Gerardo Martino has used five main players across his front line this season, and against Atletico Madrid on Saturday night, he will have his pick of all of them.
It’s a timely selection dilemma for the Barcelona manager, given the size of the fixture.
Diego Simeone’s Atleti side have matched Barca step-for-step this season: Following two draws, Barca edged the Supercopa on away goals, while the two sides have remained level on points at the top of La Liga for over a month now—only goal difference keeps the Catalans ahead.
It’s not surprising Tata’s men have amassed the better goal difference when you look ahead to their options for this weekend.
With Lionel Messi out injured for the best part of two months, Barca’s other attackers have each taken turns to press their case for a starting spot in Martino’s best XI.
Neymar went first.
The Brazilian, days after Tata had questioned his goalscoring, via Joe Wright of Goal.com, scored a treble against Celtic in the Champions League, following it up with a brace against Villarreal in La Liga.
Next, Pedro stepped up—and his timing could not have been any better.
Trailing Getafe 2-0 ahead of the Christmas break, Barca looked destined to hand over the lead at the top of the table to Atleti; then, they woke up.
Pedro pulled one goal back, then added an equaliser and he edged Barca in front—all in nine first-half minutes. They went on to win the game, 5-2.
Into the new year and it was time for someone else to score a hat-trick: Alexis Sanchez.
The Chilean, playing in a front three with Pedro and Cesc Fabregas, was twice in the right place at the right time, before curling in a fantastic free-kick to add the gloss to his, and Barca’s, 4-0 win over Elche at Camp Nou.
Then there’s Fabregas, who’s been startlingly good of late. The former Arsenal midfielder has scored five goals in his last seven league games, while creating four more. He added another two goals to his season’s tally Wednesday night in the Copa del Rey win against Getafe.
His brace against Getafe was outshone by the return of Messi though.
The fit-again Argentine scored two goals off the bench to let his manager know that he is ready to do the business against Atleti—despite the exploits of his colleagues in his absence.
|Lionel Messi||15 (2)||16|
|Pedro Rodriguez||18 (10)||15|
|Alexis Sanchez||20 (3)||11|
|Cesc Fabregas||22 (5)||11|
So what will Tata do?
This is where he has to earn his money because none of his five players, all of whom have scored more than 10 goals this season, deserve to miss out.
The two you’d expect to be favourites to start—Messi and Neymar—could both feasibly be left on the bench.
Which one should definitely miss out?
Despite Messi’s statement on Wednesday night, there still may be doubts over his match fitness, while Neymar missed the Getafe clash with a stomach illness—would it be a risk to start them both?
On the other side of the coin, none of Fabregas—who was chosen for El Clasico—Alexis and Pedro have made it easy for Martino to leave them out of the match everyone will be desperate to star in.
“I have a problem for Saturday, and I will keep having that same problem,” Tata told reporters Wednesday night, via Dermot Corrigan of ESPN. “[The players] should know that I need them all. It would make me very unhappy to put together a team for Saturday and for people [left out] to feel unimportant.”
The former Newell's coach may point to Alexis' role from the bench in the win over Real Madrid when he has to leave players out at the Vicente Calderon, but it won’t shoulder the initial blow of being left out of the biggest game of the La Liga season so far.
All stats via whoscored.com.