Barcelona, Atletico face-off for possible La Liga season decider (Preview)

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Barcelona, March 3 (IANS) FC Barcelona meet Atletico Madrid in the Camp Nou stadium here on Sunday afternoon in a game which could go a long way towards determining the destination of this football season’s La Liga title.

Barcelona go into the game on the back of a 1-1 draw away against Las Palmas which saw their lead at the top of the table cut to just five points, while Atletico defeated Leganes 4-0 thanks to a quartet of goals from French star forward Antoine Griezmann, reports Xinhua news agency.

“The game against Atlético is an attractive one. Both teams are strong and the three points are worth so much. We must give everything on the pitch to win this game,” Barcelona chief coach Ernesto Valverde was quoted as saying by the club’s Twitter handle at the pre-match press conference.

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“We are sure the Camp Nou will respond due to the importance of the match. It’s guaranteed the fans will make noise.”

Griezmann will be the main threat to Barcelona on Sunday with the Frenchman hitting his best form of the season netting seven goals in his last two appearances as his partnership with Diego Costa is beginning to flourish.

Meanwhile Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez will be available for Barcelona after avoiding a yellow card in Las Palmas which would have seen him suspended for the game. Suarez will partner Lionel Messi in attack, while left-back Jordi Alba is back in the side after missing out in midweek through suspension.

Although much of the attention will be focussed on the strikers, part of the secret of the two sides’ success is down to their defenses, with Atletico conceding just 11 goals all season, while Barcelona have had just 13 scored against them.

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There appear to be few doubts in the Atletico starting 11 with Thomas Partey earning a place alongside Gabi Fernandez in central midfield.

Barcelona will field their strongest starting 11 with the only doubt being whether Phillipe Coutinho, Ousman Dembele or Paulinho completes a midfield containing Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic.

Atletico have an extra day to recover following the midweek game and in such a tightly balanced match that could be decisive, but so could Messi, Griezmann, Costa or Suarez in what promises to be 90 minutes of tension in Barcelona.

“Tomorrow’s match is an important one,” Atletico chief coach Diego Simeone admitted, as reported by the capital club’s Twitter handle.

–IANS

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