In-form Atletico Madrid will aim to pile pressure on a Barcelona side reeling from a rift between coach Luis Enrique and star player Lionel Messi in a crunch La Liga clash on Sunday, four days after Fernando Torres had a winning return to the club against Real Madrid.
It was an all-or-nothing match last time Atletico and Barca met at the Camp Nou in the final game of last season with a draw giving the visitors the title.
Now while the stakes are not as high, a negative result could have a major impact on the future of Luis Enrique.
It is a perfect time for Diego Simeone’s Atletico side to face Barca who have failed to convince this season and are embroiled in a supposed rift between Luis Enrique and Messi.
The pair are believed to have almost come to blows during a training session last Friday and then had a heated argument after Sunday’s La Liga defeat by Real Sociedad.
That result left champions Atletico level with Barcelona on 38 points, one less than leaders Real Madrid who also have a game in hand of their two title rivals.
While Barcelona have hit the headlines for the wrong reasons, Simeone has gone about the business of adapting new players to his system with quiet efficiency.
In the wake of the departure of key players such as striker Diego Costa, they started the season slowly but have picked up the pace and began the New Year with a victory over Levante in La Liga followed by a win against Real in the first leg of their Copa del Rey last 16 tie.
Returning hero Torres has been the centre of attention since arriving back at the Calderon in the January transfer window but he had a quiet game against Real.
Raul Garcia scored from the penalty spot after 58 minutes after he was fouled by Sergio Ramos and Jose Gimenez nodded in a corner 15 minutes from time, but Torres was very quiet and was taken off after an hour.
The striker came through the Atletico youth system and went on to be club captain before a move to Liverpool in 2007, but this was the first time he was on the winning side in a Madrid derby.
“I am very happy to return, for the victory and how we played; 2-0 is a great result to take to the Bernabeu,” he told reporters.
“I had butterflies in my stomach both at my presentation (last Sunday) and during this game.”
Simeone urged patience with the Spain striker, who left Atletico for Liverpool and then moved to Chelsea and Milan.
“He offers drive and energy,” said Simeone. “He is strong and fast but needs more time to create an understanding with his team mates.”
Real Madrid finished 2014 with a Spanish record 22 consecutive victories but after a La Liga defeat by Valencia and the loss to Atletico they will need to get back on track against Espanyol on Saturday.