Barcelona's clash with Atletico Madrid sees an unstoppable force meet an immovable object
Robbie Dunne takes a look at the all-Spanish tie in the Champions League19:44 Monday 4 April 2016, 19:44 4 Apr 2016
When Ginaluca Zambrotta plucked Atlético Madrid's name from a glass bowl to face his former club, it offered an opportunity to once again enhance our understanding of the irresistible force paradox.: "What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?".
We are set to find out when an unrelenting Barcelona come face-to-face with The Great Wall of Madrid and its tireless watchdog, Jan Oblak, minding their goal.
Diego Simeone believes in a philosophy that focuses on 'partido a partido' or 'game by game', without ever looking too far ahead for fear of slipping up. There is no game more important in his Atlético side's season than when they face Barcelona over two legs for a place in the semi-finals of the Champions League, and there is little doubt that while the principle of his tactics will remain the same, a surprise or two will await Barcelona when they meet for the first time on the 5th of April at the Camp Nou.
Simeone boasts an almost water-tight defense with little room for opponents' attackers to maneuver when faced with a back four that consists of Juanfran, Diego Godín, José Giménez and Filipe Luís, made all the more sturdy with the foundation being Slovenian shot-stopper Jan Oblak.
Oblak's measly 17 goals conceded in 38 games this year gives some insight into just how good they have been in defense.
Luis Enrique's side are not just any set of opposing attackers though. They are, of course, Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar. These three men have been proving those who believed no team in the world could accommodate three stars of their magnitude wrong since day one.
Image: Manu Fernandez / AP/Press Association Images
In the same assured fashion as you put the key in the door of your house and you expect it to open, when MSN take to the field, Luis Enrique and Barça's adoring fans expect goals. The three attackers have not disappointed on that front, netting 107 in all competitions this season. No need to get into comparisons here, as it would not be fair to the people being compared to them, but this is an incredible, almost unbelievable figure.
There was a time when Diego Simeone had Barcelona figured out. That was before Enrique showed up in the Catalan capital, however. The last time Atlético pulled one over on them, it happened to be in a fiercely contested quarter-final of the Champions League.
A wonderful Diego strike was cancelled out by a Neymar goal in the first leg. When Barcelona travelled to the Vicente Calderón, a solitary Koke goal was enough to see los rojiblancos through despite the best efforts of Barça. If ever there was a game that summed up Simeone's tactics in full swing, this was it. He set his side up with two deep banks of four, tightly constrained in order to prevent a moment of magic from Messi. They conceded the wings to Barcelona and Tata Martino's men were left floating crosses into Godín and company, who repelled them for the night.
Since the arrival of Luis Enrique in the dugout, a full decade after he played his last game in a Barcelona shirt, Simeone has struggled. They have played each other on six occasions in that time: Barcelona have won six and Atlético snatched a solitary point in the last game before that.
There is a crevice in this story that must be understood, however, in knowing that the point Atlético stole off Barcelona on the 17th of May 2014, which was two days before Tata Martino left the club and Enrique was announced, was enough to see them steal La Liga crown off their Catalan opponents.
Atlético have been working their way through a mini-injury crisis with Godín, Stefan Savic, Giménez, Saúl Ñíguez, Lucas Hernández and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco all landing on the treatment table with an assortment of injuries from muscular complaints to sprained ankles and, in the case of Hernández, a bruised spine suffered on under-19 international duty with his native France.
In the Camp Nou, Barcelona and Atléti have faced off 110 times, and the majority of wins have gone the way of the home side; 63 to be precise, with 28 draws and just 19 losses. But los colchoneros are a different proposition at the Calderón.
They have as impressive a record as is possible against one of the heavyweights of world football. Over 110 games, Atlético have won 51, drawn 23 and only lost 36. Before a loss at the weekend to Real Madrid, Barcelona were unbeaten in their previous 39 games, and their aura of invincibility may have faded somewhat as a result.
Make no mistake about it, Diego Simeone relishes being the underdog and there are few managers in the world who respond as well to being typecast in such a role. “What could be better for us than to play the best in the world? It makes me very excited," said Simeone after learning of the draw, and he will relish the chance to show off what he has created in the Spanish capital; the immovable force.
Luis Enrique is just one of three players to have moved directly from Real Madrid to Barcelona since 1902 – the other two being Luciano Lizarraga in 1905 and Lucien Muller in 1965 – and has no problem being the antagonist. With the La Liga title all but wrapped up, expect Enrique to arrive into the clash with a coherent plan to break down Atléti, a rested and ready squad and an eye on destroying the hopes of the underdog.
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