Barca host los Colchoneros in the weekend’s most eye-catching fixture...
After dispatching Almeria in the Copa del Rey earlier this week, Barcelona host Atletico Madrid, hoping to break the record for consecutive Primera Division games won. Presently, Barca have 15 wins in succession under their belt, and victory at Camp Nou on Saturday night would set a new mark of 16.
Defeat against Betis around two weeks ago was a shock to Barcelona’s system, but they have digested the problems arising from that reverse and brushed off these problems impressively. A squad of largely fringe players was good enough to overcome Almeria 3-0 away from home in midweek, with the goals arriving from Adriano, Thiago and Ibrahim Affelay.
“We must try to recover in time for Saturday, as we face one of the strongest teams in the league,” Guardiola explained to the media in the aftermath of Wednesday’s win. “This is our hardest month, as we have had little rest.”
Saturday provides something of a grudge match for la Blaugrana. Though they defeated Atleti 2-1 at the Vicente Calderon earlier this season, that game will be most remembered for Tomas Ujafalusi’s crude foul on Lionel Messi, which kept the diminutive Argentine away from the pitch for a couple of weeks, and in truth the South American was lucky it was such a short period of time.
There will, therefore, be a little more edge to this game than usual, especially as Barca would go 10 points clear of Real Madrid with a win.
Should Be Doing Better
Atletico Madrid’s hopes of Champions League football next season have all but vanished as they have been unable to maintain the hot pace maintained by Villarreal and Valencia, who have opened up a gap to the main peloton of teams as they attempt to nail down a top four spot. Los Colchoneros lie a distant seventh, 11 points off the pace.
Recent results have not eased the growing pressure on coach Quique Sanchez Flores, who saw his side lose consecutive Liga matches for the first time this season when they went down against Sporting de Gijon and then Athletic Bilbao. When these opponents were dispatched in the opening two games of the campaign, los Rojiblancos were being talked optimistically of as potential title contenders. Not so now.
“We are seventh. We should be third or fourth, but we'll see what happens,” the coach lamented after last weekend’s home defeat to los Leones, in which Luis Perea did his side no favours in earning a first half red card. “It takes courage and commitment for the team to succeed. I trust my players.”
While Atleti have a miserable record against city-rivals Real Madrid, they have historically fared better against Barcelona, though they will not make Saturday’s trip with any great optimism, especially having been outplayed by the Catalans when they met in the capital earlier this term.
Moreover, recent trips to Camp Nou have ended in complete despair, losing 11 goals over the course of their last two visits to the venue.
Andres Iniesta has returned to training after a back sprain kept him out of the midweek encounter against Almeria. Carles Puyol and Jeffren Suarez remain on the sidelines.
Mario Suarez has an injury question mark hanging over his head prior to the trip to Barcelona. Luis Perea is definitely out after being dismissed last weekend. On the other hand, Raul Garcia will return to action.