LaLiga Preview: Top 4 Clash This Weekend

As we head into the final few weeks, the LaLiga title race is primed to go down to the very last day matchday as six points separate the top four. This weekend could prove vital as the top four clash with third-place Barcelona hosting first-place Atletico and second-place Real Madrid take on fourth-place Sevilla.

Barcelona vs Atlético de Madrid: Messi and Suárez lead the lines in this potential title decider

This weekend’s LaLiga Santander action is an absolute can’t miss, with the top four teams in the standings face off against each other. On Saturday at 4.15pm CEST it’s Barcelona vs Atlético Madrid, before fans across the world can enjoy Real Madrid vs Sevilla on Sunday night at 9pm CEST.

The meeting between Barça and Atleti at the Camp Nou is massive, as just two points separate Diego Simeone’s league leaders from Ronald Koeman’s Blaugrana-wearing challengers. Los Rojiblancos edged out Barcelona for a 1-0 win at the Wanda Metropolitano when these sides met earlier in the season, but a lot has changed since then.

Barcelona’s form has improved over the second half of the season, whereas Atlético de Madrid’s results haven’t been as impressive. Both teams did earn victories from away trips to the Valencian Community last weekend, though, with Atleti overcoming Elche 1-0 and Barça defeating Valencia 3-2. The Catalan side did so with a three-at-the-back formation, the same kind of system that has brought Atlético so much success this year. When these sides met in November, though, Barcelona were still using a back four.

There is good news for both of these teams in terms of injuries and suspensions, as there are no players banned for this match and both sides have squads that are almost completely healthy. Barcelona will still be missing the long-term-injured Philippe Coutinho and Ansu Fati, but there aren’t many concerns other than that. For fans, this is great news as it means the very best talents will be able to take to the Camp Nou pitch.

Five Barcelona vs Atlético storylines to look out for

Messi vs Suárez

Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez weren’t just one of football’s greatest ever attacking partnerships during their six years together at Barcelona. They were also very close friends off the pitch. Coronavirus ruled Suárez out of this season’s first meeting between these two sides, but he’ll be able to take on his former club and his friend this time around and, given the competitor he is, he’ll be keen to prove a point. Messi and Suárez have never actually faced each other as opponents in club football, only squaring off at international level. So, this will be a fascinating battle between these two clubs’ top scorers.

Memories of 2014

The last time Atlético Madrid won the LaLiga Santander title was in the 2013/14 season, when a headed goal from Diego Godín earned them a 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou on the final day. That was enough to win the title, but a loss would have made it Barcelona’s championship. There will still be three rounds remaining after this Saturday’s fixture, but this game will surely bring up memories of that 2014 meeting, given how much is at stake. Even though Simeone won the title at the Camp Nou that day, he has never actually won an individual match there in his managerial career and will look to change that this weekend.

 Atlético’s Catalan curse

It’s not just at the Camp Nou that Simeone has struggled to win. The Atleti coach has suffered several difficult visits to Catalonia in general in recent years. Los Rojiblancos haven’t won on any of their past seven visits to the region, drawing twice at Girona in that time, losing once and drawing once at Barcelona, losing once and drawing once at Espanyol and losing earlier this season to third tier side UE Cornellà in the Copa del Rey.

Griezmann faces his former club in great form

This is a particularly big fixture for Antoine Griezmann, as he takes on the club he was once the attacking leader of. Since switching Atleti for Barcelona in 2019, the Frenchman has faced Los Colchoneros four times but picked up only one win, alongside two defeats and a draw. He comes into this fixture in excellent form, though, with eight goals scored across his past nine matches, so look to the Frenchman to break the deadlock.

The head-to-head factor

Given that Real Madrid and Sevilla are right there in the title race too, only a win will do for these two sides. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that Atleti will be far happier with a draw than Barça. Not only are Simeone’s side ahead in the standings, but it will decide the all-important head-to-head record in their favour. LaLiga rules dictate that teams who finish level on points are separated by their head-to-head meetings rather than overall goal difference, so a draw would leave Atleti with the potential tiebreaker because they won the first match 1-0 back in November.

Winner of Sunday’s Real Madrid vs Sevilla would take huge step towards LaLiga Santander title

All eyes will be on the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium on Sunday evening as second placed Real Madrid host fourth placed Sevilla with the LaLiga title race moving into its conclusive phase.

With leaders Atletico de Madrid visiting third placed Barcelona just 24 hours earlier, and all four teams having just three games left to play afterwards, the weekend’s action will go a long way to deciding who wins the LaLiga Santander title this season.

Defending champions Madrid know what it takes to come through a tight title race, and Zinedine Zidane’s side have been outstanding through recent months, coming through various injuries, COVID 19 positives and the extra workload of reaching the Champions Leauge semi-finals. Saturday’s comfortable 2-0 victory over CA Osasuna also makes it 10 wins, two draws and just one defeat in their last 13 LaLiga home games for Los Blancos.

Centre-back Eder Militao was the star of the show against Osasuna, heading his first LaLiga goal, with fellow Brazilian Casemiro wrapping up the scoring late on. Injuries to other defenders including club captain Sergio Ramos have opened up an opportunity for Militao, 23, who has been excellent in recent weeks. Ramos, 35, has recovered from a knee injury however and could play his first LaLiga game since mid-March against his old club Sevilla. 

Also fit again is superstar Belgian forward Eden Hazard, who looked sharp last weekend as he made his first LaLiga start since January. A much more regular contributor for Real Madrid through the season has been Karim Benzema, whose run and pass set up Casemiro’s goal versus Osasuna, meaning he has been involved in an incredible 14 goals (11 scored, 3 assisted) in his 11 LaLiga games. 

Sevilla come into Saturday’s game as the outsiders in the title race, but as the in-form team in LaLiga Santander. After a wobble in early March when they were eliminated from both the Champions League and Copa del Rey, the Andalusians have been on the charge in LaLiga with seven wins in nine games.

Youssef En-Nesyri has been in superb form in attack, and his superbly taken winner at Levante recently took the Morocco international to 17 goals in LaLiga already this season. Young French defender Jules Kounde has been immaculate in defence, Joan Jordan outstanding in midfield, and it is no coincidence that the team’s return to form coincided with Argentine winger Lucas Ocampos coming back from injury. Also outstanding recently has been January signing Papu Gomez, who has settled into a crucial playmaking role in the team.

Saturday’s game will surely be special for Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui, whose short spell as Real Madrid coach in 2018 did not go as planned. Lopetegui lasted just 10 LaLiga games as coach at the Santiago Bernabeu, winning only four and suffering a painful 3-0 defeat away at Sevilla – where the Basque tactician is now firmly at home.

Sevilla might be happy that the Santiago Bernabeu is under renovation at the moment, given the Andalusian team have lost each of their last 11 LaLiga visits, including a 2-1 defeat last season. Madrid also came out on top of a tight encounter in 2020-21’s first meeting in early December, which was decided by an own-goal by Sevilla goalkeeper Bono, under pressure from Real Madrid attacker Vinicius Junior. 

Another nervy encounter is quite possible on Sunday evening, given all that is on the line for both teams. Real Madrid have the experience and home advantage, but Sevilla are excited about the chance of a first LaLiga trophy since 1946. Whatever happens could end up being decisive in this most exciting of LaLiga title races.

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