It’s tough at the top and the big games come thick and fast for Barcelona.
After two successive and hard-fought 1-0 wins for the Catalans, a resurgent Atletico Madrid await them at the Vicente Calderon stadium.
The venue holds happy recent memories for Luis Enrique and his side for it was there that Barca won La Liga last season.
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The Rojiblancos weren’t quite up to the level of their previous La Liga winning campaign, but have started off this season in super form.
The way in which they dismantled a strong Sevilla side at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan should send out a message to the rest of the league.
Atleti are back.
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Let’s take a look at three things that could affect the outcome of this one…
Master marksman Martinez
Gerard Pique is still out for the visitors and although two clean sheets from two indicate a solidity at the back for Barca, they haven’t been tested by a marksman of true quality thus far.
Athletic Club’s Aritz Arduriz is a fine striking exponent but relies on service. Jackson Martinez needs no such help and as he showed quite clearly after coming on as a sub against Sevilla, he knows where the goal is and doesn’t need asking twice.
Thomas Vermaelen is beginning to win around the doubters but he needs to be at his absolute best to stop the ex-Porto man registering.
After a quiet first week for Martinez, the fruits of a decent striking partnership with Antoine Griezmann began to bloom in his 10 minute cameo in Andalusia.
High on confidence, Barca couldn’t be playing Atleti at a worst time.
Happy hunting ground
Vicente Calderon in actual fact remains a ground where Barca have had rich pickings in the recent past.
A loss in the 2013/14 Champions League quarter finals is Barca’s only defeat in the last five years to Atleti, home or away.
A single defeat in 16 games stretching back five years is a record any team would be proud of, especially against a Diego Simeone inspired side who always give 100 percent.
It will again be a cauldron of hate for the Blaugrana to endure but a win here will see the Catalans retain an enviable record.
The carrot of top place in the table at close of play should be more than enough motivation for the visitors.
Although he’s unable to play on the field, Arda Turan could still play a major part in this game.
A player who made his name at Atleti, the Turkish international will use all of his nous and insider information to give Barcelona a detailed resume as to what to expect come match day.
That’s not to be downplayed.
Atleti know how to play one way and one way only and that is to take the game to their opponents.
Turan was a master at so doing. Even the smallest nugget could be of significant interest to Luis Enrique and his technical team, and give them a slight advantage going into this fascinating contest.
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