Diego Costa looks likely to be fit and ready for Atletico Madrid’s decisive final match of the Primera Division season away to Barcelona on Saturday, leaving Diego Simeone with plenty of options in deciding how his side will line up against the Catalans.
Atletico come into the final weekend of the season knowing that a draw will be sufficient to see them crowned La Liga champions for the first time since 1996. It would be an incredible achievement for Simeone and his team, and they arrive in Barcelona determined to get the job done.
“To beat Barcelona we have to play with a lot of intensity, to play well physically,” centre-back Miranda noted in his pre-match press conference, as per Marca. “We've been preparing for it very well all week and will arrive 100 percent ready.”
With Real Madrid out of the title picture, the equation is simple: A draw or win will hand Atletico the title, while defeat would see Barcelona pip them to the post by virtue of a better head-to-head record.
Barcelona and Atletico have met on five previous occasions this season (in La Liga, the Supercup and the Champions League), as per Soccerway. Four of the meetings ended in draws, while Atletico recorded victory in the other, most recent, encounter.
Atletico’s defensive unit picks itself. Thibaut Courtois has been fantastic in goal throughout the campaign and is on course to pick up his second consecutive Zamora trophy. Miranda and Diego Godin form one of the best central defensive partnerships in world football, while Juanfran and Filipe Luis are solid in defence and also get forward to good effect.
Not only do Atletico have the best defensive record in La Liga in terms of goals conceded, as per Soccerway, but they have also given up fewer efforts on target from dangerous central areas than any other side, as per Michael Caley of SB Nation.
Atléti/Barca stat: Barcelona have played 80 completed through-balls, 29 assisting shots. Atlético have allowed just six, three for shots.— Michael Caley (@MC_of_A) May 15, 2014
Barcelona know better than most how effective Atletico’s defence can be. They have scored just twice in the five meetings between the sides this season. Neymar, scorer of both of those goals, is a major doubt for Saturday’s match, as per Marca.
But while his back five is settled, Simeone’s choices in the midfield and forward positions are less clear cut.
Costa has been carrying a muscle injury and missed last weekend’s draw with Malaga, but is, as per Marca, set to return to the starting line-up for Saturday’s match after completing a full training session on Thursday. If he is fit enough, there is no doubt that he will start.
Costa aside, there are as many as nine players competing for five remaining slots.
In midfield, Arda Turan and Koke are the most likely occupants of the flank positions. Turan’s ability to find space between the lines and Koke’s work rate and excellent assist figures (13 for the season, as per WhoScored) are invaluable to the side.
In the centre, Gabi and Tiago Mendes performed superbly in Atletico’s 1-0 victory over Barcelona in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final, making 12 tackles, six interceptions and nine clearances between them, as per WhoScored. They formed an effective shield in front of the back four that Barcelona were unable to penetrate.
The pair were deployed alongside one another in Atletico’s training session on Thursday, as per Mundo Deportivo (in Spanish), and they are the most probable starters on Saturday.
Simeone used David Villa up front alongside Costa in that session, but it is by no means certain that he will start, with Adrian, Diego Ribas and Raul Garcia also vying for a place in the first XI. Adrian proved a useful wild card in Atletico’s Champions League second-leg victories over Barcelona and Chelsea, and he could again get the nod.
Predicted Atletico Madrid XI: Thibaut Courtois, Juanfran, Miranda, Diego Godin, Filipe Luis; Arda Turan, Gabi, Tiago Mendes, Koke; Diego Costa, David Villa.