La Liga Preview: Barcelona vs Atletico Madrid

Barca were forced last month to deny claims they had agreed a deal to sign the Frenchman, whose relentless run of form since the turn of the year now stands as the principal threat to them toasting a 25th La Liga triumph.

Focus will be on Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Atletico's Antoine Griezmann as both teams go head-to-head in the crucial clash.   -  AFP

 

Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann goes up against Barcelona on Sunday, looking to derail the title charge of a club he may yet join in the summer.

Barca were forced last month to deny claims they had agreed a deal to sign the Frenchman, whose relentless run of form since the turn of the year now stands as the principal threat to them toasting a 25th La Liga triumph.

Possible line-ups for Barca vs Atletico

In January, Barcelona and Atletico were separated by 11 points at the top of the table but win this weekend, and Diego Simeone’s side will have cut that gap to two.

Barca’s slip at Las Palmas on Thursday, a day after Atletico claimed its eighth consecutive victory over Leganes, means the balance has tipped back towards the capital.

Such exploits have evoked memories of its 2013-14 title triumph, when Diego Godin's goal secured a 1-1 final-day draw at Camp Nou to pip Barca to glory.

"It's impossible to win LaLiga if you look at the statistics," Simeone told a pre-match news conference.

"In the past 14 years, La Liga was for Real Madrid or Barcelona and only Villarreal made it one season to be second.

"So you can say it’s impossible and we made the impossible possible because we won it one year. So [this time] it will be very difficult.

 

"Our plans is the same as always, get to the last five games and still have a chance to win it. If we do that we can make it."

But, just as Griezmann has been the driving force behind its resurgence, with an outstanding 12 goals in nine games, the 26-year-old will be key again if Atletico is to inflict Barca’s first defeat this season.

He has never scored at the Camp Nou, a drought that extends to nine outings, but back-to-back hat-tricks, the second a quadruple, against Sevilla and Leganes this week will certainly have pricked the Catalans’ attention.

“He has played at this level in other seasons,” Simeone said after Wednesday’s win. “He is an extraordinary player -- he already showed this in the past.”

Costa's bite helping Griezmann flourish

It is no coincidence Griezmann’s surge has quickened since the arrival of Diego Costa, whose willingness to engage defenders in the grittier side of the game has allowed his partner the freedom to flourish.

READ:  'Griezmann should save his goals for another time'

But while Costa appears the perfect foil, Griezmann might glance across at his opponents on Sunday and wonder where and how he would fit in.

Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez admittedly have 61 years of age between them but also 59 goals this term. Neither look ready to make way for a younger model.

The 160 million-euro Philippe Coutinho, meanwhile, scored his first in the league against Girona last weekend while even the disorientated Ousmane Dembele is showing signs he is beginning to settle.

Given a draw would surely be enough to satisfy Barcelona, it would be a brave move from its coach Ernesto Valverde to field the full “Fabulous Four” this weekend.

It also has one less day than its opponent to recover.

“The match against Atletico comes fast and will be important for both teams,” Valverde said after the 1-1 draw against Las Palmas.

“But we are the leaders and we are looking forward to continuing being first.”