It’s make or break for Atlético on Wednesday evening, with comeback the only option against an in-form Barcelona side. The colchoneros need to overturn last week’s 1-0 defeat in the Calderón, or face crashing out of the Copa del Rey at the quarter-final stage.
Kick-off in the Spanish capital is set for 21:00 CET.
A late Lionel Messi penalty – saved by Jan Oblak but finished at the second attempt – is all that separates the two teams after the first leg, in what was a fairly evenly matched contest at the Camp Nou.
Atleti performed better than in the corresponding league fixture a couple of weeks previously and registered more shots on goal than their Catalan counterparts, but have it all to do having not scored an away goal.
Barcelona will know that a goal in Madrid will swing the balance heavily in their favour, but even so, the task for Simeone’s team is simple – at least on paper. Win by two clear goals, or face penalties.
The players seem motivated ahead of the clash, but have a number of selection problems that are complicating their preparation.
As we know, the big blow is the absence of Diego Godín at the back, who’s yellow card last week means he will serve a suspension. José Giménez will partner Miranda in defence for the second game running.
There was further bad news today as well, with Koke ruled out having failed to shake off the injury that caused him to miss Saturday’s win over Rayo. The midfield dynamo will have to wait for his 200th outing in red and white.
Tiago also picked up a knock and will not make it back in time, whereas Cristian Ansaldi remains on the sidelines with a persistent hamstring problem.
Arda is said to still be lacking in fitness but is expected to start, as is Fernando Torres, with Mandžukić dropping to the bench. Jan Oblak will also keep his place in goal.
In his press conference, Simeone refused to bemoan his key absences ahead of the match, instead choosing to stay calm and analyse the game methodically.
“It’s a home match like any other, we will play the way that suits us best,” he said. “I feel we can turn things around.”
“Will we play patiently or attack from the off? I feel we can do both. In the Bernabéu we were ahead after a minute, and again we’ll try and make the game comfortable for ourselves.”
Cholo was also asked about the fans, with news coming today that the stadium is expected to sell out come kick-off. However, he refused to issue a rallying cry.
“The fans know what they feel when they come to the Calderón. I don’t feel the need for them to do anything different than what they usually do, we know we have the backing from them.”
Looking at Barça, we face a team bang in form and with almost a full bill of health. Since defeat at Real Sociedad in their first game of 2015, Luis Enrique’s team have won six on the bounce, scoring 24 times in the process.
That run includes two successes over Atlético, who’s recent run against the Blaugrana does not make for good reading. In our last 14 meetings, we have won on just the single occasion last season in the Champions League.
In his press conference, Enrique seemed confident and prepared for the occasion, but did give the impression that his team’s priorities this season lie elsewhere.
“I’m only thinking in winning,” he said. “I’m not sure if it’s the most important game for us, but it is a chance to get to the semi-final of the Copa del Rey which is a valuable competition.”
“From Atlético I expect the usual style of play, somewhat more exaggerated as they are playing at home. They are missing players, but I imagine it will be a strong line-up still.”
Whoever does win the tie will take on either Villarreal or Getafe in the semi-final, the Yellow Submarine also 1-0 ahead after winning in the Madrigal last week. Games will be played on February 11th and March 4th.
Atlético match selection
Goalkeepers: Moyá, Oblak
Defenders:Siqueira, Gámez, Juanfran, Miranda, Giménez, Lucas
Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Griezmann, Raúl García, Arda, Gabi, Saúl, Cani
Forwards: Mandžukić, Raúl Jiménez, Torres