Atletico out to break eight-year Barca hoodoo

Atletico Madrid need their ace Antoine Griezmann to deliver a win against Barcelona to propel them to the top of the table.
Atletico Madrid need their ace Antoine Griezmann to deliver a win against Barcelona to propel them to the top of the table.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MADRID • Atletico Madrid can take advantage of a topsy-turvy LaLiga campaign when they host champions Barcelona today with the chance to take top spot this weekend despite their own patchy form.

Despite being held to a draw five times and losing once, Diego Simeone's men are just a point behind the league leaders.

They are battling to overtake the Catalan giants alongside Sevilla and surprise package Alaves, while Real Madrid are just four points back despite the shocking run of form that led to Julen Lopetegui's sacking and the appointment of Santiago Solari.

This season, every time Barca appear to be clicking into gear, they seem to click out again to offer fresh impetus to their title rivals.

"We have played the way we want against the big teams but, against other teams with less potential, we have not," defender Gerard Pique said. "If we want to win titles, we have to be strong against the difficult ones and everyone else."

And while Atletico away may, on paper, be a "difficult one" for Ernesto Valverde's men, the last time they prevailed over Barca in the league was in 2010.

There is also the subplot of Atletico forward Antoine Griezmann. Barca's interest in signing the France international was the worst-kept secret in football last season, but the 27-year-old decided he would be better off in the lead role at the Wanda Metropolitano.

 
 
 

Despite winning the World Cup in July with Les Bleus, Griezmann has struggled this term with three goals in 12 league games - a far cry from his usual standards.

His off-key displays have partly had to do with the equally dire form of strike partner Diego Costa, who has yet to get off the mark in LaLiga this season, as Griezmann usually thrives on the latter's aggression and work rate.

But Griezmann's lack of goals has not stopped his teammates from tipping him as a "deserving winner" of the Ballon d'Or award next month.

"If you analyse it properly, he should win it," said defender Juanfran.

Yet Griezmann needs to prove he can win pivotal matches on his own regularly, like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

A win over Barca to break their eight-year league hoodoo against the Catalans and take Atletico to the top of the table would be a good start.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

ATLETICO MADRID V BARCELONA

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2018, with the headline 'Atletico out to break eight-year Barca hoodoo'. Print Edition | Subscribe