La Liga leaders Barcelona face a testing challenge at Atletico Madrid in their first game following the international break. The reigning champions come into the clash on the back of a disappointing and shock 4-3 defeat against Real Betis at home and this has reduced their lead at the summit to just the solitary point.
On the contrary, Atletico have accumulated back-to-back victories going into this fixture and this has witnessed them jump to third on the table with 23 points. A rare triumph over the Blaugrana on Saturday night should witness Diego Simeone’s side leapfrog their league competitors and potentially hold on to the top position.
Atletico Madrid are currently in not the best of positions with respect to injuries and Simeone could be forced to name an unfamiliar backline for the weekend. Skipper Diego and Jose Gimenez appear very much certain to miss the clash through respective injuries and they could be joined by Stefan Savic, Lucas Hernandez and Juanfran – all of whom are deemed potential doubts for the crunch clash.
Barcelona, on the other hand, may once more be without Samuel Umtiti and Thomas Vermaelen for the defensive duties through injuries but barring that, there are not any major concerns. Philippe Coutinho has made a timely injury comeback during the international break to return to first-team training and he should feature from the off. However, Ivan Rakitic, who is carrying a niggle, will miss the game after being sent off during the nerve-wrecking loss to Real Betis nearly a fortnight ago.
Player to watch for:
Lionel Messi – Barcelona: The Argentina international missed five matches between October and early November with an arm injury but he returned without any sort of concern after scoring a brace in the shock defeat to Betis. He has enjoyed playing with Atletico with 26 goals from just 38 competitive appearances and he should fancy his prospects of extending the excellent run, given Atletico are expected to be without their regulars at the heart of the backline. Messi’s form has been impressive on either side of his recent setback with six goals and one assist from his previous five appearances in all competitions.
Barcelona’s defence has been far from impressing during the ongoing campaign and they have already conceded more than 60 percent of the tally (29) shipped out during the previous La Liga season. Based on this, we are not anticipating a shutout for the visitors, though they should have the extra-ammunition to edge out the encounter against a potentially-weakened Atletico backline.
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