The UEFA Champions League returns to action in a quite grandiose fashion as the reigning European champions Barcelona welcome home their La Liga rivals Atletico Madrid for the first leg of their quarter-finals. The host’s El Clasico defeat this past weekend to the perennial rivals Real Madrid adds yet another fascinating subplot to a tie which is already billed as the most intriguing quarter-final of this UCL edition.
Barcelona can be beaten
The Catalan club had been on a 39-match unbeaten streak in all competition before they stood the losing side in the El Clasico. It was their first defeat at the Camp Nou for almost 14 months and also their first loss since October in any format of the game. Though it is only a slight blemish in Barca’s title hopes, the defeat had damaged the air of invincibility that surrounded the Camp Nou outfit all this season.
However, their Champions League record is as intact as ever. Barca was beaten only once in their last 19 UCL matches and are one of the only two teams, alongside Real Madrid, to yet lose a game in this season’s competition. Their home record in the competition is even more formidable where they are unbeaten since May 2013 when they lost to Atletico in the quarter-finals of the 2013-2014 season.
Barcelona Team News
Luis Enrique decision’s in the recent games left a lot to be desired after Barcelona drew and lost in successive matches. Deploying Lionel Messi in the central role didn’t work out well against Real while his substitutions failed to make any impact for the second game in a row. The Asturian though is someone to learn from his mistakes and never had Barcelona lost a two-legged knockout tie they’ve played under the Spaniard.
The manager is expected to make minimal changes from his side that played on the weekend; Marc-Andre Ter Stegen will, of course, return to his role between the posts as is customary in the Champions League for Barca. Gerrard Pique will be available for selection after serving his one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation in this competition against Arsenal in the previous round. The Spaniard, though, will be without Aleix Vidal who joined Adriano, Jeremy Mathieu and Sandro Ramirez in the treatment room.
Barcelona Man to Watch
Lionel Messi will be the man to watch from the Barcelona side as the five-time Ballon d’Or winner comes into the match searching for his 500th senior career goal. The Argentine currently has 499 goals under his name, 25 of which had come against Atletico.
Thoughts from Barcelona Camp
“We want to prove that we are still the team that has won everything. We want to win it all again that. Atlético has had a spectacular season, so it’s going be more complicated than Saturday. They know how to defend and are really good on the counter,” says Gerard Pique.
Barcelona Predicted Line-up
Ter Stegen; Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Neymar.
Stalwart Atletico Madrid
Two months back, Atletico Madrid was struggling to hit the back of the opposition net consistently. Then, Antoine Griezmann resumed his early season form, and things changed for the Madrid outfit as they went on scoring three apiece against Valencia, Deportivo, and Real Sociedad in the games followed. Last weekend’s 5-1 thrashing of Real Betis has further boosted their confidence as they approach the most crucial game of their season so far.
However, their Champions league performances demand much to be desired where they failed to score in either leg of their tie against PSV in the round 16. Atleti, though, kept clean sheets in both the meetings which took their impressive defence record to six clean sheets from their last eight UCL matches. In fact, they conceded just three goals in the competition so far, and Diego Simeone will be relying on that rock-solid defence as his side face a Spanish opposition for the straight third season at this stage of competition.
Atletico Madrid Team News
Diego Godin is expected to return into the starting XI after missing the 5-1 victory of the weekend. Also returning from the sidelines are the impressive Yannick Carrasco and Stefan Savic. The former is almost assured of a starting place while Savic is unlikely to replace Jose Maria Gimenez who had been immaculate at the heart of Atleti defence in the recent games.
Atletico Madrid man to watch
Atletico’s main threat going into the match will be the Frenchman Antoine Griezmann whose brace against Real Betis on Saturday took him to seven goals in his last seven games. His goal tally for the season sits at 27 with only Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar having scored more, while his shot conversion rate of 29 per cent this season is second only to Karim Benzema among his Barcelona and Real Madrid counterparts.
The ever improving Antoine Griezmann. ❤️ Marca graphics. pic.twitter.com/vFQuvr70zy— Sport Witness (@Sport_Witness) April 1, 2016
Thoughts from Atletico Camp
“We all know how Barcelona play. We will try and play a good match and play it as if it were a final. We’ll try to have a good result so we can then advance at home with our people,” says Atletico’s Argentine forward Angel Correa.
Atletico Madrid Predicted Line-up
Oblak; Juanfran, Monslave, Gimenez, Luis; Gabi, Fernandez, Saul, Koke; Griezmann, Torres