Barca, Real and Atletico should be easy winners this weekend


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  • Saturday, 19 Sep 2015

epa04932434 Real Madrids Cristiano Ronaldo (L) in action against Shakhtar Donetsks Fred during the UEFA Champions League Group A match between Real Madrid and Shakhtar Donetsk at Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, 15 September 2015. EPA/ALBERTO MARTIN

Luis Enrique and his Barcelona side played a cruel joke on Diego Simeone last weekend. They had given Atletico Madrid a glimmer of hope by leaving Lionel Messi on the substitutes bench.

Barcelona even allowed Atletico to take the lead against the run of play. There must have been a quiet little voice in Simeone’s head telling him that he had finally cracked the code when Torres streaked away from the Blaugrana back line to finish off a classic Atletico counter.

Until Barcelona decided to deliver the punchline and it was timed excellently. Neymar’s swift equaliser was then followed by the brilliance of Lionel Messi, who, once again, pushed Barcelona to all three points.

The champions have navigated their way through a tough set of fixtures over the opening weeks of the season. They have conquered the San Mames and the Vicente Calderon, with a hard fought home win over Malaga sandwiched in between.

After an opening 1-1 draw away to Roma in the UEFA Champions League, Barcelona can look forward to a relatively straightforward set of upcoming league fixtures beginning with a home game against Levante this weekend, followed by encounters with Celta Vigo and Las Palmas in the coming weeks.

With Messi finding the back of the net in the league against Atletico, Cristiano Ronaldo just had to respond and he did it in style by scoring five goals against Espanyol last weekend.

He went one better by becoming the outright top scorer in the UEFA Champions League as he picked up yet another career hat-trick in Real’s 4-0 win over Ukrainian champions Shakthar Donetsk. Ronaldo now has 80 goals in the competition with Messi still on 77 after the little magician failed to find the back of the net against Roma.

The Portuguese superstar is also Real’s top marksman in the Spanish La Liga with 230 goals from 204 games. Those are phenomenal numbers and it is an incredible achievement that is the result of not just playing but also training at such a high level consistently over the years.

Real’s midweek win has come at a cost however. Gareth Bale (Calf), Sergio Ramos (Shoulder) and, Raphael Varane (Ankle), all picked up injuries and are doubts for their game against Granada.

Los Blancos, though, should still have enough quality in their side to see off their upcoming opponents. If Bale does miss out, the likes of Jese and Kovacic could be given an opportunity to impress. Defensively, Pepe and Nacho will be on standby to replace Varane and Ramos if needed.

Granada have conceded seven goals in their first three games and Ronaldo will be relishing the prospect of adding to his amazing tally. He is chasing his third Pichichi trophy in a row and will see this as a chance to pull away from Lionel Messi in the goal-scoring table.

Real’s neighbours Atletico, meanwhile, bounced back from their disappointing loss to Barcelona in the league by picking up three points in a fine 2-0 away win over Galatasaray. Diego Simeone sprung a tactical surprise by fielding three forwards at the Turk Telecom Arena.

Luciano Vietto, Antoine Griezmann and, Jackson Martinez were a handful for Gala’s defenders throughout the match and the combination of pace, power and, panache proved to be too much for the Turkish champions to cope with.

Atletico travel to Eibar for their next match and Diego Simeone’s tactical formula will probably be tweaked once again. Games on the tight and narrow Ipurua pitch usually turn out to be physical battles and Simeone will have that in mind as he prepares his next line-up.

Roshan Rai is a former professional footballer turned analyst/commentator. He is a resident football analyst on Fox Sports Asia and occasionally works on Astro’s coverage of Malaysian football. He is also an AFC licensed coach. He can be contacted at rhyshrai@hotmail.com or on twitter @RhyshRai

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