Barça take on Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid at the Vicente Calderón tomorrow (Sunday 7 pm) hoping to sew up La Liga 2014/15 with a week to spare. A win will confirm Barça’s 23rd Spanish league title while the celebrations will also begin if Real Madrid lose at Espanyol (kick-off at the same time) or if both Barça and Madrid draw their games . If it doesn’t happen tomorrow Barça still have a home game against Deportivo next Saturday to complete the job, making the situation so much in Barça’s favour that many bookmakers are no longer taking bets on the title winner (you’ll get 1/100 at best).
There is inevitably talk of a treble as the season reaches its climax but there is nothing won yet. Barça are also favourites to beat Athletic club in the Copa del Rey Final and Juventus in the Champions League but we all know that anything can happen over 90 minutes and both finals can easily be lost. At least in La Liga we have two bites at the cherry and it seems highly unlikely we’ll let it slip now.
Fate suggests we’ll win it tomorrow. Two seasons ago Barça were crowned champions when Madrid failed to win at Espanyol the day before Tito Vilanova’s team celebrated the title with a 1-2 win at the Calderón. Then last season Atlético won their league at Camp Nou, a year to the day before tomorrow’s games.
Barça have a pretty decent record against Simeone’s Atlético at the Caldéron with three wins, two draws and a defeat. Barça won 1-2 under Pep Guardiola in 2012 with the same result in 2013 with Tito. Tata Martino’s team drew in the Supercopa and the league and lost in the Champions League quarter-final, while the last visit was the 2-3 win earlier this season in the Copa del Rey.
For tomorrow’s game Luis Enrique has a doubt over Luis Suárez who was subbed off in Munich on Tuesday with hamstring problems. Suárez trained alone on Thursday and Friday but there was more optimism today after the played trained normally with the rest of the squad. It seems likely that the Uruguayan will travel with the group for the game and if he feels fine before the game he will start.
Pedro will start if Suárez doesn’t and Munir El-Haddadi has been training with the first team as back-up. Elsewhere there are no injury problems so we are likely to see the rest of the team pretty much as expected. Jeremy Mathieu might be preferred over Mascherano to help deal with Atlético’s aerial threat while Rafinha could be an alternative to Rakitic in midfield.
Atlético need the points as they still have not confirmed third place in La Liga so there will be no holding back from Simeone’s men. Tiago is suspended but Godin returns while Simeone also confirmed today that Fernando Torres will start up front.
For Barça, the loss of Suárez will be important if he doesn’t start but we still have two matchwinners in Messi and Neymar. Messi seems well on his way to a fifth Ballon D’Or and we may remember Cristiano Ronaldo’s defiant declaration that he would win it again this year as Messi has back at his brilliant best ever since. Neymar’s two goals in Munich took his season’s total to a remarkable 37, beating Samuel Eto’o’s best season’s total of 36 in 2008/09.
Four games to play. Three titles to win. We may not win the lot but surely we are on the verge of some silverware. I’m sure at the start of the season most of us would have been happy with one of either La Liga or the Champions League. And very happy with that if Madrid won nothing at all! Here we are with everything in our favour to complete a very successful season. Enjoy!
Atlético: Oblak; Juanfran, Godin, Miranda , Siquiera; Arda, Gabi, Mauro, Koke; Torres, Griezmann.
Barça: Bravo; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Suárez, Neymar.
Prediction: Atlético 1 Barça 3
Date: Sunday 17 May 2015. Kick-off 7 pm local time.