Ahead of a game that feels like a final, our editors try predicting the final score and share their player to watch of Tuesday night’s match between Barcelona and Atlético de Madrid.
After a disappointing 2–2 draw away against Celta de Vigo, Barcelona need to get back to winning ways tonight at the Camp Nou. Otherwise, the La Liga trophy could be an even more unachievable goal for the blaugranas. Still, Diego Pablo Simeone’s Atlético de Madrid will by no means be easy opposition. Following four wins and a single draw, they are one of the most in-form teams in Spain since the break. Standing in third, they are ready to end Barça’s title hopes.
Ahead of such a critical encounter, our editors share their predictions, thoughts and player to keep an eye on from Tuesday afternoon’s clash between Barcelona and Atleti.
Barcelona 1–0 Atlético de Madrid
Internal tension must not show on the field
The last time these two sides faced off, a certain Ernesto Valverde was shown the door after a humiliating 3–2 loss in the Spanish Super Cup. This time around, Quique Setién is on the verge of a similar fate. With the enormous pressure on his shoulders, one would bet that he would go for a safe game with experienced players getting the nod to start. The return of Sergio Busquets couldn’t come at a better time for the manager.
Diego Pablo Simeone’s men are on a four-game win streak, and in red hot form since the restart of football. The rise of Marcos Llorente, return of João Felix, Diego Costa, an in-form Saúl Ñíguez and Thomas Partey will make this a difficult hurdle. Given Cholo‘s track record, it is safe to say it will be a low scoring encounter.
Player to Watch: Jan Oblak
Slovenian goalkeeper Jan Oblak has once again been one of the most influential players for Atlético de Madrid this season. With 14 clean sheets and just 0.7 goals conceded per game, he has single-handedly saved vital points for his club on multiple occasions. With Barcelona already struggling to create adequate chances, it will be a mammoth task to see any go past Oblak. As he usually does, expect him to step up when it matters most and terrorize the star-studded Barça attack.
Jan Oblak is a wall between the sticks | Photo by Óscar del Pozo / AFP via Getty Images
Barcelona 1–0 Atlético de Madrid
Barcelona dropped points in Vigo and seek a win at the Camp Nou to stay in the title race. Despite the morals being low in the blaugrana camp, they have to go out from the get-go for an excellent performance to win against the in-form colchoneros. To get their redemption, the culés will have to create more against a much better opponent, and defend as they did prior to the Celta de Vigo game. Also, they should play a more direct style of play, especially given Atleti’s rigid defence. In defence, they should keep playing out of the back to defend with the ball.
“The best plan is to win, as with victories all our objectives appear optimistic and positive”
Diego Pablo Simeone
on June 22 before beating Levante
Player to watch: Gerard Piqué
Barcelona kept seven clean sheets with Quique Setién as manager, and Gerard Piqué is no stranger to that form by the Catalans. The former Manchester United defender kept the defence together in Vigo, making up for his lack of pace with some fantastic placement to cover up for Samuel Umtiti’s errors. Against Atlético, Piqué has to defend against a methodic side and the in-form Marcos Llorente. Since the Liverpool Champions League clash, Llorente has been in fine form, and Piqué has to stop him. Also, if Barça fail to get a goal, Piqué’s areal qualities could help the azulgranas lead or draw.
Barcelona 1–1 Atlético de Madrid
A baptism of fire
Amid a tsunami of chaos and conflict, Barcelona will welcome Atlético de Madrid to the Camp Nou. In what is easily the most stern test since La Liga’s resumption, a lot is at stake for the Catalans. The title race in recent days has slipped further away from Barça and for the sake of morale on and off the pitch, a win tonight is absolutely vital. A lot of clouds surround the future of Quique Setién’s tenure at Barcelona, but he and his side must focus on the massive task at hand to try and fight till the end.
Standing in their way, a formidable Atlético Madrid side who are in great form. The third placed side will be missing two key players in Stefan Savić and Koke Resurrección through suspension. Yet, los Colchoneros will be determined to extend their unbeaten run to 13 games.
Player to watch: Thomas Partey
Atlético’s Ghanian midfield powerhouse Thomas Partey will have a crucial part to play tonight against Barcelona’s ever dangerous front line. With Atlético sure to try and catch Barça out in transition, Partey will have to be at the top of his game. He will have to be sharp as ever to win the ball back and progress it further for his side. A lot of players will have crucial parts to play but Thomas Partey will likely be at the centre of proceedings. It will be interesting to see how he copes. A lot of potential suitors will be eyeing him and this could be one of his biggest auditions.
Barcelona 2–1 Atlético de Madrid
Storm at the Camp Nou
The loss of the top spot in La Liga, the 2–2 draw at Balaídos against Celta de Vigo, the controversial sale of Arthur Melo and further signing of Miralem Pjanić, the reported rupture between the dressing room and the coaching staff, the uncertain future of manager Quique Setién…All of these matters have been adding insult to injury at Barcelona’s already delicate situation on and off the pitch.
Marcos Llorente has shocked fans with his performances in an unanticipated position | Photo by AFP7 / Zuma via Imago
The pressure is extremely high as this critical clash against Atlético de Madrid feels like a final. A final for the La Liga title, as dropping more points could push Barça further away from the trophy. And a potential final for Setién, who could be sacked in case of a defeat according to numerous sources. With all this tension, the locals will need to turn all their focus on tonight’s decisive encounter and leave all the noise aside. If this is accomplished and Quique Setién remains true to his principles, a good performance and win from the Catalans could certainly be witnessed.
Player to watch: Marcos Llorente
Marcos Llorente has been reborn after the break. Not only in terms of finding his best form again, but of finding a new and unexplored position for him too. Always seen as a tenacious defensive midfielder, Diego Pablo Simeone has been playing him in a much more advanced role since the break too.
The hero at Anfield already, the former Real Madrid academy product has become a surprise for all fans since he has been operating much higher up the pitch. Even as a secondary striker at times, he has been moving between the lines and on the wing frequently. A machine at pressing and very determined when he has to attack spaces, Llorente has arguably been the most in-formed La Liga player since the return of action.
How should Barcelona lineup against Dynamo Kyiv?
If the horrid performance against Atletico Madrid was not enough, injuries continue to plague Barcelona’s season further. The Catalans were outplayed at the Wanda Metropolitano. However, the question is: How does the team recover from a defeat like that?
After initial injuries to Ansu Fati and Sergio Busquets threatened to derail the Catalans season, the club has now confirmed both Gerard Pique and Seri Roberto to be out through injury for a long spell.
Yet, for all the mayhem in the league, Barcelona’s position in the champions league is safe. With three wins from their opening three encounters, they sit untouched at the top of the group. Ronald Koeman pointed to the same when asked about his decision of resting Lionel Messi and Frenkie de Jong. With so many key players out injured and others rested, how should Barcelona line-up against Dynamo Kyiv?
What to expect from Dynamo Kyiv?
The first game between the two sides provided more than it had promised. Kyiv were missing 13 players through COVID-19, yet that did not reflect on the pitch. Barcelona dominated the opening spell of the game. However, beyond the 25-minute mark, there was a sudden drop in energy levels. The Catalans seemed to ease off, opening the gates to a close-fought level headed battle which could have gone either way.
Mircea Lucescu has stuck to his successful 4-1-4-1 in the Champions League too. The overload in midfield is a potent obstacle to most oppositions, though one would expect Barcelona to break it down. The Ukrainians have often resorted to, and will most probably look to once again implement a low block. The press is high, however, isn’t very prominent in the opposition half.
Lucescu will bring up a harbour of troubles for Barcelona. (Photo by ATTILA KISBENEDEK / AFP)
Instead, Lucescu’s men look to hit on the counter. Victor Tsygankov, Vitaliy Buyalski and Vladydlav Supryaga have time and time again proved to invaluable for the same.
Learning from their mistakes, Barcelona will have to plug the spaces in between lines to come back home with all three points. It is a much younger side travelling to Ukraine. Moreover, with this being a chance for many of them to impress, one can expect the youth to step up.
How should the Barcelona line-up?
The only department that seems sorted for the time being is the Goalkeeper. Yet, ter Stegen too is coming off a horrid mistake at the Wanda Metropolitano. One that cost Barcelona the match. Undoubtedly, the German will be keen to make a statement on Tuesday.
The defence is in jeopardy. Gerard Pique could likely miss anywhere between three months to the end of the season after suffering a muscle sprain and partial cruciate ligament tear. Ronald Araujo is not fit to compete either, and with Samuel Umtiti’s state not helping the cause, Koeman stares into blackness.
Yet, one man’s loss is another’s gain. Given the situation, young Barcelona B centre-back Oscar Mingueza could get his chance to impress. In fact, it was a point Koeman specifically hinted to at the pre-match interview. Alongside him will undoubtedly be Clement Lenglet, whose importance is now more than ever. In Pique’s absence, the Frenchman will have to take up the onus of leadership and marshalling the troops.
Sergi Roberto’s injury opens the door for Sergino Dest to start the game at right-back. Unquestionably, his pace will be crucial to neutralise Kyiv’s threat on the counter.
At left-back, one expects Jordi Alba to start once again. In the absence of Lionel Messi, the Spaniard’s importance will be more than ever to create chances going forward.
Ronald Koeman could opt for a change in formation going into this clash, given his limited resources. Indeed, a 4-3-3 would be an ideal setup to try with the new crop of players. Miralem Pjanic could start as the defensive midfielder operating deeper in the position. Nevertheless, It is not a new role for the Bosnian, as he has played as a single pivot on many occasions in his career.
The midfield could be completed by the duo of Pedri and Carles Alena. Pedri had a comparatively quiet night against Atletico Madrid and will look to make amends. Carles Alena could finally get a well-deserved start after being neglected from the start of the season.
Antoine Griezmann could well start as the centre-forward on the night. The Frenchman has come under intense scrutiny by the media, both for his performances and statement made by people in his environment. Indeed, it will be an essential night for the World Cup winner, as he will lead the Catalan attack.
🗣 — Griezmann: "I am very well here at Barça, they have welcomed me very well. I want to help the team. They trusted me and now I want to reciprocate that trust by helping the team win. There is no problem with anyone, I'm really fine and I just ask you to leave me a bit calm." pic.twitter.com/XuOLl92GQH— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) November 23, 2020
Flanking him on the left side would be Ousmane Dembele, who is undoubtedly a major asset for Koeman. In these trying times with limited options, his all-round play comes as a whiff of fresh air.
On the right-flank, Fransisco Trincao would be the ideal option. Koeman has under-utilised the Portuguese winger so far. However, Tuesday night could be his chance to impress as the Dutch manager looks to rest key players. Moreover, his combination with Dest will be crucial for Barcelona to break down Lucescu’s side.