June 02 2020
Can resolute Atletico topple Barcelona?
24 November 2018

Tottenham entertains Chelsea in another high-intensity bout

Imagine a street-fighter: always ready for a scrap, punching far above his weight, willing to win ugly, and delivering results against almost all opponents for the last nine years. There is one opponent, though, against whom our street-fighter has yet to make a mark in domestic competition. Welcome, then, to our big prize-fight for Saturday night, pitting Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid in the red-and-white corner against Ernesto Valverde’s Barcelona in the claret-and-blue corner. So can Simeone dream of landing a stinging punch on Barcelona in La Liga at Atletico’s new home, the Metropolitano, and erase the painful memories of the Calderon?

Atleti-Barca Last five results (all competitions)
  • The last time that Atletico Madrid beat Barcelona in La Liga at home — then the Vicente Calderon — was February 14, 2010. Atletico has lost by a single goal eight times, six of them 2-1 results, since then. Messi’s contribution in those games — six goals and one assist
  • Atletico: W-W-D-W-W
  • Barcelona: W-W-W-D-L

The sabre-rattling has already started; sort of. Simeone’s point man, Antoine Griezmann, let out over the weekend that the prospect of playing second fiddle to Lionel Messi was what made him decide against moving to Catalunya. Was this designed to wind up Messi? It's never a bright idea, considering the Argentine has been the deciding factor in most of their clashes. Maybe the fact that Messi is coming off an injury, and may not be fully fit, made Griezmann play this hand. Sadly, he and strike partner Diego Costa aren’t exactly firing in the goals either. Add a backline walking on crutches and things aren’t exactly rosy for Simeone.

Koke returns

While Diego Godin is definitely out, Lucas Hernandez and Stefan Savic have just returned from injury this week. Question marks still remain over Jose Maria Gimenez. Midfield general Koke is back from injury and should be involved, along with Thomas Partey, to support Griezmann and Costa. Thomas Lemar — another one returning from injury — may play a part sometime during the match.

Over on the other side, Barca too received some good news with Philippe Coutinho returning to training. With Ivan Rakitic out for a few weeks at least, this was welcome news. But will he start? The Croatian’s absence may also open up space for Arturo Vidal to at last stake his claim. It remains to be seen, though, if Valverde decides on using his other summer signings — Arthur or Malcom — in midfield to partner Sergio Busquets. And watching with interest will be the likes of Alaves and Sevilla, both of whom, along with Atletico, are a point behind Barcelona. Real Madrid, despite that El Clasico thumping, still sits only four points off the top, so tightly packed is the league table. So is this Simeone’s best chance to do one over Barcelona in La Liga and get the monkey off his back? For that to happen, Griezmann needs to walk the talk and show the world that he is better than being Messi’s lieutenant.

Intriguing battle


Tottenham's Harry Kane

Tottenham's Harry Kane   | Photo Credit: Reuters

Over in England, the undercard of the night will play out in similar fashion, when a middle-weight Tottenham — always somehow contriving to come up short at the end of season — hosts the blow-hot-blow-cold Chelsea, whose seasons alternate between the sublime and the ordinary. Much like the Rojiblancos have with Simeone, the Lilywhites have embraced Mauricio Pochettino’s vision. The team has grown since the Argentine joined up from Southampton though it is yet to reach the heights that Atletico has.

Spurs-Chelsea Last five results (all competitions)
  • Tottenham and Chelsea have faced each 52 times in the league, the Blues winning 27 and losing only six, with 19 draws.
  • Tottenham: L-W-W-W-W
  • Chelsea: W-W-W-W-D

While Spurs and Chelsea claimed a win each in their two meetings last season, Pochettino’s task is that much harder this time around as reports from England suggest that up to five regular starters may miss this derby. In the 'doubtful' column are Davinson Sanchez, Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier — basically the Spurs backline — while defender Jan Vertonghen and midfielder Mousa Dembele are definitely out.

Tackling hazard

With no new summer signings, Pochettino may well be scratching his head wondering how he is going to manage a marauding Eden Hazard, whom Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri has given licence to be at his creative best. With Jorginho, N'Golo Kante and Ross Barkley expected to boss the midfield, it will be interesting to see how Eriksen conjures up space for Spurs’ frontline led by Harry Kane. Lucas Moura has grown in leaps and bounds for Spurs since his move from PSG, and the winger can be expected to drag the Chelsea defence wide.

Whichever way it plays out, the game will be watched with interest by Manchester City, Liverpool and even Arsenal, which is just three points shy of Tottenham in fifth. For the neutrals, Saturday is a time to sit by the TV and enjoy two tactically sound and high-intensity bouts.



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