Barcelona vs Atletico Madrid: Match Preview

FC Barcelona

First hosts second in the Spanish first division, with Atletico's title credentials facing a stern test at the Camp Nou, where Vilanova's side are breaking all sorts of records.

It's been a topsy turvy few weeks for Atletico Madrid in Spain, with a strange sequence of results that has seen them score ten goals in three matches, but lose the Madrid derby at the Bernabeu. The 2-0 loss to Mourinho's side left them only five points clear of their neighbours in second place, with a worrying lack of form from Falcao suggesting they could well be caught before the winter break.

It's fair to say that Falcao is no longer out of form. Having only scored once in November, from the penalty spot in a 4-0 demolition of 8-man Sevilla, he bagged a five-goal haul in the 6-0 thrashing of Deportivo last weekend, sending a clear message he is just as potent as ever at finding the back of the net.

That result means that Atletico will likely remain in second place going into 2013, providing they can get a couple of points from their last two matches. However the first of those games is as tough as it gets, with a trip to the Camp Nou on Sunday night.

Barcelona have been simply incredible in the league so far, with their only dropped points coming in the 2-2 draw with Real Madrid. They are already being described as champions elect, and a win on Sunday would take them nine points clear of the chasing pack. The internal appointment of Tito Vilanova, and the continuity it created at the club after the departure of Pep Guardiola, looks to have worked perfectly.

At the head of their attack is Lionel Messi, who has already broken Gerd Muller's record for goals in a calendar year with 88 strikes so far in 2012. He is looking to raise that bar as high as possible, probably to a level only he can break, and it's worth noting if he scores one, he'll more than likely get more goals. Messi has yet to score a single goal in the league this year, with the Argentinian always at least getting a brace in the matches he has scored in. He also has 15 goals in his past nine games for Barcelona. I could list more stats, but I think everyone knows who will be the main threat to Atletico's defence on Sunday.

Considering Barcelona's form, and Atletico's rather meek display at the Bernabeu two weeks ago, Diego Simeone's side might be written off in some quarters ahead of Sunday’s match. However they traditionally give Barcelona far more problems than they do their local rivals, and with Falcao back on song, you'd expect them to be a real threat to Barca's frequently porous back line.

If they can get ahead, then they may be able to buckle down and survive the Messi-led onslaught, but if Barcelona take the lead, then Vilanova's side might well be nine points clear of La Liga come Monday morning.

image: © mariosp

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