Only one way to go for Atletico Madrid and Barcelona in Primera Liga decider

Andy Mitten looks at both teams, going all out for a victory in the league decider, and three factors why each club would fancy their chances.
One reason for Atletico Madrid’s recent success over Barcelona will be their handling of the star striker Lionel Messi, centre. Javier Soriano / AFP
One reason for Atletico Madrid’s recent success over Barcelona will be their handling of the star striker Lionel Messi, centre. Javier Soriano / AFP

The Spanish Primera Liga title comes down to one game on the final day of the season tonight: Barcelona at home against Atletico Madrid. The champions will come from this encounter.

Atletico are on top, three points clear, but a victory for the hosts in Camp Nou will leave them celebrating, while anything other than a Barcelona win will leave Atletico as the season winners based on head-to-head play.

Here is a look at three reasons while each side can be successful tonight:

Atletico Madrid

Atletico have worked Messi out

Lionel Messi will sign yet another new contract which will make him the best-paid footballer on a planet – by a distance – with a net wage of €20 million (Dh100.6m) a year. If he played in England, that would cost his club £700,000 a week with taxes and national insurance.

Messi could well argue that he is worth it, yet his performances against Atletico and coach Diego Simeone are vastly different from his performances before the new manager took over.

In the 11 games before Simeone took charge, Barcelona scored 38 times against Atletico. Messi was the most prolific of those goalscorers. But Messi has not scored in his last six games against Atletico.

Destroying Pupas forever

Pupas means unlucky, and thus, Pupas summed up Atletico, an apt adjective given all the club has gone through.

Simeone wanted to destroy the Pupas tag and he has succeeded. He taught players not to be afraid of anyone and he is more confident of himself.

“Experience makes you read situations better,” he said. “I am intuitive. Before the Super Cup final [against Barca in 2013], I did not like the behaviour of two players. I told them what I thought.

“If I see something, I say it. Before, I used to hesitate more. The more spontaneous I am, the better everything is.”

A draw or win tonight would destroy any semblance of weakness.

Form

Both teams failed to win their last two games, yet Atletico have not looked as spent as Barca. Nervy, yes, but they have not spoken about having blown a chance at the league title, like several Catalan players did three weeks ago.

Atletico have played Barcelona five times so far this season. Barcelona have failed to win one of those games. Four were draws, and another draw would mean Atletico will be crowned Spanish champions tonight for the first time since 1996. The other result was a single-goal victory to Atletico.

Not surprisingly, Atletico feel that they have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with Barca. Losing the domestic Super Cup on away goals angered the Atletico players.

“We’ve played Barca twice and we were the better team twice,” bristled David Villa.

Barca won that trophy. Atletico, despite their heroics, have not won anything, yet. They have felt the hurt of defeat to Barca, and they do not want to feel it again.

Barcelona

Home advantage

Barcelona have won 16, drawn one and lost one of their 18 league home games so far. Despite this season being perceived as less than spectacular, it remains very, very hard for an opponent to avoid defeat at Camp Nou.

The 98,000-seat venue is sold out. Just 477 of those fans will be Atletico supporters and they will be high in the third tier, almost inaudible and blinking as the sun sets over the mountain of Tibidabo.

Camp Nou will be up for it, with the promise of the league title there if Barca can triumph ... as they almost always do at home.

Superior players

Barca’s wage bill is four times that of Atletico’s. Those players are paid far more because they are better.

In Lionel Messi, Barca have one of the very best players in the world. In Xavi, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique and Pedro, Barca have world-class Spaniards who have won everything for club and country. They are pillars of the side.

Daniel Alves can lay claim to being the planet’s best right-back, while Barca’s bench is likely to contain Neymar and Cesc Fabregas, who posses sufficient talent to walk into any football team anywhere.

These players have been in win-or-bust situations far more often than their opponents.

Some of them, like Pedro, are not happy at Camp Nou. Others, like Fabregas and Alves, know they could be sold in the summer.

They know the world will be watching this game, know that it represents a chance to showcase their talent to potential suitors.

For the departed and the departing.

The loss of Tito Vilanova to cancer rocked Barcelona.

This was not an elderly former director or someone the players did not know, but a man the current squad worked with every day, someone they respected deeply.

Barca’s players found his death very hard to take. They thought he would recover, like former player Eric Abidal, but the title-winning manager passed away last month.

Winning the league would be a perfect send-off for Carles Puyol, who will retire next month. The club held an emotional homage to him at Camp Nou on Thursday, which was attended by every first-team player. Another Barca legend, Victor Valdes, is also leaving.

The goalkeeper came into training on Monday to say a goodbye and wish his teammates luck against Atletico. Because of a leg injury, it was the first time he had been seen in a month.

Can the players convert that emotion and sentiment into a match-winning force?

KEY BATTLE

Lionel Messi v Diego Godin

Atletico must keep Messi quiet and they will look to Godin to inspire again in defence.

Previous meetings

The sides have met five times this season, in three competitions, with four draws and one win for Atletico.

Line-ups (Probable)

Barcelona (3-4-3) Pinto; Alves, Mascherano, Adriano; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Sanchez, Messi, Pedro.

Atletico (4-4-2) Courtois; Juanfran, Miranda, Godin, Luis; Koke, Gabi, Tiago, Arda; Garcia, Costa.

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Published: May 16, 2014 04:00 AM

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