Barcelona didn’t look themselves at the start of the season. Fans were worried that they were missing Neymar and there were a few early shaky results to suggest that might be the case. They lost the Spanish Supercup after succumbing to defeat in both legs and they went on to edge past Real Betis and Alaves in their opening two games.
They found another gear after that though and they have continued their winning ways. They have not always looked at their best and those early losses to Real Madrid still worry supporters who have doubts about how this team will fare against the bigger teams in the league. But this is one such big team and a win here could end those doubts.
Personally, I can understand those concerns. Yes, they beat Juventus and yes it was quite comfortable. But European competition is different to domestic competition, especially when that domestic competition is La Liga. It’s a different game and Atletico Madrid will be the toughest test that Barca have face in the league this season, giving them concerns that they will lose their 100% winning record. The fact that they are away won’t help, nor will the mounting tensions over Catalan independence. This is going to be a huge game and it’s one that Barca will be lucky to escape from unscathed.
The red and white side of Madrid has had a fairly bright start to the season. They are fourth in the league, which they will see as beneath their capabilities, but they will be delighted with the fact that they are ahead of Los Blancos, albeit by only a point. Griezmann and Co have a huge game on their hands here, but they will be looking to get something from it in order to stop the Barca march.
In fact, Real may just be cheering for Atletico in this one, which they won’t be comfortable with at all. That’s because a win for Barca could move them 10 points clear of Real Madrid. Even at this early stage that is going to look like a mountain. It will mean that Barca can afford to lose both Classicos, and drop another 3 points, and still have enough to win the title. When you’re dealing with such dominant teams, that sort of lead is insurmountable.
But can Atletico Madrid beat Barca? They have not been overly impressive this season, scraping league wins here and there and falling short against the big teams. They lost at home to Chelsea in the Champions League and they have drawn to Valencia, who are a top contender this season. On the plus side, they have done enough to get in the top four and they have all recorded a home win against Sevilla. The talent is definitely there, but they will need a lot of things to go their way this weekend if they are going to get the better of Barca.
Players will be arriving back from international duty with Messi being on the top of the world after helping his country to qualify, even though it looked like all hope was gone. However, there is bad news elsewhere. Star signing Ousmane Dembele is out for a few months and will not get to show La Liga what he is capable of. The £130m striker was injured during his first league start for Barca, showing you just how vulnerable players can be and just how ridiculous those transfer fees can look when it happens.
Suarez is doubtful, which is another big loss, albeit one that they are becoming accustomed to, and Iniesta and Turan will probably not make the trip either. They are big losses, make no mistake about it, but this is Barcelona we’re talking about. They have a wealth of talent to drop into those roles and make this a world beating team regardless. What’s more, they will still have Messi, and that’s usually all that matters.
This is going to be a tough game for both teams and it think that it will end as a draw. I can see the home team sitting back and absorbing pressure, before trying to release their quick and clinical strikers. It’s a way they usually look to play and it doesn’t always work, but Barca are not as good at breaking these sort of teams down as they used to be and I think that Atletico will have enough to frustrate them.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say it will end 0-0, because I’m sure there will be goals. But I think 1-1 or 2-2 are better options, with Barca dominating possession but not dominating the scoresheet. The problem that they have, is that they will be relying too much on Messi upfront. As good as he is, he can only carry a team so far in big games like this.
I don’t think that Deulofeu is good enough to be playing in the first team, I don’t see Paulinho being much of a goal threat, and that leaves players like Alcacer, who is hardly prolific. So, they are going to have to rely on midfield and that will keep those goals to a minimum.
Betting Tip: Draw, 3.30 @ Bet365