Messi, Koeman, Simeone, Felix

PREVIEW: BARCELONA VS ATLETICO MADRID, CAMP NOU READY WITH TOP SPOT ATOP THE LA LIGA AT STAKE

VS

The race for La Liga is set to go down to the wire, as Diego Simeone’s table topping Atletico Madrid run into a marauding Messi and Co. in match day 34. Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona seem to be picking up pace at the right moment. Barcelona have won eight of their last 10 matches in the league, but those two losses did come to fellow challengers Real Madrid and a surprise home loss to Granada where they had taken the lead.

Koeman knows that his team can afford no more slip ups in the race to the finish, and with in sublime form (five goals in his last four games), the Catalan club will feel quite confident of dealing Atletico’s title charge a death blow on their home soil.

 

 

His counterpart will no doubt be nervously looking down the league table, as having remained top for a long time and amid talks of cantering to the title, Atletico have fudged up their way to the finish quite a bit.

Their last 10 games have yielded only five wins and they go into this crunch clash with just a two point lead over the Blaugrana as well as Los Blancos, who play Sevilla on Sunday night. As none of the top four face each other after this match week, the Argentinian will know this is his best chance to firmly take control of top spot.

 

 

No matter who wins, both the teams will also be keeping a keen eye on the result of Sunday’s match as well, as this weekend could well and truly define who emerges from this drag race to the title in pole position.

 

TEAM NEWS

Koeman’s men will once again be without the services of dynamic winger Ansu Fati, who is set to have a third operation for his meniscus injury as well as Philippe Coutinho and Martin Braithwaite.

 

 

Barcelona Probable Line-up:Ter Stegen; Lenglet, Pique, Araujo; Dest, De Jong, Pedri, Busquets, Alba; Griezman, Messi

 

Atletico Madrid have been boosted by the returns of both Thomas Lemar and Joao Felix over the last couple of weeks, with a fit again Luis Suarez also among the mix providing an array of attacking talents for Simeone. Left back Renan Lodi who got injured versus Huesca in match day 32 remains the only notable absentee.

 

 

Atletico Madrid Probable Lineup: Oblak; Trippier, Savic, Gimenez, Hermoso; Carrasco, Kondogbia, Koke, Felix; Suarez, Llorente

 

GAME CHANGERS

How many times have we been here before? Lionel Messi, arguably the world’s best player, leading Barcelona’s title charge once again. The Argentinian is aging like a fine wine, and shows no signs of slowing down as evidenced by his double against Valencia last week.

The second goal, which came from a whipped free-kick around 20 yards from goal which struck the post and went in, was his 28th of the season as he leads the scoring charts once again.  

 

 

It was simply magic from the 33-year-old. With talks of his possible departure from the Blaugrana in the background for a long time, Messi is still simply focused on the job at hand which is leading his club to another league title, one which will feel a lot sweeter given all that has happened over the course of the season off the pitch.

With Luis Suarez appearing to slow down a touch in recent weeks for Los Rojiblancos, the onus of scoring and creativity in front of goal has shifted to Marcos Llorente. The Spaniard, who struck the winner against Elche last week, is having a very productive season in his elevated position up the pitch.

 

 

His 10 assists are the second-highest in the league, while his 12 goals are only behind Suarez’ 19 for Atletico. It is clear that if Atletico are to breach Camp Nou, where the Catalans have only lost twice in the league, they will need the mercurial 26-year-old to bring his A-game.

 

PREDICTIONS

The end of the road is getting tighter and tighter in one of the most fiercely contested seasons of La Liga in recent years, with four teams all in the hunt for the ultimate glory. Will Barcelona’s renewed momentum carry them through or will Simeone and co. be able to cement top spot and open up a five point gap over their chasers by the end of this fixture? FootTheBall predicts a 2-1 win for Barcelona in this must-watch encounter.

 

 

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