Barcelona visit hos­tile Madrid

The Mercury - - SPORT -

BARCELONA: Barcelona’s 100% start to the Liga sea­son will be se­verely tested at Atletico Madrid to­mor­row in an at­mos­phere cer­tain to be in­ten­si­fied by po­lit­i­cal fer­vour.

It will be the first time Barca have vis­ited the cap­i­tal since a dis­puted ref­er­en­dum on in­de­pen­dence in Cat­alo­nia which has stoked ten­sions with the Span­ish gov­ern­ment.

As the Cata­lan re­gion’s most fa­mous ex­port, Ernesto Valverde’s Barca side can ex­pect an even more in­tim­i­dat­ing wel­come from the Atletico fans than usual.

Barcelona cap­tain An­dres Ini­esta said he had been af­fected by the un­easy at­mos­phere in the coun­try and has called for a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion.

Barca have lost Ous­mane Dem­bele to in­jury for four months and had to make do with­out striker Luis Suarez at the start of the cam­paign.

On the pitch, how­ever, things could not have gone bet­ter as the lead­ers sit five points ahead of near­est chal­lengers Sevilla after seven con­sec­u­tive wins. They will face their tough­est op­po­nents since the sea­son be­gan in un­beaten Atletico, who are fourth in the stand­ings, six points off Barca.

Barca for­wards Suarez and Lionel Messi could be feel­ing the strain of long jour­neys to the 2018 World Cup qual­i­fiers. Ini­esta, mean­while, is fight­ing to re­turn from in­jury in time.

Cham­pi­ons Real Madrid, who visit neigh­bours Getafe to­mor­row, are fifth, seven points be­hind their fierce ri­vals Barca.

Goal­keeper Key­lor Navas joined an ab­sen­tee list that also in­cludes Gareth Bale and Dani Car­va­jal. Sevilla visit Ath­letic Bil­bao. – Reuters

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