Andy Brassell on European football: Depleted Atlético will still test Barça

Atlético Madrid's Diego Simeone
Simeone's Atleti will test Barca on Saturday

Atlético Madrid are missing Luis Suarez against Barça but the hosts have other reasons to believe they can win, writes Andy Brassell. Meanwhile, Milan and Dortmund facing big away trips...

"Atlético will have to do without Luis Suarez – who would have loved nothing better than to have a go at the club who showed him the door – and Lucas Torreira, who both tested positive for COVID-19 after international duty with Uruguay."

No Suarez, no problem for Atlético?

There are many out there directing withering stares in the direction of the very concept of international football at the moment, but few will be more full of ire right now than those of an Atlético Madrid persuasion. Los Colchoneros are not just unbeaten in the seven matches they've played in this season in La Liga but since lockdown, stretching back 23 games overall.

So they should be in fine fettle to face Barcelona, whose institutional crisis is no longer news and who still have considerable hurdles to face on the pitch, despite the flattering 5-2 win over Betis before the international break. However, Atlético will have to do without Luis Suarez - who would have loved nothing better than to have a go at the club who showed him the door - and Lucas Torreira, who both tested positive for COVID-19 after international duty with Uruguay, something president Enrique Cerezo made his angst about clear in recent days.

The Madrid side have reason to be optimistic, though, despite these setbacks, and not only because of that unbeaten run. The apparent coming of age of João Félix, which is perhaps the highlight of the whole Spanish season, allows them to feel emboldened, and perhaps gives them the extra bit of bravery they've lacked in recent meetings with Barça. The return to form of Koke, who shone in Spain's demolition of Germany, might help tip the balance in midfield too.

Back Atlético to beat Barcelona at 2.962/1

Can Milan continue to set the pace?

Milan arrive in Campania in excellent spirits despite being held by Verona in their last game before the pause - after all, there's nothing like coming back from two down with a stoppage time Zlatan Ibrahimovic goal to make you feel good. This is, however, a big test, with Inter the only really elite opposition that Stefano Pioli and company have faced domestically this season (even if they did come through that test with flying colours).

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Napoli, who have largely looked good so far, will relish the opportunity to take on the leaders in a big Sunday night clash, but the international window has not been kind to them. Elseid Hysaj picked up COVID-19 but perhaps even more deflating is the shoulder injury suffered by Victor Osimhen, who has added goals to the positive impressions of his start in Italy and got the winner away at Bologna last time out. He'll be missed.

The Rossoneri, on the other hand, must be flush with the benefits of the break, with the 39-year-old Ibrahimovic vital on and off the pitch to their continued progress and perhaps grateful of the breather. Pioli will have his best XI out there for what is a notable early season test for Milan's ambitions.

Back Milan to win at Napoli at 3.1511/5

Hertha want to continue revival against Dortmund

Much of the pre-match focus here will be on the visitors, as Dortmund aim to recover from their defeat to Bayern Munich in what was the game of the Bundesliga season so far. The week leading up to the game has been a tale of two strikers, with the Norwegian authorities suggesting that Erling Haaland should still be in quarantine after international duty (he is, however, expected to play) and Lucien Favre teasing the possibility of Youssoufa Moukoko, who is celebrating his 16th birthday, potentially travelling to the capital now he's eligible to play.

Yet Hertha deserve their due consideration as well. Their 3-0 win at Augsburg last time out was impressive, and it was a much-needed result for Bruno Labbadia, with the flashes of class that his team have shown on occasion this season only serving to highlight how much they've underwhelmed on the whole. Despite the Augsburg victory, they've lost four of their seven games to date.

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Hertha's best policy to get after the visitors will be attack. It's where their strengths lie and despite the absence of Jhon Córdoba, Matheus Cunha leads a set of players including Dodi Lukebakio and Krzysztof Piatek, with the latter playing his best game of the season at Augsburg before scoring on international duty for Poland. Dealing with directness is also something that Dortmund consistently struggle with, so that's another consideration in a match that will see Lucien Favre questioned if his team fail to win.

Back Hertha and Dortmund to draw at 4.77/2

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