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Atletico Madrid have plenty to fight for beyond the La Liga title this season
Barcelona will be looking to bounce back from dropped points last weekend
Atletico have a decent record against Barcelona over the last couple of years
The odds for Atletico Madrid vs Barcelona are taken from the Caesars sportsbook, where you can get up to $1250 in free bets by signing up.
Barcelona have the best defensive record in the division and Atletico Madrid will look to keep things tight, so goals could be at a premium in this one. (-110)
Many publications still show Barcelona at the top of the La Liga table, but if the season ended today Real Madrid would be the title winners. The two teams are level on points at the summit of the standings and Xavi Hernandez’s side have a superior goal difference, but the first tie-breaker in Spain is a head-to-head record - and Madrid have the advantage there.
Barcelona were alone in the top spot during the break for World Cup 2022, but a 1-1 draw with Espanyol last weekend allowed Madrid to move level on points with their arch-rivals. Xavi, his players, and the club’s fans were not at all happy after they dropped points against the other team with Catalonia.
The referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz bore the brunt of their criticism. The official, who took charge of several games in Qatar, showed 15 yellow cards and two red cards and was later accused of trying to hog the spotlight.
Beyond the referee’s performance, Barcelona were a little unfortunate to drop two points. They created better chances and ought really to have found the net more than once. “The draw is our own fault, our own errors, above all in front of goal,” Xavi admitted in a conversation with reporters after full-time.
Even though the two teams are neck and neck, the best online sportsbooks favor Barcelona over Madrid in the title race. That is a slight surprise. The Blancos have more recent experience of winning the league and theirs is a more settled side. They also have a knack for saving their best until the decisive last few months of the campaign.
However, the underlying numbers suggest Barcelona have been the better team so far this season: they are outperforming Ancelotti’s side on expected goals both for and against. But unless they take more of their chances, Barcelona will be vulnerable.
This has not been a good season for Atletico Madrid. They are nine points adrift of the top spot heading into the first weekend of 2023 and are almost certainly out of the title race already. More disappointing still was their performance in the Champions League.
Like Barcelona, they were eliminated in the group phase. Two-time finalists under Diego Simeone, Atletico are no longer among Europe’s elite. They have now gone six years without reaching the last four of the competition, and the Colchoneros will not even be playing Europa League soccer next month after they finished fourth in their group.
All of which has led to questions being asked of Simeone. No one disputes that the Argentine has done a phenomenal job at Atletico. Since his appointment in December 2011, he has twice won both the title and the Europa League, plus reached a pair of Champions League finals, but many are now doubtful whether he is the right man to take them forward from this position.
That is why the next few months could be crucial for Simeone. The Copa del Rey is the only piece of silverware Atletico can plausibly still win, but even if the club ends up empty-handed, a strong second half of the campaign would perhaps show that Simeone can evolve this side.
Meetings with the likes of Barcelona will be particularly important. Simeone likes to play reactive soccer and that has sometimes been Atletico’s downfall, especially given the strength of their squad these days. But those tactics are well suited to matches against Barcelona, and Atletico fans will hope for a vintage Simeone masterclass this weekend.
Barcelona were not able to keep a clean sheet against Espanyol on New Year’s Eve, as Joselu converted his penalty kick in the 73rd minute. But their defensive record this season has been excellent, with just six goals conceded.
Atletico have been less solid than usual, which has been another of the criticisms aimed at Simeone given that defensive resolve was once one of his team’s strengths. But the Colchoneros successfully shut out Elche in a 2-0 triumph last time out. It was a fine performance from Atletico, who failed to win three games in a row before the World Cup.
Simeone’s side have a decent recent record against Barcelona, having lost just one of their last six meetings with them in all competitions. Some punters will therefore be tempted by a home win or a tie.
Our selection, though, involves the goals market rather than betting the moneyline. Barcelona do not give up many goals and Atletico will go back to basics in terms of their approach, so this is unlikely to be a high-scoring affair. Back under 2.5 goals in total at the Civitas Metropolitano.
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Teams: Atletico Madrid vs Barcelona
Location: Civitas Metropolitano, Madrid, Spain
Date and Time: Sunday, 8 January 2023, 3.00 PM EDT
How To Watch: ESPN+
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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