Everyone knows the story — since Diego Simeone returned to Atlético Madrid as the club’s manager, his side has yet to beat Barcelona in LaLiga. And at home, whether at the Vicente Calderón or the Wanda Metropolitano, Atlético have come close but always finished second. The red and whites are 0-2-5 when hosting the Catalans since Simeone’s appointment and they have scored as many goals as they have lost games.
But Saturday might be different. LaLiga’s unpredictable opening 12 weeks has seen Barça lose more than they did all of last season and they top the table by just a single point, while Atleti are third only on goal difference. They will leapfrog the two-time defending champions if Simeone can mastermind a victory on Saturday. Here are three ways the boss can get that elusive win over Lionel Messi and co.
Be aggressive. B-E-aggressive.
Last season, Atlético produced an excellent first half in this fixture, capped by a 21st minute Saúlazo. But Barcelona arose from their slumber around the hour mark and pushed Atleti farther and farther back before Luis Suárez evened things up in the 82nd minute. Barça finished with 69 percent possession and outshot the mattress makers 15-5 in a 1-1 draw.
That can’t happen again if Atlético want to win this fixture. Atleti must be more aggressive in challenging a defense that has struggled mightily of late — Real Betis put up four at Camp Nou less than two weeks ago, for example. Atleti don’t need to ring up 50 percent possession or anything really near it, but 30 percent or lower is a recipe for disappointment.
Let Rodri cook.
Rodrigo Hernández will go up against the man to whom he’s been compared so often — Barcelona linchpin Sergio Busquets. This, of course, is a great opportunity for the canterano to take a big match by the scruff of its figurative neck and not only win this individual matchup with the 30-year-old, but also dictate general proceedings. Rodri’s short, accurate passing needs to be the catalyst for a healthier Atlético’s more aggressive, attack-minded moments.
Dip into the bench.
Sure, the last key to victory could easily be “get Antoine Griezmann the ball” or “find a way to unlock the real Diego Costa.” But Simeone has hesitated to dig into his bench at times this season, and that has to change in a match of this magnitude. Vitolo and Gelson Martins are two players who could be significant against a team with the weaknesses Barcelona have. Their change of pace (Gelson), versatility and playmaking (Vitolo) could really aid Atlético’s counterattacks and really encourage a bit more...well, courage, particularly late when Atleti may lose some energy.