in the last decade have instead been intense, tactical and low-scoring affairs.
Impressively, Barça are unbeaten in 18 consecutive encounters against Atlético. But that’s only in the league. During that same period the rojiblancos have twice eliminated the Catalans from the Champions League.
The game at the Wanda Metropolitano last season ended 1-1. Diego Costa put the home side ahead with less than a quarter of an hour to go, but Ousmane Dembélé’s injury time equaliser earned an important point for Barça.
Barça won the return at the Camp Nou, 2-0. With five minutes to go, the game was still scoreless before Leo Messi and Luis Suárez both nabbed late goals.
Atlético have only lost one league game all season (away to Real Sociedad), and with form like that you’d expect them to be higher fourth. The problem has been the high number of draws – 7 of their last 11 have ended with the teams sharing a point each, including the 1-1 draw at Granada last week.
They come into this game after losing 1-0 at Juventus in the Champions League. Last sixteen qualification is still not assured as Bayer Leverkusen could still take second spot, although a win at home to Lokomotiv Moscow on the final day would ensure passage to the next round.
Best known for his over 100 caps, including three World Cups, for Argentina, Diego Simeone played a large part of his club football at Atlético. Following retirement, he managed a number of clubs in his home country plus Catania in Italy before being invited back to Atlético in 2011 as a replacement for the sacked Gregorio Manzano.
He is still there, masterminding the club into one of its most successful periods ever to the extent that the Barça-Real duopoly is no longer quite as clear-cut as it used to be, and some pundits are even talking about a ‘big three’ rather than a ‘big two’.
Most international caps: Héctor Herrera (Mexico, 74); José Giménez (Uruguay, 58); Santiago Arias (Colombia, 53); Stefan Savić (Montenegro, 50), Koke (Spain) 44; Šime Vrsaljko (Croatia, 43); Álvaro Morata (Spain, 32); Thomas Partey (Ghana, 27); Jan Oblak (Slovenia, 26); Diego Costa (Spain, 24)
Top scorer 2019/20: Álvaro Morata, 7 (5 in La Liga)
Barça connections: None of the current Atlético squad have a past at FC Barcelona, although curiously both Saúl and Koke are currently combining football with online masters degrees studied via the Barça Universitas system forming part of the Barça Innovation Hub.
Injuries: Jose Giménez, Stefan Savić and Diego Costa are three key players currently unavailable for selection.
2019-04-07 OTRO BARCELONA-ATLETICO 13-Optimized
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Jan Oblak: “We’re playing well but things aren’t going the way we want. We just need to take the points but we just need to improve a little bit and they will come. Against Barça, we’ll have an advantage with the fans behind us.”
Angel Correa: “The team’s working hard, we just need a bit more luck. Sunday is another chance in front of our people.”
Felipe: “It’s a huge game that we need to treat like any other. Ultimately, they’re three points like any others. For us, the fans are like an extra player.”
Thomas: “We’ve just lost a game but we’re professionals and know how to bounce back from things like that. We expect the fans to help get us through this game.”
Koke: “Griezmann gave everything in five years at Atlético. People all have their different opinions and we have to respect them.”
Jose Gimenez: “Games with Barça are always difficult. You have to be strong in every position and take your chances. And stop their forwards from getting any because we all know how good they are.”
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