After Lionel Messi’s late goal gave them a 1-0 win at the Camp Nou last week, Barcelona will be looking to secure their place in the last four of the Copa del Rey when taking on Atlético Madrid in the second leg of their quarterfinal at the Vicente Calderón on Wednesday. Messi’s 85th minute strike, after he followed up on his saved penalty, gave Barcelona a second win over Atlético in the space of two weeks after previously going seven matches without a win against Diego Simeone’s side. Barcelona boss Luis Enrique, though, is insistent on avoiding any complacency.
“To think your are favorites is the first step of the way towards losing,” he said, according to Spanish sports daily Marca. “We know how difficult the game will be and we're not going to speculate about the result. It would be a grave mistake to talk about favorites. I remember Atlético's Champions League games against Barça [last season]. In their own stadium, with the support from their crowd, I reckon we'll be facing a very on-form Atlético.”
It is Barcelona’s form that has been eye-catching in recent weeks. After a dismal loss to Real Sociedad at the start of the year, the Catalans have now won six matches in a row. Their most recent victory came with a 6-0 mauling of Elche away from home on Saturday, when Neymar and Lionel Messi repeatedly combined to brilliant effect. It was a performance that came with Luis Suarez left on the substitute’s bench, with the former Liverpool forward continuing to struggle to find his best form in a Barcelona shirt. Ivan Rakitic, who also missed the weekend game, has recovered a knee injury, according to Enrique.
Atlético also got a win on Saturday, beating Rayo Vallecano at home to stay in touch of La Liga leaders Real Madrid. Antoine Griezmann, who set up Fernando Torres to get both goals against Real Madrid in the last round of the Copa del Rey, scored twice at the weekend, and could rekindle his partnership with Torres at the expense of Mario Mandzukic against Barcelona.
Simeone also faces a question over the fitness of key midfielder Koke, who has been linked with a transfer to the Camp Nou in the past. The Spain international is eager to take the field and to overturn his side’s first-leg deficit.
“The Calderón will be spectacular,” he said, according to Spanish publication AS. “It will be an amazing night, the stadium will be a furnace and the atmosphere will be incredible as always. It's 11 against 11, but it will be great night. They have an advantage but we are going to go for the win. If one thing is true, it's that in football anything is possible.”
Prediction: As they so often have against Atlético in recent times, Barcelona looked set to be frustrated last week before Messi’s late strike. It could well prove to be the tie’s decisive moment. While Atlético played with their familiar intensity in the first leg, they lacked the clinical edge on the counter attack that they possessed with Diego Costa last season. Torres was particularly wasteful in the first half at the Camp Nou, and, despite his two goals against Real Madrid and his returning-hero status, the striker is some way short of possessing the threat of his peak years. Instead, key to Atlético’s hopes of getting the goal they need will be the performance of Griezmann. But, with Barcelona having no need to push forward, Atlético will be in what for them is a less comfortable position of having to take the initiative against a big team. And that, especially with Messi and Neymar ins such good form, could prove their undoing.
Prediction: Atlético Madrid 1-1 Barcelona
Kickoff time: 3 p.m. EST
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