Diego Simeone and Luis Enrique shake hands

Image: AFP

With the Premier League on hiatus for the weekend, we turn our attention to the Spanish first division. This weekend features a matchup between two of La Liga’s biggest clubs as Atlético Madrid travel to the Nou Camp to take on Barcelona. Currently, these two giants sit level on points for the top spot in the table, but Barca have the advantage with a game in hand. A victory for Lionel Messi’s squad would give them the chance to open up a six-point gap at the top of the table, but will they be able to dismantle their guests?

Starting off with the visitors, one thing they have going for them this season is their league-best defense. Through the first 21 games of the season, Atlético have allowed just eight goals. This averages out to around a goal every third match. In comparison to rest of the league, the next best team (Barcelona) has allowed twice as many goals this season. The leader behind this amazing defensive record has to be center back Diego Godin. Godin has been arguably the best central defender in all of Europe this season and he has yet to miss a La Liga fixture this campaign. However, the last time the Uruguayan went up against Messi and company back in September, they fell 2-1 at home. Godin, as well as keeper Jan Oblak, will have their hands busy for the full 90 minutes, and their performance will determine how Atlético does this game.

In terms of Atlético’s attacking abilities, the goal scoring duties usually fall on the shoulders of Antoine Griezmann. The Frenchman has been touted as one of the most wanted strikers in Europe for the past couple seasons, and for good reason. Last year, Griezmann led the team in scoring with 22 goals (ten more than the next highest player). This year, the 24-year-old has continued to lead the team’s attack finding the net 12 times through just 21 games. While Griezmann has been thriving in the final third, the rest of Atlético’s attack has been average. No other player on the roster has more than three goals this season and their big summer signing Jackson Martínez has scored just twice. Atlético will need other players to step up against Barcelona; otherwise if Griezmann gets shut down the entire team falls with him.

Barcelona's attacking trio

Now for the home team, Barcelona could be in for a major fitness boost as Luis Enrique informed reporters that Neymar should be able to play in the match. The Brazilian has been dealing with a niggling foot injury, but seems fit enough to participate in the match. This year, Neymar has somehow continued to improve on his already unbelievable talent level scoring 16 goals and assisting another nine through just 17 league fixtures. Even at the young age of just 23, the Brazilian played well enough at the second half of last season and the start of this one to earn a spot in the FIFA Team of the Year. He managed to find the back of the net when these two teams faced off earlier in the season, and I expect him to be a constant goal threat in this match as well.

October 3rd, 2015. That is the last time that Barcelona lost a match in any competition. In that span, Blaugrana has dominated the likes of Real Madrid (4-0), Roma (6-1) and Athletic Bilbao…twice (2-1, 3-1). This 25-game unbeaten run has shown the world that Barca is still one of the best, if not the best team in the game. To make things even worse for Atlético, through 11 games at the Nou Camp this season, only one team has walked away with even a point. In those 11 games, Barca have also scored a mind boggling 38 goals (3.5 goals/game), while allowing just seven (0.6 goals/game) Even with their stout defensive unit, Atlético could be in for a thrashing when they stop on the field Saturday.

I think that I would be crazy to pick against Barcelona for a second time this season. Last time I did that, Real Madrid were handed a 4-0 embarrassment. I’ve learned from my mistakes and now fully respect the attacking trident that Barca use to terrorize any team that steps in their path. Final score: Barca 3-1 Atlético


Tags: , , ,