The clash between co-leaders Barcelona and Atletico Madrid will undoubtedly steal the headlines during Week 22 of the 2015-16 La Liga season, handing the Blaugrana a unique opportunity to grab the advantage in the title race.
The Catalans still have a match in hand and could take a decisive lead over Atletico and rivals Real Madrid, providing they can beat Diego Simeone's men at home. Los Blancos will host slumping Espanyol, while Valencia have to beat Sporting Gijon to stay alive in the race for Europe.
Here's a look at the schedule for Week 22, complete with live stream info and predictions:
|Saturday, Jan. 30||Barcelona||Atletico Madrid||1-1||BeIN Sports Connect, fuboTV (U.S.)|
|Saturday, Jan. 30||Eibar||Malaga||2-0||BeIN Sports Connect, fuboTV (U.S.)/Sky Go (UK)|
|Saturday, Jan. 30||Getafe||Athletic Club||0-1||BeIN Sports Connect, fuboTV (U.S.)/Sky Go (UK)|
|Saturday, Jan. 30||Villarreal||Granada||2-1||BeIN Sports Connect, fuboTV (U.S.)/Sky Go (UK)|
|Saturday, Jan. 30||Real Sociedad||Real Betis||0-1||BeIN Sports Connect, fuboTV (U.S.)/Sky Go (UK)|
|Sunday, Jan. 31||Sevilla||Levante||2-1||BeIN Sports Connect (U.S.)/Sky Go (UK)|
|Sunday, Jan. 31||Valencia||Sporting Gijon||2-1||BeIN Sports Connect, fuboTV (U.S.)/Sky Go (UK)|
|Sunday, Jan. 31||Las Palmas||Celta Vigo||0-2||BeIN Sports Connect, fuboTV (U.S.)/Sky Go (UK)|
|Sunday, Jan. 31||Real Madrid||Espanyol||3-0||BeIN Sports Connect, fuboTV (U.S.)/Sky Go (UK)|
|Monday, Feb. 1||Deportivo||Rayo Vallecano||2-0||BeIN Sports Connect (U.S.)/Sky Go (UK)|
Two major styles will clash at the Camp Nou on Saturday, as Barcelona and their vaunted attack will take on arguably the top defensive unit in all of Europe when Atletico come to town.
Per WhoScored, Atleti have conceded just eight goals through 21 matches, a phenomenal mark, while Barcelona have scored 52, the second highest in the league behind Real Madrid.
Luke Taylor of Football Espana can't wait to see which philosophy comes out on top:
They couldn’t be much more different. They are the antithesis of each other, even if Simeone attempted to play more aesthetically-pleasing football for a while and if La Blaugrana are capable of pulling off counters that would have Cholo even giddier than he already is on the touchline. It only adds to the differences of opinion on the pitch because Atleti are proving and continuing to prove that you don’t need to have the best players in the world or play the most beautiful football to be the best team.
Atletico's strength on the counter-attack is almost unmatched, and with Antoine Griezmann consistently finding the net, the visitors have the type of prolific forward needed to successfully compete in a title race.
But if Simeone's troops do win La Liga in 2016, it will be on the back of their incredible defence, led by Uruguay international Diego Godin. He and Gimenez give Atletico an almost unbreakable one-two punch in the heart of the back line, and even Barcelona's vaunted attack will be tested by the two centre-backs.
Barcelona manager Luis Enrique knows what Atletico do best, via the club's official Twitter account:
🔊 Luis Enrique: "Atlético have a particular way of defending and they base their strength on such solidness" pic.twitter.com/1ug1DuyJ0t— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) January 29, 2016
The Catalans needed to battle to get past Malaga in Week 21, and the fact the team showed it's capable of winning ugly is a good thing. Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez aren't going to score in every match they play in, but the mark of a champion is finding ways to win in matches you really shouldn't.
Elsewhere, Real host Espanyol, who are winless in their last five La Liga outings and will be without Marco Asensio, their star playmaker who is on loan from Los Blancos.
Real could only manage a draw against lowly Real Betis in Week 21 and need to bounce back in a big way to keep their title hopes alive, although that may not be new coach Zinedine Zidane's prime objective right now.
The Frenchman previously told David G. Madina of Marca he wanted to focus on improving the fitness levels of his players, and per the club's official Twitter account, the draw didn't change his approach:
Real are already trailing their rivals by four points, and should Barcelona beat Atletico in Week 22 and win their match in hand, a seven-point gap seems nearly impossible to overcome. The Catalans have hardly dropped points this season―the title seems theirs to lose if they can find a way past Atletico.
Valencia coach Gary Neville is still looking for his first win in La Liga and will have a golden opportunity to finally break his duck against Sporting Gijon. The visitors finally snapped a lengthy losing streak with a shock 5-1 win over Real Sociedad, but La Real have disappointed all season long―their heavy loss doesn't necessarily reflect Gijon's quality.
Sporting play solid, attacking football and should give Valencia plenty of room to play instead of just sitting back, something Neville should be able to take advantage of.