Tactical Battles That Will Shape Atletico Madrid's Clash with Barcelona
The biggest match of the La Liga season is only two days away and will likely be a deciding factor in this year's battle to win the league trophy. Barcelona will be traveling to take on Atletico Madrid, and you can bet it will be one for the ages.
With these two giants separated by only goal difference in the table, neither side will be settling for a draw. This is going to be an all-out war.
In the end, it will simply come down to which club wins the most tactical battles. Diego Simeone has proven himself to be one of the best tacticians in the world over the past few seasons, but Tata Martino has some tricks up his sleeves as well.
In this article, we will take a look at which tactical battles will decide the match on Saturday and determine which side is likelier to come away victorious.
All statistics are courtesy of WhoScored.com.
Barcelona's Wingers vs. Atletico Madrid's Full-Backs
A few days ago, things did not look good for Atletico Madrid going into this match. Filipe Luis pulled up injured in the club's recent victory over Valencia while Juanfran picked up a fifth yellow card, meaning he would be forced to miss the clash with Barcelona.
However, the outlook is a bit better now.
According to Dermot Corrigan of ESPN, manager Diego Simeone sent an appeal to have Juanfran's suspension overturned and has won the case. The Atletico Madrid right-back will now play against Barcelona.
The status of Luis is unknown at this point, but unless he recovers quickly, it doesn't look as though he will be taking part in this match.
While Atletico Madrid may have to make do without their starting left-back, Barcelona will be putting their best two wingers on the pitch from the first whistle.
Neymar will definitely be starting on the left side of the attack, which will give Juanfran something to deal with for the entire match. Either Pedro or Alexis Sanchez will be starting on the right, and if Luis is absent, Atletico could be in big trouble.
Wing play is very important to both sides. Atletico will have to be at their best to neutralize Barcelona's wide stars.
Diego Costa vs. the Barcelona Defense
Diego Costa is an animal. There is no better word to describe him. The 25-year-old has already scored 19 goals in domestic play this season and will be looking to add even more against Barcelona.
In truth, if Atletico are able to overcome their Catalan rivals, it will be because of Costa.
The Barcelona defenders will have their hands full for the entire game as they try to shut down the striker.
Martino will likely pair up Gerard Pique and Marc Bartra in the center of defense, but it may not be enough.
Costa is known for using his physical strength to be relentless in front of goal. The Blaugrana back line cannot afford to make a single slip. Atletico are expert finishers and will likely capitalize on any mistakes at the back.
If the Madrid outfit want to win this game, Costa must get the better of the Barcelona defense. Fans may be nervous about Pique marking the striker, but all hope will likely fall on the young shoulders of Bartra.
This season has already taught us a lot about both sides. Based on what we have seen, Costa will likely find the back of the net at some point.
Lionel Messi vs. Miranda and Diego Godin
The last time these two giants met, Lionel Messi was marked the entire match with extremely physical play and even suffered an injury.
Will that happen again?
Atletico Madrid are known for boasting one of the best defensive units in Europe and take pride in being a physical bunch. However, with Messi fresh back from injury, the last thing fans want to see is the Argentine pushed around for 90 minutes.
Allow me to be very clear—this clash will be determined by many things, but nothing will be as influential on the outcome as the battle between Messi and Atletico's defenders.
Miranda and Diego Godin form a solid and experienced pair in the center of defense. Messi will face a big test in trying to break through them.
Though we know that Messi has the ability to beat any defense, his most important contribution against Atletico may come in what he does to help his teammates.
Indeed, Messi's biggest contribution may be in how well he sets up his teammates to score. Barcelona will have to be on the top of their game as a unit, and it all starts with Messi.
Can Messi beat the back line? Absolutely. Will that decide the match? Most likely.
Messi is always the difference-maker.
Sergio Busquets vs. Koke
The last major battle will take place between the most important players for both teams.
Sergio Busquets has long been the most important player on the pitch for Barcelona. He dictates everything that happens in the midfield. The same can be said of Atletico Madrid's Koke.
Koke has been one of the best playmakers in Spain this season and will be looking to have a big game against Barcelona on Saturday. As usual, it will be Busquets who is tasked with keeping the opposing creators at bay.
Koke has already tallied eight assists in La Liga this season. His battle against Busquets may be one of the most thrilling we have seen yet, but Atletico will be all too aware of just how good the Barcelona man is.
The fight for the midfield will likely see Koke and Busquets going head-to-head constantly. The outcome of their battles will surely play a significant role in the outcome of the game.
Koke will certainly have his chances to influence the match, but if history tells us anything, it is that Busquets will be in fantastic form yet again.
As Koke roams around looking to set up teammates, Busquets will be reading the game and putting himself in the best positions to cancel out attacks. It is going to be a battle for the ages.
Which battles will determine the winner on Saturday? Can Diego Costa lead Atletico to victory or will Messi and Busquets be taking three points for Barcelona? Leave your thoughts and comments below!