Barcelona welcome Madrid, Sociedad to Atlético on Super Sunday
Barcelona face yet another test of their post-Messi era when Real Madrid travel to Camp Nou on an action-packed Sunday which also includes a clash between the leader of the Spanish league and his defending champion.
The first clásico since Lionel Messi left for Paris will inevitably eclipse an equally enticing visit from Real Sociedad to Atlético Madrid. The Basque Country team with their elegant attacking style leads the league, while the defending champion has the deepest attack in the competition.
Madrid’s visit will close a three-game home streak for Barcelona that coach Ronald Koeman has called crucial in getting his side back on the path to victory after a poor start to the season left them under intense pressure.
Koeman’s side started the week by beating Valencia 3-1 in the league. It followed by beating Dynamo Kyiv 1-0 on Wednesday, which increased Barcelona’s chances of avoiding elimination from the Champions League group stage for the first time in 20 years.
But Koeman criticized his players for not being more convincing against a shy Dynamo. Defender Gerard Pique has scored Barcelona’s only goal in three Champions League appearances this season as his attack continues to stutter. Messi and Antoine Griezmann, who cash-strapped Barcelona loaned Atlético this summer to save his salary, combined 58 of Barcelona’s 122 goals last season.
Newcomer Memphis Depay leads Barcelona this season with four goals, but no other player has scored more than twice. Compare that to Madrid, who scored 11 goals from Karim Benzema and seven more from Vinícius Júnior.
“I can understand why our fans are upset because I’m upset as well,” Koeman said. “We have to be more efficient in scoring. It is the responsibility of our attacking players.”
Koeman made an exception to the criticism of his attackers; he said the team couldn’t expect too much from 18-year-old Ansu Fati. The teenager, who recently returned from a 10-month injury layoff, signed a contract extension until 2027 after Dynamo’s game which included a € 1 billion buyout clause (1, $ 1 billion).
“We have to remember that he was injured for a long time. And besides, he’s not yet 19, ”Koeman said. “We cannot ask him to solve all our problems and fill the void left by Messi. We have to take it step by step and not ask him to work miracles.”
Barcelona are hoping Sunday’s game against their fiercest rivals can draw more than 45,000 spectators who have only half filled Camp Nou’s 99,000 seats against Dynamo.
Madrid return to Barcelona after a well-deserved 5-0 win at Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League. Madrid’s big win followed two upheavals: a shock loss to the Moldovan sheriff at home and a loss to Barcelona-based Espanyol in La Liga.
Vinícius scored twice to lead Madrid’s victory in Ukraine, with the Brazilian winger consolidating his status as Benzema’s best partner.
“(Vinícius) has improved a lot and is having a very good start to the season. He has quality and is clinical in front of goal, ”said coach Carlo Ancelotti after Tuesday’s victory. “This victory gives us confidence, but the game against Barcelona is a different game and that will be a different story.”
Barcelona enter the round in seventh place but just two points behind Madrid, who are in second place and tied on points with Sevilla, Atlético and Osasuna.
Atlético midfielder Marcos Llorente will miss Sociedad’s game with injury. Even so, Diego Simeone should have his pick from Griezmann, Luis Suárez, João Félix, Yannick Carrasco, Ángel Correa and Thomas Lemar to play ahead.
Atlético are behind Sociedad by three points and with an extra game in hand.
Simeone’s side lost to Liverpool 3-2 this week, but had already beaten Barcelona and AC Milan.
Since losing their season opener, Sociedad have gone undefeated in 10 appearances in all competitions. He is visiting Austria’s Sturm Graz in the Europa League on Thursday night.
Sociedad will be chaired by Aleksander Isak while Spain striker Mikel Oyarzabal is injured.