Barcelona: Atletico Madrid the trickiest fixture in relatively quiet November

BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 28: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona attends the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF at Camp Nou on October 28, 2018 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 28: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona attends the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF at Camp Nou on October 28, 2018 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) /

Barcelona have a few tough fixtures in November as they aim to continue their strong run of form.

Disaster was anticipated when Lionel Messi went down injured early on against Sevilla at the start of a demanding three-game run. However, Barcelona were able to maintain their two-goal lead over Sevilla, which Messi had helped build, as they ended up winning 4-2 as well as comfortably beating Internazionale 2-0 and humiliating Real Madrid 5-1. The squad needed to step up in the absence of their key man and they certainly did.

Messi is out injured until the international break so he will miss matches against Rayo Vallecano, Inter and Real Betis as well as Cultural Leonesa in the Copa del Rey, which is on Halloween. Ernesto Valverde will have faith in his squad to continue managing without the Argentine because they have been really effective as a collective unit. He will be available for the Atletico Madrid and PSV matches near the end of the month, though.

Barcelona currently sit top of the table with a one-point lead over Alaves in second, which has to be the shock of the season, while Sevilla and Atletico Madrid are one point behind them in third and fourth respectively. Real Madrid are all the way down in ninth with a seven-point gap to the Catalans. Barcelona’s poor run of form in September means it is quite bunched up at the top, but teams like Alaves and Espanyol are unlikely to be able to keep up the consistency required to be title challengers.

Fixture List

03/11 – Rayo Vallecano (A)

06/11 – Internazionale (A)

11/11 – Real Betis (H)

24/11 – Atletico Madrid (A)

28/11 – PSV (A)

Atletico is clearly the toughest fixture of the month even if they have had their issues this season. Los Colchoneros are likely to be the main challengers because Real are a mess in the league for a second season running, which has led to Julen Lopetegui getting the sack. It’s likely that they will focus on the Champions League once again, so they will be a major rival for Barca in that competition.

Los Rojiblancos recruited well in the summer with Rodri, Thomas Lemar and Gelson Martins the pick of the signings. However, Lemar is the only signing who has been heavily involved as Diego Simeone has been reluctant to fully trust them or alter his style even those these players would be better suited to a more proactive style. The ageing defensive core of the team isn’t what it once was and signs of that are starting to appear such as the 4-0 defeat to Borussia Dortmund, which is the heaviest defeat in Simeone’s time there.

Nonetheless, Atletico’s defensive-minded 4-4-2 is well suited to playing against Barcelona because they are happy to cede possession and territory. Therefore, it’s likely to be a close game, although the return of a fresh Messi for that encounter could spell doom for Simeone’s men even though it is at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Rayo Vallecano shouldn’t offer too much of a threat for the Catalans because they are down in 19th place and utilise an ambitious style that is likely to give the attackers plenty of space to work in. After his impressive cameo against Los Blancos, Ousmane Dembele could be the ideal threat to use against them.

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Inter offered little at Camp Nou, but they are a different beast at the San Siro, so this will be tough. However, Barcelona showed that denying them possession effectively nullifies them and isolates Mauro Icardi even more than usual. The midfield three of Sergio Busquets, Arthur Melo and Ivan Rakitic will be important in dictating the tempo of the match to ensure Inter aren’t able to build sustained periods of pressure and provide service to the lethal Icardi in the box.

Betis are an intriguing side because they were the neutral’s favourite in the league last season due to their wide open, ambitious style which created entertainment in abundance as well as high scoring games. This season has been the opposite as they are the lowest scorers in the league with five goals and joint-third lowest conceded with nine. They dominate possession but this often doesn’t translate into clear-cut chances because their passages of play are usually slow and methodical.

The groundwork is there for them to be a good side, but something just hasn’t clicked yet in the creative department. It doesn’t help that none of their strikers have scored more than two goals in all competitions. In the league, they are underperforming xG (expected goals) by 6.81, per Understat, which is a metric that measures the quality of chances created. That isn’t a high amount from a creative perspective, but the finishing is even poorer.

Barcelona may struggle to win the possession battle in this match, but they could cut through this team with quick transitions so they shouldn’t offer too much threat. PSV finish off the month in the fifth Champions League matchday. A Messi masterclass and Dembele wonder strike were able to see them off in the previous fixture, and this one is unlikely to be much different, although Barcelona will have to watch out for tricky wingers Hirving Lozano and Steven Bergwijn.

Next. Ousmane Dembele shows value in El Clasico cameo. dark

The international break, once again, comes at a key time for Barcelona because key players Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Messi and potentially Clement Lenglet, who is yet to be called up to the French team, will all be rested for the Atletico match. This shouldn’t be too hard of a month for Valverde’s men, but he has to ensure that he knows the squad in-depth due to fixture congestion starting to pile up from December onwards in which the full limits of the squad will be tested.