While everyone would have loved to have seen two editions of El Clásico or the Madrid Derby in the Champions League quarterfinals, this might be the best matchup of two Spanish teams possible. Barcelona and Atlético Madrid sit on top of the table, with Atléti four points ahead of these teams' other big rival, Real Madrid.
Fernando Torres struck first in their August clash, but goals from Neymar and Lionel Messi fired the Blaugrana to a 2-1 win at Camp Nou. The score was the same at Estadio Vicente Calderon in January, and the game went the exact same way. Koke put the first goal on the board, but Messi and Suarez each found the back of the net in a comeback win. That game got a bit messy, with Atléti picking up two red cards.
Barca have won their four previous encounters against Atléti, but the Rojiblancos are knockout tournament specialists, and they knocked the Blaugrana out of the 2013-14 edition of the Champions League.
The Blaugrana won a treble last season, and they've made it to March without facing any kind of major challenge in this campaign. They lost their first preseason cup against Athletic Bilbao, but they've since waltzed to the top of La Liga, wrecking Real Madrid in the process. They got to the Copa del Rey final without having to face Real or Atléti. They've won the UEFA Super Cup and Club World Championship. And so far, they've yet to be challenged in this competition, save for one wondergoal from Alessandro Florenzi.
Chemistry and fitness have helped them to be even better this season than they were last campaign. Luis Suarez wasn't suspended until October for biting anyone this time around, so the famed Messi - Suarez - Neymar forward line has been firing on all cylinders. They have an absurd 68 goals between them in La Liga and an even more eye-popping 106 goals in all competitions. When Messi missed time through injury this fall, they struggled for a couple games, then quickly figured out how to dominate without him.
Key player: Sergio Busquets
If only because Messi's injury demonstrated that the Barca forward line will keep clicking even if one of them goes down. The change in the way Barca play and control a game might be a lot more drastic if their main link between defense and attack went missing. Busquets is always in the right spot and always picks the right pass.
They are not the most entertaining team to watch all of the time, but Atlético Madrid are always organized and effective. They feature one of the world's best defenses, while the midfield in front of them keeps their shape brilliantly and is great at not giving the ball away in dangerous spots. Whenever a great player leaves, a youngster or value signing fills their place without fail. Diego Simeone's system has worked since he got the job and it keeps working.
Though Atléti's exit from the Copa del Rey has it looking like they're going to struggle to win silverware this season, this edition of the team looks just as good as any one that Simeone has trotted out previously. Homegrown talents Koke and Saúl Ñíguez have become key players for the team, while young attackers Angel Correa, Oliver Torres and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco are starting to find their feet and become complimentary stars.
Key Player: Antoine Griezmann
Atléti can play with Barca, but the reality of the Blaugrana's greatness and the two teams' playing styles dictates that a lot of the attacking load will fall on Griezmann. He's not going to get a high volume of chances, nor will he always have support on counters. He needs to make something happen.
Atléti are great, and can beat anyone in the world. They'd be picked to beat a lot of wealthier teams. But this Barcelona are one of the greatest club teams ever, with a forward line that might be indisputably the greatest of all time when this season ends. Barcelona to win by one goal.