Spanish football has long been awaiting this weekend when first-placed Barcelona travel to second-placed Atletico Madrid. The two are level on 49 points with Barcelona leading by a five goals margin in goal difference.
Soccer Laduma previews this top-of-the-table clash and also has an eye on Real Madrid’s fixture in this weekends La Liga preview.
Match of the Week
Atletico Madrid v Barcelona
La Liga reaches the midway point of its 2013-14 campaign in spectacular fashion with Atletico Madrid and Barcelona meeting for the first time in the league this season.
They did, however, contest the Supercopa de Espana in August, with Barcelona emerging as champions on away goals after a 1-1 draw at the Vicente Calderon was followed by a goalless affair at Camp Nou.
Atletico’s recent La Liga record against the Catalan giants is quite worrying for Diego Simeone’s side. The Atleti have only won one out of the last eight games against the Blaugrana with a goal difference of 8:24.
Barcelona surely will be boosted through the midweek-return of their superstar Lionel Messi, which will give coach, Gerardo Martino, some selection headaches.
The Pedro-Alexis partnership has helped Barca in the absence of Messi and Neymar. But if both superstars are fit, one would think Neymar and Messi will start in the important encounter. This would only leave one place for Pedro or Sanchez in Barca’s front three.
Despite being in great from, even Cesc Fabregas could find himself on the bench with Sergio Busquets also returning from suspension and probably featuring next to Xavi and Andres Iniesta in midfield.
Meanwhile, Diego Simeone, has concerns over the fitness of Mario Suarez and Filipe Luis. Captain Gabi will return to the side after serving his suspension in the Copa del Rey draw against Valencia.
Upfront, Simeone will trust his Premier League targets, Diego Costa and Koke, to continue their brilliant form and the Atletico coach will most likely also start former Barca star, David Villa.
With only 11 goals conceded, Atletico have the best defence in the league, but they have to be at their best if they want to keep the best offence from scoring their 54th La Liga goal this season.
The scene is set for the “spectacular game” Barcelona midfielder, Xavi, promised.
The other ‘big guns’
Real Madrid will be keen spectators of Saturday’s clash at Vicente Calderon and hoping for a draw. They have to travel to Espanyol for the weekend’s other Madrid-Barcelona derby on Sunday.
Having conceded 21 goals without reply in seven fixtures between the sides from February 2009 to March 2012, Espanyol held Real to draws in both of their meetings last season.
But with Atleti and Barca directly meeting each other, Real Madrid cannot afford to drop points at Espanyol. Carlo Ancelotti will be hoping Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema will again step up and that Xabi Alonso will return from his recent ear problem.
The other matches
Granada v Valladolid
Ath Bilbao v Almeria
Celta Vigo v Valencia
Elche v Sevilla
Getafe v Rayo Vallecano
Betis v Osasuna
Levante v Malaga
Villareal v Real Sociedad
Will there be a winner between Atletico and Barca, or can Real close the gap to the two log leaders? Have your say in the comment section below.
By David Kappel