Atletico Madrid vs Barcelona: Expected starting XI

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 04: Lionel Andres Messi of FC Barcelona (R) fights for the ball with Saul Niguez Esclapez of Atletico de Madrid (L) during the La Liga 2017-18 match at Camp Nou between FC Barcelona and Atletico de Madrid on 04 March 2018 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Power Sport Images/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 04: Lionel Andres Messi of FC Barcelona (R) fights for the ball with Saul Niguez Esclapez of Atletico de Madrid (L) during the La Liga 2017-18 match at Camp Nou between FC Barcelona and Atletico de Madrid on 04 March 2018 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Power Sport Images/Getty Images) /
facebooktwitterreddit

The Catalans have the tough task of ending Atletico Madrid’s unbeaten run at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Barcelona are currently top of the table, won the first leg of their Copa del Rey Round of 32 tie against Cultural Leonesa with a weakened XI and have already qualified for the Champions League knockout stages. On the surface, everything looks good, but this is just a facade covering a number of substantial issues.

They have already lost twice with a total of 12 points dropped as well as only being one point above three different teams. 18 goals conceded in 12 league games paints a worrying picture, although Barca have only conceded three goals in four Champions League matches. Simply outscoring the opposition is an approach filled with risk and one that even a talented team such as Barcelona can’t realistically sustain if they want to win silverware.

Expected Starting XI (4-3-3)

Marc-Andre ter Stegen

Nelson Semedo, Gerard Pique, Samuel Umtiti, Jordi Alba

Arturo Vidal, Sergio Busquets, Arthur Melo

Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho

Nothing too out of the ordinary should be expected for this match because Ernesto Valverde is committed to the 4-3-3 formation even though there are still teething issues. The defensive work-rate of the midfield is something that needs to improve substantially if Barcelona are to avoid results like the Real Betis loss. Vidal certainly provides that, although Ivan Rakitic wasn’t the main culprit in this regard. The Croatian is unavailable for this match due to a combination of suspension and injury.

More from Analysis

Starting Semedo over Roberto would be the right move because teams such as Real Betis have actively targeted him as a weakness in the defensive shape due to his uneasiness in 1v1 situations as well as his lack of defensive nous that can see him struggle to read danger. Semedo has better recovery ability and is better all-round defensively, so Vidal would have the license to make attacking runs into the box as an aerial threat or simply to draw defenders away from Messi and the others without worrying too much about leaving Semedo exposed.

Coutinho has returned to training so he should be back for this match, which is a welcome boost as his creativity will be key in helping break down Atletico’s stubborn 4-4-2 shape, while his distance-shooting ability may come in handy because they can’t afford to give him too much space to work in, thereby opening up space for others.

Next. Adrien Rabiot wants to join Barcelona in the summer. dark

Clement Lenglet has been a reliable option in Umtiti’s absence, but he isn’t quite at his compatriot’s level so Valverde might opt to bring Umtiti back into the fold for this key match now that he has recovered from his knee issues. Arthur Melo has effectively made the left central midfield role his own in his brief time at the club so another start in such a high-profile match is unlikely to faze him, which shows how far he has come in his brief time at the club.