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Atletico and Barca prepare for biggest game of season to date

English.news.cn   2014-01-10 19:12:59            

MADRID, Jan. 10 (Xinhua) -- Saturday night sees the most decisive clash in the BBVA Primera Liga to date this season as Atletico Madrid entertain FC Barcelona in the Vicente Calderon Stadium.

With the two sides level on points, it is a chance for one or the other to open up a three point lead over the other, but there is much more at stake than just three points.

If Atletico Madrid are able to win it will cement their position as firm title candidates after coach Diego Simeone has spent the entire season playing down his side's chances of competing with Real Madrid and Barca until the end of the season.

Should Barca win it will show that the rumors of their decline are just rumors and that despite debates over the style of football employed under coach Tata Martino, Barca are still the team everyone has to beat.

The good news for both sides is that they will be at just about full strength after Atletico defender Diego Godin recovered from a slightly twisted ankle and right back Juanfran controversially had the yellow card he was shown in Malaga, which would have seen him suspended, lifted by the Spanish FA.

Neymar is available for Barca after having a stomach bug in midweek and although Dani Alves looks likely to miss out, the big news is the return of Leo Messi.

The Argentinean announced his return to fitness with two goals in Barca's 4-0 win over Getafe on Wednesday night and will almost certainly start in the Calderon.

With Pedro Rodriguez, Cesc Fabrigas and Alexis Sanchez also in fine form of late, that presents a selection dilemma for Martino and Alexis or Pedro will probably have to sit out the start of the game on the subs' bench along with Neymar.

Atletico's main threat is striker Diego Costa and speaking to the press on Thursday, the Brazilian, who looks certain to play for Spain in the 2014 World Cup assured his side had "people who can stop Messi."

Costa's words have brought back memories of the Supercup the two sides disputed at the start of the season where TV cameras appeared to capture Godin telling his defensive partner Joao Miranda to target Messi's suspect hamstring and Atletico could be tempted to give Messi some rough treatment early in the game.

Nevertheless the Calderon has been one of Messi's favorite hunting grounds and the striker has netted eight goals in his visits to Atletico Madrid's home ground.

With Real Madrid five points behind the two leaders, Saturday's game is the chance for one or the other to 'bang their fist on the table,' of La Liga and as well as talent, physical condition could be a key factor.

Atletico have looked strong all season, but all of a sudden the 'factor Messi' has once again to be taken very seriously indeed.

Editor: Shen Qing
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