It is just January but La Liga's top two find themselves in a fixture that could decide the title. Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are level on points atop the league although the Catalan side have a game in hand against Sporting Gijon that could seem them jump ahead of Atletico pending the outcome of the game on Saturday. Meanwhile, whatever the result, Real Madrid will use the opportunity of two rivals going to battle to cut away at their rivals' lead by taking care of Espanyol.
In the game during the first round of La Liga, Barca won a tightly fought game in the Calderon, which is not an easy thing to do. Fernando Torres scored for Atletico and Neymar for his side before Messi entered and proved decisive, as he so often does. Luis Enriwue had to resort to the most recent Ballon d'Or winner to get a victory over the Mattress Makers as his side 2-1 on the night.
The home team are missing just Radinha as a long-term absentee and can now call upon Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal as they have registered and competedfor Barcelona in recent weeks. Luis Enrique's side have not lost a league game since October 3rd and have not lost a game all year at the Camp Nou.
"It is an important game and we will try to bring the game where it is most convenient for us in order to feel as comfortable as we can. We are well positioned in La Liga, were fairly eliminated from the Copa del Rey and we have a chance in the Champions League. I wish we could keep the pace and the competitiveness the squad has shown in very important games."
The manager had no problem in praising his opposition for Sunday and had some kind words for some of their players: "They are the best team in the world. Luis Enrique has done a great job. It is not easy to keep competing as they did the last season. Those three boys (Messi, Neymar and Suarez) are playing at the top level. This is the reason why we will have to be high concentrated for the entire 90 minutes."
It will be a special day for Arda Turan, who will line out opposite his former teammates for the first time on Saturday: "Arda gave us everything, we love him a lot. He was faithful to our work; we have great memories of him, plenty of respect. I was happy when Arda arrived at Barcelona, which means that we are doing things well."
In addition, the Argentinian made reference to the controversy that has been created around Fernando Torres contract renewal: "There is no division in Atletico fans between Simeone and Torres. They love both unconditionally. Fans still love Luis Aragonés and he is gone. Kiko either. Idols like Torres will be always loved."
Solid midfield and speed in counterattack
Simeone was coy before the Celta Vigo game but this time the manager gave some clues about how he is going to beat Barcelona. It seems that his idea could be to set up a reinforced midfield with up to 5 players, in order to make Barça suffer in the middle and negate any potential damage their side can do to begin the game.
Thus, 4-3-3 system could be momentarily forgotten and the coach could choose 4-4-2 or 4-1-4-1. If Cholo chooses to set up a midfield formed by four, Augusto and Gabi would occupy central spots with Koke and Saul playing on the wings. Carrasco and Griezmann would contribute to a forward line full of speed in order to try to surprise Barcelona on the counter. Meanwhile, if the manager opts for a 4-1-4-1 tactics, Augusto would occupy the deeper position in, playing close to the central defenders; Gabi and Saul would play in central spots with Carrasco and Koke as wingers and the Frenchman as the lone striker.
Possible XI: Oblak; Juanfran, Giménez, Godín, Filipe Luis; Augusto, Gabi, Koke, Saúl, Carrasco; Griezmann.
In: Oblak, Moyá, Godín, Giménez, Savic, Filipe, Juanfran, Gámez, Augusto, Thomas, Gabi, Koke, Óliver, Carrasco, Griezmann, Vietto, and Jackson.
Out: Siqueira, Kranevitter (Tactical), Correa (suspended), Lucas, Torres and Tiago (injury).