Barça return to action after the international break with the always tough trip to face Atlético Madrid at the Vicente Caldrerón (Saturday 8.30 pm). Luis Enrique is without the injured Dani Alves and the suspended Gerard Piqué, and his plans were further affected on Monday when Claudio Bravo injured a calf muscle which will see him sidelined for three weeks. German keeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen has already won the Champions League, the Copa del Rey and the European Supercup playing between the posts for Barça but Bravo’s injury has finally given him a chance to debut in La Liga.
Ter Stegen’s first season at the club was very successful as although he only played in the cup competitions he played an important part in those triumphs. His form, however, in preseason, when he conceded four against both Sevilla and Athletic Club, raised some doubts about his sweeper-style game, and few could argue with Luis Enrique’s decision to continue with Bravo as his first choice keeper. The Chilean’s injury now gives Ter Stegen the chance for the first time to play a run of games in quick succession with seven games coming up in the next three weeks.
In front of Ter Stegen, Barça seem likely to continue with the defence of Sergi Roberto, Mascherano, Vermaelen and Jordi Alba. Brazilian full-back Adriano is back from injury but it seems likely that Luis Enrique will continue with Sergi Roberto as Alves’s substitute after his positive showings in the first two league games against Athletic and Malaga. Gerard Piqué’s appeal against suspension was not successful which means the centre-back partnership of Mascherano and Vermaelen should start again.
With an important Champions League game at Roma coming up on Wednesday there is a chance that Luis Enrique might want to reserve a player or two though the quality of the opposition it seems more probably that he will go for a best possible XI in both games. This means a midfield of Rakitic, Busquets and Iniesta and the lethal threesome of Messi, Suárez and Neymar up front. Messi will play despite not having trained with the team this week. He was due to take part in today’s session after returning from international duty with Argentina but his wife gave birth to their second child this morning meaning he missed the session. Not the best preparation for such a big game but Messi will no doubt be keen to dedicate a goal to his new son.
As everybody knows, tomorrow’s opponents Atlético have been transformed since Diego Simeone took charge of the team at the end of 2011. Simeone has faced Barça 13 times since then though interestingly his statistics against us are not great. In the 2013/14 season Atlético knocked Barça out of the Champions League and beat us to La Liga as Tata Martino’s side failed to win any of the six encounters between the teams (five draws and the 1-0 defeat in the Champions League quarter-final). However, Barça have won all seven meetings in the other seasons including four victories under Luis Enrique’s management last season. It seems Barça’s more direct approach now causes more problems for Atlético’s defence which suffers more against a quick ball played in behind it.
Atlético spent more than any other club in La Liga this summer bringing in the impressive striker Jackson Martinez from Oporto as well as two other attacking players in Vietto and Carrasco. There is more strength in defence with the signing of Savic from Fiorentina while Filipe Luis has rejoined the club after his spell at Chelsea. Despite all the money spent by Atlético, the best incorporation into their squad could turn out to be the 20-year-old midfielder Oliver Torres who has returned after a loan spell at Oporto. Like Barça, Atlético have begun the league season with two victories, a 1-0 home win over newly-promoted Las Palmas and an impressive 0-3 win at Sevilla.
Barça’s 18-man squad: Ter Stegen, Masip, Sergi Roberto, Adriano, Bartra, Mascherano, Vermaelen, Mathieu, Alba, Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta, Rafinha, Messi, Suárez, Neymar, Munir, Sandro.
Possible starting XIs:
Atlético: Oblak; Juanfran, Godin, Giminez, Filipe Luis; Oliver Torres, Tiago, Gabi, Koke; Griezmann, Jackson Martinez.
Barça: Ter Stegen; Sergi Roberto, Mascherano, Vermaelen, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Suárez, Neymar.
Prediction: Atlético 1 Barça 2
Date: Saturday 12 September 2015. Kick-off: 8.30 pm local time.