Barcelona continue to seek Copa del Rey dominance

Title holders will face Atletico Madrid in second leg of semi-final on Tuesday

Afp February 06, 2017
Barcelona's Lionel Messi with teammate Neymar. PHOTO: REUTERS

MADRID: Holders Barcelona have a fourth consecutive Copa del Rey final in sight when Atletico Madrid visit the Camp Nou on Tuesday with the daunting task over overturning a 2-1 semi-final, first leg deficit.

Stunning solo goals from Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi put Barca well in command of the tie before half-time at the Vicente Calderon on Wednesday. And both are well-rested for the return as Suarez sat out Saturday’s 3-0 win over Athletic Bilbao, whilst Messi took a rare break for the final 25 minutes after netting his 31st goal of the season.

“It is important to realise that to reach our three objectives we need the whole squad,” said Barca boss Luis Enrique with his side going for a second treble of league, Cup and Champions League in three years.

One key member of the Barca squad will be missing for Atletico’s visit, though, as Neymar is suspended.

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Messi will also have to be careful as a yellow card would rule him out of the final should Barca advance.

The hosts are also likely to also be without Gerard Pique and Rafinha. Pique came off at half-time after picking up a groin strain, whilst Rafinha broke his nose in a collision with Barca keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen at the weekend.

However, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets are close to returning from hamstring and ankle injuries respectively.

Atletico were a team transformed in the second-half of the first leg as they roared back into the tie after the introduction of Fernando Torres at the break.

Antoine Griezmann halved the arrears, whilst Torres and Kevin Gameiro all came close to levelling near the end. Torres’ impact continued as he scored his first La Liga goals since September with a double in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Leganes.

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“We know the game on Tuesday will be extremely difficult, but it is in the hard games where our pride comes out and we hope to experience one of those magic nights on Tuesday,” said the former Liverpool and Chelsea striker.

However, the size of the task awaiting Diego Simeone’s men is underlined by the fact Torres scored twice the last time they won at the Camp Nou during in his first spell at the club in 2006.

Atletico will also be without suspended captain Gabi.

Defender Lucas Hernandez returned to training on Sunday after he was arrested in the early hours of Friday morning on suspicion of domestic violence. However, the Frenchman is unlikely to be involved in Simeone’s squad.

Wednesday’s other semi-final is more delicately poised at 0-0 between Alaves and Celta Vigo.

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Celta had the weekend off as their La Liga clash with Real Madrid was postponed after high winds caused structural damage to their Balaidos stadium.

Alaves even made a petition to the Spanish Football Federation to have the second leg postponed, claiming Celta’s extra time to prepare handed them an unfair advantage.

The Basques, though, have home advantage and are full of confidence after virtually securing their place in the top flight for next season with a 4-2 win at Sporting Gijon on Sunday despite resting a swathe of key players.

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