Atleti Set To Benefit From Sunday's Clasico

Barcelona and Real Madrid go into Sunday's Clasico fighting for the La Liga title, but it's Atletico Madrid who stand to win the most from the Bernabeu battle...

Last Updated: 22/03/14 at 19:15 Post Comment

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For each Clásico there is now a rating awarded to the potential drama based on the Spanish notion of it being 'The Match of the Century'. With a Champions League final getting a score of 9.5 - an apocalyptic Clásico being a 10 - Sunday's latest instalment is a solid seven.

This encounter will probably lead to one side finishing off the other in the title stakes, but it may not be as critical as the Barcelona v Atlético Madrid season-ending finale in May, depending on how the tea leaves of La Liga lie over the next two months.

But that won't matter to Real Madrid ahead of Sunday's clash, knowing that a win in the Santiago Bernabéu will give them a seven-point lead over Barca with nine games to go. It is an advantage that Madrid are unlikely to give up, with only a couple of mildly testing away trips against Sevilla and Real Sociedad - Barcelona's recent conquerors - to fret over.

The task of holding the cushion at the top has been made a little bit easier by Madrid drawing Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League quarter-finals, to set up another trip to Germany after the Schalke double-header. Although Dortmund got the better of Real Madrid last year in the semis, the Bundesliga outfit aren't quite the force they were last season. Tougher tests for Carlo Ancelotti's side should await.

Barcelona, meanwhile, will be cursing two more bruising games against Atlético, an opponent the Catalan club will have had to have play six times over the season, across three competitions. In terms of exhaustion and shin-pad damage, two is more than enough against Diego Simeone's spirited side.

But returning to La Liga, the betting money backs Real for to beat Barcelona in Sunday's decisive Clasico. Ancelotti's side have mounted a 32-match unbeaten run since the loss to Barcelona in the Camp Nou back in October and are strong enough to be able to shrug of the sad loss of Jesé for the rest of the campaign without too much fuss.

However, Barcelona are completely baffling these days. Things are still a little rocky off the pitch with doubts - created mainly in the press - about Tata Martino's future at the club and Pep Guardiola stirring things a little by admitting that he left because he wasn't able to motivate the players. "That doesn't mean that we weren't motivated," came the diplomatic response from Andrés Iniesta.

If the rambling, shambling team that was defeated by Valladolid turns up then there could be trouble for Barca. However, that is very unlikely, as if it is motivation that is the root cause of some of Barcelona's problems, then this is something that will be in abundance on Sunday. A victory would put Barcelona right back on Real Madrid's trail as well as giving them a head-to-head advantage. A loss would certainly rattle Real Madrid and perhaps spark a crisis of confidence at the club.

The clash could also be a final Bernabéu visit for a few Barcelona veterans, although that is also dependent on a possible semi-final tussle in the Champions League. Carles Puyol is set to ease into retirement or move to another league over the summer, and Víctor Valdés is still planning to leave, possibly for English shores. Indeed, the match could even be a final ever Clásico for the goalkeeper, with José Pinto set to start in goal for the upcoming Copa del Rey final.

Predicting the affair is a pointless business but whatever happens in the game, any kind of result will be a great one for Atlético Madrid, should the Rojiblancos prevail against Betis in their own Sunday encounter. A win for Real Madrid would put Atleti four points clear of Barcelona and open up a tempting run at second spot. A draw would leave Atlético one point behind their Madrid rivals, but a victory for Barca leaves Simeone's side at the top of the able at the end of the weekend, thanks to a superior head-to-head record.

It's a scenario that would leave Atlético fans in a win-win situation. Not only would they be league leaders going into the final straight, but nobody would really notice that fact, what with all the post-Clásico kerfuffle we can expect. If anyone is going to enjoy the game this season, it could well be the players from Atlético, the real benefactors of Sunday's game.

Tim Stannard

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