Atletico Madrid held Barcelona to a 1-1 draw in the same fixture last season to secure the first La Liga trophy since 1996 and we are about to see another intense affair given that both sides are again involved in the La Liga title chase and currently sitting behind leaders Real Madrid.
Will Messi finally leave?
Even if the 1-0 defeat to Real Sociedad denied Barcelona the chance to close the gap behind leaders Real Madrid, it was the reported clash between coach Luis Enrique and superstar Leo Messi that stole the headlines this week. Many believe that the Argentine does not want to work with the talented coach any more and he could leave Camp Nou in case Enrique stays. And while it is up to the club chiefs to try and resolve the situation, the team produced the perfect response to all the medial speculation, having hammered Elche 5-0 in Copa del Rey, with the attacking trident of Messi, Suarez and Neymar in perfect working order. Just three days later, the Catalans face a very important game against title rivals Atletico Madrid, and no doubt the hosts will be out to get revenge for the 1-1 draw that cost them the league title last term. Barcelona have no choice but to go for a win having suffered a loss to Real Sociedad last time out and the hosts are, therefore, expected to attack los Colchoneros from the off.
Luis Enrique should have Jeremy Mathieu back to the side, but Xavi Hernandez and Thomas Vermaelen continue to miss out.
Torres and Cani arrive to improve squad depth
Many say it is easier to get to the top than to stay there and having enjoyed a brilliant season last term, Atletico Madrid are now out to prove the doubters wrong. With so many changes to the playing squad, Diego Simeone clearly had his work cut out for him, but he has once again proved he is rightly considered one of world’s best coaches. The Argentine has led his side to the first place in a strong Champions League group, while los Colchoneros also remained in the La Liga title chase. The team took great advantage of Real and Barcelona’s slip-ups to climb to within a point of los Blancos, who also have a game in hand. Meanwhile, Atletico officials decided to add some more bodies to the squad ahead of decisive battles in Spain and Europe, with former player Fernando Torres and Villarreal winger Cani arriving on loan deals. And while many have questioned the thinking behind the deals, I am certain that Diego Simeone has a plan for both of them. Buoyed by the impressive Copa del Rey win over Real Madrid, Atletico arrive at Camp Nou brimming with confidence and they can be trusted to adopt a positive approach.
Even with Joao Miranda back to the side, Jose Maria Gimenez is expected to keep his place, but Cristian Ansaldi remains out through a knee problem.
Barcelona will be desperate to make amends for the Real Sociedad defeat and prove they still have what it takes to outplay the best sides in the league, while Atletico are in great spirits following the excellent run of results that culminated with a 2-0 win over Real Madrid. Having said that, I fully expect to see an entertaining affair at Camp Nou.
Top pick: Both teams to score 1.95 (19/20) @ BetVictor
Alternative pick 1: Over 2.5 goals 1.95 (19/20) @ Betfair
Alternative pick 2: Draw 4.33 (10/3) @ Coral