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Could Barcelona timing be perfect for Thomas Partey and Atletico Madrid?

01:25 GMT+3 06/04/2019
Thomas Partey of Atletico Madrid  UEFA Europa League Semi Final second leg match between Atletico Madrid and Arsenal FC
After the league leaders unexpectedly dropped points at Villarreal in midweek, Partey and co. could land another blow in the title race

Atletico Madrid secured a massive lifeline in midweek as Villarreal did themselves and Diego Simeone's club a huge favour by holding Barcelona to a thrilling 4-4 draw.

Ernesto Valverde was almost made to rue his decision to leave Lionel Messi out of the classic at El Madrigal, before the Argentine phenom came off the bench to inspire his side to a stoppage-time draw.

Atleti had reduced the gap to seven points with a 2-0 success over Girona the previous night, and probably hoped for, rather than expected, a Barca slip-up before both sides face off at the Camp Nou this weekend.

While eight points still separate both clubs in the table, which still gives Valverde’s side a bit of a margin for error, Atleti were the bigger beneficiary from gameweek 30, and will be buoyed going into this weekend’s fixture.

One player who will anticipate the top of the table clash is Thomas Partey, who has come on in leaps and bounds this season – which has led to rumours of a move away from the Red and Whites in the summer.

In a season which had started with Antoine Griezmann rejecting a move to the club they’re set to slug it out with this weekend, it’s only fitting that both teams are now battling for the league title.

For Partey, his significance to what Simeone sets out to do against the leaders can’t be emphasized enough.

Atleti are expected to defend compactly, soaking up pressure before picking their moments to surge forward.

The Ghana international and his midfield colleagues’ role in protecting the defence will be under the spotlight too, especially with Messi expected to drop deep to serve as the link to the attack.

Valverde’s side are heavily reliant on their talisman and, while it’s easier said than done, stopping him can often mean stopping Barca.

That’s where the skillset of Partey can come in handy; his positioning, ability to read the game and strength in the tackle should come to the fore at the Camp Nou.

Expect him to be paired with Rodrigo in the middle of the park, where both central midfielders will have their hands full in trying to stop the mesmeric Messi.

However, if they’re to be successful, the Ghanaian will need to produce a better performance than he delivered against Girona on Tuesday.

Withdrawn before the hour, the central midfielder struggled to get to grips with the change of system from their usual 4-4-2 to a 3-1-4-2, and was often guilty of losing possession, while coming out second best in all but one of his individual battles.

It remains to be seen if the tactical tweak was a dress rehearsal for the Barca encounter, but the fact the tactic hadn’t been utilized this year until Tuesday gives that theory a bit of credence.

Never have Los Colchoneros, under the passionate Argentinian manager, won a game in Catalonia, so maybe it’s time to try something different from his usual system. While the 2-0 midweek scoreline points to the success of the tactic, Atletico still allowed a plethora of attempts from Girona.

They can’t afford to live so dangerously against Messi and a recently resurgent Luis Suarez if they're to give themselves a boost in the title race.

Despite his recent poor performance, Partey won't dropped for this weekend’s fixture given how their last encounter without him in Europe panned out; having picked up a booking in the 2-0 win over Juventus, the combative midfielder was suspended for the reverse fixture and Atleti were knocked out 3-2 on aggregate.

While it’s simplistic to suggest they wouldn’t have been knocked out with him in the side, his absence was certainly felt against the Old Lady.

A window of opportunity opened for Simeone and his side after Barca unpredictably dropped points against lowly Villarreal, breathing life into a title race that had previously appeared to be beyond Atletico.

It’s still in Barca’s hands, but if Partey and his teammates manage their first victory at Camp Nou in since February 2006, a five-point difference with seven games left will make things interesting in the final weeks of the season.

Valverde’s side have the added distraction of competing in the Champions League too, while Atleti have attentions solely on chasing the 25-time champions.

Will Partey’s influence tell as the capital club chase a first victory in Barcelona in over a decade, or will it be business as usual with Los Rojiblancos yet again leaving Catalonia unfulfilled?