Reigning European champions FC Barcelona, who are hoping to be the first club in the Champions League era to retain their title, lock horns with Diego Simeone’s tenacious Atletico Madrid side in the first leg of the quarter final at the Camp Nou.
Cristiano Ronaldo struck late in the second half to end Barcelona’s 39 match unbeaten streak in all competitions as Real Madrid came back from a goal and a man down to record an impressive 2-1 win against their arch rivals to win the second Clasico of the season on Saturday. Smarting from the defeat at the weekend, Enrique’s men must now gear up to face the stiff challenge posed by familiar foes Atletico Madrid in an intriguing match up on Tuesday.
Tuesday’s clash at the Camp Nou could well turn out to be a season defining occasion for both sides. Anything less than a win at home for the Catalans would raise several question marks about their ability to translate their early season form into silverware come the end of the campaign. Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid, who currently boast of the best defence record in Europe’s 5 major leagues, are tricky opponents for Luis Enrique and his Barcelona side.
However, thinking that the Real Madrid have figured out the blueprint for beating Barcelona would be tantamount to naivety. Real Madrid’s excellent performance coupled with a lackluster showing by Barcelona’s fatigued front three on the night resulted in defeat for the Blaugrana for the first time in 6 months. Atletico Madrid will have to be at their resilient best over the course of the two legs if they are to topple Barcelona’s rampaging bandwagon.
Luis Enrique vs Diego Simeone
Luis Enrique has won all six of his encounters against Diego Simeone in the last couple of seasons – 4 times in La Liga and twice in the Copa Del Rey. Barcelona registered a controversial 2-1 win over the Los Rojiblancos earlier in the season in a match which saw two Atletico Madrid getting sent off in the second half.
Overall, Diego Simeone has won just 1 out of his 14 matches against the Catalans since taking over the managerial reins at Atletico Madrid. However, few in Catalonia will be able to forget Koke Resurrección’s 5th minute goal at the Vicente Calderon, which condemned Barcelona to a quarter-final exit at the hands of Atletico Madrid in the 2013-14 Champions League. The mercurial Argentine will be hoping for a repeat of the same this time around.
Enrique’s Barcelona hoping to rediscover their magic
Luis Enrique’s Barcelona will be desperate to bounce back from their disappointing Clasico defeat by putting up a dominant display against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday. Barcelona manager Luis Enrique brushed aside all lingering doubts over the fitness of his players ahead of their Champions League clash at the Camp Nou.
“They [MSN] aren’t machines, they are the best players in their position but they aren’t unbeatable or unsurpassable,” said Luis Enrique (via The Guardian). “I think all my players are in perfect condition. We had forgotten what it was like to lose but when you do you remember how difficult it is to win and we all hope the defeat serves as a stimulus to win again. Looking at how we have done in the last few months, I’m optimistic.”
Enrique is likely to deploy the same outfield players that started against Real Madrid in the Clasico last weekend. Marc Andre-ter Stegen, Barcelona’s designated goal keeper for European clashes, will replace Claudio Bravo in goal.
Simeone welcomes back key personnel ahead of pivotal clash
Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid received a massive shot in the arm ahead of their clash against Barcelona after receiving positive news from the treatment room. Atletico Madrid’s defensive lynchpin Diego Godin has been declared to fit to start on Tuesday night after recovering from a thigh injury. Godin suffered the injury in the Round of 16 against PSV Eindhoven on March 15.
Fellow centre back Stefan Savic has also recovered from a nail infection that kept him out of Atletico’s 5-1 win over Real Betis at the weekend. Savic’s return from injury is crucial given that Simeone’s preferred centre back Raul Gimenez is unavailable for selection against Barcelona due to injury. In further good news for the Rojiblancos faithful, Belgian winger Yannick Ferreira Carrasco has also recovered from an ankle injury and is fit to feature in Simeone’s plans on Tuesday night.
In his pre-match press conference, Simeone revealed that Fernando Torres will lead the line for Atletico at the Camp Nou. “I spoke to him before the game and that’s why he only played 60 minutes — he will play on Tuesday against Barcelona,” said Simeone (via ESPNFC).
Luis Suarez vs Diego Godin
Luis Suarez, by his lofty standards, had an off day against Real Madrid in the Clasico last weekend. He will be looking to make amends by firing his team into the semi finals of the Champions League. Standing in the Uruguayan’s way will be his national team captain Diego Godin. Considered to be one of the top centre-backs in the world, Godin possesses the necessary tools to stop his Uruguayan team mate in his tracks.
Sergio Busquets vs Koke Resurrección
While Sergio Busquets is Barcelona’s midfield lynchpin, Koke Resurrección is Atletico’s creator in chief in the middle of the park. The midfield duel between Busquets and Koke will definitely not be as captivating as the ones happening in the final third of the pitch. The winner of this fascinating contest will heavily influence the final outcome of this tie.
Jordi Alba vs Antoine Griezmann
Barcelona left back Jordi Alba was probably the worst performer on the pitch in Saturday’s Clasico. At fault for both the goals and out of position on several occasions, Alba came under heavy criticism from fans and pundits alike for his under par performance against Real Madrid. Alba’s life wont get much easier on Tuesday night when he lines up against Atletico striker Antoine Griezmann at the Camp Nou. Griezmann is one of the brightest young prospects in European football at present and is Atletico’s leading goal scorer in all competitions this season.