What: Spanish La Liga
Who: Atletico Madrid vs Barcelona
When: Sunday 19th September, 2010, at 18:00 UK Time
Where: Vicente Calderon, Madrid, Spain

Starting on the Wrong Foot

Atletico Madrid started their Europa League trophy defence in an awful manner on Thursday evening: A sole strike from Javito was enough to earn underdogs Aris Salonika the spoils in an encounter where the Mattress Makers failed to produce the form that has won them praise all over Europe, both domestically and internationally.

Being the only side that managed to inflict a loss to Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona last season, a midweek win over their Greek opponents would have done wonders for Atletico ahead of their showdown with the Blaugrana. Instead, the team was left ruing their luck, with coach Quique Sanchez Flores acknowledged that his side were completely outplayed; “a lack of self-control that we had meant we never got to create a sense of danger". Now, the team has to get their act back together in order to be mentally and physically fit for their guests, knowing that a performance similar to that against Aris could mean yet another Greek tragedy for them.

Five-Star Drubbing

It was hard for many across Europe to believe, but Barcelona did lose a football match last weekend. For a team that has grown so accustomed to winning game after game, the fact that the reigning champions slipped last weekend at home against La Liga newcomers Hercules, triggered a few alarm bells around the Camp Nou.

Los Cules responded in a way only they know, dismantling Panathinaikos in the Champions League by hitting the back of the net five times, despite conceding an early goal. If the game against the Greeks was an indicator of anything, it is that Barcelona have already forgotten their slip-up against Hercules: Enjoying nearly 75% of possession and completing over 600 passes, the Blaugrana’s core reactor is very much running again. However, midfielder Andres Iniesta confessed that the encounter against Atletico will be anything but easy: “The reality is that Atletico Madrid have won the UEFA Super Cup, won their first two league games, and have important players who are in good form. It will be difficult.”



Recent form

Atletico Madrid:
Atletico Madrid 4-0 Sporting Gijon (30/08; La Liga)
Athletic Bilbao 1-2 Atletico Madrid (11/09; La Liga)
Aris Thessaloniki 1-0 Atletico Madrid (16/09; Europa League)

Racing Santander 0-3 Barcelona (29/08; La Liga)
Barcelona 0-2 Hercules (11/09; La Liga)
Barcelona 5-1 Panathinaikos (14/09; Champions League)

Key absences

Atletico Madrid: Tomas Ujfalusi (doubt); Sergio Aguero (doubt)

Barcelona: None

Players to watch

Atletico Madrid – Diego Forlan: The Uruguay international was one of Los Rojiblancos’ best players against Aris, constantly looking for a gap in the God of War’s defence. In the event that Sergio Aguero is not in tip-top shape, even more trust will be given to Forlan to break down the Catalan backline and send Atletico into dreamland.

Barcelona – Xavi: While Lionel Messi might have dominated proceedings against Panathinaikos, it was really Xavi’s presence that was missed the most against Hercules. Starting the match from the bench, the Barca midfield was completely helpless without their guiding general. His services will surely be welcomed with open arms as Barcelona face their biggest challenge yet this weekend.

Match prediction

The midweek continental fixtures turned the tables on what could have been an interesting showdown this weekend. That is not to say that Atletico Madrid will be by any means humiliated by their guests, but the thrashing of Panathinaikos has restored faith in what seemed to be a perplexed Barcelona squad. This match will be a close call, with the guests clinching all honours though, by a 2-1 scoreline.