Champions League preview: Atlético vs. Barcelona

Semi-final place at stake as rojiblancos prepare for biggest game of the season

Fever pitch atmosphere expected in the Calderón

Fever pitch atmosphere expected in the Calderón

Atlético Madrid play the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final against Barcelona on Wednesday night, looking to overturn a 2-1 deficit from the first leg in the Camp Nou.

The holders came from behind to beat the 10 men of Atleti last week, but the away goal gives red and white fans hope of what would be a famous comeback against Luis Enrique’s side.

Kick-off in the Calderón is set for 20:45 CET.

Two years ago, Cholo’s men progressed to the semi-finals in similar circumstances against Barcelona, with Koke’s early goal in the second leg enough to send us through.

Atleti are a goal down this time around, but the mood is perhaps even more expectant now than it was two years ago, with the Calderón hoping to be the deciding factor and the 12th man for their team.

Fans have been very vocal in the lead up to the game, with Frente’s campaign to get behind the team – #NuncaDejesDeCreer – really taking off on social media and around the world.

Like in 2014, a 1-0 win would be enough, but Simeone has not beaten the Blaugrana or even kept a clean sheet against them since Luis Enrique took charge.

Many anticipate us to come flying out of the blocks and look for an early goal, but whether that happens or not, there is also the small matter of keeping out the visitors’ terrifying trident of Messi, Suárez and Neymar.

Atleti need to remain calm, disciplined and responsible at the back, which hasn’t always been the case in recent matches against Barça judging by our record of 5 red cards in the last five.

Cholo underlined this in his press conference, opting for the more cautious approach as he spoke about how his team’s chances.

“The enthusiasm and the mood within the squad is fantastic, but that’s not going to come as a suprise to Barcelona,” he said.

“We have to focus on what we need to do; the game will only be won by scoring more than them. Our fans will be behind us, and we will be trying to do the rest out on the pitch so that we make the semi-finals”.

Of course, Fernando Torres is suspended following his sending off in the first leg, a blow given his form in the last few months and against Barcelona.

Yannick Carrasco and Ángel Correa are in the frame to replace him up front, although it is unclear whether both will play or just the one of them with an extra man in midfield.

In defence, Stefan Savic has recovered from his latest set-back and training with the rest of the squad on Monday and Tuesday. However, his lack of fitness and the emergence of Lucas Hernández may see him have to settle for a place on the bench.

Also returning to the squad is Óliver Torres after three games out, but José María Giménez doesn’t make it back in time and will definitely miss out.

Barça on the other hand have had defensive problems of their own, with both Thomas Vermaelen and Jeremy Mathieu sidelined and unable to make the trip.

Gerard Piqué will play though, despite taking a knock to the hip in their loss to Real Sociedad on Saturday and missing training earlier in the week.

The Catalans have hit a bump in La Liga lately that has re-opened the door for Atleti and Real Madrid, but Luis Enrique says that it won’t affect them and the focus now is fully on Europe.

“It’s a different competition, we have enough days to analyse the league,” he said. “Now we are in the Champions League and it is attractive enough to concentrate on for us.”

“If there is a team capable of coping with the Vicente Calderón atmosphere, it’s Barça. The bigger the atmosphere, the more motivation the players will have”

Whoever does go through will go into the semi-final draw, which takes place at 11.30am CET this Friday morning at the UEFA headquarters in Nyon.

Attention will then turn back to the league, which could be shaped massively by the outcome of Wednesday’s match given the physical toll that playing in a Champions League semi-final would take.

Atleti can go level on points at the top if they beat Granada on Sunday evening, before Barça host Valencia in the late game shortly after.

Atlético match selection
Goalkeepers: Moyá, Oblak
Defenders: Godín, Filipe, Gámez, Savic, Lucas, Juanfran
Midfielders: Koke, Kranevitter, Óliver, Augusto, Gabi, Saúl, Carrasco, Thomas
Forwards: Griezmann, Correa, Vietto