With Barcelona’s clash with Real Madrid at Camp Nou on Saturday hardly living up to expectations and hardly living to its tag of being a ‘Classico’, it would not be farfetched to imagine the Champions League tie with Atletico Madrid being imagined as the real ‘Classico’.
Barca are six points clear at the top of La Liga with seven games left but following the setback against Real last weekend and knowing how effective Diego Simeone’s team can be, then this Champions League tie will mean much more than just securing a spot in the semifinals of Europe’s premier club competition.
As much as they controlled possession for the most part on Saturday, Barcelona were rather lethargic and failed to show their usual killer instinct and as a result failed to kill off Real when they had the chance.
While Barca fielded what unarguably was their best 11, the inclusion of Casemiro in the Real Madrid midfield was a master-class from Zinedine Zidane and the Brazilian didn’t disappoint, getting the better of the usually effective duo of Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic.
That must ring into the mind of Luis Enrique, as he knows Atletico would also try to stifle their rhythm from the midfield and they have got equally capable bodies in midfield – if not better – to get the job done against Rakitic and Busquets.
Barca’s tactics to also play narrow from the middle may also have played into the hands of Real and Zidane, so Enrique knows he cannot afford the same tactical blunder against the much more mechanical Atletico side.
While the back four of Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano and Jordi Alba are most likely to start again, goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen is expected to replace Claudio Bravo in goal. Another tactical tweak Enrique could have possibly made would be to start Jeremy Matieu ahead of Mascherano, given the latter’s physical presence and height, which would have been useful if Atletico chose to go for the long balls, but the Frenchman is out injured.
The trio of Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic should start in midfield again, but given Atletico’s all action style, they will do well to avoid playing too narrow like they did against Real. The MSN – Messi, Suarez and Neymar – will definitely start upfront, but then, they must be more clinical in front of goal as they have been all season.
For Atletico, they played with an unusual centre-back pairing in the 5-1 defeat of Real Betis over the weekend, but Diego Godin could return to replace the young Lucas Hernandez to pair Nacho Monsalve, giving them some experience. But with Hernandez and Monsalve having a brilliant game against Betis, Simeone may also choose to stick with the duo.
Felipe Luis and Juanfran will occupy the full-back positions as usual, while Jan Oblak will be in goal. Gabi, Augusto Fernandez, Saul Niguez and Koke played in midfield in the 4-3-1-2 formation against Betis, and while Simeone will almost certainly have a similar robust midfield, Koke, who played in a more advanced role on Saturday, may play a bit deeper and make advancing runs when they counter.
Fernando Torres and Antoine Griezmann played as centre-forwards over the weekend, but given they are playing Barcelona this time, Griezmann may play off the shoulder of Torres to help the team with more bodies in midfield when they aren’t with the ball.
Another tactical tweak could mean Matias Kranevitter is introduced in midfield, while Koke is pushed a little further up the pitch and Torres is sacrificed.