[UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Wednesday]Barcelona has yet to beat Atletico Madrid in four meetings this season and only one of them can progress pending the result of their fifth encounter Wednesday at the Estadio Vicente Calderon in the UEFA Champions League.
Atlético holds the away-goals advantage from the 1-1 tie in the first leg tie at the Camp Nou, and Barca midfielder Cesc Fabregasadmits that the onus to score is something the home team can exploit.
“It will be a very even encounter but we are very hopeful of winning,” he said on Tuesday. “Atletico will keep it tight. They are not under pressure to attack. It will be difficult. They have their own style, but we must try to break them down using our strengths.”
Two strong points Barca won’t have are defender Pique and keeper Victor Valdes. Pique suffered a hip injury in the first leg and Valdes is out for the season after suffering torn knee ligaments. For Atletico, the hamstring injury suffered by Diego Costa is of grave concern; he is officially listed as doubtful, as is Arda Turan (groin). Costa leads the team with seven goals in his six UCL appearances so far this season.
“If Diego Costa is fit, he plays,” said head coach Diego Simeone on Tuesday. “If he is a little less than 100 percent, he will be on the bench. Otherwise he'll be out. We will have a look at [him] in training. If he doesn't make it, Adrian Lopez will play. If Adrian plays, I'm sure he will have a great game for us. We have rotated some players in recent matches, which is important to keep the team fresh. We have been doing a great deal of physical work in order to allow us to be competitive at this stage of the season.”
So far, Simeone’s management of the players has been superb. By beating Villarreal, 1-0, Saturday on a Raul Garcia goal, Atletico has taken over first place in La Liga with 79 points. It has already surpassed last year’s total of 76 points with six more league matches to play. Barca won a league match at Atletico last May, 2-1, but in 16 of its last 17 games in European competition, Atletico has won. It romped to first place in its Champions League group by 10 points by winning five games and tying one, and destroyed AC Milan, 5-2, on aggregate in the round of 16.
Costa is the player everyone watches, but others -- such as Garcia, who has scored four European goals this season -- are no less influential.
“Diego Costa is a very important player but Atletico have many great players,” says Fabregas. “We have to focus on ourselves. We want to compete and fight until the end. That is how we think. There are many things left to do this season."