Round 5 in La Liga sees a host of midweek fixtures featuring, among other intriguing encounters, a first league meeting this season between two of Spain’s ‘big 3.’ Barcelona and Atletico Madrid face off at the Camp Nou having experienced mixed starts to this year’s campaign, but both enter Wednesday night’s game off the back of comprehensive 1-5 and 5-0 wins against Leganes and Sporting respectively. With rivals Real having taken the maximum 12 points available to date, defeat for either combined with a Los Blancos home victory over Villarreal the same night could see daylight begin to form at the top of the table.
It’s been a funny start to the season for the Catalans, although coach Luis Enrique will not necessarily be laughing. On one hand, Barca have won three La Liga matches by an aggregate score of 12-3, including a difficult away win at San Mamés, and also racked up a 7-0 home win in the Champions League against a hapless Celtic as well as claiming another Supercopa in demolishing Sevilla. In the league so far, Barcelona’s heralded attacking triumvirate of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar have also added nine goals between them, but it is the five goals in the against column which points to a pressing need to tighten up at the back. And that is where the smile would have been erased from Enrique’s face, especially in light of his side’s shock 1-2 reverse at the hands of promoted Alavés in Round 3 in which the coach himself was culpable having chosen to rest Messi and Suarez, thus highlighting his side’s over-reliance on their star attacking duo who have scored 15 goals between them in just six competitive starts so far.
It is fair to say Atleti got off to a slow start in their La Liga campaign; two draws from their opening two games frustrating their boss Diego Simeone as well as their passionate support. Since then it has been two handsome victories (0-4 at Celta and 5-0 against Sporting) in the league as well as an important away win at PSV in the Champions League. Los Rojiblancos have their own free-scoring trinity up front with Antoine Griezmann, Kevin Gameiro and Fernando Torres already adding eight goals between them in four La Liga games to date. As always under Simeone, Atleti have been watertight at the back, and including their Champions League game have conceded just a single goal so far, a last minute penalty in their opening round draw against Alavés, who have so far delighted in taking points off the big boys.
Team news and head-to-head
Last season’s four meetings between these two sides were nothing short of epic, and while it was the Catalans who came out on top in both league meetings (2-1 on each occasion with Atletico having taken the lead in both), it was the side from the capital who progressed past the Champions League quarter-finals at their domestic rival’s expense with a 3-2 aggregate victory. Neither side have any fresh injury concerns ahead of what promises to be a tight yet riveting encounter at the Camp Nou.
Atletico Madrid 5.750
All odds courtesy of Pinnacle and correct as of 13:00 GMT on 19/09/16
By: Steve Paget