Saturday, January 16, 2021 | ePaper

Opportunity knocks for Atletico to make title statement against Barca

  • Print


AFP, Madrid :
Atletico Madrid's La Liga challenge will not succeed or fail on Saturday but end a decade-long drought by beating Barcelona and they could justifiably become favourites for the title.
A first league victory over Barca since 2010 would put Atletico nine points clear of their opponents and extend an impressive unbeaten run in the league to 24 matches.
They have played seven games so far this season, scoring 17 goals while conceding only two.
A convincing start, spearheaded by a flourishing Joao Felix and the invigorated Luis Suarez, has generated optimism but a real sense of opportunity has sprouted from the imperfections of their rivals.
Real Madrid have already lost twice, with Zinedine Zidane under pressure and all the guile and resilience that won them the title in July seemingly now absent four months later.
Barcelona are trying to begin again under Ronald Koeman but the teething problems that have them sitting eighth ahead of the trip to the Wanda Metropolitano are unlikely to be resolved soon, particularly with the upheaval of presidential elections to come in January.
Two teams at what feels like the end of two hugely successful cycles has created an opening for Atletico, whose own transition should be further along after their new crop proved raw last season but looks readier to capitalise this term.
The most obvious example of maturity is Felix, the 21-year-old who struggled to live up to expectations in his first year but has arguably been La Liga's most influential player at this early stage of his second.
It is a great pity that Suarez, infected by coronavirus, will not face Barcelona, the club that so clumsily cast him aside in the summer.
But if Atletico are to win the title this season, it is likely to be with Felix as the driving force.
The Portuguese has already equalled the nine goals and assists he managed last season, with his instinctive, creative talents helping to unlock Atletico's previously stodgy attack.
"He's always had great moments for us but what he has now is consistency," said coach Diego Simeone last month. "It's a big year for him and hopefully he'll keep getting better."
Felix's next challenge is to define games like this one and to give Simeone's side even just a taste of the lethal touch in this fixture that Lionel Messi has given Barcelona.
Simeone was left applauding when Messi's superb strike into the corner decided the contest at the Wanda Metropolitano last year, his 31st goal in 40 games against Atletico.
Messi is the thorn in Simeone's side but the 33-year-old has not been his scintillating self in recent weeks, still weighed down perhaps by his blocked attempt to leave last summer.
There could be a lack of freshness in his legs too this weekend, given the Argentinian only finished playing 90 minutes against Peru in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Barca will also be missing Ansu Fati and Sergio Busquets, both of them injured.
Even without Suarez, Atletico may feel then like the time is now to overcome their Catalan jinx, with the reward in the table potentially significant if a depleted Real Madrid also stumble away at Villarreal a few hours earlier.
Madrid's defensive problems will not be helped by injuries to Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane while Villarreal are flying high in second, following four victories on the bounce.
But the benefits to Atletico in terms of belief could be even more valuable than places jumped or gaps extended, with major rivals vulnerable and a league title there for taking.

More News For this Category

Bilbao stun Real Madrid to reach Spanish Super Cup final

Bilbao stun Real Madrid to reach Spanish Super Cup final

Agency :Athletic Club Bilbao shocked Real Madrid 2-1  in the Spanish Super Cup semifinal on Thuersday and booked a place in Sunday's final against Barcelona.Two goals from Bilbao striker

Man United face title test in Liverpool showdown

Man United face title test in Liverpool showdown

AFP, London  :Manchester United's bid to win the Premier League for the first time in eight years will face a major test when the leaders face champions Liverpool on

Icardi, Neymar score to secure Pochettino's first trophy

Icardi, Neymar score to secure Pochettino's first trophy

Agency :Mauro Icardi and Neymar scored as Paris Saint-Germain beat rivals Marseille 2-1 to win an eighth consecutive Trophee des Champions on Wednesday, which also ended new coach Mauricio

Jamie Day arrives in city

Jamie Day arrives in city

Sports Reporter :Head Coach of Bangladesh Football team Jamie Day arrived in the city on Thursday. After Bangladesh taking part in the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers 2022 and AFC

Dhaka Abahani edge past Police

Dhaka Abahani edge past Police

Sports Reporter :Dhaka Abahani Limited edged past Bangladesh Police by a solitary goal in their first match of the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) Football at the Bangabandhu National Stadium

Barca beat Real Sociedad on penalties in Super Cup semis

FC Barcelona keeper Marc Andre Ter Stegen was the hero as his side sneaked into the final of the Spanish Super Cup after beating Real Sociedad on penalties on

Court shuts FIFA out of case investigating Infantino

Court shuts FIFA out of case investigating Infantino

Global soccer body FIFA has failed to win access to case files compiled by the special prosecutor named last year to handle an investigation into its president Gianni Infantino and

Atletico stretch  La Liga lead with Sevilla win

Atletico stretch La Liga lead with Sevilla win

Atletico Madrid extended their lead at the top of La Liga to four points on Tuesday after a 2-0 win over Sevilla that strengthened their title credentials.Goals in each half

Bashundhara Kings beat Uttar Baridhara

Bashundhara Kings beat Uttar Baridhara

Sports Reporter :Reigning champions Bashundhara Kings made a good start in the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) Football defeating Uttar Baridhara Club by two goals to nil in the inaugural match

Milan beat Torino on penalties to reach Italian Cup quarter-finals

Milan beat Torino on penalties to reach Italian Cup quarter-finals

AFP, Milan :Zlatan Ibrahimovic got his first start in over seven weeks but AC Milan had to battle into the Italian Cup quarter-finals with a 5-4 win on penalties over