Helllllllllllllooo there Cules, we are here for arguably one of the most important previews of the season. Its Barcelona vs Atletico Madrid at the Camp Nou and in truth, it is a fixture which is going to decide if we can wrap up the 2017-18 La Liga title. If you think about it, we are in a similar scenario to that of the 2nd leg against Chelsea in the R-16 stage of the UEFA Champions League. The stipulations are the same, our opponents have to win while we can be satisfied with a draw as well. Given that it is going to be in Camp Nou, I think this is the best setup to face opponents like Atletico Madrid simply because when they have a compulsion to win the game, they cannot sit back and just defend for the entire 90 minutes. In case the score remains 0-0 for about 60 minutes into the game, Simeone’s men will be forced to come out and win it before its too late as anything less than a win isn’t going to give Atletico any chance to fight for the league. This is all the more important for them this season given that they are out of both UEFA Champions League and Copa del Rey. Let’s take a look at how the teams are likely to lineup:
First let me finish off with our opponents as how I would like us to line-up will be interesting for you to read:
This is what is expected of Atletico Madrid today in terms of how they would line-up. The one thing eerily similar to us is the shape and how the players are positioned. It is a flat 4-4-2 with defensive solidity in the middle in the form of Thomas Partey and Gabi. Both Saul & Koke occupy the half spaces on either side of the central midfielders just like how Iniesta & Paulinho/ Coutinho are positioned for us (neither centrally nor too wide). Up front, they have a deadly combination of silk & steel with the likes of Antoine Griezmann & Diego Costa. It is going to be a very difficult challenge in handling the pair as its been long since both of Atletico’s front men are top in-form strikers (one of them has always been Adrian,Villa, Torres, Gamiero).
Despite Atletico having a 4-4-2 similar to us, the approach is going to be much different. As always, we can expect them to sit back, draw us into their own half and attack the spaces we leave behind. However, if we are disciplined enough to not get caught on the counter then we can frustrate Atletico and draw them out of position owing to their compulsion to win this game. Most probably this is how they would line-up with only one other alternative being a possibility.
Till now, this hasn’t been preferred by Simeone but personally I feel they could go for this as adding Angel Correa might give them more space to attack the space left out by Jordi Alba when he comes higher up the pitch. It also gives them an extra man to outnumber us in the midfield by bringing back Griezmann & Correa to join the midfield 3 to make it a 5-man block as we are expected to field 4 midfielders. Otherwise, they are most likely expected to go with the 4-4-2 mentioned above.
Why Coutinho over Iniesta?
Okay, there could be a lot of our fans who disagree with this lineup which I think we should be going with. If I was Valverde, I would go with both Coutinho & Dembele and this means that Don Andres Iniesta goes to the bench. Before we panic, lets think for a moment about what happened in the Chelsea game. We played Iniesta & Paulinho in midfield against Eibar away from home 3 days before we played Chelsea in the 1st leg of the UEFA Champions League. If you observed the Chelsea game well enough, you’d realise it was these two who struggled the most against the Blues. Yes, Iniesta did make the equalizer all by himself in terms of intercepting and finding Messi but we cannot deny the fact that he was outmuscled, dribbled past and failed to stop several shots by Chelsea simply because the physical willingness to defend wasn’t there. We need to realise that Don Andres is ageing and there is going to limits as far as his physical abilities are concerned. Having said that we are playing one of the most physical sides in the league in a high-intense, high-stakes game, it is better we bring on Iniesta later on in the game when needed to hold the ball, not lose possession and spread the play. We are in a similar scenario now given that Iniesta played in a tough away fixture against Las Palmas and we have the Chelsea game coming up in a matter of 10 days. I personally wouldn’t prefer to make Iniesta play in 2 high-intense games back to back within 10 days.
For the analysis of what went wrong with our midfield against Chelsea:
Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona Tactical Analysis: What went wrong?
Paulinho…. I don’t even want to explain as to why we shouldn’t go for him after seeing his performance against Chelsea. Now coming back to Coutinho & Dembele, these two are fresh, young, energetic players who are willing to prove a point and they are waiting for an opportunity to do so. This is probably the time to give them the chance and say go out and work for the team. Coutinho’s work rate had improved tremendously under Klopp while before that he was criticised for his lack of defensive cover. Despite not having enough muscle, the Brazilian has the ability to hold the ball under high pressure and atleast win fouls if there’s no way to go forward. This could also be an important feature for us today.
Why Dembele over anybody else for right wing?
As far as the selection of Dembele is concerned, it is more of a tactical reason. Let us first look at the possible options we have for the right flank: Paulinho, Gomes or even Paco & Dembele. Out of these names, I think Dembele is the most deserving option to make it into the 11. The French wonderkid was off to slow start against Girona but became more and more threatening as he grew into the game. Against Las Palmas, he came on as a substitute and didn’t have much to make an impact but he created a half chance with a good cross to Suarez. I think he’s becoming more and more confident and to face him 1v1 would be a tedious task for any full back. Thus giving him the start would also send a message across to him that “okay, its time we trust you when it matters!”. That would be a huge motivating factor to a 20-year old youngster who wants to make it big in his career. Leaving all other reasons aside, I think this may well be his audition for how effective he can be against a solid opposition. If he is able to prove himself today, then we may well go ahead and give him a start against Chelsea which is merely 10 days away.
The reason why we have spent money on Coutinho & Dembele is to step in when it matters and prove that we aren’t just about Lionel Messi or Luis Suarez. Why today is the best opportunity for us to test it is because we can be confident from the kick-off as it is not exactly a must-win game for us while it is the case for Atletico. It is okay if we don’t win this game, we can still go on and win the league if the gap is maintained. So the pressure on our players would be much lesser and that’s the right time for us to experiment. We cannot test Coutinho & Dembele together in case we are 5 points behind Atletico and placed 2nd in the league. We are in the driving seat and we can continue to do so even if we don’t win today. Lets pin back Atletico’s back-four with the two and create space for our full backs. It may well put them under immense defensive pressure and force errors out of the same when they try to counter.
Some key facts to remember:
- Diego Simeone has never beaten Barcelona at the Camp Nou- Played 12, Won 0, Drawn 4, Lost 8
- Ernesto Valverde has never beaten Diego Simeone before- Played 12, Won 0, Drawn 4, Lost 8
- Antoine Griezmann has never scored or won at the Camp Nou- Played 11, Won 0, Drawn 2, Lost 9
- Both teams field a 4-4-2 of a similar shape, hence we can expect man-to-man battles all across the pitch.Pique-Umtiti vs Griezmann-Costa
Messi-Suarez vs Gimenez-Godin
Rakitic-Busquets vs Gabi-Partey
Roberto-Alba vs Filipe Luis-Vrasjlko
- Atletico Madrid head into the game in oozing form having won all of their last 6 games while Barcelona have won 3 and drawn 3 of their last 6 games.
- Antoine Griezmann had a slow start to the season and has hit the peak at the right time of the season with 9 goals and 3 assists in the last 5 games.
- Barcelona have played only 4 league games at the Camp Nou since the beginning of 2018: Won 3, Drawn 1, Lost 0, Goals scored 11, Goals conceded 2, Clean sheets 2.
- This will be Barcelona’s first home against a top 4 side (Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid & Valencia) in the 2017-18 La Liga with the other 2 fixtures coming up in April & May.