Football: Barca to retrace treble track

From left: Defender Gerard Pique with forwards Neymar and Lionel Messi during training on the eve of their Champions League quarter-final second leg at Atletico Madrid. Leaders Barcelona have lost their last two La Liga matches and drawn the third.
From left: Defender Gerard Pique with forwards Neymar and Lionel Messi during training on the eve of their Champions League quarter-final second leg at Atletico Madrid. Leaders Barcelona have lost their last two La Liga matches and drawn the third.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

To reach Champions League semi-finals, they have to get over La Liga rut at Atletico

MADRID • Barcelona can redress their stuttering domestic form by sealing their passage to the Champions League semi-finals when they visit Atletico Madrid today.

Barca are in their worst run of form in La Liga since manager Luis Enrique's arrival in August 2014, losing their last two games to Real Sociedad and Real Madrid and drawing with Villarreal.

Although the setbacks have seen their lead over Atletico cut to three points, they are still on track to become the first Spanish team to win the Treble two years in a row - with the King's Cup final against Sevilla on May 21.

"There's no time for apologies or excuses, we need results," said Enrique, whose side take a 2-1 lead into the second leg at the Vicente Calderon Stadium.

"It's not the time to sink low and think that we're on a horrible run.

"There are reasons to be optimistic, although the results have not been what we wanted."

  • 25 Goals
    Lionel Messi has scored against Atletico Madrid in 29 games.

Talisman Lionel Messi's form is not one of them. He has now gone 362 minutes without scoring - his longest drought with the team since 2011.

But the Argentina star loves facing Atletico. He has scored 25 goals in 29 games against them - including three hat-tricks - making them the team he has scored the most goals against.

Barca top scorer Luis Suarez, who grabbed a brace in the first leg, is back from suspension.

Enrique is also likely to recall Jordi Alba, Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic after starting them on the bench in the 0-1 loss at Sociedad.

Atletico are dreaming of a repeat of their quarter-final second leg against Barca in 2014, when an early goal by Koke delivered a 1-0 win and 2-1 aggregate victory.

"The stadium will be buzzing. I'm sure it's going to be a great night," said the midfielder. "The other day we couldn't win because of circumstances but, at home, we're going to turn it around."

Atletico felt hard done by the officiating at the Nou Camp, believing that chief tormentor Suarez should have been sent off.

They will be eager to get their revenge - and to set the record straight. Atletico have lost all seven matches against the Catalan giants since Enrique took charge.

Atletico defenders Jose Gimenez and Stefan Savic are doubtful while Tiago Mendes is out. Striker Fernando Torres is suspended following his dismissal in the first leg, meaning Antoine Griezmann will be the focal point of their attack.

The France international has scored in nine of his last 11 appearances for club and country.

REUTERS

ATLETICO MADRID V BARCELONA
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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2016, with the headline 'BARCA TO RETRACE TREBLE TRACK'. Print Edition | Subscribe