With the 2013-2014 La Liga race coming down to “mano a mano” (hand to hand for all the non-Spanish speakers), the Barcelona – Atletico clash this weekend is sure to set the curtain on a scintillating season. In a league where slip ups have granted Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid opportunities to take top spot, there will be no room for mistakes at the Camp Nou this Saturday. There are just two scenarios that will decide the league: a win or draw for Atletico which ends the Real Madrid and Barcelona domination of the La Liga, or a win for Barcelona that will crown the Catalans champions once again.
The key to Atletico’s success thus far has been their stellar home form. They have not lost a home league game in the Vicente Calderon, and Los Rojiblancos have a +39 goal differential for their home league games. For both Real Madrid and Barcelona, each team has two and one home losses respectively.
To quantify the importance of an Atletico draw or win, think of it like this: since 1995-1996 (when Atletico last won the league), only one four other teams have won the league, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Deportivo la Coruña. The latter two just won the league a combined three times in that period – all other titles have been shuffled between Real Madrid and Barcelona. But enough about the top, let’s look at the bottom.
As always, the bottom of the table isn’t so clear. Betis is already on its way to the Segunda Division, but for fellow compatriots Osasuna and Valladolid, there is still hope. For Valladolid will visit Granada, who are just one point above the drop zone, and both teams will grind out a result – winner takes all style. Osasuna will host already relegated Real Betis, and assuming Osasuna wins, this will put them on level with Valladolid with 39 points. Here’s where it gets tricky – Osasuna holds the deciding factors when on level points. In La Liga, this is head to head matchups, not goal difference as many would assume. So, if both Valladolid and Osasuna win, Valladolid will still hit the drop zone.
Regardless of what happens during the last round of the league, Atletico, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao will represent Spain in the 2014-2015 edition of the European Champions League. Likewise, Sevilla, Real Sociedad and Villareal will represent Spain in the Europa League.
In terms of individual awards, Ronaldo seems to be on track for the Pichichi Trophy, which is awarded to the top scorer in the league. Currently, the Portuguese has 31 goals and will seek to extend this tally this weekend at home against Espanyol. Messi and Costa follow with 28 and 27 respectively.
Regardless of what happens this weekend, the 2013-2014 edition of La Liga has been a joy to behold, and be sure to stay tuned to this weekend for all of the end of season antics.
The first of the two games that will give us the name of one finalist of this years’ UEFA Champions League will see a new deal between Atletico Madrid and Chelsea.
Atletico Madrid vs Chelsea :
Last time these two clubs played against each other, the Blues were blown away by Radamel Falcao. Columbian striker scored a hat – trick and led Los Colchoneros to 4:1 victory in the European Super Cup final. Although many of those players will feature tonight, now the stake is higher and everyone will try to overcome themselves in order to earn place in the most important game in this season for European clubs.
Atletico will host their rivals in outstanding form and mood – they are on top of La Liga, ahead of the Real Madrid and Barcelona. Also, they are unbeaten at home (15-3-0) with an outstanding goal difference (48:9) and they are an only undefeated side in Champions League (5-1-0 in the group stage, 3-1-0 in knock-out phase). When we add the fact they scored 109 goals this season in all competitions (Villa – 13 goals, Costa – 29 goals, Koke – 6 goals, 13 assists), Chelsea will face a real test in this game.
On the other side, Chelsea travels to Spain after a stunning defeat at home to a bottom-placed Sunderland. The title race in Premier League seems to be over for them, so they will probably shift their focus on the Champions League.
The Blues will be without suspended Ivanovic and injured Hazard, along with Champions League unavailable Matic and Salah. This all will make their job even more difficult, but their ace in their sleeve is “the Special One”. Mourinho will participate in the eighth time in the Champions League semifinal and overtake the first place on that list from Ferguson.
During the current season, Chelsea weren’t so good on the road – their score in the Premiership is 8-4-5 and last five games their results were D-W-L-L-W. Their defense is the best in the league (they conceded just 26 goals in 35 games), but the problem is bad form of their strikers.
Ba, Eto’o and Torres all scored just 9 goals in the Champions League. One thing is certain – in the encounter against Spanish team, they will have to reach a new level of play if they are keen to earn positive result ahead of the second leg in London.
In what surly must be disappointing news for Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho , Belgium international Eden Hazard missed training on Monday ahead of the Blues semi-final Champions League match with Atletico Madrid after failing to recover from a calf injury he picked up during the second-leg quarter-final with Paris Saint-Germain.
Chelsea assistant boss Steve Holland had already said on Friday that if the Blues playmaker did not train on Monday the chances of him traveling to Spain were slim and that they would not risk him with a big match looming against title favourites Liverpool at the weekend.
When asked if he thought he was running out of time on a decision to play Hazard Holland replied: “To be considered, he obviously needs to train with the group very quickly, it a day-by-day one at the moment.”
While Hazard missed turning up for training at the Cobham training ground on Monday no one knows whether or not he may have trained secretly on Sunday as Jose Mourinho tries to get the upper hand over Atletico trainer Diego Simeone.
Hazard is the clubs leading scorer this season with 17-goals with Mourinho eager to have his counter attacking speed available for Tuesday night.
Should Hazard not play we can expect to see Andre Schurrle start the match on the left behind former Atletico striker Fernando Torres with Samuel Eto’o on the bench.
Another big question mark will be at the back with Branislav Ivanovic missing through suspension Mourinho may be tempted to use David Luiz on the right and Cesar Azpilicueta out on the left rather than changing two full-backs.
Chelsea will be desperate to recover from the loss against Sunderland and will as they have done on a few occasions this season when playing top teams be happy to come away with a draw.
Atletico Madrid not only saw off the challenge of AC Milan last night at the Vicente Calderon last night to advance to the Champions League quarter final stage, but absolutely obliterated the former European Champions with and aggregate score-line of 5-1. The victory largely went unnoticed as Bayern Munich eliminated Arsenal in the other tie played and that has been a trend for Madrid this season. They are ghosting under the competition and it is working wonders for them.
Having progressed to the quarter-finals, they are still at a price of 11/1, just in front of Chelsea, who are yet to advance, leaving little doubt that they are not valued as serious contenders for the trophy, which works in their favour. 11/1, is a great price for a side competing for their domestic league as well, as the confidence of a 4-1 demolition job can work wonders for weeks to come.
Diego Simeone’s men had a slender 1-0 lead going into the second leg, leaving many fans believing Atletico would soak up the pressure and hit Milan on the counter. The pressure rarely came however, giving Madrid plenty of room to manoeuvre the ball about the field and cause problems, evidenced by the whopping 4-1 score-line.
The result sees Atletico advance into the final eight of Europe’s elite competition and with the confidence such a large victory can bring, Madrid must be beginning to assess just exactly how far they can go in the Champions League this season. There is absolutely no reason why a side that are currently second in La Liga and made it to the semi-final stage of the Copa Del Rey this season cannot see off many, if not all of the challenges to come their way.
Granted, they still have the likes of Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid to contend with, but luck appears to be with Atletico this year. Should Barcelona progress, then a major player in Manchester City will be removed from the competition, a side that Simeone would have no doubt wanted to avoid. Factor in the exits of Arsenal and possibly even Chelsea, who are currently held 1-1 on aggregate with Galatasaray, and the big guns are dropping like flies. Atletico were also handed a relatively straightforward group stage don’t forget, winning five of their six games.
The facts are, that Atletico have won all but one of their Champions League matches this season and with that sort of resiliency, they are a force to be reckoned with. Diego Costa, Arda Turan and Koke are all turning in impressive performances on a regular basis and there is no reason that this trio, combined with Ander Herrera when he is at his best, can wreak havoc across even the strongest defences that Europe has to offer.
Lethal Atletico Madrid striker, who scored 19 goals in 17 matches in La Liga this season, is one of the most wanted men in January transfer window.
Brazilian born attacker, who choose to represent Spain in his home country, has a hefty release clause in his contract. Reportedly, buy-out clause is 32 million pounds, and Arsenal will trigger it!
Arsene Wenger wants to take capitalize on Mourinho’s hesitation, and land powerful forward in January. Arsenal have problems with injuries of their attackers and the new player is a must, if they want to continue their fight for Premier league title.
Diego Costa would fit in well in the Gunners squad, with his speed, touch and power, and he will surely make an impact in Premier league right away.
But, even if Arsenal trigger that clause, Diego Costa decides whether or not he will leave from Atletico. Simeone’s squad is currently second in La Liga, they play in Champions league too, so Diego Costa could decide to stay in Madrid, and try to win a trophy with that club.
Back during the summer there was plenty of talk about Liverpool signing Atletico Madrid’s top goal scorer Diego Costa, but it all came to nothing with the 25-year-old opting to remain in the Spanish capital.
Two other Premiership clubs will be looking to sign a striker in January with Arsenal thought to be after Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, and now Chelsea looking at Diego Costa who has already scored 12 goals this season in all competitions helping the Vincente Calderon club to be true la Liga title winning candidates.
Costa has filled the spot left vacant when Colombian hit man Radamel Falcao opted to join newly promoted French Ligue 1 side AS Monaco during the summer, and has together with new signing from Barcelona David Villa helped to put Atletico Madrid to the top of the Spanish table.
Atletico coach Diego Simone would be gutted to see his star striker move to the Premiership, but knows the club has a history of selling off their best players in order to help balance the books.
Chelsea have struggled to score goals in the Premiership with the players that are supposed to be strikers Eto’o, Schurrle, Torres and Demba Ba just managing one between them while on-loan striker Romelu Lukaku has scored four times for Everton.
Costa will not come cheap though having a £32 million release clause in his contract, but Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho knows that in order to win the Premiership he cannot just rely on midfielders Oscar and Hazard for the Blues goals.
Unless you live in Spain or follow La Liga you will hear very little about the man who took over from Tito Vilanova , Argentinian Gerardo Martino yet this man is responsible for the club having a perfect record of eight wins from eight straight games something that no other Barcelona coach has ever done.
Tata as Martino is affectionately known now has his sights set firmly on another club record a perfect start to the first half of the season which Vilanova nearly achieved last season when seeing his Barcelona team finish the half with 55 out of a possible 57 points their only failing being a two-all draw with Real Madrid in the Classic.
The Catalan giants continued their unbeaten run with a 4-1 victory over Real Valladolid at the Nou Camp Saturday night minus the goal scoring ability of Leo Messi who is currently injured, and while most managers would be more than content with a 4-1 win Tata was not happy at all with Barcelona conceding the first goal after Javi Guerra put the visitors in front with a set piece something that Tata says they must work on so that it would not happen again, as this was the first time all season that they had been behind.
Fierce Rivals Real Madrid have had a touch and go start to their season scoring 10 goals in two Champions League matches, but failing to lesser opposition at home in the domestic league drawing with newly promoted Villarreal, losing to Atletico Madrid and only just managing to beat both Elche and Levante in minutes added on.
Atletico Madrid has also seen a perfect start to the season level on points with Barcelona five ahead of Real Madrid.
The big test for Barcelona will come on the 26th of this month when they play the first of this seasons Classic’s against Real Madrid at home Messi should be fit, and Real Madrid will be eager to show the world that it is not how you start a season that counts, but how you finish that matters.
When the Spanish la Liga publish the list of fixtures for the coming season there are several matches that all football fans will highlight in red, the first of course being El Classico when Real Madrid and Barcelona meet, but a close second, especially if you live in Madrid is the derby between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.
Both teams are currently sitting with Barcelona at the top of the table unbeaten since the start of the season. Real Madrid have not lost any matches since new manager Carlo Ancelotti took over three months ago and Atletico’s coach Diego Simeone will come into the match full of confidence after his side have won all six matches so far this season.
Despite only luckily coming away with a 1-2 win over Elche midweek thanks to a dubious stoppage time penalty Los Blancos will be the favourites playing to a full house at the Santiago Bernabéu where the home fans should get to watch new world record signing Gareth Bale make his home debut.
Argentinian manager of Atletico, Diego Simeone says that the home team are the favourites also despite the Rojiblancos’ impressive start to the season he must be secretly thinking that his side is more than capable of upsetting Real especially after the form they showed in their last two matches against Gatafe and Elche.
Atletico is sitting joint top of La Liga two points above Real Madrid and will start the match with the memory of their famous 2-1 victory over Real last season in the Copa del Rey final which was held in the same stadium, and was the first victory over their bitter city’s rivals in 14 years.
Simeone however is playing down that historic victory saying: “Real Madrid are better than us and have a fantastic squad, so we’ll have to give 110 per cent”.
“Real Madrid have top players who can pop up to make the difference at any given moment, which is very difficult to prepare for. I expect Real Madrid to have the ball.
“Last season’s Copa del Rey win counts for nothing on Saturday. We go into the game with a lot of hard work under our belt and raring to do well. I don’t anticipate it being the same sort of match as last time.”
Do not let Simeone fool you by giving all the praise to Real Madrid having watched both teams play this season Atletico are more than capable of beating the Spanish giants who apart from the Champions League thrashing of Galatasaray 1-6 in Istanbul have appeared at times to be ordinary againt sides they should have easily beaten.
Kick of is at 9pm BST with the match being broadcast live on Sky Sports.