By Ed Wade.
Although Atlético Madrid v Barcelona may not hold the same glamour as the official El Clásico, it is now a game which some consider a title decider due to the form shown by both sides this season.
Barcelona were victorious in the reverse fixture having claimed a 1-0 victory and could go six points clear at the top – if they win their game in hand.
The contest on 30th January is one neither team want to lose, but even more so for Atlético Madrid as this will be a serious test for their title credentials come the end of the season.
Atlético were last crowned champions of Spain in 2013-14 by earning a point on the last day of the season in a crunch-match against Barcelona as well as reaching the UEFA Champions League Final.
Many thought that Atlético’s success would be a one season wonder. However, they are currently level at the top of La Liga – behind Barcelona only on goal difference with Diego Simeone being applauded for some shrewd investments in the squad.
The club continued their steady progress following the title win despite the loss of major players, such as Diego Costa to Chelsea and the recent departure of Arda Turan to upcoming opponents Barcelona.
The return of Los Colchoneros favourite Felipe Luis from Chelsea has been a big boost and he’s been a constant threat down the left.
Despite suffering from the cliché slow start following his move from Villarreal, Luciano Vietto looks a promising young player who could be vital for the future – or sooner if any of Atlético’s stars move on in the summer.
Last year, they finished the league campaign in third place and managed to make it into the last eight of the UEFA Champions League. However, this time around they look more like the old battle-hardened Atlético that Diego Simeone’s sides have become renowned for.
They are capable of grinding out results when they need to, having won 1-0 seven times and scored a relatively mediocre 30 league goals so far this season.
Incredibly, this amounts to fifteen less goals than Messi, Neymar and Suarez’s combined total.
Catalan giants Barcelona on the other hand had a contrast in fortune. Having lost out on the title in 2014, the club invested heavily the following summer. They brought in Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic and the less successful Thomas Vermaelen, which resulted in them winning the treble for the second time in their history.
The trident of attacking prowess through the likes of Messi, Suarez and Neymar was enough to blow most opposition out of the water – registering an astonishing 122 goals in all comps last season.
Barça have coped admirably despite not being able to play their two major summer signings Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal until January due to the much-publicised transfer ban. Both players could give them that edge during the run-in – something Luis Enrique seems to agree with.
“Arda can play in the middle or out wide, and I dare say Aleix Vidal could play in any of three positions, either at full-back, centre-back or even out on the wing.” Said Luis Enrique early in December whilst discussing what each player would bring to the current fold.
With only two defeats all season, they’ve built on their successful 2014-15 by displaying some impressive form and winning the FIFA Club World Cup and UEFA Super Cup and they look in fine-shape heading into the latter stages of the campaign.
Whilst there have been a number of classic meetings between both sides in the past; the last five games have been very tight with the winning team having won by more than one goal, on only one occasion.
Diego Godin has been a real leader at the back for Atlético once again this season, having seen him command a defence that has only conceded a mere eight league goals. On top of this, he normally seems to relish the challenge of keeping out his compatriot and close friend Luis Suarez.
On a sour note, Diego Simeone had to admit this week that they could lose their prized-possession in Frenchman Antione Griezmann.
He said: “Of course he’s a very important player for us, but we can’t hold him here with chains.”
The cultured left-footer remains the most focal point of attack for the Madrid outfit and the forward will want to justify any potential big money move with a showing at the Vicente Calderón Stadium.
On the other hand, newly crowned Ballon D’or winner Lionel Messi has pledged his future to Barça by stating his desire to end his career with the club and continue winning trophies:
“My idea is I want to finish at home, and my home is Barca.” He said.
The Argentine captain is starting to get back to full fitness after scoring his 11th league goal of an injury-hit campaign and will surely lead the line for Barcelona on Saturday.
It remains to be seen if ‘The Third Clásico’ will ever be as big as the original, but there is no doubt that Saturday afternoon’s top-of-the table clash will prove to be the biggest European football has to offer this weekend.