Camp Nou, Barcelona
January 21st, 2015, 21:00 GMT
Barcelona take on Atletico Madrid in the Copa del Rey quarter-final later today. The Catalans host reigning La Liga champions at the Camp Nou for the second time in ten days. Diego Simeone’s side lost 3-1 just over a week ago and would be looking to avenge that defeat quickly. Meanwhile Barcelona would be looking to continue their good momentum in this game.
Xavi Hernández is fit and back in the Barcelona squad, confirmed by manager Luis Enrique. Whether he will be part of the squad facing a talented Atletico side is a different matter.Jeremy Mathieu is still out although his exclusion won’t cause the Barcelona fans much worry with Gerard Pique finding good form recently.
Marc-André ter Stegen would be in goal for the hosts as the young summer signings has been assigned cup games with fellow summer acquisition Claudio Bravo playing in the league for Enrique. It is not going to be an easy game for the hosts with the talents of the opposition undoubted so Mascherano and Pique could both continue in defence for Barcelona. But one widely suspects the manager might want to rest Mascherano and play Bartra instead. Martin Montoya might start on the right, but Dani Alves has performed well recently and might be opted for in this tough game. Jordi Alba would occupy the other full-back spot.
In the midfield, we’re likely to see Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta. The question lies whether Rakitic would make way for Xavi. Performance wise, the former Sevilla man should get the nod (Rakitić put on an exquisite performance against Deportivo La Coruna, where the Croat registered two assists and bossed the midfield for his side), but perhaps he is dropped to the bench to make way for the club captain. One might see Rafinha start too, although that possibility is certainly low. The last time Enrique dropped his two big guns on the bench, the hullabaloo that followed was endless so it is highly unlikely that any of Barcelona’s lethal front three would be changed – Neymar, Messi and Suarez would probably start. At most, Pedro might start instead of Suarez.
Diego Godin and Joao Miranda are a brilliant central defensive partnership, and Barcelona should try to attack more on the flanks and cut in from there. Either one of the front three can operate on the flanks and whichever two do (Messi would probably continue on the wings, rather than start centrally), they would have to exploit them and concentrate their efforts there.
Probable Line-up (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Alves, Mascherano, Piqué, Alba; Busquets, Rakitić, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Neymar
Jan Oblak would come in goal for the Rojiblancos. In the defence, we would see the same four of Juanfran, Miranda, Diego Godin and Guilherme Siqueira. However, Jose Gimenez is now fit, and can make a return to the side after missing the previous two games in favour of Miranda.
We might however, see a little bit of a tactical change and see a two man strike force of Mandzukic and Fernando Torres. The two were paired in attack for the first time in the side’s 2-0 win over Granada and formed an impressive understanding and therefore, could start the game and give Simeone’s side more threat up-front. In that case Koke would drop into the midfield alongside Mario Suárez and the two would have to do a solid job in the heart of the pitch for the visitors. Antoine Griezmann, who is having a stellar first season for Simeone’s side, and Arda Turan in this case, would do the attacking work for the Reds and Whites on the flanks. Both these players can cut inside and provide a more central threat as well. There of course is a possibility that only one of Mandzukic or Torres, who scored a brace against Real Madrid, is started.
In a two-legged tie, the importance of an away goal can’t be understated. With the second leg at home, Atletico would definitely hope to get that away goal advantage and try to dominate proceedings at home in the home tie.
Probable Line-up (4-2-2-2): Oblak; Juanfran, Miranda, Godin, Siqueira; Mario Suarez, Koke; Arda, Griezmann; Torres, Mandzukic
Fernando Torres (Atletico Madrid)
Despite winning the league at Camp Nou, Atletico Madrid haven’t actually won there in their last 12 visits, a run that stretches back to 2005-06. Fernando Torres was the match winner with a brace. After his heroics against Real Madrid, everyone would keep a keen eye on the former Liverpool man and see if he can repeat this feat in a very crucial game for Simeone’s side.
Barcelona 2- Atletico 1
The home side is in a good run of form and it is difficult to see them not emerging victorious in this tough game. Enrique shouldn’t make many changes for this game. Why fix what’s not broken? The same winning formula that saw his side triumph beautifully against Deportivo can get them a big win and a step closer to silverware.