With the English Premier League on bye until midweek owing to FA Cup fixtures, attention will focus on La Liga top-of-table clash today which pits defending champions Barcelona and Diego Simeone’s gladiators, Atletico Madrid.
It is a rare late afternoon clash that kicks off at 16:55 Central African time. Although both teams are tied on points (48), Barcelona are favourites to win because they have a home ground advantage and statistics are in favour of the Catalonians.
In 2015 alone, Barcelona have beaten Atletico Madrid four times. First was a 3-1 domestic league win on January 11 then in two Copa Del Rey quarter-final matches played on January 21 and 28 which Barcelona won with an aggregate of 4-2. The fourth being the first-round clash of the current 2015/16 season in which Barcelona won 1-0 away in September 2015.
Barcelona also have a game in hand, a fixture they missed when they went to represent Europe in the World Club Championship World Cup which they won. They boast of the most talented attacking players in Neymar, Messi and Suarez. If you add Ardar Turan and Andreas Iniesta to that mix, it’s the most poisonous cocktail to be fed to any defence in the world.
It will be an emotional moment for Turan to be on the opposite side against the team that gave him the stage to shine and be noticed. But Diego Simeone’s men will not be push-overs. Frenchman Antione Grizman and Colombian Jackson Matinez can run terror on defenders on a good day.
I expect Simeone to come in with his bullish tactics knowing very well Barcelona can easily recoil when confronted with physical aggression. Luis Enrique will also be aware that Atletico carry potent danger on counter attacks. It’s a fixture no one can afford to miss.
There is also a 14:30 Soweto derby today between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs. I am not a big fan of South Africa football but the passion and attrition that accompany this derby makes this fixture irresistible.
The FA Cup this weekend is not without interesting matches. I will not comment much on my Manchester United as they already played on Friday against Derby County. United should be happy to have played on Friday as it gives them ample time to rest before they come against handful Stoke City mid week.
But West Ham versus Liverpool is a fixture Jurgen Klopp will not smile at because they have lost twice to the Hummers this season alone. Perhaps what is more worrying for Klopp is the physical strain on the players who are slagging it out in four competitions. After playing mid week against Stoke in the Capital One Cup which they won on penalties to cruise into the final, they play Hammers today in the FA Cup then play again on Tuesday against Leicester City in the league. The fixtures are coming thick and fast for the players to cope.
Man City are also feeling the pain of competing in four competitions. Their laboured 4-3 ticket to Wembley Stadium for the Capital One final against Liverpool came at cost as playmaker Kelvin De Bruyne got injured and will miss 10 weeks. They play against Aston Villa in the FA Cup today and play against Sunderland on Tuesday in the premier league. The fixture pile up could be detrimental to the players and to their title hopes.
Most United fans will remember MK Dons from last season. Dons are back in the FA Cup and will face Chelsea on Sunday in a late afternoon FA Cup fourth round clash. I needn’t repeat what MK Dons did to Man United at this very stage of the FA Cup. Don’t say I did not warn you.