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 Ousmane 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.