It’s all on the line when Atletico de Madrid head north to face Barcelona on Wednesday morning, with Barcelona fighting tooth and nail for the title and Atleti in a battle to secure Champions League qualification for next season. But how have they got to this point in what has been an up and down season for both sides?
Messi’s pre-season injury (August 2019)
The Argentine talisman went down with an injury in training just as Barcelona were putting the final touches on their preparations for the 2019/20 campaign, ruling him out of the first four matches of the LaLiga season. Without him, the blaugrana lost at Athletic Club on the opening day, and were held to a draw by newly-promoted Osasuna. A not fully fit Messi made his return on Matchday 5 against Granada but was unable to prevent a 2-0 defeat. The Barça number 10 is so fundamentally important that the side is visibly not the same without him. Since returning from injury he’s powered to the top of the LaLiga goalscoring and assist rankings, coinciding with Barcelona’s rise to the top of the table. He’ll need to be on top form to break through a notoriously tough Atleti defence.
Messi’s Wanda winner (December 2019)
Fast-forward three months and it was that man again, Leo Messi, who decided the first meeting between these sides this season. His late goal with just four minutes of regulation time remaining proved the difference in a 1-0 win at the Wanda Metropolitano for Barça and defined another feature of the reigning champions’ season: their ability to score late goals to claim crucial points. No other team in LaLiga has scored as many goals in the last 15 minutes of matches as Barcelona (14), handing them points which will likely prove crucial in the title run-in.
Atleti in ‘transition’ (December 2019)
Following Atleti’s defeat to Barcelona, Diego Simeone uttered a comment in his post-match press conference that has since been repeated time and time again when describing the club’s season. The Argentine stated that 2019/20 is “a transition year” for the club, given that half of the previous season’s starters had left in the summer of 2019 and it was taking time for the new arrivals to settle in. The quote has framed the team’s performances since, but if they can wrap up Champions League qualification in a so-called ‘transition’ year then the season could well be determined a success. A positive result against Barcelona should go a long way towards achieving that.
Quique Setien replaces Ernesto Valverde (January 2020)
Barcelona’s season has been a tale of two halves. Setien replaced Valverde after Matchday 19 and the defeat in the Spanish Super Cup to Atleti of all sides. The new coach has come in looking to impose a different style of football, drawing more on the club’s possession football tradition than his predecessor. While the transition has suffered from the enforced break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it could play into Barcelona’s hands if opponents tire more quickly as the games come quick and fast.
Glory for Atleti at Anfield (March 2020)
Atleti’s final game before the enforced break was perhaps their most important performance of the campaign: a season-defining win over reigning European champions Liverpool at Anfield. Not only did it give the side a huge boost in terms of morale, it also saw the emergence of a player who could prove crucial to Atleti not only against Barcelona but also in the season run-in: Marcos Llorente. The midfielder came on that night to score twice in extra-time and has since been deployed in a more attacking role, to great effect.
The draws record (June 2020)
Atleti’s 1-1 draw with Athletic Club in their first match following the coronavirus-enforced break was their 13th of the season, tying a club record for the most draws in a single campaign. This is key to understanding their season; they haven’t lost many games, but they haven’t won as many as they could have expected. They’ll need all the points they can get to wrap up a Champions League spot, starting with something against Barcelona.
Watch FC Barcelona vs Atletico de Madrid live on beIN Sports at 06:00am AEST Wednesday.