It’s here: the second tough match in a row. Following last week’s Betis game in which Messi broke another record and Barça hung on to win against an impressive 2nd half Béticos performance, this could potentially be the biggest and most exciting encounter of the season’s first half.
After Atlético’s dismal performance against Real Madrid in El Derbi, coach Simeone was miffed. He remonstrated with his players for their poor showing.
“Simeone told us that we have a debt to pay for the game we played in the Bernabéu (against Madrid),” said Atlético midfielder and captain Gabi Fernández. “We didn’t play the game we needed to against Madrid. We hope we can do so this time at Barcelona.”
Recent Games Between Barcelona and Atlético
Since the 1993/94 season, the teams have faced each other 36 times. All have been La Liga competition games. Barça’s record against Los Colchoneros stands at:
W:17 L:13 D:6. Holy moley.
Atléti’s last win at Camp Nou was in February 2006 when they won 1-3. Since then, the team has drawn once and lost 6 times in the Can Blaugrana.
In September 2011, Barça handed Atlético a manita thrashing during which new recruit Falcao could only stand and watch as Messi, Villa and Co ran riot down the other end. Messi scored a hat-trick in that game.
The return match at the Calderón was tighter. Alves scored in the first half, before sleepy Blaugrana defence allowed Falcao to equalise just after the second half started. A very cheeky Messi freekick saved the game and Barça scrapped out a tense 1-2 win. VV was my MotM that night.
Atléti’s Recent Form
Since Simeone took over as Atléti’s manager, the club has grown in stature and shown remarkable improvement on the pitch.
At the end of last season, they won the Europa League by decimating Athletic Bilbao 3-0. Atléti’s fast-paced, high-pressure man-marking left the Bilbao players floundering and often stripped of the ball before they could realise what was happening, and the Basque defence was torn to shreds.
This season saw Atléti continue that rampant form by taking apart Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup – winning 4-1 with Falcao scoring a hat-trick with some fine goals that were worthy of the occasion.
Ex-Blaugrana player Patrick Kluivert was at the game to award Falcao the Man of the Match Trophy. Falcao laughingly told the Dutchman, “I avenged your Barça!” (Referring to Chelsea defeating our team in the Champions League.)
The Madrid team currently sits second with 37 points on the Liga Table – 6 points behind Barcelona and 5 points ahead of Real Madrid before this weekend’s fixtures. Their remarkable 12 wins, 1 draw and 2 loss (Valencia and Real Madrid) record is only eclipsed by the current form of Barca with 14 wins and 1 draw.
The Inevitable Messi and Falcao Mention
I won’t dwell on it too much because, this week, every sporting publication has covered the Messi-Falcao match-up – and done it to death.
Falcao is very much a goal-scoring specialist but he’s also great in defence and will track back to help his team-mates. He has already accumulated a few Yellow cards (4 this season) while doing that.
Radamel (nicknamed El Tigre) is currently 2nd in the Pichichi race with 16 goals (6 penalties), behind Messi on 23 goals (1 penalty).
His amazing 5 goal haul in last week’s game against Deportivo should have seen numerous leading press articles and accolades, but his effort was overshadowed by Messi beating Gerd’s 86 goals in the game against Betis, which was the very next game played in La Liga after Atléti’s game had finished. Falcao had about 60 minutes of fame before Messi grabbed the headlines once more.
Interestingly, Falcao has not been played in the Europa League this season, leading to speculation that he will be leaving during the January transfer window. Chelsea and Real Madrid are in the hunt for the goal-hungry striker.
Notably, he has only ever taken 1 free-kick – from which he scored – giving Atléti a 0-1 win in the 90th minute during this season’s away match vs. Real Sociedad. It was a gut-wrenching finish for the home team who had fought so valiantly for the whole game.
The FCB website has an article which compares Messi and Falcao’s statistics: Messi and Falcao go Head-to-Head From the stats, you can see the distinct differences in their styles of play.
The Return of El Cholo
Diego Simeone’s return to the club as coach was an inspired move. After playing 2 seasons for Los Colchoneros (1994-97 and 2003-05), the Argentine left for his last club, Racing. He retired as a player to also coach Racing in 2006, before returning to Argentina to coach Estudiantes, River Plate and San Lorenzo.
In 2011, he headed to Italy to manage Catania (helping them to avoid relegation), before being lured back to Spain for another stint at Racing.
Halfway through the 2011/12 season, Simeone replaced Gregorio Manzano as coach of Atléti and is currently leading them through one of the most successful periods in team history.
Simeone’s contract is due for renewal, and the coach is being non-committal about his plans. His sister and agent, Natalia Simeone, flies into Madrid this weekend to begin the negotiation process with Atléti’s CEO, Miguel Ángel Gil Marín. The club hopes to have retained Simeone’s services by the end of next week. Simeone has also expressed a desire to return to Italy at some stage.
Falcao isn’t the only danger man up front for Atléti, although his goal-scoring statistics are roughly the same as Messi’s in relation to their team-mates’ efforts. In other words, they’ve scored a lot more than the others.
Atléti’s front-line is extremely strong, with big Brazilian Diego Costa usually marauding down the left and firing in pinpoint crosses to Falcao, with Adrián López playing on the right. Adrián received a knock to his knee in the mid-week CdR game against Getafe and hobbled to the sidelines, but he has been cleared to play again.
Belgian GK, Thibaut Courtois, has proved to be a worthy replacement for David de Gea over the past couple of seasons. Courtois is on-loan from Chelsea. Atlético has a very solid backline in Diego Godín, Filipe Luis, Juanfran and Cata Díaz. Mid-field is spoiled for choice with any combination of Arda Turan, Gabi (captain), Koke, Mario Suárez and maybe Tiago. Cristian Rodríguez is out with a hamstring injury.
The Home Team
Tito should be expecting the visitors to pressure from the start, as his interview was full of praise for Atlético’s style which is to defend and attack using all the players on the pitch.
Injured: Cesc is out until after the New Year, joining Abidal, Cuenca and Muniesa in the stands.
I expect to see the strongest line-up that we have:
VV, Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Alba, Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta, Alexis, Messi and Adriano.
The game kicks off on Sunday 16th Dec at 9pm CET.
Click here to convert the match time to your timezone: FC Barcelona vs. Atlético de Madrid
The temperature dropped quite a bit for Barcelona standards as the Pyrénées received lots of snow over the past week. It was cold enough to break out the thermal blankets for the pitch. The weather has got milder again, and the conditions for the match are forecast to be fine with a low of about 10°C/49°F.