On Feb. 14, 2010, goals from Diego Forlán and Simão Sabrosa helped Atlético Madrid hold off Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona in a 2-1 win at the Vicente Calderón. Few could have predicted that Atlético would fail to win any of the following 20 league encounters with Barça.
Twenty games. Ten years.
Diego Simeone’s side has engineered upsets over the Catalan club in the Champions League and — most recently — the Supercopa in January. But the Argentine has never overseen a league victory over the team now under Ronald Koeman’s stewardship. Simeone has failed to overcome six previous Barcelona coaches in league play, and Saturday is his latest chance.
Third-place Atlético will be without Lucas Torreira and former Barça sniper Luis Suárez, who are in isolation after contracting COVID-19 over the international break. Héctor Herrera is injured and will miss out as well. But Yannick Carrasco and Diego Costa are expected to be available after several weeks out due to muscular maladies. Jan Oblak and Stefan Savić have recovered from their own international duty injury scares. Vitolo and Šime Vrsaljko may be close to returning, though Simeone may not be able to count on them at the Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday night.
Eighth-place Barcelona rolled to a 5-2 win over Real Betis before the break. Lionel Messi started the season slowly, but looked at his otherworldly best in that win — he scored twice and laid on an assist in the second half. Though 17-year-old Pedri has shined in attack, fellow teenage sensation Ansu Fati is out with a torn meniscus. Former Atlético talisman Antoine Griezmann only scored his first goal this season against Betis, and again has been under fire for his performances and connection with Messi.
The Messi-João Félix showdown is this game’s biggest storyline. The Portuguese has been in phenomenal form since his game-winning brace against Red Bull Salzburg last month. The 21-year-old has scored eight times and provided one assist in his past seven games for club and country. Another dominating display here would solidify his status as LaLiga’s emerging superstar. Messi has scored in each of Barcelona’s past four meetings with Atlético, and he has 32 goals in 37 career games against los colchoneros.
Koke and Saúl are on three goals apiece against Barcelona to lead the current colchoneros, while Ángel Correa has two. Correa is likely to start next to Félix, and Simeone has trained with Carrasco and Marcos Llorente on either side of that duo.
The prediction Bringing this back for the big game. This is a huge chance for unbeaten Atlético to flash its credentials as a contender, to win without its joint-leading goalscorer, to overcome Messi in LaLiga. While league titles are usually won through gutting out slim road wins against well-drilled defensive teams, los rojiblancos’ 2013/14 vintage needed to avoid defeat against Barça to take the title. They did.
This Barcelona is shaky. The blaugrana defense is slow, Koeman has yet to figure out his best midfield and still leans on Messi magic to rescue a misfiring forward line. (Wouldn’t you?)
“Every year I convince myself Atlético will finally win this fixture, and every year I’m wrong,” I wrote last December. I’m falling for the trap again. João Félix nets the winner. 1-0 Atlético.
Date Nov. 21, 2020
Location Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid
Kickoff time 9:00 p.m. CET, 8:00 GMT, 3:00 p.m. EST, 12:00 p.m. PST
Opposition blog Barça Blaugranes
Available TV/streaming Movistar LaLiga 1 (Spain), beIN Sports HD 1 (Palestine), SuperSport Maximo 2 (Central African Republic/South Africa), LaLiga TV (United Kingdom), beIN Sports (United States), ESPN2 Sur (Uruguay)