This is the definition of a "partidazo." It is the biggest game of the season (so far, of course) for Barcelona and Atletico Madrid as the two heavyweights do battle at Camp Nou on Wednesday. The first game this season between genuine title contenders, it comes right as both teams hit form after early stumbles. Barcelona have beaten Celtic 7-0 and Leganes 5-1 since losing at home to Alavés; Atletico have scored 10 goals in three games since opening the season with two draws.
It is expected that this match follows the precedent set by the four meetings last season: a chess match between Luis Enrique and Diego Simeone that will be decided by the little things, as both teams are ruthless at punishing mistakes. Each of the four games in 2015-16 were essentially decided by said mistakes. This should be a tight, intense affair that won't befit its status as a round five Liga Santander fixture.
To that end, it is anticipated that Simeone selects a more defensive XI that will compress play and look to score on the counter, in opposition to the more open Atleti that put four past Celta Vigo and hit Sporting Gijon for five. Let's take a shot at what that XI will look like.
GK: Jan Oblak
Over the past 42 league games, Oblak has conceded 19 games - an average of less than one every other game. He's kept four straight clean sheets and is on a roll.
Sime Vrsaljko acquitted himself well over the weekend but Juanfran will be back for this one. Too big a game for the bearded wizard to sit out.
CB: Stefan Savic
Savic has established himself as Simeone's top option to play next to Diego Godin and a super performance against Sporting ensured that he will start again Wednesday.
CB: Diego Godin
Godin will have his hands full with countryman Luis Suarez, who is off to another blazing start.
LB: Filipe Luis
Filipe tried to break Lionel Messi's kneecap in this fixture last year. He'll need to stay on the pitch here, as his form thus far suggests he could have a good game.
RM: Nicolas Gaitan
Tough call. However, Gaitan has started the past two games, completing 90 minutes Saturday. Simeone will likely throw on Augusto Fernandez later in the game and go ultra-defensive if Atletico have a lead but Gaitan's potential to set up someone on the counterattack - and more importantly, his work rate - might give him the edge as far as the starting XI goes.
It's a big game and El Capitan plays 'em all. Gabi will be tasked with doing the dirty work and breaking up play in the middle of the park, plus he could end up taking set pieces.
Koke should start in the center as he hooks defense to attack but may very well end up on a wing to help mitigate the threats offered by Messi and/or Neymar.
LM: Saul Niguez
With Koke in the middle and Gabi playing, it's almost certainly back out to the wing for the ever-versatile Saul, who will be in his own half much of the day with the champions likely to ring up 70% possession.
FW: Antoine Griezmann
Griezmann is one of three players sitting on four goals and set to start this game, along with Messi and Suarez.
FW: Fernando Torres
Torres has picked on Barcelona throughout his career and scored twice in four games against the champions last year. Even though Kevin Gameiro was excellent over the weekend, it would be surprising if El Niño wasn't the choice here.