The visit to Atletico Madrid is traditionally one of the most difficult matches of the season for Barcelona. This year, it will be even more difficult than usual, since Atletico Madrid are stronger than ever and are in sensational form right now.
“The Calderón will be a good test. We’re playing against one of the best teams in Europe and the world”, said Barcelona's manager.
And he is undoubtedly right. Forlán and Sergio Aguero make one of the deadliest attacking lines in the world, while Simão, Reyes, and Fran Merida (a La Masia product) provide great quality in the midfield. Atletico's defensive line used to be their main weakness, but not anymore, especially after the signing of Diego Godín.
The good news for Barcelona is that Sergio Aguero, arguably the most talented young forward in the world and a player who always seems to play his best against Barcelona, has been injured and is likely to miss Sunday's match.
The bad news is that Barcelona hasn't won at Atletico in league matches since 2007. Since Guardiola became manager, Barcelona lost twice at Atletico (4-3 and 2-1) and only managed to win once for the Copa del Rey (3-1 in a match where Messi scored a hat trick). In fact, last season Atletico Madrid, despite a poor season, were the only team to defeat Barcelona in La Liga.
Sunday is the ideal time to break this curse, especially because, after the shocking defeat against Hercules, Barcelona can't afford another slip-up. Real Madrid are looking strong and Barcelona mustn't drop many points if they want to win their third straight title.
Atletico Madrid are tipped by many possible dark horses in the title race, and a win here could give them the necessary motivation to contend. Barcelona mustn't allow that. Only with a top performance can the blaugrana win at the Calderón.
Guardiola should field the same lineup that dismantled Panathinaikos on Wednesday: Valdés, Abidal, Puyol, Piqué, Daniel Alves, Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi, and Villa. He might perhaps make one or two changes, but he'll probably maintain the same team. After all, this is probably Barcelona's strongest lineup right now, and the match is a must-win.
The blaugrana fans expect a repeat of Wednesday's fabulous performance and the players are eager to deliver.
Even though this is only the third match of the league, a win here might be fundamental for Barcelona's title challenge.