Barcelona looks to find its stride when it visits Atlético

MADRID (AP) — A poor run after the World Cup break has left Barcelona coach Xavi concerned ahead of the match against Atlético Madrid in the Spanish league this weekend.

Barcelona visits Atlético on Sunday reeling from two disappointing performances, including a home draw against rival Espanyol that cost the team sole possession of the league lead.

It also struggled against third-division club Intercity in the round of 32 of the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, when it relinquished the lead three times before eventually advancing in extra time.

“We can’t be happy,” Xavi said. “We have lacked effectiveness both in attack and in defense. That worries me. Especially in attack. It can happen in defense, but not in attack.”

To add to Xavi's concerns, he won’t be able to count on suspended leading striker Robert Lewandowski against Atlético. The league top scorer, Lewandowski played against Espanyol after Barcelona appealed his three-game suspension from before the World Cup, but a court on Wednesday upheld the suspension and the Poland striker will miss the next three league games.

“I still haven’t thought about who will be the ‘No. 9’ on Sunday,” Xavi said.

The likely replacement for Lewandowski will be Ferran Torres or Memphis Depay, who both started in the 4-3 win against minnow Intercity on Wednesday. Torres has played often off the bench and sometimes as a starter, while Depay has had only a few appearances this season.

Ansu Fati started against Espanyol and came off the bench against Intercity to score the winner in extra time. He is set to start again on Sunday at Metropolitano Stadium.

The 1-1 draw against Espanyol left Barcelona tied on points with Real Madrid at the top of the standings. The powerhouses are nine points ahead of third-placed Real Sociedad and 11 points in front of fourth-placed Atlético, which recently ended a poor run of results from before the World Cup.

It defeated last-placed Elche 2-0 to end a three-game winless streak in the league before the break. It advanced past second-division Oviedo 2-0 in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday.

“We have to stop losing points in the league,” said Marcos Llorente, who scored one of the goals against Oviedo. “We need a victory to start moving up. That Lewandowski won’t play is bad luck for them. He is a great player.”

Atlético is unbeaten at home against Barcelona since 2019. The Catalan club won 4-2 at home the last time they met in the league last year.

OTHER MATCHES

Madrid, trailing Barcelona on goal difference, on Saturday visits a Villarreal squad that has won three in a row after the World Cup and sits in seventh place.

Sociedad on Sunday will try to extend its winning streak to six games in all competitions when it visits Almería.

Athletic Bilbao plays at Osasuna on Monday, while Real Betis on Sunday visits Rayo Vallecano, which is coming off elimination to second-division team Sporting Gijón in the Copa del Rey.

Sevilla, which got off to a disappointing start to its season, will try to leave the relegation zone when it hosts Getafe on Sunday.

Elche, the only team yet to win after 15 rounds, hosts relegation-threatened Celta Vigo on Friday.

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Tales Azzoni, The Associated Press