The Wanda Metropolitano is expected to be packed to full capacity on Saturday when Atlético Madrid host Barcelona in LaLiga.
These two teams haven’t meaningfully convinced yet this season, but the sensaciones are undoubtedly better around Atlético following Tuesday’s 2-1 win at 10-man AC Milan.
Ronald Koeman’s men suffered a heavy Champions League defeat at Benfica on Wednesday, the latest blow to a club suffering an identity crisis on the pitch and a serious financial crisis off it.
Reports say Koeman won’t be sacked before Saturday’s trip to Madrid, though a two-game suspension means he won’t be on the touchline.
On the Atlético touchline, Diego Simeone is still fiddling around with the 11 and hasn’t found a settled lineup yet. But his aggression in turning to his bench this season has seen Atlético snatch results late, even though the champions aren’t playing as expected.
“The victory is much more important than the (way we played), because the Champions League group is difficult,” Simeone said Tuesday. “Liverpool are very strong, Milan have played very well in their games. In the second half we brought together almost everyone, Griezmann, Lemar, Correa, De Paul, Suárez, João...they are all playing.
“We need to grow, improve, and find those who can bring steadiness to the game.”
Will the Milan game prove transformational for an Atlético team that has struggled to get going this season? The answer might come as early as Saturday. Let’s see how Atleti might line up for this clash with Barcelona.
Goalkeeper: Jan Oblak
Though his save percentage is only 50 percent in LaLiga right now, Oblak will be the first name on the team sheet.
Central defense: Stefan Savić, José Giménez, Felipe Monteiro
Savić was suspended Tuesday but will re-enter the lineup in Felipe’s place. Giménez is an automatic starter when healthy and is playing at an elite level early this season.
Barcelona would be wise to target Hermoso if he starts because he’s not a strong one-on-one defender, so Felipe gets my nod as the third center-back due to his aerial strength and Koeman’s fondness for Luuk De Jong.
This feels like a tossup, though, as Hermoso excels in ball progression and Renan Lodi won some brownie points after a good second half (from an attacking standpoint) at San Siro.
Wing-backs: Marcos Llorente, Yannick Carrasco
Kieran Trippier exited Tuesday’s game before halftime with what I suspected was a muscle strain. He appears to be fine, but the England international hasn’t been at his best so far. Several opponents in a row have kept a close eye on his vertical passes into space for Llorente, reducing both players’ effectiveness.
I’m not a fan of seeing Llorente play this position — but as we’ll see later, Simeone might feel more comfortable with this trade-off given his choices at forward. And Llorente continued to push up the pitch anyway against Milan despite playing as a full-back most of the evening.
Carrasco isn’t in great form right now, but he usually plays well against Barcelona — he nutmegged Marc-André Ter Stegen last November and won two penalties at Camp Nou a couple seasons ago.
Midfielders: Koke, Rodrigo De Paul, Thomas Lemar
Now fit after three games out, Atlético’s captain is certain to start Saturday and likely to handle defensive duties given Geoffrey Kondogbia’s suspension.
De Paul and Lemar should be undisputed starters for the time being. The former completed a ridiculous 10 progressive passes in the second half against Milan. The latter didn’t play the first 65 minutes on Tuesday and still made nine progressive carries, including six into the final third of the pitch.
Defensively, this is a softer midfield than would be ideal for Simeone, but Kondogbia’s absence will condition his decision.
Forwards: João Félix, Luis Suárez
Félix was exceptional on Tuesday. He made a game-high 15 progressive carries in only 50 minutes, with six passes into the final third and two chances created. The 21-year-old looks fully-recovered from his ankle operation and I think he has to start.
On recent Colchonero Chat episodes, we’ve voiced concerns about Suárez’s physical level and whether he should actually be a super-sub. I’m not fully comfortable starting him in a game like this, where Atlético will cede possession and look to counterattack.
But he’s still Luis Suárez. He’s just snapped a six-year goal drought in Champions League away games, and he’s still angry at Ronald Koeman. Despite Barcelona’s decline, this remains one of the biggest games on Atlético’s calendar. He will be ready.
I would not be surprised if Simeone decides to start Antoine Griezmann against his parent club after the Frenchman scored a tasty equalizer in midweek, but the player still hasn’t really found his home in the preferred 3-5-2 formation (which tends to lose its shape and morph when he comes on). It’s also not fair to leave out Correa, as he excelled against Alavés’ packed defense last weekend, but tough choices have to be made in a team with Atleti’s depth.
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