Atletico Madrid vs Barcelona Preview

Atletico Madrid and Barcelona lock horns this weekend in what promises to be a title-defining matchup.
Spanish La Liga | Sunday 26 February | Vicente Calderon Stadium | 17:15

Spanish giants, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona, lock horns at the Vicente Calderon in what promises to be a crucial title-defining matchup. Leaders, Real Madrid, have just one catch-up game to play. Atletico are seven points off the top, while Barcelona find themselves just a point adrift. Both sides come into this clash in identical form, winning three straight matches in La Liga. A loss would all but rule either side out of the title race, proving just how important this encounter is. Luis Enrique’s Barcelona recently knocked out Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid of the Copa del Rey, so this could be the perfect time for revenge, or perhaps more misery from Barcelona.

To Win (90mins)
Atletico Madrid 21/10
Draw 9/4
Barcelona 13/10

Atletico Madrid

Atletico Madrid travel to Germany in midweek to take on Bayer Leverkusen in the Round of 16 in the UEFA Champions League. As big of a matchup that is, you cannot question the fact that Diego Simeone will have one eye set on this fixture.

Atletico have not beaten Barcelona in the league in 13 meetings. That’s an astonishing record for a side competing for the title. Los Rojiblancos have had some success over the Catalans in the UEFA Champions League, but have somewhat crumbled against them in the league.

Simeone’s men are riding a three-game winning streak in La Liga and come off an emphatic 4-1 win at Sporting Gijon last weekend. Kevin Gameiro netted a five-minute hat-trick to take his tally to nine goals for the season, level with Antoine Griezmann.

In team news, Jan Oblak could make his return from a dislocated shoulder ahead of schedule. The Slovenian shot-stopper hasn’t played since December 12, and had to watch on as his side conceded week in and week out – something that the Atletico camp is not used to seeing.

Gameiro who came on in the 62nd minute against Sporting Gijon, earned praise from the manager in his post-match press conference.

"We leave happy because the team was calm and relaxed enough at the end to hurt them with our play,

"I am happy for Gameiro because it's not easy to score three goals in a match and that will stand him in good stead," said Simeone.

Gameiro coming off the bench to score a hat-trick just shows the class in depth that Atletico have up front, with Griezmann, Fernando Torres and Yannick Carrasco all capable of chipping in with the goals.



Barcelona

Last week was one to forget for those within Barcelona and after a late 2-1 victory over Leganes, things do not look convincing coming into this fixture. In the UEFA Champions League, Barcelona were shell-shocked to a 4-0 defeat by Paris Saint-Germain, all but ruling them out in the second leg.

Barcelona then scraped past newly-promoted Leganes which saw the fans show their frustration in the match, whistling in disgust as they continue to see their beloved club crumble in the business end of the season.

Coach Luis Enrique has made it clear that he understands the fans' whistling towards him after the 4-0 defeat to PSG and during their clash against Lega.

"The situation is what it is, I understand the criticism towards me after the difficult game in Paris,"

"We knew that it would be complicated, we controlled the match but after the Champions League we lacked confidence at times even after our goal," said Enrique.

Barcelona do have the better record of the two sides in this match, but a lack of confidence and belief could leave the Catalans open and exposed. Barca are guaranteed goals when they step foot on the pitch and are currently the league’s highest scorers on 63 for the season so far.

Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez are two of the most prolific scorers in the division, scoring 19 and 18 goals respectively. Along with Neymar, Barca have the best attacking trio in world football since Brazil’s front three of Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Rivaldo.

The all South American trilogy can hurt any defence when they’re in the mood and with no midweek games to worry about, Barca will be well-prepared heading into this match.

Probable line-ups:

Atletico Madrid: 4-4-2
Oblak; Vrsaljko, Godin, Savic, Luis; Saul, Gabi, Koke, Carrasco; Griezmann, Gameiro.

Barcelona: 4-3-3
Ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Busquets, Gomes, Iniesta; Messi, Neymar, Suarez.

Prediction: Draw (9/4)
This is a must-win game for both sides as Real Madrid look to be clearing away at the top. Barcelona have dominated this fixture in recent seasons, but with Enrique under a lot of criticism, Atletico could earn themselves a point. These sides drew the reverse fixture, and I’m expecting another stalemate at 9/4.

Written by Jesse Nagel.