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Back Atletico Madrid to beat Barcelona this weekend. The Blaugrana are in a bad place right now and Diego Simeone’s side have a golden chance to take full advantage.
Barcelona are usually among the favorites to win the Champions League. As things stand they rank only joint-11th in the futures market, and even that feels generous given their disastrous start to the continental campaign. Barcelona lost 3-0 to Bayern Munich on matchday one and was then beaten by the same scoreline by Benfica on Wednesday. They have had just one shot on target in the group phase, and their display in Lisbon was surely the final nail in the coffin for Ronald Koeman.
?? | Ronald Koeman will still officially be Barça's coach against Atlético on Saturday, but his dismissal has already been decided after the new setback against Benfica | @gbsans @ffpolo? pic.twitter.com/yMSZBTAYft
— BarçaTimes (@BarcaTimes) September 30, 2021
The Dutchman will be in charge of Barcelona on Saturday, but he is expected to be dismissed during the upcoming international break. Xavi Hernandez, Andrea Pirlo, and Roberto Martinez have all been linked with the job, which is nowhere near as desirable as it once was. Events in this summer’s transfer market showed that Barcelona were a mess off the field. Results and performances in the last few weeks have demonstrated that the club is also in a bad way on the pitch.
Frenkie de Jong and Sergio Busquets both defended their boss after the loss to Benfica, and they are right to point out that changing the manager will not immediately solve all of the team’s problems. At the same time, there is little point in persevering with Koeman given results are substandard and his relationship with president Joan Laporta has broken down beyond repair. And although there is widespread recognition that Barcelona are a difficult club to manage right now, that does not mean Koeman is doing a particularly good job.
Eric Garcia and Luuk de Jong were two signings the manager pushed for, and both players have been poor so far. Neither is good enough even for a diminished Barcelona. The team’s lack of creativity is also in large part down to Koeman’s tactics. Sending 54 crosses into the box in the recent draw with Granada was a damning indictment of the manager’s strategy. Regardless of the outcome on Saturday, Koeman will not be Barcelona’s boss for much longer.
It has not been entirely plain sailing for Atletico Madrid at the start of this season, but Diego Simeone has the experience and the intelligence to work things out. The Argentine is suffering from an unfamiliar problem: too many options. Atletico’s current squad is the strongest Simeone has ever worked with in terms of both quality and depth. The long-serving manager has plenty of ingredients, but he is now scratching around for the right recipe.
Atletico shifted to a three-man backline last term, and the change of approach played a big part in their title triumph. Using a 3-5-2 formation instead of a 4-4-2 gave Atletico more creativity by pushing the wing-backs higher and allowing an extra body in midfield to join the attack. Crucially, the new system did not sacrifice the solidity and structure on which Simeone prides himself.
In recent weeks, though, Atletico have alternated between a 3-5-2, a 4-4-2, and a 4-2-3-1. The clarity has gone and soccer has consequently become stodgy. Simeone’s side lost 1-0 to Alaves last weekend, and they were then fortunate to beat 10-man AC Milan 2-1 in the Champions League on Tuesday. Simeone needs to settle on a system and a starting XI – three into two does not go, as the attackers Antoine Griezmann, Angel Correa and Luis Suarez now realize.
Simeone does not have the best overall record against Barcelona, but there have been signs of improvement in recent years – the Blaugrana have not won any of the last four meetings between the two clubs in all competitions. Last season’s league game at the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano ended in a 1-0 home win, and it would not be a surprise to see a similar outcome here.
Barcelona should not be written off entirely. Atletico are losing their knack of keeping clean sheets, having shut out their opponents just once in their last five league matches. And as mentioned above, the attack is hardly sparkling right now.
Yet in some ways, Barcelona represents the ideal opposition for Atletico. They will be obliged to come out and play, and will not simply pack men behind the ball. That should take the pressure off Atletico’s forwards, particularly if they are supported by runs in behind from the wide players and midfielders.
We should also factor in Barcelona’s confidence levels, which are likely to be on the floor. With Koeman aware that he is about to lose his job, the Blaugrana are not in a particularly good place as they prepare to take on the champions of Spain. Back Atletico to beat Barcelona this weekend.
|Atletico Madrid vs Barcelona Information
|Atletico Madrid vs Barcelona
|Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid, Spain
|Saturday, 2 October 2021, 15.00 PM EDT
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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