Barca must send a message in the Atletico clash



Xavi Hernandez has said his Barcelona side can send a message to the rest of LaLiga by beating Atletico Madrid (stream live on ESPN+ at 3 p.m. ET) on Sunday.

Barca have lost back-to-back games at the Metropolitano without scoring and have won just one of five matches there since Atlético moved into the stadium in 2017.

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Xavi’s side go into the fixture sitting top of the league, but they are now level on points with rivals Real Madrid after being held to a draw by Espanyol last weekend in their first match back after the World Cup break.

“It will be a really difficult game,” Xavi said in a news conference on Saturday. “It is one of the hardest away games in the league, so we have to compete and be ourselves [with the ball].

“Atletico are a rock defensively and it will be hard to create chances. This game won’t decide anything in LaLiga, but it would make a big statement if we were to win the game.”

Barca had 21 shots against Espanyol at Camp Nou last weekend but were made to pay for their lack of prolificacy when the away side equalized from the penalty spot in the second half.

They then needed extra time to see off third-division team Intercity 4-3 in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, with Ansu Fati’s goal settling a seven-goal thriller.

“We have to be more clinical,” Xavi added when asked how those performances could influence Sunday’s game against Atletico. “We have played well in these first two games back, but we must be more effective in the final third.”

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That will be more difficult without striker Robert Lewandowski, who is set to serve the first of a three-game ban in LaLiga at the Metropolitano.

“We have tried different options and you will see what we choose [on Sunday],” Xavi said when prompted to reveal who will replace the Polish striker, Barca’s top scorer this season with 18 goals.

“Ferran Torres is more about movement and Ansu is more positional. Ferran creates a lot of space for his teammates which is maybe not valued. Ansu is different. Both can play as a No. 9. Memphis Depay is also an option.”

With the January transfer window now open, Xavi once again played down Barca’s chances of doing any business. Their hands are tied due to LaLiga’s financial regulations.

“If nothing changes, then perfect,” he said. “I am happy with the team I have, the attitude the players are showing and how they are training. We will compete with what we have.”

Atletico, meanwhile, returned to the top four last weekend with a 2-0 win over Elche after spending the World Cup break outside the Champions League places. They remain 11 points behind Barca and Madrid.

Coach Diego Simeone said the preparation to face Barca, though, will be no different from any other game throughout his tenure.

“Every day, for 11 years, we try to see each game like it’s a final,” he said in a news conference on Saturday. “We’ll look at the next game in the same way; there’s no more important game than the one you have to play.

“Now we play Barcelona. I think they were the team with the most World Cup players, they have a coach with clear ideas and they play well.

“Negative results always bring negative energy and positive results help the team to feel sure of itself. [On Sunday]we know the difficulties we could face and we’ll try to take the game where we think we can hurt them.”

Stefan Savic and Rodrigo de Paul are injury doubts for Atletico, while Jordi Alba, like Lewandowksi, is suspended for Barca.



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