Atletico Madrid vs Barcelona Preview

Spanish La Liga | Saturday 12 September | Vicente Calderon | 20:30





The last two Spanish La Liga champions will meet in what has become an epic battle on Saturday at the Vicente Calderon. It was at this very stadium earlier this year where Barcelona beat Atletico 1-0 to end the title race and get back their title from Atletico who had stripped them the season prior.


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To Win (90mins)
Atletico 23/10
Draw 23/10
Barcelona 12/10

Atletico Madrid

Atletico kept up their 100 percent start to the season by beating UEFA Europa League champions Sevilla 3-0 away from home in a perfect Atleti performance, showcasing their abilities at both ends of the pitch as they dominated the first half, took the lead and then defended resolutely after the break. Koke and Gabi netted the first two goals and raised eight fingers, the third was scored by new signing Jackson Martinez. Their celebrations were in honour of Raul Garcia who donned the number eight jersey for eight seasons and has chosen a new challenge by joining Athletic Bilbao.

Atletico had a disappointing 2014 transfer window, but their business this time around has been very impressive. The season following their La Liga triumph saw them lose key personnel in Diego Costa, Thibaut Courtois and Filipe Luis to Chelsea as well as an inspirational David Villa. The only replacements brought in that truly matched those big outgoing names was Antoine Griezmann. This summer saw them spending €126m wisely, but also bringing in cash to total their net spending at just €5m. In defence they have a more solid backline with Luis returning to the club. Miranda struggled to demonstrate his 2013-14 form last term and although the Brazilian's departure was a sad one, the emerging Jose Gimenez, who is just 20, is more than capable of thriving alongside the exceptional Diego Godin, while the ever-impressive Juanfran completes a solid back four. The midfield departure list would suggest that this was a disappointing area of the transfer window for Atletico. The wonderfully-gifted Arda Turan has moved on to Barcelona, while Garcia made the move to Bilbao. Two players that were key in Atletico's excellent 2013-14 season have departed, but those that have arrived have bolstered the squad. Yannick Ferreira Carrasco is widely regarded as one of the best young talents in European football and arrives having made over 100 first-team appearances for Monaco.

Aside from Griezmann, Atletico lacked pace last season and his ability on either flank will be priceless. Keeping hold of Koke was always going to be vital, with the Spaniard one of the most in-demand midfielders in Europe. Oliver Torres has returned from Porto and, on the early evidence, fits into the Atletico midfield like a glove. In attack is where Atleti really needed to strengthen, and that they did. Losing Costa last year was an incredible blow and to be blunt, his replacement Mario Mandzukic did not cut it as his lack of pace and indeed movement did not suit an Atletico team that relies on work-rate. Raul Jimenez also struggled and although Fernando Torres returned in January, the Spaniard was never going to be a consistent scorer in the second half of the season. The signing of goal-machine Jackson Martinez, who netted 92 times in 132 games for Porto from 2012 to 2015, gives the team a dangerous look. Luciano Vietto has also arrived from Villarreal after hitting 20 goals in 48 games during his first season in Spanish football last term. Now, Atletico have options and indeed an abundance of quality in the final third.



Barcelona

Barcelona have two wins from two games but the champions have not hit top gear yet and have somewhat looked tired in their performances. They haven’t had the easiest of schedules so early in the season. A two week pre-season tour across the Atlantic was followed with a taxing trip to Georgia for the UEFA Super Cup and after a long haul home, the Blaugrana soon headed north to Bilbao for the Spanish Super Cup.

As La Liga then got underway, Luis Enrique's team evidently wasn't firing on all cylinders, but nonetheless managed to get across the line by picking up two 1-0 wins over Athletic Bilbao and Malaga. Then, just as they would ideally have hoped to begin to build some momentum, the international break hit and forced the players to shift focus. For the South American contingent of the squad in particular, that meant more long trips, with USA hosting friendlies contested by Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano's Argentina, as well as Neymar and Rafinha Alcantara's Brazil. The club coach will not have all of his first team players available to train until the middle of the week.

Barca’s match against Malaga was headlined by the front line featuring Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, with the Brazilian making a return after being kept out by a mumps infection, but despite Barcelona's star trio being reunited they needed help from Thomas Vermaelen who scored a 73rd minute winner to see off Malaga. Gerard Pique still has two matches to serve his suspension after abusing the referee in their Spanish Super Cup tie with Athletic Bilbao, while Dani Alves will miss this clash as he recuperates from a groin strain suffered two weeks back.

Probable line-ups:

Atletico 4-4-2: 
Oblak; Juanfran, Godin, Gimenez, Luis; Koke, Tiago, Gabi, O. Torres; Griezmann, Martinez

Barcelona 4-3-3: 
Bravo; Roberto, Mascherano, Vermaelen, Alba; Busquets, Iniesta, Rakitic; Messi, Suarez, Neymar

Betting Verdict: Draw 23/10
Barcelona have beaten Atletico in the last four meetings. However, Atletico look equipped to challenge them after revamping their squad as well as restoring the counter-attacking quality that helped them beat Barca to the league title in 2014. While both squads are full of players who feature for their national teams, Atletico might have an advantage for the simple reason that central midfielders Gabi and Tiago were not on international duty for Spain and Portugal respectively. Atletico will make it tough for Barcelona and a draw is tipped. 

Written by Wayde Dorkin for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!


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