Four times this season, current La Liga leaders Atlético Madrid have taken on reigning champions and title chasers Barcelona, and four times, nothing has separated them.
The Rojiblancos‘ backline has cancelled out the Catalan’s attacking talent on each occasion they have met so far, although in Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final second leg, something has to give.
Kick-off in the Spanish capital is set for 20:45 CET.
Along with Real Madrid, the two have been at loggerheads all season domestically, but a week ago Barca and Atleti turned their attentions to the European stage where they met in an entralling tactical clash, lit up by a couple of stunning goals from Diego Ribas and Neymar.
With an away goal to their name, Diego Simeone’s team have something to hold onto when run out in front of what will be a raucous home crowd in the Vicente Calderón tomorrow night, although may have to do so without key players.
Diego Costa, doubtful beforehand, limped off in the first half of last week’s first leg and remains unlikely to play having yet to remain to full training, and Arda Turan has also been ruled out with a groin problem.
Apart from that, there are no other injury concerns as Javi Manquillo returns to the squad for the first time in two months, although as seen in Saturday’s 1-0 win against Villarreal, fatigue could be a factor.
In his press conference, Simeone insisted that he would not risk anybody who wasn’t ‘at least 90% fit’, and confirmed that Raúl García and, interestingly, Adrián would come into the team that drew at the Camp Nou a week ago if needed.
“If Diego Costa is fit, he plays. If he is a little less than 100 percent, he will be on the bench. Otherwise he’ll be out,” he said. “If Adrián plays I am sure he will do very well for the team.”
“We have rotated some players in the last few matches which is important to keep the team fresh, this will be a passionate game between two teams with different styles.”
The Argentine also gave a brief insight into what his game plan may be, dismissing ideas that his team will sit back and defend given the visitors’ goalscoring prowess.
“Even if we have a small advantage from the first leg it will not change anything,” he told reporters. “Barça will play the same as always, they are specialists in scoring goals. Not long ago they scored four times in a place not far from here.”
“The battle of styles is great for football; one with possession, talent and what they have done over last decade, us with our heart, our humility, our counter-attack.”
“It will be one of the nicest games for sure, in the competition so far.” he concluded
Similarly to the red and whites, Barça laboured to a home win at the weekend, needing two penalties and an own goal to beat bottom side Real Betis.
Manager Tata Martino opted against significant rotation due to the ongoing league battle with his opposite number and compatriot, with his team having been rocked by an 18-month transfer ban sanctioned against them last week.
The Culés have fitness troubles of their own as well, with defender Gerard Piqué definitely out of contention. Like Costa, the 27 year-old was forced off in the opener, but unlike his new international teammate has been categorically ruled out.
Victor Valdés is on the long-term absentee list meaning José Pinto will again line up in goal, and captain Carles Puyol is also a doubt having yet to receive the medical clearance to play, despite still making the trip.
It’s not since 2007 that Barça last failed to reach the tournament semi-finals, although Martino knows his side will need a big performance if that run is to continue.
“We haven’t been leading at any point [against Atlético] and that’s very important,” he said. “We need to score at least one goal tomorrow and let’s see if we can create the scenario of us leading and try to manage from there on.”
“I really think that we have to go and keep our intensity up for the full 90 minutes. We know if we go a goal up we can play a different game to the ones we have seen in the previous cases.”
Whoever goes through will most likely also gain a psychological advantage heading into the final stretch of the La Liga season, although will have two more huge midweek matches to contend with. Both teams have opted to call-up all available first team players.
Atlético match selection
Goalkeepers: Courtois, Aranzubia
Defenders: Godín, Filipe, Alderweireld, Manquillo, Giménez, Juanfran, Miranda, Insúa
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Tiago, Koke, Raúl García, Gabi, Cristian Rodríguez, Diego, Sosa
Forwards: Adrián, Villa, Diego Costa
Barcelona match selection
Goalkeepers: Pinto, Oier
Defenders: Montoya, Puyol, Bartra, Jordi Alba, Adriano, Dani Alves
Midfielders: Cesc, Xavi, Iniesta, Alexis, Mascherano, Busquets, Song, Afellay, Sergi Roberto
Forwards: Pedro, Messi, Neymar, Tello
Referee: Howard Webb (England)