In what can be called the clash of the season, Atletico Madrid visit Barcelona for a match that decides the La Liga title. Diego Simeone’s men blew up a wonderful chance to clinch the league last week when they could only draw with Malaga at the Calderon. Barcelona were dull in their 0-0 draw against Elche last week whereas Real Madrid were thrown out of the title race with their loss against Celta Vigo. Barcelona might have given up their title hopes with that draw, clearly having difficulty in breaking down the compact Elche back-line, but the happenings of last week give them a real chance in front of their home crowd to bag another league despite having a roller coaster season this year.
Barcelona have two players- Gerrard Pique and Neymar who are recuperating from injuries but may play a part in the match. Apart from these two players, who may stage a speedy recovery to play in the match of the season, Barca would be having their full strength squad. Atletico Madrid on the other hand have one major worry as their talismanic lead scorer Diego Costa, who has been in the news as a top priority for Chelsea, is still recovering from his hamstring injury. Costa would be battling against time to be fit for the epic clash on Saturday evening.
Style of Play Expected
We need to remember that Atletico need only one point to grab the title. This would surely mean that they wouldn’t commit too many men forward and would like to be real compact and defensive. Like many other clubs who have held Barcelona with their tough defences, Atletico Madrid would also try to do the same using some of their big players and defensive midfielders. Atletico don’t actually mind playing a counter attacking game. With an exquisite play-maker in the form of Koke, once the ball is won, we can fully expect the young Spaniard to have a pin-point pass forward to reach the striker. Atletico’s style of counter-attacking helps them to hold their shape as well as preserve their energy. They rely on long passing and moving the ball rather than the usual speedy counter attacks. They don’t have a speedster, but they do have some great passers. Atletico would want to slow the tempo of the game and again ruffle up Barcelona in the middle of the park. Not allowing Barcelona’s flair players enter the 18 yard box can be a good ploy, as most of the Barca players are strong in dribbling, which earns them many penalties. Atletico have had a very good recent record against Barca as they were the ones who knocked the Catalans out of the Champions League.
Barcelona on the other hand would look to rely on the Nou Camp crowd support. They have done it before, and they have experienced campaigners who have won numerous trophies including the La Liga. With the quality of the attacking players Barcelona possess, we can never write off the Spanish champions despite them being in considerably poorer form in comparison to their final rivals his season. Diego Simeone’s team would have been the last team Barca would have wanted to face because of the resilience in their ranks. But when we consider the world class flair shown by Messi, Neymar, Iniesta, Xavi, Fabregas etc, we can expect a change in tactics by the under-fire manager Tata Martino, who can make his players play direct and penetrative football. Barcelona would have to make sure to take on defenders in the Atletico Madrid area and burst into the penalty box. There is comparatively less fear of losing out on the counter, because Barca themselves have some very good counter attacking players, while it would be a well-known fact that Atletico will first aim for a draw and would not want to commit men forward. Parking the bus is not something the Catalans enjoy playing against, but they would be expecting that the dribbling and vision of their star players can yield them the penetration that they have found difficult to find against Atleti.
Lionel Messi is right up there with the best in the world and more often than not, he steals the show on big occasions. He has been there, done that and has the ball skills and flair that probably on Cristiano Ronaldo can compete with. On his day, which it is on many occasions, he can absolutely annihilate opponents with his nimble footwork and direct dribbling coupled with the most clinical finishing in today’s era. He would be the talisman that Barca would depend on. He will have to deliver the title for them, in what has been their toughest La Liga season in many years.
The diminutive Spaniard is obviously one of the most important players in the team. His incisive passing and vision has always been important. Moreover he has the ability to draw defenders towards him which frees up a lot of space for his team-mates to exploit. He would have to be in his best form to break down Atletico Madrid, which has the league’s best defensive record.
The Atletico captain would have one of his most important matches up till now in his career, of course which would change once he faces city rivals Real Madrid in the Champions League final. Gabi will have to marshal the midfield as well as the basic defensive shape of the team while not in possession. He would have to help his team-mates to curb their attacking instincts and defend for their lives. Gabi will also have a key job as a passer in the midfield as he would hold the duty to keep the ball rolling in the midfield. Atletico Madrid, despite being compact, would duly punish Barcelona if they offer a lot of space, and here, Gabi’s vision for passing would be important for the team if they need to exploit Barcelona’s somewhat shaky defending.
Courtois will have to face some of the best attackers in the world in his last two games for Atletico Madrid in this season, probably after which he would return back to his parent club Chelsea. Lionel Messi hasn’t scored past him in the past few meetings and would be raring to go at him, for which he would have to be on his toes. Barcelona pass the ball rapidly when they are closed down in the final third often leading to some very lethal attacks. The young Belgian will have to keep his eyes wide open to read the passing and anticipate the position from where a shot would be coming. It would be his first out of two gigantic tests in his young football career.