First meets second in La Liga on Sunday as Barcelona welcome their rivals from Madrid to the Camp Nou. But it isn’t Real Madrid that the Blaugrana are preparing to face, but rather their long-suffering neighbors Atletico. It may not be a Clasico, but it has the potential to be a classic.
Atletico suffered just their second league defeat of the season at the start of the month, with a 2-0 loss at Real Madrid, but can reignite their title challenge at the Camp Nou.
After years of dramatic underachievement, Atletico’s start to the season has been mightily impressive. And Barcelona boss Tito Vilanova has been quick to praise his side’s next opponents.
“Their points total says it all,” he said, according to Barcelona’s official website. “We’ve made the best ever start to a league season and they’re only six points behind. In any other league they would be the leaders. They’re making a great start to the season and they finished in excellent form last season. Putting the two runs together is spectacular.”
The match is unsurprisingly being widely billed as a clash between La Liga’s two top scorers: Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Atletico goal machine Radamel Falcao. But Vilanova stressed that Diego Simeone’s side are more than just a one-man team.
“They’ve got a group of quality players, who are absolutely clear about what they have to do,” he explained. “They’re not just Falcao; they’ve got goal scorers like Diego Costa and Adrian, and the midfielders and fullbacks get into attacking positions. And when they have to defend, they defend very well all together.”
Barcelona, who beat Cordoba 2-0 in the first leg of their Copa del Rey last 16 tie on Wednesday, will again be without Cesc Fabregas for the visit of Atletico. The midfielder has been ruled out until the New Year with a thigh injury.
Atletico also enjoyed a comfortable midweek Copa del Rey win; 3-0 over Getafe. Falcao was left out of that match as a precaution as he continues to battle a hamstring injury, but it would be a major surprise were the Colombian not to start against Barcelona. More of a doubt is fellow forward Adrian Lopez, who was taken off against Getafe with an ankle injury.
D: Alves, Puyol, Pique, Alba
M: Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta
F: Pedro, Messi, Sanchez
Atletico Madrid (probable)
D: Juanfran, Miranda, Godin, Luis
M: Suarez, Gabi
Turan, Costa, Koke
Prediction: While they still head into the match as underdogs, Atletico should at least improve on last season’s corresponding fixture when they crashed to a 5-0 defeat. Simeone’s men have been prolific at home this season, but it has been a very different story away from home where they have scored just eight goals in seven matches.
In their two toughest away tests this season, at Valencia and then Real Madrid, Atleti have lost while failing to score. They may well hit the back of the net on Sunday, but Barcelona’s quality should see them open up a nine point lead atop La Liga.
Barcelona 3-1 Atletico Madrid
Where to watch: The La Liga contest will kick-off at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sport. A Live stream, which you view at your own discretion, will be available here.