Sunday afternoon will see Atlético Madrid and Barcelona tango at Camp Nou. Ordinarily, this fixture is pretty big news, but considering it’s first hosting second with just five points between them in the table, it takes on even more prominence.
If Barça rebound from Thursday’s draw at Las Palmas, they will go eight points clear of Atlético and essentially put the title race to bed. A draw will keep things simmering for the final 11 weeks, but Atlético can blow LaLiga wide open with a first league win for 12 years at Camp Nou.
For the Barcelona perspective on Sunday’s partidazo, we turned to Diego Lorijn (@thisisdspot).
Into the Calderón: So...it looks like we have a little title race on our hands. Do you think the current five-point gap between Atlético Madrid and Barcelona is more due to Atleti taking initiative or Barça losing the plot?
Diego Lorijn: Both! Nine goals in two matches shows a huge improvement in form and efficiency in Atleti’s striking force. On the other hand Barça has been drawing more matches then expected, BUT remain unbeaten. Valverde has a luxury problem on his hands figuring out how to incorporate two mega signings.
ItC: How scared are you of Costiezmann, especially in this form?
DL: Very! They are a serious threat.
Look...Diego Costa is my “tocayo”. And besides our names we have something else in common: we’re always hungry. I expect him to be out on the prowl. As for Antoine Griezmann...well, he’ll obviously be looking to impress his future teammates.
ItC: By that, I’m sure you mean showing out for his future Atlético teammates...
You mentioned the two €100 million-plus signings earlier, one of whom is Ousmane Dembélé. Is this a match where Ernesto Valverde could turn Dembélé loose, perhaps in place of an out-of-form Paulinho?
DL: I hope so, man. But I doubt it. I expect a very similar formation which brought us success in the Wanda: 4-4-2 with either Paulinho or dare I say Andre Gomes?! Valverde has said and showed us he’s not up for experiments, meaning he’ll follow the strategy which has brought in proven, successful, stable results.
ItC: What else will be in Valverde’s game plan as he looks to pull one over on Simeone for the first time?
DL: Similar to what we saw in the first half of the season: Barça controlling the ball and patiently looking to exploit any opening or defensive errors.
ItC: Alright, it’s prediction time. Call it.
DL: 2-1 to Barcelona. /crosses fingers