Things can change very quickly in football. Just two weeks ago Barça appeared to be in a critical situation following the defeat at Real Sociedad and the departure of Andoni Zubizaretta and Carlos Puyol. President Bartomeu brought forward elections to this summer and since then Barça have won four games on the trot with performances putting an end to rumours of Leo Messi calling for Luis Enrique´s head as quickly as they had been invented.
There is a much improved atmosphere at Camp Nou and Barça now play hosts to Atlético Madrid in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarter-finals (Wednesday 10 pm). With Real Madrid eliminated by Simeone’s men in the last round,the winner of the tie will become the clear favourite to win the competition, needing to beat the winner of Villarreal and Getafe in the semi-final before a possible final against either Athletic Club, Malaga, Sevilla or Espanyol.
Having beaten Atlético nine days ago in La Liga with what has now become Luis Enrique’s first repeated starting line-up, the Barça coach will now need to decide whether to repeat the same XI again tomorrow. If one thing has changed more than anything since last season it is that we are no longer as predictable as we were, so despite the media’s general approval of the repeated team it would be foolish not to expect a surprise.
The most likely change is in goal where Ter Stegen will probably replace Claudio Bravo, but there will be probably be one or two more changes in outfield positions. Marc Bartra could be brought into defence either to rest Piqué or free Mascherano to play in midfield while there is always the chance that Pedro could start in attack despite Luis Enrique’s obvious preference for the MSN trio. Xavi still hasn’t got medical clearance though he has been training with the group and the Barça coach confirmed today that he will be in the match squad while Jeremy Mathieu is still doing specific work on his injury and will miss the game.
Atlético have an even tougher January fixture list than Barça and Simeone is also likely to tweak his line-up for the cup. The Slovakian Jan Oblak should continue as Atlético’s cup goalkeeper, while other changes to the eleven that started at Camp Nou in the league could include Miranda and Siqueira in defence and Fernando Torres in attack.
Tomorrow’s game will bring back memories of one of the greatest games I have ever been fortunate enough to attend at Camp Nou: the 1997 quarter final between the same teams. On that occasion it was the second leg of the tie after a 2-2 draw in Madrid and Atlético went 0-3 up in the first half through a Milinko Pantic hat-trick. It is rumoured that Barça coach Bobby Robson suffered a minor player revolt which saw him bring on Ivan De la Peña and Hristo Stoichkov before the break in a ridiculously attacking formation. However, the move paid off and Barça scored five in the second half including a Ronaldo hat-trick and a glorious late winner from Juan Antonio Pizza to give Barça a 5-4 win on the night and a 7-6 aggregate win overall.
A nine-goal thriller would be nice again tomorrow but I’ll be happy enough with a 2-0 win.
Barça: Ter Stegen; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Neymar.
Atlético: Oblak; Juanfran, Miranda, Godin, Siqueira; Arda Turan, Tiago, Gabi, Koke; Torres, Griezmann.
Prediction: Barça 2 Atlético 0
Date: Wednesday 21 January 2015. Kick-off 10 pm local time.