The most appetising of this week’s La Liga fixtures sees Aguirre’s 5th-placed Atlético Madrid side travel to Catalunya to face in-form Barcelona. Both clubs had disappointing starts to the season and have recovered to play some scintillating football of late, and both have made excellent progress in their respective European exploits.
In the last three La Liga gameweeks, Barcelona have scored 10 goals and Atlético 8, with both teams triumphant in all three fixtures. Barça are unbeaten this season and have won all of their home matches. Atlético have won one of their three away matches, in their most recent away trip, in Bilbao.
Men to watch
In an interesting subtext, the tie sets against each other the league’s two leading scorers so far, both with 5 goals; 19 year old Kun Aguero, player of the tournament in this summer’s U20 World Cup, and Leo Messi, many people’s candidate for world player of the year, both of Argentina and both labelled, with more justice than most, the “new Maradonas”. Ultimately the fine line of the result could be hinge on a case of the battle of the new Maradonas.
If one sets aside the 6-0 hammering handed out to Atlético by the azulgrana towards the end of last season, a huge blow to Atlético’s UEFA cup hopes, Atlético actually have an excellent record against Barça in recent years; indeed, the Madrid club have not lost in the last three visits to the Camp Nou, winning two and drawing one. Equally, the personnel of the two clubs has changed vastly, and one would hope that Atleti will not be overly inhibited by that 6-0 reverse.
Barcelona’s squad has been hit quite severely with injuries recently, although Milito should recover in time to take part in Sunday’s match. Equally, Ronaldinho performed well midweek and will be expected to start alongside Henry and Messi up front. However, Márquez, Touré, Zambrotta, EdmÃlson and Puyol will miss the match, along with long-term absentee Samuel Eto’o. In the absence of Puyol and Touré, don’t be surprised to see a return to defensive fragility after the solidity of the opening weeks of the season, especially given the potency of the Atlético attack. Atlético have far fewer worries, and will start with a pretty much full strength side (Perrea is still missing), with many key players including Forlán rested for at least 45 mins during Thursday’s 5-0 thumping of Kayseri Erciyesspor.
Barcelona: Valdés, Oleguer, Thuram, Milito, Abidal, Iniesta, Deco, Xavi, Messi, Ronaldinho, Henry
Atlético: Leo Franco (should have recovered from his muscle strain), Seitaridis, Pablo, Ze Castro, PernÃa, Maniche, Raúl GarcÃa, Simao, Reyes, Forlán, Aguero
Atleti’s good record at the Camp Nou will count for something, and they will still be reeling at their performance in the 6-0 whitewash last year. Ordinarily nI would expect nothing to stop Barcelona in their current form, however, defensive injuries could take their toll, and the loss of Touré will certainly be felt. There will certainly be goals in this game, and I can see neither team coming out on top at the end, with a 2-2 draw on the cards.