Subplots and narratives abound as inform Atletico de Madrid host Barcelona in LaLiga this Saturday.
Atletico de Madrid host Barcelona at the Wanda Metropolitano this Saturday evening in one of the most eagerly awaited clashes of the 2020-21 LaLiga campaign, in a clash which could have a huge bearing on this season’s ever unpredictable title race.
Atletico are the last team still unbeaten in LaLiga Santander this season, with Diego Simeone’s team having won five and drawn two of their seven games, so far scoring 17 goals and conceding just twice. They went into the international break buzzing after four straight victories, including a 4-0 hammering of previously in-form Cadiz last time out.
Barcelona have had a more up and down start to the new campaign, as incoming blaugrana coach Ronald Koeman dealt with a number of different challenges. October’s 3-1 ElClasico defeat to Real Madrid was a setback, however the rousing 5-2 victory over Real Betis last time out suggested that Koeman and his players had now clicked together.
Saturday’s game will of course be extra emotional for new Atletico forward Luis Suarez, who joined Los Colchoneros last summer after scoring 198 goals and winning 13 trophies including four LaLiga titles during six years at the Camp Nou. The 33-year-old has hit the ground running with his new team, with five goals in his first six LaLiga appearances in a rojiblanco shirt.
Suarez has already built an empathetic understanding with Atletico’s young attacking star Joao Felix, who also has five LaLiga goals already and looks well settled in his second season in Spain. Others in top form so far for Simeone’s side include versatile midfielder Marcos Llorente and Mexico international Hector Herrera, while goalkeeper Jan Oblak has been his usual solid self between the posts.
Barça’s own young attacker Ansu Fati suffered a serious knee injury against Betis, however Osumane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann both looked sharp with well taken strikes. Griezmann will be up for the game against Atletico, for whom he scored 94 goals in 180 LaLiga games before joining Barça in summer 2019.
History has been on Barça’s side in this fixture through recent seasons, with Simeone yet to record a LaLiga victory over the Catalans, although May 2014’s 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou did secure that season’s LaLiga Santander for his team.
Their most recent meeting was a dramatic 2-2 draw in the Catalan capital last June, while a superb Lionel Messi strike was the difference in a 1-0 victory when they met at the Wanda in December 2019. Messi has 26 goals in 25 LaLiga meetings with Atletico, and also 11 yellow cards – a sign of how closely fought these games often are.
Messi’s confrontation with his close personal friend Suarez is just one of the many intriguing sub-plots ahead of a game which is also likely to throw up plenty of new talking points. An Atletico victory could send them top of the LaLiga Santander standings, while three points for Barça would help them make up ground with the leaders.
Whatever happens during the 90 minutes at the Wanda this Saturday will have repercussions well into the future.
Five Duels To Watch Out For
The blockbuster match between Atlético de Madrid and FC Barcelona in LaLiga Santander next weekend is one to get pulses racing, with team and individual battles to savour. There will be intriguing clashes between some of the very best players in their positions.
The goalkeepers: Jan Oblak vs Marc-André ter Stegen
Atleti and Barcelona boast two of the very best goalkeepers in the world. Barça’s starting shot-stopper Marc-André ter Stegen hasn’t yet been able to add the Zamora Trophy – the annual prize for the LaLiga Santander goalkeeper with the best goals conceded numbers – to his list of honours and that’s mostly because Jan Oblak has blocked him from doing so. The Slovenian has won this prize four times and is once again playing at the highest level this season. Ter Stegen started the current campaign with an injury, but has returned to play two matches for his club, one in LaLiga Santander and the other in the Champions League. It only took those two games for the No.1 to remind the world that he is one of the most decisive players in the Blaugrana squad.
The defence: José María Giménez vs Gerard Piqué
It’s day and night when it comes to the defences of these two teams. On one hand, Atlético de Madrid’s back line is the best in LaLiga Santander as they’ve let in just two goals so far this season. That’s in stark contrast to the eight that FC Barcelona have conceded. José María Giménez and Gerard Piqué are two quality defenders and have been leaders in their respective teams for years and, right now, Giménez is playing at a level that few others in the championship can match. Even though other centre-backs may score more goals, others may be more elegant and others may do better with the ball at feet, as may be the case with Piqué, right now there is no centre-back as solid as the Uruguayan.
The midfield: Koke and Saúl Ñíguez vs Frenkie de Jong and Sergio Busquets
The midfield battle could be more decisive than ever and FC Barcelona must approach it with caution. Although the Culés have traditionally found their main strength in the middle of the pitch, they’ll be going up against one of the longest-standing midfield partnerships in the form of Koke and Saúl Ñíguez. They’ve been together for seven seasons and are in command of an Atleti side that has stood out for its attack this season. Meanwhile, FC Barcelona have the double pivot of Frenkie de Jong and Sergio Busquets and they’ve been suffering more than normal when it comes to protecting their defence and when it comes to playing the ball forward. As such, the midfield battle is a lot more even this time around than it probably has been when looking at these teams’ recent history.
The attack: João Félix vs Lionel Messi
Without a doubt, one of the most exciting duels of this match is the one between João Félix and the league’s star man Lionel Messi. These are definitely two of the players with the most talent in their boots in all of LaLiga Santander and this head-to-head encounter comes at the perfect moment. On the home team’s side, João Félix is fully locked in right now and has become one of the division’s leading scorers this year, his second at Atleti. On the opposite side, Messi is revitalised and featuring more and more in FC Barcelona’s play, remaining so important for the team. When looking at the attacking duel, Luis Suárez can’t be forgotten either as Messi’s former strike partner prepares to work alongside João Félix and go up against his former club.
The dugouts: Diego Simeone vs Ronald Koeman
In this weekend’s match, the coach who has been with his club the longest will take on one of LaLiga Santander’s newest managerial arrivals. These are two coaches who represent their respective clubs so well, although the clash of styles in this season’s first meeting may not be as great as it has been on other occasions. Simeone continues to demand intensity and balance from his players and they’re once again the team with the best goals conceded record in LaLiga Santander, but they’re also the second-top scorers so far this campaign. FC Barcelona, meanwhile, have historically been characterised for their attacking, but under new coach Ronald Koeman they’re also buying into the idea of intensity and balance being non-negotiable.
Best friends and former teammates Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez set to meet face-to-face
There is no footballer in the world who has assisted Lionel Messi more often than Luis Suárez. The Uruguayan provided 47 assists for the Argentine in the six years that they spent together at FC Barcelona, where they displayed such great chemistry from practically the first time they stepped onto the pitch as teammates. Messi, meanwhile, set up 39 Suárez goals over those years and the pair combined for a total of 478 goals during their time together at the Camp Nou. They lifted 13 trophies together, including four LaLiga Santander titles and one Champions League. Given all of that glorious past, it’ll be impossible not to think back to those successes when they go up against each other, this time as opponents, in Atlético de Madrid vs FC Barcelona this Saturday.
These two players both feature on the podium of the top goalscorers in the history of FC Barcelona. Messi leads the way with his 710 goals, 280 of which he scored during the Suárez era, while Suárez is third on 198. Only fellow legend László Kubala splits them, which shows just how tremendously productive the South American duo have been at the Camp Nou, producing numbers that hadn’t been seen in almost 70 years and outperforming other illustrious names like César Rodríguez.
Messi and Suárez, a relationship beyond football
The pair’s relationship goes beyond the field of play. The two strikers were neighbours in the Barcelona neighbourhood of Castelldefels and their children went to the same school. It was normal to see their families enjoying leisure time together, even enjoying seafront walks when Barça weren’t playing. It was Suárez who led Messi to drink mate so frequently, with the No.10 now rarely separated from his flask. Now, Antoine Griezmann is the one sharing mate with Messi, after he made the move from Atlético de Madrid to FC Barcelona in 2019, one year before Suárez went the opposite way.
It was on September 24th that Suárez’s illustrious FC Barcelona career came to an end, with the Catalan club accepting an offer for a transfer to Atlético de Madrid. There, in the Spanish capital, the No.9 is continuing to show that scoring goals is in his blood. He’ll take on FC Barcelona this weekend with five goals already to his name this season, all of them coming in LaLiga Santander. That’s just one behind Messi, although the Argentine’s goals have been split with three in the domestic competition and three in the Champions League. In any case, these stats show that these players possess so much talent that they can still perform as superstars as they get older and as they now play on different teams.
Messi’s search for a new partner at FC Barcelona
Messi hasn’t been able to find an attacking ally quite like Suárez since the Uruguayan departed and he may never develop a partnership like theirs. Looking to the past, not even Dani Alves – with 42 assists – or Andrés Iniesta – with 37 assists – set up the Argentine more than Suárez did. Messi, meanwhile, has always looked to create chances for his teammates too and has produced four assists this season in addition to his half a dozen goals.
Even as Messi plays with other forwards this weekend, he’ll be able to have a pitchside chat with the best strike partner he ever had and a player with whom he developed an unbreakable friendship. The pair will have to put those ties on ice, at least for 90 minutes, as they go up against each other as opponents for the first time since reality forced their separation.