Luis Enrique has backed his Barcelona side to put their La Liga struggles to one side as they seek to book their place in the Champions League semifinals. Barcelona have taken just a solitary point from their last three league fixtures to allow their advantage at the top to ebb away. A 1-0 defeat at Real Sociedad on Saturday saw Atlético Madrid close the gap to only three points.
Barcelona’s advantage over Atlético going into the second leg of their Champions League quarterfinal on Wednesday is similarly narrow. In a tense and hot-tempered first match at the Camp Nou last week, Fernando Torres scored and was sent off before two second-half goals from Luis Suárez gave the holders a lead to take to the Vicente Calderon.
While conceding that the tie remains wide open, Enrique insists that there will be no hangover from their recent domestic result.
“It’s a different competition,” he said in his pre-match press conference, according to Barcelona-based daily Sport. “We have enough days to analyze the league. Now we are in the Champions League and it is attractive enough to concentrate on this. We will be at our level, later we will see if we deserve to go through or not. But whoever doubts us has seen little football, and not just on TV.”
Barcelona made several changes to their lineup over the weekend, with Suarez rested and left out of the squad entirely, while Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba only came off the bench in the second half. However, as they seek to keep their hopes alive of becoming the first team to win back-to-back Champions League titles, Enrique’s side is set to be at full strength.
Atlético will be denied that same opportunity, not only by the suspension that now rules out Torres, but by an injury that continues to sideline center-back José María Giménez. Diego Simeone’s side must also counteract a seven-match losing streak against Barcelona dating back to last season and the emergence of record-breaking forward trio of Suárez, Lionel Messi and Neymar.
However, neither side will need no reminding that on the only occasion Barcelona have failed to make the Champions League semifinals in the last eight years it was Atlético who ousted them. That came at the same stage of the competition when Atlético secured a 1-0 win in the second leg at the Vicente Calderon, a result that would again take them through on Wednesday. And Simeone has suggested that his team will be fired up to upset the odds once again.
"Being Atlético means knowing how to persevere, fight against all the odds—all the difficulties you face and never give anything up for lost,” he said, reports Spanish publication AS. “It's about knowing that there are better teams out there but we are competitive enough to be able to battle against them.
“The enthusiasm and the mood within the squad is fantastic but that's not going to come as a surprise to Barcelona. We have to focus on what we need to do; I'm sure the fans will respond as they always do and we will be trying to the rest out on the pitch so that we make the semifinals.”
D; Juanfran, Godin, Lucas, Filipe Luis
M: Saul, Gabi, Augusto, Koke
F: Carrasco, Griezmann
G: Ter Stegen
D: Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba
M: Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta
F: Messi, Suárez, Neymar
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 1, ESPN Deportes