Atletico Madrid and Barcelona headline the return of La Liga action this weekend following the international break, much like a shot of adrenaline to a dying man’s heart.
Atletico Madrid Aim For Top Spot Against Barcelona
Both teams have struggled for form in the league this season, despite being third and first respectively. Barcelona, in particular, finds themselves ten points adrift of their points total at this stage last season but still top the Liga standings, a single point better than their Saturday night opponents.
Barely two weeks after putting Madrid to the sword and Julen Lopetegui back on the unemployment line, the Blaugrana were humbled at the Camp Nou by Real Betis in their last game before the international break, despite the return of Leo Messi from injury.
Atleti, on the other hand, had to come from behind twice against Bilbao before securing all three points with a last-gasp winner from captain Diego Godin featuring a heavy limp and a VAR review. The result means that the Rojiblancos could overtake Barcelona on the log with a win over them and possibly become league leaders depending on results from Sevilla’s match-up with Rayo Vallecano on Sunday.
Godin remains on the sidelines following a semitendinous muscle injury suffered against Athletic Bilbao. He joins Jose Maria Gimenez, who has been out since mid-October, on the injury list. Good news for them, they have Stefan Savic, Diego Costa, World Cup winners Lucas Hernandez and Thomas Lemar, as well as Koke returning from injury in time to face their biggest test of the season so far.
Ivan Rakitic’s thigh muscle strain acquired over the international break will rule him out of contention for two to three weeks, but he was already slated to miss the Atleti game due to a red card picked up against Real Betis on the previous matchday. Record signing Philippe Coutinho also misses out via a torn muscle with peripheral players, Sergi Samper and Thomas Vermaelen, also sidelined with injuries. Samuel Umtiti’s return will be a sight for sore eyes who have seen their side ship in the eighth-most goals in the league so far; quite unbecoming of a team vying for top honours and a staggering 14 goals worse than the Blaugrana managed by this time last season. Hopefully, the returning Frenchman can bring some much-needed stability to Barca’s backline.
In The Shadows
Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann heaped salt in the rejection wounds he inflicted on Barcelona in the summer transfer window by affirming that he had made the best decision by spurning the longing Catalan eyes and opting to stay at Atletico Madrid. His love for the club and a desire to not be in the now-famous shadow of Barca’s talisman Leo Messi fueling his eagerness to remain with Diego Simeone’s men.
Saturday’s top of the table clash would be as good an opportunity as any to prove his mettle and outshine the Argentine maestro who despite three weeks out injured still leads the pichichi race and has so far outscored Griezmann nine goals to three.
Barcelona have proven over time that they thoroughly enjoy red-letter days in La Liga and despite their recent struggles, it would be dangerous to consider them anything but favourites against Atletico Madrid who haven’t managed a league victory over the Blaugrana in over eight years.
However, Barcelona have scarcely been more vulnerable and it could be the perfect time for Diego Simeone to finally get one over Leo Messi and his merry band.