Revenge mission: Barcelona out to exorcise memories of 2014

Atletico last team to knock out Catalans out of Champions League

Agencies April 04, 2016
Barcelona players train ahead of their Champions League quarter-final clash against Atletico Madrid. PHOTO: AFP

BARCELONA: Atletico Madrid will have taken real heart from their neighbours’ 2-1 victory at the Nou Camp as they go to the same venue in today’s quarter-final, first leg believing they can repeat their triumph over Barca at the same stage in 2014.

Yet, as the shockwaves reverberated through the European game after Barcelona’s late setback against 10-man Real, Barca captain Andres Iniesta remains confident. “This game won’t affect our mentality on Tuesday,” he told reporters after the Clasico defeat. “Everyone is hurting after losing but we have to analyse what we did wrong so we don’t repeat the mistakes.”

Though Barcelona are six points clear of nearest pursuers Atletico at the top of la Liga, the attacking trident of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez lacked sharpness against Real. It may have been a consequence of long journeys back from South America after representing their countries in World Cup qualifiers last week but Iniesta did not use that as an excuse.

Barca defender Gerard Pique, hoping to be part of the first team to defend a treble, was already looking ahead. “We have to move on. We have to make sure we don’t fall into a slump, because we’re in a unique position,” he said.

Ronaldo winner ends Barcelona's 39-game unbeaten run

Atletico, who gave themselves an ideal send-off for the trip to Barca by thrashing Real Betis 5-1, are in confident mood even if recent history points to a Barca win.

The Catalans’ coach Luis Enrique has a perfect record against his Atletico counterpart Diego Simeone, having won all six of his games against the side from the capital. Yet Barcelona know exactly what a formidable opponent the Argentine Simeone remains as he masterminded their exit two years ago, winning the quarter-final tie 2-1 on aggregate after securing a 1-1 draw in the second leg at the Nou Camp.

Atletico’s Spanish international Juanfran said this time, with his side enjoying the advantage of playing at home in the second leg, the primary aim was to stay in the tie. “We’re going there feeling very strong and our aim is to play well over there,” the defender told Canal Plus. “It’s all about coming back from the Nou Camp with the game still alive so we can try and win the tie at our place.”

Simeone, naturally still hoping to leave the Nou Camp with a crucial away goal, told a news conference he would reward Fernando Torres for his excellent run of five goals in seven league matches by starting the 32-year-old. Torres has a fine record against Barcelona, having scored  10 goals against them in 14 games for Atletico and Chelsea.

Zidane emerges from Cruyff-tinged Clasico the winner

Bayern welcome Benfica

Bayern Munich host Portuguese league leaders Benfica in the first leg with Pep Guardiola’s side bidding to reach the last-four for the fifth year running.

Bayern laboured to a 1-0 win at home to Eintracht Frankfurt as they remained five points clear of Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga, but skipper Philipp Lahm warned they would need to up their level against Benfica.

“After an international break it’s often difficult. That’s perfectly normal,” said Lahm. “I think it’s going to be a completely different match [on Tuesday]. We’ll be perfectly prepared. We need a better performance, but I’m not worrying about that.”

Bayern will be without Arjen Robben at the Allianz Arena, but the hosts should have France winger Kingsley Coman available after sitting out Saturday’s victory with a leg injury. 

Published in The Express Tribune, April 5th, 2016.

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