After El Clasico and the Madrid derby, the big game in La Liga is arguably Atletico Madrid against Barcelona.
Since Diego Simeone took charge, this fixture has rarely disappointed, and with Barca currently top and Atleti in third (but on the same points as second-placed Sevilla and fourth-placed Alaves), this edition promises to be as absorbing as any other.
It’ll be the third time the Catalans have visited the Wanda Metropolitano. A 1-1 draw against Atleti last season was followed by an incredible Copa Del Rey final victory over Sevilla, so it’s safe to say that Ernesto Valverde’s side have good memories of the venue.
Acoustically and aesthetically, there aren’t too many better stadia, and Atleti often use this to their advantage, the noise from their ‘12th man’ overwhelming for an opponent.
Barca won’t be fazed though. Especially since they’ve not lost to the Rojiblancos home or away in the league since February 2010.
Since then, the Blaugrana have won six and drawn two at the Vicente Calderon, as well as last season’s draw at the Wanda.
Current form has been patchy for both sides, mind.
Although Atleti were comfortable winners over Dortmund in their Champions League return, they struggled against Sant Andreu in the cup, weren’t great against Leganes (a 1-1 draw) and needed a last-minute winner from an injured Diego Godin to overcome Athletic.
Barca only managed to beat Leonesa thanks to Clement Lenglet’s last-minute goal, two goals in the last four minutes saw victory snatched from the jaws of defeat at Rayo Vallecano on their last visit to the capital, they let a late lead slip at Inter and were comprehensively outplayed by Betis, despite the scoreline suggesting otherwise.
With Rakitic and Coutinho out for the visitors, and Atleti currently without any centre-backs (as all four of Godin, Lucas, Jose Gimenez and Savic are injured), the tussle will be no less intriguing than usual.
Despite his personal woes and what seems like an ultimatum from the club, Ousmane Dembele has a chance to prove all of the doubters wrong in Madrid.
Philippe Coutinho’s injury affords the young Frenchman the chance to shine, and up against friend and countryman, Antoine Griezmann, he has a point to prove.
If he can be an integral part of proceedings here, it will go some way to soothing the furrowed brow of Ernesto Valverde, who has already dropped the player for his nonchalant attitude. Luis Suarez has recently added his opinion to those of Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol in suggesting Dembele has to get his act together.
Whether he’s on the score sheet or not, his team-mates will be, and Atleti, despite their striking woes – just 16 goals in total in La Liga – will also grab one by hook or by crook. They almost always do.
In Barca’s last six away wins against them, they’ve only failed to find the net once. BetVictor have the Catalans to win with both teams to score at a decent 19/5.
In all of their games away at Atleti since their last loss in 2010, Barcelona have never scored more than two goals. That’s despite having their best players in situ.
The likes of Messi, Neymar and Suarez were always a threat but couldn’t win big against a side that pride themselves on their defensive excellence.
Indeed, there’s currently a huge debate ongoing as to whether the football that Simeone’s side are playing at present is in-keeping with what the supporters want to see.
That a defensive masterclass week in and week out is somehow less satisfying than all-out attack, even though the end result – three points – is the same should they win the match.
Defensive woes have been Barca’s Achilles heel all season, and they’ve not kept a clean sheet in 10 league games. Atleti will breach the wall again, but with the visitors the biggest scorers in the division by a distance, a 1-2 away win at 17/2 with Ladbrokes is too good to turn down.
It’s been the score in five of the last six wins for Barca at Atleti too.
Luckily for Griezmann, this first encounter between the sides takes place at the Wanda Metropolitano, for he will have received an altogether different reception at the Camp Nou.
After taking the entire summer before making a decision on his future but giving Barcelona the impression that he would be joining them, the Frenchman eventually decided to stay at Atleti.
No shame in staying put of course, but the way he went about it left a sour taste.
‘The Decision’ was a short film surrounding the entire process of how he came to decide to stay in Madrid, and what’s more, it was filmed and distributed by Gerard Pique’s company, Kosmos.
Not once, but twice therefore, Barca were made to look foolish.
At present, the Rojiblancos are lucky to be in with a shout of going top of the table because Griezmann himself has greatly underperformed in La Liga, scoring just three goals this season.
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