Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Atletico Madrid v Barcelona: Champions look to rekindle Calderon memories

SoccerNews in La Liga 10 Sep 2015

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Barcelona return to a ground where they won the first  trophy of an incredible 2014-15 treble on Saturday, knowing that their credentials this season will be tested to the full by Atletico Madrid.

Luis Enrique won his first major honour as Barcelona head coach when a 1-0 win at Vicente Calderon last May – courtesy of Lionel Messi’s goal – gave Barca an unassailable lead at the top of La Liga.

But his side will likely be given another stern examination on their latest visit, with both teams having started the season strongly.

The Catalans have not been at their free-flowing best during the first two league games, although 1-0 victories against Athletic Bilbao and Malaga have given them a platform on which to build their title defence.

Diego Simeone’s men, meanwhile, followed up a hard-fought 1-0 win against Las Palmas with a 3-0 dismantling of fellow UEFA Champions League side Sevilla at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.

Simeone helped Atleti break the domestic dominance of Real Madrid and Barca by guiding them to Liga glory in 2013-14 – coincidentally their triumph on that occasion being wrapped up at Barca’s Camp Nou.

While Atleti ultimately relinquished the prize to Barca last season, there are positive early signs that they can once again muscle their way into the battle for supremacy this time around, and striker Antoine Griezmann is well aware his side have a chance to lay down an early marker this weekend.

“It’s a big game for us, for the people who will be watching on television, for people who will be at the stadium and we will give everything and try to win,” he told Atleti’s official website.

“Barcelona always have possession and we will try to press up, be strong at the back and then try to score.

“We had a very good pre-season and that helps us play well. Each time we’re getting used to each other a bit more and everything seems easier on the pitch.

“I will continue to work as I have done and always serve the collective of the group.”

One of the biggest surprises of the early season is that Messi – who scored 43 Liga goals last term – failed to find the net in the opening two games.

However, the Argentina superstar did score three times in four matches against Atleti last term – including that winner in the decisive league-deciding fixture in May – and he will be expected to fire on all cylinders after hitting three goals in two games against Bolivia and Mexico for his country during the international break.

The respite from league action was perhaps less welcome for team-mate Gerard Pique, who has been at the centre of controversy in Spain following a barracking from some sections of the national team’s fans due to his views on Catalan independence.

Pique was forced to call a hastily arranged press conference on Thursday to address the issue amid suggestions he could quit playing for his country, but he rubbished those claims – although he will still have to wait to get back in a Barca shirt.

The defender was banned for four matches last month after being sent off in the second leg of the Supercopa Espana against Bilbao for insulting a linesman.

He will miss the clash with Atletico before serving the final game of his ban against Levante next weekend.

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