Our favourite game of the year has been scheduled early in the season this time around! Will we give Barcelona another thumping, or will the Catalonian champions claim a position at the top of la Liga?
The visitors, who collected a record 99 points last season, surprisingly lost their home debut against newly promoted Hércules last weekend. Two goals by Nelson Váldez stunned the Camp Nou and left Barça with one win in two matches, after the blaugrana had defeated Racing on the first matchday.
The last time Barcelona has lost consecutive matches was in May 2009 and before that, in February of the same year… at the Vicente Calderón.
If there’s one side that can hurt the team already hailed as the best of the century, it’s Atlético. Since returning from our two years in hell, we have beaten Barcelona on seven occasions.
In our eight league matches at home in Madrid, we beat them five times, suffering only one defeat in the process.
02.02.2003 Atlético 3 – 0 Barcelona
29.09.2003 Atlético 0 – 0 Barcelona
20.09.2004 Atlético1 – 1 Barcelona
19.09.2005 Atlético 2 – 1 Barcelona
21.05.2007 Atlético 0 – 6 Barcelona
02.03.2008 Atlético 4 – 2 Barcelona
02.03.2009 Atlético 4 – 3 Barcelona
15.02.2010 Atlético 2 – 1 Barcelona
As you can see, this match has been a high scoring affair in recent years, averaging 3.75 goals per game. Atlético’s forwards, like Torres in the past and more recently Sergio Agüero and Diego Forlán, have been able to exploit Barcelona’s high defensive line.
On the other end, Barcelona have consistently cut through our incoherent midfield and backline like a knife through butter. But, the Atleti faithful are hopeful that new arrival Diego Godín will help solve those problems after his impressive performances so far. The Uruguayan is not the talk of the town though…
Players to watch
“What?! Four players to watch?!” Well, we easily could have picked 22.
The man most media are focussing on this round is Sergio Agüero. The Argentine forward has an impressive scoring record against Barcelona, but is rushing to get fit in time for the match.
Agüero picked up an injury in our 2-1 win in San Mamés last week, and said in today’s press conference that he hasn’t fully recovered yet. With our tough schedule ahead, el Kun doesn’t want to take any risks regarding his fitness:
“It’s always a beautiful game when we play Barcelona, but if I’m not well physically, I will not force myself.
“I’m fine, doing better. I’ve spent the whole week training alone, recovering, but nothing has been decided yet.
“It is to be decided tomorrow with the doctor. I really want to make it, I want to play, but I still feel some pain.
“If I do play, it is likely that I won’t last 90 minutes. It also depends on whether or not the coach puts me in,” he said.
In eight games, Agüero has scored six goals against Barcelona, making them his favourite opponent. Four of his goals were scored in the Vicente Calderón, where he has netted two braces in four matches.
El Kun has been a handful, especially for Gaby Milito and Carles Puyol, with the latter expected to return to Barcelona’s line-up after recovering from injury.
But this match might be a matter of outscoring the opponent. Atleti has an amazing Argentine in its attack, but Barça has an even better one.
Lionel Messi has started the season with a bang, scoring within three minutes of Barcelona’s la Liga kick-off. On Tuesday, he was the protagonist of a Messimerizing win in the Champions League.
Like Agüero, Messi has made a habit out of scoring in this encounter. At just 23, he has already scored ten times against Atleti.
Messi and Agüero are good friends, and have always liked the idea of playing together. Upon Messi’s suggestion to team up, Agüero insisted that the only way that would happen is if Messi moves to Atlético.
In the past, the combo has been successful, as together they won the U20 World Cup in Holland in 2005, a feat Agüero would later repeat on his own. But three years later, the diminutive duo were reunited and won gold at the Olympics with Argentina in Beijing.
Although Manchester City striker Carlos Tévez seems to have the coach’s credit, people in Argentina are calling for a Messi-Agüero combination in the Albiceleste, as Kun seems to have better chemistry with Messi than Carlitos does.
The prospect of the two Argentines on one pitch is mouthwatering, but there are two more forwards likely to end up on the scoresheet. New Barcelona bomber David Villa is always contesting the title of topscorer with Diego Forlán in any competition the two participate in.
This summer, both were vital to their countries’ success in the World Cup, with Villa joint topscorer and Forlán crowned Best Player of the Tournament.
Villa has an excellent track record against Atlético, scoring six goals against us in past league encounters with his former clubs. El Guaje has started off well for Barcelona, scoring in both his la Liga and Champions League debuts.
Forlán, who doesn’t even appear to be in great form, hasn’t started off the new season too badly either. After two league matches the Uruguayan is right where you would expect him to be, on top of the Pichichi-table with three goals to his name.
Cachavacha knows beating Barcelona will boost his chances of winning the Ballon D’Or at the end of the year. If Forlán manages to score, it will be his eleventh career goal against Barcelona.
With the exception of Agüero, coach Quique Sánchez Flores seems to have a fully fit team available. Barcelona youth-product Fran Mérida returned this week after a hip injury kept him sidelined for almost two weeks. Right-back Tomas Ujfalusi didn’t feature in yesterday’s Europa League loss against Aris, but is expected to be available on Sunday.
While Godín has integrated perfectly, new signing Filipe has yet to make his debut. It’s unlikely that he will start ahead of captain Antonio López though, and AtléticoFans think it might even be Álvaro Domínguez to take charge of the left-back position this weekend.
Quique opted for this decision in our Super Cup match against Inter, and since Barcelona have Dani Alves streaking up and down the right-wing, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Sánchez Flores use a more reliable defender on the left.
In midfield Tiago will most likely take Raúl García’s place, but the Spaniard might get the nod if Agüero isn’t fit to start.
Ujfalusi – Perea – Godín – Domínguez
Reyes – Tiago – Assunção – Simão
Agüero – Forlán
What do you guys expect? Will we see Ujfalusi, Perea or López in defence?
Barcelona will have captain Carles Puyol available, which most likely shifts Eric Abidal to left-back. Last season, Reyes caused Maxwell all sorts of trouble and it’s unlikely the defensive-minded Brazilian will start with Abidal available.
In midfield Guardiola has plenty of choices, especially after the arrival of Mascherano. We assume that the aggressive Argentine will be left on the bench, with Busquets being favoured this time around.
Xavi is an undisputed starter, but it will be interesting to see who Guardiola picks to play next to the World Cup winner. Seydou Keita might not be as technically gifted as Andrés Iniesta, but he will add some steel to Barça’s midfield, to counter the indomitable Assunção.
If Keita indeed starts, Iniesta will likely take Pedro’s place alongside Messi and David Villa.
Alves – Piqué – Puyol – Abidal
Xavi – Keita
Iniesta – Messi – Villa
Both teams played against Greek opposition in midweek, but Barcelona had the huge advantage of playing at home and getting two extra days to rest. While Barça put up a show in Camp Nou, Atlético had to travel to Greece and played a frustrating match in Thessaloniki.
On Thursday, our players’ minds were evidently set on this game against Barça. Call it unprofessional, but at least that leaves them without any excuse not to make this a spectacular showdown in the Vicente Calderón!
As always, don’t forget to get in your prediction in the AtleticoFans Prediction League!