Barcelona v Atletico Madrid
Primera Division Match Preview
The big game in Spain takes place on Saturday afternoon as the joint leaders Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, go head to head at the Camp Nou.
BARCA LOOKING TO EXTEND UNBEATEN RUN
It’s now 13 league games since Barcelona tasted defeat but that run faces a stiff test on Saturday, when Diego Simeone brings his Atletico Madrid team to Catalonia, for what promises to be a crunch clash. Having rifled in 16 goals in the first five league games of 2016, the defending champions are hitting form at just the right time and they warmed up for the weekend by eliminating Athletic Bilbao from the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, despite going a goal down early on to the visitors. With European commitments about to take centre stage once again in the coming weeks, coach Luis Enrique will be eager for his team to continue their excellent form domestically before continuing their defence of the Champions League.
ATLETICO PROVING DIFFICULT TO SHAKE OFF
Just like their hosts for the weekend, Atletico Madrid have had a great start to the New Year, winning four of their last five league matches. A goalless draw last Sunday at home to Sevilla, halted that wining sequence and that was followed by a surprise 3-2 defeat in the capital against Celta Vigo on Wednesday. Not ideal preparation for a trip to the champions for sure, but Simeone’s team are likely to relish the occasion rather than fear it. The fact that the 2014 league champions are (like Barcelona), four points clear of city rivals Real Madrid, is motivation in itself to try to get a positive result from the Camp Nou. The best football betting guides currently quote them as third favourites at *11.00 to win their second league title in three years.
Barcelona will welcome back defender Gerard Pique for Saturday’s big game having now served his recent suspension. There was more good news for the Blaugrana when Brazilian superstar Neymar came through the mid-week cup tie unscathed, after returning from a hamstring problem. Jordi Alba is struggling to be ready for the weekend so Frenchman Jeremy Mathieu will in all probability, deputise at left-back.
For the visitors, their only injury concerns are with midfielder Thiago and striker Fernando Torres, whose future at the club remains uncertain. Young Argentine striker Angel Correa will miss the trip north due to suspension, after picking up his fifth booking last weekend. Colombian frontman Jackson Martinez looks certain to be left out once again, with Luciano Vietto claiming a starting berth up front with star man Antoine Griezmann (*3.60 on the best betting websites to be an anytime scorer)
PROBABLE STARTING XI’S
Barcelona (4-3-3) Bravo; Mathieu, Pique, Mascherano, Alves; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Neymar, Suarez, Messi
Atletico Madrid (4-4-2) Oblak; Luis, Godin, Gimenez, Juanfran; Koke, Gabi, Fernandez, Niguez; Vietto, Griezmann
HEAD TO HEAD
Barcelona hasn’t lost to Atletico in all competitions since February 2006, winning seven of the last ten encounters between the two sides. The champions have also won 10 of their last 11 home league games, keeping a clean sheet in five of the last six. Atletico Madrid’s away form is excellent however, having only lost two of the last 19 away from the capital. Simeone’s team are also difficult to score against, having kept a clean sheet in nine of their last 11 league games.
Barcelona 1.50 Draw 4.00 Atletico Madrid 7.00
*odds courtesy of Bet365
Steve Mitchell (@barafundler)