Atletico to deepen Barcelona's malaise
Friday evening will see a huge clash between two of La Liga's big three beasts at the Wanda Metropolitano in the capital. Both Atletico Madrid and Barcelona have two games in hand on almost every other side in the division, but their fortunes up until now have not been nearly as identical. The hosts are yet to taste defeat in the top tier under long-time head coach Diego Simeone this season, and have only conceded two. The visitors, by contrast, have been beaten twice in the first seven matches, and whilst they did get back to winning ways in the 5-2 triumph over Real Betis, they had a timely red card for their opponents to thank for adding a lot of gloss and certainty to that win. This encounter could increase their indifferent start. Read our preview here:
Félix gets the cream
Anyone would naturally feel the pressure of being signed for north of £110m, and so it was with Portuguese youngster João Félix. However, his slow start to life in red and white has become a thing of the past this campaign, and has arguably been the standout performer for both Atletico and in the league as a whole. Simeone's penchant for frequently rotating the first XI hasn't affected him too badly, but nor has it burned him out either, given the enforced, packed schedule of 2020/2021. Whilst they will have to contend without the know-how of Luis Suárez, they have found goals in general easier to come by in recent matches, and the movement of the three behind Felix ensures that Frenkie De Jong and Miralem Pjanić will need to be on top of their games as a double pivot screening the back four to prevent the chance of any overloads in the penalty area. Simeone's pragmatism will also surely come into play with set pieces, and this is another route he'll be sure to exploit his opponents' vulnerabilities with.
Ansu Fati aside, the obvious quality Blaugrana have at the sharp end of the pitch have yet to hit their stride. The dreadfully unhappy Leo Messi, who feels as though he's become a scapegoat for all the trials and tribulations at the Catalan giants, hasn't been at his imperious domestically, and more pertinently, shorn of Sergio Busquets and Fati, there's a very ordinary look to the rest of the stacked midfield contingent alongside and behind him. Further back, for all of French central defender Clement Llenget's elegant passing and timely tackling, his lack of discipline is almost certain to be a weak point and a focus of Atleti's forays forward.
Mind the gap
The prize on offer to Los Rojiblancos for a win would be to have clear daylight between them and Barça to the tune of nine points after just eight fixtures, and with games to spare to mount an assault on first place. Obviously, it would be remiss to take Barcelona lightly, but Ronald Koeman looks like a man from ease at all the pressure being in that post brings. Betway are offering odds of 2.88 for a home win that would reintroduce huge question marks over his short-team future at the club.