Unbeaten Barcelona are quite the frontrunners to reconquer the La Liga throne and 5 points clear on top to second-placed Atletico Madrid who have one last chance to be back in the title hunt when they will travel to Camp Nou to contest the Catalans. Real Madrid, the reigning champions, are having a dismal campaign and already 15 points adrift of their title rivals. Rojiblancos thus remain the only probable competitors who can bring back some excitement in a thoroughly one-sided campaign.
The Cules, however, have drawn thrice in last five league outings which closed the gap with Diego Simeone’s side who are enjoying a scintillating run of form and currently on an eight-game winning streak since their Copa Del Rey exit to Sevilla. The reverse fixture at Wanda Metropolitano ended all square when Luis Suarez cancelled out Saul Niguez’s first-half strike via a late equalizer.
Barcelona, meanwhile, are yet to be beaten in the League and it will be a monumental task to knock them down in their own backyard. Neither a defeat nor a draw is going to work out at this stage of the competition and it is to be seen now how Simeone prepares his men for this epic Sunday afternoon tie.
Blaugrana fans are quite content with their current goalkeeping situation with German star Marc-André ter Stegen has established himself between the sticks since Claudio Bravo’s egress. Although they have acquired Dutchman Jasper Cillessen as the Chilean’s replacement, the former Ajax custodian, however, has mostly been preferred in Cup outings and Ernesto Valverde, the Barca boss, is set to stick with the young German international for the Atletico Madrid game.
Right-back Nelson Semedo remains the only significant injury absentee for the Catalans who are expected to field a set ‘back four’ for the Red and Whites. Sergi Roberto is set to start on the right-back whereas Jordi Alba will replace Lucas Digne on the opposite flank after serving his suspension in their previous outing against Las Palmas. Gerard Pique was rested in that game but is now set to return in place of Thomas Vermaelen and partner Samuel Umtiti as the central defensive duo.
Barcelona have plenty of midfield options and the winter arrival of Philippe Coutinho has added more quality in the middle of the park. While Coutinho is still adjusting to La Liga football, Valverde is likely to bank on the iconic Andrés Iniesta on the left-hand side of the midfield. In-form Paulinho along with Sergio Busquets will operate centrally as the latter will be more confined to perform his combative duties as well as screening the backline from a deeper midfield role. Ivan Rakitic, currently enjoying his fourth campaign for the La Liga giants, is likely to start the game on the right-hand flank.
The deadly duo of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez will be leading the line who have already netted 43 goals together so far in the league and are likely to add more to their names when they will be hosting Atletico Madrid at Camp Nou Stadium.