Atletico Madrid have a great opportunity to show their La Liga title challenge is to be taken seriously this season when an under-strength Barcelona visit the Vicente Calderon on Saturday.
Both sides took the maximum six points from their opening two league fixtures last month, but it is Atletico after a summer of heavy investment in the transfer market that have looked the more impressive.
Diego Simeone’s men won 3-0 at Sevilla last time out and are at full-strength as left-back Filipe Luis has recovered from the hamstring problem that kept him out the trip to the Sanchez Pizjuan.
“Although they have some players out the Barca squad is practically the same as last year, they have plenty of options to choose from and they are favourites for every match,” said Luis.
“We have the advantage of playing at home and I am sure it will be a great, hard and intense game. We have a lot of confidence and we need to continue in the same way as the previous two games where we have won and not conceded a goal.”
By contrast, Barcelona are likely to be without three first team regulars as Dani Alves and Claudio Bravo miss out through injury, whilst Gerard Pique is suspended unless a last minute appeal to Spain’s administrative court for sport is successful.
Pique endured a testing time during the international break as he was booed by sections of the home support during Spain’s 2-0 win over Slovakia after mocking Real Madrid during Barca’s treble winning celebrations at the end of last season.
However, he is desperate to get back on the field for the first time on league duty this season.
“It is always a difficult place to go, one of the most difficult of the season,” he said on Thursday.
“The Calderon will roar them on and we have to be 100 percent focused. I am desperate to play and hopefully I will be able to.”
Should Pique miss out, Thomas Vermaelen is expected to deputise once more in defence after scoring his first goal for the club in a nervy 1-0 win at home to Malaga two weeks ago.
– ter Stegen debut –
Meanwhile, Marc-Andre ter Stegen will make his La Liga debut in goal with Bravo set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines with a calf problem.
However, Luis Enrique will be able to name Lionel Messi and Neymar alongside Luis Suarez in his starting line-up for just the second time this season after they returned back from international duty unscathed.
Real Madrid already trail Atletico and Barca by two points, but face a much easier task on paper this weekend when they travel to face Espanyol.
Rafael Benitez will have to do without both James Rodriguez and Danilo, though, after they returned back from international duty with a thigh tear and plantar fasciitis — otherwise known as jogger’s heel — respectively.
Gareth Bale enjoyed a better time during his international commitments as he took Wales to the brink of their first major tournament in 58 years and he is expected to be handed a central role once more by Benitez after scoring twice last time out against Real Betis.
Elsewhere, Valencia and Sevilla are targeting their first wins of the league season ahead of their return to the Champions League in midweek.
Sevilla kick-off the weekend on Friday night away to Levante, whilst Valencia visit Sporting Gijon on Saturday.
David Moyes’s Real Sociedad are also looking for their first win and first goal of the campaign after two consecutive 0-0 draws when they visit Real Betis on Saturday.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Levante v Sevilla (1830)
Espanyol v Real Madrid (1400), Sporting Gijon v Valencia (1615), Atletico Madrid v Barcelona (1830), Real Betis v Real Sociedad (1900)
Granada v Villarreal (1000), Athletic Bilbao v Getafe (1400), Celta Vigo v Las Palmas (1615), Malaga v Eibar (1830)
Rayo Vallecano v Deportivo la Coruna (1830)
– Agence France-Presse