After a rampant, reckless 3-2 defeat to Celta Vigo in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday evening, Atletico travel to Barcelona on Sunday for a game with real title implications.
Kick-off in the Camp Nou is set for 16.00 CET.
The last three matches have highlighted Atlético’s woes in front of goal, whilst last match out against Celta showed that they are not invincible in defence.
Atletico´s backline will certainly have its hands full with the star-studded front line of Neymar, Luis Suarez, and Lionel Messi. It would make sense for Diego Simeone to pull Augusto Fernández back into the side, most likely replacing Yannick Ferreira Carrasco.
The former Celta Vigo captain has showed promise in all four of his starts and should add some cover for defenders Diego Godín and Stefan Savic.
While the Argentine manager did not reveal his hand in Friday’s press conference, he stressed concentration for Atletico because Barcelona’s forwards “are of a very high level.”
Barcelona has won seven straight in all competitions, outscoring opponents 19-3 in that time. Luis Enrique rotated Neymar out of the squad on the weekend at Málaga, but has said the winger will remain in the lineup after scoring against Athletic Bilbao in the cup on Wednesday.
Saturday’s game will mark the first time Atlético has played Barcelona where Arda Turan has been eligible to play.
The Turk left Atleti in the summer to go on to fulfil his dream of playing in the English Premier League, only to join Barcelona and spend six-months on the sidelines following their transfer ban.
The travelling Atlético fans are unlikely to thank Arda for his four-years in red-and-white, but the playmaker could be key for his new side, if he gets the nod to start.
Enrique showed respect for Atletico in his press conference. “Atlético are a tough team, and tomorrow we’ll need to forget about whatever results we have had against them in the past. We’ll have to play a complete game from the first to the 95th minute.”
The coach also downplayed the importance of the game. “This is not the definitive match. Regardless of what happens, it’ll still be tight at the top.”
Being knocked out of the Copa del Rey means Atletico will have a full week to recover after this match, so there is no reason not to give it their all.
Whatever the score line, it’s sure to be a cracker.