Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino has called for his players to take advantage of a unique opportunity to win the title in a one-off contest in front of their own fans. The Spanish champions go into Saturday’s final match of the season needing to beat Atletico Madrid at the Camp Nou in order to retain their title. Any other result and Atletico would claim their first championship in 18 years.
“This is an opportunity for us to win a trophy, against a direct rival, at our stadium,” Martino said, according to Spanish publication AS. “It will be the first time a title will be contested over one game, between two aspirants.”
In the five previous meetings between the two teams this season, Barcelona have failed to win once, with four resulting in a draw. If they are to change that pattern this weekend, Martino believes that scoring the first goal is likely to be pivotal against a counter-attacking based Atletico side.
“Teams who have a similar style to Atletico’s struggle when they go behind -- although they did bounce back against Chelsea,” he explained. “This is a game which both of us need to win and so going ahead on the score board could be a determining factor.”
Barcelona have won just two of their last five league games, yet the fact that Atletico have taken just one point from their last two fixtures means the Catalans remain alive in La Liga’s most exciting title race in recent memory. Atletico came agonizingly close to claiming the championship last Sunday but they were unable to find a winner at home to Malaga. Simeone, though, claims he remains unflustered and that he never expected winning the title to be straightforward.
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“All the way through the campaign I could never have imagined that we would hold a seven-point advantage over Real Madrid and be six points clear of Barca,” he explained. “But even while they have been off the pace in the past few weeks, Barca have never stopped competing and you have to admire them for that. In normal circumstances, you’d expect them to win every time and it’s clear that that competitiveness that Barca and Madrid give you is very important.”
While Barcelona have been criticized for being a pale shadow of their former selves throughout the season, Simeone is expecting the occasion to bring the best out of them in front of their own fans.
“I don’t think that it will be a game which is resolved quickly. I expect Barca to start strong; I am expecting to see probably the best version of Barca we have seen this season. They are at home and they have an unbelievable squad. We’ll be up against a Barcelona side showing their toughest side.”
Simeone has confirmed that Diego Costa will be fit to start the match after the striker recovered from an injury that sidelined him last time out. Martino’s injury list has been significantly longer, but he is hopeful of having Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Neymar all available, even if he concedes they will not be fully fit.
Where to watch: The Primera Division contest will kick off at noon ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sports, with a live stream available on beIN Sports Play.