Written by Damian Kayat for Hollywoodbets.
Atletico Madrid v Barcelona | Wednesday 13 April | Vincente Calderon Stadium | 20:45
Two weeks ago, this preview would have written itself as confidently as an appraisal of Aston Villa’s relegation prospects. Barcelona broke Spanish records, with their talismanic three garnering occasionally hyperbolic adulation. Atletico - for all their industry and organization- had mounting injury concerns and looked depleted. Things have indeed changed.
Barcelona’s shock defeat at the weekend has handed all the momentum to an Atletico side back in the hunt for La Liga. Torres’ first-half dismissal at the Nou Camp will no doubt be used as a galvanizing tool by Diego Simeone as Atletico aim to beat Barcelona for the first time since April 2014.
To Win (90 Mins)
Atletico 22/10 | Draw 23/10 | Barcelona 12/10
Diego Simeone’s side consistently defy expectations and retain relevance in a league where Barcelona and city rivals Real reign supreme. Simeone’s side have the physical edge of a Premier League side whilst retaining the technical virtuosity so clearly evident in Spanish football.
Torres- rightly or wrongly - will be suspended for this match, which will probably see Correa and Ferreira Carrasco flank the lethal Griezmann. Carrasco’s physicality and athleticism will prove troublesome for Dani Alves, whose own confidence seems to be somewhat deflated in recent weeks.
Tiago remains side-lined with injury while central defender Savic is also doubtful. Atletico will need to be mindful of their discipline: they have conceded five red cards in their last five matches against the Catalonian menace that is Barcelona.
Barcelona’s slight edge in technical wizardry is a recipe for disciplinary infraction by an Atletico side renowned for playing on the edge. Koke and Gabi will need to be judicious in tackling, and not get sucked into the petty politics sometimes seen in Spanish football. Griezmann will look to isolate Pique and use his considerable pace against him.
Luis Enrique’s side have experienced the type of late-season malaise that many have expected Leicester City to endure in the English Premier League. In many ways, their dependence on their much vaunted front three has illuminated some of the deficiencies in the side.
Lionel Messi hasn’t netted in over 300 minutes; his quest for that elusive 500th professional goal has left him uncharacteristically chaste in front of goal. Busquets needs to show more discipline in the holding role while Dani Alves looks a shadow of a player who has defined the role of the progressive full-back in recent history. Raktic and Iniesta will be locked in a battle for midfield supremacy with Gabi and Koke, one that could likely shape the entire fabric of the game.
There is a reason why Barcelona have beaten Atletico seven times in a row. Their subtle interplay and trickery brings out the worst aspects of Atletico’s pugilistic approach. They stretch Atletico’s resources to breaking point and generally wear them down. They have won all three of their encounters against Atletico this season by a 2-1 margin, having come from a goal down on all three occasions.
There is clearly a pattern that seems to suggest that Barcelona’s front three are experts at exploiting Atletico’s fading energy in the final third of their encounters.
Messi has scored 25 goals in 29 matches against Atletico and only holds a better scoring record against Sevilla. This strikes me as just the sort of occasion that Messi thrives on and I can see him scoring that career-defining goal this week.
Verdict: Barcelona 12/10
This one seems to fly in the face of recent events, but I believe Barcelona’s stardust will finally return when it matters most. In many ways, their two consecutive league defeats came at the time of the season when it doesn’t really hurt them- provided that they reread the script and act accordingly. I believe they will be all systems go this week and will probably welcome familiar opponents Atletico.
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