Barcelona are set to take on Atletico Madrid in La Liga this weekend in what can prove to be a very crucial clash in the title race. Xavi’s men sit atop the Spanish league table but are level on points with Real Madrid.
Barcelona will be hoping to bounce back from their 1-1 draw against Espanyol and find a way to get past Atletico. The derby was a game marred by controversy but Xavi’s men have no excuses for not being clinical.
Atletico Madrid on the other hand are fourth in the La Liga table with 27 points, 11 behind the league leaders. They already look out of the title race but would garner some hope should they beat Barcelona on Sunday.
Diego Simeone’s side are coming off a rather impressive 2-0 win over Elche. Joao Felix and Alvaro Morata scored for the Spanish club with former Barça player Griezmann providing the assist for both goals.
Barcelona have some huge misses for the game against Atletico. Robert Lewandowski is out due to a three-match suspension whilst Jordi Alba will also miss the game due to a red card that he got last time around.
Ahead of such an important clash, Barça Universal takes a look at the three key battles that could decide which way the game goes.
1. Jules Kounde vs Yannick Carrasco
There are certain doubts over Kounde’s form coming into this important game following a less-than-ideal performance in the Copa del Rey clash against Intercity FC. Despite this, the Frenchman is expected to be ready to start against Atletico.
He is likely to be pitted at the right-back against the Belgian wing-back Yannick Carrasco.
Carrasco loves getting forward but being in a Simeone system, he has matured defensively as well. If one of Raphinha or Ousmane Dembele have a good game, it would pin Carrasco back in defence which would work well for Kounde.
On the other hand, Carrasco has caused quite a few problems for Barça in the past. If he has a good game going forward, Kounde might be left isolated against him, which could cause problems. This is where Raphinha’s work are might come in handy, should Xavi start him.
2. Frenkie de Jong vs Antoine Griezmann
Griezmann doesn’t have a fixed position in the Atletico team. On paper, he lines up as a part of a front two, or on the right-hand side or the left-hand side of a front three but he hardly plays there anymore.
The French forward has adapted his game and is often found in midfield. He acts as the link between the attackers and midfielders and almost everything in the game goes through him. Of late, he has been having a Messi-esque influence on games.
Griezmann is in the form of his life. He had a sensational World Cup with France and has three assists in two games since his return to club football. Against his former club, he will be determined to prove a point.
Frenkie de Jong is expected start the game against Atletico and the only question mark is where he would play.
If the selection last week and the fact that Busquets played the whole game against Intercity is any indication, then de Jong could be starting at the base of the midfield against Atletico.
He would be pretty much operating in the same region as Griezmann does. We all know how de Jong loves getting forward but he will have a greater defensive responsibility against Atletico.
If he can keep Griezmann quiet, half the problem will be solved for Barça. On the other hand, if Frenkie gets forward too often, it opens the possibility of Griezmann getting ample time and space to work with which can be very dangerous.
3. Alejandro Balde vs Marcos Llorente
In the absence of Jordi Alba, it is almost certain that Balde will get a start against Cholo Simeone’s side. He will go up against Marcos Llorente who usually plays down the right for Atletico.
The Spaniard who is naturally a midfielder has adapted to playing in the wing-back role and he does that to nearly-devastating effect. Electric going forward and effective in defence, Llorente can be a handful.
Balde loves attacking, too, and is a menace with the ball at his feet. He is electric and his pace often gets him out of tricky situations. He has a glorious opportunity to show what he is all about against Atletico but it will not be easy.
Balde will have to be alert defensively due to the presence of Llorente. If he can keep getting forward, he will be able to keep Llorente pinned next to him. However, it also opens up the danger of a counter-attack.
Ultimately, this could be a battle of pace down the left-flank. Who comes out on top here could influence which way this game goes.