Barca’s Atletico in­tim­i­da­tion

The 100% start to the sea­son will be tested un­der po­lit­i­cal ten­sion

The New Age (Gauteng) - - SPORT -

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 flags,” he said in an in­ter­view with Catalunya Ra­dio.

“It’s a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion and those in charge need to re­solve it. No one can be com­fort­able with this sit­u­a­tion, you can’t ig­nore what’s been go­ing on.”

The po­lit­i­cal ten­sion has capped a dif­fi­cult start to the cam­paign for Barca off the pitch.

Barca’s board, heav­ily crit­i­cised for their lack of trans­fer ac­tiv­ity in the closed sea­son after sell­ing Brazil striker Ney­mar, faced a cam­paign to force a mo­tion of no con­fi­dence in them, which ul­ti­mately failed.

They have also suf­fered with in­juries and lost record sign­ing 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 Liga lead­ers sit five points ahead of near­est chal­lengers Sevilla fol­low­ing seven con­sec­u­tive wins.

They will face their tough­est op­po­nents since the sea­son be­gan in Atletico, who are fourth in the stand­ings, six points off Barca but also un­beaten.

Barca for­wards Suarez and Lionel Messi could be feel­ing the strain of long jour­neys back from South Amer­ica after fir­ing Uruguay and Ar­gentina re­spec­tively to the 2018 World Cup.

Ini­esta, mean­while, is fight­ing to re­turn from in­jury in time.

“This is a dif­fer­ent game for many rea­sons. Our play­ers have just come back from in­ter­na­tional duty, we’re fac­ing a team that de­mand 200% of you but this is a huge game and we need to en­joy it,” Ini­esta said.

Cham­pi­ons Real Madrid, who will make the short trip to neigh­bours Getafe to­mor­row, have made a slow start to the sea­son and are fifth, seven points be­hind fierce ri­vals Barca.

Coach Zine­dine Zi­dane suf­fered an­other in­jury set­back dur­ing the in­ter­na­tional break, with goal­keeper Key­lor Navas join­ing an ab­sen­tee list that also in­cludes Gareth Bale and Dani Car­va­jal. Sec­ond­placed Sevilla visit Ath­letic Bil­bao while third­placed Va­len­cia play away against Real Betis. – Reuters

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

TAL­IS­MAN: Barcelona for­ward Lionel Messi.

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