Some pre-match reading, from Sid Lowe, on the strange riddle of Barcelona:
Atletico Madrid: Oblak; Trippier, Hermoso, Felipe, Saúl; Correa, Herrera, Thomas, Koke; Joao Félix, Morata
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Roberto, Lenglet, Piqué, Junior Firpo; Rakitic, Arthur, De Jong; Messi, Suárez, Griezmann
Are Barcelona European football’s weirdest team? For a start, they’re nothing like the tirelessly scurrying, ball-hogging, even-greater-than-the-sum-of-their-parts team that we became used to for so many years. Instead, this lot are a tad scruffy in possession. Not the most willing pressers. And reliant on flashes of individual magic rather than the slow asphyxiation of collective dominance.
Nothing wrong with that, except it doesn’t leave you much to fall back on if your big men don’t turn up. Luckily Barcelona have a big man who rarely fails to turn up – although even Lionel Messi is raising more than his fair share of questions this season: does his brilliance when he has the ball justify his doing absolutely nothing when he doesn’t? And at what point does the repeated struggles of the forwards brought in to play alongside him start to point towards an awkward common denominator?
So far, Barcelona have been muddling along with a Keeganesque “You score four, we’ll score five” approach, but today they meet their direct opposites in Atlético Madrid, who have the best defence in the league but the lowest-scoring attack outside the bottom six. Unstoppable force? Immoveable object?
Victory for these sides’ common enemy last night means that Barça must win to reclaim top spot, while a win for Atlético would draw them level on points with their opponents. Last year, it took a last-minute goal from Ousmane Dembele to deny them the win – but last year they could also count on Antoine Griezmann, whose summer defection means he lines up for the visitors tonight. What more motivation should Diego Simeone’s men need? Strap in.
Kick-off 8pm BST.