Atletico can shock Barcelona too, says Gary Lim
Like Real, Atletico can stun Messi and Co with discipline and determination
QUARTER-FINAL, 1ST LEG
BARCELONA v ATLETICO MADRID
(Tomorrow,, 2.40am, Singtel TV Ch 112 & StarHub TV Ch 212)
There's a whiff of vulnerability emanating from the Nou Camp and Atletico Madrid can sniff it.
Barcelona are not looking right.
Their aura of invincibility has been pierced by 2-1 home defeat by Real Madrid last Saturday.
Atletico, who take on the Catalan giants in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final clash tomorrow morning (Singapore time), must be grateful for the timely boost.
There's never a good time to play Barca, especially when they were on a 39-match winning run before El Clasico.
But, after Lionel Messi and Co. slipped up against Real, Diego Simeone's men can approach tomorrow morning's Champions League clash with heightened optimism.
Barcelona's tired display will boost Atletico's belief that the reigning champions can be taken down.
What's more, they have caught the wind in their sails, and they are engaged in combat mode.
On the same day Barcelona were beaten, Atletico ran out 5-1 winners against Real Betis.
Fernando Torres rolled back the years with a splendid display which was rewarded with a goal.
Substituted after 65 minutes to a standing ovation, the 32-year-old former Liverpool and Chelsea striker has now scored four goals in his last seven league games.
Simeone has confirmed that Torres will start tomorrow morning's match.
Antoine Griezmann also continued his fine season with a brace to take his La Liga tally to 19 goals.
Barcelona may have the all-conquering MSN (Messi, Suarez and Neymar) connection, but Atletico can boast their own attack which is capable of terrorising the home side.
Simeone will have most of his notes prepared for him, too.
Real's performance against Barcelona might not exactly be an instruction manual on how to beat them, but it will be as close as it gets.
It took discipline, determination and immense willpower.
On this front, Atletico are well drilled.
Simeone has built one of the most organised and tenacious teams in Europe, one capable of putting up a solid defensive block to frustrate opponents like Barcelona.
Last Saturday, Real pulled off the job with a high level of teamwork and industry epitomised by the gritty Casemiro, traits also often associated with the Rojiblancos.
On top of that, Real coach Zinedine Zidane was able to coax his superstars to put in their fair share of defensive work.
It was a chokehold that began from all the way up front, with the wide players tucking in and constantly dropping back to close down as much space as possible, as Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo did.
And, if the opportunities come their way, Atletico must grab the chances with both hands.
Simeone will draw on the past for strength.
His record against them since taking over the helm at Atletico Madrid in December 2011 may look unimpressive but, then again, whose isn't?
Out of those 15 matches, nine have ended in defeats for Simeone, but seven have been by a single-goal margin.
During their La Liga title-winning campaign of 2013/14, Atletico were unbeaten against Barcelona in six matches, winning one and drawing the other five.
Significantly, they knocked out Barcelona (2-1 on aggregate) at the same quarter-final stage of the Champions League that season, on their way to making the final.
Koke, match-winner of the 1-0 victory in the second leg on that April night in 2014, clearly relishes the prospect of another tussle.
He said: "We eliminated them before and there's no reason why we can't do so again.
"We're Atletico and we're capable of anything."
WHAT THE COACHES SAY
Atletico are a team of the highest level. That’s why they are here in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. They are a very complete team.
— Barca’s Luis Enrique
All matches against Barca are different and we’ll prepare for it in the best way possible.
— Atletico’s Diego Simeone
BY THE NUMBERS
Atletico ace Antoine Griezmann scored 26 goals in his first season and netted another 26 already this term.
Five talking points
Holders Barcelona face Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final at the Nou Camp tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
Press Association looks at five talking points ahead of the match between the two Spanish rivals.
1 Can Barcelona bounce back?
Barca coach Luis Enrique has not had to raise his troops following a defeat since Oct 3 - 40 games ago - but that is what he must do now.
And it was not any old loss either, with last Saturday's 2-1 reverse coming against bitter rivals Real Madrid.
At home. Against 10 men. Having taken the lead.
It was definitely not the kind of tribute Barca would have wanted to give to Johan Cruyff in their first match since his death and they will be desperate to bounce back against Real's neighbours.
2 Pressure of making history
Despite last Saturday's setback, Barca are still on course to win a second successive treble this season, sitting six points clear at the top of La Liga, through to the final of the Copa del Rey and in the last eight of the Champions League.
No European side have ever managed to win back-to-back trebles and no side have ever won consecutive Champions League titles, so the spotlight is firmly on the Catalan giants.
But can they handle the heat? History says yes.
Over the last eight years, Barca have rewritten the record books so many times that some milestones which would be historic for most other clubs now barely warrant footnote mentions for Lionel Messi and Co.
3 Will a change of competition help Atletico turn the tables?
Barcelona go into tomorrow morning's fixture on a six-game winning streak against Atletico and you have to go back to 2010 to find the last time the Rojiblancos managed to overturn the Catalan outfit in domestic competition.
However, it is a different story in Europe, where Atletico were able to dump Barca out of the Champions League when they met at this stage of the competition two years ago.
A 1-1 first-leg draw at the Nou Camp was followed by a 1-0 win at the Vicente Calderon, as eventual finalists Atletico upset the odds.
That was the only time in the last eight seasons Barca have failed to reach the semi-finals and those results will give Diego Simeone's side hope this time around, even if their overall record against Barca in the last six years (one win, five draws and 12 defeats) is far from impressive.
4 Can Atletico keep "MSN" offline?
Real Madrid managed to keep the formidable attacking triumvirate of Messi, Suarez and Neymar relatively quiet during El Clasico.
Villarreal did a similarly decent containing job in Barca's previous league match, where only one of the trio managed to score in a 2-2 draw at El Madrigal and that was from a Neymar penalty.
However, with an astonishing 107 goals among them in all competitions this season, Atletico know the chances of muzzling all three South Americans over both legs are remote.
The good news for Atletico is that Uruguay centre back Diego Godin is available after missing the last two matches with a hamstring injury and his experience and know-how could be vital in trying to combat MSN.
5 Griezmann crucial to Atletico's hopes
Messi, Suarez and Neymar have been getting plenty of plaudits for their feats and rightly so, but Atletico also boast a similarly prolific and dangerous forward in their ranks.
Antoine Griezmann has been a revelation since joining the Rojiblancos for £24 million ($46m) from Real Sociedad in 2014, scoring 26 goals in his first season and another 26 already this term.
The France forward has struck eight times in his last nine appearance for club and country and how he performs against Barca in the upcoming games could be crucial to Atletico's hopes of getting through.
WHAT TWO PLAYERS SAY
We have a tough task. It will be even harder than the Clasico. We will try to score, but we realise they are a dangerous team.
— Barca defender Gerard Pique
Barca at a spectacular level. I don’t know if there is a formula to beat them, apart from working very hard, being very focused and taking our chances.
— Atletico midfielder Koke