The world is eagerly anticipating what will be one of the biggest games of the year as Atletico Madrid are set to host Barcelona on Saturday in La Liga action. Both sides will have to be at their absolute best because neither will be settling for a draw.
The argument can be made that Barcelona will be under more pressure on Saturday.
A loss would see Barcelona fall to second on the La Liga table with Atletico Madrid taking a three-point lead at the top, while recent meetings between the two have revealed a very level playing field. Not to mention Barcelona will be playing on the road.
The Catalans will be coming into the game as slight favorites, depending on who you ask, and with a lot to play for. A win would give them a healthy lead at the top of the table and breathing room for the next few weeks.
Truly this is a must-win game for Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. Neither team can afford to lose right now and you can rest assured that neither wants to settle for a draw.
So just how will Tata Martino set up Barcelona to be successful against Atletico Madrid? He will have to get his strategy and tactics spot on to ensure victory. Let's take a quick look.
With Victor Valdes back in the squad there is no debate about who will be starting in goal. Jose Pinto has done a decent enough job filling in for the Catalan, but Valdes will be the one leading the defense against Atletico Madrid.
The rest of the defense however, is up for debate.
Martino has a real selection headache regarding his fullbacks with a case being made for all four players. Dani Alves will likely be healthy enough to compete on Saturday, but Martin Montoya has started in all but two of Barcelona's last 11 matches.
At the same time, Jordi Alba is the most likely option to start on the left seeing as how Adriano started the mid-week game. But the Brazilian has played well this season.
In the end Martino will most likely opt for Alves and Alba on the sides due to the impact they have in every match. But if Alves is not healthy enough you can rest assured Montoya will be on standby.
While Alves and Alba form a formidable attacking pair, they can also be a liability defensively. For this reason Martino will be forced to play his best centre-back duo available.
Gerard Pique and Marc Bartra have paired up several times this season and always look great beside each other. There really is no other choice for Martino.
Puyol does not have the pace to compete in a match like this and Mascherano can be a major issue against better opponents. Pique and Bartra are Barcelona's best centre-backs and must play together in the biggest games of the season.
This is a match in which Sergio Busquets will play a major role as usual. The Catalan midfielder is Barcelona's most important player and could be the difference between losing and winning.
Busquets will be tasked with marking Koke out of the game as well as nullifying the rest of Atletico's threats in the middle of the pitch.
Andres Iniesta will also feature in the midfield due to his sheer quality and ability to influence games. Atletico Madrid boast one of the best defenses in all of Europe and Iniesta will be needed to break down the back line.
The real question in midfield is whether Martino will opt for Cesc Fabregas or Xavi as the team's playmaker.
Xavi, though still one of the best in the world at his position, does not have the pace he used to but he can also slow down play and is key to Barcelona's possession-based attack.
However, there is no doubting the quality of Fabregas this season when playing in the midfield as he has already given 10 assists in La Liga this season.
Fabregas is likely Barcelona's best option in the midfield due to his ability to play in a very direct way as well as providing another scoring option. However, Xavi was rested during the week and all signs point to him starting alongside Iniesta and Busquets.
In a game of this magnitude it is highly expected that both Lionel Messi and Neymar will be starting, there is just no way around it.
Messi is fresh off injury and ready to lead Barcelona yet again. He will likely not play the entire match, but you can bet on the four-time Ballon d'Or winner being in the starting lineup.
Neymar will surely start on the left wing where he has been highly successful this season. The Brazilian has been very important in Messi's absence and the duo will be key for Barcelona as they reunite against Atletico Madrid.
The last remaining spot could either go to Alexis Sanchez or Pedro. The two wingers have both scored 11 goals this season and seem to fight for the starting role. But only one can be in the Barcelona XI.
With Atletico Madrid's style of play it makes more sense for Sanchez to be in the lineup. His work rate is like none other and he will contribute more to the total play of Barcelona.
Though both wingers offer a major offensive factor, Sanchez gives a little bit more that will force Atletico to deal with yet another Barcelona dynamic.
This match is going to decide who takes the top spot on the La Liga table. It is the biggest game of the season thus far and picking a winner is rather impossible at this point.
Either team could walk away winners, while a draw, though not favorable, could happen as well. No matter the outcome, this is going to be one for the history books.
Atletico Madrid are going to play one of their best games of the year in front of their own fans and Barcelona will have to match the intensity. In the end I predict that Barcelona will just barely be able to pull off the win in a 2-1 scoreline.
* All statistics are courtesy of WhoScored.com
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