Atletico Madrid v Barcelona, La Liga, February 14, 2010
Spanish football has been dominated over the past week with Barcelonaâ€™s defensive crisis coming into this match at Atletico Madrid. Cross town rivals Real Madrid are expected to see off Xerez on Saturday and the pressure will be on the Catalan giants at the Vicente Calderon where they have lost on their last two league visits.
Much like the Champions League final in Rome last season, Guardiola has a defensive headache with a host of players out. (Barca are 11/5 to keep a clean sheet, 2/5 against.) Red cards for Gerard Pique and Rafael Marquez in the 2-1 win over Getafe last week means Carlos Puyol will play despite carrying an injury alongside Gabriel Milito with Dmytro Chygrynskiy also injured.
Regular full-backs Dani Alves and Eric Abidal picked up injuries against Getafe, the Brazilians came in the warm up, and Maxwell is expected to fill in on the left and winger Jeffren, who signed a new contract this week, tipped to start on the right. Yaya Toure is another who will miss the game through injury whilst Andres Iniesta is also doubtful. (Barca are 85/40 to win both halves.)
Despite all these problems it is important to remember what a class outfit this Barcelona side is. Real Madrid sporting director Jorge Valdano described them as the â€œbest Barcelona in historyâ€ earlier this week and when you have the likes of Xavi, Lionel Messi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thierry Henry you should have a chance. (Barca are 5/6 to score in both halves.)
Messi in particular has been in sensational form in recent weeks. â€œThe Fleaâ€ has now scored 12 goals in his last nine matches and was the architect of the win over Getafe last week with a fine goal and assist. The Argentine playmaker’s form has come at a good time as Zlatan Ibrahimovic has struggled for goals in recent weeks and not been on the scoresheet in the league since a penalty against Espanyol in early December.
With all the defensive problems at Barca and with Atletico Madrid boasting a fine attack and a horrible defence there should be plenty of goals on Sunday night. (16/5 to be over 4.5 goals in the game.) Results have improved for Atletico under Quique Sanchez Flores but despite impressing in the Copa del Rey, their league form has been patchy.
In 2010 they have lost two of their four league games and will be relying on Sergio Aguero and Diego Forlan to take the pressure of their defence. In September Barcelona smashed Atletico 5-2 at the Nou Camp and it will take a brilliant performance from the hosts to see off Pep Guardiolaâ€™s men.
Besides Forlan and Aguero, Tiago will be looking to get close to Xavi, Jurado is a playmaker that can make things happen and Simao is also in good form. Forget Real Madrid, Atletico need the points themselves to dismiss any thoughts of a shock relegation.
Sergio Aguero summed up the mood in the Atletico camp: “They [Real Madrid] trust us to win and that’s fine. But more than helping Real Madrid, we need the three points, against Barcelona or any other team.”
101gg predicts: Atletico Madrid 3 â€“ Barcelona 3 (49/1)
Full match odds here.