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FC Barcelona - Atlético de Madrid: Title contenders tango in Catalunya

Atlético are hoping to end a drought that stretches back to 2006.

Feyenoord v Atletico Madrid: Group E - UEFA Champions League 2023/24
Antoine Griezmann and Memphis Depay will look to do damage against their former Barcelona teammates.
Photo by NESimages/Herman Dingler/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Atlético de Madrid and FC Barcelona will meet on Sunday night in a top-four showdown that could have major implications in LaLiga’s fierce title race.

The first meeting of the season between Barcelona (9-4-1, 31 points) and Atlético Madrid (10-1-2, 31 points) could easily be decided by players on one side who will be motivated to pull one over on their former teammates on the other. For Atlético, that means Antoine Griezmann (starting at forward) and Memphis Depay (on the bench), as Los Rojiblancos seek a first away win against this opponent in LaLiga for 17 years.

For Barcelona, it means João Félix gets a chance to show Diego Simeone what he’s missing. João enters Sunday’s match fresh off scoring the winning goal against FC Porto in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday, helping Barça progress to the competition’s knockout phase. The Portuguese has started nine of the blaugrana’s 11 games in LaLiga, and he is enjoying life in Catalonia — although his future, as ever, does not depend only on him.

“For sure I prefer this style at Barcelona — me and every player,” João told ESPN in an interview this week. “If you ask every player, if you ask the players from Atlético, too, they would prefer to play more time on the attack, for sure. If they don’t answer that, they are lying.”

FC Barcelona v FC Porto: Group H - UEFA Champions League 2023/24
João Félix has scored four goals and assisted three in 16 games on loan at Barça.
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Simeone on Saturday refused to talk about João and wouldn’t be drawn into the debate over aesthetics (although it is pertinent to note that Atlético have outscored Barcelona in LaLiga over the course of this calendar year). El Cholo views Sunday’s game as a chance to continue closing the gap to Barcelona and Real Madrid, and he’s eager to add three more points as Atleti visit Barça’s temporary home at Montjuïc for the first time since 2008.

“It’ll be a beautiful game against a team that has very good players, and is led very well by a coach who has very clear ideas,” Simeone told the media. “Our objective is continuing on our path and trying to take the game to where we think we can hurt them.”

Atlético will make at least one change to its 11 for Sunday’s matchup. Saúl Ñíguez has been gaining traction to start in midfield to Koke’s left, while Samuel Lino could displace Rodrigo Riquelme at left wing-back — even after the latter produced a man-of-the-match display at Feyenoord on Tuesday.

Lino and Riquelme are growing, and we need both of them for whatever the team asks,” Simeone said.

Simeone also had good news to share on Pablo Barrios, who underwent surgery on Friday to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee. The coach revealed that Barrios will be ready to return in January, which could affect the club’s transfer plans — even more so with Thomas Lemar making excellent progress from his Achilles tear in September.

“I love (Barrios), he has all the characteristics we like,” Simeone said. “He’s intense, aggressive, skilled. He's getting more involved in understanding what he needs to improve. He’s young and has a great future. We hope this continues upon his return.”

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Date Dec. 3, 2023

Location Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys (Montjuïc), Barcelona

Kickoff time 9:00 p.m. CET, 8:00 p.m. GMT, 3:00 p.m. EST, 12:00 p.m. PST

SB Nation opposition site Barça Blaugranes

Available TV/streaming ESPN+ (United States), M+ LaLiga TV (Spain), Viaplay Sports 1 (United Kingdom)