Valverde hopes Barcelona raise their game for Atletico clash

Ernesto Valverde hopes Barcelona rise to the occasion once more when they travel to face Atletico Madrid on Saturday evening.

The Catalan club could put breathing room between themselves and Atletico, who are just one point behind the LaLiga leaders after the first 12 matches of the campaign.

Valverde believes Barca generally raise their levels when necessary and is counting on them to do so against a side who finished runners-up to them last season and have been title rivals in recent years.

The Barcelona head coach said in quotes on his club’s website: “We’re responding very well in big games and we hope that this continues. We have a lot of potential and when we exploit this, we’re very difficult to beat.

“Atletico Madrid are clear title candidates and we will try to be at our best to win the game. We will try to watch out for their counter-attacks, as well as their set pieces and their players who run well into space.

“We are two sides who have very clear ways of playing, and each side will do what they do. They usually start very strong, and we will try to dominate.”

Samuel Umtiti is available after a near two-month absence with a knee injury, meaning Valverde must decide whether to break up the centre-back partnership between Clement Lenglet and Gerard Pique.

A shock 4-3 defeat at home to Real Betis just before the international break could make his decision easier but Valverde was coy when asked about whether there was a place for Umtiti in his starting XI.

He added: “Having another centre back available is positive, but we’ve also performed very well when we’ve only had two players available in this position.”

Philippe Coutinho may start after returning to training earlier this week following two weeks out with a thigh injury.

Fellow midfielder Ivan Rakitic misses out through suspension after his red card against Betis, with Arturo Vidal poised to step in.

Atletico Madrid will almost certainly be without Juanfran, who was diagnosed with a “myofascial injury to the gastrocnemius muscle” in his calf on Thursday.

Fellow defender Diego Godin could be sidelined with a thigh injury but Diego Costa may return after a foot complaint.

Atletico boss Diego Simeone said: “We have a new opportunity against a great rival.

“We will try to take the game to where we think we can harm them. We will go in search of that.”

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Football Paradise Staff Reporter

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