MADRID, April 22 — FC Barcelona will play arguably their most important and difficult game between now and the end of the La Liga season when Atletico Madrid visits the Camp Nou Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Barcelona goes into the weekend with nine games to play and an 11-point lead over second-placed Real Madrid at the top of the table – although that lead will be reduced to eight points if Madrid beat Celta Vigo on Saturday afternoon.
However, Barca’s recent performances have given cause for worry, with Xavi Hernandez’s side unable to score in their last three matches – a 4-0 defeat at home to Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey, a 0-0 draw in La Liga at home to Girona and a 0-0 draw away to Getafe last weekend.
Failing to score in three consecutive matches is something that hasn’t happened to Barca for almost 20 years, and happens just as they receive the most in-form side in La Liga.
Atletico travels to Barcelona third in the table after a run of ten wins from 12 that has virtually ensured them of a place in next season’s Champions League and lifted them to two points from Real Madrid.
Antoine Griezmann has been in excellent form for Atletico since the World Cup, as he showed with his two goals against Almeria last weekend, while Rodrigo de Paul and Marcos Llorente look comfortable in midfield and Mario Hermoso finally looks settled as part of a back-three with wing-backs.
There is no doubt Barca’s injury problems have not helped them, with Pedri, Ousmane Dembele and Frenkie de Jong all injured since their defeat against Real Madrid at the end of March, and Andreas Christensen suffering a calf injury in the international break.
Sergi Roberto tore a hamstring at Getafe last Sunday and will miss the rest of the season, but there is a chance Pedri and De Jong will be able to play some part on Sunday.
That should allow Xavi to introduce some spark into midfield for a decisive game. Barca’s 11-point lead looks unassailable and a win, or perhaps even a draw, would probably be enough, but defeat would set some alarm bells ringing and give Real Madrid some hope of a miracle. (Xinhua)